Chapter 12

“Black HORROR! speed we to the bed of Death,
Where he whose murderous power afar
Blasts with the myriad plagues of war,
Struggles with his last breath,
Then to his wildly-starting eyes
The phantoms of the murder’d rise,
Then on his frenzied ear
Their groans for vengeance and the Demon’s yell
In one heart-maddening chorus swell.
Cold on his brow convulsing stands the dew,
And night eternal darkens on his view.”
~Robert Southey

When people thought of cities, they usually thought of miles and miles of concrete canyons, people packed jowl to jowl. Traffic, noise, buildings separated by a wall.
Nashville was nothing like that.

It was a green city, heavily wooded with subdivisions, shopping centers and neighborhoods dropped in the middle of forest. Even the down town area was greener than most cities. With whole blocks of quaint late 1800’s to early 1900’s styled buildings, sitting amidst modern buildings.

The Two Military vehicles had passed thru the mostly empty streets of the west side of Nashville, till they were outside the city, and into the woods. They turned off the paved road and onto a narrow gravel road that passed thru hemlocks and Cedars that ended abruptly in the gravel parking area for a canoe and boat rental business that shared a building with a small outfitters shop.

The building itself had been built around 1910,and had a low peaked roof, field stone walls, and wide wrap around roofed veranda that joined the two docks. Three racks held canoes and kayak’s still chained in place, one of the party pontoon boats was still chained to the dock, one boat had sunk judging by the taut line that led from the dock into the water.

Jared came to a stop and sat there for a moment scanning the area before he opened the door and climbed out. Jared had used this place a couple of times a few years back and had even dated a girl, Chastity Moore, who had worked here. A pretty little brunette with soulful brown eyes. She had been just a bit to left on environmental issues for Jared’s taste.

There were only three vehicles in the parking lot, covered in leaves and dirt after a year. two Chevy’s and a Nissan Tundra, the tundra’s bed cover had been ripped loose over the last year, showing the bed still contained camping gear.

“Think there might be stuff still in the store” Ori asked, as he squatted and studied the tree line, and the river bank.

“maybe” Jared responded. “ this place wasn’t a major hot spot for the outdoors crowd, and Oscar hadn’t gotten around to replacing the sign by the road, so only the people that used the place would realize it was here.”

It would have been busy last June, it always was during late spring and summer, though more and more people had started using the lakes and spots north and east of Nashville more often than this far west of the city. but from the number of vehicles in the parking lot, either all those who had been here, had fled or the regulars had been at work or home when the shit hit the fan.

“ only way to find out is to look” Jared said, Ori had figured that was the plan considering how close to the veranda Jared had parked. If undead showed up while they were inside, they didn’t have far to go to get to the ELSORV’s

Lew climbed out, a colt 1911 in his hand, he looked around nervously, Katy hovering close by his side. “your actually going in there” he asked Jared.

“only way to scavenge anything left inside, and since all your gear is still in that SUV, your going to need more.” Jared said, he half expected Lew to ask if they would go back and help him get all the gear they left behind, but the man didn’t.

“Steger, you stand guard out here, or rather you sit in the gunners position. And be ready to cover us if a horde shows up.” Jared said as he climbed the stone steps, to the shaded veranda. a partial skeleton lay near one of the picnic tables, half its head gone.

“Well some one was here” Jared said nodding towards the skeleton as he strode towards the door to the outfitters shop.

He grunted in surprise as something bumped his leg, then realized it was the Dog. “damn thing scared the shit out of me” he muttered as he peered thru the window in the door into the dark interior.

He couldn’t see anything inside other than shelves wrapped in shadows, and illegible signs hanging over aisles.

He knocked on the door and kept watching, but still saw nothing inside after a few moments. “ okay folks time to tie your balls to your thighs and get ready to clear” Jared said as he tried the door and found it unlocked. He pushed it open with a bit of effort, and stepped inside the musty smelling store.

Taking a deep breath he nodded in satisfaction when he didn’t smell the stink of the undead. There was an old smell of rot, underlying the must but not the nasty smell of the living dead. It only took a minute to sweep the main part of the store. Ori used a spike to seal the interior door that led from the outfitters shop to the Rental shop.

Jared eyed the dried bloody handprints on the door to the office and stock room area, then pushed the door open. The office to the left and across from the bathroom was small and empty, the bathroom door stood open so they only had to look inside to check it.

The stock room wasn’t large, ten by twenty, and the shelves were mostly empty. What remained was odds and ends stuff that was of little use. but it was the body that lay crumbled by the last shelf that made Jared pause, it was dressed in Jeans and a Tshirt that bore the stores logo, there were dried strips of flesh still clinging to the bones. It was chastity Jared realized, suddenly depressed at the realization. Between the Earth first pins on her shirt and the long brunette hair, Jared didn’t have to guess who it was.

He found a shipping blanket and covered her body, saying a quick prayer for her, she had deserved a lot better than this he thought.

They returned to the front of the shop and began to go thru the bits of gear that remained. Most of the gear that the store had carried had been for Boating and boating trips, which also included some camping gear.

An hour later they had managed to assemble enough gear to fill the two internal frame backpacks. Water filter system with cartridges, mess kits, dry bags, some socks, shorts, shirts, line and tackle, first aid kits and other odds and ends.

It wasn’t a large haul, but it was at least most of the basics, well basics outside of food, and sleeping bags at any rate.

Back outside, Jared and Ori headed for the Tundra and began to pull out all the gear and supplies in the truck, inside the truck they found two boxes of, a twenty two match grade pistol under the front seat and five hundred rounds of .22.

“must have been a group of people” Ori said as they finished checking the fifth and final sleeping bag. Luckily all of them had been sealed in Dry bags, and were still in good shape. One of the tents was a total write off as well. but pretty much every thing else in the packs and the truck had been sealed in waterproof bags for a drift camping trip.

“they must have run or died, or maybe both to leave all this and not come back for it.” Steve said as he repacked the two best back packs with supplies.

“ theres damn near a months worth of mountain house dehydrated food packs for two people, compass’s, two pretty good climbing ropes and harness’s, magnesium firestarters, chem. Sticks, matches, first aid kits, two sewing kits, a folding hand saw, water filters and cartridges, water purifiers, and a more.

“you two might as well go thru the clothes and see if any of it fits you, your more in need of spare clothes than we are” Jared said pointing to the pile of clothes they had removed from the packs.

“Thanks I appreciate it” Katy said pulling Lew to the pile and began to sort thru them.

Jared rocked back on his heels and checked the sky, and realized it was close to four already. This was as good a place to camp as any for the night, especially if they pulled the ELSORV’s up and blocked the dock, they could sleep on the pontoon boat for the night.

Hearing panting and grunting, he looked down and saw the dog was on her back and wiggling wildly next to him. She stopped seeing she had his attention and waggled her paws at him. He laughed as he reached over and started rubbing her belly, the dog sighed contentedly.

“how do you plan on feeding that thing” Steve asked, still not forgiving the dog for trampling his balls.

“Ill share my food till tomorrow morning, there was a Co Op a few miles down the road, and Ill bet there’s dog food still in the warehouse.” Jared said.

Ori shook his head and hid a smile as he saw the look Jill gave the dog. He dug thru his own pack and pulled out a small tackle box and line and rose to his feet. “ I think I’m going to see if I can catch a couple of fish for dinner,” he said as he shook his head at the dogs new antics and then headed for the river bank.

While Ori fished, they gathered up the gear that was still useable and loaded it up, then moved the Vehicles to block off the end of the dock.

Lew and Katy looked nervous about being outside, and nervous about being around heavily armed total strangers, but didn’t say much as every one gathered on the pontoon boat. “don’t worry about being out here, zombies cant climb over the ELSORVS to get onto the dock, and if they somehow manage to get to this side, we can just push off from the dock so they cant get to us.”

“ its chained” Katy said pointing to the chain that kept the Pontoon boat moored.
Steve grinned as he held up a pair of bolt cutters he was carrying. “we cut the chain and tie the boat to the dock using a slip knot, so we can do a fast shove off if need be” Steve explained. “it aint our first Rodeo”
Ori listened to the drone of conversation from the pontoon boat, watching the cork in the water while studying the bank to either side of him. Just past him to the east was brush, down on the sandy, he hesitated to call it a beach but had no other word for the narrow strip of sand colored dirt. Where there were deer tracks, and even some wild turkey tracks.

He wondered when Jared was going to tell them why he was hanging around the City, Usually he was in and out, right now they could head west, cross the bridge and then cut back north and be back to the main camp in two hours. That they weren’t doing so, made him think Jared had another reason for being here.

He let himself relax slightly as he listened to the drone of insects, and the gurgle of moving water. But he never stopped looking around, the last thing he really wanted was to have teeth latch onto his ass. Beth would not like being married to a zombie at the best of times.

Speaking of, he thought, I think this might be the last time I leave her behind. My nerves are shot from worrying about what might be happening back on the island. And I can bet she spends her nights worried about me. He smiled at that, he had never thought he would be find some one like her or the kind of relationship they had.

Jared’s Dog trotted towards him, her tail wagging in a circle of all things, she was almost prancing as she approached. He had always like Pits, not because they were a vicious breed, most of them weren’t. he and members of his family had, had enough of them over the years to know they weren’t vicious. They were usually great dogs all the way around.

Like Jill he wondered why this one hadn’t gone feral, the only answer he could come up with was that it had been with some one who had died in the last couple of months.

The dog stopped suddenly, its hackles rising, and a low rumbling growl came from deep in its chest, for a second Ori thought it was staring at him, and then he realized it was looking behind him. Ori didn’t hesitate he threw himself forward towards the dog, drawing his combat knife. The Dog shot past him, throwing herself into the air.

Ori hit the ground and rolled over in time to see the dog slam into a Zombie that had come out of the underbrush behind him. How he had missed it was beyond him, he must have been more distracted than he had realized.

The zombie being struck across the chest by a ninety to a hundred pound dog fell backwards. The dog hit the ground and zipped around and grabbed the zombies pant leg at the ankle and started pulling and worrying at it, keeping it from getting back to its feet.

Ori leaped to his feet and ran forward, stomping down the zombies chest and pinning the undead asshole to the ground, then drove his knife into its eye socket angling the blade so it slipped into the skull killing it.

He stood there breathing hard, feeling stupid for not spotting the zombie, his eyes sweeping the woods but saw nothing. You didn’t see this one either he told himself as the dog trotted up to his side and sat down leaning against him for a moment then rose its soft brown eyes fixed on Jared who was jogging across the parking lot with Steve at his side.

“ you all right” Jared asked stopping next to Ori. The Dog instantly moved to stand beside Jared.

“ never been better.” Ori said. “ other than the fact I didn’t see it, smell it or hear it. I guess I was to distracted.” Ori admitted.

Jared clapped him on the shoulder. “ don’t worry about it, all of us have been there once or twice this last year. Face it, we have all been up and running with very little down time away from this shit. It gets to a fella sooner or later.”

“well when your ready to stop fucking around, pipsqueak, looks like you have a bite” Steve said grinning at Ori who gave him a mock glare.

“ what I lack in height I make up for in length” Ori said proudly as he took the line and began to pull it in.

“ notice he never says crap like that when Beth is around” Steve pointed out with a soft laugh.

“don’t start Steve, I’ve seen you both naked a time or two, and Im prepared to lie to Keep Ori on my good side” Jared said as he knelt and rubbed the dogs head for a moment.

“lie is it” Ori said with a grunt as he pulled a large carfish out of the river. “ look at that damn thing,” Ori said with a grin, “and Guess who isn’t getting some.”

“since Im not getting any from you, you cant cut me off” Steve said with a grin.

“ the fish you idiot.” Ori shot back.

“oh… okay the fish I don’t mind, its your jokes that really get me” Steven commented.

Ori ignored Steve while he removed the hook, secured the fish and set the line out again. as he finished setting the line he looked up and met Jareds eyes. “ Normally I don’t ask, but When are your going to tell us exactly what your looking for in Nashville?” Ori asked.
Jared shrugged casually, then gave Ori a lopsided grin. “ you two know me far to well,” he said. “its going to sound insane, but I want to find that bowler hat wearing dick and put him down once and for all.”

Ori stared at him for a moment then nodded in agreement.

“pardon me for pissing in your cheerio’s Jared, but if your plan is to wander around a city full of undead looking for one particular zombie, its going to be a long hunt” Steve said.

“he does have a point Jared” Ori commented

“If that was my plan I would completely agree with you” Jared replied. “I think we are supposed to be here, and no I haven’t had any weird dreams from the dead. But it started here, and it returned here after following us all the way to Sullivan. Why. What is it exactly, a zombie, something in between, a ghost, a nightmare made flesh. All I know is that it followed us across two states, haunted some of our dreams. It came back here and the first time it was seen was by Mary in a parking garage downtown on June 23rd. and think about the fact we make it to the coast and one of the first people we encounter is Ed, the cop who arrested the freak when he was still alive.” Jared said.

“okay I admit its odd, okay more than odd. But that doesn’t help us find it” Ori pointed out.

:”I know, I keep thinking that Brown was held in custody near downtown, Mary saw it in a parking garage downtown, so it might be in the downtown area.” Jared said feeling stupid for even saying it, downtown was one hell of a big place.

“ do you have a time table for this hunt, what if we don’t spot it.” Steve asked.

“ two more days, maybe three.” Jared replied. “ and if we don’t spot it by then we head on out.”

“I plan on holding you to that Jared” Steve said,” three days max and then we head out.”

* * * * * *
Jon Williams, sat in his jeep staring at the mud covered, water soaked walls of the Opryland center. Sometime in the last year, it had flooded in this area. So much for hiding in here, it would have been perfect with all the atriums. He could have planted food in there and lived well.

He sat there for a moment staring at the dark building as the sun sank below the rim of the world. He had thought about running, as fast and as far away from Maggie, the monster and the ghost of the Russian as he could get. But as he had sat here looking at the ruined landscaped grounds, and flood damaged complex, he had realized there was no place he could run to. No way he could escape something that could walk in his dreams.

He knew he was doomed, all his life he had tried to do right by the world, he had accepted a higher calling to protect the planet. And had lost sight what was really important, and that same desire to be some idiot holy warrior had let him be led into murder and sabotage.

This morning hearing Maggie talk to Sheamus about what she, no It wanted him to do, Jon had left. At first it had been to drive around and think, thinking had led him to realizing he wanted to run and running had let him here and to the realization of the futility of it all.

“god what have I done” he said aloud.

“god cant hear you” a voice said from the empty seat beside him. The Russian accent was light but obvious.

Jon flinched and almost screamed. “ you cant hide Pizdi, and you cant run he can always find you” out of the corner of his eye, Jon saw the shadowy shape of a powerfully built man in the passenger seat. “ you sold your soul for mother earth remember” the voice was mocking him now.

“help me, and I teach you how survive, abandon me and ….” The russian said, as something moved in the backseat, Jons eyes drifted up the rear view mirror, terror flowing thru his viens at the prospect of seeing what was back there. His heart hammered at the vice that suddenly gripped it.

his eyes locked on the mirror and he sucked in a breath to scream but nothing came out, as he starred into the cataract covered eyes of the thing in the back. Its lips peeled back into a grin, revealing its pointed teeth.

Jon slid down into the floorboard, screaming as one leathery cold hand tried to grasp his shoulder, he threw open the door to the jeep, and started to scramble out, but the sight of over twenty undead shambling towards the jeep made him slam the door shut again.

“is that your answer” The Russian asked nastily, Jon might not be able to see his face, but he could see the mean mocking smile.

“Ill help, Ill help” he cried out.

“good, then here is what I want you to do” the Russian said,

Jon lay in the floorboard, tears of terror tracking down his cheeks as he listened to a voice that came from nowhere telling him what to do.
Nashville, the music city was quiet now, as quiet as a tomb in point of fact, which was what it was now. Ed found himself standing on a foot bridge that spanned the Cumberland River. The river gleamed in the moonlight, as it moved on its slow and ponderous way.

He could see the LP field on the east bank, home now to the dead. “not pretty is it” a voice said from behind him. He turned and saw man in a NPD uniform standing there, young, handsome, a solid build and thick wavy brown hair.

“who are you” Ed asked looking around as his mind finally grasped that he was dreaming, “ Taylor Marrs, we talked on the phone about your coming to Nashville to give a second statement and possibly testify against Jasper brown. I was alive at that point.”
“for a dead guy you look better than I would have expected.” Ed said his confusion and fear settling as the realization that this was a dream sank in.

Taylor smiled for a moment, then he walked past Ed towards the east side of the river. “I don’t have long, its hard to do this” Taylor said as Ed followed him off the footbridge. They seemed to move much faster than possible past the buildings down roads, pausing only long enough for Ed to get his bearings at each turn. Then suddenly they were standing before a Best Western, three police cars were parked across both sides of the drop off in front of the Lobby doors,

“why am I dreaming about you,” Ed asked. looking around.

“because your still after Brown, and because he still wants you dead. And because this is where he died and came back. I know because I was here when it happened” Taylor said.

“what?” Ed said surprised, as much as he had heard others talk about the dead coming to visit them in their dreams he had never really experienced it, at least not the way they had. But now, now it was different, he could smell the cool night breeze, feel it on his skin. He could smell the must, and the mold and the scent of thousands of rotting walking corpses, it was more real than real, the colors were vivid, every sensation was both muted and exquisite.

Even with all that, and knowing this dream was as real as his waking world, he found himself surprised to hear some one had known where Brown was on that fateful day.

Taylor pointed to a spot in front of the lobby doors, a badge lay next to it, a bit of fabric still attached to it. Ed looked down but when he lifted his gaze once more Taylor was gone.

A chill fell across him, and the sunlight faded till it looked grey and washed out, like a bank of clouds had covered the sun. in the distance he could hear something moving down the street. the sound of heels clicking on pavement echoed off the building walls, a slow steady beat of doom approaching.

Ed knew what was coming, and felt his testicles draw up. Gathering his courage he walked to the street and looked towards the noise. And saw Jasper brown in the distance striding purposely towards him.

“its time Eddie, time to pay for what you did” Browns voice boomed in his ears. “ time to pay fag boy, you cant hide and I’m coming and Hell is coming with me”

Ed awoke with a start, panicked his head whipping around. he was laying on the deck of the pontoon boat, the eastern sky just starting to lighten with gold and blue. A thin mist hung over the river, the peacefulness of the view helped push back the fear that still rumbled thru him.

“ night mare” Jared asked, almost giving Ed a heart attack. Ed turned his head to see Jared sitting with his legs dangling off the side of the boat, he was leaning back on his elbows watching the sun rise.

“you could say that” Ed replied as he climbed out of his sleeping bag , and stripped off his sweat soaked shorts and T-shirt. “Its coming Jared” Ed said as he pulled out a semi clean pair of tactical pants and a rare package of new socks.

“I know” Jared replied, still watching the sunrise. “and its not coming alone” he said.

“your awfully damn calm about this” Ed observed as he dressed.

“no reason not to be, he can show up if he wants to, I don’t plan on being here.” Jared said with a tired smile, “ that undead prick can chase us around the country if he wants to, I have no intention on playing his game, not anymore. I will pick the battleground this time” Jared commented, as he pulled his legs up and rolled his pants legs down.

“we head west just a little longer, there’s something there, I don’t know what,its just a feeling. After that we head back into Nashville and find Bowler hat and put him down once and for all.” Jared said with such certainty that Ed didn’t doubt that they would find Jasper browns Animated corpse and kill it.
* ************************** *

today was one of those days where his knees and hip did not want to cooperate, paul decided as he felt the pain flaring in the offending joints. At least the pain kept him from dwelling on the dream from last night.

he could smell bacon frying, and smiled in anticipation. He would really hate it when the freezer stopped working. He walked to the homemade periscope he had installed just august.

The image wasn’t as clear as he would have liked, but he could see, that yard was still clear of undead, that would he knew change before long,

He was he decided getting to old for such things like the end of the world, but he hadn’t been asked, and killing himself would have been so gauche he decided as he eyed the empty gravel road in front of his house. It would be so easy to just load up Mariah and leave, everything they might need was already loaded in his vehicle, now would be the best time, before the horde of undead arrived, and he knew as surely as the sun rose and set that it was on its way.

He lowered the periscope and hobbled to his desk, and eyed the book he had spent so long working on. What ever was inside that had the forces of evil so worked up was nothing he could point to, maybe it was nothing more than the evidence of its existence and the idea that it could be fought was enough for it to want the knowledge destroyed.

“its almost time isn’t it” Mariah asked as she entered the room carrying a large tray loaded with breakfast.

He nodded “ it is that My love” he said as he sat that small table wishing that he was in shape enough to go scrounge coffee.

“once it is over we can leave, maybe head to Canada, my cousin had a cabin there a hundred miles from anyone.” He said as he eyed the formerly powdered eggs, with five strips of bacon, his doctor would have pitched a fit six ways to Sunday about that, but Paul was still alive and the doctor wasn’t, so maybe Bacon wasn’t so bad after all.

He had just finished his breakfast when he heard a motor outside, that shut off then doors closing. He wiped his mouth with the napkin, looking around at the basement shelter that had kept them safe for so long and knew he was going to miss his old home.

He listened as men moved thru the house, only rising from the table as he heard boots on the steps coming down to the basement. He hobbled over to the door, calling out “ don’t shoot, unless you like killing off old men and women” he said opening the door. and smiled at the six men in Uniform, all armed to the teeth.

“I’ve been waiting for you” he said smiling, “come in I have something for you, I’m sure youll know who to pass it on to when you meet him.”
An hour later, a jeep pulled out of the underground garage and headed north, Glen miller blaring from the speakers as an old man happily tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he finally headed to Canada.

Cal, sat naked at the window looking out at the cloudless blue sky, where a hawk circled over the city. it was odd how nature was reclaiming some areas, but others nature avoided like the plague.

Behind him Maggie lay sprawled, her skin gleaming with a sheen of sweat. “I think its times you moved on the island” She said, her voice husky. And as usual his body responded to her voice, which partially annoyed him. No women had ever affected him so badly before. but he thought with a smile it had been a year since he had any woman so that might explain it.

“in another couple of days, I’ve made a promise to help take that complex for Malone, with that done, I gain men and weapons to take the fight to the island.” Cal said tired of explaining his motives.

In fact he was damn sick of his so called friend trying to pull strings and push him into a confrontation before he was ready. What ever that thing was, It wasn’t a zombie and it was damn eager to kill every person on Sullivan island and Fort Sumter.

He had pretty much reached the decision that his friend had given up on trying to control Cal, or corrupt him and had resorted to using Maggie to get Cal to follow its plans. As hot as she was, and as good in bed as she was, a pair of big breasts and long legs wasn’t going to convince Cal to change his plans any more than the thing had. Dreams or no fucking dreams.

He also was completely aware she had been screwing that Hippie Williams and sheamus, and most likely a few other men. No doubt trying to get them to pressure Cal into action, or worse open revolt. Williams was no threat, but Sheamus had begun to be increasingly angry at how things were proceeding. What will be will be he decided he had more than enough to deal with, Sheamus couldn’t do much at least not yet, the unit still supported Cal, at least for now.

It was sad really the Unity that the Legion had given them, was unraveling as they all realized that every thing that had meant something was gone. All of them but sheamus were still clinging to the code and their oaths and personal loyalty to Cal.

A soft hand reached around and rubbed his pectoral muscle, then slid down between his legs. Manipulative evil bitch she might be, but damn she is fun in bed he thought as he turned and climbed on top of her once more.
Lew felt self conscious as he bathed in sight of god and every one, but after a moment the feeling of dirt sluicing off his body felt so good he stopped caring that he was standing naked in front of a bunch of well armed total strangers. Katy grinned at him as she waited her turn under the portable shower. “ looking good lover” she muttered, Jill, Jareds wife chuckled as she heard that. but thankfully she didn’t comment on what she thought about how Lew looked naked.

Each person had taken a turn under the shower while the others had stood guard, by the time they had finished. It was nearing nine in the morning. And Jared seemed anxious to get back on the road.

Spreading a USGS topo map on the hood of the ELSORV, next to a street map of Nashville Jared began to explain to every one exactly what he wanted to happen today.

“this is where Mary worked, and this is were we are going. I talked to her early this morning, the office building is unlocked but it was empty when she left. So unless some one else came along and led a bunch of zombies into the building it should be empty. But more importantly, is the parking garage across the way. That’s where she saw it, and she was sure then and now that bowler hat was actually hunting her. its important as far as im concerned because it’s the first time a survivor saw that thing. and it was on the 23rd of June.” Jared said, Lew didn’t understand exactly what they were hunting, though the tales they had shared last night about this bowler hat thing. had been enough to chill his blood. he wasn’t sure he wanted to be any where that thing might be, but unless he and katy wanted to head out on their own again, they were both along for the ride.

Jared glanced at Ed for a moment, but didn’t share what Ed had talked to him about this morning down by the river bank. “ okay folks, lets mount up. Weve been lucky that we had a pretty peaceful night so far.”

And that Jared thought was the truth, he had expected to have a huge crowd of undead show up during the night, but only two had wandered into parking lot. And had been silently put down by Steve who had been on watch at the time. There were times that Jared truly thought that the bowler hat thing was able to read a mans thoughts as easily as it slid into their dreams.

He was beginning to suspect that it had to be close to do so. And apparently it was keeping its distance again, and the last time it had done that Mikhail had been stalking them.

He kissed Jill lightly then pointed to the drivers door. “ your turn today, and don’t give me shit about being forced into a safe place. Every one is taking turns driving now.” Jared said with a grin. “but I promise when we get back to the island we are going to have a chat about your wifely duties.”

Jill eyed him for a moment laughing softly then gibb slapped him. “don’t think I haven’t been talking to Mary, and am ready to exert control at any moment” she warned him as she opened the door. “ and your not to big to spank Mister.”

Jared shook his head with a look of mock regret on his face. “corrupted already, this is mutiny you speak of, I might have to find me another wife” he said with a tired grin.

“just try it, and waking up to a clown head in bed with you will be the least of your problems” she warned. Ori laughed as he climbed into the ELSORV.

“ I get no respect” Jared said as he climbed into the passenger seat. “Katy how attached are you to Lew, I can offer a great benefits package” Jared said then ooffed loudly as Jill punched him in the stomach.

“sit down and behave” she said grinning.

Katy started laughing and Lew, who was still a bit nervous about these people smiled, surprised that they seemed to be actually enjoying themselves.

The ride back into the outskirts of Nashville, had gone smoothly at first, but then they started encountering large groups of undead that were wandering east down the streets, shuffling thru trash, and dropped personal belongings, flowing around abandoned vehicles. Their dead eyes fixed to the front.

Jared had managed to find side roads around them most of the time, but occasionally they had to drive thru the masses, and he was damned thankful there were no fenders over the tires or they would have ended up with a body wedged up between the fender and the tire stopping the vehicles.

Entering the west end neighborhoods, just west of 440 the streets were again mostly empty, the few undead they saw wandering the tree lined streets between the nice expensive homes, were easily avoided.

They crossed 440, which was a parking lot of vehicles left from last June, where thousands had become trapped with zombies on either side of the road, where the undead tumbled down the sloping walls of rock and dirt to the road below .

They wove their way thru abandoned vehicles and wrecks as they drove down west end Ave, Jared didn’t even glance at the Building where Allen had died when they passed. But his friends knew him well enough to know that he was furious at the death of one of his best friends.

“damn she would have been fun to date when she was alive”Ori said pointing to a zombie that staggered off the sidewalk, she was a tall leggy blonde, in those tight running pants that showed her butt to be truly stunning, the almost ripped off top hid nothing as well. Ori was right though, she had been one hell of a good looking woman when alive. Now she was a rotting mobile carcass.

Jill didn’t say a word, she only yanked the wheel and ran down the zombie. “now that was just rude”Ori commented.

“she deserved better than to become one of those things, they all did Ori”she replied, not able to put into words the disgust and anger she felt when she truly thought about the horror of what had happened to all those people. Even if there were a heaven, ninty nine percent of the dead had deserved to live long and happy lives, not become mobile happy meals for the undead.

At 20th street, they encountered a massive wreck, at least twenty vehicles had been involved and judging by the scorched car frames and bubbled asphalt the fire had been intense. God and probably the devil only knew how many people had died during this wreck and come back as undead.

“this is exactly the reason We got the 88, and the one time we really need it, its miles away.” Ori commented, as Jill did a nine point reverse and headed back up to 21st to go around the pile up. “ just saying” Ori added,

they ended up back on church street and crossed the bridge over the highway again. Again Jared wondered who might have cleared it and way, and knew it was like so much else, he would never know the answers.

Lew sat in the back his arm around Katy as they drove into the downtown area, they were not that far from the summit center, occasionally they could see the roof of the center above the other buildings. they had met there only by chance as the undead swarmed over the area that fateful night of the 22nd.. she shivered as the memory of that horror filled night that had eventually led to them hiding in the tunnels under Nashville, many that dated back to the civil war.

“its going to be all right” He assured her, keeping his own doubts and reservations to himself, his right hand resting on the butt of the Desert Eagle, in his lap.

Jared had always like Downtown Nashville, the mix of old brick and stone buildings and modern was something else. Warehouses that served the city’s river trade back in the 1800’s had been converted into restaurants, shops, bars, and all kinds of business’s.

Mary had worked in a Midrise building on 7th, close by the Summit and behind the old Customs house, a massive white stone building that had once been the US customs office. It was one of the few Victorian style public buildings in the south.

Jared had often thought that many of the buildings along Broadway would look more at home Europe than in the US, and the customs house fit the bill with its massive clock tower, arched windows, and solid stone work. on the other side of Broadway from the customs house, was the Hum fogg high school, with the towers flanking the main doors and the crenellated walls, it looked more like a castle than anything else.

Lew and Katy looked anywhere but at the Summit center, it was much easier to deal with the horror of that day from a distance. Being right next door to it, hammered home the loss of their innocence and the nightmare their world had become.

The undead on the street here were thin, which puzzled every one. But they all knew that’s the way it worked. Jared and his people had spent a couple of days in a house on the Isle of Palms and had noted the undead seemed to wander around like they were on patrol, moving slowly around the neighborhoods and business areas as if searching for the living.

“we are here” Jill said pulling up in front of the modest midrise, Loyd and Company LTD. Had owned the entire building, but only the first three floors of the six had been in use, when the undead arrived. Calling it a mid rise is a disservice Jared thought, it was a small 1940s style building of tan brick and square windows. The owners had aimed for functionality not looks and they had gotten the utilitarian look they wanted.

Mary had often said the place was cold and drafty during the winter, and the old fashioned elevators, once controlled by a lift man, were broken down more often than not.

There were maybe twenty zombies spread out along the street, slowly converging on the idling vehicles. Easy enough to deal with as long as Jared and the others could keep them from grouping together.

“do we go inside, or what” Ori asked curious about what Jared intended. “any clues there that might have been are probably long gone after a year.” He pointed out.

“true, Jill take us into the parking garage, third floor. That’s where she saw it,” Jared said pointing to the entrance. Jill nodded not happy about it, but trusting Jared not to get them all killed.

The parking garage was dim and dirty after so long, the cars still parked here, and there, were covered in dust and dirt. Jill carefully drove around the first floor and then up the ramp to the second floor. Trying not to pay to much attention to car doors that stood open, or the dark splotches in the cement where some one had bled out.

She tried hard not to notice the overturned stroller next to one car, or the blood stained white stuffed bear. As she came up the ramp onto the third floor Jared had her pull up behind a charcoal grey Ford.

“that’s Marys car” Jared said as he looked around carefully then opened the door and climbed out. he stood there for a moment looking back at the ramp they had just come up then towards the stairwell door, where she had made her escape. He walked to the low wall, and looked down onto the street below.

He could see the main doors of the Building she had worked at and the skeleton of the Mime Mary had shot. good riddance, mimes were the cousins to clowns he thought. He didn’t know what he thought he might find, but he knew he had to see this for himself. I guess I had hoped, it had left a message on how to kill it or where it was hanging out at when it wasn’t stalking people. Wait.. holy shit he thought as he turned towards the ELSORV Ed was riding in.

“Zombies are on the ramp Jared” Ed said over the radio.

“Gotcha, Ed buddy, do some thing thinking on where Brown might have hidden out at when he was live.” Jared said as he returned to the ELSORV. “Jill get us out of here” he said, waving a hand towards the exit sign. his brother Eric would have cracked a stupid one liner from star trek or something. The random thought brought the flicker of a smile to his face.

There were only five zombies between them and the exit, Steve threw open the door as they passed one, a zombie hit the door with a meaty thump and went flying to land between two parked cars. As he shut the door he laughed and said “two points, unless it was a race official.”

Ori chuckled “ babies are worth a hundred” he said quoting the old movie, then the smile faded from his face as he realized, there were an awful lot of babies out there that were undead. That line lost its humor for him.

Emerging into full sunlight once again, Jared had Jill drive down to Demonbraun and head towards the river. Ori suddenly kicked the back of Jared seat, “ get off the road quick” he said.

Jared didn’t waste time asking, he pointed to another parking garage entrance that was part of the Nashville Hilton hotel by the summit center and close by the country music hall of fame.

Jill whipped in, followed by Ed. There were more undead in this parking garage, but most of the were run down as the two vehicles drove to the roof top parking area. “ what did you see” Jared asked turning in his seat to look at Ori.

“I had just looked down 6th and saw a Stryker passing thru the intersection of 6th and Franklin” Ori said, “ some one had painted a militia logo on the side”

“Might be friendly” Jared pointed out.

“It was the same Logo those militia asshats used that that attacked the Farm last Christmas” Ori said.

“ oh shit.” Jared muttered, for a moment he wondered what in the hell that militia unit was doing in Nashville, then shrugged. Mikhail had been with that unit at least for the attack; Jared shouldn’t be surprised that they were here now. it only confirmed in his mind that he was close to what he was looking for.
* * * * * *
He waited silently watching from the roof of the Hotel, as the two military vehicles rolled to a stop on the top floor of the parking garage below.. The occupants piled out, and using hand weapons cleared the immediate area of undead that had followed them up to the roof of the parking garage. It was so satisfying to have fate lend a hand today, he had thought he wouldn’t get a shot when they had gone into the parking garage further down, but then for some reason they had left that shelter and driven directly into the Parking garage attacked to the very hotel he was on the roof of. Cant ask God for better than that he thought.
He laid his scope on the Redhead, thinking how easy it would be to drop him right now. he panned to the right, and stared at the breasts of the Woman, who must be the Red heads wife. She was a looker, it would be a shame to kill her, but die she would in the coming fight.

The short blond man with glasses, looked nervous, you would think after a year of surviving the man would feel a bit more confident. Sheamus dismissed him as any real threat.

The two heavily muscled men, at least looked competent. The one with the shaved head had to be the red heads best friend. The other one was that cop he had been told about, he had no idea who the tattoo covered guy was and the good looking woman at his side looked familiar to him. The last man, wore black tactical’s, and body armor that had SWAT on the back.

He shifted his sights back to the red head who as kneeling and petting a stocky tan and white dog. It would be so easy to put a bullet right in his head, so damned easy but Nooooo. For some damn reason Cal wanted to string this out, keep these clowns busy in Nashville, while Cal secured the weapons and Ammo they need and launched the attack on the Island. But that only allowed the red head a chance to figure out what was going on, and find a way to defeat the attack.
He smiled as he shifted his sights, well if Im not allowed to shoot the brains of the enemy, I can damn well but a bullet in his muscle. And Cal you did want them to stay in Nashville, so if you want them busy in Nashville, let them be hunting a killer, Sheamus thought as he steadied himself, and placed his finger on the trigger. Maggie had insisted on who he would shoot when the time came, and Sheamus had no intention of disappointing her.
With the undead that had followed them to the rooftop, taken care of, Jared had them park the ELSORV’s across the ramp so that no undead could come at them. once they had swept the Roof top, they gathered near one of the walls, where Ori studied the streets with his binoculars trying to spot the vehicle he had seen ten minutes before.

“I cant believe your going to keep that dog” Ed said eyeing the pit bull that had just fallen on its back, sticking its legs in the air it began to wiggle drawing attention to its Belly.

“ I cant believe its not Feral” Jill commented, as Jared caved and began to scratch the dogs belly.

“ you cant believe Jared pets its more than you” Ori remarked with a grin.

“That too” Jill agreed with a laugh. “ damn dog gets more attention than I do that’s for sure.”

“At least it didn’t crush your nuts” Steve said then laughed. “ not that you have any to crush” he told Jill who grinned.

Jared shook his head in mock disgust and turned to Ori. “see anything yet” he asked.

“I saw two vans moving around between some buildings, but not much else” Ori replied his eyes never leaving the scene below.

“I guess we can lay low for a bit and see what’s going on” Jared said as he flowed to his feet, the dog instantly was up and at his side. Its tail wagging in a circular motion as it watched Jared closely.

“Damn dog nearly crushes my nuts, and then likes Jared, is that fair I ask you” Steve said, as he walked beside Jared. Ori laughed as he continued to scan the streets below.

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw sun light flash on glass from the hotel roof; sniper rang thru his mind as he threw himself at Jared to take his best friend out of the line of fire.

“what are you jeal….” Ori began, and his voice died as Steve suddenly lunged towards Jared arms out as if he were going to tackle his best friend. But the big man never made it, he staggered and fell, blood spraying, the sound of a shot rolled across the streets echoing from the buildings around them. the only thing that saved him from certain death was his sudden movement to try take Jared out of the line of fire, it had thrown off the snipers aim.

Time seemed to stand still as Ori’s mind did the math, and projected the trajectory of the shot on a screen in his mind. He spun on his heel weapon sliding up and socketing into his shoulder. he fired six rounds in the approximate area that the shot had come from, which was the roof of the hotel above them. Ori knelt scanning the roof top with his scope praying for one clean shot at the bastard who had shot Steve.

Jared spun and then dropped to his knees, checking Steve’s wound. “ Jill get the Kit now,.” Jared shouted as he opened steves body armor. It was what was called in the old school a sucking chest wound, the bullet had punched straight thru Steve’s armor. Steve lay there hyperventilating, his skin going cool and pale. Jared took his friends pulse feeling panic building as he found it rapid and thready.

“Steve can you hear me” he asked, Steve nodded weakly then his eyes rolled up into his head Jared shouted, his eyes burning. “ wake the fuck up” he bellowed.

“ Jared heres the bag” Jill said suddenly as she appeared at his side with the large Field kit that Linda had prepared and Justin had updated.

Jared ripped it open and began to pull out items, not even noticing when Ed and Stegers weapons began to fire at the few undead that had appeared on the ramp. Jared got a pressure bandage on Steve, and the chest tube in. but Steve’s belly was tuat and he was in and out of consciousness. Jared didn’t need to be a doctor to know Steve had internal bleeding and was in shock.

“get Ronny on the radio” Jared told Jill, “theres a high school football field near where we camped last night, there shouldn’t be a lot of undead there, I want him to meet us there, he is going to be Flying Steve back to the Island, and he is going to get the Yorktown on the radio when he is in range and get a chopper to pick up Doc Winston. And then Im going hunting” Jared said his eyes cold and flat.

“ can we afford to take that much time to drive to that spot” Jill asked as she threw open the door to the ELSORV and donned the com headset.

“we have to, the gunfire will draw every undead in the downtown area and the vehicles Ori spotted, and the sniper could follow us easily to anyplace close by and try again, “ Jared explained as he did what he could for his friend. The dog ran in circles around Jared and Steve, stopping only to growl up at the hotel then started running again.

Ori listened with only part of his attention, as he scanned the rooftop and streets for threats. Who ever had fired the shot hadn’t bothered to shoot again. he heard Jill talking quickly to who ever was on Duty at camp, Jared relaying coordinates for the LZ, Ed was cussing a steady stream in a low voice.

“Im staying here” Ori said suddenly, “ don’t look at me like a penis just grew out of my forehead. If I can get out of sight, while theres only a few of those things, and you make noise leaving, I should be free to hunt down the sniper.”

“No, not because I don’t think you cant find him. But because I don’t want you alone, you’ll wait till I can help you.” Jared said, as he stepped back letting Ed and Steger pick up Steve and carry him to their vehicle. Ori didn’t argue, any time wasted arguing was time wasted for Steve.

“all right” Ori replied as he piled into the ELSORV and took the gunners seat. Jared took the wheel. Jill held on as Jared whipped the Vehicle around and then shot down the ramp the speedometer needle climbing quickly. They blasted out onto the street, sliding as Jared turned and headed for the LZ. Ori held on for dear life, vowing if he saw any targets he would reduce them to hamburger meat.
Mike had just finished his breakfast when he saw Mort bolt from the M88 and run to one of the RV’s. Mary had no sooner opened the door, Mort pushed past her into the RV. Less than a minute later he exited the RV and ran over to the RV were Daws was racked out.

Something’s up Mike knew, as he set aside his tray and rose to his feet. He started towards Daws at a run seeing the look on Morts face.

“…. Came under sniper fire, Steve’s down” Mort was saying as mike reached them. “Ronny is supposed to pick them up at some High school football field.”

“how bad is he” Daws asked, he and Steve had gotten to be good friends over the months.

“Jared was dealing with the injury while she made the call, so she didn’t have much info. But what she did have was bad.” Mort said, Mike turned as he heard the RV door slam open and Ronny leaped out running for the plane.

Mike turned and ran to his gear, scooping up his gear bag and rifle and ran for the plane. He was going to help there were more than enough people to defend the camp. By the time he reached the plane Justin was there with his Bag, and a stretcher.

Daws arrived just as the Ronny fired up the engines, Mary was calling out the check list from the copilots seat. “ Mike when you get there you stay with Jared, he will need the extra weapon. You tell Jared I said Good hunting, you know he is going after the bastard who did this.” Daws said as he sat down a heavy bag at Mikes feet. “that’s for you to use or to give to Jared it’s a four shot 40mike mike semi auto grenade launcher. With 18 HE’s. They both looked up as Ryan Climbed into the plane, “ Ill help, with out Steve and the others most of us would still be hiding and dying of starvation.” Ryan said. “ I owe them this and much more” the teen said. as he strapped himself into a seat.

Daws nodded with satisfaction, “ you stay with Jared when you get there too Ryan. Don’t let him get himself buried out there.” Daws said tempted to tussle Ryans hair.

Daws left them and headed up to the front where he talked with Ronny in a low voice for a moment then exited the plane. The door had no sooner shut than the plane was moving.

It was a brutal take off, Ronny lifted off as soon as there was enough lift, and slammed the throttles to the firewall. Mike prayed the plane wouldn’t fold in around them, he really hated falling.

“Med flight to Headhunter, Shift LZ to…..” Ronny paused then read off the coordinates, Headhunter was an old Call sign from a mission they had been assigned to back in the day, and to his mind it more than fit the circumstances. “ don’t ask me why, just acknowledge Ill explain later. ETA ten minutes.” Ronny said thankful they had topped off the planes tanks first thing on his return last night.

“Headhunter to Med flight, acknowledged, Copy LZ shift.” Jared replied. Even over the radio Ronny could hear the fury, pain and anger in Jareds voice. Who ever shot Steve was a walking dead man.

Ronny didn’t speak much as they flew, not till he saw the undead filling the streets below as they drew closer to the High school. The new LZ was a few miles past the school, a man made lake, with the floats still attached the UV wasn’t going to be making to many rough field landings. “that’s a sight that never ceases to scare the shit out of me” he told mary, pointing to the swarm of undead, Mary only nodded as she worried about Steve and how Sharon and Bridget and the babies were going to deal, if Steve died. ..

Below he saw the Two Vehicles plowing thru a large crowd of undead, he waggled his wings then prepared to land on the lake. As he swept past the bank he saw a gravel road that ran to a dock and what looked like a boat ramp. He relayed that to Jared. the lake wasn’t all that big but it was big enough for him to land on. And that’s all that mattered he thought as he pushed the stick forward and began to reduce power for landing.
The two vehicles finally pushed through the mass of undead, covered in blood, tissue and scraps of clothing, and accelerated, followed by the shambling crowd. “ funny how they always seem to show up when you least want them to” Jill commented glancing back at Lew and Katy who rode in the back hanging on for dear life staring out .

They barreled past the high school, Ori calling off directions as he consulted the map, behind them out of sight but not out of mind the mass of undead followed. “Owens tackle and bait” Ori said pointing to the sign that was leaning crookedly to one side. Jared turned into the gravel drive and sped towards the dock. Where the UV was just now coming along side.

Lew gaped at the aircraft, who the hell were these guys, military weapons and vehicles, military aircraft. He was aching to ask questions, but kept his mouth closed. It was more the shock that after a year of hiding in storm drains, sewers, and abandoned houses he had honestly thought the number of people left alive numbered in the tens, and now he was with men who were in radio contact with others, and had aircraft on call.

He watched as the aircraft taxi’d up to the dock, and a man, no more of a handsome shaven headed teen aged boy leaped out and tied the aircraft to the docks. In moments every one was out of the vehicles and two men jogged up from the plane one carrying a large red paramedics bag.

He and katy watched as the wounded man was transferred to a stretcher, the slender blond man, went to work on him, while others assumed guards positions around them.

Lew felt uneasy as he saw Jared and the short blonde guy with glasses talking quietly while their medic worked on the Steve. Both kept looking at he and Katy. Finally Ori walked over to them, “ I want to make you an offer and it might just save your lives, that plane is heading to our.. home, new home really on Sullivan Island. Theres about three hundred people there, including kids, with food and limited power and other things. If you hang around with us, you may or may not make it there. But you have till they load Steve on that plane to make a decision. Of course your free to head out where ever you want right now. but think about it” Ori said, then smiled gently. “ it’s a hell of a lot better there than here. And at least a bit safer”

“why? Why offer that to us “ Katy asked suddenly, as Lew took her hand.

“Because,…. Well honestly its what we do, we try to help people out, get them to someplace safer. We are trying to rebuild. Because Jared has a white knight complex, and I sleep better at night doing something I think is decent.” Ori replied then shrugged. “ it doesn’t really matter why I guess, the choice is yours. If you stay here and stay with us, realize that its going to be dangerous and we are going to hunt down the prick that did this. We take care of our own.” His voice was dangerously low at that last.
Lew watched as Ori walked back over to his friends, who were clustered around the stretcher and the medic who was working hard to save Steve’s life. “what do you think” Lew asked Katy.

“you know the saying if it sounds to good to be true” Katy replied, hesitant to believe Ori. She wasn’t willing to get her hopes up only to have them dashed. But every thing about them screamed they were telling the truth, the weapons, the radios, even the F’ing plane. “ but what ever you decide, Ill go with” she added giving him a smile.

He looked towards the road hidden behind the tree’s and the fence and the horde of undead bearing down on them. then at the plane. “they didn’t even try to take our weapons” he said thoughtfully. “ I want to say we go, but I feel like we owe them for helping us out”

“how Lew, Im not a fighter, im a lover and a singer, you’ve been incredible at keeping us alive for this long, and your brave but look at them, do you think your as a good a fighter as they seem to be.” She asked being bluntly honest.

Lew shook his head after a moment, he had discovered a lot of hidden talents since the zombies, but he had to be honest with himself, he wasn’t a soldier. He had done what needed to be done, and that was it. and god knew all he wanted was a place to call his… no their own and settle down for a bit. And lets really be honest here Lew old buddy, you want to get Katy somewhere safer than here, and that airplane will definitely get you past the thousands of undead in the city and surrounding communities with ease. Especially considering some of those thousands are coming down the road, heading right here at this very moment..

“ we go”he said softly wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Justin and Ed carried Steve to the plane, where they strapped the stretcher down. As soon as they had him in place, the two new folks boarded, looking apprehensive and excited to be inside a plane. A slice of normality in a really fucked up world could go a long way.

Justin wasn’t holding out any hope for Steve, who had a collapsed lung, a sucking chest wound and was deep in shock. Justin had started the treatment for shock, and was pretty sure he had re inflated the lung, but as he pointed out constantly he was no doctor. They had an hours flight time to the Farm where they were going to pick up Doc Winston and then head on to Sullivan. If Steve made it all the way to the Island he might just pull thru.

Jared stood there, stone faced watching the plane and thinking. This was the second time Steve had been shot because of Jared, and the guilt was almost more than he could handle. He was tired of this, tired of his friends being hurt and killed for some quixotic quest of his. After this was over with, and they got back to Sullivan he was going to get a boat and head out and find an Island, just he and Jill. With out him around maybe his remaining friends wouldn’t end up dead, or worse.

Jared watched as Ryan cast the plane off and the doors were closed. He still watched as the plane was taxi’ing out away from the dock. As Ronny added power to the engine, Jared finally turned and headed for the ELSORV, and saw Steger jogging back from the gate. “ they are a hundred yards down the road and closing” Steger said, casting a longing glance at the plane that was taking off, shaking off its earth bound chains and reaching for the clear blue sky.

“Lets go, Ryan take the gunners seat in my vehicle, Mike ride with Ed and Steger. We are going back to see if that gunman left any clues, and if he did, we are going to pay him a visit.” Jared said his voice cold, but fire flared in his emerald green eyes.
Sheamus wasn’t happy, he had only wounded the Big man, he had wanted to blow his heart out and make the redhead kill his best friend. But at the same time he couldn’t care less. Cal wanted them to stay in Nashville, and stay they would for a little while longer at any rate.

He wondered what had given him away; he had used the FELINT system to target. The French equivalent of the US Land Warrior program, essentially the overlarge sight on his weapon acted as a camera that was relayed thru a microcomputer to be projected on the lens of the goggles he wore. The only thing he could think of, was that sunlight must have flashed off the lens of the sight and drew the attention of the muscle bound cretin.

he bounded down the stairs from the roof top to the top floor of the hotel, jogging to the elevators. He scanned the elevator doors with a pen light for a moment, then extracted a small rod from his tool pouch and inserted in the hole on the door. he pushed around till he felt a click then gripped the edge of the elevator door and pulled. The door slid open slowly revealing the dark shaft.

There were no pulleys, wire, cables or hoses in the shaft. This was a modern elevator that used a hydraulic piston to raise and lower the elevators. But it did have an access ladder in the shaft. He inched out onto the lip, and pulled the doors shut behind him. Then moved cautiously to the ladder. It only took him moments to reach the bottom.

“Sergea…. Sorry Captain Jared is on the line for you” Hector said as he pulled off his headset and mic and passed them to Daws. Who frowned wondering what more bad news there might be.

“this is Daws, go ahead”

“Daws this is Jared, this is short notice but I want the entire camp broken down and ready to move in two hours”

Daws pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking quickly then shook his head. “cant do it in two hours, not with the modules to separate and load, and Rob has one of the RV’s opened up to do some work. even if we left the RV it would take more than an hour to strip everything out of it. and we also have Stephanie to deal with, Justin said she was stable enough for now, but ….” He fell silent, there was nothing he could do about Stephanie at this point other than shoot her or move her. he thought about the problems he faced for a moment “Id say four hours minimum” he replied.

Jared was silent for a moment. “ get moving, and do what every you think is necessary but get out of there soonest Daws.” There was an odd note to Jareds voice.

“what’s going on” Daws asked. “if there’s a solid reason to rush I need to know what it is”

“who ever shot Steve had us under observation, Im thinking that’s one of the reasons we have been seeing such large numbers of undead moving around, and if that’s true, they’ve been keeping on eye on the camp as well, which means either more zombies are heading towards you or the group that sniper came from could be heading towards you. Either way get them moving, take the route we discussed with Drake to the Place he wanted to check out. might as well kill two birds with one stone.” Jared replied.

“Roger that, and take Drakes route.” Daws said ignoring the look that spacey and Hector gave him.

“good luck Daws, keep them safe, and if we don’t hook back up with you in two days get them home.”

Drakes people were already to go in half an hour, they didn’t need any urging to go help the rest of group to get ready. Drake felt a keen sense of satisfaction that they were finally going to check out the old cold war nuclear weapons storage base.

He stood there studying the map, a habit that he had picked up from Jared, along with collecting every decent map he stumbled across. Lany stood nearby acting as his guard with three others from her high school archery team. For a moment his eyes lingered on her, then he tore them away feeling like a dirty old man. Didn’t matter that she was cool and collected under fire, or how smart and mature she was, or how deadly. She wasn’t even out of high school yet for god sake.

So far the number of undead outside the camp was manageable but like every one else Drake had wondered how long that was going to stay true. That there had been more than could reasonable be expected had bothered all of them and some people had even gone so far as to think that some Agent of Evil was leading the undead to them.

At least Drake could happily accept that the increased numbers were because of other people leading them to the camp. He still didn’t, couldn’t accept the idea that there was some evil intelligence out there behind all of this. He wanted, needed to believe that if the human race survived this, that in the centuries to come they would discover that this whole thing had been caused by some sort of Engineered Bio weapon, a disease or even a parasite.

Maybe his faith in his religion blinded him, nothing he had ever been taught in church had told him of or prepared him for the dead coming back and killing the living, his faith had survived that shock, and the sense of betrayal he felt for the lack of warning. But he still wasn’t prepared to accept the devil wandering the world leading the undead around to wipe out the survivors. How could any one survive if the devil was after them he asked himself, they couldn’t was the obvious answer. But if they could, that was yet another foundation of his beliefs that would take a pounding.

Funny he thought he had never considered himself a overly religious, amazing what the end of the world can get a man to thinking about. Which led him back oddly to Lany, which he wasn’t prepared to think about it. that some of the adults and some of the high school students had been playing around on the sly was something he strongly suspected, but what others did was a far cry from what he allowed himself to do.

So lets get back to the business at hand he told himself sternly, as he focused on the best route to get them to the destination.


Maggie sprawled in her chair showing lots of leg, and almost her panties. Cal didn’t particularly care if the rest of his men saw it or not. Maggie was hot, and judging by the situation he had found her in, deadly as well. or at the very least cold as hell. Either way Cal had no desire to keep her as his bed partner long term. But her influence over some of his men Sheamus in particular was disturbing, he decided as glared at Sheamus who seemed proud of the fact that he had flaunted his orders.

Cal stood up and paced to the window, the attack on the Complex was slated to begin in an hour, and Sheamus’s little stunt had not only alerted Jared to a new player in the game, but had stirred up the undead in the area. Malone was already furious that the numbers of undead around the complex had tripled in the last two hours, and that would seriously crimp their plans. If not end them once and for all. It could be a week or longer before the undead wandered out of the area again.

Or they could use a lot of ammo and clear the undead out as they assaulted the complex, which meant his forces would be effectively fighting two opposing forces.

Cal debated on calling Sheamus out in front of every one for his actions. That it could drive a greater wedge between them was more than a passing chance. But he also couldn’t let it appear he let anyone especially his own people to disobey his orders with out some sort of response. Especially when the offender flaunted his disdain for the orders he had been given.

Cal glanced at Maggie out of the corner of his eye, and saw her flash Bubba doing the Sharon stone leg crossing routine. No doubt she would be bedding him later, she used her body like politicians used to use bribes and campaign promises.

Williams was unusually quiet, Cal knew the former hippy had been having nightmares a lot lately. And he could almost bet he knew what the man had been dreaming about.

“ Sheamus, we will talk about this later, you broke the articles, and the code by not following orders, but whats done is done we have to deal with the current situation. So people the time table has moved up, we begin our assault in twenty minutes. Remember do not damage the fucking walls, or the whole thing is pointless” Cal said as he pulled on his combat gear and picked up his weapon.

Every one rose but Maggie and Sheamus and filed from the room leaving them alone with Cal. Sheamus watched him for a long moment, then rose to his feet. “I did what I had to for the mission” he stated.

“ your broke orders Sheamus, I just wanted the man and his friends wandering around Nashville riling up the undead till they were overwhelmed not so pissed off he wants blood.” Cal snapped.

“ I left Jared alone, what the hell more do you want” Sheamus snapped, his irish accent so thick he was almost hard to understand.

“I don’t give a fuck, if you had shot Jared his friends would be hunting you down and every one with you. The situation wouldn’t have changed, you were supposed to keep an eye on them, stir up the undead so that they headed towards Jared and his people and most importantly report anything you saw of interest.” Cal thundered furious, especially when he saw the look of satisfaction on maggies face.

“and you, bitch. You’re here because I took you in. if you think your going to spread your legs for every man here to twist and use against my orders your sadly mistaken. Ill nail your tits to a table and leave you for the undead if you try this again.” Cal snarled as he turned on her.

her smile faded, and something very ugly filled that pretty face. “never threaten me again Simms, just remember who our mutual friend is.”

“I don’t care who you may or may not know, you keep your legs closed to my men or Ill staple you shut.” Cal said his voice Iron hard. He glanced at Sheamus for less than a second, then dismissed any concerns about the Irishman finding out about the dreams and everything else. “And you, If you ever, Ever disobey my orders again, You will wish like Hell you had been captured in the Congo” Cal snarled.

For the first time in a while Sheamus heard the voice of the man so many had nicknamed Abbadon, a stone cold killer. Not the weak simpering idiot that had seemed to replace him once they got here.

“now get out of here, we have a battle to fight” Cal said as he strode from the room.
Ben rushed to the roof of the tower, just as the second IED went off this one on Peabody. He swore softly as he grabbed his binoculars and saw a bull dozer pushing what was left of a burning bus ahead of it.

“looks like some one over there got smart and figured out a way to beat your IED’s” Jerry said ducking back down.

“looks like” Ben said as he sat down the duffel bag and pulled out a impact case. Flipping it open he flipped a switch and ready lights began to glow.

“ get down stairs, and get the remotes out and ready to go. Make sure that the tires are flat on the bus blocking the gates, and for gods sake make sure Clarissa gets every one to the bug out point.” Ben told Jerri who nodded.

The enemy had only two ways into the compound if they wished to use it, over the walls or thru the gate. If they got that close there was little Ben could do to keep them out, the gate had safeguards but there wasn’t much he could do about the walls other than the broken glass and the strips of det cord he had placed.

What he wouldn’t give to have ten Soldiers, just ten and he could put up a good fight, and maybe even hang on to the place. Stupid son of bitches, all they knew how to do was take and destroy, he doubted that it had ever occurred to them to just ask or offer to help.

He eyed his watch, the high pressure pump should be just about finished with its job he thought as he watched vehicles line up behind the bulldozer, another group was moving slowly down 1st, the lead vehicle of that group was a MRAP, well lets see if it can stand up to the shit storm about to land on it.

Down below the street, the pumps had finished empting the fuel tanks that he had placed there. The fuel had been pumped into larger tanks The generator he had assigned to the little project took up the even heavier load as the mixers went to work. ten mixers, one mixer to a tank. As soon as the mixers shut down, the system would arm and wait for its signal. . he had spent months working out the math on the bombs below, if he had it right, the explosion, or rather series of explosions would take out two blocks of 1st ave, and possibly the buildings along both sides. It shouldn’t do any damage to the complex,

Shouldn’t was the key word, which was why he had every one gathered at the amphitheater, were any damage from the bombs would be minimal. From there they would at need escape thru doors in the tower, board the boat he had tied off on the river bank, and from there head to his fallback position which was actually pretty cool all things considered, just not like this place.

It had been intended as a zombie defense plan, like all the explosives he had planted, over the last year. It hadn’t taken long to go through his supply of military grade explosives, after that he had made his own, going so far as a dangerous trip to the massive public library and finding every book on chemistry, explosives and what have you that he could lay his hands on.

At least he had only lost the pinky finger of his left hand, in the only serious mishap of mixing a new explosive, he had finally settled on three primary types, easy to make and that didn’t require specialized equipment to make. His lab as he called it was in Tower two, which was currently unused except for storage.

He took another quick look at the street and flipped a switch. a chain of Explosives blew out the load bearing walls and fronts of four business’s along Peabody, the resulting tidal wave of Rubble swept over the bull dozer and two of the vehicles behind it. he grinned savagely at the thought of all the bastards he had just killed, bunch of stinking thieves and killers he thought.

Small arms fire raked the wall below the roof, Ben had expected that, and knew exactly where they were, it was the tallest building with in a block of the towers. And it was a death trap. At least they hadn’t had time to get on the Bridge which would have given them a decent angle to shoot into the compound. And Ben hadn’t finished wiring the bridge for Demolition.

He armed the daisy chain, and was just about to push the button when Jerry stepped out onto the roof, “ hey, the remotes are…..” Jerry never finished his sentence; a bullet took off the top of his skull. The Teen ager who had shown so much promise died ignobly.

Ben shook his head sadly and slammed his finger down on the bottom. The explosion ripped the roof off the old hotel, sending bodies and debris cartwheeling into the air.

Well that’s almost the last of the big ones he thought only the storm drain bomb is left after that its minor shit, pipe bombs, a few claymores. Note to the Devil, never ever give people Like me time to make more explosives, I can really fuck your day.

He pushed a button, the series of bombs below the street exploded. Ben watched intently as, in a micro second, spidery fractures raced away from the source points, joining together in a jig saw puzzle of asphalt and concrete. Then still fasther than the eye could follow, those pieces were blown into the sky in a rippling chain of fire and smoke. A Stormdrain cover sailed up and away, to land three hundred feet from its launch point, crushing the hood of a police cruiser. The shock wave rolled down the street channeled by the buildings, but it didn’t leave them untouched. Glass shattered and flew, masonry and stone cracked and splintered driven along with the shock wave like debris on the crest of a tidal wave, shredding the flesh of any living or dead that were unlucky enough to be in its path. The shock wave so powerful that it jellied the brains of the undead, before they were buried under the collapsing store fronts and falling debris.

The MRAP vanished into the crater that had once been a street, the vehicles just behind it were swallowed as well, engulfed in fire they were sent tumbling into the hole that opened under them. Delcroix tower shook and swayed, Ben stared in surprise at the devastation, it was larger than his predictions, the fractures ran almost all the way to the walls of the complex. The shock wave had shattered windows in the towers, and burning debris had landing in the resident parking area and the north side of the park. Some of the debris had smashed into the remotes that Poor Jerry had set up to be launched.

“Son of a bitch” he said laughing wildly in relief as he eyed the chunk of burning asphalt that had landed two feet from him. “fuck with an Engineer will you” He shouted.

Ben worked quickly at the console, enabling the rest of the bombs so that the motion sensors would set them off, but decided at the last moment not to blow the tower. Just in case, he got the chance to return.

Last fall he had found 12 field phones and installed them in the tower, he reached for the one on the roof and a moment later some one answered. “ Clarissa, every one ready” He asked, glancing over the low roof wall where a fire department ladder truck was pushing thru the Debris on Peabody. Behind the ladder truck where a line of vehicles.

“almost every one is here, Jeff and Rory are on the way, they just have to finish filling the envelopes.” Clarissa responded, the former stripper had turned out to be one of the most stable and calm people in the compound and Ben was more than happy to have her here.

“ got it, Im on my way, they are going to hit the wall in five minutes or less” Ben replied, hanging up the phone, he grabbed the second case and ran for the stairs.
Malone smiled hugely, as he saw men, slamming ladders against the wall. His enjoyment tempered by the fires and devastation around him. This time the place was theirs, he thought, men leaped from vehicles and raced up the ladders, ten more died, as an explosion ripped along the top of the wall, killing the men crossing at that moment.

Ben ran across the interior park, to the amphitheater where the rest of the group was gathered. He had disabled most of the heavy charges that would have dropped the tower .but the anti personnel charges remained. He rather hoped they could return someday.

The handicapped kids were shaking with terror, at the explosions and sounds of gunfire. Some of the adults were trying to keep them calm. “wheres Nathan” Ben asked.

“dead, he got shot by a sniper” Marge told him.

“Jerry’s dead too” Ben told them. “ all right get the door open and lets get them out of here.” Ben said. outside, was a large boat he had secured not long ago, which would take them to their new hide out.

Ori crouched on the tar and gravel roof , eyeing the spot where the sniper had knelt while firing. Reaching out he picked up the cigarette butt and held it up for Jared to see.

“French” he told Jared, who examined the unfiltered butt. “same as the ones we found in the tower at Campbell.”

“so the French survived, and not being able to surrender to the undead decided to invade America” Mike asked, raising an eyebrow in question.

“who ever it is, smokes foreign cigarettes, and has possibly had us under observation since Fort Campbell.” Jared commented.

“but why?” Jill asked surprised.

“why did Mikhail follow us for so long trying to kill us, or why did those m…….” Jared said falling silent as he looked thoughtfully at the Cigarette butt
“Well if Ori is right, and he usually is, the Militia group we fought last Christmas is in town, its possible they spotted us as we passed thru the Smokeys, and decided to follow along and get some payback. They would have been keeping us under surveillance, Which might explain the huge numbers of undead, might even explain the asshole that killed some of Drakes folks” Ori said, his worry about Steve buried under his calm exterior.

Jill started to move closer to Jared but the damn dog stepped neatly between them and gave Jill a look that fairly screamed go find your own owner. She was torn between her worry for Steve, laughing at the dog or just shooting it. to make matters worse Jared’s hand dropped to the dogs head and scratched it behind the ears. I cant believe I have to fight a dog for my husband she thought amused at the absurdity of it.

“well we can speculate all we want but that doesn’t give us any answers.” Jared said as he walked the edge of the roof top one last time, hoping to see something they over looked then headed for the roof top door. they all were aware of the fact the longer they stayed the more undead that would show up in the hotel, following the ones who had followed them inside.

“so where to next” Mike asked.

“I think the question is how they have been keeping track of where we are at.” Ori said, tapping his radio. “ they don’t need to break the encryption and understand us to do a triangulation and pin point the base units in the 88 or the RV. After that its just tail who ever leaves the camp your interested in. and the plane has to have drawn attention too.”

Jared stared out over the city, watching the slowly growing number of undead. After all the shit that had happened to him and the group and he makes yet another mistake that gets a friend hurt. How many mistakes are you going to make till you learn Jared asked himself. When it gets Jill or Ori seriously injured or killed is that when you decide to stop this stupidity. But he knew he couldn’t, he had to see this through. If he didn’t it would never end. His thoughts trailed off as he saw a plume of smoke and dust rise into the air on the horizon.then he heard a low rumble that came and went quickly the sound attenuated by distance.

“ you asked where next” Jared said aloud to Mike and pointed south east towards the river, where they could see the Delacoix towers.. “I would say that’s as good a place as any to start, Lets go” he said leading them off the roof.

“ what the hell is going on” Mike asked, as they saw more smoke and flame billow up into the sky, and the sound of explosions and gunfire could be heard.

Jared had gotten them back into the parking garage where Steve had been shot to keep them out of sight of who ever was waging war, there were blessedly few undead and those were easily dispatched with hand weapons. Parked on the roof, in the open air, surrounded by vehicles of the dead, they watched the explosions and listened to the gun fire near the river, not more than a couple of blocks away from their position. .

“at a guess some one is attacking someone else” Jared commented blandly, his normal sense of humor was long gone.

“guess that’s why that stryker was prowling around earlier” Ori muttered, his gaze drifting to the spot where Steve had been shot down.

“look at that” Ryan said passing his binoculars to Ori who tore his eyes away from the blood stained concrete where Steve had fallen, and peered in the direction Ryan was pointing, just in time to see a Stryker move thru an intersection, it carried the same logo as the other one, and from the number of Aerials it was the same one he had spotted earlier.

The battle, if that was what it was, lasted no more than ten more minutes. There was silence for maybe another ten then the gunfire started again.

“so what next” Ryan asked, looking nervously towards the ramp where Ed and Steger stood guard in case some of the undead wandered into the Parking garage and up the ramps.

“if it weren’t for all the undead Id send Ori to scout it out, but with the streets filling up, it would be suicide” Jared remarked as he studied the cityscape. He knew that the man who had shot Steve was part of what ever was going on by the river, but there was no way they could get there with a few thousand undead swarming over the area.

“ right now, lets get a few of these vehicles moved to block the ramp, and prepare to spend the night here. Assuming the zombies don’t realize we are here, the numbers of undead should drop by sunrise.” Jared said.

half an hour later they had the ramp blocked, and were settled in keeping the ELSORV’s between themselves and the Ramp, in case one of the walking pus bags showed up. Jared pulled out an MRE and ate silently. His mind on Steve more than anything else, he had expected Ronny to return by now an eye in the sky could be damn helpful at this point.

“you think Daws and the others are alright” Mike asked suddenly, as he poked at his MRE Enchiladas with a fork, not sure if his meal was actually dead or not. He was worried about Ily and Amy and all the others, until now he hadn’t really realized just how attached he was to them, and how he had become used to having people around again

“Im sure they are, Daws is a good man, a good soldier, besides Logan, Mai Linn and Jeb are with him.” Jill said sofly. No one spoke very loud, sounds carried and the last thing any of them wanted to have was every zombie in Nashville to show up.

Ori snorted quietly, then shook his head “sorry not disagreeing, but Jeb and Mai Linn have been acting like school kids for the last month. And Jeb does a lot of his thinking with his little head.” He said looking up at Jill who stifled a laugh.

“did he really film porno’s” Jill asked suddenly. She knew that Ori and Jeb had actually become decent friends so Ori might actually know the answer.

“according to him and others. Benton says he has all three of them on his lap top hard drive.” Ori remarked. Benton was a soldier who had served with Jeb on Fort Jackson.

“isn’t that a bit, odd having porns with a friend in it” she asked, looking around.

“don’t ask me I’ve never had a friend who starred in porns, guess its like having a friend who is a real actor. Look see that guy there, that’s my buddy Jeb” Ori said with a shrug.

Once the sun had set, the city streets were cloaked in darkness, broken only by the fires that still raged over the by the towers. The orange flickering glow of the fires only made the darkness between the buildings even deeper. . the silence was broken only by the shuffling of feet of the undead, as they converged on the scene of the battle.

It set Jills teeth on edge, making her think of thousands of cockroaches scuttling around a dark kitchen. Jared made every one get into the vehicles to talk, so the sound wouldn’t carry. They slept fitfully, but dreamlessly which was a blessing.

Jared awoke to the a pink and azure sky as the sun slipped over the horizon, he stretched trying to work the kinks out of his body from sleeping in the drivers seat. He looked out the windows and seeing no undead he opened the door quietly and climbed out.

He relieved himself, then walked the perimeter looking down onto the streets around the parking garage and saw few undead. Smoke still spiraled into the sky from the battle, that was the only word Jared could apply to anything that had a lot gunfire and explosions involved.

He wandered idly where the undead went when the streets were empty. Did they just wander around the land, or did some instinct or memory send them into buildings. that something controlled them on occasion he knew, but what about when they weren’t being directed. He remembered entering a room and seeing zombies sitting on a couch staring at a dead TV. Only rising to their feet when he entered, were they just waiting for the power to come back on so they could watch American Zombie Idol. Or were they conserving their energy for chasing their prey. Or waiting for some dumb ass to walk in the door all fat, dumb and happy like. It really didn’t matter, it was, what it was. And he either dealt with it or died.

What they needed to do was head back to Sullivan, but he couldn’t do that till he hunted down the asshole who had shot Steve, and got his van back. Yes it was stupid to want it back, but there were things in that van he refused to leave behind. Pictures of his family, his friends, gear they could use.

But was vengeance a good enough reason to risk the lives of every one else around him, did he really want to put Jill into another fucking firefight and risk getting her killed or Ori, did he even want to have to face Beth if Ori were killed. Bridget and Sharon might lose Steve, Sharon had already lost Mark. Allen was dead as well. Chris was paralyzed, and there was always little Billy.

He would never lose the blood on his hands from the boys death, oh he could blame the Dark for it, Mikhail, who had used the boy to get to Jared. but ultimately it was Jared who had failed in his responsibility to protect the boy, a kid he had loved and who had loved him. Jared had never said a word to Jill, but he had wanted to adopt the kid once they had reached Sullivan and the exodus was behind them.

“your really fucked up these days brother” A familiar voice said.

Jared whirled around his weapon snapping into position, he gaped stupidly as he saw Mark standing there. A playful smile on his face. “ yeah I know Im dead, but close your mouth before you draw flies.”

“how?” Jared asked, Mark shrugged. The dog, Might as well name it Jared thought, had turned with a snarl, then fell silent as it lay down its tail wagging slowly as it watched mark.

“why do women love shoes, who the hell knows, but they do and Im here.” Mark said with a grin. “ and trust me some women really hate being dead, there seems to be no malls for shopping on our side. At least not where we are….. aaah never mind . Rules cant say anything else about that. Trouble is I cant stay long, it takes a lot to come calling like this.”

Jared leaned back against a vehicle and stared. “ just when I think I have a handle on the weirdness, something happens to show me I don’t know shit.” He muttered.

“sorry I have to go, but Ill be back brother, your close, very close to what your looking for, Ed knows it, talk to him. It wont be the end of it, but it will help get you there” Mark said, as he looked towards the ELSORVS, “Keep her safe Jared, Steve was top of the list for that thing, Jill is pretty high up on his list too.”

Mark was starting to fade, Jared noted calmly, the dead talked in dreams and now they came back as ghosts, why should that surprise me at the end of the world where the dead walk Jared asked himself.

“what is he Mark?” Jared asked, hoping that Mark could and would answer.

“Rules brother, just keep on with the good fight” Mark said. “ and some one is on their way, I think you might enjoy “ Mark said and then was gone.

* * * * * *

Williams sat in his jeep watching the fires from the east side of the river, the undead had gathered here as well, but not as far down as he was parked. He laid a hand on the draganov Sniper rifle, that was so familiar and yet so foreign to him, soon enough he would be in the action. That he had no choice didn’t help his state of mind, he didn’t turn his head as he heard a dry arctic cold laugh from the passenger seat, he didn’t need to he could see the shadowy shape that sat there peering hungrily at the fires, a deadly smile of pointed teeth glittered in the distant light. White eyes that seemed to glow peered out from the shadows of its bowler hat.

Williams shuddered, and started the motor. He had places to be and things to do before daybreak. And if fate was kind, some one would kill him before he was forced to do all that he was required to do.

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