Chapter 8

“Now is the time darkness comes,
With deafening sounds like silent drums,
Church bells ring,
And choruses long dead sing,
Spirits fly,
Through a blackened sky,
Now is the time the living die”
~A Dickerson

“I hope you realize we are going to need a Tractor trailer to haul the M88,” Steve said, as he sat on top of the behemoth. “At least for long distances, less wear and tear on the thing, Face it brother, parts for that thing are not just going to be sitting on the shelves at NAPA.” Steve commented, as he picked up the double bit axe he liked to use in place of a fire arm and began to examine the blade.

Jared nodded in agreement, as he reassembled his Mk 23 , he jacked the slide chambering a round and returned it to the holster on his right thigh.

“ How many damn pistols are you carrying now” Steve asked, almost laughing.

“ Four, “ Jared replied, “ two shoulder rigs, two in Tac holsters that’s it, I cut down, so I could carry the Tomahawks, and the Khurkri .”

Steve shook his head, “ that’s a lot of extra weight,” he noted.

“only if you’re a wimp” Jared replied as he flowed to his feet and retrieved his Colt Commando from next to his seat. “besides, I’m not carrying a sixty to eighty pound ruck, a full combat load with an ATGM, and all the other Crap Uncle sugar made us pack. Of course if zombies start using chemical or nuclear weapons, I’ll have to reconsidering what I carry.” Jared commented. He glanced out the window of the RV where the horizon glowed sullenly like hot coals as the sun started to rise.

He turned to face the others in the RV his smiled gone. “You know the plan, the Beast and the M88… sorry the crusher will lead then My van and Steve’s truck. After that the rest of you follow along.

We hit the store, in and out, with as many people as we have, we should be able to clear and strip the place bare in an hour no more than an hour twenty.

After that We don’t stop till we arrive at the radio station and then only long enough to cover the survivors while they unass from the building,“ Jared said. Every one nodded, they knew their part in the plan and would follow it.

At least they had recovered the one Semi and stripped the other yesterday, after establishing contact with the people in the Radio station, which topped them off on food and supplies for a bit. They only thing they had to do on the way to rescue the stranded folks was to hit the Outdoors supply store.

“Feels good to be back with you guys,” Logan said as he followed Jared out of the RV. With Ronny flying scout, Jared had brought Logan back to team one, Ed wasn’t thrilled with it, but he would learn to cope.

“You realize you sound insane to want to be out here with us, but glad to have you back, this time for Keeps, Ryan and Stephanie have come a long ways, and I don’t think they need you to ride herd on them anymore,” Jared paused then grinned. “And Jill would kick my ass if I sent you back.”

Jill smiled at Logan and nodded, “ I would, trust me. We worked to well together, and to be honest, having to Gibb slap Ronny all the time is getting old.” Jill said with a laugh. “So get your Italian American ass in the Van, before I abuse you too.”

Logan laughed, casting a quick look at Jared who was shaking his head. “I’ll ignore the obvious flirting my wife is doing, but if she keeps it up Logan Ill have to kill you and bury your body in a shallow grave.” Jared said with a serious look on his face, that was broken by the smile he tried to hide.

“ don’t believe him, he knows I would do more than kick his butt if he tries to off the competition.” Jill assured Logan with a smile, Steve snorted a laugh behind them.

Logan turned to look over his shoulder at Steve who shrugged massive shoulders, “ Im not getting involved in this.” Steve said grinning.

“ if Ed wrecks my new Jeep, I am not letting any one use another vehicle of mine” Ori said slipping past the two men, and climbing into the Van.

“Ed’s not driving Stephanie is” Jared said, looking straight ahead to hide the wicked grin on his face.

“Oh mother of God, I know she’s come a long way from the big breasted dumber than rocks sorority girl she was last fall, but she cant drive. For gods sake she wrecked a golf cart by running it into the wall of the fort.” Ori complained, as he started to get back out of the Van, only to have Steve block the door to keep him from escaping.

“She’s still big breasted” Logan offered as if that made all the difference.

“Great, they will just get in the way of her steering” Ori muttered as he settled back against the wall of the van next to the Bed.

“I swear I’m getting a Humvee, and no one will drive it but me.” Ori said as Jared laughed and pulled out behind the M88, the massive track filling the windshield.

Jeb, sat by the side door watching as Dark clouds piled up, on the horizon, hoping that it wouldn’t rain. There had been a lot of storms this year, after last year and the year before it wasn’t all that unusual, but he was tired of bad weather.

On the bright side, it wasn’t the fucking sandbox, god he hated that place. He hated hundreds of miles of beach with no ocean, and he had hated the way the sun beat down on a man mercilessly, baking flesh and sand. And above all else, he hated, Camel spiders.

The only good thing he could say about the middle east, at least in his opinion had been the Russian Hookers at some of the hotels. Now those were some smoking hot women! His last rotation through hell, he met a five foot four inch tall Red head named Katya who had been working the Hotel that American oil workers stayed in, he had spent as much time with her as he could manage and had even been tempted to bring her home with him now he wondered if she were still alive.

That train of thought, led him to wonder about the men and women in uniform who had been overseas when this shit started. Many of his Friends had been in Iraq, a few in Afghanistan. He could picture the military fighting their way across the deserts to a port and taking ships to escape from hell that had swept across the war zones. He hoped so at any rate. Before all this he would have given a good god bless and a prayer for their safety. But not anymore, things had changed and he didn’t think god was listening much anymore.

He glanced at Jared, who he still didn’t understand, in the face of all this, the man clung to his humanity, his faith in good, and Jeb for all his anger at god, followed because he did believe in the same things.

Maybe, just maybe he mused, God hadn’t changed the play book. Maybe it had been his religion that had it wrong, he would probably never know. He doubted God would sit down for a cup of coffee at Heavens Coffee shop and talk things over, explaining to Jeb why things had unfolded the way they had.

He turned away from the window and saw Ori’s head nodding, as the man slept cradling his Rifle. Ori he understood, maybe better than any of the others. The wiry, agile former Scout was a good man, who might not like the term but he had a bromance going with Jared. Jared tended to draw people in like that, he must have been a hell of a good NCO, for so many of the men who had served with him to follow him once they were all back in the private sector.

Steve, he thought, the man was built, he had been serious about working out before, and he still retained the thick muscle he had gained from years of exercise. Jeb had never said it, but Steve reminded him of Stone cold Steve Austin. Well at least in build, and with the shaved head. But in the face, more like a younger better version of Clooney with a goatee.

Steve was just as dedicated to Jared as Ori, maybe more so. He had the same twisted sense of humor as Jared, and the same Iron clad code of conduct most people had lacked in the old world. Something Jeb was sure hadn’t made them popular with a lot of people

Logan was an outsider, not being prior service, but he fit in well with the others, he had earned his stripes, which was saying something. Like Jeb, Logan had an athletic build, unlike Jeb, Logan had the typical Greek or maybe Italian olive complexion. Jeb wasn’t gay, but he even he thought Logan was a good looking man, he must have been pretty damn popular with the women on his College campus. Would have been a great wing man when cruising bars, Jeb thought smiling at the memory of better times, between the two of us we would have been rolling in women.

Which left Jill, Jeb had flirted with her for a while, but after watching Her with Jared for a few a weeks, he had stopped, out of respect for who they were and the love they had for each other. Even as Cynical as Jeb was, he could admire and respect that kind of love. It, however, didn’t stop him from admiring Jill’s beauty, she was, as far as he was concerned, not only one almost perfect woman physically, but mentally as well. Which sucked He had decided since it was almost a given that he would never meet a woman like her.

She had earned her place on Jared’s Team, any one that might have thought otherwise, had only to see her in a fight to get it. The woman was brave, skilled and deadly as hell with not only a firearm, but with her hands, feet and the katana she carried. Probably the only Real katana any one here had ever seen. He sighed and turned back to the window, then like Ori he lowered his head and let himself drift off.
Jared watched as they drew closer to I 24, he had debated taking the shorter route that they had used yesterday, but all the noise and activity yesterday was sure to have drawn a large number of undead, to the area they had been working. By taking this way, they would arrive closer to the sporting goods shop, and hopefully the majority of the undead would be further south. don’t you just love basing plans on hopefully’s, Maybe’s and its possible, Jared thought as they reached the overpass, and turned north on the feeder.

Hasloms Sporting Goods, lay just ahead, a long low building of red brick with a the tattered remnants of a blue and white stripped awning that had once covered the door in shade. There were maybe six zombies in the parking lot, two had been cops, one a male, was dragging his intestines behind him as it turned and headed for the M88. The Crusher shifted to the left, lining its track up and ran over Intestine zombie then turned and managed to get the two cop zombies, house wife zombie, in her night robe, and bloody platinum blond hair was next to go down. The track only leaving bloody stains on the pavement.

Ori opened the side door, and in rapid succession shot down the remaining undead. As the Van stopped Ori hopped out weapon ready. The Deuce, or Beast two, reached the end of the parking lot turned and came back to park behind the Van,

“Any one want to bet that Ori heads over to the Jeep to get Ed to find another driver” Jeb said. Logan laughed. “ Man do I look stupid, I wouldn’t bet against that for anything’ Logan said as he jumped out of the van, looking up as the Ultra light swept across the cloudy sky above them.

“ Melee only for now” Jared said as he drew his tomahawks, the team fell in around him as he headed to the single glass door. Jared peered into the darkened store, but saw nothing.

Ori, looked nervous, but as Jared grasped the door handle his face smoothed as he slid into the groove. Jared looked at Ori, “ ready?”

Ori nodded in reply, rifle sliding up to High ready

Jared pulled the door open, and stepped into the musty smelling building, his team followed spreading out to the right and left. Shelves and displays, cloaked in shadows ran into the darkness that covered the back half of the store.

The main aisles essentially split the store into four sections, the two at the front of the store had been devoted to pack essentials and clothing and boots. About half the clothing section was intact. Two mostly skeletal bodies lay sprawled next to a display case in the Pack essentials section.

“ Hello, any one alive or undead in here.” Steve called out.

“ Hang on I got a better way.” Ori said as he pulled his Ipod out then plugged it into a small Speaker system he carried.

Ori was grinning as he set it to play, and a second later the song started. Jared groaned. “ you are off the Pick the combat music team” he said as Michael Jackson’s thriller spilled from the speakers.

“you’re a musical Heathen” Ori said, then pointed to where four undead were stumbling up the main aisle. “ Contact, 12 O’clock”

“ got it “ Jared said as he moved forward Jill at his side.

“ Contact ten O’clock, three” Steve called out as he and Logan engaged with Axes.

The four zombies spread out, as they approached, arms out stretched, as they sped up, their attack was simple to drag down Jared. for some reason, many times, groups of zombies would fixate on one maybe two people, which was a good thing for any one else, not so good for the one they fixated on, especially when Large numbers of zombies decided you were the popular item on the buffet table.

Jared didn’t mind, as the first of the four reached his range, Jared stepped to the left, dropping to one knee and swung the Tomahawk, which would cut thru thin metal easily, the weapon sheared thru rotted skin severing a leg. He rose spinning, and drove the butt spike of his off hand tomahawk into the skull of the second, the third tried to grab his arm, but Jared flowed into hold break, moving left and pivoting, his left hand lashing out, and hooking the zombie in the neck with the Tomahawk. He twisted at the waist extending his right leg, as he pulled the zombie forward. Already clumsy the zombie tripped and went face first into the floor.

Jill’s Katana was a silvery blur as it descended from high guard and severed the legs of the fourth zombie, her blade stopped reversed in her hands and swept back and taking its head before its legs had even hit the floor.

Jared slammed the right hand tomahawk into the skull of the zombie he had just tripped, killing it then turned and dispatched the first zombie he had crippled. He turned to Jill who was standing there with her sword sheathed and an impatient look on her face. “You really need to stop hogging the undead, its getting annoying.” She said peering into the back of the store.

“Want me to go outside and wait” he asked with a slight smile.

“You’re not getting out of clearing the store that easily” Jill replied arching an eyebrow while giving him a stern look.

“You two finished flirting over there oh great white zombie hunter” Steve asked, rolling his eyes.

“Not yet, we still need to make out, allowing the zombies a chance to sneak up on us” Jared replied.

“We, sorry Im not making out with you Jared, Jill yes, you no” Steve joked, his eyes never stopped sweeping the area for threats, no matter how light his voice might sound.

“ Oh! I see, Jill make a note. Kill Steve and bury him next to Logan.” Jared said as he moved to peer down a dim aisle between shelves, that could hide a zombie.

“No killing Steve either, Sharon and Bridget are friends of mine, I guess I will just have to let Steve flirt and make out with me for the team.” Jill said as she followed Jared deeper into the store.

“ Tonight Jill Ten o’clock, get rid of Jared for two hours,” Steve said with a laugh that stopped a second later as he saw a zombie climb out of a tent that had been setup on display.

Steve stalked forward, and brought his axe down with his full strength, splitting the skull wide open in a welter of blood and brain, his arms shuddered as the axe bit thru tile to the cement below. “ damn I hate that” he cursed looking around for any more threats, his arms hurting from the shock.

“ what you get for plotting to soil the virtue of my wife” Jared called out.

“ Ill buy virtue for Jill, you how ever” Steve said as he dropped the axe, its edge most likely blunted and chipped then drew the machete from the scabbard on his left leg.

Jeb shook his head as he and Ori cruised down the right side of the store, and saw nothing. He was no stranger to humor in tight and hairy situations, but there were times these guys took it to a whole new level.

“ They have been worse.” Ori commented as they reached the back of the store, guessing what Jeb was thinking. Kayaks and Canoes hung from racks along this half of the back wall. Below were stands holding a wide variety of paddles. Shelves contained all sorts of gear for canoes, and Kayaks, stuff Jeb had never even guessed, might exist, some he couldn’t even figure out what it did, from a quick look.

“ nothing in the back on the right side” Ori reported. Then turned to Jeb, “ part of it is, noise draws the undead, so why not just talk and joke around, helps relieve the tension.” Ori explained to Jeb “the other part, is they are friggen nuts”

Jeb snorted a laugh, as he peered down the narrow aisles, just to be on the safe side. “sometimes I find it strange, but I don’t care, really.”

“you should have heard them on the Radio during a fire fight, in Iraq” Ori said, his lips quirking into the ghost of a smile. His eyes how ever remained fixed on the swinging steel door that led into the stockroom

He didn’t have to explain to Jeb how every one handled the fear and stress of combat differently. Jared always dealt with it one of three ways, he totally shut down emotionally for the duration, or he cracked jokes. The scariest was when he shut down but started smiling. Mikhail had leaned that one the hard way.

The team re assembled at the back of the store and entered the stock room hard and fast, there was only one zombie, a woman who had died with her legs chewed off. She crawled towards them snapping her teeth together, till Jeb stepped forward and rammed his Kaybar into her eye socket and up into her brain. He looked up as the rest of the team played their lights along the shelves and bins. “WOW! Id say its pay day” Jeb said

Rob sat on top of the Crusher watching as most of the group stripped out what was left in the building, which was a lot more than he would have expected. But a lot less than there had been last June. Jared stood off to one side, hovering protectively near Jill, who didn’t seem to notice. Steve was nearby examining the edge of his axe.

Jared had been a slightly off since the other night at the bridge camp, Rob wasn’t sure why that was, but it was evident. And now Jared, Steve, Ori, and Ronny were always close by Jill. It almost annoyed Rob that he hadn’t been read in on what ever was going on. But as good as Friends as he was with Jared, Steve, Ori and Ronny had served with Jared, fought at his side, and had worked with him for a lot of years before Rob came along.

Finally it was all packed away, even the canoes and Kayaks. Who knew when all those watercraft might come in handy.

“ Things are going to smooth aren’t they” Ryan asked as he climbed up on top of the Crusher. The teenager had certainly grown up a lot since his first real fire fight, when their camp had been attacked by raiders, he and Stephanie both had to be honest. He thought watching the slender very busty and competent blonde stand by the Door to the RV, her HK ready to be brought into play in a moments notice.

“ I think so, but nothing we can do about it but wait till Murphy rears his ugly face” Rob said, Ryan nodded gazing fondly at the Stephanie who broke discipline and waved at him.

His boyish good looks changed showing the handsome man he would become as he smiled back at her. “ get down there boy stop hanging around the homo people will start to talk” Rob said.

“ screw em, I’ve learned a lot from you, and you’re a good guy. Besides, no one in the group gives a damn about the few gay men in the group. Frees up the few single woman for the rest of the guys.” Ryan said, grinning. Just a few months ago, Ryan would have included himself in the number of single men, but not now, Ryan was well and truly hooked by Stephanie.

“ like the Mohawk, by the way” Rob said climbing to his feet. “ better get down, we are getting ready to haul ass out of here, people to rescue and all that”

Ryan nodded, he had just seen Jared waving people to board their transports. “when we make camp I have an idea for that new gadget you’ve been working on. If it works, your problems are over.” Ryan said as he scrambled down to the back deck onto the boom then leaped to the ground.

Rob shook his head, that kid was going to end up being better at designing and building gadgets than Rob ever was. Rob slipped into the Gunners hatch and into the belly of the beast. A moment later the heavy V12 roared to life.
* * * * *

“ Every one got your stuff together” Drake asked, as the survivors gathered just off the lobby of the radio station.

There were nods all the way around, Garret, the dark haired,teen aged, muscled, former male Cheerleader, and member of the Archery team, had the large pack containing all the tools necessary to build and repair bows, as well as arrows, plus his own gear strapped to his back. The heavy Compound bow he favored carried casually in his hand. “ Pretty much sir, me and Lany split up Ma…. The gear of those who died, it sucked, but we didn’t want to leave it behind.” Ballinger and the absent Track crews gear was spread out through the group was well, so if and when they got back together, they would have their things. Drake nodded, he really didn’t want to think about the body upstairs, Max had been a good man, he hadn’t deserved what happened to him. Really no one here deserved what god had allowed to happen to this world. He pushed that thought away, no time for a crisis of faith. Not that he had much faith these days anyway.

“Hope you folks are ready we are two minutes out, wait till we give the all clear before exiting. And keep down, don’t want any deaths from stray rounds.” Jareds voice Crackled thru the radio. Drake glanced at Lany who like him had, had to adjust to the fact that the man they had both been willing to hunt down and kill, was at the very least halfway decent if not in fact a good guy. Lany had adjusted to the idea much faster than Drake, who was still struggling with it. Lany gave Drake a thumbs up and grinned, not realizing how scared and young it made her look.

If your really there and listening, keep her and her friends safe god, he prayed silently. Out side, he could hear motors, big motors from the sound of it, along with the crush and scream of abused metal and ringing tracks on pavement.

The sound was so intense, that the building seemed to vibrate, dust sifting from the ceiling tiles. Drake was startled as he heard the sound of a Machine Gun, he thanked god he was kneeling as two fist sized holes appeared in the wall above him, “ get ready” he told his people. And then he heard a noise that sent a sliver of fear knifing thru him, breaking glass. a Voice erupted over the radio shouting at the man on the machine gun to cease fire, then snapping orders to some one else about getting in position.

Drake heard all that but it was distant, the zombies that had been pressed against the glass wall that looked into the lobby, were inside now. “ hang tight, got a vehicle moving to block the damn hole.” Jared said

“ better hurry” Drake replied, as the first of the undead made it across the lobby and rounded the corner into the hallway where Drake and his people had been waiting.
People began to scream, Lany and the others from the archery team sent arrows hissing into the undead, the teenagers were going to hold the line no matter what, no one was going to die this close to escaping if they could help it. Drake lifted the sledge hammer he carried and stepped forward swinging.

Jared cursed heavily as Corey sped past the M88, the undead that didn’t disappear under the van went cart wheeling to the sides or in one case over the van, as they were struck. Rob had gotten carried away using the Ma Deuce and had shot out the plate glass window, Jared only hoped no one inside that building died because of it.

“ just get us in position to close that hole.” Jared said tightly, as he charged his weapon. Corey nodded, his lips pressed tightly together as he aimed for the spot. The Beast was right on their ass ready to cover them as they entered. The knee cappers on the beast sending limbs and gore spraying as they ripped through the undead.

There was no way they could completely cover the hole,but they could damn well close half of it, the beast would cover what was left.

There had been more undead in the streets than they had anticipated, a lot more Jared thought. Probably the fires, and the cheering from the roof had drawn them here, at the moment there couldn’t be more than two hundred, which was not a problem per say.

But his people were going to have to take the risks just to make sure those people inside got safely outside and into the RVs. Jared briefly wondered why his people continually let him lead them into situations like this, they would be far safer letting total strangers die.

Corey judged it just right as he jammed on the brakes , the van shuddered as it slid to a stop, perfectly in position. Logan threw the side door open. Jared, Steve and Ori Piled out, and almost into the arms of the undead at the rear of the mass in the lobby.

It was total confusion for a moment, Jared just barely ducked out of the way of snapping teeth. He spun into a foot sweep that took the zombie down. Even before it hit the ground, he was flowing back up and sent the next zombie it flying into the arms of the undead crowd with a roundhouse kick.

Steve shattered the jaw of the Zombie closest to him with a butt stroke that sent it reeling into others clearing a space around him allowing him to bring his weapon into play, Ori just behind Jared and Steve was free to fire into the undead and he didn’t hesitate, he opened up with precise and deadly fire.

Jared put two rounds into the zombie he knocked to the ground then in a crouch began to fire into the mass, making every shot count. Jeb and Ori moved to Jared’s right, Logan moved to support Steve, and Jill angry as hell at being left out, was posted at the Vans door, to cover their backs.

The room was awash in undead, the stench was incredible, Jared was sure there were as many zombies in Lobby as there were out on the street, and he wasn’t thrilled with that Idea. He burned thru one magazine, slapped in another and kept firing.

“ son of a Bitch” He snapped as his weapon Jammed, he dropped to one knee, letting the others step past him and close up, while he worked to clear the Jam. “ contact Right” Jill called out as she fired from the Van at a zombie that had gotten around Jeb and lunged for the Exposed red head. Her round took it in the back of the head, which vanished in a fine mist of blood and bone that sprayed all over Jared. Thankfully, the bullet which passed through the zombies head didn’t strike any one else.

“ thank you babe” Jared muttered as two zombies managed to get around the Steve and Logan, Jared gave up on the jammed rifle, He rose to his feet letting the Commando dangle across his Chest, and drew the pistols on his thighs.

It had taken some practice to get used to the Kick of the .40 Glock in his left hand, but he had gotten used to it, he fired two shots into each zombie, dropping them. he shifted around to the right and nailed another one that managed to stagger past Jeb. Jill shot one to his left.

“ coming up” Jared said as he strode forward, the four men split right and left allowing him back in the center, the process closed the gaps on the flanks. Jared fired quickly into the rapidly thinning mass of undead, more accurate with his Mark 23 than the glock as soon as they were empty, he holstered them and drew the Berretta 92F and the Browning Hi power from the shoulder rigs. He grinned to himself, Gunslinger , wasn’t that what Mary had called the dirty dozen last winter.

Steve, knelt ejecting a spent mag, that fell to the ground, as he inserted a new one Jeb rammed the barrel of his rifle into the mouth of a zombie that tried to lean down and bite Steve on the top of the head. Jeb pushed it back pulling the trigger, and painted the wall next to the doorway with gore. “Suck on that, pus bag” Jeb shouted as he snapped his rifle back to his zone and with a snap shot, that was more luck than skill took down a zombie that had tried to reach his arm.
He blinked as he saw two zombies fall back out of the entrance of the hallway to the left of the lobby arrows sticking out of their eyes. He realized suddenly that all the zombies were down. “ Your cabs here.” Jared called out, surprised to see a muscle bound teen aged boy, holding a bow and an equally hard bodied good looking teen aged girl, with another bow step into the lobby over the corpses grinning like madmen as they saw Jared and the Team.

“ better move it” Rob said into Jareds Earbud, “ looks like the concerts over, because undead Traffic is growing.”

“ what’s the street right out front like” Jared asked tilting his head and placing a finger to his earbud as if to hear better..

“ clear for the moment,” Rob replied.

“ Corey move the van out of the way, and lets get those RV’s up here, “Jared said.

Jill leaped out of the van and closed the door, giving Jared a Look that dared him to say a word at her for not staying with the van. He just grinned at her. The van pulled out, and the people who had been trapped here, could finally see the Track parked in the middle of the street. They gaped at the huge machine for a moment.

“ Im Drake” a shortish man with dark hair said, as he came around the corner of the hallway accompanied by two men who were carrying a door with a man strapped to it, He was about as fit as your average soccer player, with a strong jaw, strong chin, high cheekbones, that gave him the angled cheeks so many women loved to see, and smoky gray eyes. He was maybe thirty five or so. He didn’t offer his hand, and Jared didn’t make an issue out of it he just nodded.

“ I’m Jared this is the dirty half dozen, and intros can wait till we are out of here. Seems a lot of zombies are coming down the road.” he said motioning towards the broken windows where an Semi truck based motor home was coming to a stop.
“ get your folks aboard, there’s food and water already inside for you, and some of my people, they are not guards, that’s just their ride.”

Drake nodded as he looked at the RV and then at the obviously badly wounded man on the door. “ wait till the second RV, to board him,” Jared said motioning at the man on the door.

“ Justin, your going to be needed, we have a wounded man here.” Jared said over the Radio. Jareds voice echoed from the radio in Drakes back pocket.

“ was he bitten” Justin asked a moment later as he picked up the mic of the base unit in the RV.

He looked at Drake who shook his head, hard eyes softening slighty at the concern in the words he was hearing. “ gunshot” Drake said clarifying

“ Negative, Gunshot wound” Jared said.

“ Gotcha, I’ll get some stuff set up. No promises” Justin replied and was gone.

“ You have Doctor” Drake asked, stunned.

“ No he was, is a Paramedic, with a stint as a combat Medic in the Guard, like he said no promises.” Jared replied.

“ That’s better than anything we had, a first aid kit and a Manuel for first aid procedures” Drake said, totally unaware that a tear was sliding down his face.

“ See told you they were not Ogres” the good looking Teen aged girl said, as she stood counting other bow carrying teenagers that were heading for the RV.

Drake flashed her a look then surprised himself by smiling back it felt sick in a way to stand in the midst of so many corpses and find something amusing. But he did, and he wasn’t going to feel guilty about it either.

There were only eight people left to board the second Rv, as soon as they were aboard, Jared led Team one at a run out the door to the waiting van, and tried not to feel a bit of panic at the sight of the undead up the street, the walking corpses filled the street for as far as Jared could see.

The Team piled in, and Jared heaved a sigh of relief as the Crusher rumbled forward, it would clear the way for the rest of the vehicles. If they were lucky they would be out of St. Bethlehem and into the Kentucky countryside in twenty minutes.
Jared was looking forward to the green wooded, rolling hills and ridges. God I hate cities, even more now than before He told himself as he settled back in the passenger seat.

* * * *
Jon wasn’t sure what to make of the group of men, he had been spying on for the last two days. Some of them carried weapons he had never seen before at least two of them were French, three were US marines, one sounded Russian, and the rest sound American but seemed to speak French, Russian, Spanish and German and a smattering of other languages he didn’t recognize.

He had been on his way towards Nashville, before he had gotten turned around avoiding large groups of undead in Clarksville. In some places they just stood there shoulder to shoulder not moving, their very presence blocking the main roads. He had realized that there were just to many to plow through that sooner or later he would get stuck, even if only by the sheer weight of numbers.

He had eventually ended up on the north side of the river driving thru bomb craters, torn up roads and the skeletal remains of buildings. The army had pretty much leveled anywhere large numbers of undead could gather unseen, for two miles from the Red river up 41a, and almost as far east as Needmore road in St. Bethlehem. There were bodies everywhere, scattered in the ruins and wreckage. Even now Crows and Vultures hovered in the area, perched on the tops of the few remaining broken walls, and crazily leaning telephone poles.

In a strip center, a clothing store looked intact, till he was passing it and then realized, that only the front wall was still standing, untouched in the midst of mounds of shattered masonry, and twisted and blacked Rebar and I beams. That stuck up into the air like twisted fingers clawing at the sky.

It had reminded him of the old news reel shots he had seen of bombed out German cities during WW2. or that Japanese town after the bomb had been dropped, Just a wall still standing here and there, amidst the destruction. Even with out zombies it would have been the creepiest thing he had ever seen.

He had driven west along the railroad and fence line till there were trees again then parked his jeep in the copse of cedars, out of sight. Then climbed the fence and dropped onto the base near a series of warehouses along the rail lines that had spurred off from the main line.

He had holed up in small building just off a rail line for the night, which is where he had seen the this new group entering a warehouse, and began to sneak around keeping an eye on them.

But today they had attacked the Army tank thing that Drake had been using, it looked like they were trying to take prisoners till the French guy, used a shoulder fired missile that ended the fight pretty quickly.

The head bad ass, and that’s exactly how Jon thought of the Leader, had been less than pleased, and for a moment it had looked like he was going to shoot the frog. But had stopped himself at the last moment. Instead he had cussed a few strips of skin off the French man, or that’s what it sounded like to Jon, since it was all in French. The only word Jon Recognized was merde, which didn’t lend its self to translating the rest.

He watched as they dragged the bodies out of the APC, and lined them up on the grass, where two men searched them. the others stripped the vehicle clean, which didn’t take long since it was damn near empty. Jon had only seen four corpses, there should have been six, Ballinger and Grant were not there. They might have stayed with Drake, and sent the APC out to try to find more vehicles. But he doubted it, Ballinger liked to take the lead in everything.

He smiled to himself as he realized Drake and what was left of his miserable little group were stuck in that Radio Station. His only regret was Lany and a couple of the other girls would die with them when the horde of zombies swept over the area. He shrugged to himself, watching the men as they talked..

Things were going well, he thought Mother Earth just keeps making sure I end up finding people to judge their worthiness to survive a little longer. While they lounged around the Veranda watching the waves roll in under the night sky in his dreams last night, his dream friend had assured him he could deal with these men. it was odd that even awake that dream felt so real, he could almost swear that he had actually taken a trip to the villa. And returned before dawn.

Jons thoughts stumbled to a halt as something metal and cold pressed against his neck, and a voice, heavy with a Russian accent told him to rise slowly with his hands raised. Jon had damn near pissed himself, but had done as he was told. He was marched thru the dust filled, office area. Past the long abandoned desks, and over turned chairs. Pictures on the sparse while walls, were filled with scenes of Army life.

Then he was squinting as he stepped out side, the barrel of the weapon no longer against his neck, but he knew the Russian was just behind him, waiting for a chance to shoot one Jon Williams.
“ Found him Adjutant” The Russian said his voice almost subterranean it was so deep, he reached out with one large hand and shoved Jon hard.

Jon fell with a grunt, sprawling on the cracked cement of the elevated delivery deck, he lay there for a moment almost to scared to move, and then a pair of combat boots filled his view. He looked up slowly eyes artfully wide, and realized no amount of acting was going to get him anywhere with this man.

The only thing that might mollify this man was to use the truth with a lot of lies mixed in, and that Jon was a past master at.

“ why were you spying on us” Cal asked, eyeing the pathetically skinny man laying there on the ground, blood dripped out of his nose where he had smashed it on the concrete.

“ because I didn’t know if you were a shoot first type of group” Jon said, letting his real fear add a quiver to his voice.

The Russian knelt next to Jon and pulled Jons Pistol from the hostler that had been concealed under his untucked shirt. The Russian passed it to Cal, who barely glanced at the weapon.

“ don’t Kill me okay, please Im not a threat” Jon pleaded, worried they might just do that very thing.

Cal studied him for a moment then tucked Jons Pistol in his waistband, those cold eyes never leaving Jons face.

Cal was weighing his options, there was very little the scrawny man lying there at his feet could offer the group. But there was something about him that made Cal hesitate in just blowing him away.

“ were you with the men in the APC” Cal asked suddenly, Jon had hoped he would be asked that. He shook his head emphatically.

“No they were looking for me, to Kill me” Jon said, with the total conviction of truth behind his lie. Ballinger would certainly have shot him if he had known Jon was hiding nearby. Almost instantly a lie sprang to life in his mind, part truth, part fiction and all designed to get assistance from this man.

“ they are part of a larger group, run by a red head name Jared, who has some kind of refuge on an island in South Carolina. Slavers is what they are. They travel around looting and taking slaves to work the farms they set up back on the coast. I got away after three days. Drake one of Jareds Lieutenants, was sent after me, those were his men, in the, APC,” Jon said. Cal looked dubious, at best to Jons story.

“ they send an APC full of poorly armed men after one skinny white boy” Cal said shaking his head as some of his men chuckled. “ I rather doubt any one would waste the fuel and ammo to hunt down one man, in this world of the dead.”

“they would if that one man had pretty much torched all but one of their vehicles in his escape” Jon said and pointed east. “ you didn’t see all the smoke the day before yesterday” Jon asked.

He saw a flicker in the Cal’s eyes, as the man leaned slightly forward on the balls of his feet. “ you say they have an Island base, Tell me about them, Tell me everything you know” Cal demanded, and Jon knew he had his way in. his mind raced over everything he had been told in his dreams and prayed it wasn’t just the delusions of an insane mind.

“ well for starters, they have helicopters and a plane not just that ultra light that’s been flying around, and they use an old Fort on an Island near Charleston as their base of operations…..” Jon began, and the men gathered around him listening intently.

* * * *
Jared leaned back in the bucket seat, and watched the fields slide by, deep green with patches of brown, Trees dotted the landscape, in clumps and scattered round. The business along the feeder road were few and far between, and not much of interest.

He glanced at Corey, one of mikes people who had turned out to be a personable type, and a great wheelman, and he didn’t hit on Jill, Mary seemed more his type Jared thought with a smile, that he quickly hid, turning his head away so that Corey wouldn’t see it.

As the road curved slightly away from 24 and the seemingly unending snarl of long abandoned vehicles, Corey pointed to the left “ look a grocery store.”

Over the last year, grocery stores as well as outfitter shops and military surplus stores had been priority targets for them to scavenge from, unlike the movies, where everything was stripped bare from every home, business and warehouse, the reality was many places had only been partially cleaned out.

The Zombies plague had swept across the world so fast that by the time people in urban areas had realized or truly believed the scope of the unfolding disaster, it was to late to do much more than hit the stores closest to them and it appeared that many stores had simply never opened for business, the owners or managers had never made it to work, or they had locked the place down and sat in side waiting for the crisis to blow over.

It was a crap shoot as far as Jared was concerned, some stores were damn near bare, others still had stock. It all depended on their locations, and the smaller the town the more likely the stores were stripped bare. And that was not even taking into account people passing thru scavenging just like Jared and his people.

“ Should we stop” Corey asked slowing in case he had to whip into the parking lot, Jared shook his head.

“ Considering what we pulled off two of those trucks yesterday, we are good for food for a while.” Jared said then nodded towards a fenced in lot down the road, where a large sign announced “Clarksville RV sales and Service”.

Jared considered hitting the place for another couple of Rv’s , especially since one of the two remaining Rv’s they had was ready to crater. But his reason for not wanting to get any thing else that was made for street travel remained. The roads were already crumbling and washing away in some places. Bridges had collapsed and it was only going to get worse. Even if the zombies just up and died right now, they couldn’t keep all the roads on the continent maintained for travel.

No securing military vehicles built for off road travel for now, and rebuilding vehicles for off road travel when they had a secure place was the only real options at this point. Well that and Aircraft as Ronny brought up on many occasions.

There had been some talk back on Sullivan about how some people believed that the next generation, assuming any of them survived, would be back to a colonial American lifestyle, and the one after that would be back to naked and hunting with sharp pointy sticks in the ruins of the cities their ancestors had built.

Jared didn’t buy it, all the tools, equipment and knowledge they needed to keep civilization going were out there, waiting to be recovered and put to use. hell the nuke plant in Oak ridge was still up and running, which meant people with the knowledge to keep it running were alive and well inside. At least they had been three weeks ago, judging by the numbers of undead outside the facility fence line.

He wondered if Ashton, had gotten the phone system up and running on the island by now. The collection of early 20th century crank phones and field phones they had found along with an actual switchboard on display in a museum was more than capable of getting a phone system up and running that covered a couple of miles.

If they could get the tidal generators Ori and Rob had come up with built and placed, they could even have power back up and running by no later than next year. And once that happened, things were going to change for all of them, mostly for the better.

With the right tools and practice, any mechanical part could be made by hand, Mass production had jellied peoples minds, making them believe that only thru machines could things be made. Jared wanted to make sure that People learned how to do things by hand.

But if they got power back up and running, they could strip out CNC Machines where ever they found them, to make just about any part they needed to exact tolerances. And he planned on taking advantage of that as well. He just didn’t want the survivors to become totally reliant on technology again.

Only the Dirty Dozen and a few others knew his long range plans, and only Steve seemed to doubt its success, but Jared wasn’t to concerned, he had to make the effort to save and preserve what was worth while. And if it kept them from falling back into the stone age, and preserved Art, literature, philosophy and knowledge in General, so the kids that came after them had a heritage beyond hunting naked in the woods and rutting like woodland creatures then he had to try regardless, and the Devil could kiss his hairy ass if the thought he was going to stop it.

And next year, if they were lucky they were going to secure one of the strategic fuel reserve sites, and after that, well he might be years dead but sooner or later they would take back some wells and refineries, or come up with something else to run things by then.

“ Almost there” Corey said dragging Jared back to the real world.

“ What, sorry was thinking about things” Jared said looking out the windshield, as they passed a couple of hotels just off the interstate.

“ The drive in, its just down the road” Corey replied, Jared nodded, taking in the open fields and occasional business’s as they passed the hotels, they might be worth checking out he thought. He had totally zoned out after passing the Rv place and they were already heading south again on 41a that if they followed it past the drive in would run right past the gates of Fort Campbell.

His anxiety was back as he thought about Eric, who might still be alive and mere miles away from him. Be alive Kid, Jared prayed silently, knowing that if any one could have survived this shit, his Brother and his men could have.

He remembered the last time they had been together and the argument when he found out Eric had been Fighting MMA off and on when he was back stateside, for some reason even his Commander supported him believing it was good publicity for the 5th SF, and Green Berets in General, as well as a good recruitment publicity for the US ARMY.

Jared had thought it was reckless, and would end up with Eric paying the price later in MMA injury related disabilities, not associated with his already dangerous job. It might have been encouraged by the military, but they wouldn’t want to help pay the costs for treating those disabilities later.

But Erics deployments in the war on Terror had kept him from competing much, so for that Jared had been relieved. Being in the Crosshairs of some Dirt eating Fanatics weapon kept him from feeling to relieved. They hadn’t managed to get together for more than a couple of hours at a time for the last couple of years, and then this shit had come rolling down the pike, a shit storm to end all shit storms, just when Eric was coming back from Deployment. They were supposed to have gone backcountry for some hiking and fishing for a week and fence mending, but the end of the world had pretty much put a stop all camping trips.

At least he knew that Eric had made it back from the Stan, and made it past the first weeks of the Dead rising, but since then anything could have happened including Eric being killed.

No need to borrow trouble, you know which barracks room was his, and you know where his off base apartment is, even if he isn’t here, he would have let something at one or both places to let Jared know what was going on.

And if nothing else, Jared’s home was just down the road from here, Eric could have gone there too. So Jared had options to check out. But at some point if he didn’t find his brother he was going to have to make a decision on whether to keep on searching, he hoped he never reached that point, god he didn’t want to reach it.

It was late afternoon when they reached the drive in, Jared was happy to see, that it had a eight foot, re enforced privacy fence around the entire lot. Which meant unless they made a lot of noise, no undead wandering by could see them inside.

The Van stopped at the turn off, and the Team dismounted, Ori cut the locks while they kept guard. Jared led the team into the lot and scanned it quickly, but saw nothing but rows and rows of speaker stands.

It took half an hour and a few hack saw blades but soon they had every vehicle parked in the lot. With out a third Rv they couldn’t use the U shaped camp set up, but they did the best they could to make defensible position in case zombies got inside.

The last touch was to park the Jeep Ambulance across the gate, so there would be no repeat of Mikhail’s little stunt of opening the gates to let zombies inside. Hope your rotting in hell Jared thought, you Russian bastard.

The camp was set up in minutes, tables set out, the communal kitchen set up under the awning of Jared’s RV. Mike and his people pitched in happily, and Amy, was already making friends with the new Teenagers, they had picked up at the Radio station. Who seemed surprised to find out they were not the first but the second group to be rescued by Jared’s folks in less than a week.

Amy seemed more interested in the handsome teen aged boy, than anything. Jared made a mental note to slip the kid some condoms, just in case.

As he watched the new folks, he saw Drake walking towards him. Jared kept his face friendly as the man came to a stop before Jared, Drakes eyes flicking to Jill and then to Steve. The frown vanished from his face, after a moment.

“ I want to get something out in the open now, before the stories start, we ended up here, because we were hunting you folks for some revenge.” Drake said levelly, Jared let his puzzlement show, but didn’t react otherwise.

“ you see we had a place in Lafayette, that was burned to the ground, we, well some of us at any rate thought it had been set by some one outside the group. And when we ran across a hippie named Jon Williams, who told us he had been held captive and escaped from you folks, and that you had set the fires,” Drake shrugged. “ the little bastard played me for a fool, I bought every bit of his story. Turns out… “ Drake said then told Jared the whole story.

By the time he had finished Dinner was getting started, Drake and his band were surprised fresh deer was being cook up, as well as fresh vegetables, Drake’s surprise only grew as Jared silently opened a cooler and then tossed Drake a cold beer.

“It might be flat, not sure. But what’s a tail gate party with out Beer” Jared said with a crooked smile.

“Not the reaction I thought I would get telling a man I was gunning for him just a few days ago. Beer and a BBq” Drake said even as he opened the can.

“In your place I would have done the same thing” Jared assured him. “Trust me I crossed all of South Carolina to find a sick bastard who had slaughtered a little boy just because the kid looked up to me.” Jared said, his voice glacial. There was a dangerous light in his eyes for a moment then it faded. “So no I don’t hold a grudge, as long as you don’t harbor doubts about our innocence”

Drake took a slug of beer, belched then sighed in pleasure. “ not one doubt. I wanted to be upfront before any rumors got started and it caused problems for both our people.

I have to admit though it did chap my ass just a little when you folks saved our lives, I mean we had been hunting you wanting blood just two days before.” Drake said, then actually laughed. “and here the man I thought was a Murdering scum sucker gives me the first cold beer, hell the first cold anything in over a year, and fresh meat on a fire.” Drake said as Ori chuckled.

“my question is this, where do we go from here?” Drake asked leaning slightly forward, Jared knew the man had to be wondering if Jared was just going to leave them here to fend for themselves, or had other plans. And from the way he kept glancing towards the one teenaged girl, he was worried about her as well.

“First I think we need to get you people some vehicles and gear. We can set you with some gear and food right now. but we don’t have enough packs and essentials for everyone in your group. So I have this to offer, you help us secure what we need, and you get what you need at the same time.” Jared said his emerald eyes locking with Drakes Gray eyes for a moment.

“Speaking of,” Steve said as he sat down on a five gallon bucket of Pickle slices.” What exactly are we going to be hitting. From the aerials that Ronny took, it looks like they cleared out the base. And if they did it in an orderly fashion and it looks like they did. There won’t be much left on base.” Steven said, as Ronny, Mike, Mordicai, Lee and several others gathered around.

“What’s the first places you would hit on base for supplies?” Jared asked, looking around at the people clustering around him.

“ supply, motor pool and armory” Ronny offered, like it was a no brainer and in a way it was a no brainer.

“They evacuated Jackson, six months of keeping the undead out, and they took damn near everything when they did. Campbell looks the same way from the air, only with fewer vehicles left behind, no train cars on the spurs, and only a handful of planes left behind on the airfield.,” Jared paused looking around, the right corner of his lips quirked like he was about to smile.

“Ill bite, so what are we going to look for on base” Steve asked.

“ DRMO” Jared said, and grinned as he saw Ori and Steve’s eyes light up.

“ what’s DRMO?” Mike asked, he had been in the military and hadn’t heard of that one before.

“Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office” Jared explained, laughing at the looks of frustration on the faces of most of the people around him, apparently the name meant nothing to them.

“It’s like a supply clearing house. They auction off old gear, everything from P 38’s to vehicles, all of it on base and stored out of sight. Sometimes they have new stuff, but usually its older stuff, old mummy sleeping bags, cold weather gear, ponchos, mess kits, sleeping mats, canteens, kitchen appliances from chow halls, Stainless steel prep tables desks, paper weights, probably some generals ex wife and a mother in law are tucked away in there. Vehicles can be anything from odd test beds, to Deuces, Tracks. The last DRMO I was at had fifty of these odd looking eight wheeled vehicles with a trailer attached specifically designed for Desert storm. Most had a mile or less on the clocks, they were shipped out on trains, drive off the flat cars onto ships or planes, moved to location driven off, parked and then returned back to the US at the end.

Some are chopped up, others stripped down for parts, but many more are intact and still run. And that’s where we are going. Drake and Mike’s people need to replace gear, and need vehicles; one stop shopping is my goal. After that we have one more place to visit and in a way it’s far more important. After that we can scrounge for, fuel trucks, parts, tools what ever.” Jared explained looking around; some of the folks were definitely excited at the thought of a place being fully stocked up. Jared was guessing it was of course, and they all knew that. But the air of certianity he projected was something they wanted to believe.

And the truth was, as far as Jared was concerned there was no reason, any one would have thought about packing up DRMO, it was under civilian control. And no one in command of the base had much reason to even remember it existed when planning on a bug out boogie.

Hell for that matter most Soldiers didn’t know about DRMO, so it was less than likely that any one that came to the base to look for things would even pay much attention to the sign or understand what it might mean, they would be looking for Supply, the armory, and the motor pool.

And unlike civilians who would be looking to take the cool tanks and APCs, Jared had all the tracks he wanted, right now. the M88 had capabilities they needed, any other vehicles they got, where going to replace the vehicles they already had, and were going to be wheeled light to medium vehicles. No APC’s, no tanks, and no matter how much Ronny might beg, they were not going to get a mortar track, Ronny loved the things, and he hadn’t even been in artillery.

And wheeled vehicles did less damage and had lots better gas mileage than any track made, and that was important as hell.

“What’s the second place we are definitely hitting?” Jill asked, as she brushed a lock of dark hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind an ear.

“ they have a medical Library by the hospital, and we are going to strip it clean. Linda, Doc Winston, and Mike’s guy Justin can damn sure use it, and we are going to need the stuff to teach others how to be doctors. Its worth more than fucking gold” Jared said, most every one nodded in agreement.

Drake wasn’t alone as he stared at Jared and his people with surprise and hope, at hearing there was a doctor.

“You have a real, honest to god Doctor” Drake asked, Jared nodded

“ well we know where one is, he lives at a place we call the Farm, before all this it was a living farm Museum in the Great Smoky mountains, he was up there when it went to hell and never got home. There’s maybe forty or so people there, we stayed there over the winter, and We have Linda, who was a Nurse, who stayed behind with the main group on Sullivan’s Island were we have cleared about half the island of zombies and have a clinic set up in the old hospital ward of Fort Moultrie.” Jared said, then casually added with out smiling. “ theres something like two hundred people there now, maybe more have shown up since we left.”

The shock of the thought of what amounted to two small towns worth of people alive and well, silenced the new comers for a moment. Then every one began talking at once, Jared smiled at the hope that bit of news gave these people.

Though Jared worried that could change, the Dark seemed to be able to reach into people and twist and tear at their darkest fears and desires, some it could turn against others. It was the enemy with in that Jared worried most about, not anything he could see over his sights.

Bowler hat, seemed to be able to do just that, and the way he had used Hanson, as a weapon against Ed, didn’t bode well. Especially since Ed had not just believed but known he was being attacked by Jasper Brown AKA bowler hat, only at the end Hanson stood before him on that balcony, his mind fully consumed with the hatred Jasper Brown had held for Ed in particular and people in general.

The overt supernatural element still scared the shit out of Jared, but it’s the way things were now, and there were rules to this little war, what exactly they were Jared didn’t know, it seemed that it was against the rules to tell the living the rules of the conflict, and apparently the Dark side of things was limited to its interactions with the living, and who it could corrupt and use. but when the dark found some one like Jasper Brown, or Seth, or Mikhail, it damn sure used them to create terror, and destroy hope.

Madness followed where bowler hat walked, Jared had decided that on the Rooftop of the hotel as he stood over Mikhail’s body. He had also decided that there was no point in stressing over it either, Ashton and the others back on the island were on the look out for suspicious behaviors, and kept on eye on things that could be used to kill lots of people, like fuel, and explosives.

Maybe just maybe, God, the light, or what ever you wanted to call it, was keeping an eye on the people who had gone thru so much and not only survived but were starting to thrive. At least Jared hoped so.

“ dinners ready” Mary called out, breaking the moment, the newcomers swarmed towards the tables were food was being laid out in a buffet.

Steven sniffed in appreciation, then grinned. “ Ronny is going to hate missing this spread, but Ill make sure he gets a good MRE to make up for it”

Jared shook his head and grinned, knowing Steve had something evil in mind,

“ Got just the right one picked out already. Its perfect for him” Steve said as he pulled out a pouch and held it up.

Ori started laughing, “The four dicks of death, he ought to love it” he said.

The four dicks was by almost unanimous opinion, one of the worst MRE meals known to man, and that was saying something. It beat out the bean and motherfucker version, which was the same meal but with five nasty beef franks, not four, with beans and sauce.

The Army in its wisdom had decided that since the Beans and motherfucker meal was so hated that they would cut it down to four franks and take away the beans and the gas they created. Just for those beans the meal should have been banned under the Chemical weapons clause of the Geneva convention. Instead of being wildly popular, the plan had created the four dicks of death, and a culinary legend of nastiness was born.

Jared rose from his seat, he was going to get food before they ran out, god knows what Steve would come up for him.

“ you sir, are an mean and evil person, and I’m glad you’re one of my best friends.” Jared said to Steve, as he led Jill towards the table, and the waiting food.

Steve just laughed heavily as he followed along behind Jared, “ oh just wait to see what Else I have in mind for Ronny.” He said grinning. Jared just laughed as he started fixing plates for Jill and himself.
* * * *

At some point after last June, the base had been fortified, or more correctly the gates, had been fortified and at weaker sections of the fence line trenches had been dug, and the earth that had been removed had been used to create a berm behind the fence. Some areas like base housing had been fenced in and trenched, access roads had been completely blocked except for the main road into housing.
And then the Military had left, the zombies hadn’t broken in, at least not as far as Ronny could tell. They had just left, taking most of the equipment with them, from what Ronny could see, there were some military vehicles left down there on the streets and parking lots. But places like motor pool were damn near empty.

The train yard was empty, except for a couple of flat cars, but everything else was gone, the only thing Ronny could think of was they had been ordered to bug, and had taken every thing they needed to operate.

But no matter how thorough they were, stuff would be left behind, enough to help out the group at any rate Ronny thought as he flew back over the Airfield. With as few zombies as he had seen on the base, something like eight, he decided to do something that would most likely piss of Jared. but that was okay with him, he was tired of trying to talk Jared into letting him do what he thought was necessary.

“Hang on, we are landing” Ronny said as he lined up on a taxi way and headed in. Ryan Grunted and held on for dear life, as Ronny dumped air and dropped rapidly, before leveling off and a moment later the Tricycle gear touched down.

“I think I’m going to throw up then kill you “ Ryan said, from the back where he had a death grip on the edge of the seat. .

“No problem, but your going to have to wait till we get back to Kill me unless you want to walk back to the camp.” Ronny said with a grin. “Keep an eye out for undead; I want to check something out.”

Ronny said as he started across the wide concrete expanse, towards one of the Hangers, whose doors stood halfway open, inside he could see a UV-20A Chiricahua, the markings indicated it was a National Guard aircraft. He had spotted it on a fly by earlier, when he had buzzed the field just feet off the ground to see if how many undead the noise would draw out.

He entered the hangar weapon at the ready, but saw nothing moving in the shadows of the huge building. It appeared to be empty of the undead, the only noise was the sighing of a light breeze outside.

He moved quickly to the Chiricahua, and opened the door, looking inside he smiled. Just what he wanted, enough room for ten, with some cargo, if he remembered right, this birds could land on a football field, with room to spare, held a record for the highest landing, on a glacier in Nepal. The wing span was a bit wide for landing on roads, around fifty feet, but this thing could land on some of the roughest ground around. Unless he flew it back to Sullivan and traded it for the Duck water landings were out, at least as far as he knew of.

So unless he could find a land sea plane, he would be stuck with dry land but he didn’t mind that so much. They could even pack Chutes and do air insertions if they wanted to. he was half tempted to try to fly one of the C131’s so they could insert a vehicle, but he wasn’t sure how well he could fly the damn things. No this aircraft would be perfect for their needs, and you could work on it with standard tools.

It might take some work, to get her running, but she would be well worth it in the long run. He shut the door and walked back towards the idling ultra light. Half way there he felt like some one was watching him and began to check the area with out turning his head, mostly looking out of the corners of his eyes.

Across the tarmac, were the operations center, and the fields control tower. Several vehicles had been parked and abandoned there, But he was sure that something had moved up in the tower, just a shadow briefly seen. Ronny didn’t stop and stare, or turn he just plodded on over to the ultra light climbed into the seat and strapped in. He was damn sure it wasn’t a zombie. He powered up, turned and in moments the ultra light had reached speed, and threw itself into the sky.

“Ryan, check out the tower with your binoculars” Ronny called back, as they reached a hundred feet, not wanting to use the radios just in case some one was listening in.

“All right” Ryan said, lifting the binoculars to his eyes and centering them on the control tower. Beyond the window he thought he saw a man, looking back at him with binoculars. “There’s some one in there watching us!” he exclaimed.

“Thought as much” Ronny said, as he pulled the stick back and climbed as fast as the Ultra light could handle. Just in case some one started shooting at them.

It might be paranoid, but any one that just stayed in the tower and watched them instead of coming down to greet them or warn them off, struck him as Suspicious. It might not be anything dangerous, it could be a solider or Civvie who had been left behind, and didn’t trust anyone enough to risk showing themselves, . But Ronny didn’t think so.

It was getting late, and he needed to finish his patrol then get back to the new camp, and let Jared know he had spotted some one lurking around the airfield.

* * * * *
Mike leaned against the rail of the scissor lift, gazing out past the fence line of the drive in Theatre to the fields beyond, a Wal-Mart super center or what was left of it was just down the road, and Mike could see a couple of broken walls jutting up into the evening sky.

The horizon was already beginning to burn with bands of color as the sun sank towards the horizon. Above him a almost full moon floated in the azure sky, a few stars were already flickering to life.

Almost against his will, his eyes were drawn back to the camp, where he could see Carrie talking quietly with one of the new men. She had actually seemed to have calmed down somewhat, at least where the others were concerned. She was even volunteering for chores, if she was hoping to win points with Jared’s people she was SOL, she had been to big of a bitch for them to easily forget the problems she had caused before she suddenly decided to wash dishes or help wash clothes.

He sighed and turned his attention back to guard duty, trying not to focus on how lonely he was, it killed him to look at her, to see the woman he loved but knew her mind was gone, replaced by some one else’s. Justin had frequently assured him that the chances were good that sooner or later her memories would return. But Mike was beginning to wonder, the woman in her body did not seem like she was going anywhere.

The drive in reminded him of when they had first started dating, he smiled sadly remembering how he had discovered a still open drive in, and in a fit of nostalgia had taken her to see a movie, they hadn’t watched much of the movie, but had spent a lot of time fogging up the windows.

He shook the memory away, in a few days no more than a week, he was taking her back to their house on the other side of Clarksville. To hell with the undead, to hell with the danger, and to hell with what the new Carrie wanted. If this didn’t shake her mind back, he would admit defeat, maybe head to that island Jared’s folks talked about, maybe just take a boat and go see the world.

He didn’t know if he could stay with Ily and the others no matter how much he liked them. more to point he wasn’t sure if he could stay that close to Carrie and to Ily. Chicken shit it might be but there it was, and he had to be honest and admit at least privately that he didn’t think he could handle it.

But maybe he wouldn’t have to, maybe just maybe, his plan would succeed, and he would have his wife back again. . He had to hold on to that hope, it was the only one that mattered in this fucked up world.
* * * * * *

Ronny, his mind full of images of the plane he had found, flew slowly down the Red river, watching as the light from the setting sun touched the river and set it aflame. The tops of the trees glowed with the light, it was almost magical, or would have been if there weren’t undead down there waiting to bite his ass off.

He turned his thoughts to the their real reasons to being here, Eric, Jared’s younger brother, and arguably as good with a weapon and martial arts as Jared was, Just as stubborn, and almost as big a man whore as Ronny had once been. He smiled at that thought, it had bothered Jared that Eric bounced from woman to woman.

Considering what the man had done for a living, it wasn’t surprising, he was rarely home long enough to get any deeper into a relationship than a few dates before being deployed again to some BFE post in the stan or some other hell hole. Where playing Bedroom rodeo could lead to a woman’s death and a war with her family.

Jared and Eric were so alike, and yet so damn different it wasn’t funny. Eric was just as tough, just as intense, and yet for all his size, speed, and deadliness, he was a Nerd too. He remembered back when Eric had been 16 and had told Jared he was going camping for a couple of weeks during the summer with some friends, Jared had believed it, till he got a call from the San Diego police to come pick up Eric, who had while at a Star Trek Convention had put two muggers in a hospital.

The two men had decided the hot little number dressed in some Star Trek Sex slave outfit with Eric was their best target. Eric had put both of the middle aged thugs in the hospital with a variety of broken bones.

Jared had been surprised at finding out his brother, was a trekkie, not one of the costume wearing ones, but a big fan anyway. Eric had also been shacked up with a woman eight years older than he was during his stay in San Diego, he had met her online and had told her he was 21, with his size and looks, and composure, women had always assumed he was older than he was, so she had never suspected.

The kid had been something else, and no one had been surprised when he signed up for the green machine straight out of high school, where he excelled at everything put in front of him. Jared had been proud of his little brother. The Pride had taken a hit when he found out the Eric had first, made SF and that soon after had started Competing in MMA bouts, sanctioned by his commander.

They had even argued about it a few times, but in the end Eric had told Jared to live his own life and stay the hell out of Erics, by then Eric had been Special forces for a while, which bothered Jared almost as much as the Competition fighting, and the two saw a lot less of each other. What Jared’s problem with competition fighting and the SF was, not even his closest friends knew. It was as big a mystery as why Jared hated clowns.

“ coming up on Port Royal Park” Ronny called back to Ryan, smiling to himself. Then his smiled faded as he took in the sight that was rapidly growing clearer as they drew closer to the bridge and their old campsite. Shock stilled his mind as he stared, behind him he heard Ryan utter “ Fuck me running!”

below lit by fading blood red sunlight, a black mass filled the park, and beyond, the huge mass only thinned where it was funneled across the river by the bridge, but once on the other side, the horde spread out again heading north west, like a tidal wave of death rolling in on St. Bethlehem.

Ronny immediately keyed his Radio. “ Flight to base camp, you folks need to know what Im seeing right the fuck now!” Ronny said and then began to relay his report as he circled back and flew over the mass again.

* * * * * * * * *
The moon rode high in the night sky surrounded by a million diamond hard stars that glittered coldly in the black sky. The camp had finally quieted down, after a few hours of panic created by Ronny’s Report. It had taken Jared almost two hours to get them to understand that they had two days, possibly three before that horde could reach them, and by then they would be gone.

Steve lay in his bed, knowing that such a short time, meant that Rob wouldn’t have the time to Repair Steve’s truck or the Faltering RV. And if Jared’s idea of hitting DRMO didn’t pan out tomorrow, they ran a damn big risk of a vehicles breaking down on the run out of the area, and if the undead showed up sooner than projected, they would be trapped in a sea of undead.
He yawned heavily closing his eyes for a moment, and heard bells. His eyes snapped open, scanning the dark master Bedroom of his RV, moonlight spilled in thru the window casting pools of silver light, making the world seem black and white.

He started to sit up and froze as the door swung slowly open. Bells softly rang, and a laugh, came from the dark doorway. White eyes glowed like lanterns in the darkness locked with Steve’s own eyes. He felt the overwhelming urge to cover his head with the sheets like he was a kid again.

But he couldn’t, he just sat there as the thing pranced into the room, doing a weird shuffling dance, bells rang and jingled , but there was something of madness in the sound. It smiled at him, moonlight glittering on its teeth that had been filed to points. Half its face was hidden by the shadow cast by the rim of the bowler hat it wore,

It capered around the bed for a moment, on its spindly legs, knives flashing in its hands, As it scrapped the blades together with a hard ringing metallic sound. And then it stopped dead at the foot of his bed, smiling. “ times almost up Steven “ the voice was cold, harsh, and sibilant whispering in the back of his mind. “ leave them, and you can find your brother, stay, …..” the voice trailed off and then it laughed, the sound like ice water being pushed through his veins.

It capered around the bed again, stopping in the shadows by the closet, like some obscene shadow creature perched on spindly legs, hunched forward, almost eagerly, he couldn’t see that smile but he could feel it, cold and menacing. It was growing stronger he realized, not even sure what that meant or how he knew.

It moved again jerkily this time around the bed and back to the door, a smell like rotting meat and summer rain in the air, it turned its oddly shaped head back towards him, a pale light glowed hatefully in its eyes. “ Im coming for you” it said, and vanished thru the doorway.

Steve found he could suddenly move and flipped on the light next to the bed, and breathing heavily. Covered in sweat, he sat with elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands trying to calm his heart beat.

The nightmares were getting worse; he couldn’t deal with them for much longer, he thought. Finally his heart rate slowed and pulled his hands away, might as well read because there will be no more sleepi…….his thoughts tumbled to a stop as he saw the bloody footprints along the side of his bed. Confused, uncertain and terrified, Steve snatched up the pistol on his night stand and turned to look at that still open door. he rose and moved towards the doorway, wearing nothing but his boxers.

Bloody foot prints were all around his bed, and they came from and returned to the door, Steve gripped the pistol tighter, and stepped into the door way peering down the length of the almost palatial RV. People were sprawled out everywhere, seemingly asleep.

Steve reached for the main light switch, his hand trembling, and turned them on to reveal the horror.

Bloody foot prints were tracked thru the room, around each body. Jill’s head had been hacked off and placed on a table, Ronny’s mouth had been slit open into hideous smile that revealed all his teeth thru the bloody hole, his intestines had been neatly coiled next to his gutted carcass, Mary, had been skinned alive and left to die. Jared was only recognizable by his red hair, he had been sliced apart piece by piece.

Ori’s limbs had been removed but left laying exactly where they should be, his eyes were gone but the glasses had been placed back on his face, and the others all the others bedded down in the RV, were just as badly mutilated., there was nothing the harsh electric light didn’t reveal.

Steve took one step forward, mind reeling with fear and panic, knowing this wasn’t possible, it wasn’t. his sanity hung by a single thread. Steve fell to his knees, and then something moved behind him, and the sound of bells rang clearly in his ear. “cant wait to meet you in person, gonna paint the town red” a voice hissed in his ear, and a hand colder than death grabbed his shoulder. Steve started screaming.
“Steve, come on man snap out of it” Ori said shaking him by the shoulders, the primal undulating scream dwindled then stopped as Steve looked around and saw every one clustered around him, he was shaking so badly he couldn’t stop. No nightmare had ever gotten to him this badly. he realized he was on his knees in the living room section of the Rv. I never sleep walk, oh my god what the hell is happening to me.

Jared stood there silently, then knelt and slipped an arm around Steve and helped him rise,“ let’s get you back to bed” he said as Ori scooped up Steve’s dropped pistol and then helped Jared get him back into the Bedroom.

They got Steve back to his bed and Jared sat on the edge of the bed. “ wanna tell me about it.” Jared asked. Steve started to shake his head then finally let it all out, the whole damn series of dreams, ending with tonight’s nightmare. All through the telling his hands shook and his skin prickled.

As he described the sound of the Bells, Jared turned pale, but said nothing. Steve was to wrapped up in his own fear and nightmare to notice Jareds reaction. But Ori did, and Ori had a feeling it was something important to Jared.

“ I’m sorry Jared I should have told you all of this, a long while back. But… hell I don’t know I just couldn’t.” Steve said as he waited for a response to his story.

Jared nodded slowly “don’t sweat the small stuff Brother, you’ve had my back for years, I’m not angry, and I forgive you if that’s what your wanting to hear. But I don’t think you have a thing to apologize for.” Jared said, meaning every word of it. He couldn’t hold a grudge against Steve for not discussing his dreams not when He had kept things like many of his own dreams from the others. And he wasn’t sharing his own reaction to the mention of the bells, and the bloody footprints in Steve’s dreams, and the butchery that followed.

That was a message straight to Jared, from a dream that had stalked his nights as a kid, a dream whose memory was seared into his mind, and once more Jared had wonder what the hell where they really dealing with, and why was it so fucking fixated on his little group and himself.

Jared was tired, tired of the weirdness, tired of the undead, and definitely tired of this undead creep screwing with his friends and his wife.

You don’t have to worry about coming for us you bowler hat wearing shit, Im going to hunt your undead ass down and put it down for good Jared vowed silently How he didn’t know, but he would find a way, to meet it on his terms at a time of his choosing.

thanks for reading please leave a reply

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