Chapter 15

‘Tis the Spirit of Autumn, no man sees,
The mother of Death and of Mysteries,
Who cries on the wind all night to these,
“O my children, come home!”
The Spirit of Autumn, pierced with pain,
Calling her children home again,
Death and Dreams, through ruin and rain,–
“O my children, come home, come home!
O my children, come home!”
~ Madison Cawein
Jared stood there for maybe a full minute, staring at a smiling Eric, then suddenly the two brothers were hugging and back slapping each other, Nibbler danced around the two men, determined to get her share of the petting.

“Son of a bitch big brother its good to see you” Eric said, finally disengaging from the hug and smiling hugely. “I knew you would survive this.”Erc said his eyes turning to the men and women surrounding the convoy and those who stood a respectful distance away letting the brothers have a moment. “I expected the Dirty Dozen, but not this”

“How did you find us?” Jared asked, grinning from ear to ear as he took a knee and calmed Nibbler down. “and why in the hell didn’t you call us on the radio”

“Figured you’d like the surprise, picked up one of Ronny’s Broadcasts about two hours ago, we were just on the edge of the reception area. So I got my men loaded up, and we hauled ass for the house.” Eric said, turning as Ori and Ronny jogged up, for a moment there was a lot of hand shaking, and back slapping.

“Tell me you have more ammo for those Mini guns?” Ori asked first thing.

“a bit more, but its limited. Why expecting another siege” Eric asked Cocking an eyebrow at Ori.

Ori shook his head, “ not if I can run from it I don’t,” Ori replied holding out his hand. The two men shook, Eric giving Ori a one armed hug.

“how’s Mary?” Eric asked turning to Ronny who grinned and cocked a thumb towards the plane. “she is great, why still looking to be spanked” Ronny asked with a laugh.

“Well I have been a bad boy, but no, I think I can pass on the spanking for now” Eric said with a laugh, his eyes sweeping the area. “Where’s Steve, chris and Mark?”

the smile on the group of friends faces faltered, “Marks dead, got killed last fall. Steve got shot and may or may not make it. He is back on Sullivan with the Doctor we picked up.” Jared said, Eric frowned for a heartbeat.

“shit sorry to hear that Jared” Eric said, if he was curious about what Sullivan was he didn’t let it show, “how are Bridget and Sharon holding up?”

“That’s a bit complicated, they are back on Sullivan, I imagine they aren’t taking it well” Jared replied not elaborating again on the Sullivan reference.

Eric was remained silent for a moment, he knew both women and felt for them. After a minute he turned his head towards the group of soldiers standing around behind him.

“Martinez, do a perimeter sweep, and have the Chief Secure the Helo, we are staying here tonight” Eric told the stocky Latino with the baby face. “and who the hell is this?” Eric asked turning back to Jared and his friends, openly ogling Jill as she walked up and slipped an arm around Jared, She smiled at Eric who sighed heavily. “damn you Jared, always taking the goods one.” Eric lamented. “its like Emma all over again.”

“Emma was 31 you nimrod, you were sixteen.” Jared said a smile returning to his face. “Nugget, meet my wife Jill, Jill meet my little brother the whore” Jared said, with a smile.

“Don’t call me Nugget asshole and When the hell did you get married, and why wasn’t I invited.” Eric asked. “Oh! never mind, if she had met me before she said yes, you would still be single”

“oh no, I don’t think so, I like red hair” Jill replied with a wicked smile.

“I got red hair where it counts” Eric said, then winced as Jared gibb slapped him. “what the hell is it with you and your friends and whacking people on the back of the head.”

“Just habit,” Jared said with a smile. “no more flirting with my wife”

“Just habit, big brother.” Eric said with a laugh.

“And truth to tell we only got married a about two months ago” Jared told his brother, he couldn’t quite stop smiling.

“Why don’t we move this inside, before we draw undead down on us. And you can tell us why you call your brother Nugget” Jill said, glancing towards, the Blackhawk, where a man in a flight suit stood near the craft smoking a cigar.

Jared nodded, turning he called Daws over, and started getting things organized, while Ronny, led Eric over to the plane to see Mary, Ori stood there shaking his head.

As soon as Daws as on the move relaying Jared’s orders, Jared turned his attention to Ori, “okay what is it?” He asked as he watched his brother, the joy he felt tempered by a suspicion he didn’t like.

Ori Shrugged slightly, “just wandering why Eric and his people are out here and not at that base he wrote about in his letter. And why they didn’t hear any of our other transmission when we had to be in range several times”

“I’m thinking we will find out sooner or later,” Jared replied, as he rubbed his chin for a moment, lost in thought.

“Hopefully we will like the answer” Ori replied.

Jared nodded in agreement, then smiled again. he was going to enjoy having family again, the rest would sort it self out. .
***********************

Eric crouched beside a coke machine flanked by Martinez, watching as his brothers ‘team’ readied themselves at the door to the ops building. They stacked up outside the door, with a young guy to the right of the door his back against the wall. Jared was crouched; rifle at high ready, nodded at the younger man who turned the knob and pushed, staying out of the way as first Jared then Ori entered, then the rest of the team flowed in after them.

Eric could picture the process in his mind, moving into the darkness, rifle at high ready, nerves taut, tensions high. The best situation would be on large empty room, the worst a labyrinth of rooms and hallways, where undead or hostiles could lurk behind every door.

One of his first missions had put his team clearing a building in the stan, an old palace fortress complex the Taliwackers had been using as a FOB just on the edges of his units OA. It had been a nightmare, blood ankle deep in the hallways.

“contact east side, stand by” there was a pause, then “ east side clear.”

“roger East side clear.” Eric replied, his eyes never leaving the door to the ops center, a soft tone in his ear as his radio switched to an incoming encrypted freq.

“Building Secured send them on in” Jared said in his ear.

“Roger that” Eric replied, the relief in his voice apparent and surprising to him. He rose and gave the all clear signal.

At the signal the group of people clustered by the trucks began to carry gear inside the building, Jared and Ori stepped outside, moving out of the way of the men and women heading into the building. Jared leaned against the wall, and took a deep breath. Then grinned at his brother before pushing his NVG’s up onto his forehead.

“lets get the smaller vehicles moved, parked them bumper to bumper to block in the front of the building, I need six people to move the desks and crap up against the walls. So we have enough room.” Jared transmitted. “and for any one that wonders, The sleeper sofa in the office is mine, Its good to be the king”

Eric gave a silent laugh at that, as he scanned the area once more. the few undead that had wandered up were put down silently by men on foot who worked as a team to take down even one. They would move in spread out letting the zombie take its pick of who it wanted, once it moved in on the man or woman, one of the team would take out its legs, then a second would crack it skull. It worked pretty much the same way for two or three at a time. As fast and effortlessly as they worked at it, it was obvious they were used to this kind of work.

“area secured” was called and Eric rose, not feeling confident in the opinion of the civvies. “Martinez, Blaire get up on the roof and play Guard for a little while” Eric said pointing to the Roof. “Blaine get your gear and see if any one wants a check up. Parker, you and Castor, get with Daws and see if you can help tweak their security set up”

Jill poured some water into a bowl and washed her face, listening to Jared and Eric who sat on a desk nearby.

“I swear Jared, if you call me Nugget one more time, Im going to teach you just how much I’ve learned about hand to hand.” Eric was saying.

Jill wiped her face off and turned to the two men. Jared was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“why do you call him Nugget” She asked, Eric rolled his eyes muttering something about being an adult and clowns.

“I call him nugget mostly because it annoys him” Jared replied. “but originally it had to do with him, five naked friends, a hot summer day and a bottle of Bq sauce”

“base lie, I swear you lie worse than Uncle frank” Eric said before glancing at Jill. “ignore him, he has always been like that. You really should consider a divorce, I hear Im mostly single”

Jill laughed and dropped the subject, she was however half a heart beat away from asking Eric what Jareds thing was with clowns. She figured he was enough like his brother that he would just giver he some flippant response about, red noses, floppy shoes and a naked woman or something, instead of the real story.

“oh I wanted to thank you for posting two of your men as look outs, Our people can use a break even its only a few hours.” Jill said squeezing herself up on the desk beside Jared.

Once the desks had been shoved up against the walls and out of the way, Men and women were spreading their sleeping bags out on the floor and getting ready to fall into exhausted sleep.

Two of the desks that had been shoved up against the wall were being used as counter space for camp stoves and other supplies. A metal rack that had been brought from one of the trucks held two fifty gallon barrels of water for the group.
“How long do you think it will take for Ronny to get back” Eric asked looking around the room about half the group were already asleep.

“not sure, He and Mary will probably sleep there then come back tomorrow morning. From what I’ve been told the place they are at, is pretty damn secure. Hopefully Ill be able to check out soon” Jared said wrapping an arm around Jill.

Ronny had left for Clarksville base, as soon as Blaine, Eric’s Team Medic had checked out Margo and her baby. Normally flying a new born would have been a no go, but staying on the ground wasn’t safe either. The Baby and its Mother would be far safer at the old Nuclear weapons lab and storage area.

From what Daws had told him, the place was pretty damn secure all the way around with a triple fence line, gated bridges and even a series of bunkers, tunnels and pill boxes. Restored as a historical monument, Clarksville base had set empty, waiting for opening day, when the ZA had arrived.

“stews ready for those of you still awake” Mai Linn called out as she ladled out a bowl for herself.

“Looks like Dinner is ready “Jared said as Jill slipped off the desk, “

every one still awake, lined up and got their serving of thick stew, the venison might have been sparse, but it was far and away better than chewing on another MRE or Mountain house.

As they ate the group began to ask Eric and his men questions, and soon Eric had most of them laughing about things that had happened before the dead had come. Giving them for a time, a break from the world around them.

The other SF men all of them friendly enough chimed in with their own versions of events or added their own stories, Blaine in particular. All in all it made the time pass quickly, and soon every one was yawning and ready to get a couple of hours of sleep before they got back to world of the Dead.

Jared had Daws send up two men to replace the SF men on watch. Eric spent a few minutes talking with Martinez and Bailey on their return, then sent them over to get some Stew. Both men looked excited as hell about having real food, casting curious looks at Jared as they fixed their bowls then came and sat down by Eric and began to eat.

“By the way, when did you become a Sergeant First Class” Jared asked Eric suddenly. “and in command of half an ODA.”

“Believe it or not, it came through the day all this shit started” Eric replied.” We ran rescue ops and called in fire for the arty battalion. The top pinned me officially/ unofficially before we headed out. But when We get back, and Command Sergeant Tucker, drops by and invites me to see the Commander, Major Tallman. Who shakes my hand, congratulates me and sends me back to the barracks with an attaboy.” He studied Jared for a moment

ODA teams were composed of 12 men and at operational need could be split into two six man teams. Normally the Executive officer, a postion held by a Chief Warrant officer on the teams, would have assumed command of the second squad. “ the teams took a lot of losses early on, so there was some shuffling around. ” Eric added, Jared knew his brother was holding something back, but didn’t push.

Martinez snorted in Amusement, “ that’s Eric, one Lucky SOB, he gets the last official promotion, scores the hot chick, and all on the day the world ends.”

“Speaking of the hot chick, she has some great taste in clothing” Jill said suddenly, as Eric laughed. “you noticed that huh” Eric said with a grin, as Jill nodded.

“ hard to miss the lacy bra and panties on your bed, and the fuck me heels, I figured you either had a hot Girlfriend, or were a cross dresser, Jared assured me you couldn’t fit in the outfit, so I went with the Girlfriend theory.” Jill explained.

“her name is Kat, Turner made her a Civilian Augmentee, and assigned her to the FOB as Logistical support, to free up a soldier who could carry a weapon.. Chief Danson, will probably bring her back here when he returns. Tomorrow or the day after.” Eric Replied.

“ He made her a civilian Auggie” Jared asked with a raised eyebrow.

“it happened a lot, many of the refugees wanted to help, most wanted to carry weapons. Things were crazy back then Jared; you might not realize how badly it went down. We were out of contact with higher up by the third day. so the base Commander took it on himself to let the Civilians sign up, as augmentees, the purpose was to free up soldiers in non combat positions to aid in the Defense of the base.

That helped a lot, we had a company of Civilian MPs, half of them were cops, or sheriff’s deputies, who helped man the gate defense’s, and trained other civilians in the use of firearms.” Eric explained. “truth is after the Arty strike, we never had any huge numbers swarm the base, well huge as in the tens of thousands, I think the largest group I ever saw was about two thousand, but between artillery fire, and the base defenders. They were whittled down to nothing in half an hour, before they even got to the gates.

Jill stared at him for a moment, two thousand undead, just the thought of that many undead was enough to give her the shakes, like every one else she routinely ignored thinking about just how many undead were out there. If she did, she was sure she would just sit down and give up.

“I take it command got back in contact.” Jared commented after a moment,

“yes that would have been right after Christmas, that’s when the star lifters, C 5’s and even C131’s started flying in and taking out evacuees and Dependent’s to a secure location.” Eric replied. “the Base CO, started having every unit strip out everything and pack it up for transport. Food, fuel, weapons, ammo and Gear were priority. After that there was a specific list and number of vehicles to be taken. I’m guessing where ever they were bound for already had vehicles, and limited space. The vehicles were shipped out by rail. It took about a month and a half. by then we had set up Caches and FOBs for the SF ODA’s to use.

Our orders were, technically are, simple to locate survivors, report their locations, and provide what training and help we could. We all thought it was going to be easy, those things are so slow. And we called them infected. But it wasn’t easy, they aren’t infected, there was no cure, and there were a hell of lot less survivors than any of us believed.” Eric said.

“so where’s this secure location they took everyone too” Logan asked, Eric gave him a look and then smiled at the olive complicated twenty something, No one here had any interest in going there he realized, they were just curious..

“its more than one, and all I really know is they are mostly in mountainous areas. Colorado, Utah, Washington state, There are a couple I still don’t know where they are. some people are still anal about security and keeping secrets even after the world ends.

All I know is they are underground, and I suspect they were deep black research places before this stuff went down” Eric said then smiled, at Jared. “and what about this island yours” Eric asked.

by 0300, most every one was asleep, Except for Jared, Eric, Jill, Ori, Jeb and One of Erics men, Ryan Castor. Ori and Jeb were gearing up to scout the area under cover of darkness, Jared had wanted him to wait till tomorrow night, but Ori had insisted scouting now was the smart thing to do, and Jared couldn’t argue against that.

Eric smiled as he watched his Brother and Jill together, to bad Jared couldn’t have met and dated her before the zombies, Jill was leaning against Jared half asleep, occasionally interjecting comments as Jared elaborated on some of the details he had omitted from his tale earlier. Listening to him talk about Mikhail, and the bowler hat thing He couldn’t blame his brother for not wanting to toss that out in front of Eric’s men, if Jared hadn’t been his brother he might seriously doubt the mans sanity. It reminded him of the Spring of the clown as Jared called it, when he actually talked about it at any rate.

Jared finally wrapped up his story when Ori and Jeb were ready to head out, he rose and helped Eric to his feet. “you had better be here in the morning, or I will hunt you down and castrate you” Jared told him with a grin. “now go get some sleep” he said taking jills hand and leading her into the office and the waiting fold out sofa bed.

**************************
Darkness, he had truly never known what Darkness was Pre ZA, or quiet either, Williams thought. But now with the power off, it was the primal fear inspiring darkness of his ancient ancestors. But these days monsters truly lurked in the darkness and Williams would never be able to forget that.

In the distance just beyond the eaves of the woods, he could hear motors idling, and occasionally snatches of conversation. Williams slid slowly through the brush till he reached a point where he could see out over the Old Airfield where the Jared Stone had made camp.

Good being a relative term at 2am, but he could make out men around the airplane, which was parked next to a large tank.to the right of the collapsed hangar. A helicopter sat in the grass near a single story building. A group of men clustered nearby, other people were unloading, he guessed, supplies from the back of trucks.
Two military HumVees with gunners were driving around the area probably searching for undead.

He looked at the helicopter again, it had to be the same one that had shown up at the house and slaughtered the undead allowing them to escape. But when had Stone gotten one. What had it been doing while Stone was in Nashville.

So far there was no sign of undead either, which was good for him. He suspected that the thing that used him wouldn’t do much to protect him, especially not know. But that was okay, he could handle that. it made him feel less soiled somehow.

He watched for a little while and then slipped back into the woods and returned to his jeep, where he stopped and stared with trepidation thru the window. There was a hint of corruption in the air, the all to familiar stench of the undead. As if one had passed close by unseen in the darkness, or waited inside the jeep for him.

“you wanted them to stay in Nashville, but they aren’t, and theres nothing I can do to make that happen, unless you can kill most of them and disable their vehicles.” He said in a low voice. “I don’t know who you are, or what you are, but you caused the zombies to attack them, and that’s why they left. You played with them, trying to scare them and kill them, but you failed.” Williams said, shivering with fear, but determined to stand his ground for once.

Something moved thru the underbrush, with no more noise than the rustling of leaves and stopped. He could feel eyes boring into him, and wandered again if the thing was real or just in his mind. There were times, he really thought it wasn’t physical. But even if it was in his mind, it was still a real personality, one that, the longer he was exposed to it, the more he seemed to be able to know some of its thoughts, thoughts that he really wished he had never experienced.

“I know you want Jared dead, and the cop, and Jareds wife and Friends dead as well, but more importantly to you, is the death of every one in those forts and on the island.” Williams said, hating the fact his voice broke and his knees were shaking. “and the only way I can see to killl Jared is to use Sheamus and Maggie. Or at least use them to kill off most of the people around him.” He didn’t suggest Cal, as hard as Cal was, there was a core of honor about him, or decency maybe. And he knew that the thing was growing distrustful of Cal, who was determined to stay his own man with his own goals.

The Dark Angel of the Abyss, Abbadon, might not be the Dark champion the thing in the bowler hat had wanted. Williams almost smiled at that, at least someone could give it the bird and resist its ensnarement. But that didn’t mean Cal wouldn’t attack the Island or Jared for that matter, not if both stood in the way of his goals, and the Island was to tempting as a base of operations for Cal.

“I have a plan, I’m no expert, or a commando, but I think it will work. Jared only has to find out his base is in danger, and he will attack Cal, and when that happens, Cal will gut Jared’s group.

And I can deal with the man you really hate, I can cripple the cop with a shot to the knees and you can eat his heart out if you want.” Williams said, finding it hard to breath in the oppressive air. Then suddenly the sense of being watched was gone, and the normal sounds of the woods resumed. Williams sighed in relief, he would take that as a yes, now all he had to do was help Stone find out about Cals location and goals, and then bide his time.

Unspoken, buried deep was the belief that once he did this, his days were numbered as well. And if he failed, well the thing had no need for him if he couldn’t deliver and Williams felt a sense of relief that it might be ending for him soon.

***********************
Darkness lay thick under the spread limbs of the Hemlocks, oaks and magnolias. Ori moved forward silently ghosting thru the brush along the gravel road that he had found a mile to the south of the airfield. Jeb followed just behind Ori, the soldier being one of the few people Ori would trust to scout with him.

For the fifth time in an hour he heard something move stealthily thru the woods behind them. Ori froze and seemed to vanishing into the shadows under the trees, his ears straining as he listened closely. What ever it was it wasn’t one of the undead, his skin prickled because what ever it might it was stalking them.

He stayed still for a long while, and what ever the stalker was, it remained quiet as well, Jeb touched him on the shoulder and using a finger drew a circle. He wanted to circle back and get behind the stalker, but that hadn’t worked the last time they tried it, and Ori wasn’t willing to waste any more time.
He pulled the NVG’s down over his eyes and turned them on, and then looked around again, but just like the last time, he saw nothing. He looked south again, and saw the land rise slightly maybe twenty feet, to a flat rocky area surrounded by thick brush, and a few oaks. To his left across the gravel road he could see fields beyond the line of trees.
Nothing moved out there but the soft swaying weeds stirred by light pre dawn breeze.

Finally he rose and moved forward again, using ever bit of his skill to stay silent, who ever it was behind them was good, better than he was. For a moment he wondered if it was one of those SF guys that had shown up with Eric. But then decided none of those guys would be dumb enough to risk being shot for a practical joke against a lowly grunt.

Knowing Jeb had the skills to remain quiet, Ori slipped thru a deadfall, and then across a thick bed of fallen leaves and pine needles, he reached a line of ferns, that were just shadows in the dusk. He paused scanning the area, then moved down to the shallow creek, thankful his boots were still waterproof, the water was ice cold.

They clambered up the rocks on the other side, and crouched down in a hollow between two slabs of limestone, Ori checked their back trail, and saw nothing but trees and brush behind them. The sense of being watched was still strong, and he wasn’t about to dismiss it as being paranoid.

Ori sniffed the air but could only smell the crisp chill smell of water from the creek at their backs and the rich smell of moist earth around them.

From their current position the Rise he had been angling for was only a hundred feet ahead, just past a thick line of trees, where the under brush was heavy. Ori gave it two more minutes then led the way towards the rise, using the trees and deadfalls as much as possible to keep anyone from hitting them from the flanks.

In other places, like Texas, the rise would have been called a hill, here it was more like a bump, hardly worth notice. On the north side of the rise a slab of limestone jutted out like a table top. Ten feet above that was the rocky slap the formed the top of the rise. There were stands of brush around the top, and a few trees growing from crevices in the rock face.

Reaching the top, Ori turned and swept the area with his eyes, but saw nothing, determined to find out who was shadowing them, he hunkered down with Jeb at his back watching behind them, to keep anyone from sneaking up on them.

Ori lifted the NVG’s from his eyes for a moment and saw a line of red and gold light was slowly growing across the eastern horizon, as the sun started its climb. he truly hoped the old saw of red sky in the morning sailor take warning was bullshit, he really wasn’t in the mood for bad weather at the moment. Nothing he could do if a storm was on its way but get wet, he decided as he slipped the goggles back down.

Who ever was stalking them, was good, damn good Ori decided, as the breeze fluttered across his face, cooling him down. Other than limbs moving slightly in the breeze, Ori say nothing moving, nothing out of place..

He was tempted to wait for another hour or so, but Jared would expect him back no later than two hours after dawn. He turned and signaled to Jeb to follow and the two men low crawled up the slope to the rocky top stopping at the brush along the south side.of the hill.

Ori lay there soaking in the sounds and smells, the slight rustle of leaves in the wind, the smell of earth, water, and something else. a bird started to twitter then stopped as if disturbed. There was a pattern to all things, you only had to listen for it he thought as he finally heard something move. A soft sound, more like something large had shifted its weight while crouching on leaves.

He couldn’t place the direction, but it was down wind of them now, not behind like it had been. Suddenly a twig snapped, then another, Ori slowly lifted his head, studying the woods below, the growing light from the east starting to wash out the crisp detailed view of his NVG’s. just as he reached to lift them, he saw movement due south in the trees, he focused half his attention on the movement, but kept listening for what ever else he had heard so close by.

Down below a zombie staggered out from between two trees, then a second. One by one eight undead revealed themselves. Heading straight for the rise. The rise was not steep enough to stop the dead from reaching the top. Just great he thought, he hadn’t been able to smell them because they came from downwind of his position..

There were only eight of the smelly bastards, which could be dangerous for two men, but if Ori and Jeb took them at a distance that would even the odds, the down side was the gunfire would draw any others nearby. I should have brought my crossbow, he thought. .

Their only option was to keep out of sight of the undead and pray they were not spotted he thought watching the undead as they started to pass the rise. The zombie in the lead, dressed in old scrubs black with blood, stopped and turned and looked up the rise, just to the left of Ori, and slightly lower down the rise, something had drawn its attention Ori thought

One zombie tripped over an exposed root and fell sprawling, as it got up, all of the undead stopped and turned towards the zombie in scrubs and started up the rise pushing noisily through the brush below. At a signal from Ori, Jeb started to slide silently back and to the side, both of them know that silence and good camouflage would protect them unless they moved to fast or a zombie tripped over them.

There was a chance he and Jeb could go down the other side and around to avoid the small group of undead. it was better than putting the zombies down, any gunfire would only draw any other undead in the area.

Ori was just getting ready to move, when a deep snarling sound tore apart the early morning silence, it struck to Ori’s core, a sound so vicious his testicles sucked up. It was the warning cry of a Tiger, the sound hadn’t even dropped in volume when the Beast leaped from a tangle of brush and a tree fall down the slope to the left of their position.

Where, Ori realized it had been hiding and watching the two men. It slammed into the zombie in the scrubs, a good thirty feet from where it had been hiding. Stunned to immobility, Ori blinked as he saw the head torn from shoulders of Scrubs zombie. The head went flying away in a spray of gore and hit the ground bouncing twice. With a swipe of a huge paw the zombies chest was born open..

The tiger leaped again almost before its paws had touched ground, and landed on a second zombie, this one a woman dressed in dirty stained slacks and a yellow work shirt with a store logo on the right breast, the tigers rear legs kicked out and disemboweled the zombie, Even as it ripped out the woman’s throat with a bite that dug all the way to the spine.

“Son of a bitch “ Jeb said awed as the tiger bounded off the female zombie and smashed into the rest of the group, zombies went flying as the tiger lashed out, with all 470 pounds behind those ripping claws and fangs. Between roars and growls Ori could hear bones snapping like dry tinder,

Suddenly what ever had held him there staring at the carnage below, left him. Ori stepped back. “we need to move, NOW!” he told Jeb his mind racing looking for options. If they tried to make it back to the airfield, he had no doubt that the tiger would easily catch up. He remembered reading somewhere that Tigers could run up to 40 miles an hour, no way in hell could he make those speeds even if he weighed five hundred pounds and was running down a hill with a sixty degree slope.
He needed to put as much distance between them and the tiger as he could before it finished with the undead. Or some place to hole up, and that farm house he had seen through the trees was much closer than the Airfield.

“I think we just found out whats been stalking us” Jeb muttered as Ori led them out onto the road and broke into a distance eating run.

“I think your right, it must have escaped from a zoo after last June” Ori replied, glancing nervously over his shoulder, but they could still hear the snarl of the tiger even here.

“I’m guessing it sees the undead as competition for its meal, because I don’t see a tiger killing the undead to save us out of the goodness of its furry little heart.” Jeb said, then fell silent. Ori didn’t respond, other than to nod.

The farmhouse was a small old-fashioned place, maybe fifteen across and thirty wide, with a high-pitched roof with dormer windows. A Ford F150, covered in dust and old leaves was parked close to the steps of the porch. twenty yards from the house, a cinder block well house sat under a stand of oaks.

They ran down the gravel drive that passed thru a multi acre weed chocked pasture and through the gate into the yard proper. “oh shit” Jeb breathed out as he looked back and saw the high weeds rippling as something moved quickly through the front pasture. It didn’t take a genius to know the Tiger was hot on their tails.

Ori pounded up the steps, not even worried about any possible zombies that might be inside the house, he grabbed the door knob relieved to find it unlocked and threw the door open, out of the corner of his eye he saw the huge tiger leap over the fence into the yard, even as Jeb blew past him. Ori leaped after him and slammed the door shut. The house shook as the tiger landed on the porch knocking over the rocking chairs.

“Contact” Jeb hollered as his rifle fired, Ori whirled in time to see a portly male zombie in jeans and work shirt fall to the ground, and a second zombie this one a heavy set female, came down the stairs, its mouth opening in anticipation, the woman leaned down towards Jeb her large belly pressing against the railing that creaked and then splintered, dumping the zombie into the air. Jeb barely managed to leap out of the away, stumbling over the male zombie and falling face first into the small kitchen, only to shout in horror as a zombie, who had once been a ten year old boy leaped on him.

The heavy set female zombie was climbing to her feet, her eyes fixed on Jeb who was struggling with the kid. Ori had just lifted his CAR, when the building shuddered again as the Tiger leaped at the door. the image of a pissed off tiger coming thru the window, into the small house flashed through Ori’s mind, it didn’t affect his aim thankfully. He put two rounds straight into the back of her head. Jeb shouted wrestling to keep the kid from biting him.

Ori strode forward, stepping over the body of the male zombie, and grabbed the kid by the back of the neck and pulled him off Jeb then tossed the struggling child zombie across the kitchen. It hit the tile floor and slid to a stop against the stove. Then scrambled to its feet and came at them again, Jeb drew his Berretta and put a bullet into its brain pan, repainting the floral print wallpaper, with gore.

“Are you bit” Ori asked, helping Jeb to his feet.

“no thank god’ Jeb told him, shaking from the adrenalin rush of near death.

“good lets get upstairs” Ori said as he turned and leaped over the bodies, Jeb didn’t hesitate he was so close on Ori’s butt they could have been conjoined twins.
They slammed thru the door at the top of the stairs and found that the upstairs was a long single room with two dormer windows front and back. Ori shut the door, and leaned against it.

“Do you really think we are safe up here” Jeb asked.

“Not really” Ori said pointing out the window to the where the roof sloped down and joined the roof of the porch. “Tigers can climb” Ori said.

“Oh great, where in the hell did a tiger come from anyway” Jeb said as he sat on the dresser. Listening to the sounds of a large body hitting the front door, and claws ripping into wood. Then suddenly silence fell. “What’s it doing now” Jeb asked, worried.

Facing zombies and fighting battles had never scared him as badly as this moment. There was just something about being stalked by a tiger that stirred a deep primal terror.
“its scouting the place out, at a guess” Ori said so low it was almost a whisper, he had no idea how sharp a tigers hearing was, but he would bet it was pretty good. “ trying to figure out where we are and how to get to us”

“This day just gets better and better” Jeb replied, looking nervously towards the window.

Ori didn’t know much about Tigers, he never had a reason to. But he could guess from the lack of large game tracks in the area, that the tiger had probably eaten out the game in the area and wasn’t about to leave till he had an Ori entrée.

“by the way thanks for trying to out run me at the door” Ori said, with a nervous smile.

“sorry, force of habit when tigers are trying to munch on my hairy ass” Jeb commented.

“TMI” Ori commented as he watched the windows that looked out over the back yard.

“obviously you haven’t seen my movies” Jeb replied with a grin that fled from his face as a window shattered downstairs, and something heavy hit the floor, shaking the building.

Downstairs the floorboards creaked, and the soft thump of each footfall could be heard as the tiger moved across the small living room. it shouldn’t take it more than a moment to follow the scent up the stairs, Ori thought. A moment later the stairs creaked, as the massive weight of the tiger settled on its steps.

God there are times I hate being right, Ori thought. As he pointed to the dresser, Jeb nodded in understanding and stepped to one side of the dresser as Ori moved to the other. At Ori’s nod they grabbed the edges and lifted the heavy dresser up and carried it to the door. At the sudden noise, the tiger bounded up the stairs, shaking the house.

“Now,” Ori shouted and the two men tossed the dresser against the door Just as the tiger slammed against the other side.

The door bowed and the latch almost popped free, but the weight of the dresser was just enough to keep it in place. Ori threw himself at the dresser and added his own weight to it, then Jeb was there too. The tiger attacked the door, tearing deep gouges in the old wooden door, shaking the whole house, and then it stopped.

“its looking for a new way in” Ori said pointing to the windows, he was half tempted to move the dresser, so they could slip downstairs, while it was climbing up. But if he was wrong, they might meet it waiting on the stairs.

“We can shoot it” Jeb said doubtful that they could do much damage to the tiger with what they carried. “if we get out of this, I swear I’m going to start carrying a Ma deuce” Jeb said, his eyes fixed on the two windows that over looked the front yard.

“Ill settle for a 70mm recoilless rifle” Ori commented watching the back windows.

The silence stretched out, for a nerve wracking hour, Jeb was starting to relax a hair. Ori had sat there against the dresser, eyeing the heavy old fashioned wardrobe, that served as a closet. He rose to his feet and silently crossed to the wardrobe and pulled the doors open, thinking if they emptied it, they could block off one of the windows, the mattress and the box springs could be used to block two more. He had no illusions it would stop the tiger from getting it, but maybe if it couldn’t see them thru the windows it would move to the ones it could see thru, which at least improved their odds of defense.

He pulled out hanging clothes by the armful dropping them on the floor, and then smiled as he saw an old spring field 1903a3, on the top shelf he found a box of ammo for the old Rifle. It had been lovingly taken care of, some one had cleaned and oiled the weapon before being putting it away. He took the weapon out of the Wardrobe, and pulled the bolt back, ejecting a shell, and he smiled to himself. it might be a single shot weapon but it would do a sight better against a tiger than his CAR.

“well if that doesn’t work, I can try to give it the shits once it eats me and Kill it that way” Jeb commented.

“your sounding like Jared now” Ori observed, as he dropped his pack. They weren’t going to be running out of here anytime soon, might as well lighten the load.

“I think the Army should have had a course in what to do when being attacked by a tiger” Jeb said,

“they did, it was called how to kiss your ass goodbye in two easy steps, followed by the emergency medical training in how to treat a patient for Rectal cranial inversion in case you slipped while kissing your ass goodbye” Ori replied with a grin.

Jeb groaned, at the bad joke. “Why I keep running recon with you is beyond me” Jeb said, actually breaking a smile.

Ori shrugged, he would much rather be hanging on the side of a mountain in a blizzard than sitting here waiting to be attacked by a tiger.

“well while we wait to die screaming like little girls, did you really star in three porno’s” Ori asked..
**********************
Jared resisted the urge to pound on the dash in frustration as Jill drove cautiously down the road. “I think we can go faster than ten miles an hour” Jared said, trying not to snap. To say he was worried as an understatement. He tried hard not to picture Ori dead out here somewhere. It was more likely the two men had stumbled across a bunch of undead and were sitting in a tree or holed up in a cave or something, waiting for rescue.

“we could but then we might miss them if they are back in the woods,” Jill pointed out.

“okay ill concede that point” Jared said, knowing that his frustration was just a sign of how worried he was for Ori.

when Ori hadn’t returned by eight, the good mood that had set in at being re united with Jared’s brother had fled. Eric had led his team out, insisting that Jared remain at the Camp, till they found something. The Helo, which had left at 0600 that morning to pick up the mysterious goods Eric had promised, would have been a blessing, so would Ronny and the UV but he wasn’t back from up north yet.

An hour after they had left, Eric had radioed they found Ori’s and Jeb’s tracks heading south away from the airfield. Jared had instantly consulted his maps and found a undeveloped road marked on the topo map, he had instantly gathered Ryan, Jill, Mike and Logan to go with him. Jill had insisted on driving, he suspected it was more because she knew he would drive like a maniac and didn’t want to die, than to be nice.

They rounded a curve, and saw a hillock jutting up from the tree’s, Jill slowed as she spotted a body in the middle of the road. Her heart in her throat she came a stop and Jared leaped out.

He strode forward, not worried he had already noted the corpse wasn’t wearing BDU’s or ACU’s, it lay sprawled in the road, a shredded gutted ruin, its limbs and neck broken, its dead eyes swiveled in its sockets fixing on Jared, but there was nothing to fear from the corpse is neck and jaw were gone.

He knelt and eyed the body, what ever had done this was big and powerful, it had even shattered the rib cage. What in the hell is out here now he asked himself keeping his Hk ready. With my luck its probably something weird out of the later Resident Evil movies.

His eyes suddenly fixed on something in the gravel and his eyes widened. He placed his hand over the print and whistled silently in surprise. Then looked around quickly, the paw print was feline, but if it was a house cat it had paws about the size of a small plate, definitely bigger than his hand..

Just great as if we don’t have enough to worry about, a great cat is loose in the area, he thought as he moved backwards towards the ELSORV, eyes sweeping the woods on either side, his fear for Ori was back, if he was out here when this thing came through. He was only partly glad he had left Nibbler at the camp. The pit would probably have alerted him to the presence of a big cat then died attacking it.

You know Ori is good enough he might have spotted the thing and evaded, he might even have shot it. it was far enough away from camp, they might not have heard the gunfire.

“Eric, you people be on your toes, we just found a zombie on the road, its been torn apart, and there’s Feline paw prints around it bigger than my hand” Jared said over the radio.

“Repeat last” a voice said, it took a moment but then Jared recognized it as Blair, the com guy on the Team.

“Cat tracks bigger than my damn hand, over” Jared repeated frustrated and worried.

“Roger, copy big ass cat prints, out” Blair said.

Jared reached the ELSORV and climbed inside, “what happened to it” Jill asked, curious about the look on Jared’s face.

“Well it seems that a giant house cat has gone on a zombie killing rampage” Jared said, trying to lighten his own mood.

“Giant housecat” Mike asked, feeling the all to familiar shakes starting to set in, as he thought about combat.

“Giant as in extra large, as in something bigger than a panther,” Jared said,

“I refuse to become cat chow” Logan said. “ I’ve already been used as Dog food, I draw the line at being eaten by a pussy”

Jill snorted a laugh, despite her own tension, knowing that Logan was grinning in the backseat.

Thru the trees, Jared’s spotted a farmhouse, as they rounded a bend in the road, he could see the overgrown pasture, and …

“I swear I’m going to kiss him then kill him” Jared said, as he saw Ori standing on the porch of the Farmhouse waving. The relief that flowed through him was like a wave of sunlight.

“oooo kinky” Jill said laughing with relief, as Jared called Eric and told him they had found Ori.

A minute later they pulled up and stopped next to the old truck parked out front, the team piled out ready for bear, which wasn’t a bad idea, except that the stripped carcass laying in the grass in front of the porch wasn’t a Bear.

“A Tiger” Mike exclaimed.

“Big fucking Tiger” Jeb corrected.

“You killed a Tiger” Ryan said excited.

“Well first, I peed my pants” Jeb said. “And then Ori shot it”

Jared walked up and hugged Ori tightly, then stepped back. “why the hell didn’t you radio”

“to many trees, it cuts the transmission range down to about a mile, maybe less and then the battery in the damn think died, they don’t call them Pricks for nothing you know” Ori reminded him. “ and to be honest, at first we were to busy running, then we were busying killing zombies, then we were a bit busy trying to figure out how to Keep from being eaten, If Id had cat nip I would have rubbed it on Jeb to distract the cat, but I ended up shooting it when it leaped up onto the roof and came thru the window at us. Which is about the time that Jeb peed his pants.”

“ I have a child’s bladder sue me” Jeb said, Jared finally started laughing.

“I loved that movie” Jared said, then sighed at the blank looks. “ Paul, the alien comedy with simon peg…. Oh hell why do I bother?” Jeb just grinned at him; he had obviously seen the movie.

“ I wonder if tiger is good eating” Ori asked no one in particular.

“we can find out, fresh meat would be welcome, right about now” Jared said, as he looked at the feline corpse.

An hour later they had it strapped to the roof of the ELSORV, along with Jeb who no one wanted in the vehicle till he could change pants.

Eric and his team had arrived back at camp half an hour before Jared, there had been a few jokes about Letting a regular scout run recon, but as Eric watched the ELSORV roll into camp, he suspected a lot of the jokes from is men wouldn’t be uttered aloud, as they saw the huge ass tiger on the roof of the vehicle.

Jared climbed out of the ELSORV, as Jeb jumped down, and headed off to change clothes. “when you said giant cat you weren’t joking.” Eric said marveling at the tiger. “nice job taking it down”

“oh we didn’t, Ori had already killed it before we got there. And bagged three undead while that thing was trying to get at them.” Jared said casting a look at the SF men behind Eric.

“lets be honest here. I technically only bagged, one, Jeb got one by himself and it was team effort on the third, and the kitty was beating the front door down while we were busy” Ori explained. “next time I think I’ll go for being attacked by two lions along with some undead just for a change of pace”

Ori begged off talking more about the subject, and headed off to get a shower, and some sleep. Jared detailed a few folks to get the tiger down, and butcher it. no one was sure yet if it was edible, but once they had it cut open, the desire for fresh meat died, when parts of zombies were found in the stomach. Jared wanted to face slap himself, he hadn’t even thought of that. god knows if they could get what ever it was you got when bitten, from eating the meat of the tiger, but no one was willing to take the chance. The tiger was regretfully buried in a shallow grave.

While the tiger was buried Jared sat on the hood of the ELSORV, watching the fields for any sign of undead, and now for any other tigers. He found it unlikely there would be another one, if tigers were like other big cats, then there would only be one in a given area. But he wasn’t about to take a chance, just a couple of hours ago, he wouldn’t have thought there had been one tiger in the area.

“I need to talk with you for a moment “ Eric said walking up, Jared turned to face his brother, feeling a moment of pride in how his brother had turned out.

“what’s up,” Jared asked as he turned back to watch the fields.

“While we were out looking for Ori we found a small clearing with fresh tire tracks, some one had been sitting there most of the night, it looks like they walked to the edge of the woods and watched the airfield for awhile then left early this morning.” Eric told him.

“we didn’t hear a motor” Jared pointed out.

“I’m betting he waited till Chief Danson, took off this morning and used the sound of the Blackhawk to hide the noise.” Eric said.

“great, we have two options now, run or stay. I’m about sick of being stalked, either we are going to get hit by a tide of undead or more of those militia assholes” Jared said, sliding off the hood and calling for Daws.

“What do you mean stalked,” Eric asked, curious.

“Hang on a second okay” Jared asked him, as Daws walked up. “ Get the teams ready for combat, The SF troops spotted a place where someone had been watching us, knowing how things have gone the last few months, I’m betting that the bowler hat wearing freak’s current minion was out there and we are going to get hit and soon” Jared told Daws who frowned.

“Ill send out a fire team in a Hummer to run a sweep, and try to get Drake on the radio and see if we can get Ronny in the air to fly recon over the area.” Daws replied, “I’m on it”

Jared nodded and turned back to Eric, “your going to hear this sooner or later, so cop a squat and I’ll tell you a story about what happened after the end of the world. You might not believe it, but its the whole truth” Jared said,

“Mind if my men hear this” Eric asked Jared who shook his head, Eric waved till he caught Martinez’s attention then signaled for his team to join them.

Jared waited till they were all gathered around, then sat on the hood. “ okay, this is the story of the day the world ended and an idiot quest to find survivors and seize an island. It all started while I was at the gym oogling Jills butt…….” Jared said as he launched into the story.
************************

“so what do you think about your brothers story” Martinez asked his eyes scanning the wood line to the south of the air field.

“I believe him” Eric replied, as he wrote up the list of supplies he wanted delivered when Danson returned. “Regardless, we have our orders, and our job will be easier and safer traveling with my brother.” His men exchanged looks but said nothing.

“I have to ask, how much are you going to tell Jared.?” Martinez asked, turning to face Eric who stopped writing and studied Martinez for a moment. “now that is the question isn’t it” Eric said frowning for a moment. “for now not a thing, but later Ill share what I believe is relevant and critical to mission success” Eric said. “now to other things, have you managed to establish contact with Captain Turner.”

Bailey shook his head, “negative, not a peep.” Bailey said. Eric was beginning to suspect that Turner and the other half of the ODA were dead. Or they had committed the unthinkable and walked away. Men in other units had done just that, stating that the US was Dead, the world was dead, and their oaths were as dead as the country they had believed in.

**************************
Mike felt sweat running down the side of his face, as a hot wind blew thru the streets, he climbed out of the hummer, already broiling in his body armor. The blackened Wreckage of a Hum Vee lay on its side, Medic were working to stabilize a survivor so they could load him onto the ambulance and get him back to base.

Mike knew what was going to happen, and knew this was a dream, the same damn dream that had haunted him for so long. He had heard others say they hadn’t dreamed of anything that happened before the Day. they were the lucky ones, in his book.

He saw the three indigs run from a narrow side street, two with AK’s one with an RPG, two of them had their faces covered by masks. Mike was just a passenger as his mind relived that day once more, no more able to change the outcome, than he was able to save Carrie, his second greatest failure.

His weapon rose, as he turned, bullets from the two AKs cracking the air around him as they passed by, his attention locked on the Iraqi with the RPG, who was taking aim at the Medics working on the wounded solider.

There wereshouts of alarm, brakes squealing, the distinctive sound of AK’s firing. Everything seemed to slow down, a nightmare that he was forced to see in all its hideousness. He could smell jasmine, and the stink of exhaust, and fear, he could smell fear above all.
Mike had been determined to save the two medics risking their lives to save a wounded soldier, he aimed and as he pulled the trigger a school bus rolled into the intersection. The drive unaware of the danger he and his passengers were suddenly in.

Mike saw a smiling, nine year old girl, looking out one of the bus windows, one hand raised as if to wave at him, her dark eyes full of life and wonder. She had twenty one seconds to live, even though mike hadn’t known it at the time.

The bus stopped to avoid hitting a Black SUV whose driver had been shot as he drove thru the cross fire that had erupted around him. The SUV crashed into a store front and came to a stop.

Mike shot one of the insurgents down, bloody holes blooming in the mans chest, the AK clattering to the street, the man crumbled over the hood of a battered green Toyota, his two partners dodged around a thirty year old delivery van, running to get a clear shot at the Americans around the wrecked HumVee. Mike saw the Insurgent eyes even at this distance, hard, dark and hating. A cold hungry smile of anticipation on his unmasked face as he ran forward.

Mikes shifted his aim, determined to drop the insurgent with the RPG, as the habib slid to a stop two feet past the front bumper of the bus, aiming his weapon.

Mike centered his sights on the prick, dead on, He squeezed the trigger twice, his rounds stitching the Insurgent across the chest, but as the man went down he fired, the back blast hammered the front of the bus and blew a tire.

The Insurgents Aim had been thrown off only slight, as the result the HEAT round rocketed forward impacting the street, 15 Meters from Mike who had just switched his aim to the last Insurgent, the warhead struck and detonated, sending Mike flying to land on his ass, his burst going wild, in slow motion he saw two things, the first insurgent he had shot, wasn’t dead, he lifted a hand, a hand that held a cell phone. The other thing he saw was his rounds punching thru the windows of the bus, as his soul wailed in horror he was unable to stop the bullets or what he knew was coming at the sight of the cell phone.

In slow motion he saw the man push a key on his phone, speed dial mike thought, Heat bloomed, as a car bomb parked in front of a Repair shop detonated, it was Behind the bus.

the strike had been timed perfectly, but the bus had been unforeseen to the planner. Not that one of those animals would have cared. Especially not the Dying Insurgent who wanted to hurt and kill as many as possible when he activated the bomb, knowing children were there only made it so much more satisfying for that son of whore. . The man had only cared that adding more bodies, especially those of children would add to the horror.

The fire ball rolled over the bus, engulfing it, windows shattered in a hurricane of glass, paint blistered, metal warped and deformed. But not before in a frozen heartbeat of time, Mike saw a bullet hole appear in the window of the bus, that framed the little girls face, he saw, forever frozen in his mind, the sudden surprise in her eyes as blood flew, her mouthed opened screaming in pain and horror and then the fire swallowed her.

He felt his soul shrivel, and only pure strength of will kept him from falling to his knees as he stared at the burning bus, where a pretty little girl had died.

He knew that in reality he had lain there bleeding out on the ground from the shrapnel he had taken from the RPG round explosion And that a wounded medic had crawled to his side and started treating him. But not now, not in this dream.

The scene darkened, as if night had fallen, the only light left was that of the fires raging in the area. He stood confused, this hadn’t happened, all of the dream was subtly wrong, then he saw it walking slowly thru the darkness, lit only by the hellish orange light of the fires. A shadow shape, that moved on spindly legs, its oddly shaped head with its bowler hat, jutting forward as if it were a beast of prey sniffing the air for the scent of its prey.

You weren’t there Mike thought as he watched the humpbacked, spindly limbed monstrosity scuttle thru the bodies and wreckage, silhouetted by the flames, to stand on the corpse of the RPG armed insurgent Mike had shot. it cocked its oddly shaped head for a moment as if considering the corpse at its feet, then it looked at the bus, a sense of amusement flowed from it, and then it looked directly at Mike, its narrow triangular face hidden in shadow. the bowler hat it wore cocked at a jaunty angle.

“I’m always here Michael, always.” a voice whispered, that came from thin lips and, forced out of a dried leathery throat. “ and they call me a monster” it laughed. Pointing to a jagged hole in the bus where the body of a little girl burned.

Mike shivered in fear, as milky white eyes lit by the flickering fires, fixed on him. “I’m coming for you Michael, just like I came for your wife, and when I get there I will peel the skin off you and eat your heart.” It laughed a thing of silvery madness as sparks and tongues of flame swirled behind it, stirred by a wind that came out of no where. .

Mike woke yelling his body slicked with sweat and trembling. People were shouting and and asking questions. he felt a strong hand on his shoulder, and found himself staring into Deep Emerald green eyes.

“your okay mike, let me have the rifle” Jared said gently. “your awake, and safe”

Mike blinked slowly and realized he was holding his Rifle, Jareds right hand was wrapped around the shroud holding the barrel up towards the ceiling.. He felt confused, there should be fire, and the dead scattered around the street. wheres the street. “got to get the wounded” he mumbled. “she died, god she died again” he cried, feeling something break deep down inside.

“Mike, buddy, your safe, your out of the zone man, let me have the rifle.” Jared said, gently. Mike let the weapon go, and Jared quickly passed it to some one. Mike felt tears welling up and didn’t care.

Jill didn’t know what to do or say, not about this, she could only watch as Jared held mike against his chest and let the other man sob.

“PTSD” Blaine, asked a he came to stand beside her, his gear in hand.

“I think so” Jill replied. “he had it before the zombies.” Jill said softly, as Jared helped Mike to his feet, then led the man towards the front door of the building talking to Mike softly.

“we have two coming out,” Eric warned the sentrys on his radio.

“all clear out here,” Jones replied, having the watch.
“Roger, Out” Eric said as he opened the door to let Jared and Mike pass. Blaine followed behind, keeping clear but ready to assist if necessary.

Outside in the cool night air, Mike seemed to regain his mental balance, embarrassed as hell at what had just happened, and angry too.

Jared wished Rob and the rest where here, at least he could have talked to Mike in Steve’s Rv were he would have had some privacy, but he really didn’t think this could wait any longer.

“I think we need to talk mike, you came with in a hair of shooting the place up” Jared said, as he squatted next to a Hummer and leaned against it.

Mike started to shake his head, and say he was fine, but he wasn’t and he was damn aware of that fact.

“It tried to use me,” He said after a moment. “I’ve had that dream so many times, Jared. and with firearms close at hand. But never, ever have I picked one up in my sleep.” Mike stated.

“Who tried to use you” Jared asked, though he was sure what the answer was going to be and felt sick quiver in his stomach.

“That bowler hat bastard. Or maybe its just something pretending to be the freak.” Mike said. He paused for a moment, as if debating then finally let it pour out, he told Jared how it had gone down that day in Iraq, about the dreams, and how it had been different this time, and not just the inclusion of the Bowler hat horror.

“I shot the Insurgent with the RPG, two of my rounds hit the bus, one went thru the window. But it never touched the girl. She died as a result of shrapnel being driven ahead of the shock wave. But in this dream Jared I saw the bullet hit her right in the face, Ive never seen that in my dreams before. then, it showed up, taunting me, telling me it was coming for me” Mike said, his voice firm and level.

Jared was silent, letting mike talk, letting the man pour it all out, his own anger boiling, wanting to get his hands around that things bony neck and twist till the head popped off.
It had found mikes weakness, and tried to use it, tried to break mike and get him to kill those around him while he was locked in the nightmare. Jared had no proof, but he knew that was exactly what had happened.

His need to destroy that thing grew, fueled in no small part to the image of a little boy who had been tortured to death.
***********************
Rob slowed the Beast as he saw the Stryker parked in the middle of the intersection, just minutes before they had heard gunfire then saw a jeep speeding away from the scene. The rear ramp was down, and a body dressed in ACU’s lay in a pool of blood and gore. An assault rifle lying with in arms reach.

Rob had hoped to lay his hand on one of the eight wheeled vehicles for a year now, after hearing Jared and some of the military guys talking about them.

“Okay folks, Let’s check this out.” Rob said, as he came to a stop, and then opened the door, looking at Arthur who nodded and climbed behind the wheel.

Rob climbed out, noting the zombies that were spread along the road, none were closer then eighty feet, so he had little bit of time.

“I wonder if it runs,” Lee asked Joining Rob beside the Beast. Arthur manned the .50 on the beast covering them as they approached the striker cautiously.

“Well who ever shot them, killed them then made sure they didn’t rise, ”Rob said pointing to the shattered skull of the body on the ramp.

He peered inside, and saw another body sitting at a console; he had been headshot as well.

“Might want to hurry it up” Arthur said over the radio. “ six zombies just came out of the Gas station, thirty feet from your position.”

“help me with the bodies” Rob said, as he pushed the body off the ramp and then climbed inside Rob found he was only partly correct, As he pulled the body from the seat at the console he heard something clatter to the ground, that noise saved his life. He turned and dropped the body he held to the floor, as a man who had been shot in the lower jaw, crawled out from the drivers position, hands grasping at Rob, his broken teeth snapping together eagerly.

One hand snagged Robs combat harness, and rob who had stood frozen in shock for a breath suddenly shouted and kicked the zombie in the face with every bit of strength he could muster. Bone snapped under the lash of his steel toed boot, snarling he kicked again, then again. then Lee pulled him back away from the zombie that was still moving, its jaw dangling. Lee leveled his pistol, and fired twice.

“thanks” Rob said breathing heavily.

“no problem, now lets get the corpses out” Lee suggested.

Once they had the dead removed, it took Rob a minute to figure out how to close the rear ramp, and then he started looking over the consoles, while Lee climbed into the drivers seat.

“I really hope that this thing has fuel and starts, or we are going to have to drop the ramp and go thru the undead to get to our vehicles” Lee commented, Rob remained silent, as he leafed thru a set of maps, and then a shined his light on a spiral bound notebook.

“I think, Jared really needs to see this” he said suddenly,

“see what” Lee asked, “ found it” he called out as the engine came to life.

Rob looked up as lights, and consoles flickered to life, he had no idea what half of the stuff was for, and the words on the few labels meant nothing, calling them words was being nice, a collection of letters and numbers was closer to reality, the military didn’t believe in giving anything a real name.

“bright side we can strip most of this stuff out, and have more room” he said. as speaker came to life over his head, “We have half a tank of Diesel, more than enough to reach the airfield.” Lees voice said,

“Copy, Ill move around and lead the way” Arthur replied.

“son of a bitch they have been listening to us” Rob said aloud, “Jared wasn’t being just paranoid.”

“what did you say?” Lee asked.

“The Radio in this thing was set to the frequency we use” Rob repeated loudly.

“cant wait to tell that to Jared” Lee called out, as the Striker lurched forward.

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

Williams watched from hiding as the Convoy disappeared down the road. he smiled to himself, his trap was set. Now he only had to set a few surprises along their mostly likely routes, starting with the one they would take to leave the airfield.

Hanson would be furious to know that one of the strikers he left behind to help hold the Towers had just been liberated, and he would be properly outraged to find out jareds people had summarily executed his men. But beyond all that Simms would be furious that Jared and company had somehow found out where Simms was heading.

“and if your lucky, Jared and Simms might just kill each other off” He said aloud, smiling at the mental image. Simms was rapidly become disliked by the thing in the bowler hat.

He made his way back to his jeep, having to dodge undead a few times. What ever protection he might have had, if any, seemed to be absent today. But he made it safely to his jeep and climbed inside.

“Look, trust me, this is going to work” he said as he started the jeep, half expecting cold rotting hands to wrap around his throat. He patted the heavy black bag, taken from a police cruiser, which sat in the passenger seat and smiled.

“now if you would stop being pissed at me long enough to do that voodoo, you do , so well.” he said laughing shrilly, knowing he sounded insane. “and help me find the few other items we need to exact a little vengeance.” Williams said.

all he had to do, was keep the thing and the Russian happy and he would live a little longer. He hummed to himself, as he backed out running over two zombies, then sped away.
****************************
Eric stood on the roof of the Cinderblock building, watching as the small convoy pulled in. a group of undead followed behind, thirty in all.

“Not bad” Martinez said, watching as Jared’s people quickly got the zombies spread out in manageable numbers and dispatched them quietly with melee weapons.

“Look at her and Your brother Go” Blaire commented watching as the Jill and Jared waded into the largest group of undead, it was like watching two hunting cats, dispatch their prey. “Damn that’s one sexy woman”.

“Looks like they have gotten pretty good at this” Parks said as the men and women in the field jogged back to the airstrip leaving thirty dead bodies behind them.

“if they weren’t they wouldn’t have survived this long” Eric said, as he slung his rifle, ignoring the looks from his men. Martinez was the one, as usual who decided to ask what every one else was thinking but rarely said.

“Is there a reason they didn’t, or rather Jared didn’t ask for our help in dealing with that little problem” Martinez asked, calmly.

Eric nodded slowly. “There is, I asked him to keep us back.”

“What in the hell for” Martinez asked.

“I have my reasons, Martinez. Now I want all of you to start working with his people with any suggestions you can come up with to help them improve. Blaine, They have a nurse, a paramedic and that hot little asian woman has been training to learn trauma care. So you work with her and the others when they are available.

Parks, one of the guys that just arrived is Rob, their miracle worker as Jared calls him. Between Rob, Ori and Jill they have come up with some inventive ideas that have helped the whole group survive. Since you’re our engineering Sergeant, you get to work with Rob, who I will warn you now is gay. “ Eric said as Parks groaned.

“why do I always get stuck with the gay guys” Parks asked, “what is about me”

“You just have one of those asses… err, I mean faces “Bailey said with a snicker.

“bite me Bare ass” Parks said, as the others laughed.

“you mean bite my bare ass” Bailey retorted, Eric laughing stepped between the two men before they really got going.

“Enough for the moment,” Eric said still grinning, “Castor I want you to work with Ori on scouting and Recon, trust me when I say the man is good, the two of you will get along, at least once you stop hating each other. Martinez and Bailey I want you to work with Daws on getting his people trained in weapons use, and combat skills. .

Turning to Parks, “ and when your not busy with Rob, you will assist Blaine acting as his medical assistant.”

Parks nodded, flashing a quick smile, ”Got it Sarge, Pill pusher that’s me”
**************************

“I think Cal has become a problem” Maggie said, as she looked around the elegant room. they had made camp in a corporate retreat, located just off the highway in the mountains east of Knoxville.

The walls were a cherry stained wood, with sinfully soft leather furniture in a conversation group in front of a large stone fireplace. Recesses alcoves held sculptures that probably had cost in the hundreds of thousands before the zombies.

She gazed out the floor to ceiling glass wall, taking in the mist filled valley below, the sight stirring a long dormant memory that she angrily shoved away.

“Don’t even go there” Sheamus said as he watched her long bare legs, “ I Owe him my life, and he is a legionnaire, a brother.” Sheamus stated.

“Where do you think this is going to lead to, if you want to be your own man Sheamus.” She snapped, then shook her head, reaching for a glass of cognac, at least the bar had been stocked with the best, she made sure she arched her back emphasizing her breasts in the process. And hid a smile as Sheamus’s eyes fixed on her chest.

“ I plan on taking over that idiot bubbas Unit, or what’s left of it. and some of Malone’s and Hanson’s men will join my company. That I don’t share Cals goals is no secret, but I will not kill him Maggie.” Sheamus said.

But you might not have a choice Maggie thought, with amusement. In fact I’m counting on that. of course if she needed to she could kill Cal herself, though it was a some what harder now that he didn’t trust her to share his bed, and generally tended to avoid her.

The bastard was just like that other one, that she had left, well she had shown him, and she would show cal too. But not just yet, after they hit the Munitions terminal, Cal would learn just how much she hated and despised him. Not that she cared for Sheamus either, he was just another tool, but at least the sex was fun.

“I’m not asking you to” she said to placate him. “ I’m suggesting you might have to move more quickly into taking over Bubba’s unit, maybe then Cal will see your not after taking over his group.”

Sheamus looked at her for a moment then shrugged, which meant he would think about it but not till after he had gotten laid. But she had one more thing to deal with, “ I don’t trust Williams either, I think he was playing us” she said softly, as she uncrossed her legs, and smiled at him.

“I know he was, but he doesn’t matter now, he is probably dead.” Sheamus said as he began to remove his shirt.

“He might have joined with that guy Jared” she suggested, she watched Sheamus’s eyes narrow, then he pulled off his pants.

“doesn’t matter, theres no way Jared’s people can get to the Terminal before we do. And once we are there, well, there will be more ammo than targets once they do arrive.” Sheamus said, as he rose to his full height facing her. he is impressive when naked she thought with a smile. To bad he will have to die too, she thought as she reached out and grasped him smiling up at him as she pulled him towards her.
******************************

Jared had been excited to see the Striker, but the happiness only lasted till Rob, handed him the maps and the notebook found in side. While the 88 Refueled the Stryker, Jared studied the notebook, consulting the maps constantly.

Nibbler pranced around Jared for a few minutes looking for attention then finally disgusted at not being petted trotted over to Jill, apparently the dog had decided to accept Jill as part of the pack, Nibbler threw herself on her back her legs in the air, twitching her front paws to draw attention to her belly. Jill, happy for the distraction, knelt and began to rub and scratch the dogs belly, watching Jared closely. From his body language he wasn’t happy with out ever he was looking at.

Eric waited leaning against one of the ELSORV’s, watching every one carefully still trying to get a feel for the group dynamic.

The group of survivors definitely had sub groups, eight of the new arrivals clustered around Mike, one an attractive latino woman, Puerto Rican judging by her accent, seemed to be especially interested in Mike, and the pretty teen aged girl, Amy, he thought her name was, seemed to treat Mike like a father figure. Whether Mike knew it or not, those people were his life line, with out them looking to him for leadership, he would probably sink right down into depression and put a barrel into his mouth one night.

The Soldiers all tended to hang together, with Daws as their Leader. He smiled as he watched Daws, the man was a born NCO, and knew exactly how to get his people to respond his way.

Rob, seemed to be the center of the techy nerd group, whose members moved in and out of the other groups, at random or so it seemed.

There were at least two other groups, more indistinct but there once you noticed them. one seemed to center around Jill, the other centered around the Former police officer Ed Stanton. He refused to speculate on why that was.

What he found interesting was most of them had learned to deal with the constant stress and fear by emulating Jared and remaining dirty dozen and damn near every soldier who had ever been out on the sharp end. They laughed, smiled and cracked jokes, it was usually the best way to get through each day with out going insane. Otherwise the constant tension and fear would sooner or later get to you, and then you made mistakes that got yourself or others killed, or you end up eating a bullet one night behind a building.

“Son of a bitch, Mother……..” Jared swore cutting himself of before he could finish “they are launching an attack on the Farm, and then Sullivan. And either before the attack on the farm or after it, they are going to seize a Munitions Terminal in North Carolina,”

“They cant have that many men, can they?,” Jill asked rising to her feet, ignoring the dog who gave Jill a nasty look and then wiggled on its back stopping at Robs feet.

“According to this, some Asshole named Simms, and his foreign legion buddies, got three Militia units to join him, they were the ones that attacked the Towers complex in Nashville. around a hundred and fifty men, heavily armed.” Jared said angrily, he turned to Rob, “ that assault rifle you showed me, is a FAMAS, a French weapon, and..”

“and the sniper was smoking French cigs, and so was the person in the Control tower at Campbell.” Ori added interrupting.

“Calvin Simms?” Eric asked standing and looking surprised. “ French foreign legion, enlisted in 1989, Last known Rank, Adjudant, his first major action was in what we called Desert storm, after that he served in Rwanda, Gabon and Zaire Evacuating French citizens and foreigners from the three countries, in 92 he was deployed to Somalia, by 93 he had been sent to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 95 he was deployed to Rhwanda again then in 97 he was sent to the Congo, after that he wasn’t seen again till he was assigned KFOR in Kosovo, then in 2001 was deployed to Afghanistan, as part of enduring freedom, then 2002 to early 2003 was part of Operation Licorne, on the Ivory Coast.

He was off the radar for a few years then sprang back into public view in 2008 in Chad, supposedly assigned to KFOR. Then sometime in 2009, he was sent back to Afghanistan” Eric fell silent realizing every one was staring at him. He grinned easily. “we had to work with him on occasion, I had to read the full dossier, In fact I saw him twice in Afghanistan before we rotated back, he should have been there when the zombies showed up.”

Jared was silent for a moment then shrugged, “so how bad is he” Jared asked, thinking of Mikhail.

“Hardcore, very dedicated to the legion. I don’t remember the psych profile on him off hand. But he was even more dedicated to his fellow legionnaires, and honestly if any one could have gotten his men out of Afghanistan even semi intact with the zombies swarming it would be Simms. His unit was the closest the Legion had to a Special Forces unit, trained in scuba, halo, all the usual stuff. I’m betting he still has his core men together to, its an oddball group mostly ex pat Americans,Joe Mulligan Sheamus Finnegan, Daryl Miles, Roger Garret, Brandon Wells, Robert Wiezbeki, and Ivan Aleksandrov. Sheamus, former IRA, wanted by the Brits for various rocket and bomb attacks in Belfast, is or was Simms right hand man. Ivan, as far as intel knew was former Spetsnaz. Lots of Russians joined the Legion after the USSR collapsed.

All in all one very competent group of men, most with an axe to grind in the US, the only saving grace, that regardless of Simms well deserved reputation as one mean SOB, he has a code of honor he lives by, he doesn’t kill for fun, and usually trys to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Sheamus, however could care less about casualties on the other side, and has resorted to Terror attacks, excuse me IED’s to cripple and kill his opponents. He and Simms have often argued about Sheamus’s so called tactics.

Ivan, is one cold customer, he can be a hoot at a party, and trust me I know that personally, but get him pissed or as an enemy and the man is nasty. He took off a Taliwackers head with an Etool, in the field and pissed on the corpse. Just to make a point to the rest of the Taliban in the area over a sniping and IED attack.

Jared, if Simms is leading these militia units or what ever they are, and has any time to train and arm them, you’re in for one hell of a fight. Even if it’s just against his core people, you can expect to get hammered badly.” Eric said refusing to let the worry he felt show.

“Maybe so Eric, but I have no other choice, Duty, is a bitch” Jared said simply, then did something that Eric had completely forgotten Jared did on occasion, Jared began to quote an old Poem, Kipling if Eric wasn’t badly mistaken.
“To-day, across our fathers’ graves,
The astonished years reveal
The remnant of that desperate host
Which cleansed our East with steel.

Hail and farewell! We greet you here,
With tears that none will scorn–
O Keepers of the House of old,
Or ever we were born!

One service more we dare to ask–
Pray for us, heroes, pray,
That when Fate lays on us our task
We do not shame the Day!”

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