Chapter 19

“Those forms we fancy shadows, those strange lights
That flash on lone morasses, the quick wind
That smites us by the roadside are the Night’s
Innumerable children. Unconfined
By shroud or coffin, disembodied souls,
Still on probation, steal into the air
From ancient battlefields and churchyard knolls
At the day’s ending. Pestilence and despair
Fly with the startled bats at set of sun;
And wheresoever murders have been done,
In crowded palaces or lonely woods,
Where’er a soul has sold itself and lost
Its high inheritance, there, hovering, broods
Some mute, invisible, accursèd ghost.”

~ Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Kasey was terrified Jared realized, as he finished setting the homemade charge that would blow the stairs. Unlike in a movie, his jury rigged bomb wouldn’t take out the whole staircase, but it would take out enough steps that the zombies couldn’t make it to the landing. Which gave them the whole second floor as well as the attic and top tower room.

“Ori if you can hear me, don’t come back to the house, trust me brother you wont make it to the door.” Jared transmitted once more, hoping to catch Ori before he came down into the river valley and the mass of undead and died.

Kasey, held her pistol loosely in her hand, and Jared was worried she was considering killing herself. Being trapped by the undead was its own special little corner of hell he reflected.

“its all cool Kasey we have a months worth of food. if we stay out of sight when they get inside, they might just leave after a few days.” Jared told her, “I promised you this, if it looks like we aren’t going to make it out of here. Ill end it for both of us okay” he told her. she nodded slowly looking relieved that she wouldn’t have to do herself, which was a damn sad thing that she even had to consider the possibility.

“do you think Rich and your friend will come back and be able to save us” she asked, Jared started to lie then decided not to.

“Ori will try, but I cant see a way out unless he goes and gets the whole damn convoy back here. Our best bet is to not be seen by the undead.” Jared told her. “but don’t lose hope situations change, and if he does go get the manpower to help, it will take a day or two.” A day or two they couldn’t lose if they hoped to reach the terminal before Simms.

His thoughts drifted to Jill, and he really wanted nothing more than to be able to hold her right now. the bright side was, she wasn’t here to be trapped with him. Not once since the coming of the zombies had he ever thought he would end up alone, trapped and possibly dying. Things change how ever and unless he could find a brilliant way out of this mess, he was going to die. I’m not going to become one of them though, he promised himself.

As glass shattered down stairs, he moved up to the second floor, and lit the fuse. By the time the bomb detonated there were seven zombies on the stairs, afterwards there were no steps below the landing, and four of the seven zombies were crippled, one was dead, and the other three unharmed. A sea of upturned rotting faces surrounded the staircase, silently waiting.

“Top floor tower room movement” Ori said as He passed the Binocs to Eric, who scanned the tower for a moment, then panned across the crowd of undead that just pressed against the house, covered the former lawn and spilled all the way down to the river, the line of undead continued along the tracks to the south. what Eric and his team had seen further south had been the middle or maybe the tail of the horde.

Anyone got any bright idea’s?” Eric asked glad they were so far away from the horde.

“ Even if we got the Stryker, the LAV and every tom, dick and Hairy in the convoy back here, we don’t have near enough ammo to make a dint in that crowd.” Blaine said then turned to study the terrain, but nothing lent itself to an easy rescue. “ to bad we can not get Danson on the horn and get one of his birds down here to lift them off the roof”

Ori sat quietly; Eric could tell he was worried about Jared, and angry as hell at himself for leaving Jared behind. “ I think I have an idea that might work, but we need to head back into town. and Hopefully Ronny will be flying back here to check on things later today.”

“I’m thinking you could bank on that,” Eric replied. As he crabbed backwards, to keep from silhouetting himself, who knew if the zombies could or would notice them at this distance, but he wasn’t about to find out they could. “lets mount up and get back to town,”

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

“I cant take much more of this” Kasey whispered to Jared.

“You can take all if it, if you try Kasey” Jared assured her. “trust me, most people give up long before they reach their real limits.”

“My limit stopped about the time they came into the house, Jared.” she replied, then leaned against him for strength. Jared felt uncomfortable with her that close, but he understood, so he stayed silent as he consulted his watch. Thank god for good old-fashioned wind-ups, he thought

“Ori, I don’t know if your receiving this, but stay the hell away from here. Id say about half of the population of Asheville is visiting. You cant do any good here Brother, not alone, get back to the convoy and figure out a plan, we have plenty of food, enough for a few weeks, so we are good to go till then. Oh, if you tell Jill I’m trapped in a house with a good looking woman, I will kill you when I get out of here.” Jared transmitted as he disengaged from Kasey and walked to the window. There was no response, for all he knew Ori and Rich had rode right into this horde or another one like this and were dead. Not that he was going to tell Kasey that, she was from all appearances on the ragged edge.

“Jared, this is Ori.” the sudden voice in his ear actually took him by surprise. As he jumped he saw Kasey turn white thinking that something had gone wrong.

“damn it Ori, theres a lot of static, but did you copy my message” Jared asked, seeing hope spring to life in Kasey’s eyes

“is Rich okay” She asked, her eyes almost pleading for good news.

“Roger, we copied, Eric and his boys are with…… we have a plan …. its going ……” the transmission faded out for a moment.

“Ori, Kasey wants to know if Rich is okay,” Jared transmitted. For a moment there was nothing but garbled words, static and pops then Ori’s voice came in loud in clear.

“ …… don’t worry, I wont tell Jill till we get you out. Rich is okay, hang in there, back in a few. Ori out.”

He turned to Kasey, a grin on his face. “ He said Rich is okay and they have a plan to get us out of here, I’m not sure if I should be worried or not.” He joked as Kasey looked relieved at the news

“and what kind of plan could he have that will get him thru a thousand or more zombies, so we can run downstairs and into what ever vehicle they have.” Kasey asked.

“trust me, if any one can do it, Ori and my brother can. Oh yeah I forget to mention my brother and his Special Forces team are with Ori and Rich.” Jared said, then sat down in the chair to get off his leg. “let me tell you a little story about how Ori escaped from a pissed off Korean Madame with a shot gun.” Kasey stared at the Jared who was grinning as he began to talk more to keep the woman’s mind off the fact that there was a house full of zombies just below them.

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

Calloway turned angrily and stalked to the desk, his desk, he sat in the once expensive leather chair and leaned back his eyes never leaving Mat Bryson and Tim McDonald, the two scouts who had returned after half an hour.

“your telling me that we have to clear out a horde of undead, before the train can get thru.” He said calmly. Matt nodded not happy with bringing bad news to the former state trooper.

“theres at least a thousand or more Boss, the train might be able to barrel thru them, but if to many get on the tracks, well I don’t know if to many bodies can derail that big monster, but do we really want to take the chance.” Matt said, glancing at Tim who tilted his head slightly in agreement.

“You were right to tell me about this, and you don’t have to worry about the prophets wrath, you cant be held responsible for the appearance of the undead.” He told them, which was one of the reasons he was so popular with the men. He stood between them and Landry’s idiot religion, even those who truly believed in the nonsense, had been faced with possibly dying for failing in Landrys eyes, and Calloway had kept them safe from the purges that Landry had on occasion tried to push thru.

“get something to eat, and be ready to go back out shortly” he told them as he leaned back in his chair, after they left he pulled out a map and studied it for a moment. Tinch and his men had used the back roads, to reach the train. If things were going as planned they would be ready to pull out in another hour, to come up here, pick up the flatcars, and then load his men and vehicles. But the undead posed too big a problem; the train would never make it through with out help. If only Landry hadn’t used the Jammer that Calloway had known nothing about, they could have mopped up the raiders. He still wasn’t sure where the nut case had gotten thing, aside from his rantings that an angel of god had shown him where to find it and how to use it.

For once he was thankful for that crazy bitch and her lover living up there in that old house, if they hadn’t been there the horde wouldn’t have stopped till it reached hot springs. He supposed she had every reason to take shots at the train, his men had raped her. but he had also put a stop to that sort of shit, hoping that if she were left alone she would stop, it had seemed to work, or she had run out of bullets.

Calloway was many things, but he did despise rapists, he had executed the men who had raped her himself, just to make a point to the others he was serious, and as far as he was aware of his men hadn’t raped any one else since then.

First thing he had to do was send Matt and Tim to the train to stop Tinch from heading up here till he was ready. Then he had to get the bridges secured so that when the horde started this way again, they could be stopped. Lastly he needed to get his armored vehicles on the other side of the river and thin out the horde as much as possible, so they could break through, and meet the train further down. that should draw the rest of the undead after them and away from hot springs.

Just let that crazy bitch stay alive long enough to keep those undead bastards busy, till I’m ready he asked the heavens.

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

the highway department shop, was set off US 70, surrounded by chain link fence. The ELSORV and Scout entered the gate, stopping only long enough to close it behind them before driving around back to the yard. The main building that served as offices lay north to the to south facing 70, there were two huge barn like buildings, one with gas pumps located near its large double doors out of sight of the road.

Ori hopped out of the Scout, then turned to Rich. “ don’t put a dent in my ride, the last time I let some one drive my ride, they flipped it.” he said then smiled sadly, then turned back to the rows of dump trucks, rollers, bulldozers and other road repair vehicles.

Eric and Bailey dismounted, and walked over to Ori, their eyes sweeping the parking area. “ Contact” Bailey called out, as he spotted a zombie step out from between two dump trucks. His weapon came up, but Ori pushed the barrel down.

“Silently now” Ori said as he pulled a pick axe from the back of the scout, and walked forward.

The zombie, a semi muscular male, dressed in dickie work clothes, staggered towards him, hands outstretched. His hair had been thinning before his death, but he no longer had to worry about that, or his missing ear, nose and chin. The name tag on his work shirt had the name David on it.

Ori wondered if the man had, had a wife and children. Wondered what had ran through his mind as he was being chewed on. What kind of dreams and hopes had died with him. Ori looked into those milky white eyes, and saw nothing reflected there, no hope, no joy, nothing of humanity lingered in those eyes.

He stepped forward and swung the pick axe, driving the spike into the side of the zombies head, and then wrenched it free as the body tumbled to the ground to finally lay still. “Clear the office and locate the keys to the vehicles,” Ori called over his shoulder as he watched for undead.

Rich climbed slowly from the Scout as Ori waved at him to join him. Nervous as hell, at 26 years old, he had basically led a sheltered life, he wouldn’t have said that before the zombies, but now looking back, the video games, the sex, and being a football fanatic hadn’t really prepared him for a life of struggle. Hell to be honest it hadn’t prepared him for much of anything. it had all been a waste of time, all the things he could have seen or done he put off to finish things like HALO or Mass Effect, or to catch a Titans game.

He had laughed at the people who learned to shoot, and thought that preparing for a disaster was a total waste of time, that was what the government was supposed to do, ride in to the rescue.

But now, now he knew different. He had only survived by being in the right place at the right time at the beginning. All his liberal friends were out there still, rotting shambling parodies of life, while he found himself standing here looking at a rows of heavy equipment, participating in a rescue operation.

“hopefully there wont be any more, but if there are, using the machete. We want to be as quiet as possible. gunshots will only bring more of them down on us.” Ori told him as he started down a lane between the dump trucks and road Graders.

Row made it sound like there were hundreds of vehicles in each one, in this row there were seven dump trucks, four graders and two tar in spreaders. in another row, three backhoes, two rollers, or what ever they were called, Rich had always called them steam rollers even though there was no steam involved, as well as buck trucks, flat beds, and trucks and cars that ran on propane.

They walked slowly peering under vehicles, the only sound was that of the wind and the crunch of gravel under their boots. Ori stopped suddenly and pointed to the cab of one of the Dump trucks, where a man sat, or rather a zombie, it was slowly pawing at the window its white eyes fixed on them.

Rich expected Ori to climb up and kill the thing, but instead he seemed satisfied it was safe to ignore the undead.

“Aren’t you going to finish it off.” Rich asked.

“Not really, if that guy climbed in there to get away from the undead, you can bet he locked the doors before dying. So I’m not going to break out the windows to reach in and unlock it. and really there’s no point in risking getting bit by standing on the step and opening the door so that thing can possible fall out on you and get a good bite in before you can kill it.” Ori commented as they finished the sweep.

Entering the dimly lit building, Eric and his team found themselves in a long room that served as both a break room and a locker room. The smell of rotted food from the fridge still hung like a haze in the room. There was another smell too, and as soon as they stepped into the partitioned work space with its conference table they found a body, or what was left of a body, sprawled across the table, a shovel still buried in its shattered skull. Spotting three office doors in the pale green south wall, Eric moved towards the first door closest to the front of the building.

He swung past a secretaries desk and peered into the cramped office, a desk sat in front of the only window, flanked by a book shelf that held binders, and framed photographs on one side, and a file cabinet that looked like a bureau on the other. The calendar plotter was stained with blood, and what looked like strips of cloth torn from a womans blouse.

He was just turning when Martinez snarled “contact,” and leaped forward a tomahawk in his hand, as a female zombie stepped out of the second office, she had once been a pretty blond, her eyes fixed on Martinez and her hands came up to grab at his arm, but it was far to late, the tomahawk crunched thru her skull and put her down.

Martinez looked into office she had come out of, and saw a legless man, fat was the only way to describe him, his three chins wobbled sickeningly as his teeth snapped together thru shredded lips. As soon as he saw martinez, the zombie tried to drag his huge body towards the door. Martinez danced forward, slammed a foot down on the things neck to hold it in place and crushed its skull. As he was stepping to the door, he saw the dead mans leg bones laying behind the desk. The rest of the building was empty of both the living and the undead which Eric was grateful for. They located the keys in a open lock box in the last office.

There was a reason that, when recovery teams were sent out, small towns were always priority targets, few undead to worry about. After the disaster that First Cav had gone thru in Austin, no one wanted to go into a major city with out armor. Like Jared and so many others had figured out, running down zombies with the right vehicles was the best move.

He remembered reading a report that some Marine, had commandeered a M60 main battle tank, gotten a refueling team to follow him, and then spent an three hours driving up and down the same road, in Sacramento, with music blaring, crushing zombies, in job lots. By the time he finished a pass, the street had filled up behind him again. he would turn and start down the road again, with queens ryche playing at top volume, it was thought he might have managed to clear most of the city if he hadn’t finally thrown a track and had to be rescued.

He took a deep breath of clean air as they stepped back out side, and then headed for the first of the storage buildings.

Rich gazed at up at the dump truck Ori had chosen, wondering if he had lost his mind. Two of the Army guys had located a grader blade and dragged out a Huge trailer mounted generator from one of the buildings and gotten it running before hooking up the welding rig.

“Don’t watch” Parks warned him, Rich turned away as they started welding the triangular frame that the two spare blades would be welded to. the noise had begun to attract zombies, who were gathering at the chain link fence, so far there were only eight, but given enough time the whole town would end up here.

It took three hours for them to finish. The frame had been welded to the dump trucks frame, with the blades attached it looked a lot like the scoops you saw on Old steam trains. three foot long metal stakes had been welded onto the bottom of the bed jutting out to the sides, placing them at about head high. With the hydraulic piston disabled, the bed of the dump truck could no longer be tilted, which made it safe for people to ride in, just in case who ever was driving didn’t accidentally hit the wrong thing and dump its passengers out onto the road.

They had also cut away the fenders over the tires, so that bodies didn’t get jumped up under there and stop the vehicle. All in all it was the closest to a mad max monster truck Rich had ever seen.

Eric eyed the thing, then turned to Ori, “your sure this is going to work?” he asked.

“Not my first rodeo” Ori replied, with a faint grin. “ we did the same thing to two Deuce and a halve’s. it worked well for them, and they aren’t as heavy as this thing. Ill drive it up to the house, turn around and back up till I hit the edge of the roof. Jared and Kasey and can climb out a window onto the roof and leap into the back. You guys can stay out of sight back where we first watched them, and when I pull away from the house you can turn around and run for town ahead of us.”

“ I can just see all sorts of ways this can go wrong” Eric replied, but he had no better plan to offer.

“I’d be happy to listen to any suggestions you have, but the truth is we are running out of time, Jill is either at the camp or almost there by now, and we have to be there by morning, or come up with enough fuel to chase them to the next camp.” Ori pointed out.

“I really don’t have anything better, “ Eric admitted. “but Ill be riding in the back, Jared is my Brother, and I cant wait to rub it in his face for years to come that I had to rescue his ass.” Ori snorted a laugh; he could see a family one up fued starting in the near future.

“All right lets get something to eat, and then we head back.” Eric called out as he rejoined his men. Ori nodded and returned to the scout and retrieved his Banana nut bread, Rich squatted and leaned against the tire while Ori ate the cake with loving attention.

“Damn sounds almost like your having sex” Rich said after a moment. Ori smiled as he licked his fingers.

“Damn near.” He replied.

“Can I ask you a question” Rick said, looking at Ori who shrugged.

“Sure as long as it not can you sleep with me” Ori replied.

“Not even close” Rich promised. “I’m just curious how you and the others can joke around, and be in such a good mood, with all that’s going on out there.”

Ori licked the crumbs of his bread from the wrapped and sighed with pleasure.

“Guess there’s a lot of reasons, we might be nuts, we might not care stuff like that. but the truth is, after a while you either have to laugh or kill yourself. Most guys in the military, de-stress with humor, it can be foul, weird and inappropriate, but it’s a like a relief valve. I crack jokes out here in the wild to keep from losing it, Jared too. I worked EOD, it means ‘bomb disposal’ for civvies, and one of the guys I worked with cracked jokes while disarming devices, he got reamed for it every single time, but he couldn’t help it. he would start disarming and the jokes would start flying. Sometimes it was funnier than hell.”

“what happened to him?” Rich asked, curious if the guy had blown himself up or what.

Ori was silent for a moment then laughed. “he had pretty much lost it, and got out, and became a stand up comedian in Los Vegas.”

Rich smiled almost normally at Ori, then Eric was calling out “Lets mount up, I want to be back there before nightfall.”

Ori gathered up the trash from their meal and place it in the empty MRE pouch, which he stuck in the back of the Scout. “ okay remember Rich, don’t get off the road, don’t fall back, and if you do, do not let us get out of your sight okay.” Ori told the very nervous man. Rich nodded, then looked surprised as Ori stuck out a hand. They shook hands, and then Ori walked over and climbed into the Cab of the Dump truck. even after a year and two months the cab still smelled of stale cigarette smoke.

He started up the motor, and looked over as the passenger door opened and Eric slipped in beside him. “cant let you rescue my brother without my going along, Id never hear the end of it.” Eric said as he shut the door and buckled in.

“I can see your point, Jared takes a while to let things go doesn’t he” Ori remarked as he put the dump truck into gear.

“try living with him” Eric said with a grin as the truck started forward.

Rich sat behind the wheel of the scout, wandering who was going to be insane enough to open the gates with all the zombies gathering out there, then shook his head as the dump truck approached the gates, then sped up. It tore the gates off with a squeal of metal, and the plowed thru the undead in the drive way.

He sped up and tucked in behind the dump truck, the scout bouncing over the corpses on the road, then it hit him, the sheer joy of being behind the wheel of a vehicle again, knowing that he was free to leave the place that had been both a refuge and a prison.

The sun was already sliding down the sky; soon it would be behind the tree shrouded mountains.

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

Kasey sat silently, watching the door in case a Zombie somehow got up here, and then glancing at the red head. Jared sat looking out the window as he cleaned the Mini 14, she was kind of amazed when he reassembled the firearm quickly by feel with out taking his eyes of the scene outside.

She avoided looking, she had no desire to see the swaying mob of dead flesh that now encircled the house. No matter what Jared said, she saw no way out of the house, not like before. when she and Rich had fled up the stairs with the others to the roof top of the news station, where Randy’s Helicopter waited, the undead coming up the stairs on their heels.

For a moment she remembered Stan the Production assistant, who had stumbled and fell halfway to the Chopper, the undead reaching him as he got back to his feet. She had managed to get into the chopper even as it was lifting off, Barbara screaming at Rich to hang on, as Tom and Christopher pulled him inside, the hands of the dead grasping at his boots, even as he was snatched out of their grasp as the Helicopter shot skyward.

No there would be no escape by air this time, and there was no way they could escape on the ground. She glanced at Jared who seemed perfectly calm, wondering how he managed it. She would give anything to rid herself of the sour twisting emotions that threatened to send her into depression an suicide.

“Where are they” Kasey asked, fearful that something had happened to Ori and Rich. Even more scared she would die here trapped by the undead and rise to join their ranks.

“Don’t worry they will be back” Jared said, as he sat by the window, watching the heaving mass of undead outside.

“How can you be so calm,” She asked angrily, she managed to keep her voice down. but it pissed her off that she seemed to be a slave to her emotions at the moment.

“I’m not calm I’m silently pissing my pants” he told her with a crooked smile, as he rose and walked to the door way and looked down the narrow staircase that led to the second floor, seeing that the door at the bottom of the stairs was closed, he leaned against the wall, and gently rubbed his thigh. “I wake up every morning accepting I’m going to die that day, It sounds cliché, trite I guess, but it’s the truth.” Jared said shrugging.

“I don’t know, if I can live like that” Kasey said, looking away from Jared, who wished mightily that Jill was there to talk with Kasey.

“Kasey, the only thing I can say, is either you find a reason to live or you die. Life is pretty basic these days, none of the idiot bullshit that blinded most people to reality, no bills, no fake or enforced social order, just you, and your morals.” Jared said, as he limped towards the window where the sun was sliding down behind the mountains, casting long fingers of shadows across the river and the river valley.

She stood there feeling alone, depression hovering in the wings as she stared at his back. Wandering if she would find a reason to live outside of just eating.

she started to ask Jared another question but stopped when he held up a hand, his head cocked to one side, then she heard what had caught his attention, the sound of a Diesel engine.

They both stood at the window, watching as a Dump truck came down the road. head lights cutting thru the twilight. The undead horde which had paid little attention to the road, now split as some of the crowd around the house, and those still flowing down the tracks heading towards Hot Springs, turned and headed straight for the Dump truck.

“I hope you folks are ready for a lift out of there” Ori’s voice said in Jared’s Ear bud.

“I think its safe to say we are.” Jared said, as he tugged at the window.

“We are going to pull up to the edge of the roof, so you can hop into the bed.” Ori replied.

“sounds good to me, just don’t ask us to run downstairs to pick anything up you might have left.” Jared commented, as the window finally rose with the squeal of swollen wood on wood.

“what is that on the front” Kasey asked staring at the approaching dump truck before she hurriedly packed up the food that she had already take out of the bags.

“looks like grader blades welded into a cattle catcher” Jared said, as he watched the dump truck push into the mass of undead, some were crushed under its tires others were pushed aside by the blades. It was slow going but the Dump truck was like a juggernaut, there was nothing at this point that the undead could do to actually stop the truck.

A man climbed out of the passenger window, The undead went insane the moment he climbed out, a sea of raised arms and grasping hands, He climbed up to the top of the cab slipping once, one leg dangling dangerously close to the hands.

********

Eric swore heavily, as he yanked his leg up and away, a rotted hand almost grabbing his boot. He rolled over onto the roof of the Cab, and then climbed to his feet, thankful that Ori was driving so slowly. He gazed down at the upturned faces of the undead, shivering slightly at the realization that all those white eyes were fixed on him, teeth were snapping together in hungry anticipation. Turning away from the sight, he climbed into the Dump bed, pulling his rifle off his back.

He had made sure that metal ladders affixed to both sides and the front of the bed, so that the passengers could strap themselves to the ladders and shoot over the top of the bed if they had to. The only real threat, to those in the back was if the dump truck rolled over tossing them all out onto the ground, and that wasn’t likely to happen. He wanted to be in the back to help his Brother and the woman get down if they needed it.

Ori finally reached the driveway, and turned on it, thankful that he couldn’t see the carnage he was leaving behind him. Some people might have argued about taking the additional time to drive down to the drive way then head to the house, it was shorter to have turned off the road and cross the yard, but he was to worried about becoming stuck, so he had opted for the safest course.

He could see that Jared and Kasey were already pulling bags and other items out onto the roof. the light was fading fast now, in minutes it would be totally dark making the climb down into the dump bed harder, or it would if Eric wasn’t back there to help.

He angled up close to the porch, till the side of the dump truck was dragging along the edge of the roof, and the railings. When the front tire rose up, then crushed the steps. He stopped. instantly he could hear the undead beating against the Dump truck.

“Hurry it up, I really don’t want to hang around” Ori called out over the radio.

“you sure you don’t want to come inside for some Tea” Jared asked as he lowered Kasey down to the roof over the front porch, then worked quickly to get all the boxes and bags down with her before climbing down himself.

Kasey stayed near the wall of the second floor, sliding stuff to Jared who handed the items down to Eric. Others might have just let it slid right in, but there were jars inside some of the bags, and only an idiot would dent cans which was a good way to break the seals on them and spoil the food inside.

“lets hurry this up” Eric said, as he took a case of water.

“we aren’t leaving food Eric” Jared responded as he passed down another bag.

“Where is Rich” Kasey asked suddenly.

“up the road just out of sight of the house, we didn’t want the zombies swamping every one.” Eric replied, grunting as Jared almost dropped a second case of bottled water on his head.

They worked quickly as night settled over the valley but a distant western sky still glowed a soft purple and blue.

“hey, I hate to bring this up, but I see light down by the river” Ori said suddenly over the radio. Jared handed down last box of canned food, and looked towards the river and sure enough he could see light, and then suddenly a Vehicle cleared the mountain flak, then another, then another one. The vehicles spread out once they were clear of the Mountain flank, forming a line and began to roll over the undead that still milled down by the railroad tracks.

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

Calloway was irritated it had taken them much longer than expected to reach this point, the undead had been thicker than expected. But now they were out into the small valley, where they could actually maneuver and run down as many of the undead as possible.

“Hey boss, look up next to the house,” Dempsy, the brown nosing turd said. Calloway turned the remote turrets camera’s onto the House and frowned as he saw the Dump truck sitting there. He zoomed in and it appeared there were people on the roof, loading boxes into the back.

I be damned those assholes are looting right under my nose, he thought. Priority was to clear out as many undead as possible for the train to get through safely, he told himself, not waste fuel or ammo securing a building that probably doesn’t have much in it in the first place.

His eyes narrowed suddenly, supposedly only a woman stayed there, so who was driving the dump truck and who was on the roof, and what happened to the patrol he had sent out earlier. His first assumption had been they had run into the undead and either become trapped or were killed. But now, I bet its some of that red heads people, it would be to big a coincidence that another group of people would just show up and be clearing a house in the faithful’s territory the same day that convoy came thru.

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

Jared was taken totally by surprise when a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a M113 opened up. Kasey, screamed and fell, sliding past Jared, she was halfway off the roof, when Jared grabbed her wrist. Jared had been almost dead center of the Dump truck, Kasey had been up at the window where the foodstuffs had been, which had placed her just two feet past the end of the dump truck,

“ Hang on” He yelled, as she screamed again louder this time, terror filled that scream as something tugged her downwards. “ OH hell no” he roared as he twisted around, to get back on his back, and planted his feet on the lip of the dump bed to give himself something to brace on.

Kasey, tried to kick her trapped leg free, as teeth snapped at the sole of her boot. She also was kicking with the other leg trying to keep more hands from gasping her other ankle. Jared grip was like iron, but she could feel her wrist slipping a bit in his grasp. She gasped in agony at the pain as the thing pulled at her leg trying to get it low enough to bite into her flesh.

She looked up at Jared her terror filled eyes pleading, but there was nothing he could do, he held her with both hands, if he took one hand off to bring a weapon into play, she would be pulled out of his grasp.

His mind raced as he considered his options and realized he didn’t have any but to hang on, no matter how fast he was with that pistol, the odds were better that she would be torn from his grasp the moment he removed a hand. Damn it, I’m not letting her die, he snarled silently as he hunkered down and pulled using his back, then pushed with his legs, trying to stand, Anger and determination fueling him, pain washed through him. . “ Screw you, don’t care if you’re the Devil or not. Your not getting her.” he called out angrily to the darkness as his muscles strained, the image of Kasey’s leg ripping off flashed through his mind, but he refused to let go or slack off.

Eric saw his brother slowly rising up, fighting to keep his balance and to keep a grip on the girl, cussing steadily. The machine gun had opened fire again, but he had no idea where the bullets were going at the moment. Eric leaped up onto the stacked cases of water, and was able to get both arms and his head up over the back of the dump bed, just as Jared almost went down with Kasey. A second zombie had grabbed the girls foot and both zombies pulled. Jared almost went over but managed to throw his weight back while pulling and kept the womans flesh just out of reach.

Eric cursed as he fired, the first three rounds tore into one zombies shoulder, chest and then exited near its hip. He managed to get into a more natural position, even as the zombies arm ripped away from its body at the shoulder he had shot.

He smiled wolfishly as he put two rounds in its head, snapping a look at Jared who nodded at him almost imperceptibly in the light of the flash light clipped to the shoulder of his combat vest.

Eric fired again, dropping the second zombie then shot down a third as it lunged for the woman’s legs. Even as Jared pulled with all his strength, “not fucking this time, pus head” he shouted as the woman sailed up, and onto the roof. Jared wasn’t gentle he swung her around and let her slide into the Back of the dump truck, then leaped in after her. Just as more weapons fire erupted.

Three grenades from a Mk19 mounted on the remote platform on one of the strikers punched thru windows into the living room detonating one after another. The first two were HE rounds that actually killed about a 12 undead in their kill zone, the pressure wave ripped huge splinters out of the walls and sent them ripping thru more zombies, about half were knocked off balance and fell, tripping even more, One was a Willy P, or white phosphorus grenade, which lit up the interior of the house as the glowing white tendrils of smoke exploded outwards. It was almost pretty to look at, but where that smoke touched, burned. Fires broke out, as the old dry wood ignited. Zombies like people were not immune, the fine phosphorus particles would land on skin and clothing and begin to burn through.

. The wall separating the Living room from the old dining room, already weakened by machine gun fire, couldn’t take anymore as the HE’s tore into, it ripped away from the ceiling and floor in two pieces, one piece landed on furniture and ended up laying at an angle, an almost perfect ramp to what was left of the stair case. zombies, some smoking and on fire, still driven by hunger and the nearness of prey started up the new ramp.

Ori cursed, as he heard Kasey screaming, Jared shouting and a machine gun firing, he see the flashes like a fiery star burst, as it fired at the House. He ducked down, knowing it wouldn’t do any good that if fifty turned his way, unless they fired into the engine block which would kill the engine but not him.

The M113’s gunner seeing the flames thru the windows and the holes in the wall created by the Machine gun, smiled as he shifted his weapon and aimed for the tires of the dump truck. His first burst was low and to far forward, he hadn’t had a lot of practice with the thing, but god how he loved it. he adjusted and tried again, this time sparks flew and bits of bumper blew free, he adjusted again, and something struck the M113, the bullet punched thru the aluminum side, then through his waist before ripping out the other side. the gunner, still smiling tumbled back into the carrier, a second after his hips and legs hit the floor.

Martinez switching targets, this time centering on the massive heat bloom of the APC’s motor, Eric wouldn’t be pissed about using the limited ammo this time around, he thought as he took up the slack on the trigger and the 32 pound weapon fired again sending a 25mm shell into the engine killing it.

He peered thru the scope that was set to thermal and saw one of the Strykers remote platforms rotating and put a round into it right were the base met the body. A second round went into the drivers positon, and the Stryker suddenly veered out of the line it had been part of, rolling down and splashing into the river.

Ten rounds left he thought as he waited to see who made the next move.

“IN, in, go go go” Jared shouted over the radio, Ori didn’t need any sweet talking he threw the dump truck into drive, already turning. There were shouts in the back as he took out some of the railing and the porch poles with the back end, the porch roof sagged down over the bed, Ori slammed the pedal down.

Jared looked up at the sound of breaking glass, metal squealed on wood as the dump truck started pulling out from under the edge of the porch roof, A zombie tumbled out of the window, and then slid straight at Jared, who pushed Eric out of the way, his hand flashing as he drew the Mk 23, and put a bullet into its head. a second zombie climbed out, and tumbled towards them. Jared shot it too, but in the shoulder this time. It landed in the bed, teeth snapping as it tried to grab Jared’s Ankle. Above them a third zombie was pushed out the window by the crowd behind it. Jared put a bullet into the head of the one at his feet, and then shifted his aim, but held his fire as the third zombie slid off to one side and off the roof.

He could see smoke and flames in the upstairs bedroom, and then a fourth zombie appeared, light glowed out of many of the holes in its body, even its eyes seemed to shine with a white light. It slid down just as the dump truck pulled completely free and accelerated away. The zombie smacked into the ground, head first and didn’t move again.

The bed rang as some one shot the dump truck, then rang again. Ori winced as the windshield starred from a shot that came thru the passenger window and then passed thru the windshield. He didn’t stop, he just kept driving.

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

“let them go” Calloway ordered as the dump truck fled up the road, drawing some of the undead after it. “ we have a track to clear”

his people had exceeded his orders and wasted ammo yet again, his only plan had been to deny them the house, possibly even do enough damage the undead could get inside. Now he was down a M113, and the Stryker had a large hole in it, and its main weapon no longer functioned. He wanted a weapon like that one, wanted one badly.

“lets finish plowing the road, we can pick up the crew in the M113 when we are done.” He ordered. The line firmed back up and began to sweep south, behind them a bit of history burned on a hilltop, the fires of its destruction glittered off the River below.

Calloway watched the Dump truck till it vanished, he was going to put a boot up that bastards ass when he met him again he decided.

Jared slumped against the side of the dump bed, not even noting how uncomfortable it was, Kasey sat against the front as far from where the corpses had been as she could get, she had her arms wrapped around her knees and was crying.

“You okay” he asked after a moment. she nodded sniffing loudly, still crying.

“I… the… it was close” she finally got out.

“You sure your all right” Jared asked again,

“other than I seriously need to change my pants, I’m fine, I’m great. Wonderful even. Fuck I almost got eaten, we hardly ever saw a zombie till you showed up” she cried. “ and now I’ve seen a thousand or more and pissed my pants.” She turned an angry glare on Eric who had burst into laughter. “its not funny” she snapped.

“if that’s what it took for you to piss your pants, you’ve got a lot more balls than a lot of men I know” Eric replied still chuckling.

She was so angry now she had stopped crying, part of her realized that might be exactly why he was acting this way.

“it was a migration, or a sweep or what ever you want to call it” Jared said suddenly. “Ive seen it before. I’m betting they started off following behind the train, from one of the trips they made out of the mountains.” He didn’t say anything else, but he really believed that something had sent them up the tracks, to root out hot springs and possible catch Jared and his people. It was just a gut feeling, but he was pretty damn sure it was correct.

They stopped once they were past Walnut, pulling into a state rest stop. It only took a couple of minutes to unload all the supplies from the dump truck and transfer it to the scout. Ori walked around the Dump truck with a flashlight amaze at the damage it had taken that he hadn’t even noticed. Oil was leaking onto the ground from where the engine had been shot at least three times as well as bullet holes in various other places.

Kasey after changing pants in the back of the dump truck once every one else was out, had leaped to the ground and burst into fresh tears as she hugged Rich. After a minute or more of that Ori had gotten them into the back seat of the scout.

“Ill Drive, you get some damn sleep, you were up all night, and then all damn day today, so your benched” Ori told Jared as he climbed behind the wheel. “ and this is mine, all mine, any one else touches this scout and I’m going to nail their balls to the floor and push them around a room” Jared smiled crookedly, with no idea how exhausted it made him look, he was asleep a minute after they pulled out of the rest stop.

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

Cal Simms, was angry, any one that knew him well could tell by the tight controlled motions he used. his hand rested on the holster of his pistol as he glared at no one in particular and sat down at the table, in the old hotel.

“I want to know exactly what happened” he asked the fire in his eyes muted somewhat as he looked first at Hanson then Malone.

“Your man Sheamus, decided that Bubba was a liability and removed him from Command of that Redneck militia unit.” Hanson replied, that he didn’t like Sheamus was a given, and Mutual. No matter what his shortcomings might be, Hanson at least attempted to be a good commander of his men and their wagon train of friends and family.

“And neither of you did a thing to stop it” Simms asked his voice dangerously low, He looked across the Room to See Ivan, who shook his head minutely in warning.

“I’m sorry, I know you’re not responsible for His actions or the actions of Bubba’s men.” Cal said forcing himself to lean back in his chair, and look relaxed. He had know that Sheamus was bucking to take command of Bubba’s unit, and had been egged on by that Bitch Maggie and two of Bubba’s lieutenants.

Sheamus had moved to take the unit sooner than Simms had thought, but not by much. He had honestly expected him to do so when they got closer to the Terminal.

“Did he say where he was going” Cal asked calmly.

“Something about a campground, that has an old airfield that the red head used once before. Sheamus was really chomping to take him on.” Malone told him.

Cal shook his head, he didn’t know Jared, but from what little he did know and had learned about Jared Stone, there was no way that man would use the same place twice. Especially if it’s the camp where Bubba got his ass handed to him, earlier this year.

“he said he would meet back up with us, near the terminal.” Hanson offered, a slight grimace flashed across the mans lined and weathered face.

Cal resisted making any statements in anger that he might have to back up later, but Sheamus had more and more become untrustworthy, last June he would never have believed it, but now. hell last june he wouldn’t never have thought he would be back in the US attempting to set up his own little fiefdom.

First that nut case Williams had vanished, now Maggie and Sheamus were running around loose, and more ominously the dreams that had haunted him for so long, had all but stopped. He suspected that what ever that thing was, it had changed its plans and Cal Simms was no longer top of the list for Captian General of the Hordes of Hell. And that suited him just fucking fine. He gave it the mental finger, unaware of the ugly snarl that twisted his face for a moment.

Fighting and dying, no big shakes, fighting for a good cause, no big deal there either. Fighting for something he didn’t understand, and frankly scared the hell out of him, bothered him to no end.

And that was really the difference between Sheamus and Himself, Cal had no problems killing, not a single one. but the Legion had given him a code, and those he killed were legitimate targets, either strategically or tactically. Killing for fun and politics that was Sheamus, or the Sheamus that had been before the legion, but it seemed the terrorist in the man had never really left.

His thoughts turned to Maggie; she was on hell of a good-looking woman, even now, with out beauty salons, and fancy clothes. But there was something dark at her core, Cal had been wary of Maggie and her intense hatred of Jared, or sometimes it seemed that hatred was for some one else in Jareds group. what ever the case may be she had agitated for direct attacks on the man and his group almost since her first day with his people.

He shook of those thoughts, he would have to be careful and make plans for Sheamus’s ultimate betrayal. He knew it was coming no matter how much he wanted to deny it. Sheamus was changing, he was no longer the disciplined loyal soldier, but a neo Barbarian who lusted after destruction and death.

he suspected that things would come to a head at the Terminal. Probably when his forces were bogged down in combat with Jared, that’s when he thought Sheamus would make his move. And come hell or bowler hat wearing demons, he was going to be ready for that moment of betrayal.

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

The trip through the mountains was haunting to say the very least, Ori thought. They had driven thru Mars hill, on 213, then up 197 through several small towns. All but one had looked deserted, ghost filled towns whose empty black windows stared out over the silver splashed moonlit streets, Pensacola North Carolina had been different. Dead heads had been every where, Jared had woken up for a few minutes as Ori started laughing wildly at seeing a zombie stagger down the road, into the head lights, it wore a Grateful dead concert shirt.

They skirted Burnsville and Micaville by taking a gravel road that paralleled 19, it worked its way over a ridge till it connected to 80 and they turned south till they reached the Blue Ridge parkway and turned east again. by nine that evening they were on 181 heading south once more only a few miles from the camp, assuming Jill had set up camp by Smyrna church on Steele creek, like Jared had wanted to do. Anything could have stopped her, undead, people, even a pack of feral dogs.

Jona Ridge was called a town but it was only a small collection of buildings nestled between mountains, Ori spotted only a single zombie, oddly it appeared to be dressed as a priest, standing on the side of the road just watching them drive by, and only once the last vehicle had passed did it turn and began to stumble after them.

Cold springs was even smaller than Jona ridge, a town in name only really. As the headlights washed over the buildings along the side of the road, Ori could see smashed windows, partially collapsed roofs, and bashed in doors.

He glanced over at Jared, who still slept beside him. Occasionally his lips moved as if he were talking to someone, that creeped Ori out, considering what dreams were like these days he wondered which dead person Jared was talking to.

They were close to where the camp should be, and he felt the urge to speed up to get there faster. His eyes felt scratchy, he needed to get these contacts out and get his glasses back on, and more importantly he just wanted to be around people again. numbers meant safety. And he was tired, more tired than he had ever been in his life.

The moment he got back to Sullivan he was going to stay put, hopefully Jared wouldn’t want to leave again on some mad scheme to find more survivors, because Ori might just have to let him go out alone, He didn’t want to leave Beth again for so long.

Jared sat up suddenly looking around. “ something’s wrong at the camp” he said with out a trace of sleep in his voice.

“we are maybe ten miles away” Ori commented as he felt the tension rolling off Jared in waves.

Ori responded by speeding up as much as he could safely achieve. The road wasn’t packed full of rusting wreckage and stalls like larger more traveled roads, but there were enough that he had weave around them on occasion.

He loved the mountains he really did, but these days driving on a road like this with mountains rearing to either side, the darkness was almost a tangible thing. the road rose up onto the flank of a mountain, to about 1400 feet or so then leveled off.

Then it left the flank to run along a ridge top before descending towards the valley and the camp came into view, lit by flood lights, the wink of muzzle flashes could be seen.

“Fall back behind us” Eric said over the radio. Ori didn’t ask Jared he just slowed letting the ELSORV race past, one the SF men on the SAW.

“whats going on” Kasey asked from the backseat, having woken up and saw the distant lights.

“it looks like the camp is under attack” Ori replied wanting to curse at having taken so long to get back here.

Ed, stood on top of the LAV shooting down at the mass of undead clawing at the sides of the vehicle. He slung his empty rifle and drew his pistol, sighted on a zombie, it had once been someone’s grandmother, maybe the little kid zombie at her side. Her bufont hairstyle matched her fiftys style dress, both decades out of date.

He wasn’t sure what it said about the man he had become when he wasn’t even bothered by the sight of the back of her had exploding or how easily he dealt with shooting the child next to her. Oh it would haunt him but he didn’t even hesitate any longer to put it down.

There was more gunfire from the church, where some of the group had holed up when that bastard Darrin had opened the wooden gate. Daws and his people had managed to get to the LAV but couldn’t bring the fifty into play with out hitting any of the other vehicles. Which was pretty much the same reasons the SAW mounted on the pintle wasn’t in play.

Ed wiped the sweat from his eyes, and blinked as a zombie suddenly sprouted an arrow in its eye and fell over into the crowd. He looked over and saw Lany wiggling out of one of trapdoor set into the floor of the platform on the roof of the Custom RV, Garret, a full quiver on his thigh was drawing back his bow again sighting on another ghoul.

Lany finally on the platform closed the trap door and scooped up her own bow, as Garret sent another arrow winging into the crowd at the doors of the Church.

There were about a hundred of the damn things left Ed estimated, as he passed his Rifle down thru the hatch, and Steger passed up his own Hk 93.

Ed checked it over for a moment, then slung it so he could reload his pistol, as he was placing the magazine back in the well of the glock, he saw lights coming down the road.

Music suddenly blared out into the night, and horns began to honk. Some of the undead inside and many of those still outside the ring of vehicles turned and began to head towards the approaching lights and noise.

It had to be Ori, he thought as he recognized Brittany spears voice, Jared must be ready to shoot him, Ed thought with a laugh. Garret and Lany were pouring their arrows into the fray, both were excellent shots, at least when they had a safe place to fire from and could take their time with aiming, the numbers around the door were already thinned out quite a bit.

Ed lifted Stegers weapon to his shoulder and began to fire single shots at the zombies below him. They were to close to for him to miss, and he made the most of it. the motors of the approaching vehicles had gotten louder, and after a moment he could hear the snap of bones, and the hollow sounds of skulls popping. As the undead were run down, then gunfire, and the sound of a SAW distinctive in the night as it opened up outside the camp.

A Red scout with a black top and doors, barreled into the camp plowing over zombies, striking a group, bones snapped and flesh tore, as the impact sent most of them flying to land tumbling into others.

Instantly the others in the camp turned and surrounded the Scout that sat idling, Jared shooting from the passenger door. and then the as ELSORV plugged the hole in the camp wall, the scout suddenly leaped forward clearing a narrow lane of fire for the Gunner on the ELSORV to fire into a crowd of Dead heads. The gunner aimed low blowing off legs, sending bodies tumbling, then raked his fire back across the squirming bodies, many stopped moving, the gunner let off the trigger as the surviving undead crawled forward only to have the heavy Scout back over them, then pull forward and then back up again.

Ed, tried not to wince at the sounds, there was nothing like it in the world. And he knew that sound would haunt him for the rest of his life. The Scout had created a large hole in the undead around the scout, a cleared area twenty feet around the vehicle, and with so many of the undead trying to get to into the RV, the Church, and other vehicles, where people sheltered and shot carefully into the mass, it left a much smaller group of undead that broke away from the rest to turn and start towards the Scout.

The closest knot of Undead to the scout had about twelve zombies in it, they moved at a slow jog towards the scout, intent on getting at the soft juicy flesh inside the vehicle.

Hearing Ori shout Ed’s attention returned to the scout, and saw Jared had climbed out, Tomahawks in hand, he looked angry, angrier than Ed had ever seen him. And lord fuck a duck that boy could move Ed thought as he watched Jared blow thru the group of undead like a bloody tornado, with Ori right at his side, Ori cursing steadily as he used a machete in one hand and Hatchet in the other. Eric and his team, exited the ELSORV, and moved right behind Jared and Ori protecting their flanks.

As soon as the last zombie in the first small group fell, Jared shoved his tomahawks into his belt and as if by magic his pistol appeared in his hands, he began to fire at the zombies that had turned and were now bearing down on them. his fire barely even stopped as he popped a spent magazine and slapped in full one.

Ori grinned mirthlessly as Jared chanted “no, no, no,” in time with his shots, zombies were falling, but the crowd was growing, as more and more zombies realized that there were people out in the open, and they just kept getting closer. And then the church doors opened, and Jill stepped out rifle in hand, followed by the others, they ran to the left behind the zombies towards the RV, shouting and shooting into the air drawing off some of the undead, and allowing those in the RV to shoot into the mess for a moment.

Steger climbed up to Join Ed, then Rob, the three men began to firing down into the crowd beside the LAV, as Jill’s group slung their rifles and drew their hand weapons and waded into the approaching zombies. It devolved into a swirling mass of combat, Ed, Steger and Rob had shot enough that bodies were piled up against the side of the LAV.

Jared holstered his Pistol, as the numbers finally began to thin, and drew his Tomahawks again, and began to weave around zombies crippling them first before dancing back and then lunging in to bust skulls open, this time choosing a safer way to kill them than the close combat he had just engaged in moments before.

Hector slipped in gore and goo, as he tried to dodge a zombie and then was screaming as a dead head dropped on him, teeth ripping into the meat of his shoulder, he crushed the side of its head in with his bare fist, then in a berserker rage waded into the others swinging his axe steadily. Another managed to tear a chunk out of his forearm, but he seemed not to notice as he waded thru them with no care or concern now, he was a dead man walking and knew it, As the last zombie fell, Hector turned and smiled at Ily, who had leaped from the Rv and was running towards him. She skidded to a halt as he drew his pistol and put it to the side of his head and pulled the trigger.

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

Jared sat in a chair, as Justin examined the wound in his thigh that had ripped open and began to bleed again while he was fighting, Jill torn between wanting to hug him and kill him, tore him a new ass for leaping out like that.

Eric sat nearby, snickering occasionally to see his big brother being told what was what. That was about the extent of the humor that night; four people had died during the attack including Darrin, who had let the undead inside.

Jeb, was taking it hard, not understanding how he could have failed to locate almost two hundred zombies.

Shortly after they had the camp erected the undead had just appeared out of the darkness, and surrounded the camp, pawing and scratching. Things had been under control, till Darrin had walked over to the gate fitted between two vehicles, no one had even suspected what was coming till he was screaming about Humans time on earth was finished, and how they were all dead, even if they were still breathing, Jack and Benny had been closest to him, and had rushed to stop him, but it had been far to late, they were only feet away when the undead, who had gathered at the gate pushed thru, swarming over Darrin who had died screaming, and then brought down Jack and Benny as they tried to escape, but they were to close to the undead and were dragged down in seconds.

Ed had pointed out that this wasn’t the first time, that a swarm had seemingly appeared out of no where. But Jeb hadn’t really accepted that, he blamed himself for those deaths.

And no one could even begin to find the answers to what had made Darrin snap, killing himself and three others.

Jared was sure he knew what had caused it, not every one had the good kind of dead people showing up in their sleep, he didn’t say anything though, he wasn’t feeling to forgiving himself today.

so Jared saw no reason to stamp out the anger at the traitors actions, why should he, Jared had lost people, people he had sworn to protect, and even worse, he could have lost Jill. No matter what Darrin’s reasons had been, if Darrin had lived through his treason Jared would have hunted him down and gutted him.

On top of the grief and anger of the three men who had died, Jared had been seriously shocked to find out that others had died getting across that damn bridge. More blood on his hands, more lives lost because of his failure to find another way to handle a situation.

a furry head suddenly pushed against his arm, and a paw slapped at his hand. Jared almost smiled, as he reached over and rubbed the dogs head, that simple action made him feel slightly better.

“okay, I wont waste my time telling you to take it easy” Justin said as he packed up his gear. “when the stitches get torn out, come back and Ill try to patch you up again. but we only have so many supplies” Justin said, resigned to the fact that Jared would leap into combat the first chance that presented itself. he only hoped the idiot didn’t make a minor, if painful wound into something more serious.

“I promise Ill try to take it easy,” Jared said

“He damn sure will or I will let Mary loose on his ass” Jill promised, and it sounded like she meant it.

Ori foresaw a lot of spankings in Jared’s future, who knew he might enjoy it.

“Where are Kasey and Rich” Jared asked looking around.

“I had Mai Linn get them in the RV, and get some food into them and into clean clothes.” Jill told him, the she took pity on him and kissed him on the forehead. “if you ever, ever do this to me again, I swear Ill kill you if your not dead, and Ill kill you if you are”

Ori shook his head, and turned away. Almost smiling till his eyes fell on the three freshly dug graves, Jared had refused to bury Darrin, in fact he had personally pitched the mans body out to lay with the corpses of the undead they had cleared from the camp.

What this one even had done, was weaken the trust they had in each other. Now in the back of every ones minds, was the constant worry that the man or women next to them might betray them and that, he believed was the whole point. Jared had said several times, he suspected that all evil truly wanted to was to destroy peoples hope and trust, so people would degenerate into wild lawless assholes who killed each other at the drop of a hat over anything and nothing, some of course would just give up and die, others would take as many as they could with them.

He could just see some nut job, finding a Nuke and pulling a Trashcan man job on his neighbor. Not something he wanted to think about, not till he had gotten some sleep, it had been over 24hrs since he had slept. As if on cue he yawned, “I’m going to sleep in my, Yes my scout, do not bother me even if the world ends again” Ori said as he headed for the scout, almost staggering the last few feet as the long held at bay exhaustion finally caught up with him.

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

Jared sat up in the bed of the RV, looking around, and found himself alone. He swung his leg over the edge and stood easily, stopping suddenly his eyes narrowing as he realized there was no pain, no tightness in his thigh. “Damn I hate dreaming this shit” he muttered as he looked around, the door opened and he almost cried as he saw Steve step into the Bedroom, smiling sadly.

“oh jesus brother not you too” Jared said as he fell back to sit on the bed..

“don’t take it to badly Jared, it had to happen. The infection was too bad, but man it was my honor to ride along with you, my best man, best friend and my brother.” Steve said as he sat beside Jared. “and I got to see my son born and hold him before I died. and that was a gift from god or what ever you want to call the good guy.” He paused for a moment, then looked into Jared’s eyes “I want you to promise me Jared, that when you get back, you keep Sharon and Bridget and our kids safe. And you tell my son, I was proud as hell to see him born safe and whole and I Love him. You tell him that Jared.”

Jared for the first time since Little Billy Thornton, found himself crying, “I promise you Ill do my best to keep them safe Steve. And Ill tell him Steve, Ill tell him all about you, My word on it brother.”

“that’s all I needed to hear Jared, You know, I’m going to miss this, not the undead or the whole evil vs good thing, but the rest of it. You’re a good man Brother, and Jill is something special. Maybe more than you’ll ever know.” Steve smiled and clapped Jared on the back. “Seems like its time for me to go, not really looking forward to it, but sooner or later the Dirty Dozen will be together again and maybe we can kick back and do some hiking and camping on the other side with out the undead being there to piss in our cheerios.”

Jill wasn’t sure why she woke up, she set up on her elbows hearing something, it took her a moment to realize it was Jared, tears streaming down his cheeks, as he slept. Nibbler was sprawled at his side her large head resting on his chest watching her person with concern. Jill debated on waking him up, when she felt something like a hand softly stroke her hair, there was a presence in the room that vanished as fast as it came, but she knew who it had been and felt her own eyes grow wet.

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

it stood in the darkness, hidden in a clump of trees, watching the camp, its white eyes focused on the RV. After a while it turned and began to walk, its thin legs moving with a purpose, that any one seeing it would have noted was different than other undead.

Oh it had been thwarted many times now, but it had still succeeded, hope was such a fleeting thing. its thin cracked lips parted in a smile, that bared filed down pointed teeth. Its over large oddly shaped head bobbed on its to thin neck.

Things were changing, synapses long disused were starting to fitfully fire, memories flashed through its mind like lightening. stark white memories of death and slaughter it had reveled in, Its time was finally coming around, and it would revel in blood, celebrate in flesh, and slaughter those who had long opposed it, it had been promised. Jasper Evan Brown was being reborn.

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