Chapter 17

“Where dwell the Ghouls,-
By each spot the most unholy-
In each nook most melancholy-
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past-
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by-
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth- and Heaven.”
~ E.A.Poe

The convoy was parked around the above ground fuel tanks of the only gas station in Wolf Creek, a pump was merrily sucking the second Five thousand gallon tank dry passing it thru a filter system and then into the one of two HEMMIT Fuel trucks.

Eric sat on the hood of the ELSORV, watching silently as some of Jared’s crew wrestled a 55 gallon drum out of one of the PLC containers, placing it on a dolly they rolled it over to the HEMMIT fuel truck, where Rob popped the cap off the barrel and inserted a hose, that was attached to a pump.

“So that’s how they do it” he commented.

“Do what?” Castor asked watching the area to the left of the ELSORV for undead.

“Keep their Fuel stable, I know some times, if stored in the right conditions, fuel can actually last more than year, we had a tank at the house that lasted four years, and in some of the newer cars, fuel tanks are sealed and don’t allow excess oxygen in so the fuel doesn’t oxidize, like it does in older style tanks. You could drain the tank of one of those new cars and drive off on the fuel.” Eric said.

“And your point” Martinez asked, smiling.

“My point is Rob over there is mixing some kind of stabilizer as they pump in the new fuel.” Eric said. “it restores the potency of the fuel.”

At least in areas like this diesel fuel was much more common than Gas due to all the farm equipment and, tractor trailer rigs. Which was exactly why Jared had made sure his group had dumped as many of the gasoline using vehicles as they could, and picked up all the abandoned, Diesel powered, military vehicles on Campbell, especially those fitted with a multi fuel system.

Eric eyed the FMTV’s with the armor packaged cabs, the Hemmit cargo trucks, and two had been fitted with trooper shelters. The group used them as Poor man Rv’s. the only three purely civilian vehicles in the entire convoy, was Steve’s Custom Rv built on Semi track frame, Jared’s Van, and the Odd looking six wheeled Ram pick up pulled behind the RV and the truck they had picked up at that campground.

The UV floated on the river tied off to a tree on the bank. Around them mountain peaks reared 2000 feet above them, the slopes covered in green trees with a scattering of fall colors and the every present mist that this area was known for.

“Jared” Eric called out waving his brother over, Jared’s red hair glowed like fire in the sunlight, as he walked up, His HK center slung, his right hand resting on it, ready for instant action.

“Need something,” Jared asked, with a slight smile. “its going to be another twenty minutes, I hate losing time, but we need to recover fuel when we can, and I like keeping the tanks topped off.”

“Actually I wanted to suggest we scout ahead of the main column, both ELSORVs and the Stryker” Eric said, glancing at the sun, noting the time. “Its going to be dark soon, and I figure this is as good a place as any for the rest to set up camp, while we shoot down a few miles at least to Antioch.”

Jared thought about it for a moment then nodded, Ronny was tired, the plane needed to be checked over, refueled and what ever else Ronny and Rob though were necessary.

It was also possible that Simms was ahead of them and if they charged ahead, trying to cut him off, they could run right into the man and his people and at this point, Jareds people would get slaughtered.

“your right we need to scout and gather Intel, and three or four vehicles are better than the whole convoy, we can move fast and get around most obstacles. “ Jared paused thoughtfully, his eyes drifting over Eric’s men and then he smiled for a moment. “ be ready in Ten mikes,” Jared said turning and walked towards the Stryker calling for Ori to join him.
* * * *

The camp was looking good Rob thought as he, walked to the RV, and climbed to the deck they had built on top, he needed to check the solar panels that had been installed on the Custom motor home, and then check the propane tanks that powered the Appliances.

They were so much more efficient than anything that ran on electricity supplied by the grid or generators, they would have been perfect in a home. Each freezer could run for six months off one bottle. the fridge about the same. the washer and dryers only three months, but with the schedule Jared had insisted on they had stretched it out six months.

Rob had also, stripped out the power converters in the DVD player and flat screen tvs since they only needed 9 to 14 volts to actually operate and that meant they could be powered off the solar systems. Desk top computers used only about five volts, it had taken some experimenting but he had finally gotten the whole system running.

He had twenty some odd solar cells he need to install on the Poor mans Rv’s, to power the 14 volt lighting system he had installed, and he needed to finish the plan for supplying solar power to the portable shelters, especially the medical shelter to get them off the Generators. He suspected that the medical shelters full power load would require a generator no matter what he did, but he could reduce the load, by converting the lights and anything else he could think of to solar.

He was just finishing when he heard the door to the RV open and at least two people step outside.

“I don’t know what to tell you Mai, your pregnant, three tests all positive,” Justin said from below.

Rob looked around, feeling guilty at hearing what was supposed to be a private conversation.

“I don’t know how I could be” Mai linn replied, the two were talking almost directly below Robs position on the roof.

“well first you have a man insert a penis into your vagina and then, using a rocking motion, or heavy pounding….” Justin began with real amusement.

“Shut the hell up idiot, I know how, I just don’t know how it could have happened since I was on the pill and he was using condoms” Mai linn snapped. There was silence for a moment.

“sorry, I shouldn’t have joked with you, but Mai, no form of birth control is full proof, I’m sorry but that’s the truth, now there are things we can do, if you don’t want to keep the baby, but”

“stop right there Justin, I may not want to be pregnant, but I wont abort the baby. Even if I wasn’t normally against it, I damn sure couldn’t do it now when so many people have died around the world.” She replied cutting him off, “I couldn’t deal with adding another living being to the current death toil, but at the same time, this isn’t a world for children. Not anymore, I just don’t know what to do…” Rob felt uncomfortable as she began to cry.

Rob hunkered back and laid down so he couldn’t be seen, he didn’t think announcing his presence would make Mai Linn feel any better, so he kept his mouth shut and stayed out of sight. They talked for a few more minutes, then Justin led her towards the Medical shelter, still mounted on the PLC. As soon as they were inside, Rob gathered up his tools and climbed to the ground quickly.

He checked to make sure that the Scissor lift in the back of the Deuce was up and a sentry was posted before moving to the propane tanks and produced a light to check the gauge. satisfied there was plenty of propane.

“Having fun” Ed asked appearing out of the Dark, damn near giving Rob a heart attack.

“Not so much now, asshole, you just cost me a year out of my life” Rob said, grinning ruefully, then shut off the flashlight.

The location of camp, was pretty safe from the undead all things considered, the hundred that had been put down most likely comprised the entire population of the town. Not that any one was taking that for granted, which is why they had formed up in a circle around the old gas station, and placed the portable walls in the gaps between vehicles, they didn’t work as well now, being designed for the RVs that they had used before, but it was still enough to block any easy access by the undead.

“what’s up, that has you sneaking around in the dark” Rob asked, as he clipped his light back to his belt.

“Just taking a walk around the camp, checking things out,” Ed replied,

“Still not sleeping a lot” Rob asked,

“No, buts its not because of nightmares this time, I just cant seem to sleep.” Ed commented. “I just keep thinking something is wrong, and I cant quite put a finger on what it is.”

“The creepy kid and his sister wouldn’t have anything to do with that would it” Rob asked,

The story had gotten around, about the strangeness that had occurred when Jared was loading the children into the Van, which was going to piss Jared off immensely Rob thought.

“No, not really,” Ed responded, “its more to do with Jared’s brother and the men with him”

“what about them?” Rob asked, he personally liked Jared’s younger Brother, for all that Jared and Eric were much alike, Eric was also very different from Jared, and not the least in the fact he was a big nerd hiding in a Neanderthal’s body.

“like I said its nothing I can put my finger on, but there is something else going on with those guys.”Ed replied.

“it wouldn’t happen that you just find one or more of them hot and know you don’t stand a chance with them” Rob commented with an unseen smile.

“oh god, hell no.” Ed replied, then laughed.

“Well Eric is pretty ho….” Rob started but was cut off by Ed,

“don’t even go there, you know what I mean. Have you ever seen them use that sat com system to contact anyone,” Ed asked, rob shook his head. “ of course not, unless you happened to be up and about at 0300hrs, to see Eric talking to some one on the thing.”

“its supposed to be broken” Rob said frowning.

“I know, but they were using it the other night” Ed replied.

“I don’t know, I cant see Eric doing anything to screw Jared or us over” Rob protested. “ maybe they have been working on it and were testing it.”

“Or they were talking to who ever gave them those mysterious orders” Ed said,

“That’s a good thing though, it means the military still has a dog in the hunt and things might get better” Rob said, ever the optimist, well almost always.

“I don’t know Rob, it bothers me that they are hiding that they are in communication with someone,” Ed said, “ and maybe its nothing.” He shrugged, then looked across the camp where Mai linn was exiting the Medical shelter.

“is she sick” Ed asked, watching the Asian woman for a moment. over the last couple of months he had come to really like the feisty woman.

Rob shrugged “I have no idea.” He replied lying his ass off.

“I think I’m going to try to sleep” Ed said, as he slung his rifle over his shoulder, watching Mai as she walked to the RV and climbed inside. I’ll ask her about it tomorrow, he told himself.

“I would but I have a book to finish, Electronic engineering books are so dry, its like watching paint peel.” Rob remarked as he waved goodbye to Ed and headed towards his mobile shop, his significant other wasn’t going to be happy with his plans for the evening but he really needed the study time.
***********************

The mountains on either side loomed black over the three vehicles as they drove down the road, thru the bottoms that had been cut out over centuries by the creeks that flowed down the slopes of the Mountain’s.

Using NVG’s they drove with out lights, what little light there was from the fingernail of a moon, was just enough to make the road appear only slightly lighter black then the land, the mass of the mountains stood stark against the bluish black night sky, where thousands of stars glittered overhead.

They passed a few vehicles that had been left sitting on the road, and at on point had to drive up a cleared slope to get around a wreck where a tractor trailer had jackknifed, blocking both lanes, and causing other vehicles to smash up against it. it was obvious that the road had been damaged by the storms over the last year, the asphalt was crumbling in places, but it was equally obvious that some one had been clearing fallen limbs and logs off the road.

The town of Antioch lay in a valley; about five miles give or take from wolf creek, surrounded by wooded mountains, and ridges. There wasn’t much of a town, not really, ten business’s along the highway, a few scattered off the highway, and homes and farms scattered across the wooded valley, most close to the interstate.

The three vehicles, pulled a stop in front of a long brick building that looked like it had been built in the twenties, the two plate glass windows, were shattered, and the door placed between the windows, stood open. Bodies mostly skeletal were scattered along the sidewalk. To the right of the store, was a furniture store, like wise vandalized and to the left was an antique shop, across the street, another brick building, this one 60 feet long with a door on each end, and a garage bay door in the center, an old fashioned water tower sat to its left, the bulbous tank a hundred feet off the ground on a frame work of iron.

Every where Jared looked there were bodies, He climbed out of the ELSORV, feeling totally exposed, “Daws, Drive to the end of the street and check it out, Jeb, Ori, head to the tower, I want you both up top and looking around. Eric, Id like your team to enter with me.” Jared said as he lifted his HK to high Ready and approached the window to the old store. Leaves crunched under foot, and the occasionally snap of bone hidden by leaves was like a gunshot in the silence.

“Jared you stay back your down two, we will enter and clear first, come in behind us” Eric said in a low voice. Jared nodded, and waved them forward, watching with interest as the SF team gathered by the door, then at a silent signal went in hard and fast.

“Second team entering” Jared said over the Radio as he snapped his rifle to his shoulder and led his team in.

the store was well lit when viewed thru the NVG’s and it was obvious it had been stripped bare. What little was left were things like cheap gifts, make up, a selection of books, and electrical appliances like, blenders and toaster ovens. Every thing else had been taken. Old papers, candy wrappers, chip bags, and broken jars littered the floor.

Eric and his people had finished sweeping the area and had returned to the front of the store. Blaine was near the door, kneeling and examining a body, or what was left of one. Martinez was facing towards the back, still alert for danger.

“its been picked clean” Eric said, as adjusted the boony hat he wore.

“Looks like” Jared responded, then thumbed the transmit button attached to the glove on his left hand. “ Ori what’s it look like” he asked in a low voice turning to look out onto the street.

“I can see a few of the dead on the south side of town, just wandering around the street, no sign of movement. But other than that nothing.” Ori replied, Jared could picture Ori rubbing his hair as he talked, and cracked a smile at the mental image.

“We are coming out, the place is empty” Jared replied.

“The streets clear out front” Ori commented, “it’s also starting to cloud over,” Ori informed them. no one wanted to be outside, in a strange town with an unknown number of undead, if a storm rolled in cutting down their vision.

“Roger, out” Jared said deciding that he was willing to risk being caught by the storm in order to check out the antique store.

“We are going to check the antique store, then we can haul ass” Jared said as he readied himself to step outside once more.

“why an antique store” Blaine asked curious.

“why?, because there might be tools, coffee grinders, wash boards, all kinds of stuff we can use that doesn’t require power to operate” Jared said, as he stepped to the door, checked the street then slid outside followed by his team.

“is he serious” Martinez asked, he didn’t see any of that stuff as a reason to risk his life.

“yes, he is” Eric replied, Martinez’s problem was he hadn’t even started taking a long view, they had everything they Needed at the FOB including wind turbine and solar power generators. Martinez, was bright, and able to make use of damn near anything, but he still was locked into that pre zombie mentality. Power to waste, and that just wasn’t true anymore.

Eric didn’t say anything else, he led his team outside, and started to take positions at the door to the antique shop. Jared waved him back. “ got this one, but thanks” Jared said, waiting till Eric’s Team had stepped out of the way then gave the signal and burst thru the door his team on his heels.

Mikes coming along nicely Jared thought as he went right and leaped up onto the counter in front of the old plate glass window. Mike didn’t show any signs of hesitation, which was an improvement. Jill went to the left with Mike and Logan took the rear, with his arm still giving him problems Jared wanted to keep him in the back, for now.

The problem with this store, was, there were no clear lanes, or organized aisles, it was just a maze of displays, shelves and goods. They filtered slowly thru the aisles, Jared stopping only once as he found a body, it lay sprawled between a Hutch and a victorola, most of its head gone.

“Contact” Mike said over the radio, “ engaging”, there was a tense moment as Jared waited, hearing movement across the store and then “ tango down” Mike reported

They reached the back of the store and found a small office filled to overflowing with boxes, magazines and paperwork, but no storage room.

They returned to the front, slowly, still alert, sometimes you missed a zombie,who might have been sitting behind something or hidden away, and Jared wasn’t going to lose some one to being careless if he could help it.

he had spotted at least a half dozen things they could use, probably more that he hadn’t seen, but at least he knew to have the convoy stop and pick the stuff up when they passed through.

At least he had taken steps early on last year to ensure they would have power and appliances they really needed, for how long was the question. But for now they were set for at least a year or two more.

Jared walked back outside, enjoying the feel of the cool night air, looking around for a moment then fixed his gaze on the building across the street, the far left side of the building was a gas station, with one of those old coke machines, where you popped in your change opened the little glass door and pulled your drink from one of several holders. A metal bench that had once decorated someones patio sat in front of the large glass window. He could see from here that the caps that had sealed the fuel tanks had been popped off. It looked like some one had probably emptied the tanks.

“pretty sure some one has picked this town clean, and cleaned out most of the undead,” mike said, as he avoided looking at the bodies strewn around in front of the few buildings that made up the center of town.

“Probably right” Jared replied as he walked slowly across the street, the hair on the back of his neck stranding up as the wind gusted, whistling as it blew between old buildings that were slowly going to rot. “My first clue was all the bodies” Jared added grinning.

“Call me captian obvious” Mike replied, shaking his head at his own stupidity.

“they came from the south then” jill said suddenly.

“why the south,” Martinez asked, curious as to how she reached that opinion.

“simple, Wolf creek wasn’t looted, neither was Del Rio from what we saw, but this place was, so they had to have come from further down the Highway. Unless the map I looked at was wrong and there is another road or two into this valley that’s not listed.” She replied. Martinez only grunted, she wasn’t wrong.

Jared nodded in agreement, looking towards the south end of the valley, leaves swirled around him, driven by a gust of wind.

“lets mount up and sweep the rest of the area, I’m betting that pretty much every place worth hitting has been raided” Jared said as he headed for the ELSORV,

“Jared, hang on” Eric called out, Jared paused and turned back to see his brother still standing by the antique store.

“is this going to be a debate or an argument?” Jared asked, ignoring the rest of the SF men.

“Neither, I was going to say we could cover more ground if we split up” Eric said, Jared nodded in agreement.

“Sounds good, you can take the west end we will take the east.” Jared said sounding totally reasonable. He just wasn’t going to argue, splitting their forces wasn’t a smart move, but Eric an his people were used to operating with only six men, and Jared would still have twelve and the two .50s on the Stryker, so his teams were still fairly strong even with a reduction in force.

“no problem, lets mount up folks” Eric told his men, the SF men jogged over to their vehicle, and clambered inside. A moment later they were heading west, leaves spiraling up behind them.

“Why do I get the impression he was about to argue something.” Jill asked Jared, keeping her voice down. that she felt naked and exposed out here was an understatement.

“he was, Not sure why he changed his mind, or why he would have objected to a sweep, with us.” Jared said, as he swept the area with his eyes, for any threat while Ori and Jeb climbed down from the water tower and trotted over to the ELSORV’s.

As soon as every one was aboard, they began a slow crawl east thru the old fashioned down town area, it was pretty obvious that the place had been completely stripped, the pharmacy, the feed store, the Save A lot, all of them had been emptied. And corpses littered the pavement every where.

“they had some manpower to do all this” Ori observed.

“Remember last winter, when we drove off the militia unit, down by the farm. we knew they had come from the east and Graham was certain they had a base they operated out of” Jared said. “its possible they did this, they had the manpower, and the equipment to manage all this, face it this place is small a few hundred people lived here all told, with enough men and weapons this place could have been cleaned out fast and safely”

there was no conversation after that as they prowled the dead town, here and there homes had been rammed with something that left big gaping holes, probably to make clearing and stripping easier. But as they approached the south end of town, Jared had Mike slow the vehicle then stop. There was a deep silence in the vehicle, in the front yard of an old farmhouse, just off the highway, five bodies hung from the limbs of the old oaks in the yard. Bodies that moved, their legs kicking, arms out, pale white hands grasping at the air as they tried to get to the motors they could hear.

“Ori, Jeb you two sweep a hundred yards out, Daws get ready with the .50 just in case. the rest of you with me” Jared said as he opened the door and stepped out, the breeze had strengthened to a steady wind that came down off the mountains, chilly and carrying the scent of rain. Jared glanced up seeing that the stars were gone, clouds had rolled over the area, obscuring the night sky.

Jared approached the body’s that were moving more violently now as the dangling undead tried to get to loose and attack the fresh meat below them. Jared lifted his rifle and put a bullet into each head of the five zombies. After that cutting the bodies down took only moments. a quick examination showed no bite marks, on any of the three men and two women.

“that’s just fucking sick” Logan muttered, “ to hang them and then not put them down when they turned.”

Lightening flickered across the mountain peaks, and thunder rumbled off in the distance. The wind was gusting now, and the smell of rain filled the air.

“Hollywood, Meet us on the south end of 70, we need to talk” Jared said, grinning faintly knowing that Eric would be annoyed at Jared using his Team handle.

“Roger, wrapping up here, and heading your way, Hollywood out” Eric replied.

They returned to the ELSORV, and waited till Ori and Jeb returned from their recon.

“aint crap out there Jared, no game tracks, no undead. plenty of signs of a large group but most of it is vague, it happened sometimes back, I found some track marks, some tire prints all worn down, one or two clear boot prints. And some spent brass back behind that house. But nothing else. so what ever happened here happened a little while back” Ori told Jared as he looked up at the sky where dark clouds boiled up over the mountains and began to spill down into the valley.

As they waited for Eric and his people to arive, Jared heard something in the distance, he cocked his head listening, not sure what he was hearing. What ever it may have been, it was lost in the sound of the storm that swept down from the flanks of the mountains. Lightening flickered, dazzling their eyes and the entire group piled into the vehicles just before the first of the rain began to pound the area.

it was really pouring by the time Eric’s ELSORV pulled up along side them. Jill watched nervously as Jared donned his poncho and climbed out of the vehicle and ran to Eric’s vehicle. A moment later both men were running towards the Stryker, where the ramp was lowering.

“what was that all about” she asked, trying to see through the rain that obscured everything. A million zombies could be barreling down on them right now hidden by the rain and her idiot husband just leaps out and runs around in the storm. There were moments she doubted his sanity.

“that’s Jared, he takes risks, but they almost always work out” Ori commented as if he knew exactly what Jill was thinking. “Almost always” he said again with a half smile

Ten minutes later Jared was climbing back into the ELSORV, “lets go, we are going to go down almost into Hot Springs, and check things out.” Jared said, turning to mike. “Drive on James, the rest will follow.”

“James?” Mike asked as he started the motor, and pulled forward slowly, till he was past the Stryker.

“Fictional Chauffer in many movies, and why the hell do I talk to you heathens” Jared said, as he turned his head to look out into the rain swept night.

They drove in silence, out of the valley and the road began to climb up the flanks of Deer Park Mountain, and following the mountain swinging south. With the lighting Jared could see the French Broad flowing a over a hundred feet below them.

*****************************
Oliver West stood on the elevated scissor lift, no longer worried about staying awake, as a peel of thunder and flash of lightening crashed over the camp, followed by a cold wind and a sheet of rain swept over them. He cursed heavily as he fumbled to get his poncho out of his pack, thankful that he had listened to Jared’s constant harping on having a fully loaded pack, close at hand at all times when outside. It seemed like it took half an hour to free his poncho from the pack and don it, in reality about a minute had passed, but by then he was soaked to the skin, at least the poncho, once he had it on and belted, help cut the wind and even held in some of his body heat.

Water trickled down his neck and slid down his back, but it wasn’t all that bad, he thought as he blinked trying to see past the vehicles, in the rain, and very thankful he wasn’t wearing NVG’s, he wasn’t sure if they were water proof, but the way things worked for him, they wouldn’t be waterproof and he would have ruined a pair if he had been wearing them.

The scissor lift, was securely mounted in the Back of the Deuce, so it wouldn’t tip over, but that didn’t make the swaying any easier to deal with, he thought as he hung on to the rails trying not to puke. His mom had once said he could get motion sick on an escalator, she hadn’t been far wrong either.

Oliver, looked around sure he had heard a voice over the storm, “Bring it down” a voice that sounded like Ed’s said again.

Oliver relieved, grabbed the control hand set and mashed the button. With a whine the lift began to sink back down. “cant see shit in this weather, no sense in being up there, where you can get hit by lightening,” Ed said, Olive paled, he hadn’t even considered that. “come on,” Ed said waving a him to follow, a moment later they were under the awning of the huge Rv, having to stand near the wall of the RV, to keep out of the rain that was being blown under the awning that snapped up and down with the wind. They should probably retract it before it got ripped off by the storm Ed thought.

“hell of a blow” Oliver said, watching as the lightening flickered along the peaks, the odds of being struck were low, very low. But the odds of the dead rising and eating the world had been even lower than that, so why take risks Oliver decided.

A smile played across Eds lips but he didn’t crack the joke that came to mind. “it is that, been some bad storms all over lately, well at least in places we have been too, I’m guessing its been the same in other places.”

“I hope Ronny tied that plane off really well, or its is going to be gone tomorrow.” Ed observed, then he remembered that Ronny and mary were sleeping in the plane and started grinning. He bet it sucked to be them at the moment.
“God this sucks” Ronny said as the plane bounced with a blast of wind down the River. At least if the plane broke free, he could keep it from smashing into anything he thought, still wearing his boxers he climbed into the pilots seat, and looked out, over the river, where the wind was kicking the water into whitecaps.

“it was your bright idea to sleep in this thing” mary said, as she pulled on her pants, determined to be dressed in case she drowned. “ remind me to smack your ass, later”

“no problem, one ass smacking reminder filed away.” Ronny said with a smile.

“you really are a masochist you know that” Mary said as she slipped into the second seat before pulling on her blouse.

“You just noticed that, how long have we been together?” Ronny asked laughing softly, the banter helping him ignore the movement of the plane.

Mary ignore him, debating on whether to strap her self in or not. If they sank and she might not be able to get free and survive, how ever if she drowned and was strapped in no one would have to put her down.

“ can I ask you something” Mary asked suddenly, her voice serious. Ronny turned to look at her.

“Sure, assuming your not asking me if we can have some space” Ronny replied, mary almost smiled but didn’t. “maybe see other people”

“have you thought about later, the future, where we will be at in another year, or ten years. Kids, a home, what will our kids have to deal with.” Mary asked, Ronny started to say no, to crack a joke, but he didn’t.

“theres this place I saw, that I thought would be a good place to settle down on, its an island, with two really expensive houses. There cant be more than a ten undead, probably less, plenty of room to put in a garden, and we can fish, crab hunt and drag a net for seafood, maybe find some goats, pigs and cows. Install some solar cells, propane, and generators to have lights and some other luxuries. It would be a safe place for kids, and its not more than twenty minutes by water to Sullivan, at least using a boat with a motor, five minutes by air.” Ronny replied. “or we could head out with Jared and Jill and settle a tropical island, and go native.”

Mary shook her head, almost smiling again, “I’m glad you’ve been thinking about us, and the future. I just don’t know Ronny, do we want to have kids, with these undead bastards running loose, do we, I wont to risk having our children eaten by those things, or by one of us if, one of us just dropped over with out any one knowing it, till it was too late.” Mary replied, then shrugged. “sorry I know I’m not usually like this, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. Wondering if the world will ever return to what passes for normal.”

Ronny reached over and took her hand, and squeezed gently, with out saying a word. Ignoring the storm and every thing else for a moment. Then his head came up in surprise as a sound cut thru the night. and a blinding light lit up the rain, along the shore.
“ what the hell?” Ed said as the night lit up, and a heavy rumbling filled the air. Oliver rushed to the ladder on the side of the RV and climbed quickly up to the Platform, and looked north towards the river, and gaped as he saw a light, rushing towards them then past, the rumble of a freight train filled the air, causing the RV to shake for a moment and then it was gone. All Oliver had seen was what looked like Freight cars and loaded flat cars, in the darkness.

“was that really a train” Ed yelled up.

Oliver nodded then found his voice, “ damn sure looked and sounded like one,” he called down trying to picture the map of the Area that Jared had, all he remember was the Tracks ran along the edge of the river, all the way to Hot Springs, north Carolina.

“God Jared is going to love this one” Ed yelled up, even as people spilled from the vehicles most with out rain gear, some still trying to get dressed, bombarding Ed and Oliver with questions.

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

the rain was slacking now, but it was still pouring down out there, mike thought as he gripped the steering wheel nervously, all it would take was one mistake to slide right off the road and fall the hundred or so feet down. he suspected it was much further down, but one hundred or five hundred it was still above the ten foot comfort level he liked.

Jared was sleeping in the passenger seat, with the pit bull curled up in his lap. Mike chuckled hearing the Dog snore softly. He had always heard horror storys about pits, but this one seemed as friendly as any other dog he had seen in his life, and with less justification. But He bet if some one or some thing attacked or threatened Jared, that dog would tear them apart.

“I bet if I found a dog, it would be a tiny little terror, that bites me on the ass, every chance it got” he muttered and heard Ori laugh in the backseat.

“Ask Jared sometime about that Little taco bell dog, eric brought home one day.” Ori said laughing softly.

“If I ever see another one of those little hell hounds I’m going to shoot it” Jared said, waking up, and yawning. “still not there, how long was I out” he asked, peering out the windshield into the rain.”

“Forty five minutes” Mike replied

“It’s a ten minute drive” Jared said, “with no side roads, do not tell me you got lost.” Jared said, as Ori chuckled in the back. “ or did Mister I’m so blond back there have to stop and pee every twenty feet.”

“I will point out that even with NVG’s, its hard to see the road in this rain, which is just now starting to slack off, I figured you wouldn’t want to wake up falling into the river so I’ve been driving slow” Mike replied.

“slow, slow is twenty or thirty miles an hour” Jared said. “ this is like an old man on a hover around.”

“Your more than welcome to drive Earnhardt.” Mike said with a grin.

“naw your doing okay, hopefully the zombies will have rotted away by the time we get to hot springs” Jared retorted.

“Jared Kiss my rosy red ass” Mike said as Jill and Ori burst out laughing.

Ori turned to look down into the river valley not that he could see anything until a flash of lightening would illuminate the entire valley, Jared and Mike were busying tossing slams back and forth, and it was damn good to see Mike acting more normal.

Now if the damn fool would wake up and see Ily, that woman had a bad thing going for Mike and she had been patient as hell. But with Carrie gone, and chances were she wasn’t coming back, even assuming she could find them. Personally Ori hoped that she never did unless she recovered. The woman that she had become after her memory loss was a stone cold bitch.

he pushed that thought aside, and let the weather carry him back to another set of mountains, ten years ago, a storm much like this one, only in the Alps, he had taken leave to hike the Alps in Switzerland, renting a little cottage in a meadow, he had planned on hiking down to Innsbruck, and then back, but a storm had struck, in the lower altitudes it had been bad enough, but as he got higher, and the sun set the heavy rain became snow, it had been one hell of a trip. By the time he made to Innsbruck, he had decided to spend three days there, and when the weather hadn’t cleared up, he had taken the Train back. Getting snowed in, in the Alps wasn’t fun.

To the north down in the river valley he saw the rain begin to glow. It grew brighter and closer, then even as high as they were on the mountain, as the light drew near the lonely wail of a train could be heard over the storm. Ori blinked confused as reality seemed to conform to memory. Mike slowed then stopped, he was so shocked, he didn’t want to risk missing a curve and plunging them all to their deaths on the train below.

Then the light faded as the train headed south, vanishing from sight, the wail of the whistle fading then was gone swallowed by the storm.

***********************
“Lets get it all packed up and ready to move out” Ed told the group of water drenched people. “Theres no telling what Jared might find, but he is going to want to try to catch that train, and when we get the message to move, I want to be out of here two minutes after getting it.”

Mai Linn, nodded and clapped her hands “you heard him get the lead out, stop gawking, Garret, boy get you damn shorts on, no one wants to see your damn tool”

Garret blushed, but he had been so eager to try to see the train, he had leaped out of hs sleeping bag and charged out side with every one else. Amy whistled at him, as did a few of the other women close to his age. He turned and ran back to the K5 he had been sleeping in to get dressed.

Mai linn silenced a laugh, glancing at Ed who was almost successful; his shoulder shook as he chuckled. “I think he is going to be popular with who ever he ends dating” she said, and Ed nodded finally laughing aloud.

The group split up, as people rushed to get their gear backed up, and gather up the kitchen supplies that been carted into the gas station when dinner had been prepared.

“You think it means that some where the Government is finally establishing control again.” Ed asked, Mai linn shrugged.

“I don’t know, I don’t dare let myself hope this nightmare might finally be ending.” She admitted. “Eric might have a better idea about that subject than I do. ”

“Ill go check on Ronny and Mary,” Ed said, dropping the subject, he wasn’t sure Eric would answer that question if he were asked.

“ Take Chad with you, don’t go out alone Ed, zombies might be following along behind that train, Id hate to see you get eaten if the end really is in sight” Mai Linn told him, Ed nodded and whistled to get Chads attention then waved at him to follow.

He and Chad slipped out of the camp, and moved cautiously across the road, with out lights they couldn’t see crap except when the lightening flickered and every strike Ed expected to see a zombie standing right in front of him. They cross the tracks and the made their way carefully down the rain slicked bank to the edge of the river, where Ed finally turned on his flashlight and saw the plane was still there, grabbing the rope he pulled the plane to the bank, and did a quick slip knot to keep the plane in place, as Ronny opened the door.

“We are getting ready to pull out, Jared will probably see the train and send some one back to check on us, we are going to pull out when that happens, but I want to leave a couple of men with you, just in case” Ed called out. Ronny nodded and gave him a thumbs up.

“Thanks, we cant take off till the storm passes anyway” Ronny yelled back.

“Do you want me to try to get the Fuel truck down here and top you off” Ed asked, knowing it would be a tough job, to get that truck close enough to reach the plane.

“No I have enough fuel to make it almost to Charleston if I have too” Ronny called back.

“Okay no problem, Ill make sure you get extra MRE’s and Ammo too.” Ed yelled, Ronny gave him another thumbs up then ducked back into the plane and shut the door.

Ed didn’t blame him, he was soaked to the skin, and water was even squishing in his boots having run down his legs and soaked thru his socks. They were almost back to the camp, trudging thru a ditch they had no choice but to cross, when something grabbed Ed by the ankle, Ed jerked away, and lost his balance as he slipped in the mud. He fell back into the rushing water with a splash. Water filled his mouth and eyes, and he tried to crab backwards as a cold hand grasped his ankle again.

Oh hell no, god don’t let this happen Ed swore and prayed as he tried to get a grip on his panicked thoughts. The dirt under his hands crumbled and washed away in the deep fast moving water as he tried to get a grip to pull away, and he couldn’t seem to get enough grip with his feet to push back against the water that was trying to send him right back at what had to be a zombie.

Hearing Ed’s shout of fear and the splash Chad almost out of the ditch, turned and couldn’t see a thing. he turned on the light mounted on the Rail of his AR and felt his blood go cold as he saw a zombie, trying to hang on to Ed’s leg, its teeth gnashing. Ed was kicking it in the face with one foot while using the other leg to alternately try to shake the thing off and push him away from the thing. the water threatened to tear Ed loose and toss him right at the zombie.

The zombie and elderly man, in overalls, its thin silver hair plastered to its bony face, had a hunting knife still in its back, and its legs were gone. It must have been in the ditch and the water had pushed it downstream till it grabbed a hold of Ed, Chad thought as he slung his rifle and jumped back into the ditch, the water striking him in the knees, and spraying all the way up to his crotch. Chad grabbed the zombie by the collar and pulled with all his might, the collar already half rotted after a year and some odd months tore free, and Chad lost his balance and fell backwards, his first thought was if that thing let go of Ed, the water was going to send it face first right at Chad. Panicked he lunged upright, managing to get back to his feet, but that was a hard task.

Ed saw Chad go down, and knew if he kicked that zombie loose, there was damn good chance it would end up on top of Chad and bite him. He couldn’t let that happen, he concentrated on ramming the sole of his right boot into the things mouth to keep it away from flesh, and even that wasn’t enough space as far as he was concerned but it was his best bet. The zombie had one hell of a grip on his left ankle, and its other hand was raking his right leg with ragged nails, but the tough fabric of his jeans didn’t rip or tear.

Ed rammed his left hand down in the mud and dirt till it was up past his wrist anchoring him in place and he prayed no more zombies were washing down the ditch towards him. As he reached with his right hand and drew the pistol on his belt, praying there was no water in the weapon or this was going to get really ugly.

Chad waded forward, the water rushing past his legs making it hard to stay on his feet, in a flash of lightening saw Ed’s pistol up and pointing, the hole in the end of the barrel looked huge, like an dark malevolent unblinking eye. Easily big enough to force his hand into, he knew that it wasn’t really that big, but damned if it didn’t look that big up close. Water was pouring over Eds shoulders and washing around his face almost blinding him. And Chad knew the man couldn’t really see, all this ran thru his mind in less than a heart beat.

Chad grabbed the zombie by the neck yanking its head up and inline with the pistol, as he twisted away, and it wasn’t a moment too soon, the .glock.40 boomed twice, and the zombies head exploded.

Chad landed on one knee and got a mouth full of water, which was a damn site better than getting a mouth full of zombie brains.

Ed felt the zombies hand came loose and the body was washed away from them, Ed managed to get to his knees spitting water out of his mouth and wiping at his eyes, then staggered to his feet, and reached down to help Chad stand. Lights flashed thru the rain, accompanied by shouts as men and women in the camp swarmed out, hearing the pistol shots. As the two men staggered out of the ditch, half the camp arrived and surrounded them, weapons pointed out as they formed a ring around Ed and Chad.

“you guys all right” Arthur asked, Ed nodded.

“yeah sorry, a zombie got the drop on me. But I wasn’t bitten” Ed replied, managing a smile.

“I’m okay too thanks for asking, I almost got shot when Ed here decided to shoot blind, but it worked out okay” Chad said, then laughed in relief, “ I almost crapped my pants dude, don’t do that again.” he told Ed.

“Trust me Ill try to avoid it” Ed replied, laughing himself. “lets hope Jared and the rest are doing better than we just did”
************************
Buddy stood on the covered, screened in, back porch of the Old Ranger station, just off 70, looking towards the edge of the bluff, and the mountain on the other side. reaching into his pocket he pulled out a pack of stale Cigarettes, watching the rain fall as his thought about the nightmare of what his life had become. Shaking a cigarette out he lifted it to his lips then produced a lighter. Cupping a hand over the Cigarette he lit it, and then took a deep drag then blew out a cloud of smoke.

Who cares if I get cancer, the undead will probably kill me long before the cancer does buddy thought not for the first time.

Burns, his sergeant, insert air quotes, had sent him out here with a fucking flashlight and a bat, because he thought he had seen a zombie and wanted good old buddy to take care of it.

Buddy had walked around the back, shining the light into the woods, expecting any moment to see a few thousand undead. But had found nothing. Burns was probably upstairs laughing his ass off with that Skank Cheryl, that woman had, had more men between her legs than McDonalds had, had customers. She was the Horny desperate mans happy meal. And this was the second damn time tonight Burns had sent Buddy out to look for supposed undead.

Buddy knew that Burns didn’t like him, but he was pretty sure Burns wasn’t aware of Buddy’s plans to get the hell out of dodge. With Landry ruling Hot springs with a Iron gloved crank religion, it wasn’t a good place to stay. Especially when you didn’t subscribe to Landry’s idiot religion.

Landry had arrived last fall, with what every one assumed was a national guard unit, and taken over. After that he had started preaching, and any one that didn’t like it had to deal with Landry’s right hand man, Jamie Calloway, a sadistic, prick who had been a state Trooper before the dead had risen.

Some had, in whispers, thought that Calloway and Landry both had gone over the deep end after z day, Buddy was of the mind that Calloway had just hidden the cruel, sadistic side of himself, and used his badge to get as much satisfaction as he could legally get away with. Calloway was a bully, and unlike most bully’s he wasn’t a coward, he got off on people trying to fight him.

He took another drag of his cigarette, smiling angrily. Landry’s so called religion was a fraud, the man had ripped parts out of the bible and other places to cobble together his own bastardized form, then placed himself on a pedestal.

His insistence that god spoke to him in his dreams, were utter horseshit. Oh sure every one had been having odd dreams since last June, but there was no way any god that Buddy would worship, was running around giving shit bags like Landry and Calloway power over others. But enough bought into it, most out of fear, that the rest stayed well away from the line that could make it look like they were resistant. Not after so many had been hauled off to the mine and were never seen again.

Stories about that place floated around, never spoken where Calloways cronies and spies could find the people passing them. and if they were true, God had a special place in hell reserved for those two bastards.

Escaping from this nut farm couldn’t happen fast enough as far as buddy was concerned, and hopefully Jessie, his best friend since grade school, would go with him. He hadn’t even told Jessie about finding the old Jeep up by the cemetery in the mountans, already loaded with camping gear, the driver sitting against the tire, dead having committed suicide.

Jessie wasn’t one to gossip, and you could trust him not to spread tales, but what he didn’t know he didn’t have to worry about. No right now, only Buddy was at risk, Jessie wouldn’t know till Buddy had him next to the jeep. And pitched the offer, but that wouldn’t be till he had enough supplies added to what he had found that he felt comfortable with leaving, or things went so badly here he had to leave.

The storm had finally broken, he noted, it was now just a normal rain shower, and would probably be gone by dawn. He stubbed out the Cigarette, preparing to go inside.

Eric and his team, drawn by the flashlight they had seen from up the road, lay scattered in an arc around the house. They had been in place for almost an hour, laying in their hides as the storm beat around them.

old stone structure, two stories high with a high pitched roof, to shed any snow that might accumulate on it during the winter. There were four dormer windows on the roof, two faced the front and 70, the other two looked out the back.

The windows, sunk into the field stone walls of the building, were narrow and high enough off the ground, that a person could peek over the sill into the room, but couldn’t easily climb up and into the house.

It sat on the flank of the mountain in the middle of a leveled off spur of rock and earth, that was a quarter of an acre wide north to south and ninety feet from the edge of 70 to the edge of the almost box like spur where it was seventy feet to the mountain slope below., from the bluff to the valley below it was over a hundred and eighty feet to the train tracks and the wide slow flowing river below. The entire property was surrounded by old Hemlocks, Red Cedar and massive oaks, the front had been dozed down and covered in gravel, where four trucks were parked.

Eric had been watching the Smoker on the covered back porch, noting the way the man paced back and forth. Rarely looking out into the night, the pacer struck Eric as a nervous angry man. Ori had spotted antennas mounted on the roof, before he and Jared moved around to the front of the building to keep an eye on the front door, and the four trucks out front.

They had only spotted four people inside the people and Eric was almost positive that that’s all there were. Two upstairs, two downstairs. Unlike Jared he didn’t feel there was any choice but to use Direct action, to seize the place and secure the commo gear.

He knew his people, if those in side offered resistance they would be taken down and hard, if they surrendered they would live. He checked his watch, Jared had sent Logan and Jones back in Eric’s ELSORV, to gather up the camp, if these people were hostile he wanted to blow thru the town as fast and early as possible, they should be coming up the mountain now, assuming they broke down camp as fast as they normally did.

It was time he thought, as he slipped to his feet, and started across the overgrown lawn behind the building, using every pool of shadow, dip and plant as cover. he didn’t bother to look for his men, he knew they were in place and moving along with him.

One minute buddy was turning and stepping towards the back door, the next he found himself laying on the stone porch, with a mans knee in his chest. “ how many inside” a mans voice asked, from the darkness, there was a hint of accent, but not enough for Buddy to pinpoint where the man might be from.

“Three others,” Buddy whispered, his throat and lips dry. He heard movement, then the back door opening quickly, barely making a sound. He found himself flipped over on his stomach and his hands were quickly bound behind his back, a second later a ball was shoved into his mouth and a leather strap was wrapped around his head and buckled to hold the ball in place. “Try to get away, and Ill kill you.” the man told him.

The single man downstairs, skinny and underfed, offered no resistance when Eric and Castor slipped in on him, in fact he looked relieved, which was a decidedly odd thing in Eric’s book. He clicked the transmit button twice paused then clicked it again, signaling Jared and Ori to enter thru the front.

Upstairs he heard a thud, then a pistol barked, a single burst of an HK and it fell silent once more. “Second floor clear, one casualty.” Blaine reported.

He looked up to see Jared standing in the door and smiled. “Id like to report the building is secure”

He could tell by Jared’s face, his brother wasn’t sure whether to be pissed off at being left out of the action or satisfied that it had gone so smoothly.

“Twitcher, get the prisoner inside and secure him in the backroom, lets see what our friends have to say.” Eric said over the radio.

He turned to the skinny man who stood shivering under their weapons, “lets start with your name.”
**************************

“ You think that guy was Lying” Ori asked an hour later, he was really hoping that Jared did.

“No, I don’t.” Jared replied, as he walked to the window and gazed out into the rain. The convoy was just two miles out and would be here in shortly, and after that, things were going to get really nasty.

“How many armored vehicles can they have anyway,” Ori asked, as he leaned against the wall. In the distance they could hear vehicles approaching.

“Enough to fuck us up, I’m assuming its mostly older stuff, Ferrets, M113’s, but with out a good recon, we wont know till we hit it. the worse part is, that this Prophet Landry Prick is set up right on the our route out.” Jared said tapping a thumb against a front tooth.

“And what about those train guys, according to our new friend buddy, they are basically being forced to work for Landry and Calloway. “ Ori asked. “do we really want this asshole being able to hit and loot anywhere he wants including our own front door”

“We don’t have time Ori, Otherwise, Id come up with some great plan to send a team or two to bust out the train guys, and their family’s, and help them steal the train, while pushing thru and assaulting Landry and taking out his capability to project force outside of this town, while saving every one in town that’s being oppressed. We just don’t have the men with the training to do it, and we don’t have the weapons or ammo for a pitched battle.” Outside, they could hear the rumble of engines as the Convoy arrived.

“And it looks like we just ran out of time to make any real plans, its going to be hard and fast by the seat of our pants” Jared said.

“Hang on for just a moment Jared, I think we can manage some of what you were just talking about.” Eric said indicating his team, He began to talk and Jared listened closely.

The rain had slackened then finally stopped, but a light fog was starting to rise, which might help them out some. At least the convoy only had to remain on 70, not cut and weave thru the narrow streets and quaint buildings of the Resort town.

From here 70 dropped down till it emerged from the mountains into the valley, when it reached the town it curved sharply to the east and ran straight through town then across the French broad, the problem was the Hot springs resort where the so called Prophet Landry had set up his church, straddled both sides of 70 just before the bridge, they would also cross the train tracks just before they entered the church grounds.

Jared hated calling it a church, it was nothing of the sort, and from what Buddy and Jessie had said, this nut job, had cobbled together a doomsday religion using anything he could lay his hands on. And killing Unbelievers was at the top of the list of Landrys Commandments.

Reaching the ELSORV Jared hugged Jill gently then pulled away laughing as the pit bull leaped straight up trying wildly to lick his face. he smiled and Knelt, rubbing the dog behind the ears, while turning his head to keep from getting a mouth full of dog tongue.

“We don’t have long” he said after a second, “we have to be off the mountain in less then thirty minutes to set this in motion, your in charge of the Convoy Jill when you get the signal you push straight on, don’t stop. Ori and I, with Eric’s Team are going to be riding with Daws in the Stryker. Get Mike to drive the ELSORV, and Jeb to Man the SAW, Logan and West are going to stay with the Second ELSORV, and I want…”

Jill listened to him talk and felt Fear and tension boiling up inside, he was far to calm, that was never a good sign either. She watched as he retrieved the M14, six shot grenade launcher, and the two ammo cans that held the grenades.

“Your going to do something stupid aren’t you” She asked, she kept her voice just as calm as Jared had done.

“Most likely, but you know the saying the lord looks out for fools, Drunks and Irishmen, I qualify for the first, and some what for the last.” Jared replied.

Eric watched his sister in law hug Jared again; her face set in stone, she knew, he thought. Well he would have to do his best to get his Brother out of this alive. He put on his game face, slung his weapon and headed for the Stryker.

the town lay under the cloak of night, mist slowly filling its streets. Here and there a few people stirred, getting ready for the day. Sentries nodded at their posts, overlooking the main roads.

Dale Bowden, stood in the cramped room he shared with four of his train crew, staring at nothing out the window, where fog hung over everything. Today they were supposed to take a trip to Raleigh, to see if there was anything in the rail yards worth putting boots down and seizing. He turned and lit a small candle that barely put any light into the room, at least it couldn’t be seen outside unless you looked closely, undead would most likely have missed it. not that there were any in Hot Springs, but it was safer to assume the undead were around.

He still couldn’t find a way to get his people out of the shit he had landed them last year when they had stopped here after seeing no undead on the streets. Like every one else when Landry had shown up, Bowden had thought things were finally getting under control, the army and the guard were showing up to help and the undead were being contained. Instead the world had been dying around them and Landry was some nut job religious wacko at the head of a militia.

Well that was the past, and about all Bowden could do was to keep Landry and his goons from killing his people, Bowden hadn’t been able to stop him from killing and mistreating the survivors that the Train had picked up on its long lonely escape from the undead. But he would by god save his people or die trying.

His thoughts were interrupted by a thump downstairs, and then several more. He listened for a moment hearing nothing more. Then something fell to the floor in the hallway outside.

He turned to the door, feeling his stomach sink in fear. Not sure what was going on, but the mental image of undead swarming across the town, and the hallway outside that door filled with reaching hands and gnashing teeth filled his mind. He stared at the door, watching as the knob slowly turned back and forth then turned all the way to the right and began to open.

He reached for the pistol he was no longer allowed to carry, and then his eyes widened as he saw a man in full military gear crouched in the door. The Deadly looking weapon in the mans hands was pointed right at him. “Are you one of the guys from the train?” The man asked. Bowden nodded too surprised to do anything else.

“Good this is your wake up call, get your men up and get your shit together you have four minutes before this little rescue mission heads out the front door.” The man said then his eyes shifted to the window behind Bowden. “Second floor cleared and secured, stand by” he said. Bowden started moving shaking his people by the shoulders to wake them, and then grabbed the duffel bag that was his own personal kit. He had no idea who these men were, but they had to be better than Landry and Calloway. The man in the door seeing Bowden was ready motioned him over with a wave of a hand.

As soon as Bowden approached the man drew a pistol with his free hand and passed it to Bowden, than passed him two magazines. “don’t fire, Until we do. Got it. you fire to soon and you are going to get all of our nuts in a meat grinder” the man said, Bowden nodded, more than willing to trust any one that gave him a weapon.

* * * *

With the Intel that they had gathered from Buddy and Jessie, their two prisoners from the earlier, they had used the fog to move down 70, till 70 curved around and turned into bridge street, where they had parked behind the post office and proceed on foot down Bridge street. Jared with Ori, Daws and all but two of his team followed a hundred yards behind The SF team. Angela and Jones remained in the Stryker as driver and Gunner.

Hot springs had never been a big town, 650 people or so crammed into a three and a half mile area of land between the mountains and the French broad. That wasn’t counting the several hundred resort guests. According to Buddy, after the initial rise of the undead, they had only lost only two hundred or so, most had been guests at the Hot springs resort. After that it had actually been easily dealt with in the small town, the sheriff had made sure of that, as soon as some one died, the body had been shot in the head immediately. Then Landry had arrived, and every thing had changed.
The train loomed over them from where it sat on the tracks beside Andrews street, a grey green tinged ghost thru the fog. The carports and metal framed Quonset hut styled workshops that had been erected on one lane of Andrews street in front of the Garage next door, for warehousing the supplies the train had brought back once the old garage and its newly covered parking lot had became full and started spilling out into the streets.

Andrews street, was home to old Downtown Hot springs, and thanks to the tourism trade that the hot springs had brought in for over a hundred some odd years, had been well maintained and was the type of picturesque Old Americana people in better times had loved to see. On the other side of the tracks, a band of trees, and beyond that the Hot Springs Resort and Spa lay, where Landry and his Henchmen had set up their Command.

While Jared and Ori and second team stood guard in the streets, Eric’s SF team had swept thru the Iron Horse station, once the towns train station, lately it had served as a restaurant and was now the towns train station again and train crew holding area. Or had been till the SF finished.

Jared and Ori and second team had assumed guard duty over the Trains crew and their families once they had been freed. while Eric’s team vanished into the fog, occasionally reappearing as ghostly shapes that appeared for a second then vanished again, as they cleared the warehousing section along the Train tracks.
Jared crouched behind a stack of crates, then peeked out to spot the next bit of cover he could use to advance, tonight their NVG’s were getting a good work out he thought, hating the wear they were putting on the batteries.

He ghosted forward to the next stack of crates, and then scanned the area before giving Ori the all clear. The eight men and two women who made up the trains crew followed in their wake, Covered by the rest of Daws soldiers.

Jared glanced at his watch, noting the time. The Convoy would be here in another ten minutes, which was far to late as far as Jared was concerned but there was no help for it, if things worked out like Eric had planned, the Heavy weapons that Landry had would be out of action, when the convoy hit bridge street and blew threw.

Ori was halfway to the Next bit of cover, hidden from any distant observer by the fog, when Jared saw a man walking around the boxes and crates to Ori’s left, that pile of cargo was the only reason the yawning man hadn’t spotted Ori.

Jared flowed to his feet, and was in front of the man in a heartbeat. The man had no time to shout in warning, his sleep addled mind still trying to figure out if he knew the man in front of him, when Jared’s right Elbow smashed into his jaw, the man staggered to one side, just as a iron grip grasped his forearm and pulled him forward to meet a knee in the side that broke three ribs, even as he tried to turn away he collapsed to his knees, and a knife drove into his eye socket and up into the brain. his world went black.

Jared dragged the body behind the crates and pulled a corner of the tarp over it, then waved the train’s crew forward. not a single one of the men and women he escorted even bothered to look at the body.

It seemed to take forever to work their way to the train, but when they arrived Eric was waiting. “I cant promise you, you will escape” Eric told Bowden, who was more scared now than when he had been chased by the undead. “but wait five minutes before you fire this thing up, hopefully by then we will have done enough damage, that they wont be able to stop you.” Bowden nodded, not sure how a handful of men could do any such thing, but with his train cleared of guards, he should be able to get out with out a problem.

“Thanks Mister,” Bowden said, as he waved his people aboard the train. “Ill give you five minutes, more if you want”

“No five minutes, from now that’s all we need. No get out of here, and if you want some place reasonably safe to stay, Try getting to Sullivan Island on the Coast in South Carolina. There’s a few hundred people there trying to rebuild, and some Army units” Eric told him, then with a smile he walked away into the fog vanishing from sight.
“Two minutes” Ori said as they worked their way along a wooded section of bungalows angling towards 70, and the bridge that would take them out of the Town. The whole plan hinged on their being in place to provide cover for the convoy when it came through.

In the distance they could already hear the rumble of heavy motors, muted but obvious in the early morning. The horizon beyond the mountain peaks was already growing lighter, but fog was thick enough to obscure vision for beyond twenty feet. Which meant no one in the buildings off the road would be able to see the convoy till they left the shelter of the building and crossed twenty feet of open ground. Open ground that Jared had every intention into turning into a killing field.

they passed thru the bungalows and spread out into a skirmish line as they jogged quickly across the open area and into the stand of trees across the way, skirting around the main complex. They had another sixty yards to the woods that lined the river bank where they would cover the convoy.

The sound of motors was louder and more obvious now, and people in the surrounding buildings had to hear something. And then Murphy struck, the sound of the train firing up rolled over the area, and there were a few shouts as some of the sentrys in the main complex stepped outside trying to find out what was going on.

Jared swore, as he heard a diesel motor turn over, then another. Things were about to go straight to shit and there was nothing he could do about it.

Eric smiled as he lay on the roof of a maintenance shed, he had retrieved the rifle he had stashed on the way in and was now scanning the area thru the thermal sight on his weapon. “Contact, Stryker.” He said calmly as he lined up his shot, that they were out numbered was a given, but as Admiral Andrew Cunningham had said “We are outnumbered, there is only one thing to do. We must attack!”

Well that was pretty much it, they had no real choice at this point, he thought as he fired the M109, 25mm rifle sniper rifle, or as some called it the payload rifle, and started the war.

Jamie Calloway, Stomped angrily to the door, ready to tear some one a new asshole, maybe even send them to the fucking mines for this shit. Who ever was shouting questions out there instead of using the radios, starting screaming for back up as a weapon boomed. something exploded out by the road.

Calloway, retreated away from the doors, long enough to don his body armor, and grabbed his M4, while a small scale war erupted outside. It has to be that Red head, that Hanson had sent a messenger to warn them about. No one else in the town had the balls to start shooting at the unit.

Well they were in for a fucking surprise this time around, Hanson had also been sure this was the same man who had driven off their attack on that farm to the south last Christmas. Calloway hoped it was, it was time for serious fucking pay back.

Calloway headed to the door, already on the radio calling up his personal squad, the Red head wasn’t going to like what was coming.
Jones shouted happily as the Stryker barreled across the train tracks, Angela was driving wildly weaving from side to side, while he manned the weapons. To the right men were spilling from buildings, he watched them on the displays, they were firing at another band of men who were running for the deep line of trees close to the river and the bridge. He had the automated turret swing around and a moment later .50 caliber rounds were punching into the largest cluster of men who tumbled to the ground, some got up and began to attack their fellows who now had more problems than just the attackers.

Behind the Stryker, the convoy had just turned onto Bridge street and were racing towards his position, the ELSORVS leading the way.

Jared ran in a crouch, firing over his shoulder at the Militia units that were advancing on them. The Team was almost at the edge of the wood line just to the east of the complex, when the Enemy Stryker opened fire. .50 cal rounds punched into the ground behind him throwing up gouts of dirt. Some shrieked by him, Cooper, one of the new guys that had arrived with Eric’s resupply stumbled and fell to one knee as some one got lucky and grazed his leg with a 5.56 round.

Ori wrapped an arm around Cooper hauling him upright, and half carried half dragged the other man towards the shelter of the woods. Where Daws and the members of his Team that had made it, lay providing cover fire for the three men.

The sound of a heavy round being fired, something that sounded like a 25 to 30 mm round rolled over the area, and the fifty on the Stryker fell silent. Jared blessed who ever was responsible and ran even faster for the woods.

Martinez crouched behind a Package truck, and unlimbered the Javelin he carried. He readied himself, then leaned out, sighted on the Enemy Stryker, and fired ducking back into shelter again then running to the next bit of cover. Some one shot up the package truck behind him.

Eric grinned, as he shifted targets to the M113 that was rumbling up from the north side of 70, it was clear as day to his thermal scope, well a multi hued day for some one used to acid trips at anyrate.

The problems with m113 were numerous, but the biggest problem with them happened to be, that no matter the fact they were called armored personal carriers, most were only simple aluminum boxes on tracks. Some active duty units had upgraded versions of the M113, with actual armor, but most especially those used by the guard or just left sitting in depots and DRMO’s were the old kind. And that he thought means, no armor, So why shoot the gunner behind the ma deuce when I all I have to do is lower my sights to right there, right were the driver sits. Eric thought putting words to action and stroked the trigger.

Of course the second big problem for them happens to if it had upgraded armor it wasn’t going to stop a 25mm round. He thought watching as the M113 spin in a circle and then stop its engine still running. Eric put a round straight thru the side into the heat signature of a man, and then watched as the others spilled out the back, running for cover.

“Time to go” Martinez called out over the Com.

“Ready” Eric replied as he slid over the edge of the roof and dropped to the ground. He ducked behind decorative hedges as he heard the rumble of a heavy motor, and grimaced as he saw a Marine LAV roll past, “got a problem, theres a LAV in the area, that fucking 25mm bushmaster is going to eat the convoy up” he reported over the com, not worried about being overheard by any one with a radio listening in, they would only hear garbage since the transmission was encrypted.

The LAV stopped, idling near the main complex, Eric grimaced but made up his mind, he slipped forward hoping this wasn’t an upgraded model, if it was, they would have thermal sights and would pick him up in a heartbeat.

The Convoy rumbled into Jones sight, just as he spotted the LAV on thermal, the 25mm Bushmaster would make dog meat out of the Stryker, he thought as he shouted directions to Angela there was only a couple of things they could do, and the biggest one was to draw the LAVS fire. He popped smoke covering the road, combined with the fog, and no one with out thermals would be able to see the convoy to engage it effectively. But blind fire would still be a problem

Angela turned to the right and accelerated hard off the Road, as Jones engaged the LAV with the fifty.

Jill drove into the smoke and fog cursing but she had taken a page from Jared and checked the maps. The road, assuming the map was correct, continued on straight once across the tracks, so Jill had checked the compass, and held on grimly to the steering wheel as she drove straight thru on the Compass bearing through white out conditions. Mike on the SAW, held his fire, but was prepared to rake fire to the right, while the next ELSORVS gunner would take the left. The 88 still chained to the trailer behind the HET, had man on its fifty as well and every vehicle in the Convoy that had a gunners position had a man or woman occupying it ready to return fire.

Jill hunched forward in her seat, as bullets tore thru the fog, at least one struck the ELSORV, but didn’t penetrate that she knew of, suddenly the fog thinned as she drew close to the bridge. She slowed then pulled to the right of the bridge to cover the convoy, the second ELSORV driven by Logan pulled off on the left side, one of the K5’s roared by and across the bridge and then the first of the Big trucks emerged like a leviathan from the thicker fog and smoke and thundered past them and across the bridge, and then another. “keep moving” she prayed aloud, as the SAW above her began to fire.

Calloway ran stooped over past the burning Wreckage of what had been Landry’s private limo and took shelter behind a ford pickup. To his left he could hear a long line of vehicles passing, some of his men were firing at them, but with the fog and smoke no one was sure if they were hitting anything.

He tried to raise the LAV again, but since the first time he had heard the chain gun firing, there was no response. His last Strykers rumbled by his position heading deeper into the resort, the other was a burning wreck beside the highway.

The bastards were just shooting His people and then leaving the bodies to reanimate and attack the living. The confusion it was creating, was definitely hampering his peoples defense. Already some of his men had shot down friendly’s thinking they were undead.

Landry, like Hanson had assumed that the Red head would have headed south towards spring creek in an attempt to get out of the mountains quickly, and had ordered the bulk of their fighting force to a place about a mile out of town that would have been the perfect ambush site, if the Red head had actually gone that way.

Only Paranoia had caused Calloway to hold back three of the five serious pieces of Armor and fifty men to watch the bridge. He didn’t know what had happened to the men guarding the train, and the squad he had sent to check out the situation hadn’t reported back yet. But he could hear the train pulling out, its whistle screaming defiance.

Son of a bitch, Ill gut his ass, I swear I will, Calloway swore as he bounded forward to the next bit of cover, and fired off a burst towards the area where the aggressors had vanished into the woods.

They had to be heading for the bridge, to catch a ride out he decided, as he saw a man stumble out of the smoke and fog, he started to gesture seeing the familiar face, then frowned angrily as he lifted his Rifle and shot down one of his best lieutenants whose almost white skin, and bloody mouth marked him as one of the newly undead.

“All units converge on the bridge, that’s where they are heading,” calloway said as he leaped to his feet and began to run towards the stack of logs he would use for the next bit of cover.

As he ran, the speakers around the complex came to life and Landry began preaching to his followers. “ People of the faith, the devil walks amongst you bringing the plague, as the book says you shall know them by their works, and their work is to bring the undead to our town. Fight for the Lord, fight for the Prophecy, fight……”

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

The sporadic gunfire continued, across the resort. The smell of burning plastic, insulation and gunpowder filled the air. And as men died the undead became an issue as well. three of Calloway’s fighters died when six of their former friends fell on them from behind while the traded shots with the men in the woods. in moments nine more zombies were up and staggering towards the next sound that drew their attention. an entire squad was taken down as they charged right into the arms of the undead, only one made it out, he was shot down by his friends as he limped after them trying to stem the blood flowing from the bite wound his thigh.

Unknown to Landry and Calloway, almost sixty people had loaded what they could find from the carefully horded secret supplies and were now fleeing Hot springs, back the way the attackers had come. Their power base was eroding as quickly as they were losing men. the fog had proven decisive, but it was also starting to lift.

Calloway, saw the dark shadowy shapes of the Hemmits, and what looked like broncos or maybe blazers passing onto the bridge, and two odd looking almost Humvee’s on either side of the bridge, the mounted and manned heavy weapons swinging in an arc covering the fleeing Convoy. A Stryker appeared out of the thicker fog and pulled broadside to any fire from the Resort dropping its ramp.

He smiled hungrily as he saw men running from the edge of the woods for the Safety of the Armored vehicles. One man appeared to be badly injured and was being helped by another. The last two men one short and the other possibly close to six foot were running in a crouch laying down covering fire.

Calloway smile’s was full of hate as he lifted his barrel and sighted on the taller of the two men, even thru the scope he couldn’t make out much in the way of details, but he would do for starters. Calloway stroked the trigger and watched the man tumble to the ground, his second shot was already on the way when the fifty on the Stryker opened on his position, the rounds tearing into the pile of logs throwing jagged shards and splinters into the air. Calloway managed to duck down; blood flowing from a gash in his cheek where a large splinter had laid his face open.

Daws reached the Stryker, and handed cooper inside, then turned and started to fire back into the enemy, who were advancing thru the thinning fog in a skirmish line. He hit one for sure, possibly two, as men tumbled into the Stryker, Ori and Jared were falling back firing steadily, he saw Ori drop to a knee as he popped a spent magazine and replaced it in one fast fluid move, then his rifle was back in position with hardly a pause in his firing.

The enemy came on in a ragged skirmish line, their rear guard had gathered and being warned of the undead were unshaken and prepared, were putting down the newly risen undead while providing some cover fire.

At least they were not able to get in a position to set up a crossfire, Daws didn’t even want to think about that.

Jared stopped to cover Ori, and as Ori rose into a combat crouch again they fell back under the cover of the Strykers .50. suddenly Jared went head over ass, His HK flying from his hands.

Jones having spotted the shooter got the turret turned around and sent a hail of thumb sized .50 rounds into the log pile that the shooter sheltered behind. the fifty started chewing through the logs with ease, but in seconds he had to swing it away to suppress the enemies left flank who were trying to swing around and get to the highway and cut off the last of the convoy.

Daws now supported by the rest of his men, poured fire into the advancing enemy. “Come on damn it” Daws was yelling as he saw Ori grab Jared’s combat harness one handed and begin to drag him towards the Stryker. Firing one handed at anything that moved. He was just about to send Cole and Perry out to help Ori when Jones’s voice cut in.

“oh shit Sarge you aint going to like this.” Jones called out, as a LAV emerged from the fog. “ I thought we had disabled it”

“pop smoke, Get out us out of here, run back towards the town. Then cut in behind the LAV, we will work our way back to Ori’s position.” Daws shouted as he raised the ramp. The Stryker lurched into motion as small arms fire pinged off its armor.

Jill screamed in shock as she saw Jared go down, saw the armored vehicle with the big gun in its turret, then smoke bloomed over the Stryker. “Get across the fucking bridge now Jill, go, Please.” Ori’s voice boomed harshly in her ear. “ that thing will chew you up and spit you out”

“I can’t” Jill replied as she threw the ELSORV into drive and then mike was inside away from the weapons mount.

“Jill you have to, that LAV will turn this thing into Swiss cheese. Get across the Bridge” Mike told her softly. “Ori is with him and Daws probably has a plan, so get safe and let them do their thing. ” Mike urged her, and if any one could understand her feelings, it was this man she thought, as her emotions tore at her.

The LAV, hidden from her sight by smoke and fog, opened fire, and Jill flinched, hearing the steady drum of the weapon that seemed to shake the air. She nodded at Mike, tears streaming down her face, as she whipped around in a tight circle then raced across the bridge, the Second ELSORV following.

Calloway managed to limp away, as three of his men sat up, blood still trickling from the fist sized holes in their bodies. A relief force from the Barricade on the other side of town was just entering Bridge Street, and would be here in Two minutes. He slipped inside the main complex, and slammed the door shut, leaning against it as he dug out his first aid kit and started treating the wound to his face.

Thru the fog and smoke, unnoticed by the panicked men and women. A shape moved, its long spindly arms swinging at its side as it scuttled forward on skinny legs. Its oversized oddly shaped head jerking from side to side as if sniffing at the scent of blood in the air. It paused only once its head tilting to one side, as its milky eyes widened with pleasure as a mans voice bellowed out into the morning over loud speakers, “ suffer not the witches to live, nor shall you suffer those who seek to return the evils of society that once existed, that god almighty has allowed the Devil to wipe away. Offer not repentance, but the sword, offer them not Mercy but the bonfire of gods cleansing flame, offer them not….” As the voice droned on the things thin lips cracked into a smile, that faded back into an expression devoid of emotion and it began its trek after the fleeing convoy.

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