Chapter 11

“The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.”
~EA poe
Cal Simms walked across the compound, glancing up at the sky, noting only light smattering of clouds in the morning sky. He came to at stop watching as the men who manned the gate, moved the city bus that blocked the entrance into the walled compound.

He raised an eyebrow as a Stryker nosed into the compound, the remote turret fifty firing at a knot of undead that had been drawn by the sound of heavy motors. One by one the vehicles of two Militia units rolled into the compound and parked. With this many men under arms, his plans stood a good chance of succeeding. He glanced at Malone, who stood stiffly, looking as Military as he could, watching as his new allies pulled in and parked.

Simms had been surprised when Malone had told him about the two militia units imminent arrival and how he had been in contact with both units since the ZA had started using a pre established Channel on a HAM system Simms had been surprised but he automatically started planning on recruiting both units to help take the island.

One group, was no more than a bunch of rednecks with a few military vehicles, two Deuce and a halves and three hummers to be exact and a mix of Ford, Chevy and Dodge pickups, as well as several jeeps parked haphazardly to one side of the yard. If they had to leave in a hurry most of the dumb asses were going to ram into each and create a snarl. They did have an amazing array of military weapons, right down to a Bazooka, where in the hell they had come up with that and why they had taken it was beyond him.

But the second group was much more impressive, driving almost all Military vehicles, Strykers, three Bradley’s, two M113’s, several Hemmets and Hum Vee’s along with a smattering of civilian vehicles parked in Laagers, on the other side of the compound. Seventy or so men and women, all well armed who carried a mix of civilian and military weapons.

He wondered for a moment where they had acquired all that armor, then shook his head. Probably the same places he had picked up his stuff, dead bases and the side of the road.

Almost the entire unit wore outdated BDU’s, with a scattering of ACU’s and Marcam in their ranks, they at least seemed to have some sort of Military discipline. Which was more than he would have expected.

Both units were here at Malone’s request to help put an end to a walled Apartment complex that had dealt some serious damage to Malone’s unit for months now. Simms had no idea what they might be getting out of helping Malone but he was certain that they were not doing it out of the kindness of their little weasely hearts.

Malone, Simms thought, had a major hard on for the complex. The Fact that he had actually asked for others to help showed just how much he really hated the place. There was a lot of that going around these days, Simms thought.

He glanced at Sheamus who had been acting surly the last few days, he wasn’t happy with linking up with amateurs or with the way Cal had decided to approach the particular problem of the island. Well Sheamus deal with it or hit the road boyo Simms thought not about to let the Irishman have his way.

The three militia leaders met in the yard, noting the looks the two new arrivals cast towards the two big trucks and the military vehicles that Cal had brought, but it was the old armed Huey helicopter that seemed to draw the most attention. That was on reason he had made sure it had been landed in the yard, instead of the roof. So it would be there on display just another power play to impress the rubes.

He couldn’t hear what they said, but the redneck looking man seemed annoyed at first but quickly calmed down. After a few moments Malone waved for Cal to join them. it was a start. He had worried they might refuse since he wasn’t militia and they had never heard of him.
Malone smiled hugely at Cal as he came to a stand with the group “ Col Simms, Id like you to meet George “mule” Hanson, Commander of the North Carolina 3rd militia, and Jeremy “ Bubba” Cotton, South Carolina Patriots militia. Gentleman Lt. Col Simms US Army Rangers.” So Hanson was the leader of the militia unit that seemed to know their ass from a hole in the ground. Bubba how ever didn’t impress Simms in the least.

Cal nodded at the two men assuming his most professional manner, “the Major left off retired, my last Active command was actually with the legion, after that I spent a few years working with Blackwater and other firms doing contract work.” He almost laughed at the looks that crossed both men’s faces. It was funny how easily most people were impressed, throw on some equipment, look and act competent, and people thought you were a bad ass with out actually seeing you in combat, hell most people would dress up and somehow convince themselves that they were bad asses just because they looked good in a Camo holding an assault rifle. All it took in the Stan was a weapon to feel like an unbeatable hero.

Commander Hanson was a stout man, wide bodied with thick arms and legs, thinning black hair, a craggy masculine face, and deep still eyes. That one was a thinker, and Cal would lay odds he was prior service. And so were most of his people. They acted to professional.

Bubba as he liked to be called, was a hick, a vicious man child idiot. A well armed vicious idiot at that. sandy blonde hair, thick lips and narrow porcine eyes, one could generously call him handsome, assuming of course they were attracted to say a scarred and disfigured hunchback of Notre dame. The scars were shiny and new, which spoke volumes about how tough the man was to survive that kind of damage in this new world with out a Doctor or modern medicine.

:” I was just telling them that your unit has a plan that if successful would set us up for life. Or what’s left of it.” Malone said.

“Better than this compound?” Bubba asked eager to get to tearing down walls and seizing property.

“this island once housed 1500 people, the group that holds it, has cleared most of the undead off the island. They have, food, fuel and women. In my book its better than a walled compound in the middle of a city filled with the undead..” Simms didn’t mention they also had a fortress that would be difficult to take with out artillery but he planned on adding a few pieces of Mobile arty or at the least mortars. He had men who could train the militia pukes in their use, but he hoped to be able to take the place intact with minimal damage. At this point mentioning fortifications might scare them off the idea.

The Two Militia commanders glanced at each other for a moment, “ How can you be sure that this island is zombie free” Hanson asked, hooking his thumbs in this pistol belt. It wasn’t a tough guy stance Cal though, if the man had a wall to lean against he would.

Cal wasn’t about to explain about his dreams and sound like a total nut case, or the thing in his dreams urging him to hurry and take the island. But he had a second option, that may or may not be true. . “I have two people who recently joined my unit, who had traveled with the group that controls the island. They have become less than enthralled with the leadership” Cal said with a smile, “ and tomorrow, one of my pilots is going to do a recon by air on one of their forward enclaves.”

Hanson raised an eye brow, “ and where might that be” he asked curious, just the thought that some group had more than one manned location, was worrying.

Cal smiled again, “ a Farm on the edge of the smoky mountain national park, its on the edge of the…”

“Cherokee Reservation” Hanson said sourly, but there was a glint of anger in his eyes, “those bastards hit us hard last winter. Even led a group of undead down on some of my men, they were butchered where they stood.” He said not mentioning that he attacked the place for food and women, and at the urging of an Asshole named Michael. “ I left scouts in the area before we fell back to.. well our old operational area. They reported armed Blackhawk helicopters flying in and out starting late spring, early summer” Hanson commented. “ and this group was using a plane when they left the farm in the spring. some old World War II airplane.”

Bubba, rubbed the scar tissue on his jaw and right cheek, his lips thinning angrily. Cal hid a smile, he had already known through his dreams both men had, had run ins with Stones Group, “I think we had a run in with them too, pretty large group, well armed, using an old fashioned plane, put up a hell of a fight, Id love to have some pay back.” Bubba said, there was a savage glint in his eyes now. “they moved into my area and looted our supplies.”

Malone looked from man to man, realizing that what ever plans he had, those three had others. He should have realized that from the start, but he had been to wrapped up in his own plans. But if Simms was right about the island, it would be the perfect place to base out of, it beat having to clear the fence lines of undead every few days. But Malone wanted that prick in the Towers to pay for all the shit he had done and caused before he did anything else.

“Since the good major here, invited us all here to help out with his little problem, we might as well level the place, take what we need before we head out to deal with our mutual enemy.” Cal said knowing the others were going to sign on, and for the first time excited about the upcoming battle, Pierre wouldn’t be to happy about having to use a helicopter to scout the farm, but that was only for now.

with all three crews, he would have damn near two hundred fifty men, to help him with his own plans. Of course Hanson and Bubba might not want to play second fiddle, but shit happened in combat, if needs be.

Now all he had to do was ride herd on his two guests Maggie and Jon, neither of whom he trusted, there was something about those two, something dark, more sensed than seen. But he would either be able to deal with it, or not when the time came. And Maggie was a looker he thought and not just because it had been slightly over a year since he had seen a living women.

“Your idea sounds good, but even with out assaulting this compound that the Major here wants our help in taking, I doubt my people have the ammo or supplies to assault a fortified location. And if these people fortified that island the way they fortified that farm, its going to be tough.” Hanson said tiling his head and watching Cals reaction.

Cal nodded thoughtfully “ I know where we can get more ammo, and equipment courtesy of Uncle Sugar, but it will be a long haul out of our way. And dangerous as all hell, but once its secured. We will have enough supplies to run an assault on the Stan and Win.”

Cal turned to Malone, automatically asserting himself, more to see if there were any protest. “Major, we need to get the mechanics on those vehicles to make sure they are ready for the assault on that compound, after that we can sit down and come up a good Op plan for the best use of our forces to take the munitions we need and seize the island.” Cal said as Malone started to smile at the prospect of getting some of his own back. “ Tomorrow, we deal with the majors little problem, Then we can talk about ours. Jared Stone and his so called Dirty Dozen.”
* * * * *

The Medical shelter, was brightly lit, with the usual array of screens, monitors and Arcane medical devices, that probably only went Bing when used.

Logan and Jones had been checked over by Justin and the news from that front was good, barring infection. Other than some deep bites, their body armor and gear had kept the injuries from the dog attacks down to just those few bites that hurt like hell, and might cost the two men some movement problems in their hands. But they would recover.

Once Sandy and Justin had gotten their hands on the portable x ray device, they had found out Staceys leg was not as bad as she had feared and he should be up and upright in a week or so. So that was more good news.

Stephanie however wasn’t so good, she lay in a bed looking so damn young and in pain Jared thought as he moved quietly up to her bedside. She lay there hooked up to an IV that also had a small bottle of anti biotic attached to the line.

She really was a good looking woman all things being equal Jared thought as he walked to the bedside and looked down at her, Ryan was sprawled in the chair next to her bed, sound asleep at the moment, looking absurdly youthful, which he really was Jared thought, he had just turned either 17 or 18 a couple of months back.

He watched them both for a few minutes, considering the future, if she lived he was going to send them both back to Sullivan, and out of harms way, or as out of harms way as was possible at any rate. They deserved a chance to have what passed for a normal life there instead of the way things were out here.

Hearing the door open and then close Jared turned to see Justin entering the clinic module, He nodded to the former Paramedic, “ morning” Jared said, feeling slightly guilty for not visiting last night. “ how is she?”

“Stable, but I’m keeping her under at the moment.” Justin replied. “ both shots were through and through, no organs were hit thank god, there was no indications of Internal bleeding, but she was in shock which I treated her for, there was no sign of a deflated lung, which was damn good. And….” Jared listened as the Paramedic talked about occlusive dressings, chest tubes and other medical jargon but the message was she was stable, and would most likely recover.

“ she was damn lucky when she fell in front of the shooters that none of the rounds hit her in a major organ or in the head. At the moment we have the medical supplies to deal with her wounds and any foreseeable complications. But we don’t have enough for a lot of major injuries, and I don’t know that I have the skills to deal with anything not so easy or cut and dried Jared” Justin said as he led Jared outside and “the other problem is Ryan, the Kid blames himself for her being shot, he is certain it was his weapon that shot her. And he is having a lot of problems dealing with it”

Jared shrugged “ not to sound cold, but the kid has to learn to deal with it or not, none of us are shrinks. We can only be there for him and offer what support we can. Other than that not much we can do” Jared said, the paramedic watched him for a moment then nodded in agreement. “ Keep me up to date on whats going on with her, I think once we have things wrapped around here, I will have Ronny fly her straight back to the island where Linda is more equipped and in a better location to deal with this. Maybe fly Doc Winston in from the Farm to take a look, since he is the only real Doctor that I know of that survived.”

“That would be a good way to deal with this, because I don’t think keeping her in there while we are moving would be a good idea” Justin said. “let me know when your going to move her so I can prep her for it.”

“ no problems, keep up the good work” Jared said, then turned and headed towards the ELSOR that he claimed as his own till he had the Van recovered. I think I’ll see if we can get one of the Police Chopper pilots to come back with Ronny that would really do us a world of good, we could raid places from the roof and secure the interior without having to drive through every zombie in the area. .
Mike sat on a barrel, watching as Jared walked up to the group assembled around the Vehicles, he felt a bit envious as he saw Jared slip a arm around Jills waist and kiss her on the cheek, before smiling at His friends.

“ I think we need to be ready to move by tomorrow, but what I want every one to do, your people as well Drakes, is to hit the houses along this road, there aren’t many of them. but there should be food stocks, and quite a few had root cellars. There should also be gardens that have gone wild so lets gather up all the vegetables and canning supplies we can find. While that’s going on, I plan on heading into Nashville, as stupid as it is, I had a friend that stayed behind, and though he is most likely dead, I want to check on him.” Jared said.

“ what about your brother” Amy asked surprised that Jared was willing to move on.

“ I plan on leaving a note for him. Beyond that I wont ask any one to risk their lives to hang around the area on the off chance he shows up. Not with that huge flood of zombies rolling around the area, Eric has the skills to survive, at least I know he made it past the end of the world.” Jared said and dropped the subject, Mike knew just how dedicated Jared was to his brother, so it took him by surprise.

But then your that dedicated to Carrie, if Jared can set it aside to get on with things, you can set Carrie aside, you know you have been thinking it for months now. Shes lost to you, mike thought then angrily pushed that last thought away.

Oh sure part of him knew he needed to move on, he had tried his wonder solution and it had failed, not only failed but Carrie was gone now and once the shock or what ever it was had faded he had remembered much more, like Carrie striking him across the head almost knocking him senseless.

The figure he had kept seeing out of the corner of his eyes, prowling around the dark corners of the bedroom with its shark like smile and stupid little hat. that was never there when he looked directly at it. and always the memories of a city street in Iraq, and of a girl who had died rose unbidden in his mind, while a cold mocking voice narrated the whole fucking scene over and over.

He remembered Carrie hitting him with a pipe damn near knocking him unconscious, and while he lay there stunned, he remembered that hideous face peering down at him while carried packed, and that shark like mocking smile.

And then Carrie talking to men, by the time he was able to climb to his feet, scared that zombies might be inside the house, he had found he was totally alone in his own home surrounded by pictures of a wife he had loved and was gone, and the haunted memories of Iraq chased themselves around in his mind, he had sat on the bed and cried like a little fucking girl, and just shut down wanting to die.

Jared might not know his ass from a hole in the ground where psychology was concerned but he had gotten mike out in record time. And the very fact that Jared had come after mike and Carrie, had sealed the friendship that had been developing between the two men.

Now if I can just talk to Jared about what happened in Iraq, maybe I can move past that shit too. He made a vow to himself that he would do just that, he owed that much to the people who followed him and saved his ass when they really didn’t have to. .

Jared walked away from the assembled group whistling to himself, Jill and his friends followed him talking amongst themselves. Jared stopped at the ELSOR lost in thought. “ I really hope your not thinking you can just leave with out the rest of us” Jill said, her hand resting on the hilt of the katana sheathed on her slim left hip.

“never crossed my mind” Jared said smiling. “ well all except for Ronny who is staying here” Jared said with a look at Ronny that said he wasn’t going to argue about it.

“your going to need to fly Stephanie and Ryan back to the Island, and stop and pickup Doc Winston. But while we are waiting for that little thing, I want you to fly Recon and check out the undead around the van, The base and the roads between here and there. I don’t want that huge fucking horde to be heading back this way following the vehicles and get caught with our pants down.”

“I hate to point out that with Ronny flying and Logan down from dog bite, we are two short for a safe run.” Steve pointed out, as Ori nodded in agreement.

“ any suggestions?” Jared asked, his first impulse was Mike, but till Mike got over his hesitation Jared didn’t want to make him front line.

“ Drakes girl Lany is damn handy with that bow” Ori suggested.

“ no to young and Drake might think Im trying to poach his people.” Jared replied.

“Ed, and Steger are the only two we can spare from the Camp, Daws and whats left of his team are Military and are the best choice to leave here for defense.” Jill said suddenly.

“Go get them” Jared said in agreement. Jill nodded and strode off across the camp.

“ you know Jared, before I met her, I thought you had probably picked another good looking woman in stilettos who was taking self defense classes but, buddy I got to admit she’s one hell of a woman.” Ori commented watching Jill walk away then turned to face his friend, Steve grinned and Ronny laughed.

“this coming from a man whose dates had to get dressed to quit work.” Ronny tossed in.

Steve chuckled. “have to admit his girlfriends had a hell of a work uniform Stiletto’s and nothing else.”

“no it wasn’t, they started off dressed as nurses, school girls, teachers what ever, they just ended up in only stilettos” Ori said with a grin. “My standards were lowering back then.” He admitted

“ and he knew that getting them out of their clothes was easy if he played the right music” Ronny said

“I seem to remember someone one who dated hookers, and drunks “ Ori commented.

“Give him a break, you’ve seen where Ori grew up at, the only women he saw naked growing up were his cousins and sisters.” Steve commented getting a dirty look from Ori who then started laughing.

“ That’s actually pretty true,” Ori admitted, “ first girl I ever saw naked was Sharon my uncles bucks Daughter, do you know how hard it is to not to admire a racked and toned girl because she’s your cousin”

“ Look ma inbreeders” Ronny chortled, then winced as Mary who had walked up silently behind him Gibb slapped him hard.

“This coming from a man, who jumped in bed with anything that walked, stumbled or fell down near him.” Mary said with a wicked smiled. “It took me two years to train him enough to be decent. And Im still working on being good”

“I say spank him more, and harder” Steve suggested. “ I’ll even make you the paddle, out of friendship and concern of course”

Mary laughed and swatted Ronny on the butt. “I think I will take you up on that Steve. My hand is getting sore and I’ve wore out both belts”

Ronny glared at Steve for a moment then laughed too. The fact that they were in to rough play wasn’t a secret to anyone that knew them well, which was most of the group these days.

The group joked around to keep the tension down while they waited for Jill to return with Ed and Steger. Once they arrived, Jared smiled. “ Welcome to Team one. Now lets get down to business.”

Under the blue sky and the shade of the Hemlock Tree, Jared spread out a Map, and showed them the route he wanted to take, it wasn’t a direct route, he knew from personal experience the Interstate into Nashville was clogged with bumper to bumper traffic.

“ That route takes us through downtown,” Jill pointed out with concern, not thrilled with that idea.

“ yes it does, its also the fastest way to Reach the Vanderbilt area , any other way to Allens place would mean taking an interstate or the 440, or going thru subdivisions and Neighborhoods, as it is we are going to pass thru a couple of those anyway. But a lot less than if we tried to take a more direct approach.” Jared pointed out.

“and this other place you want to check out” Ori asked tapping the location smack dap in the middle of a neighborhood.. “whats there?”
“that’s where the Girl from the Coffee shop lived, I know Jill was pretty sure the girl and her family were at the camp. But I want to check their house, just in case. I just feel like I should check.” Jared explained with a shrug. No one commented about that part of his plan so he moved on. . “ Downtown, may or may not be empty, who knows how many tourists were there, and how full the Hotels were. If luck is with us, any zombies that were there might have headed north with that huge ass mob we saw.”

“ and if there are zombies down there, do we turn tail and run?” Steve asked.

“ I prefer to consider it a tactical withdrawal not running away.” Jared commented with a smile.

“I don’t care what we call it as long as we don’t pull an Alamo” Steve admitted,

“ One thing Jared, I’m going to fly ahead of you, once I know you guys aren’t screwed, blued and tattoo’d Ill head out on that recon mission.” Ronny said, “And Ill take Mary with me so you know I wont do something intensely stupid.”

Jared thought about it for a moment then nodded, “ sounds like a plan Ronny, and probably better than just us cruising in like morons. Okay that’s settled then any questions” Jared asked looking around, “ great then we take both ELSORs, if you don’t have extra ammo load up on it now, and make sure you have at least three MRE’s on you.” He said.

he waited till every one did a quick recheck and affirmed they had everything. Then nodded, “ lets mount up boys and girls”

* * * * *
Jill sat in the back of the ELSOR, listening to Jared and Steve talk quietly, Ori was his usual silent self, idly toying with the wedding ring on his finger as they rolled through what had been a Neighborhood near the mall. It was now filed with burned out homes and vehicles for blocks, with no sign of undead.

How the fire got started was any ones guess, lightening, arson, a chemical reaction to bottles that zombies had knocked over that had broken on impact their contents mixing together, what ever it might have been, the end result was a blackened and charred area.

The house that Jared that had remembered, a restored Queen anne Victorian, on in a tree shaded lawn, was nothing but a pile of burned out rubble, with two scorched vehicles in the driveway. “Think they got out” Steve asked eyeing the debris.

“The RV is gone, so they got out.” Jared commented as he drove away. “Whether they made it or not is anybodies guess”

it took two hours to reach the edge of downtown from the burned out neighborhood, working their way through streets were fill with wrecks and abandoned autos. There were signs of looting in many sports. Jared could only shake his head at the stupidity of getting eaten while trying to get a free flat screen or laptop computer. There had been many times over the years that Jared had thought many people had become to stupid to survive, and the coming of the zombies had pretty much proved it. but along with the total idiots and fools, the weak, the handicapped, the innocent had died as well.

Here and there he could see the skeletal remains of people sprawled where they had died, or redied as it were. Out of all the nightmare scenarios he had envisioned in his life, seeing this in an American city wasn’t one of them. Zombies eating the heart out of the world hadn’t been one of them either, but life was what it was, either deal with it or die.

Down town was a mess the Bell tower, or Bat tower as some locals called it, all silver and white glittered against the blue sky, looming over the downtown area of Nashville, Trash Littered the streets, dropped purses, plastic bags holding who knew what lay where they had been dropped. Here a baby carrier, there a diaper bag. Over by a small church a pile of clothing. Jareds eyes were drawn to action figure against the wall of an old building. The face of a chubby blond boy chased through his mind for a second.

What downtown didn’t have were vehicles, which didn’t surprise Jared. Most of those who had worked downtown had, either never shown up for work, or had been sent home early when all this started. Those that remained had either been tourists, trapped there when the bus’s didn’t show up, or those who actually lived downtown.

they crossed Church street onto a tree lined street filled with turn of the century buildings, actually Jared correct himself, that was no longer correct, buildings from the early 1900’s.

“I always wanted to go there” Ori said pointing to a sign outside of a building that read “coyote uglies.”

“well its still there, but I doubt the bartenders dance and sing anymore” Steve called back. “ the Charlie Daniels Museum is almost next door.” he added spotting the sign.

“I used to go to the Irish pub across the street there” Jared said pointing. “in fact I’m tempted to hit the place and liberate some import Beer. Kinda sad to think that there wont be any more imports, unless we head to Ireland ourselves to get beer.”

“ you sound like an Alky, and you drink what five beers in a three months.” Ori said with a laugh.

“Occasionally I drink more.” Jared said as he slowed seriously considering hitting the stock room of the place, then decided against it, at least for the moment. There were only ten undead on the street at the moment but that could turn into a big crowd in a heartbeat.

“Ori shut up, he is the one that always seems to have a few beers stashed away” Steve called out.

They turned onto Broadway, Steve casting a fond look at the Hardrock café, the first time he had met Bridget had been at the Hard Rock. “well the tourists are still here” Jared observed, pointing to a group of zombies that had stumbled out of a souvenir shop, several wore touristy tshirts. Some were kids, several were elderly, all of them were hungry.

More were streaming out of the shops and bars along the road, “Is that Clay Walker” Ori asked pointing to one zombie.

“no he lives in Texas, but I think I want to cry, that one could be Martina.” Steve said.

“ Two wives and he is still stupid enough to like another woman” ori commented.

“That’s not her, jeez” Jared said almost laughing at the absurdity of the conversation.

“how can you be sure” Steve asked, turning to look a Jared.

“well for starters that woman has dirty blond hair.” Jared pointed out.

“Has the hots for a woman and doenst even know what color her hair is” ori said laughing.

“shut it little man” Steve called out grinning
.
Jared wove thru the stalled and abandoned vehicles, as a few zombies got close enough to beat on the side of the vehicle.

They drew even with the Old train station a large multistory Stone building with sweeping stone steps, that would look more at home in Europe than America, it had been converted years back into an Art museum.
“your not going to like this” Ronny said over the radio, “ the bridge over the train tracks is jammed, but it looks like the bridge on church street has been cleared.”

“cleared?” Jared asked surprised.

“Cleared as in some one has pushed or driven all the vehicles off the bridge and lined the sides of the road with them. it looks clear all the way to 19th, and you can cut up past that Mexican food place we used to go to, to get back on the route ” Ronny replied.

This side of Nashville, was the more upscale side, more or less Jared thought as they drove across the bridge on Church street. Music row, it was home doctors, nurses, college students, professionals from many fields, who had all lived here.. The roads were lined with boutiques, books stores, restaurants, and every other type of business you could think of. There was a massive church, walled and gated, parks, tree lined streets and sidewalks.

“look the village people” Ori said, pointing and laughing at a group of zombies that stumbled out of a Gay bookstore, a real book store as opposed to a porn shop. Jared had to laugh himself, one of the zombies was, or had been, a muscular man in chaps, a harness and other fetish ware, sporting a bushy mustache. Beside him was a zombie in jeans, a button down shirt and cowboy hat, a construction worker in a hard hat was in the back of the group, Jared tried to spot the Indian and the cop but the rest of the zombies looked like normal, albeit it deadish, men and women.

He turned down 19th which took him back to Broadway, then turned back towards Vanderbilt. Allens Gym and Dojo had been in a upscale shopping center. Its customers had been college students, doctors, nurses, rich wives and even a few cops and the occasional country music industry types.

They had to drive around the first entrance, which was blocked by a stall and a wreck, over the curb past a nice shade tree. The Gym and Dojo had the steel security shutters pulled down over the plate glass windows, the one for the door had been ripped or blown away leaving a gaping hole into the interior. .

For a moment he sat there, remembering the day that had been the beginning of the end of civilization and almost of humanity. He had been so confident then, he hadn’t really thought about the long term effect on living then, that had come later at the camp, when his mind had finally fully accepted this was forever.

He could still see the remains of the Zombies he had shot that first day, and some one had added several more.

He saw a Red Mustang that had T boned a Prius at one of the parking lot exits, he remembered seeing a pretty blond in a short skirt, as he was leaving, that had ran across the parking lot and climbed into the mustang that day she had peeled out driving wildly trying to escape the parking lot, the drivers door hung open. Whether she had escaped or not he would never know

He recognized a truck that lay on its side, as belonging to Dale one of the men who had been a regular at the gym. The passenger side of the trucks cab had been pushed in, probably by the wrecker with the totaled front end that sat twenty feet away.

An old Barracuda that had belonged to Lisa the receptionist for the gym, was wrapped around a light pole in the parking lot. He could see tire tracks, where she had rode the brakes, before smashing into the pole.

He sat there for a long moment, the reality of that day finally sinking in now that he was seeing the evidence of people he had known that had died. It had been easy to carry on when he didn’t know. In the back of his mind all those folks he had known still lived on somewhere, semi safe and still kicking. But now, now the harsh truth that he had known deep down, was right there in full Technicolor glory.

“ want to go inside and check it out” Steve asked quietly, he knew that Jared had been hoping that Allen would still be here alive and well.

“No, its obvious he survived the for a little while, he hadn’t closed the shutters before I left so he did it after, and then some one came along and blew them open thinking that there might be food inside.” Or he died of starvation and his corpse is walking around in there, and that I cant take seeing Jared thought. There are limits to what any man can take and sad as it is to say, seeing Allen like that is something I cant take.

But if he is, don’t you have a duty to put him down a quiet voice whispered in the back of his mind. And the damnedest thing was it was right.

He glanced at Jill and saw the same thoughts flicker across her own face and she nodded at him. “ okay a quick look. Ed, Steger you two cover the entrance, we are going in” He said over the Radio.

They pulled the ELSORV almost into the doorway before dismounting, Jared and Jill led the way, clicking on the tac lights mounted on the rails of their weapons.
It was much as Jared remembered it from the last day, and the day that he had asked Jill out for the first time, only to have the world end twenty minutes later. Full circle old boy he thought with morbid humor.

Most of the weight gear had been shoved against the wall, empty boxes were scattered around the room, most had contained food. There were splashes of dark dried stuff on the carpet that Jared knew was blood, he eyed the locker rooms, not really wanting to go inside, but they had to be thorough.

They cleared the men’s locker room first, and found that many of the lockers were stuffed with clothing, some of it winter. That made Jared feel a bit better, who ever had been here with Allen had at least survived up to the beginning of winter. He wondered briefly if it had been the men who had come in as he was leaving.

Returning to the gym they approached the women’s locker room, Jill in the lead this time, approached the door then came to a stop as the door began to swing slowly open. In the glare of the tac lights, a Pretty woman, in a sports bra and jeans with a holster on her hip staggered out of the women’s locker room, matted blonde hair fell to her shoulders and her head swiveled and the milky white eyes locked on Jill, who had let slip a gasp of surprise she and Jared both recognized the zombie, it was Lisa who had manned the front desk.

Jill didn’t let that surprise stop her, she flowed forward spinning into a foot sweep, that sent the zombie sprawling, as she rose back to into a crouch balanced on the balls of her feet she put three rounds into Lisa’s head. Reddish black liquid oozed from the shattered skull.

“She doesn’t look like she was bit” Ori said, Jill nodded and poked her rifle barrel between Lisa’s breasts,

“ bullet hole, some one shot her before I did.” She said then wiped the tears from her cheeks. Killing these things was worse when you knew them she thought.

She must have wrecked trying to leave and ran back inside to Allen, Jared thought. Went thru all that shit to be shot by some pricks who would rather kill and steal than to scavenge and trade for what they needed.

They entered the women’s locker room stepping over the corpse, and to Jareds relief found it empty. Judging by appearance Lisa must have ran into the locker room and died, god knows why the zombie just stayed in there till they arrived. Jared pushed the thought away, he would never know the answers and there was no reason to dwell on it.

He faced the doors to the Dojo with Trepidation, praying he wouldn’t see Allen’s shambling corpse inside.

The room was much the same as the last time Jared had seen it, though the four headless mostly skeletal remains hadn’t been there. Allens office was empty, and a quick sweep of the small apartment he had lived in upstairs revealed it as empty as well. Allen’s personal collection of weapons was gone from the case, which gave Jared a bit of hope that his old friend might have survived after all.

“there is one place we could check out, the one place he absolutely loved outside of his dojo” Jill said looking at Jared who nodded.

“Where’s that a strip club” Ori asked with a tight grin, his nerves were really humming at the moment.

“no that was your hang out, Allen loved one particular place, up the road a bit, the Borders book store, which is right on the Edge of the Vanderbilt campus and attached to a damned hotel.” Jared said.

“ do you really want to check out a place that has to be right at zombie central, the VA Hospital is what two or three blocks away, the Vanderbilt hospital and medical center is about four blocks away, there ought to be thousand of the things right there, why in the hell would Allen go there” Steve asked, shaking his head.

“Two things, three really. One books, two coffee, three he really loved the place” Jared replied. “besides we can send Ronny up ahead and check it out before we head over there, if the undead are crawling around the place we stay away, if they look like they are pawing at the doors and windows we mount a rescue operation, and if the Swedish sunbathing team is trapped inside, we can watch Ori and Ronny’s heads explode when we rescue them.”

“The last part sounds vastly entertaining.” Steve commented, “all right get Ronny headed that way.” Steve said, the only sign of nerves as the sweat trickling down his shaved skull.

Jared sent the order to Ronny then asked Ed for a Sit rep, as his eyes roamed the room.

“its still mostly quiet out here Jared, maybe twenty or thirty are on the street heading our way, but they are taking their time.” Ed replied.

“got it, we are heading for the door now” Jared told him.

Ed watched the slowly growing number of undead with unease, there was some thing not right about this whole trip. Or maybe it was just the lack of zombies, he had been expecting thousands, like Charleston. Or like Mt. Pleasant had been like till they thinned the numbers of undead some. But the mostly empty streets were eerie, and made even the small numbers they could see more menacing then they should have been.

Steger stood by the driver door, his HK ready but both men held their fire, knowing that the sound of gunfire would only draw more zombies. Of course his nightmares the last few nights weren’t helping his frame of mind either.

Jasper brown had been in his dreams a lot lately, out of all the bastards that deserved to die, that sick rapist and serial killer deserved to be roasting in hell not wandering around as a zombie, or what ever he was now.

The team exited the building and piled into their Vehicle, “ hope you folks are ready to do the bug out boogie” Jared said over the radio.

“as long you’re a strong lead, I can follow” Ed replied.

Ronny broke in with a laugh. “Told you he was a bottom”

“Shut it Ronny you asshole” Jared said, with a chuckle as his ELSORV pulled away from the Gym.

“what’s it look like around the Bookstore.” Jared asked.

“Eerily empty to be honest, not a zombie on the street” Ronny replied.

Jared drove over the curb onto the road, tapping his left foot on the floorboard as he mulled that over. “ I don’t think I like that” He finally said aloud. Steve nodded, even if that horde that had been moving north had come from Nashville, there should still be a few thousand still here in the city. So where were they.

“any one the side streets, or in the park down the road.” Jared asked.

“nothing Jared its like this whole side of town is empty of them.” Ronny replied.” Unless they are all inside buildings.” He added.

“ okay we drive by, check the place out. And then make a decision” Jared said. no one disagreed so he put the vehicle into gear and drove away from the gym.

The West End of Nashville, was a place of tree line streets, old homes, ritzy business, fast food places, apartment buildings, and concerts in the park. It was also the home of Vanderbilt University and the VA hospital. At any one time there had been thousands of people here, students, residents and hospital patients and their visitors. If anything the streets should have been packed with undead.

Jared couldn’t help but think about all the times that it had seemed the zombies had ambushed them. Whether that had been intentional or not he didn’t know, but if he was to believe that Evil stalked the world looking to destroy mankind, then it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that evil could control the undead that it had set loose on the world.

They had to take side streets, since Broadway was clogged with wrecks and abandoned vehicles, the drive through the tree lined streets of the campus was faster than it should have been due to the lack of vehicles, wrecks and undead. Soon they had turned onto west End after driving thru an empty neighborhood,

“I need a new MP3 player lets stop by the Electronic express on the way out” Ori said spotting the business,

“Id like a Big Mac, and Fries” Steven added.

“I gotta Go” Jill said with a strained laugh.

“don’t make me pull this ELSORV over “ Jared said with a laugh and humor he almost felt.

The Bookstore faced west end Ave., across the wide street, was the tree shaded Centennial Park with wide grass lawns where the Parthenon stood

The Borders book was two stories tall was on the corner of 25th and West end, and was part of a large building complex that spanned the block, it included a restaurants, and office tower, a Starbucks and a Marriot hotel on the opposite end with its entrance off of Nachez trace, an attached parking garage at the back served the business’s in the complex.

Behind the book store, off of 25th, was an old fashioned building that looked like a queen anne style Victorian built out of stone. It was a sorority house, no doubt filled with young nubile, mobile dead girls with an eating disorder and severely life challenged.

Jared slowed and eyed the front doors, but saw nothing inside. “we could park in the parking garage and use the walkway to go in the back.” Jill said.

“have you ever really watched a horror movie” Ori asked, shaking his head.

“no not really, never liked them” Jill replied.

“you should have, there’s rules to these things, and parking garages are one sure way to get trapped and killed.” Ori replied grinning but he was partly serious too.

“in horror movies you cant have sex either or you get killed, so pardon me if I ignore the horror movie rules in life” Steve said, as Jared pulled into the empty parking lot and parked in front of the doors to the store.

“Im going to knock if there’s some one alive in there, then they might answer.” Jared said as he swung the door open and stepped out.

He looked around, cautiously seeing no undead anywhere in sight, not on the mostly blocked road, or at the far end of the parking lot where the hotel was, or even in the windows of McDonalds down the road. the smell was horrible though, so he was pretty sure that there were undead somewhere close by and in large numbers.

Over head he could hear the drone of the UV 20a as Ronny circled the area, which made him feel somewhat better. He rapped on the metal frame with the butt of his combat knife. And waited peering thru the glass. He could see tables piled high with books and signs promising discounts from 20 to 50 percent off. So shoppers, if you wait long enough you can get them for a steal he told himself with morbid humor.

He waited for a few minutes then knocked again, looking around but still saw no zombies. The only movement was a gentle wind that stirred the trees along the road, the rustle of leaves sounding like the shoes of the undead shuffling ever closer.

“I can pick that lock” Ed said climbing out of the second ELSOR, “ if you want to go inside.”

Jared thought about it for a moment, he had been wanting to hit a Library and bookstore for how to books, computer books, and another other useful thing available. Sooner or later they were going to need that knowledge.

“all right, I changed my mind, we are going in, we clear the ground floor, then the second floor, then we take out every how to book and magazine they have. So get the empty gear bags ready.” Jared said, as he studied the area once more, his nerves singing with tension. “Steger you’re the door guard.”

The way the vehicles were parked in front of the doors, would give them a clear space when exiting, and only three feet to cross to get into either of the vehicles, with Steger outside the doors, and Ronny in the air, they should have warning of any large groups of undead that appeared with plenty of time to escape.

Ed pulled out a lock pick set and went to work, it only took him two minutes to pop both locks. “getting rusty” he said with a nervous smile.

Ori was tapping his trigger finger against the side of his weapons receiver, but he had his game face on and his nerves under control. Jared grasped the door handle, then looked at each of his people for a moment then said “ lets do it”

They entered passing between two tables stacked with novels, the long store counter to the left., the sections were arraigned to wrap in a U around the central staircase to the second floor. “smells like at least one was in here” Ori commented taking a whiff.

“Proceed with caution no Fire arms unless we need to. melee for now” Jared said, it only took them a few moments to sweep the aisles, the coffee shop had no backroom, so it was only a counter with the coffee machines, cabinets that stored the beans, grinders, cups in cabinets under the Coffee machines, and a customer counter topped with black marble.

The bathrooms were clear which was a pleasant surprise, to many times people had ran and locked themselves into bathrooms to escape the undead, and then died inside.
Jared walked to the stairs and looked up to the railing but saw nothing but shelves. With Steve at his side they climbed slowly and quietly up the stairs, pausing on the landing for a moment to see if they could see anything.

Sunlight streamed thru the windows, making the upper floor brightly lit. the upper floor. History, psychology and Ancient religions books were to the left of the staircase. DVD’s, games, Music CDs were to the right extending past the stair case and passing over the front doors to the far wall.

Jared moved deeper into the building, twenty feet past the foot of the stairs the room opened up to the left, filled with rows of bookshelves, a second counter near the doors that led out into a hallway that ran the length of the building connecting each business and the hotel at far end with the parking garage.

A figure stood near the upstairs counter, a slender muscled man dressed, in a flannel shirt and jeans, his back was to the team that spread out moving through the shoulder high shelves towards the counter. There was something familiar about that figure, Jared realized with a sinking sensation. Almost hoping it wouldn’t turn around, but it did.

Cloudy white eyes peered out from Allens face, locking with Jared’s emerald green eyes, its mouth yawned open and then snapped closed. Across his throat was a ragged hole. A sign hung around his neck. “I told you Id kill some one you loved, whose next?”

Allen, no the zombie, lunged forward only to stagger off balance, some one had chained it by the ankle to the counter. The sound of steel whispering from a Sheath came from behind Jared, as Jill drew her Katana. “No hun, I’ll deal with this” Jared said as he drew his combat knife.

Allen had been a good friend, and a father figure to Jared. it tore at his damn soul to see Allen reduced to such an abomination, a shambling rotting joke of humanity. the calm assurance that had radiated from his friend was gone, and only an appetite remained. The zombie flailed at Jared, beating on his Gear and Armor. It snagged a pouch and tried to draw Jared forward.

Jared stared into those dead eyes for a moment, seeking some spark of humanity, something of his friend still in there. He knew there wasn’t but he looked anyway, to drive home the absolute need to put Allens body down.

Jill stood silently next to Steve silently crying as she watched Jared step into the zombies embrace, his left hand lashing out to grasp the zombie under the jaw and push the head up, he rammed his combat knife deep into the eye socket, and wiggled the handle, she could actually hear the blade scrape bone and wanted to hurl as she watched the man who had trained her for years, a friend crumple to the floor finally dead.

“Steve check those doors over there, make sure they are secure, Im betting the hall is filled with those fuckers.” Jared said, he stepped past Steve and wrapped Jill in his arms for a moment.

Steve and Ori ghosted up to the doors, then Steve stepped back quickly, his weapon snapping into place as Ori looped a long thick quick tie around the two push handles and secured the door. just as the first of the undead struck it from the other side.

“what did I tell you about horror movie rules, next time listen to me” Ori said, flipping the bird at the agitated undead. “if we had parked in the parking garage we would be the main course.”

“your so short you would have been an appetizer” Steve quipped, watching the door shudder as the undead pushed and pawed at it.

“Ronny what’s up” Jared asked over the radio.

“still quiet on the streets right around you.” Ronny replied.

“good keep a sharp fucking eye out, the book store had one in it, Allen, but the rest of the building looks like its full.” Jared said.

“Allen, Allen was one of them, son of a… man that sucks.” Ronny replied.

“Steger be on your toes buddy, they may start coming out the other doors any minute now.” Jared said then turned to the others, “grab what you can quickly, we can find another bookstore later, Ill guard this door. “

* * * *

it was close to sunset by the time they had escaped the streets of Nashville, the undead presence had been growing steadily, like some one had opened a gate. Jared had been silent, mostly thinking about Allen and the good times they’d had over the years. After a year it surprised him that he could still be affected this hard by the whole damn situation.

He had never even thought about Allen being a victim of that freak, but what bothered him was the message, since when did zombies write. “Ed, you’re the one that Captured that shit bag Brown, did he ever use an accomplice.” Jared asked over the radio.

“not that we ever knew about, I know there was speculation he might have, but not one I knew of.” Ed replied. There was a pause over the radio then “your thinking about the message aren’t you”

“yes, Bowler hat has done some odd things, really odd for a zombie, maybe even impossible things, but something like writing it far beyond what I would expect’ Jared commented.

“your thinking about Hanson aren’t you, how I kept seeing Brown attacking me but in the end it was Hanson.” Ed replied.

“I think he either some how controlled some one to write that message or .. as much as I hate to use the word possessed someone.” Jared said.

“ is that even possible” Steve asked, looking confused and uneasy at the thought.

Jared shrugged “ I don’t know but a year ago I would have said the dead getting up and eating people would have been impossible.” He told Steve.

“you might not want to hear it, but maybe its another Mikhail” Ed said, there was silence over the radio for a moment. Ed was right Jared didn’t want to even consider that there might be another Mikhail, but why wouldn’t the other side start using another proxy or two or even three to finish the job, by getting people to help it kill people. It made much more sense than possession. Which to be honest was not a thought he wanted to entertain. But there was no other way to explain Eds fight with Brown/Hanson.

“if there is, we need to increase security. And keep an eye on every person that joins our group. Coles people were damn near wiped out by Mikhail pretending to be a survivor before they linked up with us.” Jared said after a moment, his mind turning to the book and notes that Gayle had given him believing they might help.

The only thing that the book had done, was to make him question the basic concept of reality and history. Zombies had started him along the road to seeing reality as something different than he had ever believed before last June, the book was just adding to it.

Maybe that was the point, one of the Trinity was the Scribe, or so he had been told in a dream. Maybe all those legends and myths were a warning from the past, and were to be passed along to future generations, assuming the human race survived this whole damn thing. and sooner or later he would figure out who and where this trinity was and go check things out. Maybe if he did he would finally get some damn answers. Knowing the way his dreams had been he wondered if the Trinity actually knew any more than he did. Because one of the rules seemed to be screw with the minds of living as much as possible.

Well god, or what ever you want to really be called, I would really appreciate a copy of the rule book. It would make things a bit easier to deal with, and while I have you on the line, keep an eye on Jill and my friends. If Im supposed to go postal to defeat something, just point me at it and Ill foam at the mouth on command just keep them safe.

*************************************
Jon Williams sat on the sofa listening to Sheamus talk to Maggie, that the Irishman was sexually interested in her was obvious, the fact she had dressed like a slut to show off ample cleavage, and thigh showed she was going to give Sheamus what he wanted.

She had a killer body, Jon admitted having slept with her himself, she looked better out of her clothes than in them. but sex with her had been strange, she was wild, willing to do anything, but as passionate as she had been there had bee a ice cold center to her actions. And a sense of loss and loneliness to her that struck Jon hard it was like there were two women inside her, one was every mans dream, the other was quiet and sad.

Even if Sheamus noticed that tonight, he wouldn’t care, he only wanted to possess her body, use her for release. Jon wasn’t jealous, not by a long shot. but the part of him that was slowly being forced away, the kind, caring never hurt a fly side, craved that lost woman. Maybe it was Freudian, maybe he truly craved the side of him that had been lost.

He looked at his hands, and shuddered, remembering. He had followed the instructions in his dreams to the letter. First sneaking out of the camp, then finding the vehicle he had been told about . after that it was a uneventful trip across Nashville, where the zombie presence was damn near invisible lately.
It had been dark as pitch, as he drove thru the streets, wondering what it had looked like when the lights had been on, and people were going about their lives. As much as he had hated the waste of resources, the cruelty, the callous rape of mother earth, he missed those people, missed parties, cold beer, getting laid after a rally.

Here where the darkness lapped at the ruins of civilization, he realized he just how much he missed it, how much he had loved it. all of his talk had been hollow, his beliefs were like ashes in his mouth. All the bullshit about wanting to control the rising world population and how great it would be if they could find a way to cut the worlds population in half or more had been stupid, right at that moment he would have given anything to see the streets full of people again. to know that Christmas lights were on display, and that the monster were only kids in costumes at Halloween.

But you’re a monster now aren’t you he told himself bitterly, he had killed for cause, taken lives for his passion only to find out he had been lied to, and it was far to late to back out now.

He couldn’t shake the image of that man, a fit older man who was supposed to have been a enemy of mother earth, who had been hiding in a fucking bookstore, how he had talked to him, just as Jon had been told to do. And then out of the darkness, that thing, that humpbacked spindly limbed monster had appeared, and ripped out the mans throat.

The night had been filled with gloating laughter as the man had fallen to his knees clutching his throat staring at Jon in surprise, his eyes bored into Jons, as if to accuse him of siding with the devil, and he fucking had.

Jon clutching the message that the Russian had told him to write in his dreams, had stumbled forward and strung it around the dying mans neck. remembering something from his dreams, something vague and murky at the time but clear as a bell now, this man had been friends with Jared, this was about revenge and hatred, not some grand cause to save mother earth. His dreams had died at that moment, his beliefs just so much garbage he knew now.

He had stepped back, almost shrieking as he saw the thing out of the corner of his eye, peering at him from around a bookshelf. Just the head sticking out and one leathery hand on the edge of the shelf, then it was gone as it had never been.

It was no servant of mother earth, it never had been, nor was the Russian. You paid qith your soul to learn that lesson he thought bitterly. Yanking himself back to the present, knowing that Maggie would get pissed if she thought he wasn’t paying attention and that was one woman he never wanted to annoy.
What ever had brought him to this point, he was here and there was no going back. He hadn’t even resisted, never doubted, he had wanted to be a holy warrior for mother earth and had been willing to jump on board the moment it was dangled in front of him.

And now he was Reinfeld to Maggies Dracula, he thought as he watched her twist Sheamus around her finger using her body to manipulate him. He didn’t know what she hoped to accomplish, but what ever it was, she was well on her way to getting it.

Jon didn’t even bat an eye lash as she stood up and let the silk dress she wore slither to the ground. letting Sheamus see her completely nude, then led him to her bedroom. Jon sat there silently trying not to look out of the corners of his eyes afraid he would see the thing that seemed to haunt him.

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

“Look at that” Ori said as they rounded a corner, that was a bare chested muscular man, his arms, one pec and side covered in intricate Celtic knotwork tattoos, who stood next to a SUV that was broken down with a trailer behind it. he had a desert eagle .50 pointed at the groups Vehicles.

“I think this is a hold up” Steve commented humorlessly.

“oh lordy, they can take my wife and my bible, but don’t oh please don’t take my dog” Ori said snickering in the back.

“I think I should remind you two idiots, that theres a half naked man with a pistol pointed at us, unless your planning on sitting here to see if he will stand there till he dies of old age, someone needs to get out.” Jill said. “they are your friends” she pointed out to Jared who only shook his head as he opened the door and stepped out leaving the Colt commando racked. His right hand casually placed over the tactical holster on his right thought.

The man on the road might not know it, but Jared was one man he really didn’t want to push to much while a pistol was in reach, his Friends, particularly Sharon had often called him the gunslinger at the range, after watching him repeatedly draw and fire.

“need something, or is this just a random Jacking.” Jared asked as casually as if the other man didn’t hold a weapon.

“wha… no, who are you” The man asked, obliviously he wasn’t good at this, since he was trying to looking into the vehicles while staring thru the headlights.

“My name is Jared, and unless you plan on drawing every undead for ten miles, we don’t need to be standing here with lights burning for all to see.” Jared commented.

“well then turn them off” the man said motioning with the pistol.

“No” Jared replied with a smile that totally lacked humor.

The man stood there and shook his head confused. Jared debated on shooting him right then and there, honestly getting bored, and nervous about the number of undead that had to be heading in this direction by now.

“how about you put up the weapon take a breath and quickly explain to me why me and my men shouldn’t just shoot you for being a complete tool at Highway robbery.” Jared said amiably

“oh for gods sake Lew put up the pistol” a voice called from out of the darkness, a sultry bedroom voice at that.

“he was trying to protect me” the voices owner said stepping into the light, she had a pistol tucked into her waistband. Jared eyed her for just a moment, good god, he thought recognizing her.

“ your, “ was all he got out before she nodded and Ori burst from the ELSORV. Almost getting every one shot. Steve followed a moment later, to cover his idiot friends.

“ your Kathy McCormick” Ori said, “ I saw you at the Center.”

The Kathy McCormick, new and rising star on the pop and strangely the country scene, one of the rare cross overs, Kathy had been one of those dark haired, a face that could take your breath away, lithe hard bodied, big breasted, sexual dynamo’s, that had topped the charts for six weeks running, before the world had, had its heart eaten out. And even here at the end of the world in the wash of head lights, dressed in Jeans, combat boots, and a denim work short, she was still hotter than hell.

Lew who had raised his pistol again, slowly lowered it realizing that Ori was no threat.

“as much as Id love to get an autograph and stand here gawking like teen aged fan, I think we should find a safer place to talk than the middle of a road that zombies like to use.” Jared commented.

“ sounds reasonable to me” Katy said as she placed a slender hand on Lews, “calm down Lew, note the fire power those two men have if they wanted to kill you and rape me they could have done it already.”

“oh don’t worry about the Raping thing, Steve the big one there, with the shaved head, has two wives who would castrate him for even thinking about another woman, and Ori the short blonde is mostly harmless and married to a school teacher.” Jill called out as she climbed out of the vehicle and heard the last comment.

“mostly harmless” Ori said sounding wounded.

“he would pitch a fit if he were part of a gang and didn’t get a wanted poster like every one else in the gang” Jared observed

“ I am not mostly harmless” Ori said, looking at Jill who stepped into the light.

“ you are trust me.” Jill assured him with a smile. “ now can we go somewhere else, like the camp where theres other people and no zombies.”

“better hurry it up then” Ed called out the window of his own vehicle. “ we have a few coming up behind us.”

“okay only time I offer, if you need a ride hop in. keep your weapons I don’t care. If you have a ride and want to talk get in and follow us” Jared said as he turned around and headed for the ELSORV.

Jared was almost to his door, when Steve fired, the bullets hissed past Jareds ear, into a zombie that had appeared, on the hood of a broken down station wagon. Its head exploded in a fine spray of gore.

But two more appeared from the back end of the wagon. Jared saw six more appear from the shadows of the trees and hedges to his right, mere feet from the idling vehicle. He drew and fired in one flowing movement. The Mk23 roared. A zombie crumbled, then another.

Lew grabbed Kathys arm and ran for the safety of the offered ride, as the dark haired woman in leather armed to the teeth and with a sword of all things waved at them to hurry.

Jill saw four more zombies stagger out from behind a parked semi truck, she glided forward on the balls of her feet, waiting till she was close enough to the first of the zombies, she drew and attacked in one movement, Iaijutsu as it was called in the old Ryus, or Iado as the more modern Ryu’s taught. Jill had spent a little more than half her life in martial arts and in the Art of the Sword, and it showed. The blade seemed to glitter in the backscatter of the headlights as it sheered thru the bone and cartilage, and the first zombies head tumbled from its shoulders.

She didn’t even pause as she flowed into the zombies drawing the short sword, the voice of her sensei quoting musashi ghost like in her mind “Waiting is bad. Always quickly re-assume your attitudes to both sides, cut the enemies down as they advance, crushing them in the direction from which they attack.” He had hammered into her as she learned the open on all eight sides. And learn it she had, her weapons flashed in the light as she twisted and danced thru her opponents.

The additional five zombies that appeared out of the darkness, fell just as quickly as the first four. As the last corpse dropped she was sprinting back to the ELSORV Jared was reloading while Steve covered him.

“ Get in” Jared called out, as he slid over the hood to the Drivers side, Steve was firing methodically as each target appeared on his side, making each shot count. Jill climbed in, satisfied to see that neither of the two new folks were screaming in panic for Jared to drive. Ori piled in, then scrambled up into the fight seat and began firing out of gunners position. Steve threw himself inside, and just as he started to slam the door shut when he saw a Dog, a white and tan dog, that had just leaped on a zombie sending the undead asshole sprawling.

Undead turned trying to grab the snarling dog as it darted thru and around them, just out of reach. Jared swore, Steve groaned knowing what was coming. Jared stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled so loud that Steve winced. The dogs head snapped around at the whistle and Steve could have sworn the dog smiled. “ cover him Ori” Jared yelled. “ come on dog, get in here” Jared yelled. The dog ran for the ELSORV as Jared called to it. Zombies tumbled ahead of it as Ori shot them down before they could reach the dog.

Jill was torn between laughing and beating Jared in the back of the head to get him to drive, the dog leaped into the air sailing into the half open door and landing in steves lap, it whirled around, Steve grunted in pain as one paw slammed down on his testicles.

The dog snarled deep in its chest at the approaching zombies, as Jill and Ori both yelled at Steve to shut the door. “ your not the one that just got his balls stepped on by a pony disguised as a horse” Steve moaned as he shut the door. Jared slammed the vehicle into gear and they were off.

“oh shit” Ori muttered, as Jared wove around the vehicles in their way, then Jared spotted what Ori had already seen.

The ELSORV came to a stop, twenty feet ahead of them was a blood stained and dirty clown, his wig askew, make up smeared, floppy shoes slapping at the pavement as it staggered towards the vehicle.

“I really hate clowns” Jared said quietly, then he grinned. The engine roared, the tires spun on the pavement with a squeal and then the vehicle shot forward, gaining speed. Rapidly.

“ he must really hate clowns” Lew said, as he braced himself.

“ he blew up two city blocks once to get a group of clowns, so you could say he hates them” Ori remarked.

“Three city blocks” Steve corrected.

Jared lined up the center of the hood on the zombie and struck it doing forty, he rode the brakes to a stop, running over several more zombies. Then slammed it into reverse and backed up over the clown stopping so suddenly every one lurched forward in their seats.
“aint nothing fucking funny about a clown in the moonlight” Jared muttered as he slammed down on the accelerator pedal The ELSORV accelerated again, spraying gravel and trash, Jared lining up the drivers side tire on the zombie, and ran over it a third time. Grinning wildly as the ELSORV bounced over it. “ take that you face painted happy faced fucking horror” Jared said as he sped off down the road.

“and it was only one block and that was to block the road not kill the clowns” Jared called out.

“which happened to be right where the traveling circus was set up, with the “ Clown killer” painted on the side of the bomb.” Ori stage whispered to Lew, who looked around wondering what kind of mad men he had gotten into a vehicle with, and wondering if maybe he should just grab Kate and leap the hell out.

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