Chapter Thirty Four, Epilogue

Epilogue 2012 -2022

“Where forlorn sunsets flare and fade
On desolate sea and lonely sand,
Out of the silence and the shade
What is the voice of strange command
Calling you still, as friend calls friend
With love that cannot brook delay,
To rise and follow the ways that wend
Over the hills and far away?

Hark in the city, street on street
A roaring reach of death and life,
Of vortices that clash and fleet
And ruin in appointed strife,
Hark to it calling, calling clear,
Calling until you cannot stay
From dearer things than your own most dear
Over the hills and far away.

Out of the sound of the ebb-and-flow,
Out of the sight of lamp and star,
It calls you where the good winds blow,
And the unchanging meadows are:
From faded hopes and hopes agleam,
It calls you, calls you night and day
Beyond the dark into the dream
Over the hills and far away”

~William Ernest

April 10th, 1100hrs Sullivan Island.

Every one on the island turned out, filling area around the open gates that guarded the only bridge to the mainland. They didn’t have to wait long for the long awaited convoy to roll across the bridge honking their horns, men and women waving from the windows of the vehicles as they rolled onto the Isle of Palms. As soon as the last vehicle was through the gates, the convoy stopped and the survivors climbed out and were almost crushed as the crowd surged forward.

Jared smiled softly as he watched loved ones, friends and even casual acquaintances reunite. This was what VE day had been like only time ten, Jared thought as he reached over and touched Jill’s growing belly. “Sharon and Bridget are going to love this” Jared remarked.

Jill glanced into the back of the van, where Ronny, Mary, Beth, Ori, Logan and mike rode “if you make one comment, about my breast feeding the new nation I swear I will castrate you.” Jill warned Ronny. Who only grinned. “its okay Mary can get the job if you don’t take it, she has gotten huge” he said then winced as Mary slapped the back of his head, hard.

Jill had grown to, she had made Jared stop three different time to try to find new bras that actually fit, she had gained two cup sizes in a month, it was unreal. Jared loved it but he didn’t have to carry the damn things either.

“I’m warning you too, “ she said turning on Jared. “if you think I’m going to turn into a baby machine, because Bridget and Sharon love having babies, you can think again Jared.”

“How ever many you want is fine by me” Jared said, then grimaced as the crowd started chanting “ speech, speech.”

“You are so saved by the crowd” Jill said with a smile.

“Thank god” Jared muttered with a laugh as he climbed out of the Van, as the silence rippled outwards in the crowd he climbed the ladder mounted to the side of the van and stood on the cargo carrier. . He took a moment, smelling the sea, soaking in the bright blue sky and the palm trees along the boulevard that swayed gently in the ocean breeze. this was home, he thought feeling a deep longing to get back to the huge home the council had shoved on he and Jill.

He didn’t know half the faces upturned faces that looked at him, which was strange. And there were more soldiers in uniform in that crowd than there had been. What did he expect he had been gone since November of last year, things change and lately for the better. He spotted Tucker who stood there with his arms around his son and daughter. Jared could remember the moment Tucker had come paddling up to his camp in a battered canoe, more worried about the undead getting his kids than meeting some racist jerk off. Lucky for him, it had been Jared’s camp. He waved at Tucker and grinned, even as he spotted more faces he knew.

“We are waiting” some one called out, there was laughter from the crowd.

“Sorry, to be honest I was just enjoying seeing you people again” Jared said, a brief cheer went up then every one grew silent once more.

“I am going to make this short, to be honest no amount of words would ever express the loss we suffered in DC or the grief we feel for those who died, Just as no word can describe the Joy I know every one of us felt on March 3rd, at 1633 hrs when the dead fell over. No I have no idea what happened to the dead, other than it was the trinity who were responsible” He paused and a smile spread across his face. “I’m edging out of the short speech, no surprise right” he said as more laughter rose up. “I can tell you this, from DC, to here, over into West Virginia, and up to the farm and Cherokee in Tennessee and South Carolina, not a single zombie has been since. Its over, and that’s all the really needs to be said other than its good to be home at long last.” Jared said as the cheers rose and shook the sky. He could see people crying at the news, deep down they had feared that he would tell them the dead till walked in other place, they hadn’t wanted to let themselves believe, to let hope take them only to have it destroyed later.

There were people crying in the crowd, truth to tell he felt the same way every time he thought about it being over. “I have only one thing left to say, Its damned good to be home.” he called out and jumped down from the van as the crowd went wild. It was their home now, and they would do their best to make it the safest and best home they could.

By the time they reached the Castle, the home that the council had insisted Jared take as a gift last winter, a small crowd had gathered there as well.

Mai Linn, massively pregnant and beaming clung to Jeb the minute he climbed out of the ELSORV. Linda and Jason, couldn’t stop shaking hands and hugging every one.

Katy was so overjoyed she tackled Lew before he could take two steps from the truck he had rode back in.

Eric Stone stepped out of the HumVee, dressed, for the first in a very long time, in jeans and T shirt. He looked around at the crowd, his smile dimmed when he didn’t see who he was looking for, then he saw her. Kat, her hair longer than he remembered stepped out from behind Mattie and Kevin and ran at him. she leaped the last foot or so and wrapped her arms and legs around Eric, laughing and crying. “God I missed you” he said hoarsely as he hugged her tightly.

They clung to each other not wanting to let go, then Ronny in his usual Ronny fashion broke the moment.

“Kat if you don’t climb off of Eric, your going to be pregnant before we get inside” Ronny called out laughing, only just barely dodging the Gibb slap Mary and Jill aimed at him. Kat unwrapped herself from Eric, and blushed. Eric just grinned at his older brother.

Jared smiled as Jeff Sloan, almost broke two of his ribs with an enthusiastic hug. There were others there, old friends and new, and so many who were missing. But watching the kids, who buried Ori and Beth in a pile of hugging and crying bodies with Mr. Spots the dog leaping around them, that brought a tear to his eyes. The kids that had been kidnapped and survived, were right there with the others, hugging their friends and laughing and the weight they had born from their capture was finally gone.

The days after their return, turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months. Life became more normal, and the island thrived. Mary gave Birth to a baby boy, that they named Ronny Junior. Not long after Beth gave birth to Ori’s first natural child, Ori not one for giving to much praise to any one, named the boy Jared Clayton. Jared couldn’t stop grinning for a week.

Logan, married Sarah and she began to teach others how to fly, including Logan, the damage to his shoulder put an end to his days of being a fighter. They had a daughter eight months later who would be a heart breaker with her mothers looks and her dads hair and olive complexion.

By the end of Summer, The men and women of the FOB Eric had been posted to, arrived in a long line of trucks and hum vees, they settled on the Old Golf Course on the North end of the Isle of Palms, for a week helicopters came and went ferrying supplies from their old location.

The crops came in and it was like Nature, god or who ever was making up for what they had gone through, it was a bumper crop the storage buildings were bursting at the seams.

The steam train carrying a delegation from Sullivan traveled back to Hot springs, securing a deal with the small community for coal in exchange for supplies and some help.

Simms became one of the most loved men on the island when he showed up with cattle trailers, filled with cattle. Cows, pigs and even some goats. He dropped them off, had a private conversation with Jared, then left to meet the Legion at Myrtle Beach.

By August, Jillian Stone had given birth to Caleb Eric Stone, and the celebration, much to Jared’s embarrassment spread across the island and beyond.

0100hrs Sullivan island Medical clinic.

It was quiet in the Medical clinic, every one but a nurse and Blaine were asleep. Jared opened the door to the room that had been turned into a nursery and walked over to the stand beside the crib or what ever medical folks called the thing. he stared down at the tiny baby, with his puffy red face and tiny clenched hands. Wonderingly he touched Calebs cheek with his finger. “Thank you for this” he said to the air, “I know I still have a price to pay, but thank you for the extra time with out the dead” he said tears of joy running down his face as he gazed at his son. Who yawned and kicked his feet. “in the end, you and your mother are what I fight for.” Jared said as he looked at his son.. Son, a word that was as small as the child before him and yet as huge as the world Jared loved. He sat down in the chair beside his son and eventually fell asleep, where Blaine found him the next morning, one large hand resting on the blanket beside his son.

The year faded into Christmas which was a magical time for every one, for once was there was enough power being generated that some could be diverted to the lights and decorations that the island went all out on. From the shores and on the water, it glowed with a thousand colored lights like mythical Hyboria, or the land of the Fairy. .

The next spring, a US Navy destroyer sailed into Charleston Harbor, and Sullivan finally found out what had happened to the ships that those mysterious transmissions had come from

What was left of the US Navy, as well as some of the British navy, Cruise ships, cargo ships and other sea going craft had ended up in the Bahamas. The Marines both US and UK had cleared one of the smaller islands and many of the survivors had moved ashore where they still lived. Over the coming months, other small craft would arrive in Charleston ferrying Navy personnel who spent a little time on Sullivan before setting out to return home hoping to find family and friends.

During all of this, more survivors were appearing, not only in and around Sullivan but all along the coast settling in the ruins of small towns. With the dead gone, they were no longer driven to follow the signs that had been leading them to Sullivan island, now they stopped where ever looked good to them and built new lives for themselves. They still made contact with the one place that had called them on like a beacon during the dark times Sullivan, the place that had given them hope, that things might be all right and the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The farms on Sullivan spread out to Mt. Pleasant where more new arrivals began to settle in old town, along side the USS Yorktown’s survivors who were still lead by Dean. To say they were overjoyed with finally being able to leave the old Carrier that had been their home for years would have been an understatement.

Ben Cross along with a hundred men and women, all volunteers were sent to DC, where they would help protect the museums and the survivors in DC who had worked a deal with Jared to protect the old world knowledge, while Jared sent food and people who could help them get their feet under them.

In the coming years, the professionals, chemists, engineers, computer experts and the like, that had been part of Brody’s group traveled to Sullivan where they taught classes at the fledgling university. Those that had thought the idea daft began to change their minds as the knowledge spread and the students began to use their knowledge to improve conditions. It would be a long time before the small changes cascaded into huge changes, but no one doubted know that they or their grand kids would see at least some of the world they remembered come back to stay.

Year Two

The East coast of the former the former US was a network of small communities, connected by crumbling roads and the boats, mostly out of Sullivan that prowled up and down the coast line all the way to Maine and as far south as Florida.

Year three brought new challenges, and raiders who struck at some of the smaller communities under Sullivan’s Protection. Jill Holding Caleb, watched Jared leave the island for the first time since returning from DC, comforted only by the fact that Nibbler, Ori and Ronny went with him.

Using diplomacy and force of arms, Sullivan ended the threat of the current crop of raiders by fall. But raiders were a fact of life now, and the threat would persist for years to come.

Year four. Sullivan island.

Jared sat in the grass in front of Sharon and Bridget’s home, watching Caleb as he ran naked from Jill, Caleb had no interest in potty training, he wanted to play with the other kids his age. Who all shrieked and ran laughing from the naked terror chasing them.

“I never thought I would live to see this” Ronny said then burst out laughing as Jill ate dirt trying to grab Caleb. “He has your reflexes” Ronny commented.

“No just my will not to get caught” Jared said with a laugh as Jill glared at him.

“You could help” she said.

“I know but this is more fun than I’ve seen in years” Jared called back.

“Your number one Jared” Jill said, instead of flipping him the finger.

She finally caught Caleb, and carried him back to inside as the men applauded.

“You know I’m going to pay for all that” Jared told his friends.

“I know that’s why I clapped” Ronny replied with a Laugh. “Speaking of kids ,” Ronny said with a grin that meant he was about to have some fun “Ori, I thought I would tell you what makes women pregnant. Since Beth is pregnant again, this is what the fifth time, I figure you don’t know the cause yet.”

“We don’t French kiss, but that doesn’t seem to work” Ori said innocently, his eyes drifting to the street, where he saw several people heading towards them. “I be damned” he said rising. Jared looked and then smiled as he too rose and stand beside Ori.

“I didn’t think you family ever left town” Jared said as Ori’s Uncle buck, his Father, Jesse his brother and several others of the clan stepped into the yard smiling. “These are the only ones who ever did” Ori said with something close to wonder, then he was greeting his family and shaking hands.

Ori’s family spent two months on the island before regretfully heading back to the Family hollow in Tennessee. Jesse would return to Sullivan and eventually marry a girl on the island while helping his brother perfect his whisky and ethanol plans.

July 4th, 2016 Sullivan island

It still amazed Jared how many of the old Holidays people wanted to hang on to. He walked down the street, waving to the people who had gathered in their yards to throw BBq’s and party. Though there wasn’t as much food as there once had been, but the return of pot luck dinners for event like this meant there was still a pretty large spread put out at every party.

The holidays he knew were not only celebrated because of nostalgia but because every one needed a break from the daily grind of farming, clearing, scavenging and patrolling the few roads in use off the island. There were only two really solemn holidays, Jun 23rd and Memorial day, people now understood what it meant, they had lost to many and gone through too much not to understand.

Reaching Robs shop, he walked through the open roll up door and found Rob standing beside a Ford F150 putting his tools away. In the bed of the truck was a barrel looking device with pipes sticking out of it that ran into the floor of the bed and vanished from sight.

“So what’s up, what’s so important you called me away from Ori’s BBq and whiskey party.” Jared asked eyeing the truck. “A party you should be at, I hear that Bridget found a guy she wants you to meet.”

Rob grinned for a second then patted the side of the truck. “this was more important to be honest, besides after I show you this I’m heading over there”

“Okay it’s a truck, lets go” Jared replied.

“It’s a truck that doesn’t need gas” Rob stated. “look, we have coal for the train and thanks to Jill’s designs I was able to build the stuff that takes coal and makes kerosene aka AV gas for the planes and helicopters we use, limited quantities I admit but more than we would have with out it.

But what we didn’t have is the fuel for basic transportation, which I admit we don’t need much of on the island, but the farmers need trucks, as well as tractors and so do the teams clearing Charleston and other places.”

Jared nodded, in order to build the things to rebuild and to keep their tech base from sliding to far down they had to gather parts, tools, equipment and machinery. But time was against them every year that passed saw more old world stuff being wrecked by nature, it was important that they come up with a way to keep needed vehicles running to recover as much as possible.
All the military vehicles they still used could run off of damn near anything, Semi’s were running off of bio fuel they were making from the set up at the college campus near the Terminal with a new bio fuel facility being set up on Sullivan but there still wouldn’t be a lot of fuel left for anything that wasn’t Critical.

“well this solves part of our problem, and as soon as we have a way to work large amounts of steel, I plan adding steam engines to Semi’s, combines, tractors and even boats but for smaller vehicle this…”

“Rob get to the point before I shoot you and go eat” Jared laughed.

“Fine,” Rob said exasperated then pointed to the drum like device in the trucks bed “This is a gasifier. We only need wood, dried dung, and other things to burn in and it will run a vehicle” Rob said.

“You could have just said that when I walked in the door and saved us both time and hunger.” Jared said. Rob grinned and opened the drivers door.”let me fire her up and you can drive us over the BBq”

“Now your talking” Jared said with a grin.

Minute later they were rolling out of the Shop, and heading down the road, people came to the curbs to watch the truck roll by Rob waving like a madman and yelling out the window he should be able to make enough for every one to be driving again.

“Just a thought Rob, but we cant let every one drive around, this island will bare of plant life in a month if we do” Jared said as he pulled into the driveway and park, the smell of BBq filled the air.

“we can get the wood from the mainland, it doesn’t take a lot. These things are efficient and Jill promised to help me improve the performance.

Jared clapped Rob on the shoulder “ good job Rob, now why don’t we get to the BBq, you have a man to meet remember.”

Year Five. The Castle, Sullivan island

The first warnings came from Simms, who had encountered a band of Raider who were well led, well trained and armed to the teeth. What bothered Simms the most was the motto the raiders had painted on the side of the only building they didn’t burn to the ground, it was a line from Faust, written in Cyrillic.

Jared didn’t say anything to anyone but Ori and Jansen about it. “Mikhail is back” he said hading Ori a wrinkled and faded piece of paper. Ori read it silently then passed it to Jansen who frowned. “The war with the Dark wont be over till he and I are dead.” Jared said then shrugged. “All I ever asked for was to be able to live long enough to see my kid grow up some, I got that” Jared said.

”Don’t start that again Jared, your not destined to die” Ori said almost angrily.

“No not yet, got a few more things to do first” Jared said actually smiling. “and you two are not going to repeat that to anyone. Not to Jill, not to Ronny, not to anyone got it.”

Ori hesitated then nodded in agreement, hoping Jared would forget this whole thing in a year. But he had feeling Jared wouldn’t..

“Good, now then down to business,” Jared said as he led them across the large room and out onto the veranda where flowers were blooming and bees droned lazily around the garden.

Jared took a deep breath, smiling as he heard Caleb screaming about something not being fair. “First Ashton liked your idea about the Pathfinders, so you and Eric had better have a training program ready to roll out.”

Ori nodded again “ had it before we even talked to you,.” Ori said, not mention that he and Eric had been training and sending out Volunteers for almost two year now, using the volunteers experience to help them focus on essential areas of training for when it went official

“Figured you did” Jared said grinning. “Logan wants to volunteer, he thinks his shoulder could deal with stress. Make sure he passes, Ashton has already promised me he will use Logan for things like flying in and doing final negations with settlements and supply drops, or doing runs to settlements in fairly calm areas. I know it goes against the gain to cheat even for a friend but we both know Logan is good, even with a bum shoulder and he by god deserves a little more than he has gotten since we got back.”

“I know and I agree, but if he doesn’t quite measure up to the physical standards I plan on telling him that he failed that portion and then telling him, he can still become a pathfinder on limited duty, intel gathering, negotiations like you said, and courier work but I wont help him get killed Jared by having him go out on a mission he cant deal with.”

“I completely agree” Jared said then turned to Jansen. “how’s the new platoon working out” he asked.

“Nicely, they are hell of a good group of men and women, I take it your wanting to use them then.” Jansen said.

“Yes, I want you to come with me, we are going hunting raiders, Simms has left a patrol out to meet us and show us where the raiders have been, hopefully we can catch them in the act and wipe them out..”

“I’m going too” Ori stated.

“No, your staying here. You have what thirty kids and a bunch of junior alcoholics who need you.”

Ori started to protest then fell silent, Jared wasn’t going to budge on this and he knew it. “Okay but if your not back in a month, I’m going to come looking for you.”

“That should be easy, Sarah is flying us in on that C 130, that Tucker got running. so you wont have to drive to find us.”

“We have the fuel to run that thing” Ori asked.

“Yes just barely, we are also flying in supplies for Simms, so its not just carrying us.” Jared said

“good or the council will scream about it” Ori said, it was a given that anything that Jared did was guaranteed to rile up half the council on any given day. One of the jokes was about the council getting upset about how many times a day that Jared used the outhouse.

In a way Ori didn’t blame them, they lived under Jared’s shadow, and even though Jared refused to play politics or run for election, most of the original survivors would throw out Jared would do this or that during a council meeting totally infuriating some of the council.

Jared would dispute the wilder things he was supposed to be behind. Like the bullets for bra’s idea, Ori still didn’t understand exactly what the supporters had been hoping to achieve, unless it was braless women or maybe bras made out of bullets.

“let them scream, I’m tired of the idiots. At least they have no option but to uphold the constitution, or who knows what they would come up with.” Jared said.

“Maybe a crown for some one with red hair” Jansen said with a smile.

“yeah me as a king, that’s about as stupid as making Ronny a bouncer at a strip club” Jared said then broke into a smile as Caleb ran out onto the veranda. He was wearing the batman costume he had become obsessed with, and rarely took it off. “Where’s you mom?” He asked the grinning child.” You didn’t lock her in a closet again did you”

“Nope” Caleb said, and tried to dart past Jared who snatched his son up as fast as he had ever drawn the pistol he wore on his thigh.

“Where is your mother?” he asked ignoring Ori and Jansens laughter.

“Bathroom” Caleb said his grin growing so wide it almost split his face.

Jared sighed, Caleb seemed to love trapping Jill in closets, pantries and now apparently the bathroom. “Little man, you and I are going to have a long talk about what you and Batman can do during your crime fighting sprees, starting with your mom is not a bad guy just because she makes you eat Broccoli.”

“is too” Caleb said dangling from under Jared’s arm.

Ori watched, still smiling. It was good to see Jared like this, he thought. as Jared carried Caleb into the huge house to find his wife.

August 12th, Near Sparta South Carolina.

Jared moved quickly across the street, avoiding the bones that lay scattered all over. He ducked behind a rusting truck that sat on its rims its tires rotting off, HK ready for action. He ignored his aching knees and the twinge in his back. he was damn sure getting to old for this crap.

There were two clicks in his ear bud, he nodded and popped his head out to look around the back of the truck. He spotted two men standing guard, in front of a two story 19th century red brick building that had been a home back in its early day. There was a faded sign that Jared couldn’t read, but at some point the home had become a business.

There were five vehicles, parked along one side of the building, that the raiders were using. The vehicles were not covered in years worth of grime and leaves and bird poo and stood out like a sign had been posted in front of them.

He glanced back down the street, and saw Jansen, in full battle rattle crouched behind a school bus. He flashed a V then pointed to the building, Jansen nodded then sent a squad down a side street.

Jared was tempted to ignore the wait sign that Jansen gave him, but he throttled his impulse to take out the sentries himself. He had Caleb and Jill to think about and even though he knew he had been given some extra time, he didn’t think that meant he could just be an idiot and make it all the way to the end, no he could be killed and any stupid risk that might take him away from them early was not worth taking. .

Spotting a better position, he turned and using basic hand signs, let Jansen know he was shifting position.

It took ten minutes of slow moving to reach the Book mobile that rested on the curb in front of an old Ice Cream parlor. He pulled himself up into a crouch, and peered around the front of the book mobile for a heart beat, memorizing the lay out of the yard around the raiders hide out. .

The house sat on a small lot, with two massive old oaks flanking the house in the front, and another oak that he could see in the back. a hedge now gone wild separated the old houe from the bail bonds building next door. On the other side of the house, decorative pear trees separated the property from a parking lot that held a brick and tin roofed doctors office. the cars that filled the parking spaces had been stripped down to the frames over the last few years.

Three windows second floor front, two ground floor, and from this angle he could see five along the right side ground floor and four windows second floor right.

He glanced up at the sky, and saw they had maybe half an hour before sunset, he looked down the street and saw Jansen watching. He pointed at the sky then tapped his wrist and was relieved when Jansen nodded.

The moment the last ray of light fled the sky, Jared heard a single click in his earbud, He ghosted out silent as the newly fallen night, moving from deep shadow to deep shadow.

He was almost into position when the night erupted into gunfire. Jansen you ass, Jared thought realizing that Jansen had sent him the go signal minutes after he had sent it to his own people on a different channel. Jill put him up to this, Jared thought as he moved quickly to get in on the action.

He entered the house moving hard and fast and found Jansens men were already moving up to the second floor having already cleared and secured the ground floor. . Frowning, he waited covering the base of the stairs refusing to get into the teams way. they were used to working together and Jared would be an unknown variable and would interfere with the way the team normally functioned. Jansen entered the front door smiling as Jared glared at him.

“Jill paid you to do this didn’t she?” Jared said quietly obviously annoyed.

“yes, and Ori, Ronny, Mary and half a dozen others. Nibbler even chipped in a chew toy.” Jansen said, looking up as the all clear was called.

“You are a butt” Jared said but with out heat.

“And you have Jill and Caleb to think about. You’ve risked your life enough Jared, let others take the risks” Jansen said as two of his people came down the stairs.

“One prisoner, Captain.” Olivia Tymes said tossing a lazy salute.

Jansen no longer grimaced at the demotion; he would always be a sergeant no matter what any one said. “Thank you Sergeant, Mr. Stone, he is all yours”

Jared slung his rifle with one last glare directed at Captain Jansen, then followed Sergeant Tymes up the stairs.

The prisoner lay half naked and bound on the floor of what had once been a tastefully decorated office that had been a master bedroom in its last incarnation. In the corner beside a sleeping bag, lay body armor and a AK74.

Jared pulled up the desk chair, ignoring the other bodies in the room. “Name?” he asked.

The prisoner just glared at him, refusing to speak. But a trickle of sweat rolled down the side of his face.

“heres the deal, see we do not torture our prisoners. Which I’m sure you’ve been told. We really should, but we don’t. so if you don’t talk the only option I have is to let you go” Jared said then smiled. “then shoot out your knees as you try to run away, then your elbows in case you try crawling, after that a shot in the nuts just in case you get a hard on and try to flip over. Or you can save yourself being shot while running, and just tell me your name and who your commander is.” There was no doubt that Jared would do everything he had just said if his tone was any indication.

“Anthony” the man finally mumbled

“Anthony what?” Jared asked.

“Winters, Anthony winters” The prisoner replied, fury rippled in his dark eye.

“Okay Anthony winters, lets keep going with the you want to live plan and tell me who your boss is and where I can find him.” Jared said.

Winters glared at the Older man then something crumbled inside him, and he looked down. “Mikhail” winters muttered.

“ I see, your led by a one eyed Russian, named Mikhail” Jared said calmly, Winters eyes jerked up in surprise he had said nothing about his boss having one eye. The red head could have guessed about the Russian part based on the name. Unless, this was the guy Mikhail talked about sometimes. How many red heads with a dog and leading soldiers can there be in the world.

“Yeah,” Winters said keeping his thoughts from showing on his face.

“Where is your main camp?” Jared asked,

“Was St. Louis, but we started moving around a couple of years ago” winters said. “I don’t know where its at, they move it around to make it hard to find and we don’t know till they decide to call us back.” Winter said.

Jared sat there for a moment, no matter how calm he might appear on the outside, his emotions were all over the place. The moment he heard St. Louis he knew who they faced. He had known this moment was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Jill and the others must suspect it too or they wouldn’t be going to extremes to try and protect him from danger. “I have a few more questions, answer them and I will let you go.”

“Why would I believe you” Winters asked.

“Because I want you to take a message to Mikhail, you see we know each other, and sooner or later we are going to kill each other.” Jared said with a half smile.

“don’t know about all that, but if you want me to take him a message I will.” Winters said, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

“So winters question one,” Jared said. It took two hours, but by the time Jared was finished he had a good idea how the raiders operated. He left the prisoner and headed downstairs finding Jansen in the break room, eating an MRE.

“That thing has to be six or seven years old” Jared said grimacing.

“Oh now your picky” Thor said with a laugh, “still tastes as good as the day it was created in a lab”

“Mac and Cheese, yeah that was a lab creation, I think the ham was too.” Jared said as he sat down and pulled a hunk of beef jerky out of his pocket. Ori had made almost a hundred pounds of the stuff after his last hunt on the mainland.

“So what did he have to say, and how many fingers did you remove to get him to say it” Thor asked casually.

“Not a one, he has every part left on him, that he had when I entered the room” Jared replied, then took a bite of the jerky. It was the usual excellent Ori jerky he decided as he chewed. “actually he was easy as hell to get talking, enough that it makes me suspicious.”

“You think they planned on having every one but that one guy killed so they could feed you a line of crap.” Jansen asked incredulously.

“no,” Jared said, then leaned back and took another bite. “according to our guest upstairs, the Leader of the raiders is a one eyed Russian named Mikhail. To make things even better, the raider came out of St Louis. They are Kronnen’s men, so you were right we should have shaken loose the resources and attacked them right after DC”

“your kidding” Jansen said surprised. “now I see why you think it was suspiciously easy.” He didn’t add an I told you so, and Jared hadn’t expected one. He and Thor had become as good a friend as Jared was with Ori, Ronny, Chris and the women of the dirty dozen. Jared knew some folks were puzzled by that friendship.

“I think Mikhail has told them all if I come calling to make sure they tell me who their leader is and anything else that wont lead me directly to him. he wants to choose the time and place we finally meet.”

“So we do what, wait for an invitation to the Wacko killers ball” Jansen asked.

“no, I got enough out of him, that I think we can figure out their possible targets and have those places on alert, maybe free up some men to post at the best targets.” Jared said then leaned forward, “ get me some paper and something to write with and Ill give it all to you.”

“Good, because your going back to Sullivan where Jill and Caleb are when you are finished.” Jansen stated. “I wont hurt Jill by letting you go running off to find Mikhail and get your butt killed.” he didn’t look happy, but he wasn’t going to give in and let Jared stay.

Jared leaned back ready to argue, but he snapped his mouth closed as he saw the look in Jansens eyes.

“Jared, please. If you are destined to die, then it will happen either out here or on the island. Go back and spend time with your family as much time as you can Jared. If I had ..” Jansens pause was so short most would never have noticed it but Jared did, “a family of my own, I would spend every minute I could with them especially if I thought I was going to die. So please, Let me deal with this.”

Jared sat there, for a minute then two, “your right Thor, get me paper and a pencil and Ill give you everything he said.”

“Now who is caving in too easily” Jansen said suspiciously.

“Nope, you can escort me back personally if you want.” Jared said, he wanted to say more, but there really wasn’t much he could say that hadn’t been said before. ”Thor, thanks for being my friend.” He added softly.

Year Six

By spring of year six, most every one was using AD in dates to mean after Dead, hydro turbines, made out of everything from old generators to alternators, were floated out into the bay to capture the power of water. .

Currency was reintroduced, a not so popular idea but one that was necessary. It wouldn’t fully replace the barter system for decades if ever, but it was a major step towards the future.

A second steam train had been recovered from a train museum and restored and now two steam trains were rolling along picking up supplies that scavenger teams gathered and carried to nearby freight yards.

A new team had been sent out under the supervision of a surviving rail worker, its only job was to scavenge every rail yard they could find for spare parts, tracks and ties which they then used to repair the tracks the island was using. The drive to get a Steel mill, somewhere, up and running to provide rails and other things, took on an new urgency but the lack of manpower and knowledge kept that idea on the back burner for now.

The population continued to grow, most of the new arrivals choosing to live in old town area of Mt. Pleasant leaving Sullivan and the Isle of Palms for the original survivors. Each new person was quizzed about their old jobs and skills, and if they had critical skills they were asked or bribed to use those skills or take on apprentices and pass the knowledge on. Apprenticeships had been another of Jills ideas and it was starting to bear fruit.

The FOB on the north end of the Isle of Palms, set up on the old golf course had finally grown into a real military base. Radio and sat com operators still tried to raise any US military units that had been evac’d out during the crisis. But no one had yet to respond to their calls.

It was in June of year six that Jill grew suspicious that Jared was planning something, she confronted him down at the new airfield on Sullivan where he had been closeted with Ronny going over maps.

“you had better not be planning on sneaking off and doing something stupid” she said as she entered the office, its walls covered in pictures of planes and aerial maps. Ronny looked innocent as he tried to cover the maps he and Jared had been looking at. “oh please Ronny I’m not six, I can see the maps.” Jill snapped, trying not to laugh.

“Baby I can explain, it is not what it looks like. Or rather it is what it looks like but not for the reasons you think.” Jared said. “I wanted to surprise you with it.”

“With what, a hunt for Mikhail, I supposed you plan on giving Caleb a AR and take him along too.”

“When did she become so stuffy” Ronny muttered earning a glare from Jared and Jill. he fell silent and pretended to study the model DC 3 on his desk.

“no, I wanted to go home” Jared said quietly. “I wanted to go back to our homes one last time and see if there was anything we wanted to bring back, Go to Steves, and Marks, My house, Ori’s, yours. Go bury Allen, your sister, and then visit my folks grave one more time.”

Jill fell silent, she almost felt ashamed that she barely remembered her sister’s body was still a laying there on the floor of her Condo, and Allen who had been a friend to both of them deserved to be buried, and there were pictures of her family she would love to pass along to Caleb

“When” she asked still surprised at how sensitive Jared could be sometimes.

“The 23rd, I wanted to be there eight years to the day that it started.” Jared said. “Already have pilots lined up, supplies put away and Logan is going with us, he just got out of the Pathfinders school and is going to Nashville to talk to the river boat folks, who contacted us a month ago on a HAM radio.

“Your willing to fly,” she asked surprised.

“To get home in time, yeah I don’t mind flying. We can even take a few vehicles” Jared said with a grin.

“What kinds of plane are we going to be flying in that can carry vehicles.” Jill asked.

“a big one, it will probably be the last time a monster like it flys for a very long time. the only reason we can make it happen is Simms located a cache of fuel and planes on a base, apparently the Air force expected to return.” Jared explained.

For years afterwards, new arrivals to what was becoming the New United States, would tell stories of how they had looked up one day and saw a huge military plane flying west. when it came back heading east, they had packed up and followed along hoping that it meant civilization, that plane had been their guide and their savior they would say.

There were many stories about the trains and boats as well, but there was something about a plane that sparked the imagination and meant Hi tech society.

1320 hrs, Goodletsville Tn.

The ELSORV rolled down the overgrown road followed by a Red IH Scout pulling a small trailer. It turned and drove into a massively overgrown yard and parked in front of the Barn that had been Jared’s garage.

Jill wished Sharon had come along, but she had been worried about the dangers and what could happen to Mark Junior.

Jared had the calm pre battle look on his face as he opened the door of the ELSORV, the smell of honeysuckle and wild garlic blew into the vehicle.

“Ori, Ronny, your with me, every one else stay here, till we make sure its clear.” Jared said as he climbed out with his HK.

“Is daddy going to kill people” Caleb asked Jill as he watched the three men head towards the house. .

“Hopefully not” Jill told him keeping a calm look on her face to keep Caleb from becoming scared.

“Is this were you lived” Caleb asked looking at the old house..

“No this is where you dad lived before the dead rose and we got married” Jill said, realizing how unreal that sounded now.

“Why?” Caleb asked.

“Because we barely knew each other back then. Now hush in case there are bad people out there” Jill said, her hand resting on the pistol holstered at her side.

“What’s a dominatrix warrior goddess” Caleb asked suddenly.

“Ronny” she growled glaring at the door to the house.

They spent the night in Jared’s old house, having to sleep on the ground floor or in the garage due to the damage that made the second floor unsafe. They loaded up pictures, books and other thing that Jared wanted to take back. Before they left the group even stopped at Pappys old house and retrieved a few things for his son Jeff.

As they were getting ready to leave Pappys, Jared was no where in sight. Jill feeling a case of the old nerves looked around till she found him standing behind Pappy’s barn, holding an old dirt bike upright and staring off into the woods.

“You okay?” she asked.

“yeah” he said leaning the bike back against the barn. “that was my old dirt bike, it was the one that saved me while I was searching for a girl named meoghan one night.”

“Saved you from what?” she asked. Curious

“a serial killer dressed as clown.” Jared said with an odd tone. “he killed a girl I was friends with, and a few other people in town including a preacher.”

She nodded a she remembered him telling a very abbreviated version of this story many years back.

“Pappy and my dad saved us in the end, and the clown vanished and was never seen again. it was the last time the circus every came here too.” Jared said, still looking off into the woods. “I think one day I’m going to write down the entire story, it would have made a great horror movie back before the dead. Mysterious circus appears in the dead of night and sets up in the fields below the one house in town that every one believed was cursed and haunted, and they have an invitation from the owner that no one had ever even met”

“That does sound like the plot to a movie” she said shaking her head.

“Except it happened” Jared said then turned to face her. “the dead killed more than the living, they killed our past, our history. There are billions of dead who no one will ever remember, not their lives, names or past. They might as well have never existed. That’s what we survived Jill, obliteration and we need to make sure our pasts are written down so the kids who came after will have the history we remember, even the names of dead men and women who didn’t survive”

Steve’s house was nothing like she had expected, aside from the weight room. It was a single story Ranch style home, with a wooded yard. The only thing inside that was like she had envision was the weight room. It was clean, well had been, now it was musty from long disuse and covered in dust. Two floor to ceiling book shelves in one bedroom were filled with history books, there were paintings by Kincaid on the walls, the painter of light was either well loved or hated depending on who you asked, Steve must have loved him.

They left Bridget and Little Steve alone inside, letting them wander from room to room while Bridget told the boy about his father and where he came from.

Jared leaned against porch post, HK ready his eyes sweeping the overgrown area. Rob and Jared’s brother Eric were on the north side of the house. Keeping an eye on the fields beyond. Chris, sat on the porch, he was pale but holding up pretty well. this would be his last trip anywhere off the island, Julies poison had really screwed him up.

Jill sat on the steps just listening to the wind blow, and the rustle of the hemlocks in the yard. It took her a moment to realize Jared had gone fully alert, moving Caleb behind him. She rose to her feet and saw three men exiting the woods across the washed out street and heading towards the house.

“Caleb go inside with Aunt Mary and Aunt Beth now” Jared said, Caleb knew better than to argue with that tone of voice, he turned and followed the two women and their children inside.

“That’s far enough” Jared said as the men, all armed reached the gate in Steve’s fence. “What do you want?” His weapon was at high ready; the strangers were dead if they made the wrong choice in how to proceed Jill thought.

“Could ask youuns the same thing” the man with bushy beard replied, his only weapon was a bolt action hunting rifle.

“This was a friend of mines place, we brought his wife and kid back to collect a few things and see the old home.” Jared replied, seeing no reason to Bs about it.

The man gazed at Jared for a minute maybe longer. “I knew you looked familiar, your that soldier guy that Steve worked for” the stranger exclaimed. “I be damned you lived, you said wife, though did Steve and Bridget get hitched.”

“Yes they did” Jared said puzzled, trying to figure out who this guy was.

“That’s great, I guess the fact he aint here means Steve died. Damn shame that, he was a good man. Helped my dad out a lot before he passed on.”

Suddenly it clicked, “Duck, Duck Thompson right” Jared said. “your dad was Henry Thompson.”

“That’s it, surprised you remember me, I think we met once at a party Steve threw.” Duck said. “this is my cousin Will and Collin my friend.”

“Glad to see you made it through the dead” Jared said.

“it weren’t easy, let me tell you. But we did all right. Any idea what happened to them, the dead folks, why they just fell over.” Duck asked.

“We got a second chance Duck, all of us” Jared replied, then called every one outside.

Duck entered the yard and walked up to kneel on one knee in front of Steves son. “you look just like your dad, did you know that. bet you grow up to be as tall and as strong as he was too.” Duck said then looked up at Bridget. “your still as pretty as ever, I’m sorry about Steve, but at least you have his son.”

“Thanks Duck, I’m glad your alive too.” Bridget said as Duck turned his attention back to Little Steve who seemed fascinated by Ducks beard.

“I owe your daddy for all he did for my dad, so if you ever need anything boy you let me know and I will be there. No matter where you might be. you understand?” Duck asked.

Little Steve nodded with a solemn look on his face Duck ruffled his hair then stood up. “we bagged us three deer and have plenty of meat if you folks want to come on over and eat. We don’t usually have enough to feed ourselves, so this is your lucky day.”

“Tell you what Duck, we will come over as long as we can share some of our food with you.” Jared replied

“We have strawberry’s” Caleb added.

“I think I can accept that deal” Duck said licking his lips. “and make sure you bring them strawberries” .

When they finally left ducks two days later, Ori and Jared had gone hunting and brought in four more deer and a hog for Duck and his small family. In the end it took a month in Nashville, two weeks in the family holler visiting Ori’s family, then a three day stop at the old Camp, that now hosted a small team from Sullivan. They traced out their old route all the way to Farm, visiting Cherokee and then headed home having no real trouble on the roads.

It was the last time Jared ever saw his old home, but he never lost the inspiration of that visit and like he had told Jill he would, he sat down and wrote out everything he could remember about his life before the dead. And urged every one that would listen to do the same thing, even getting Beth to set aside a place in the library for the Memoirs. In later years it became one of the most visited sections of the library.

Year Seven

Was the beginning of a new war, though most didn’t realize it till much later. The occasional raids became a common thing. though most of the raids were directed outside of the areas allied with Sullivan island.

But Jared and a few others knew something that no one else did, the raiders were leaving a message in the ruins of the places they attacked. Mikhail had some how claimed the fragmented remnants of Kronnen’s forces and looked to be poised to take up where Kronnen had left off.

Jared at his friends urging stay out of it, but destiny wouldn’t be denied for much longer. Jill noticed Jared visiting people and places on the island and the surrounding area’s, then would spend hours writing about it almost a if he were saying good bye.

She said nothing, but she worried about him.

By year eight the new pathfinders were spreading out, part scout, merchant, diplomat and mail man, they became the eyes and ears of Sullivan and they began to discover more stories about the raiders as they traveled.

Rob’s gasifier run motors became a huge hit, and were in demand up and down the settlements. The powder works were finally producing a semi decent amount of quality powder and primers allowing Sullivan to finally stop worrying about running out of standard munitions.

Medical supplies from the caches were almost exhausted, but they had plenty of island made antibiotics and there was promise of more types of medication being made and soon, Blaine and Linda had even created a crude but effective system to make saline IV bags, they were still in short supply but it was progress.

As the year wound down, and the new year loomed word came over the radio that Cherokee was being attacked by a large force of raiders. For the first time in years, helicopters carrying troops took off and headed for the Farm, believed to be the next Target and only a couple of miles away from Cherokee.

The battle was short but intense, the raiders were driven out of Cherokee with heavy losses, but the Sullivan island troops took losses as well. John Graham died in the attack and his Nephew David Crow took over leadership of Cherokee, his first action was to send a hundred of his men to Sullivan for training with orders they were to assist the Sullivan forces in repelling raiders.

After the war many of the Cherokee joined the pathfinders bringing Cherokee much closer ties with Sullivan. Strong ties that would last for years.

Year Nine.

Jared laughed as Caleb picked himself up off the ground, “Son you got to do better than that.”

“Your bigger than me” Caleb protested.

“Yes I am, but you have advantages over my size and weight. Use them. I’m took big to throw so what’s the solution.” Jared said pushing his son to think.

“I shoot you” Caleb said with a grin. Jared ignored Ronny’s laughter.

“That’s only an option if you have a firearm” Jared replied.

“Ill loan him one” Ronny offered.

“Don’t you have a family to corrupt” Jared asked.

“Mary threatened to kill me if I didn’t leave the house and stop telling the kids pappy stories, that’s what she called them pappy stories” Ronny said sounding shocked his wife could say such a thing.

“You weren’t telling them to date only when they couldn’t find hookers were you” Jared asked, then instantly regretted it as Caleb perked up.

“What’s a hooker?” Caleb asked as Ronny turned red trying not to laugh.

“Its someone that works on a fishing boat tying hooks to lines” Jared lied smoothly.

Caleb studied him intently with a look on his face much like his mother when she didn’t quite believe something Jared had told her. Finally, the boy nodded, no doubt Caleb would run off and ask Jill what a hooker was the first chance he got then Jared was going to be sleeping on the couch.

Something’s never changed, even if you beat the forces of evil, lived through the apocalypse and founded an island nation, there was always a couch to sleep on.

“Okay that’s enough for today, go talk to your uncle Eric and see if he wants to show you how to make booby traps or something” Jared said. Caleb whooped and left at a run.

“You know he is going to go straight to Jill first, and then your in for it” Ronny said grinning.

“You are a jinx you know that.” Jared said as he sat down and opened the cooler beside his chair, he pulled out two beers and passed on to Ronny.

“you know, one day you are going to have to tell us where you keep getting beer from.” Ronny said a he opened the bottle. “bottoms up” he said then took a long draw.

Jared smiled and took a drink watching as Ronny wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “that hit the spot, I haven’t had one of these in two years. your supply is running out I take it”

“not really, I’m just saving them for myself, and for when I need to get Jill drunk, so she wont kill me.” Jared said with a laugh.

“oh bit of new gossip making the rounds, every one is wondering when you and Jill are going to have another kid, apparently there is a pool going on the topic”

“Damn, people have nothing better to do than wonder about my love life” Jared said then harrumphed

“Well you are getting older Brother, if you don’t do it now, the old pole might give up the ghost and you never will.” Ronny said with a grin. Jared absently touched his hair, there was a little frost mixed in with the fire these days. Jill didn’t care and neither did Jared.
.
“Maybe, to be honest, I’m happy with just Caleb, not that I would mind a daughter or another boy. But ..”

“but your going to say, that since your going to die, you don’t want to have another one. God your depressing, but at least its kept you away from the Fighting.” Ronny said. “now you had better have another beer in there for me, or I will tell Jill all about Ellen.”

“That’s blackmail, you butt.” Jared said a he dug another beer out and passed it to Ronny, who finished off his first one then lovingly opened the second one.

“I find that wives hate hearing about their husbands wild ex girlfriends, and husbands are willing to bribe me to stay quiet” Ronny said with a grin.

“Or the husbands could just shoot you and bury you in a shallow grave” Jared pointed out.

“Now I see where Caleb gets it from” Ronny said with a grin.

Jared saluted Ronny with a bottle and the two friends sat there in silence till Ori appeared out of no where, causing Jared to blow beer out of his nose.

“damn it Ori” Jared said a he wiped the beer off his face ignoring Ronny’s laughter. “one day I am going to shoot you when you do that”

“Been saying that since the ninties, put up or shut up” Ori said as he dropped to sit on the grass and pulled a flask out of his pocket. “got the new batch right here, this stuff is better than the stuff I carried around for so long” He said passing the flask to Jared who took a cautious sip.

“That my friend is incredible. Do not share with Ronny he is a black mailer” Jared said then took another sip.

“uh oh, put it away Jared the ball and chain is coming “Ronny warned as Jill walked out onto the veranda.

“Ball and chain?” Jill asked,

“and she has sharp hearing” Ronny muttered. as Jared and Ori started laughing.

”do not make me send you home with a note for Mary” Jill warned. “who exactly brought up Hookers around my son..” Ronny pointed to Jared and grinned. Then mouthed told you so.

The moonlight splashed through the window, bathing the king sized bed in silver light, Jared lay there covered in sweat Jill wrapped in his arms. “I love you” he whispered in her hair.

“Love you to, and if you do that to me again, I might even let you sleep in the same bed with me tonight.” She said, wondering why she suddenly felt sad.

“Your wish is my command” Jared said and proceeded to do it again not once but twice more.

“who says your old” she said as she sprawled across his chest. her finger tracing patterns on his pecs.

“Got it where it counts” Jared said with a grin.

“Yes you do lover.” She replied then was silent for a while.

Jared loved the moments like this, he lay there just soaking her presence in, the smell of her hair, the way her body melted against his, the heat of her skin as the sweat slowly dried. He tried to memorize every second so he could relive it time and again.

“Your going to go after him aren’t you” she said as he started to drift off.

“Who” he asked sleepily, though he knew exactly who she was talking about.

“Mikhail”

“Yes, I have to Jill. He wont stop till we face off, and sooner or later he will come after you and Caleb to draw me out. You know that’s how he works” he said slowly, not bothering to lie, he had hoped to not have this conversation till he was ready to leave.

“I know, but when you find him…” she said her voice trailing off.

“then I Kill him, and the war is truly over. The final servant of the dark is gone.” Jared said.

“There’s always more of them Jared you know that., one dies two more show up.” Jill said.

“Probably but that’s some one else’s problem Mikhail is mine” Jared replied then hugged her tightly. “its going to be a while, so relax hunny. I’m not going anywhere for now.

The buildings on both sides of the street burned brightly against the night sky, embers fell from the sky like fiery hellish rain.

Mikhail walked slowly through the ruins, mud caked on his worn boots, blood and dust on his coat. He took a deep breath savoring the smell of smoke and cooking flesh.

The few prisoners his men had taken were huddled against the truck that would take them away to a life of slavery, another thing he had inherited from Kronnen. He enjoyed it only because of how much Jared hated it. on a personal level he had no real feeling about the matter, only whether the practice would lead to instability or wasted talent.

He did enjoy the terror that radiated off the new slaves, but that was only a minor thing. the petite blond how ever he did enjoy looking at. “take her to my camper” he ordered pointing at the woman. “ strip her and make sure she has no weapons.” He told a guard. “ and woman, if you want to survive this, I would suggest you give yourself willingly, and I might let you go in a day or two” that was as close to mercy as he came these days. He probably would let her go, women were only a brief distraction, none of them ever compared to the alabaster skinned goddess that haunted his dream..

He studied the other six prisoners, then chose one he knew would hit Jared hard. “leave this one” Mikhail said pointing to the boy. “I want him to deliver a message for me, tit for tat as it were” Mikhail said gesturing for the boy to approach. The boy was maybe ten, and he knew Jared had a soft spot for children.

“when my men leave, I will leave you three days of food, all you have to do is wait till the Sullivan island people arrive and then tell them ‘Jarred I’m waiting, come and find me.’. do you understand?”, he said feeling excitement boil in his veins.

The boy nodded totally terrified of being left here alone surrounded by dead friends and family. but even more terrified of being taken away with these men.

You should have seen it just eight year ago, Mikhail thought glancing at the corpses, they would be up and moving. He missed those days in a way, but now there was no Dark, no bowler hat to get in his way, and ruin his plans.

“Good go wait over there” Mikhail said pointing to another truck. “get him food and water for three days, don’t argue you know the price” He told the guard, who looked about to protest at losing not one but two slaves and food.

Mikhail stood there under the moonlight, in the light of the dancing flames and smiled.

They were gone before dawn, leaving a terrified ten year old huddled in the ruins of his home, beside the bodies of his mother and sisters, his father lay outside butchered while defending his family. Thor Jansen and a company of Soldiers rolled in two days later.

It was late august, just after Caleb’s Birthday, when the ELSORV rolled up to the quad out side fort Moultrie, the sun was sinking towards the west, setting the sky on fire with a riot of colors.

The live music being put on by Ai, Kate, and of all people Ori was in full swing. Jared seeing Jansen climb out of the ELSORV with a boy clinging to him caused Jared to rise to his feet and head towards them.

“Could you watch Caleb” Jill asked Beth who nodded, Jill rose and walked after her husband.

She walked across the cool grass, under a sky full of stars, it was a perfect night and it was she knew the night her world was going to fall apart.

“… the SOB left the kid in the ruins Jared. Left him there with the bodies of every one the boy had known, with a message.”

Jill stopped not wanting to go any further, what she really wanted to do was grab Jared and drag him away before Thor could deliver the message that would, she knew, set Jared on his way to meet Mikhail one last time.

“Jarred I’m waiting, come and find me” Jansen quoted and Jill felt sick to her stomach.

Jared reached out and took the boy from Thor Jansen, “Ill take him, Caleb needs a brother. Go back to the base, Ill be there in the morning and tell my brother to be ready. its time”

“no” Jill said not meaning to speak. Thor Jansen didn’t say a word, he turned and walked away leaving Jared alone to talk with his wife. “Jared you cant, please don’t” Jill said hating the fact that she was begging and hating even more the fact that she couldn’t go with him and protect him.

“Jill, I have to, its my duty.” Jared said as the boy clung tightly to him. “if I don’t, Mikhail will kill more people like this boy and his family. Eventually he will come for you and Caleb, we talked about this. I have to go.” she could hear the pain in his voice, she knew it hurt him to think of losing them. But that didn’t matter to her heart.

“you might die” she said at last. Not daring to say he would die, as if the very words would make his belief in his fate come true.

“I was supposed to die in DC Jill, but I didn’t, instead I was given all these years with you and Caleb. Maybe this time I wont die either. Fate is only reaching the cross roads, which way I go is up to me.”

‘and up to the man trying to kill you” she snapped.

“true, but if I don’t do this, I’m responsible for every person Mikhail kills from here on out because I did nothing to stop him. I cant live with that, and if he killed Caleb or you. I couldn’t live.” Jared said as he hooked one arm out and drew her close. He stood that way for a moment then pressed the boy into her arms before kissing her on the forehead. “lets get him back to the house and get him settled in, Beth can bring Caleb home when the show is over.”

Jared left a week later, with Ori and Ronny going along over Jareds protests. With them went three hundred men, including Eric his old SF team and one of the New Sullivan island trained SF teams. The final phase of the war against the Dark was now in motion.

As the days rolled by Jill began to spend more and more time at the communications center, hoping for word. Jared checked in as often as possible but ever time she heard they were closing in another band of raiders she would go home and sit up all night watching Caleb sleep. She took comfort in the fact he had his new adopted brother Joe to keep him company, it was the one thing that tolled through her mind as the stars slowly rotate across the sky during the night.

The weeks turned into months with word coming back of battles across the foothills of the smokies, the wounded began to trickle in on the trains, having been hauled to the nearest train route by truck, occasionally a plane would be called to pick up the more seriously wounded and deliver replacements and each time a plane or train arrived Jill would be there to greet them, praying Jared wouldn’t be among the wounded. She did what she could to make the wounded feel a little better, but she suspected they all knew why she was there, and every one of them that could speak assured her that Jared was safe.

Christmas came and went, then new years, the winter was harder than most. Spring came, and with it hope for a better year.

May 16th 2022.

Mikhail had finally been found, Jared thought as he closed the side door of his van. Around him the Soldiers of Sullivan island were breaking camp. A pathfinder named Callen had appeared in camp, with the news that a large force of raiders led by a one eyed blond man was camped not twenty miles away in the ruins of surf city north Carolina on 210 just south of camp Lejeune.

If Mikhail had thought to strip the base, he was far to late, Sullivan had cleared the place two years ago Jared thought with a smile that held no humor.

The news that Mikhail had no armored vehicles was welcome. The expeditionary force only had two Javelins that had been horded just in case. Now that was off the table, it was going to be down to bloody street to street fighting. There were times Jared missed the dead and it was times like this. with the dead wondering around, battles had mostly been either very mobile in vehicles, or one or both sides using fortifications.

They had returned to the bad old days, but so far there were no forces as well trained as the Sullivan Island Defense force, he thought then shook his head. There were still Marines and Special forces teams like Frosts out there. and okay Simms Legion forces were as well trained but they had finally set up a base in Nashville.

“your grinning like an idiot, you usually do that when you think yourself into a corner” Ori said coming around the van.

“I had gotten used to you rarely talking again. stop it your ruining your image” Jared said with a laugh.

“haven’t had a lot to say since the dead stopped walking.” Ori replied as he ran a hand through his thick blond hair, that Jared suddenly noticed was going gray.

“I just realized we are both getting a little long in the teeth” Jared said, feeling the ache deep in his knees.

“maybe, but I can still shoot,” Ori said, “for now” he added. “my eyes aren’t quite what they used to be.” he admitted, he cocked his head for a second then grinned. “Ronny has it worse, I heard Mary tell Jill Ronny has .. some issues. You know ED” Ori said just as Ronny limped around the van having returned from the latrine.

“I do not” Ronny huffed, “drop your pants and Ill Show you for the next two hours”

“its worse than Mary said, the man has gone gay” Jared said with a laugh.

“bite me both of you” Ronny said then laughed with them.

“face it, we are getting older” Jared said, gazing at them fondly. “I don’t mind, for a while I didn’t think we would live another year. Glad I was wrong”

“amen” Ronny and Ori chorused around them engines rumbled to life.

“looks like it time” Ronny said, then impulsively shook Jared and Ori’s hands. “in case something happens, we are getting old, its been my pleasure to have known both of you.”

With that they climbed into the van and fell into the line of vehicles heading north.

1200 hrs Surf City, topsail island North Carolina.

Before the dead, Surf city had been home to just over two thousand people, reached by ferry or bridge, it had been a tourist destination, today it was a trap.

Mikhail’s scouts had already reported that Jared’s people were in the area. No doubt they had parked their vehicles and were, what was the American phrase, Humping it towards his men.

He didn’t mind, they would have to cross the bridge to reach the island and that was going to cost them. He would prefer the final fight be just between himself and Jared. not that he cared about the lives of the men on either side, but he just simply preferred it to be simple.

Over the years the small voice in his mind had grown louder, at times almost driving him out. If there really was a him. he had begun to wonder how much of Himself was real, or just a memory. But that had never stopped him, and it wouldn’t matter after today. if he won and the inner voice drove him out, he would still be happy. If he lost he and this body would be dead and it wouldn’t matter after that.

Feeling himself become aroused, a normal pre battle and battle stress condition for him, he almost returned to the woman he had taken so many months before, he decided against it, it was better to stay here and be ready. to his surprise she had proven to be enthusiastically committed to a sexual relationship with him. She was free to go and he had made it clear but she had chosen to remain, maybe just to see me die, he thought actually amused.

Hearing the first gunshots coming from the bridge, he smiled. He had worried that Jared might come across the water. and he only had enough men to set up to cover the bridge and fight in town, or cover the beaches in isolation unable to bring enough force to bear on the attackers to win.

Jared slid out of the water, pulling the float bag up onto the beach with a thin rope that had been tied to his belt.

Crouching behind tall grass and scrub he stripped off his wet clothing and quickly donned dry clothes and combat gear while Ori and the others lay half in the surf covering him. as soon as he was dressed and ready he took position and covered the twenty men a they emerged from the water and changed while in the distance the battle for the bridge grew in intensity.

Jared fell back as he had promised and let Erics people scout ahead. Melody and Lew had come along way from the early days, he thought watching them vanishing into the under brush.

At the signal he moved forward, letting the SF team lead, his eyes sweeping the area for threats as they moved forward, Tension and anticipation filled him. but a small part of him wanted to say Duty be damned and head back to Sullivan.

He suspected if he did that Mikhail would somehow escape and come looking for him and Jill and Caleb would pay for his failing to do his duty. Duty, only a word and yet as the saying went Heavier than a mountain. Duty had been his world and now it would take him away from all that he loved.

He stilled his thoughts as they entered an area of beach homes and cracked and washed out streets. The years had not been kind, he thought seeing the faded paint, and sagging homes.

Part of him still half expected the dead to come pouring out, teeth gnashing, hands reaching for them. The scar where he had been bitten itched, as ghost pain flared.

Keep it together Jared, this is it, the last battle He told himself then his mind stilled like a deep dark lake and he was in the groove.

Mikhail knew it was over when the enemy swept across the bridge and began working their way down the streets, they were well organized and led. What he hadn’t seen through is scope was Jared. who would normally have been leading the way.

He walked across the roof and started down the ladder, if Jared wouldn’t come to him, then he would go to Sullivan, let Jared find his boy flayed and left for dead in his bed, that would show him that Mikhail was serious about ending this.

He was so full of thoughts of revenge, it almost cost him his life. a shot rang out the bullet narrowly missing his head but went through his forearm. With out a sound he fell away from the ladder to the ground twenty feet below.

At least one broken rib, he thought as he rolled over and scrambled to his feet, leaving his Dragonuv laying were it had fallen. Bullets chewed up the pavement around him as he rushed towards the open door of the old hotel and threw himself inside. He ran across the former lounge and out into the lobby, hearing boots pounding after him.

Ronny had recognized the blond man the moment the man had leaped to his feet and ran for the door. Ronny ran after him ignoring the pain, if he could kill Mikhial before Jared could encounter him, then this would all be over and Jared could go back to Jill and Caleb and die a very old and Happy man.

The idea that maybe he had been put with the main force going over the bridge was so he would be here to take out that murderous shit Mikhail burned like a fire in his mind. only the pain from his bad leg was worse.

He burst into the lobby not waiting for the three soldiers who followed him, he could see Mikhail outlined against the dirty glass of the front door, legs spread, weapon up and braced. Ronny threw himself to one side, firing as he went down but the Ak was spitting fire, the bullets tearing into the wall and doorway. A soldier went down, another shouted in pain. Ronny scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pain, he fired again the door shattering, Mikhail staggered and fired back at Ronny who grunted and fell over, save only by the body armor he wore. He lay there for half a second trying to catch his breath then made himself get up and keep moving. He had to stop Mikhail, for Jared.

Toffler, having survived DC had not been keen to ever engage Jared stones forces, and the last ten years hadn’t changed that feeling. Mikhail had at least not wasted men had more often than not won. But today, he was seeing Stones people do what they had done in DC. They were slicing through his people with a vengeance and now another group had struck from an unexpected direction, most likely having come up from the beach Mikhail had thought they might do that.

But they didn’t have the manpower to deal with both threats and decided that luring them into the kill zone of the towns streets would even the odds, and it was working but not as well as he would have liked. Again his people were taking heavier causalities but the difference was Stones people were more numerous, and were fighting a mobile battle. Striking, moving, striking again then fading away to strike in other place.

He tried to keep up, issuing orders to his men to intercept groups of Stones people he could located, but the battlefield shifted to fast for him to keep up. he was still bellowing orders over the single working radio and to runner when a 40mm grenade came through the window and ended his worries for all time.

Mikhail ducked between two buildings, lattice work enclosed the pilings they sat on. Even faded this badly he could see one had been a pale blue the other a lime green, only Americans would paint homes and business’s in such garish colors he thought.

He had finally lost the man who pursued him when twenty of Mikhails men had chosen to cross a street just as Mikhail darted across, his pursuer had only just managed to dive to safety before the gunfire could tear him apart.

Bleeding, in pain and furious, Mikhail worked his way around the buildings trying to spot a a small boat or something he could use to escape.

There was a gunshot and he stumbled as blood flood from the new wound in his calf, he turned desperately and dove under a beach home and crawled back towards the street as bullet chewed up the pilings around him.

Reaching the street he came under fire again and only sheer willpower got him across the street with out dying and into what had been a hair salon.

The glass shattered under the torrent of gunfire, raining down around him sparkling in the sunlight. He popped up and fired killing a man, then ducked back down then started toward the back of the building where there had to be a back door only to freeze as he heard a voice that he could never forget.

“its over, Mikhail, surrender and I promise you a fair trail and quick execution” Jared stone called out.

“There will be no trial, this is between us pizdi” Mikhail shouted as he returned to the front of the salon,

“Funny, that you brought an army for a fight between the two of us” Jared replied.

Mikhail shot up and fired in the general direction of the voice, then fell back to the floor.

“Missed, but that’s what you do, miss. You must have been a piss poor assassin” Stone called out.

Mikhail dug into his vest and pulled out a grenade. Smiling he lobbed it out the window and across the street.

Jared hissed with pain, that had been close shrapnel had struck his leg and arm, but he was still mobile. “cover me” He told Ori. Who he knew wanted to argue but didn’t, Ori only nodded and got ready.

Jared counted to three then leaped to his feet, his leg must be damaged worse than he had thought, it hurt pretty badly. He raced across the small yard, and leaped the fence landing behind a rusted out patrol car parked beside some kind of skinny tree that might actually be a bush. .

He could smell the salt in the air, and even hear the water washing onto the beach when the sounds of battle lulled. Mikhail fired again, but towards his old position. He hadn’t seen Jared move. Ori’s HK fired and Mikhail vanished from window of the hair salon.

For a long moment Jared crouched there, watching for a any sign of life, finally he moved along the fence, stopped watched then decided to cross the street.

Mikhail shook his head and sat up, blood was pouring down his side. That little blond Dolboeb had shot him just below the heart. Snarling he ripped a length of cloth from his shirt and shoved it into the hole, biting the inside of his cheek so hard from the pain that blood filled his mouth. I will not die from this, only Jared can kill me if I let him, Mikhail told himself, trying to ignore the waves of pain every time he moved.

He peeked over the window sill and saw him, Jared crouched and moving along the side walk, clearing his field of fire and about to rush across the street. a rookie mistake, Mikhail thought, but the sight also bothered him. Jared still had the strong fit build of a man who worked hard. But there was silver in his hair and goatee, more lines at the corners of his eyes. He wasn’t the younger man Mikhail still saw in his mind, the man who had killed him on the roof top so long ago.

For a heart beat, he almost walked away, seeing a future where two old men spent their last years trying to kill each other for something pointless. Better to let him spend his time with his family, he would forget about me if I left this area he claims as his own.

But I would never forget him, Mikhail thought, it would fester in my heart that the one man who had defied me, time and again, even killed me once was still out there living a happy life, and I would die ashamed. I can not allow that.

For the first and last time of his life, he had a chance to become a better person and he refused, fate and destiny merged at that moment. Jared was right, it was up to each man to choose their own path, but he was wrong as well, his future was tied to Mikhails and Mikhail had made his choice and Jared could only dance to his tune.

Jared had no where to go as Mikhail fired over the sill, bullets slammed into his body armor, shattering the ceramic insert. At least two got through, and he could feel hot wet sticky blood sliding down his chest and abdomen. He swayed unsteadily, but muscle memory and training already had his weapon up and engaging. Three rounds later it jammed.

Jared tossed aside the HK, he had six rounds left in the magazine and knew he didn’t have time to clear the weapon or change mags, he would live or die with his pistol the only real edge he had left.

Mikhail tossed aside the now empty AK and drew the machine pistol he had carried for emergencies. He no longer noticed the pain from his various wounds, only the cold that crept up his arms and legs. If he waited any longer he would have lost to much blood to finish what he had started. Screaming his hate he leaped out the shattered door of the Salon shouting “morgaly vikalyu, padla” his eye locked with Jared as he cleared the door, Jared whose empty hand hovered over the pistol on his right thigh, Mikhail pulled the trigger eyes blazing in triumph.

Jared saw it all in slow motion, he felt fate rush in and settle over him as Mikhail, wounded, blood streaming down his arms and his chest rushed from the building cursing in Russian. His blond hair, streaked with silver, and fire blazed in his one good eye. The Russian held a machine pistol in his good hand that was already spitting fire as he finally got his chance to kill the man he hated most in the world.

Jared felt the hammer of god slam into his chest even as he rose with the same old fluid speed and grace his pistol appearing in his hand in the fastest draw he had ever made, it would have set the record in the old days.

The .45 roared once then again, and the man he had hunted for so long went down a surprised look on Mikhail’s face as a hole appeared between his eyes, his chest a bloody ruin, Jared stood there swaying, and then collapsed to his knees before he finally fell backwards against the fence.

Ori leaped up and ran towards Jared hurtling the fence he landed beside Jared, not even noticing the Men and one woman who followed him. he only vaguely heard someone calling for the Medic.

Ori knelt beside Jared, who sat with his back propped against the low wooden fence. His hand pressed against the wound in his chest. The front of his armor soaked with blood, and he was pale as a sheet.

“Hang on Jared, Blaine will be here in a few minutes” Ori said, almost pleading, tears streaking down his cheeks. He knew he was watching his oldest and best friend die.

Jared looked up at him and smiled sadly, “ don’t think Im going to last that long Brother.” He said slowly. “ Damn its cold, I always hated the cold.”

“You fucking hang on Jared, don’t you dare leave us. Not like this.” Ori snarled.

“Sorry got a train to catch, people waiting on the other side and all that you know.” Jared said softly. “ just wish I could see her and Caleb one more time.”

“you will Jared, you will, your going to be okay” Ori said desperately, “ Get fucking over here right damn now. Come on you son of bitches, He needs you” He transmitted turning his head away from Jared as the tears came hot and flowing.

Jared hummed a song under his breath as he reached out and took Ori’s Hand. “don’t Brother its all right. Been living on borrowed time for twelve years now. Got to love Jill, saw my son growing, had you, Chris and Ronny as my friends, and all the others. Just do me a favor okay”

“Anything” Ori said meaning it.

“You take care of Jill and Caleb, and live brother , live.” Jared said. His eyes lost focus for a moment. Ori looked around desperately for help, he could hear the Truck coming, they were close.

“You got my word Jared, I will,” Ori said squeezing Jareds hand.

Jared’s lips moved silently for a moment, Ori blinked in surprise as Jared managed to half sing half whisper. “live like you were dying” Jareds voice drifted off,

Jared almost seemed to rouse himself for a moment looking over Ori’s shoulder and smiled as if he saw some one he knew, the fire in his emerald eyes was guttering out “ the love of my life, Keep her safe” he said his voice weak and fading as he tilted his head back to rest on the fence and closed his eyes

A Battered Deuce pulled up and men piled out of the back, Ronny rushed to Ori’s side and knelt, “ Blaine” he shouted his voice almost breaking if he hadn’t had this limp he could have stopped all of this. he had failed and he would always live with it.

“Make him promise” Jared whispered to Ori, his eyes still closed.

“Promise what?” Ronny asked, “ anything man, just stay with us”

“he wants you to promise to take help take care of Jill and Caleb” Ori said, wiping at his eyes.

“I Promise Jared,” Ronny said then bellowed for Blaine again.

“Thanks, tell Jill….” He said and stopped breathing.

“NO, NO God damn it no” Ronny shouted wheeling around to see Blaine beside him already pulling a portable Defib unit from his bag.

“Help me” Blaine said as he set to work.

Ori stepped back and away from the group clustered around Blaine and Jared. He didn’t care if any one saw the tears not this time, not for Jared. He knew Jared was gone, he could already feel the void in his heart where his friend had been.

For over twelve years Jared had stood the line for the people he had adopted as his own, for over twelve years he had tried to rebuild a country he had loved, and he had paid the price willingly. Now the hardest thing Ori would ever have to do stood before him, Telling Jill that Jared had died, she was strong and would pull through, but after that he was going to have sit down with Caleb and tell him all about his father.

“Ori, Can you help us load the body” Blaine asked as gently as he could still kneeling beside Jared. The crowd of men and women had stepped back and were silent as they looked down on the body of the man who had led them, and in the end died for them.

Ori nodded stepping forward “Ill carry him all the way home on my back if that’s what it takes.” Ori replied tears running down his dirty soot covered face as he knelt and helped lift Jared to take him home for the last time.

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

In the end, the funeral had been a short affair just like Jared would have wanted. Jill stood tall during the ceremony, with Nibbler leaning against her leg, whimpering softly as she stared at the grave of her master. Jill only broke down once she returned to the castle with Mary, Beth, Bridget and Sharon she stayed there for a week, the only man she even talked to was Thor Jansen .

She would go on to live a good life dying just short of Calebs twenty first birthday, having dreamed of Jared the night before. She died with a smile on her lips. Thor Jansen having guarded her for so long, laid a single Red Rose on her Coffin then left the Island to try and return home and find his family. No one ever saw him again.

Eric Stone taught his nephew all he could over the years, when Jill died, Eric and his wife Kat decided to head west, with a few other men and women to locate more communities and spread the word about the Sullivan Safe zone.

Ronny, who felt he had failed Jared that day eventually took Mary and their four kids and flew to Alaska with twenty others to set up a new home, contact with them was lost after a year.

Jeff Sloan, Jared’s child hood friend and Pappys son died shortly after his wife Vickie, having been married all of their adult lives, in the end he couldn’t live with out her.

Chris and shelly died together when the boat they were on sank in the harbor, the only man to survive the sinking said they died holding hands.

Rob who had been the resident Genius on the island, died in quietly of a heart attack in his shop working on his newest project. He will be remembered for his keeping technology alive and providing the people of Sullivan with the means to have everything from fresh water to electricity and left behind a booming manufacturing base.

Ed, died in his sleep, spending his last two years alone but happy, Paddy having died two years before from pneumonia.

Bridget and Sharon never remarried, they still live in the house that Steve had loved and raised their three kids.

Caleb Stone’s life was another story some one else will have to write.

Ori looked at the last line, satisfied he nodded to himself then closed the old battered Laptop, and patted it fondly.

So many names in the thing, so many lives now gone. Ed and Paddy, Rob, Kevin and Mattie, Pappy, Lloyd, Steve, Mark and so many more. He was blessed to have lived this long and so happily when so many better men and women had died and he thanked god he had known them all and had taken so many pictures when people weren’t paying attention.

It still hurt to look at those pictures and see their faces in their youth, during the time of the undead and after, no one ever got to head to that Island Jared had always threatened to leave for.

The sun was setting he noted, placing the laptop on the passenger seat of the old Van that Jared had loved so much.

He started the engine he had lovingly kept running over the years, and pulled out, driving through the town. Still amazed at the number of people on the streets, and the open business’s.

They had come so far here on the island, he only wished Jared had lived to see it. The Library and Museum Jared had dreamed of building had become a university just like Jared had hoped it would, drawing people from all along the coast where communities had sprung up.

The rebuilding was spreading outwards like a wave, Jared was the father of the new nation whether he liked the idea or not. There were still wars to be fought, to many assholes had set themselves up as warlords, but those battles were for the new generation. Ori was to damn old to be ghosting around in the woods.

He pulled up in front of the Cemetery that the islanders had established, trying not to look at the huge monument that had been erected over Jared and Jill’s grave, they would have hated that thing. Caleb, Jared’s son was walking up hands shoved in his pockets, Jill’s sword in his belt and Jared’s Mk 23 on his thigh.

Out of the corner of his eye in the rear view mirror he saw Jared sitting in the back of the van a huge smile on his to young face, stunned Ori whipped his head around but saw nothing back there. “Should have known you’d hang around” Ori muttered with a smile. “I kept my promise Brother, I kept them both safe.” There was no answer, he hadn’t expected one either.

“Thanks for picking me up Uncle Ori” Caleb said pulling the door open. “What are you crying for” He asked, as he picked up the laptop and climbed into the seat. “something wrong”

“Not a thing Caleb, not a thing.” Ori said pulling away, and heading back to town where the electric lights burned and people were getting ready to celebrate Dead Free Day.

“What’s with the laptop?” Caleb asked.

“I want you to have it, your dad started keeping notes on what was happening during the time of the dead. After he died I wrote down everything I could remember from the day the dead rose till pretty much now. Stuff your dad, Steve and others shared with me, music they liked and pictures Kid, lots of pictures. Id get it all printed off and sealed in something to preserve them, that laptop wont last forever.”

“Pictures of my mom and Dad” Caleb asked, running his fingers over the top of the laptop like it was the Holy Grail his eyes sparkled as if he might cry

“Yes and others so many damn others who died. Its yours now.” Ori said as he pulled up in front of Poe’s tavern, which had reopened six years ago, serving Ori’s own Liquor and beer.

“Are you coming in? Its my bachelor party tonight.” Caleb asked.

“No sorry got to get home to Beth and the kids, and grand kids, but you party your ass off tonight Caleb, and you love that young lady like there’s no tomorrow.” Ori said, as Caleb slipped out of the Van. “Oh and Caleb,” Ori said. Caleb turned back and looked into the Van anxious to get inside “your folks would be proud as hell of you.”

Caleb smiled hugely at the unexpected compliment before he could say a word Ori put the van into gear and started pulling away. Caleb slammed the door shut, then stood there watching as the battered old Black van drove away, headlights cutting through the night. He smiled then turned and walked inside greeted by the cheers of his friends.

“ In time all things Change, Governments come and go, morals change, societies grow and die but the one thing that is constant is there are always those who answer the call to Duty. They stand the line against the Dark and they will always be remembered.”
~Ori McBryde (Born March 3rd 1972, Died December 25th 2046)

Invictus

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

note from the author.

I want to thank those who have read my stories and enjoyed them warts and all.

Its been one heck of a ride, and I’m glad you came along. With out you this would never have happened.

I do not claim to be a writer, only a story teller, and as such I hope that lives and deaths of the Dirty Dozen have touched you.

Thanks again and to you I wish, God speed, good winds and a long road under a starry sky.

49 thoughts on “Chapter Thirty Four, Epilogue

    • First, I had always hoped that Jared actually died in the end of the story(I have my reasons). Then I always hoped(still hope) that Phil would write a simple entry in AUD about Adrian walking onto Sullivan Island still sporting a graying mohawk with crowds gathering and whispers but nobody approaching him, they just knew or felt a vibe given off from him. He would just walk up to Jared’s grave and say “thank you for your gift”…and leave a handwritten note that only said March 3, 16:33. As he left and the Sullivan people were asking what had happened, Jared’s child would just quickly answer “that was the scribe” but when everyone looked – he would be gone.

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      • cant believe you hate Jared LOL. To be honest, I never saw Jared living happily ever after. It just didnt fit with the type of character he was.

        but did you see what I did.. LOL there are a lot of years between March 3rd and the absolute end of the story. I even have a date for Ori’s death, which means I can write a whole story with Ori resurrecting the wrinkled rangers and fighting off Nurses aides at the nursing home or even raiders LOL

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      • Nah I did not hate Jared at all. It has to do with it being in the AUD IP. If it were its own I would be rooting for him to kick ass and live til he was 90. To me Jared overcame more than Adrian did even though Adrian was supposed to be the ‘overall hero’. In the end all that had to come at a price. Just like you said – I never saw him living to old age either – I am just glad that you had the balls to have him die. Not many authors would have done that….unless you are that Game of Thrones dude but I think he has a fetish or something.

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      • Thanks Jason. I spent minutes with my finger hovering over the button to post the last chapter, knowing that once it was posted there was no going back Jareds fate was sealed. But any other ending would have been a cop out. Thanks for reading Jason, and thank you for taking the time to comment I appreciate. I appreciate every one who took the time to comment, means a lot.

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    • Thanks for reading Sepharich, Glad you enjoyed it.

      did Jared meet the trinity… Ori never told me, but there were a lot of years skimmed over there in the epilogue that who knows where Jared might have gone and what he might have done. Why he might even have met Amos, or gone sailing, he might even have gone looking for Jennifer love Hewitt. assuming Jill didnt kill him first.

      Thanks again for reading, I its been my pleasure to get this story out there for you and every one else.

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  1. Shit….screens to damn blurry to type anything.
    You are one hell of a story teller Okelly. Clean it up and give a holla, I’ll kick in a few bucks to help get it in print. Serious as a heart attack on that.

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    • thanks Rob, depending on how things go here, thats my plan.

      oh and I might have sniffled a time or two writing that last part. I stress MIGHT. LOL

      Honestly Jared and the dirty dozen and their friends have been such a huge part of my life over the last two or three years that ending it was like losing family. sigh..I really need a life LOL. Thanks for reading Rob and Im glad you stayed to the end and enjoyed it.

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  2. I’m not going to lie, I got a little teary eyed when I finished this. After reading this the last couple years I have become very attached to all the characters.
    I have been copy and pasting this to Word 2010 and have been editing the spelling mistakes and such since I have OCD something fierce lol.
    Would you like me to email you the copy Okelly?

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    • Thanks For reading Monty.. and truth to tell, I think I got a little something in my eye as I wrote it and each time I reread it LOL.

      How could I say no and waste all the time your OCD forced you to commit to correcting the errors, It would be shameful and callus of me.. LOL. send it on, I really appreciate it and you really didnt have to.

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  3. Dammit! What am I going to do at work now? One of the best ZA stories I have ever read (and yes it rivals World War Z in my opinion) Over the years I have become so attached to the collection of characters in your story. Sorry to see them go and Chris needs to allow you to write in Adrian.

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    • I suggest, Spider Solitaire. But I bet your boss will have the nerve to insist you actually dirty your hands with labor. What a heathen LOL. Thanks for reading Capt. Lou, Im glad you enjoyed it and thank you for the compliment.

      as much as I would enjoy writing something for AUD, I suspect my style is to different from Chris’s. I really liked the supernatural aspect and dove in to it, while it was only a minor element, but important element in AUD. But if Chris asked, I would not say no, it would be an honor.

      Thanks again for reading, Good luck with filling the hours of employment with meaningful but no labor content LOL

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  4. Truly an amazing epic. Your efforts and sacrifices have brought great enjoyment to more people than you can imagine.

    While I am sad this group and the stories about them had come to an end, I am very happy that you were able to take it all the way to the end.

    Enjoy your time away, however short the zombie clowns allow you to be, and best wishes to you and your family.

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    • Thanks for reading Chip. I did leave myself a ten year window, that I could if I desire go back and write a short story or ten about Jared and Company if I got the urge and a good story line.

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  5. Hell of a story okelly!!! I can’t believe I’ve been reading this for over 2 Years ( I bet you can’t believe you’ve been writing that long!)

    You nailed it on the head I feel like I’ve lost a family member.

    Take a break but not too long of one. Tap…tap…tap…

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    • Thanks Dr.Clarkin, and thank you for reading. And yes, when I sit back and think about how long Ive Been working on this and how much Ive written, I do feel surprised. truth is you and the other readers are what kept me going.

      I really enjoyed writing this, but I also felt an obligation to finish it because of the readers who had invested their time in reading.

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  6. Wonderful! You have truly gifted each of us with your writing. The story was an amazing ride, Jared , Jill , Ronny, Mary and lets not forget my favorite Ori were like friends. Thank you so very, very much! You do deserve a bit of time off, wish you health wealth and much happiness. I wish even more that you were writing another story right now! Huge hint hint!
    Take care

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  7. >weep< Damn fine ending to a damn fine story Okelly. Loved it! Summed it all up nicely and left some openings for some future works. (There better be future works *shakes fist*)

    Looking forward to: (after your nice long vacation away from the keyboard)
    Jared Stone and The Circus From Hell
    The Life and Times of Caleb Stone
    Alaska – Heathens, Hookers & Ronny

    Commence the "What now?" anxiety… So long finger nails

    ~Pixelcide – Sacramento California

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    • Thanks Pixelcide, glad you liked it.

      assuming life cooperates, I can say at least one if not two of your requests will make an appearance. one of them already has five chapters written LOL. I just did not have the time to dedicate to it while writing Dark tide and Storm before dawn.

      I also have plans for a few shorts, mostly involving the Pathfinders as they explore the world after the dead. all this is dependent on how much life kicks me in the butt.

      Thank you for reading, I appreciate your time and Im glad you enjoyed it.

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  8. Wow Wow Wow. . . Honestly don’t know what to say, part of me wants to punch myself for having some type of wet substance come to the corners of my eyes but man i have loved your writing and the journeys that were told. I really hope that you do decide to write some new stuff, after your break of course, even if it doesn’t involve the same story/stories you’ve been telling, though i would love to read about Caleb. I’d also like to get some more details on how Ronny and Ori lived out the rest of those years.

    But once again, thanks for the stories, they were simply AMAZING.

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    • Thanks for reading Jwerth, Im glad you enjoyed it. as I mentioned to others here in the comments, life permitting I plan on adding a few more stories. at the moment my only plan story wise is to write about the Aftermath, explore some of possibilities of new societies, some familiar, some not so much.

      Most will be shorts mostly about pathfinders as they explore the new world, others might go back and cover more familiar characters.

      Thanks again for reading JWerth

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      • If you do decide to post more please post from the midnighscorner site since that’s what i have bookmarked, i’ll make sure to check back occasionally and see if there is anything new!

        Once again, amazing job!

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  9. Bittersweet….I wanted it to end so I would find out what happens….but I wanted it to continue because it was such a great story…I look forward to reading more of your work when you get it finished…Thanks for a great read 🙂

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  10. The most excellent zombie apocalypse story I’ve ever read. It made me mad, sad, happy, a host of emotions; and of course, I cried at the end of the last battle- but it was the only possible ending. Thank you.

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    • Thank you Ann, that’s a great compliment. And thank you for reading I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I tried to write something that was different for the genre, something I wanted to read that wasn’t the usual everybody dies, no hope and why bother stories like TWD and most ZA books and movies. In that I think I succeeded. Thanks again for reading.

      Like

  11. Thank you so much for taking me on such a great ride. I discovered AUD only this spring, and wandered across your tale there. I got so engrossed in the tale of Jared and the Dirty Dozen, I haven’t yet read AUD 6 and 7 (but will now).

    You wrote real people, real heroes with real human emotions.

    If you publish, I’ll buy your books even though I’ve already read them. 🙂

    Are you on Pirate4x4.com? I see the link below and I found AUD there.

    Like

  12. Just came across this recently. And this kept me awake until the wee hours of dawn. Beautiful story although sometimes names were mixed up. Pappy’s death made me cry. What happened to brian, the priest though?

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    • Thanks for reading Chi, I thought I had all the name mix ups fixed thanks for letting me know. I was juggling so many storylines, that sometimes I would end up using one name when I meant another.

      As far as Brian, If life cooperates I have a story in mind for the good father sometime in the future.

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      • It still is an awesome story. =) i also liked the parts where bad people had second thoughts on what they were doing especially when it was mikhail who did that. Loved ori’s character. =) i hope there will be another za story soon.

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      • Glad you like it Chi, I had aimed for not having a completely evil bad guys, well with the exception of Jasper. What Surprised me was how many people loved Ori’s character LOL

        and yes life willing there will be another ZA story in the future.

        Like

    • Your welcome James2 and thanks for reading. you might be happy to know that I am editing LOL.

      one of the lessons I’ve learned is to not write a chapter every three days and post LOL it really cuts down on errors.

      Like

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