Chapter Twenty three

“Who is she who shudders by
When the boughs blow bare and the dead leaves fly?
Who walks all night with her wailing cry”
~M. Cawien

Jan 10th 0557hrs

Tobias Green, stood on top of an Semi trailer watching the darkness give way to light almost blue light that allowed him to make out the skeletal leafless trees that ran up the mountain flanks, where dense white clouds hovered obscuring the tops of the mountains around the gap. The temperature hovered just above freezing, and Tobias kept one hand stuffed in the pocket of his Jacket.

The camp was silent behind him, the majority of people asleep, after the long grueling day before. He yawned, hating being on the Dog watch as Jared called it, from four in the morning till Seven. He really needed to learn Military time that Jared and most of the others used. But for some reason Tobias just drew a blank when he tried to convert standard time to military time. Okay so I am dense or something he admitted silently to himself.

At least the undead had been scarce this winter, he thought, only partly worried about where the undead might be. to many times in the last year had they entered areas that were light on undead sometimes even completely cleared only to have a few thousand sweep down on them a week later.

Something drew his attention up the mountain closest to the camp, and his mouth fell open as tendrils of fog began flowing down the mountain, it was almost glowing in the predawn light, and then suddenly the fog fell over the gap, thick and soupy, swirling around him like the caress of a lover.

He froze in place, unable to see the edge of the Trailer he stood on and terrified he would step off the edge and fall to the ground below. He could hear a few of the other guards calling out checking on each other.

“I’m Okay,” Tobias called out as he carefully knelt then sat on both knees and used his off hand to slide forward till he found the edge of the trailer. Breathing a sigh of relief he sat back on his heels and continued to try and spot any undead creeping up on the camp, but with visibility cut down to about two feet.

He could hear doors opening somewhere, sound, any sound seemed abnormally loud in the cocoon of the fog.

Silence fell again, and then he heard shuffling so quiet he might have missed it except for how the fog carried sound. the light was steadily growing he realized but visibility was still around two feet, but now he could make out the shadowy edge of the trailer.

He scanned the ground below bringing his crossbow up, eyes straining to see what ever was making the scuffing noise. There he thought as he spotted a man shaped shadow, that moved through the fog, lurching and stumbling slowly. It stopped suddenly and turned towards the trailer he stood on. He held his fire, not able to see well enough to assure hitting his target and losing the crossbow bolt was out of the question.

The shape become more distinct as it drew closer to the trailer, Tobias peered through the scope his finger tightening slowly on the trigger of the crossbow. What the hell, he asked himself as he saw the zombie lift a Machete over its head and just stand there with out moving, a second zombie this one holding a magazine appeared and stopped beside the first one, then a third holding a axe joined the first two in just standing there staring at the trailer. He reached for his radio, this was too weird and he wanted some one else to see this so no one else could call him a lair or a nut case.

Jared stepped out of the Hotel into the enveloping fog, and moved slowly and carefully towards the vehicle wall to the south. Reaching the line of vehicles he moved even more carefully, just in case a crawler had found a gap in the fencing and wooden covers that blocked the spaces below the bottoms of the semi trailers and between the vehicles too, no matter how tightly they packed the vehicles there was almost always a gap between vehicles.

Finally after five nerve wracking minutes of expecting to be bitten in the ankles, he finally spotted the trailer he was looking for, a quick search and he located the ladder that had been leaned against the trailer and scrambled up to the top.

Jared saw the Guard, Tobias something, he felt ashamed he couldn’t remember the mans last name, kneeling near the edge of the trailer. He carefully walked over and peered down. Note to self ask Jill what his last name is Jared told himself.

“that is odder than Hell” Tobias said relieved to have some one other than himself see this. “They haven’t moved in ten minutes, I’ve never seen one just do nothing when a person is this close to them.

“yeah seen them do this a couple of other times,” Jared said then shook his head. “ sort of, the others weren’t holding anything.” Jared added.

Jared pulled the HK off his back and peered through the scope at the Magazine the one held, the zombie, a dressed in ACU’s held a popular mechanics issue, on the cover was the caption, “Mt. Weather, the US governments (not so) Secret FEMA Command center.”

“Put them down but leave them till the fog has burned off” Jared said ‘there could be hundreds of them out there in the fog, no sense in getting killed just to drag three bodies off to the pile.”

“amen” Tobias said lifting his crossbow back to his shoulder, he sighted, his job made easier by the fact the zombie stood rock still, he pulled the trigger and the string snapped forward with a deep thrum, the bolt hissed across the distance straight and true into the Former soldiers fore head. The body crumbled to the ground, and as if a switch had been thrown, the other two zombies dropped what they were holding and lurched up to the trailer and began pawing at the sides. Tobias reloaded quickly, then realized it wouldn’t matter, out of the fog, more shapes appeared till there were almost four hundred undead spread out along the vehicle wall pawing and slapping at the trailers.

“it’s like they were just waiting to be attacked” Tobias said, Jared nodded in agreement.

“we need men on the wall with spears, or anything else with reach” Jared transmitted “and bring me one too.”

Men swarmed up onto the trailers, caring long poles with Knife blade or even jagged pieces of metal affixed to them.

Times being what they were, men and women dealing with long term stress can become sloppy, Jared had tried his best to have people to check and double check peoples work, like those who string up the chain link and place the barricades that block the space under semi trailers and vehicles. The system had worked well for months, but not this time, the group, tired, stressed and worried had set up camp rapidly, one clamp had been missed, by both the man who had installed the section of chain like between a Peterbilt and a north star trailer, and the two other men who were supposed to inspect the fences and barricades.

A Zombie, its head lolling around had been pawing at the fencing when its fingers got caught in the links, as it pulled it hand back, the upper right corner came with it, a second zombie stumbled and tripped falling through the gap, it rose to its feet, and something like a spark of intelligence rippled through the nearest zombies and they surged forward to stumble and fall through the gap. The crowd of undead staggered forward spreading out unseen in the thick fog,

Albert Cranston, rushed out of the Restaurant attached to the Motel, carrying one of the poles used to put down the undead, he slowed down surprised by the thick fog, but kept moving towards the sound of men calling to each other.

The fog swirled around him like a shroud, his footsteps loud on the old crumbling asphalt parking lot. The voices grew louder and he saw five men ahead of him in the fog, he couldn’t make out details, but a smile of relief spread across his face. “ hey, Sorry I’m late to the party” he called out as he drew closer, the men turned towards him, and a sudden unease filled him, they hadn’t said a word, usually some one would have given him shit for being the last one out.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw someone else appear in the fog to this left, and the sudden smell of Rotting flesh and old blood came to him. he froze, which was the wrong thing to do, a man appeared in the fog, his hand reaching for Albert, the skin and lips around his mouth were gone, revealing grinning teeth, but the grin vanished as the mouth yawned open as a cold hand grasped his shoulder.

Albert yanked away only to slam into some one else and the smell of the dead grew strong around him. as teeth bit down on his shoulder, and other set of teeth bit down on his left arm. He tore away leaving hunks of flesh behind, his blood spraying. “Undead in the Camp, Undead in the camp” he screamed as he dropped the pole, and drew the pistol he carried, he knew he was dead and was surprised by how calm he was, he shot the two closest to him. waiting till they had gotten close enough he could just shove his pistol against their heads and pull the trigger. The sound of gunshots was like thunder in the fog.

“any one not on the trailers, get inside and stay there, we have undead in the camp” Jareds voice over the radio.

Jill headed for the door of the Restaurant, only to have Brian grasp her by the arm. “NO!” the Former priest said his voice cracking with authority. “do not go out that door”

“Jared, my friends are out there” Jill said pulling away from Brian.

She turned towards the door as a scream erupted out side, punctuated by gunshots. Brian grabbed her arm again this time his grip was painful. “if you go out there you wont see them till they are on top of you, and with people running around out there Jared and the others run the risk of shooting you, because all they will be able to see are shapes in the fog.” He said then leaned close and whispered “ and your pregnant”

She started to protest, but she knew he was right, “damn you” she whispered, wanting to be out there risking her life beside Jared.

Behind her a woman stifled a scream as a zombie appeared at the door it pressed against the glass and the door began to swing open. Jill strode forward, “ some one find something to hold the door closed, I need a second person to run down and make sure the main door to the motel is wedge closed.” She called out.

The zombie stumbled across the threshold, it had once been a heavy set man, she could see the tattoo of a Skull on its chest through the ripped open tshirt.

“I am sick to death of you things” She said as she snapped kicked it in the chest, a bone cracked and it fell back out the door. She slammed the door shut and leaned against it as a second zombie reached the door and began to push against it, as the heavy set zombie got back to its feet and lumbered towards the door again.

between the two zombies the door began to slide open pushing Jill and Brian back into the room. Nibbler bounded into the room, her growling rumbled like distant thunder.

“let them in” Brian said, “no firearms” he shouted at the men gathering the dining room. “you might shoot out the glass.”

The both leaped back away from the door, fog flowed into the doorway, the skinny zombie in mechanics overalls named Buddy, fell to the ground, but Heavy set trudged forward, its cloudy eyes fixed on Jill.

“Nibbler back” Jill ordered as she stepped back drawing her katana, Brian drew the blade he carried, the etched sun and cross on the blade set with gold leaf glittered in the lantern light,

“Sancte Michael Achrangele, Defende nos in proelio, contra nequitiam et insidias Diaboli esto praesidium. “ Brian said, not even aware he was speaking as he stepped forward both hands grasping the hilt of the sword he carried and brought it down on the skull of Heavy set. Rotting flesh split, bone cracked as the sword clove into the things skull.

Skinny got to his feet, and behind him Jill saw four more undead appeared out of the fog.
She moved in from the side and as skinny reached for Brian she brought her blade down severing its right arm at the elbow. She twisted her wrists reversing the blade and brought it back up at an angle and sliced cleaning through the things neck between the base of the skull and the top of the first vertebrae. She glided back spinning the sword to clear the gore and goo from the polished blade as two more rushed the door, getting hung up in the door way for a moment, till one slipped past the other.

Brian smashed its knee cap sending it spilling to the ground where he crushed its skull with his sword, Jill ham strung the second, spun the blade into a reverse position and drove the tip of her blade into the second zombies skull.

Brian kicked the severed head out the door into the fog as the next zombie entered. “coming through” Mike called out as he rushed up between them carrying an old fashioned hat stand and slammed its base into the next zombies chest knocking it out into the fog.

“makes it harder to kill them Mike when your knocking them outside” Jill pointed out.

Mike stepped back and dropped the hat stand, “seemed like a good idea at the time” he said.

He cocked his head hearing the gun fire picking up outside, “that’s Jared’s HK” he said.

“I have decided I hate fog” Jared said as he fired into the face of a zombie looking up at him. he shifted to the next zombie and repeated the process.

Tobias nodded, watching in admiration as Ori fired slowly into the fog, taking down one shadowy shape after another, seemingly not bothered by the distortions the fog created.
“I’ve hate fog since I was kid and saw that move ‘the fog’, the old one not the newer one.” Tobias said. Jared heard a motor start up, it sounded like the ELSORV but he wasn’t sure.

“you know this is the second time I have been stuck on top of a trailer, with undead every where” Ori remarked.

“at least this time you don’t have mortars and MIKLICs falling around you” Jared pointed out.

“good point” Ori replied. “ or dead friends screaming at me to hurry.”

Tobias gave them both a strange look, he had never heard that part of the story before.

“Always knew you were Steves favorite” Jared called out as he put down two more.

“I hooked him up with strippers before he met Bridget.” Ori said, as he laid his sights on other target checked to make sure it was moving like one of the undead then rearranged its brain with a single shot.

“I should have known, you sucked up to him” Jared laughed as he heard more motors, it was already brighter than it had been, but now he could see the glow of headlights in the fog, then gunfire.

“ Make sure of your Targets” Eklof transmitted, to the men in the back of the three deuce and halves. “ Do not shoot the living, we have enough problems with Stone and his people, we don’t need to add to it”

the guardsmen began firing down into the undead, as the trucks moved slowly across the enclosed parking area. “There” Eklof said as the truck he was riding in approached a gap between vehicles and saw undead spilling inside the camp. “ block it with the truck,” He ordered.

By the time the last of the undead were put down, the fog was thinning rapidly, revealing bodies sprawled around the front of the restaurant, and around the semi trailers, both in and outside of the camp.

Jared climbed down from the Trailer he had been on and walked slowly over to the idling Deuces were Guards men were reloading their weapons.

Seeing Eklof, standing beside the truck that was blocking the gap the undead had used to enter, Jared walked up and extended his hand. “Thank you for the assist” he said, forcing himself to sound if not friendly at least non hostile, and thankful.

“it was the least we could do” Eklof said, as he shook Jared’s hand. “it wont change anything I realize, but it’s a start.”

“it is that” Jared said, the looked up where a patch of blue morning sky had appeared. “lets get the bodies loaded onto your trucks if you don’t mind and hauled out to the pile before any more arrive.” Jared said, and then called over a group of his men to get the gap closed up.

Brian leaned against the wall by the door, exhausted, the pile of bodies just inside the door were waist high, Jill didn’t even look tired which annoyed Brian

“You were right” Jill said suddenly, if I had rushed out the door I would probably be dead right now” she told him. “ you did good Brian,” She added with a soft smile than turned to Mike. “ help me get these bodies moved out of the way so I can go check on my husband” she said.

Mike nodded and grabbed the first body and rolled it off the pile and outside, “guess you don’t have to go looking” he said gesturing outside with a tilt of his head.

“Thank god” Jill said with relief. “but I’m still not speaking to him”

Mike shook his head and gave her a half smile then pushed another body off the pile in the doorway. A moment later Jared and Ori where helping pull bodies out into the parking lot. As soon as the last body was removed Jared stepped in and wrapped his arms around Jill who said nothing but did at least hug him back.

Jared let her go after a moment and looked down at her. “your still mad at me”

She nodded, kissed him on the cheek and walked away leaving him confused and staring after her.

“you are so screwed, I bet She has Mary waiting in your bedroom in her dominatrix outfit and a belt” Ori said with a laugh.

“Ronny wishes” Jared muttered as he turned and looked out over the scattered bodies that were being collected and carried to a waiting Duece and a half.

in the end, six men and two women had died, their bodies were buried in what had once been a landscaped flower bed, the dead were cleared out and piled across the road behind a building out of sight of the camp. To show his gratitude Jared, insisted that Proctors men stay another night, to rest up before they headed to the resort, where they would hopefully spend the winter

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

January 11th, 0800hrs.

The sun cleared the mountains climbing into the bright blue sky, where a few clouds drifted across the sky. A strong steady wind blew through the gap stirring the winter bare trees. Jared stood there for a moment enjoying the crisp winter morning, as he gazed at the cliff and mountain peaks around the gap.

Before the undead he would have thrown on his pack, and hiked up the AT which crossed the gap, and spent a few days just reveling in Nature and being back in mountains.

That was the one thing about Sullivan he just didn’t like, it was to flat, he was a mountain boy, he loved the rolling forested ridges, the High soaring peaks, and the hidden hollows scattered across mountainous areas, the rocky creeks and rivers that spilled through the forests, sometimes plunging down as falls into deep clear pools. Places that the hordes of the undead could never reach. And places he would never see again as long as the undead were around at any rate.

I am spending far to much time feeling nostalgic these days, Jared thought, I’m burning out like every one else. after yesterday, who wouldn’t feel like crap and want to think about better days and better things he thought.

Dragging his thoughts back to the present he realized he had been standing there for a while lost in thought, might as well sit around and drool on myself for all the good it does me.

He turned slowly his gaze falling on the graves of those who had died yesterday, and frowned angrily. Crap happens there was no doubt but it really needed to start happening to people like Kronnen and Mikhail for a change. A real smile cross his lips as he considered that it had already happened to Kronnen, the loss of the supplies from His main camp had to have hurt if not crippled his ability to project significant force, and might lead to defections in the men he still had. Which was no a guarantee, Jared told himself with a mental shake.

At least the Guard is out of my hair, he thought, Well most of them, Proctor and one squad led by Eklof had stayed behind when the main group pulled out at dawn this morning much to the relief of his people who had been surprised that the majority of Kronnen’s former civilians had decided to stay with the Guard.

Only a handful of the civilians had decided to stay behind with Jared’s group, including the two comfort women that had belonged to Proctor. Yet another surprise both women had stated loudly that proctor had protected them and had treated them kindly and they were not leaving him, the rest of the civilians who had stayed behind would be leaving for the bunker with the former prisoners in the four Rvs that that guard had left behind when the Justin thought they were ready to travel.

Assuming he could find some one to lead them to the bunker, he thought, Nate was determined to stay in the fight till he found his wife which screwed Jareds plans, Not that Jared didn’t understand, if it was Jill, He would not stop looking either.

Might as well check and see how things are going he thought as he turned away from the graves of the fallen and walked over to two of the trucks they had taken from Kronnen’s group. Jared had let them take all their food s supplies, kept more than half of their ammo, and several other vehicles.

Jansen, writing in an notebook, stood beside stacks of boxes from one truck his squad was still unloading ammunition and stacking it nearby.

“So what’s it looking like” Jared asked as he sat on a wooden case of 5.56. he pulled out a knife and began to clean under his fingernails with the tip of the knife.

“ Hard to say we aren’t even finished with this truck” Jansen said, “ so Ill address what we need and what we have found so far. At this point, we have found only 2500 rounds of 5.56, the good news is there are 10,000 rounds of .223, so we have enough for our rifles. 5000 rounds of 30 30, so we are set for hunting, or firing single shots from the mini gun. Four cases of 40mm grenades, a party mix of HE and HEAP. Enough .22 to invade a small country, or to hunt small game for the rest of our lives.” Jansen stated then looked at the notebook he held. “ seven thousand rounds of 7.62, I don’t think we even have a weapon that fires 7.62. but we have it, maybe we can throw it at the undead.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you” Jared said with a chuckle.

“take a break guys” Jansen said motioning towards the Restaurant that was attached to the hotel where they were camped. As soon as his squad was out of earshot, he looked at Jared, “ what in the hell did you say to Jill?” Jansen asked with a raised eyebrow. “ I asked her how you were doing this morning and she shrugged and said she wasn’t talking to you till you apologized.”

Jared sighed. “I said the wrong thing in the heat of the moment” he admitted then told Jansen what had happened.

“You my friend are screwed, you know that. No I mean your really screwed” Jansen said when Jared was finished. “your only hope is to grovel, and I mean till there is mud and dirt smeared all over you”

“I really hate groveling, it’s a waste of good clothes” Jared replied.

“ well I suggest, you forget the ammo inventory for the moment go and put on clothes you don’t mind ruining and go find her.” Jansen said “ and the sooner the better.“ Jansen said tilting his head towards the old Motel.

Jared’s opinion of Thor Jansen rose considerably at that moment, he knew the man loved Jill, and here he was trying to help Jared’s relationship make it past Jareds own stupidity.

“Thanks I think I will do that little thing then” Jared said, “and thanks, Thor” Jared added then turned and headed towards the motel.

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

Proctor sat on the narrow bed, looking around the Rv with interest. It was filled with portable ER gear. It was clean and smelled of disinfectant, it was a mobile hospital in truth and that surprised him.

There were three other men laying on beds, one beside him, two across from him, with very little room to move around, two of them were his men, Guardsmen, the third man had blond hair, bandages covered one eye and his face was badly bruised and swollen.

this place alone showed him the difference between Kronnen’s group and Stones. For all the talk at the beginning about rebuilding, Kronnen had gone after weapons, then food, then clothing. Medicine when they could secure it. but that was the lowest priority, it didn’t fit into the survival of the fittest mantra, unless you were part of Kronnen’s circle or considered important to the group.

From the looks of it, Stone and his people had spent just as much time scavenging for Medical supplies and gear as they had for weapons, food and clothing, and it the medical stuff wasn’t limited to only a select few people either.

“how do you keep so much stocked” Proctor asked, the shaven headed Medic, who glanced at him distastefully for a second then plastered on the smile that all healthcare workers used when dealing with people they didn’t like or annoyed them..

“You will have to talk to Jared about that” the Medic said, as he applied a clean bandage to Proctors shoulder wound.

Proctor nodded, trying to ignore the pain. “your not going to be able to use this arm like you used to, the damage is to extensive.” The medic said with no trace of emotion. “but the good news, for you, is that you wont die of an infection.”

The Medic fell silent finishing his work by placing Proctors arm in a sling, then stepped back. “your good to go.” He said turning to the Soldier who stood near the door to the RV. “ let Jared Know I’m done with him.”

“Did you have it bad on the day” Proctor asked the medic, he didn’t have to say what day, every one knew what was meant when some one said the day.

“aside from watching men and women I respected, worked with and liked get ripped apart and eaten, then being trapped in my ambulance with out the keys, no I didn’t have it all that bad.” The Medic responded. “why would you care?”

“I’m trying to understand your people” Proctor replied. “why do you still care?”

The Medic stood there arms crossed over his chest, the hostile look on his face faded.
“ why did you stop?” he asked.

“its hard to care when your starving, scared and don’t know if you will survive another hour much less another day.” Proctor replied, but that wasn’t really an answer, it was evasion and he knew it.

“Bull shit” the Medic replied, “ oh I can see doing something out of desperation, and even regretting it later, but you, and yours didn’t regret it you got worse. Sex slaves ring a bell. Do you know how many women I’ve examined in the last twelve hours that have had bones broken, cigarette burns, knife scars and have been through almost every other type of sick twisted sexual torture you can think of.

How many of your sex slaves died at the hands of their rapists and were dumped out a window while you were going down the road, how many were just dumped off for the zombies because they stopped responding or god forbid fought back, you sick bastard. So you tell me how did you stop caring.”

“Justin,” Ori said stepping into the RV cutting off Justin before he could work up a good rant. “Jareds busy at the moment, Ill deal with this… this man”

The medic glared at Proctor for a moment longer then went and sat at the table, opening a book and began to read, ignoring Proctor.

“come on” the short muscular blond said. Proctor followed him outside and across the parking lot to the restaurant. As he stepped through the door, the smell of cooking meat struck him like a baseball bat across the forehead.

“Yes that’s really fresh meat” Ori said as he led Proctor across the room, Past the semi hostile glares of the few men and women sitting and talking, he sat down in a booth, proctor sat across from him.

“ Where did you get fresh meat?” Proctor asked.

“its called Hunting, something you people should have tried instead of attacking innocent people and stealing their food.” Ori said. “ But I suppose you were to busy kidnapping guys wives, and kids to go hunting” Ori said icily as he placed a pistol on the table, and kept his hand resting on the grip.

Proctor sighed, he had not supported that idea, but it looked like he was going to pay the price for it. “I don’t expect you to believe it, but I was against that idea, a man named Williams convinced Kronnen that Kidnapping your wife and the orphans….”

“Williams” Ori said leaning forward intently his entire attitude changing. “Jon Williams” Ori asked.

“I have no idea what his first name was, but he hated you and Stone, hated you a lot. He came up with the idea,” Proctor said.

“So Williams worked you guys all along” Ori said, his eyes narrowing angrily.

Proctor shook his head, his eyes locked with Ori’s “No, one of our infiltration teams escaped your island after that ferry loaded with undead wrecked on your beach. Williams approached them with an offer and they brought Williams out with them. Apparently he was the one responsible for the Ferry.”

Ori frowned angrily then sat slowly back in his seat, his hand never left the pistol grip how ever. “well well, that will make Jared happy to hear, we wondered if Williams had escaped or was still hiding on the island somewhere” Ori remarked. “and they are not orphans, they are my kids.” He corrected Proctor.

“Your kids then, Williams was convinced that it would strain if not break up your friendship with Stone, Kronnen thought it was a good idea and went ahead over my objections and even slipped a message to our spy Tyler to try and do the same thing between your pilot and Stone.”

“why did you object? To kidnapping my wife and kids that is” Ori asked calmly his face blank of all emotion, his game face as Jared called it, the face he wore when he was about to do something very violent and risky.

“for several reasons, one it was to complicated a plan, two I thought it was wrong, go after Stone and his friends with force fine, go after his friends wives, or slipping some one pills to wreck them was just wrong and would lead to reprisals, which it has in more ways than I or Kronnen had foreseen” Proctor said, not even caring if Ori believed him.

“so you’re a good guy are you” Ori asked his eyes dark with anger.

“Believe what you want, I did what I did because at first I believed then later because I had no choice but tried to be the voice of reason when I could be, and that got me sent to the main camp and would have eventually led to my being executed or more likely vanishing one night with the story I had ran away spread around to explain my absence, but instead I became your prisoner because Kronnen would have killed my men for losing fuel trucks, fucking fuel trucks” Proctor said angrily. “I surrendered to save them, and to save the civilians and the prisoners. Because I have come to suspect that Kronnen planned on killing them all at some point no matter what I did or said.

He has plans he never told me about, and I doubt they had anything to do with rebuilding or saving to many of the people we had with us” Proctor stated.

”I have on more question” Ori said, and something about the way he said it Proctor knew it was important. “did any of your people ever dream of or see a thing in a bowler hat.”

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

the furniture of the old meeting room had been removed long ago, leaving large open space with pastel wall paper and prints that had been out of date in the lat nineties. A cd player sat in the corner, belting out a song called “Save me”, which Julie remembered from some movie years back.

Jill moved around the room in a flurry of motion, flowing through a series of kicks, and strikes with the sticks she held. Julie watched as the older woman, dove into a roll on her shoulder then rose up, in a tight spin the sticks she held a blur as she launched a combination of strikes using her knees and elbows.

It would be so easy to just shoot her down, Julie thought, but that would probably result in being discovered and ruin any chances of jaspers plan working out. What she was seeing did tell her that if she targeted Stones wife, it was going to have to be through surprise, or from long range or Jill stone would kick her butt.

Maybe poison, Julie thought, as she stepped into the room and stood by the wall just watching, like the two teenaged girls that Jill was teaching.

Jill finished the exercise, rising from a crouch and smiled at the two girls, as she walked over and picked up a towel and daubed away the sweat from her fore head, her eyes studying the woman who had entered the room and stood silently watching.

Jill didn’t recognize the woman, so she had to be one of the few civilians from Kronnen’s group that had wanted to stay with the Company. She looked fit, even healthy and in far better shape than most of those who had been with Kronnen’s group.

“Can I help you” Jill asked with a smile, determined to be friendly.

“Just watching, never saw any one do this kind of thing in the camp, the closest they came was a bunch of sweaty pigs beating on each other to decide who got to rape one of the comfort women. “ Julie replied, she had spent time listening to the others last night, memorizing what they had said so she could sound convincing as a refugee.

“well if your interested in learning..” Jill offered.

“maybe, I mean it looks impressive, but I just cant see it working well against the undead.” Julie replied,

“suit yourself, your welcome to watch” Jill said as she moved to the center of the room and motioned for Emily and Sierra to join her. she handed them staffs and started them on working through the kata’s she had been teaching them. Jill watched the other woman out of the corner of her eye, something about her bothered Jill.

The new woman stood there silently watching, with no sign of wanting to leave content to watch for whatever reason. Finally she turned and walked out of the room bumping into Jared as he entered the room.

“Excuse me” Jill told the Girls as she walked towards Jared who stood there in the doorway Looking uncomfortable.

She stopped just out of arms reach with her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it, I wasn’t thinking” Jared told her, then shifted from foot to foot like a kid as she remained silent. “I was scared I was going to lose you,” He added.

“and?” she prompted.

“you are not going to make this easy on me are you?” he asked.

“I had not planned on it no” Jill replied.

“I’m sorry, I love you and that’s about as much as your getting out of me” Jared said, irritated now.

“How about, I wont ever tell my lovely wife to shut up again, even when being shot at” Jill suggested.

“I’m sorry, I will not ever tell my incredibly sweet, beautiful, intelligent, sexy, kind and caring wife to shut up ever again even when being shot at” Jared said.

“Now your sucking up” Jill said, then smiled. “but Ill accept it. This time.” she said then stepped close and hugged him and rested her head on his chest. it hurt not to tell him he was going to be a dad, but she knew now was not the time.

“I am sorry” Jared said again his face pressed into to her hair as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Romance in the age of the zombie, I think I’m going to cry” Emily said from the center of the room. Since she had been reunited with her parents and cousin, she had become more open and friendly.

Jared laughed and let Jill go. “this isn’t over lump, tonight, the RV. now go and take care of what ever you need to deal with.” Jill said with a smile.

“Yes Maam” Jared said then kissed her.

She smiled as he left he room then turned to face the two teen aged girls. “start again from beginning and do it at half speed this time, then you are going to spar with me.”

Both girls groaned and Sierra glared at Emily and said “ see what you did”

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

as the day drew on, undead began to appear, mostly in ones and twos, staggering and lurching down the road through the gap, inexorably drawn to the wall of vehicles around the old motel, where they were put down by crossbows. Men would leap down recover the bolts then haul the bodies away and piled them in front of a a burned out building.

Inside the camp, men and women worked quietly to sort through gear and get the convoy ready for the next leg of their trip. Spent magazines were reloaded, and the former prisoners were being readied for their trip to the bunker.

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

Motel Lobby 2100 hrs

Reese entered the Lobby, that the soldiers had taken over as a place for just them to hang out in, noting the blanket covered windows and doors.

They had set up a few camp tables, the long, hard plastic kind and two dozen camp chairs. On one of the Tables some one had laid out Crossbows, and hatchets.

Curious he walked over and studied the crossbows sitting on the table, then picked one up and carefully examined it. It felt light and was obviously made from Carbon fiber

“ Where did you get this” he asked turning to Jansen, who sat at the next table wearing only his boxers and a ball cap, playing cards with Benton, Tolliver and Baker.

“one of the Trailers, I think we need to start using those as much as possible for guard duty and recon to save ammo and to cut down on the noise. We are going to need every round we have when we get to D.C.” Jansen said. “ two cards” He added to Benton who dealt him two more cards.

“I swear you cheat” Jansen said shaking his head.

“He has a wining hand” Tolliver laughed recognizing Jansens tell.

“How many of these do we have” Reese asked lifting the Crossbow for emphasis.

“Besides the people who already have their own, just those ten, plus the bows. Counting the ones people already have, I think its close to twenty four. Ori and Jared have crossbows too, but I’ve never seen Jared use his, which he should, he isn’t the best shot with a bow.” Jansen said then raised the bet a thousand then called the others showed their hands, Benton had the highest with four of a kind.

Jansen laughed as he laid down his hand for all to see. “ royal flush” he crowed as he scooped up the pile of money. “ten thousand dollars.. and not a single place to spend it” he said.

“And you call me a cheater” Benton said shaking his head.

“Live with it cheater,” Jansen laughed.

“Is that why you guys always play in your underwear, to cut down on cheating” Reese asked laughing.

Jansen laughed “ actually it started because we played poker to pass the time while doing laundry. Now its because its about as comfortable as we can get, since there are no movies, no where to go and have fun and not many women to date even if we had a place to take a date.”

Reese placed the Crossbow back on the table and sat down. “ what do you think of Jareds Brother” he asked curiously.

“Eric, a good man, tough as shit if you ask me” Baker said as he gathered up the cards and began to shuffle. “did you notice his arms. As thick as his thighs”

“Baker there are times I swear your gay” Benton said with a laugh.

“bite me, how can you not notice the size of the mans arms. They are like tree trunks with hands.”

”seems you noticed his thighs too. Bet you dream of showering with him. I know its only because you miss Sinclair”

“ Dude I am so going to whip your butt.”

“both of you shut it, don’t ask don’t tell” Jansen said laughing. “why are you asking about Eric anyway?” he asked turning his attention back to Reese.

“just curious how a half of an ODA team just happens to be here” Reese commented.

“that my friend is a long story.” Jansen said “since you don’t have watch for a while, Let Daddy Jansen tell you the story of how super soldier Eric stone and his merry Band of Special forces showed up”

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

January 12th 0900hrs.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Ronny asked as he entered the room Ori shared with Jeb. Like most of the other rooms, it was mostly empty. The white walls, were peeling, the light fixture was long gone, and at the moment the only light in the room was from the dirty window.

Ori hung from a pole arms trembling. “unless you tie large bricks or steel blocks to your ankles that’s not going to make you taller.” Ronny observed. Ori ignored him and pulled himself up till his chin touched the pole, then he lowered himself slowly.

Finally he let go of the pole and dropped to the ground. Wiping his hands on his pants he turned to face Ronny. “ keeping in shape,”Ori said as he walked over and sat down on his bed.

“one pull up is not working out” Ronny observed as he sat in a old chair beside the cheap table.

“do you have a reason for being here?” Ori asked not bothering to point out that he had done a sixty pull ups already.

Ronny nodded slowly as he picked up the green foil wrapped object on the table and grinned as he saw Ori stiffen.

“Open that banana nut bread, and you will be limping along on two legs” Ori warned him.

“You have a problem you know, this stuff is an addiction, you need to go cold turkey get the banana nut bread monkey off your back. this stuff will be gone one day and then where will you be” Ronny said.

“standing over the corpse of the man who ate the last one” Ori said. “get to the point Ronny”

“Testy today aren’t you.’ Ronny said as he put the bread back on the table. “the point is, Jared just told me that I’m going to be flying, well me and Sarah are going to be flying a small group into Mt. Weather to infiltrate the place before the convoy arrives and apparently I’m supposed to leave the UV an go inside with the group.”

Ori glanced at Ronny’s leg, then shrugged “shouldn’t be a problem for you, you did well enough up on that mountain.”

Ronny looked doubtful, he believed he could hack it, but he had to be sure that his presence would not endanger his friends. “I barely handled that problem on the mountain.” Ronny said. “I know now I can do more than I believed before the mountain, I just want to make sure I’m not going be a problem for the group Ori.”

“Ronny, you limp, and you sit on your butt in a plane, the more you get out and do, the better you will be, maybe not a hundred percent but so what, all of us are getting older and slower, your just a bit ahead of some of us.” Ori commented as he rose and snatched the desert treat off the table then went and sat back down on the bed. “I may not trust you around my banana nut bread, but I trust you in everything else including covering my butt.” Ori frowned. “hasn’t Jared given you this speech a few times.”

Ronny nodded as he rose to his feet “ yes, but Jared isn’t you. I needed to know your okay with my going along”

Ori sat there watching his friend, emotions flickered across his face for a moment. “I’ve missed having you on the team” Ori stated, surprising Ronny. “once you got in that plane, the team wasn’t the same.”

Ronny stopped at the door and just looked at Ori then grinned “ I knew you missed me”

“get out” Ori said, a grin flickered across his lips.

“ you missed me, I Knew you did”

Ori didn’t say a word he just pointed to the door. Laughing Ronny walked out the door and shut it behind him.

“yeah I missed your dumb ass” Ori said fondly as he got up and headed back to the pole again.

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

Ronny hummed to himself as he made his way down the stairs, now used to his bad leg stairs were no longer the big a problem they had been, reaching the ground floor hallway, he turned and headed towards the Restaurant door at the end of the long hallway, paying only a little attention to the graffiti that had been painted on the walls over the years of the buildings abandonment.

He entered the Restaurant through the glass door and saw only a few people who were cleaning up from breakfast and starting to get things set up for lunch,

From the look of it Jared had plans to spend several more days camped here.
Quite a bit of the camp kitchen gear had been unloaded and set up, and after the undead had slipped into camp some one had filled sandbags and piled up them up to cover the large plate glass window and created a waist high entry wall at the front door. The place even smelt of bleach, he thought his nose wrinkling.

Something else we are going to need to learn how to make, Ronny thought adding that to the long list of things, they were going to need to know for later.

Ori would be damned happy if we can just keep him in Banana nut bread and laugh once a year at one of his jokes, Ronny thought as he stepped outside into what could only be described as a beautiful morning.

He began to walk around the camp, his way of exercising his leg, thinking about everything that had happened in the last several months, more worried about Mary than anything else, he was half tempted to demand she be taken to the bunker, since she was four months along in her pregnancy.

“well well if it aint the crip” a voice said from behind him. Ronny stopped and turned his anger doing a slow boil as he recognized the voice.

“still trapped in high school Max..” Ronny asked, seeing Max, flanked by Jayden and ethan Wells. It would figure they waited till I had walked around behind the building, Ronny thought disgusted with himself for not having paid that much attention.

“Screw you Ronny, do think you can get away with how you treated us.” Max said. “ Well Jared and Ori aren’t around to protect your ass now”

“Real brave of you three, attacking a crippled guy with three to one odds.” Ronny said as calm as if they were talking about the weather.

“Attacking no, kicking your ass to teach you a lesson about how you should treat people yes.” Max said with a smile as he cracked his knuckles, his smile faltered as Ronny started laughing.

“that is so Hollywood, cracking your knuckles that is, well bad guy dialogue too.” Ronny said shaking his head. “Look if we can dispense with the bad guy speech and get to the ass kicking , I have things to do.” Ronny said pushing at Max’s buttons.

“Have it your way” Max said as Jayden and Wells moved towards Ronny.

Ronny grinned with out humor, knowing he was probably going to get his butt pounded. He wasn’t Jared, not even close but his hand to hand training had been pretty extensive when in the Army, and picked up a few more tricks along the way from Jared and Jill.

Jayden rushed him, leading with his shoulder like he was playing foot ball. Ronny twisted to one side, arm snaking out and wrapping around Jaydens kneck and pulled, as his knee the one with the brace came up and slammed into Jaydens stomach knocking the wind from the man..

A fist hit Ronny in the Right eye, than another in his mouth as Wells leaped on him from the side. He saw Max Rolling up his sleeves and stepping forward.

Ronny let Jayden Gasping for air fall to the ground as he turned towards wells getting another punch to his stomach, the blow mostly absorbed by his jacket. He slammed an elbow into Wells jaw knocking him back. but Wells recovered and leaped on him, punching wildly.

Ronny tasted blood as his lip split from one punch, his eyes was already swelling shut.
“whats the matter the Cripple to much for you” Ronny grunted as he blocked two more punches with his forearms and head butted Wells. Wells staggered back two steps giving Ronny a chance to catch his breath and his mind to clear, Head butts looks so cool in movies, but they did not work out so well in reality, he thought as Wells leaped at him again leading with a haymaker, Ronny blocked Wells with an open handed block, reversed the block using his hand to graps Wells wrist and hand his thumb digging into a pressure point then he twisted and ducked under Wells Arm the shoulder dislocated with a loud pop and wells screamed in pain.

Max started to rush Ronny but a hand like steel grasped him by the back of the neck then another hand shoved between his legs grasping his jewels in a vise like grip that made Max Mewl in pain as he was lifted up into the air. “I guess you really don’t need help “ Eric Stone said as he threw Max against the brick wall of the Restaurant, Max fell in a heap, dazed his nose broken and blood gushing from his gashed forehead.

“I had this” Ronny said angrily, stomping down on Jaydens shin and foot as the man struggled to get back to his feet, he fell back to the ground groaning in pain.

He kicked Wells in the head, wincing himself as the brace caught the man full in the face, probably breaking Wells’s nose. “stay down on the ground or I swear I will break more than just your nose and your foot.”

“damn Ronny that’s a hell of a shiner, and your lips would give most of the Botox women in LA a run for their money.

“that’s an idea” Ronny said his speech slurred a bit a bit from the blood and swollen lips,”I can charge them a thousand dollars to punch them in the mouth, it will be all the rage in LA. Husbands will probably volunteer to do it for free though.”

Eric laughed as he dragged Max upright, “looks like we need to have a talk Max” Eric said.

“Fuck you” Max muttered. He was still dizzy and his face was scratched up from the rough brick wall.

Eric dropped him to the ground and stood over him, “boy check the attitude. I’m willing to chalk this up as a regular fist fight at the moment, don’t push it.”

He turned to Ronny, the left side of Ronny’s face was swelling one eye was swollen shut and his lips were incredibly swollen. “There is no a way in hell your going to be able to hide this from Jared, so I suggest for every one involved, if you want to stay with the Free zone you make nice, forgive and forget.”

“Like Jared would throw Ronny out” Max said, throttling back his anger.

“no he wouldn’t but he might throw you and your friends here out for what you did back at the air field.” Eric said and held up a hand cutting off any protest Max of his groaning could make. “you shot a running man in the back. Jared wont be happy about it if he hears about it, and I want you three nimrods to think about the fact Ronny hasn’t said a word to Jared about it.” Max nodded slowly.

“why?” Eric asked Ronny who shrugged.

“What’s done is done.” Ronny replied offering no further explanation.

Eric gave Ronny a hard look, then turned back to Max. “it ends here Max, we have enough on our hands to deal with, the undead, Kronnen and god knows what else is going to happen to us in the future. So end it here, right now and the only thing my brother will ever know was you three got into a dust up. take it further and I promise you will regret it.”

Max nodded he was still angry but he wasn’t stupid, he hadn’t been thinking clearing back at Pickett, he had just opened fire and regretted it the moment the man fell face first into the dirt.

“all right” Max said sullenly climbing to his feet.

“Good,” Eric said. “now lets get all four of you over to Justin, and make up some half way believable lie.”

“ I was cleaning my brace and it went off “ Ronny said as he wiped at his lip and studied the blood on the back of his hand for a second. “Mary is going to kick my ass, for this”

Max actually laughed, surprising every one including himself.

“Come on” Ronny said extending a hand to Jayden. “Ill help you limp over to the Med RV.”

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

Mikhail woke to the sound of a machine beeping and people talking, the side of his face hurt badly, the pain pulsing with each beat of his heart.

He opened his eye, for some reason is right eye didn’t work, then anger flowed through him as he remembered the shoot out with Jared stone and the shot that had ripped open the side of his face.

He was in a Narrow room with cheap wood paneling and windows in both walls, and four narrow hospital like beds. Some kind of machine stood beside his bed, showing his heart rate, oxygen sat rate and other things he didn’t understand.

He was hooked up to an IV as well and as he looked at it, it began to beep indicating an empty bag.

A slender man with a shaved head and lively green eyes appeared by his side, and shut the Machine off. “good your awake” the man said, “I need to ask you a few questions’ the man said. “lets start with can you move your fingers and toes” Mikhail nodded slowly then said “yes” using a Midwest accent much like Julies. He wiggled his fingers and the medic nodded then began to ask Mikhail several more questions, like can you moved your toes, how many fingers am I holding up, how much pain are you in, and the dreaded question, what is your name.

Mikhail frowned, his forehead furrowing as in he were in thought, “Robert Martin” he said a smile spreading across his face as if pleased with being able to answer.

“where am I” Mihail, Robert asked.

“The Sullivan Island Free zone camp at Rock fish gap, you were part of Kronnen’s main camp and left here to be tended when they left.” Medic said.

None of the shock or fear Mikhail felt at the name Sullivan Island free zone, showed on his face. “what’s wrong with my eye” Mikhail asked.

“you were pretty screwed up, a concussion and a severe infection. Your lucky to be alive” the medic said working up to the bad news. “due to trauma and the infection you lost your eye, I’m sorry, considering the situation your lucky to be alive. .”

“ I was lucky to live through the coming of the dead” Mikhail said, to be honest he couldn’t really remember that much about when the dead came. “this isn’t all that bed” he said acting philosophical about it.

“no I suppose it isn’t” the medic said, turning to look towards the front of what Mikhail is now sure is a motor home. “hey Jared Ill be right with you. “

Mikhail felt his blood run cold, then turned his head towards the front and saw Jared Stone sitting down at a built in table, no sign of recognition in his bright emerald eyes as he looked at Mikhail.

“No Problem Justin, finish what your doing” Jared said as he picked up a book from the table and began to leaf through it.

The Medic hooked up another IV, where did they get them Mikhail wandered, then left Mikhail to his thoughts as he went and joined Stone at the Table.

“whats up”Justin said sliding into the booth seat across from Jared.

“I need to know what the state of our medical supplies are, Sarah and Ronny are going to fly some of the wounded back to the bunker, and I want them to bring back as much of what ever we need, because there wont be another flight till we head to D.C.” Jared said.

Mikhail could barely hear the conversation but he found it completely amusing to be laying here ten or so feet from the man who hated him most in the world, and stone had no clue who Mikhail was, It was intensly amusing to Mikhail.

“when do you need the list by” Justin asked.

“a couple of days, we aren’t moving from here till we get resupplied and the worst wounded are ready to travel.” Jared replied.

“still having problems with Nate agreeing to lead the former prisoners back to the Bunker” Justin asked.

“call it a problem is an understatement, the man thinks I’m part of some conspiracy to keep him from his wife.” Jared said. “ add to all that something happened between Ronny and some of the men who took Eric and his people to Pickett and that’s causing problems.”

“so that must be what started that fight this morning” Justin said having had to check over two men that Ronny had beaten down in a less than fair fight, on the upside Ronnys confidence levels were starting to soar so something good had come out of it.”

Ronny had dislocated Wells’s shoulder and broke the mans nose, broken Jaydens foot and wrenched the mans neck, and it looks like Max got slammed into something pretty hard he was lucky not get his nose broken too. Ronny only suffered two black eyes a head ache and his leg is kill him.

“Ronny wont talk about it, and Eric and his men claim they saw nothing.” Jared said angrily. “I am half tempted to put my boot up Max’s ass because I know what ever happened at Pickett, Max is in it up to his neck.” Jared said.

“if I hear anything, I will let you know.” Justin assured Jared. “what makes you think your Brother and his men would be involved” Justin asked.

“My brother could never lie worth a shit to me, He was lying when he told me he just happened to walk up after it was over.” Jared said.

Max, Mikhail thought, might be the very man I need to become friends with. If he could turn just one of stones people against him, Mikhail could cause serious damage.

“thanks Justin.” Jared said rising to his feet.

“oh and Jared, Don’t trust Proctor. If you had seen some of the damage to the former Prisoners…. “ Justin feel silent then shrugged.

“I don’t “ Jared replied.

Proctor was here with Stone, Mikhail thought as he turned his head away from Stone and his Medic so they couldn’t see the flash of hatred that briefly transformed his face. He was he admitted surprised, Proctor had been as loyal as a puppy where Kronnen was concerned. But more importantly if Proctor recognized him, and the man had truly turned against Kronnen then he would tell Stone the minute that he saw Mikhail. I will have to deal with him before that can happen, traitor or no.

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

January 13th, 2012

The bedroom was like he remembered it but different, like all the angles were off slightly, it was disturbing enough to cause a trickle of fear to course through him. he stepped into the room and realized it wasn’t exactly like he remembered it, the picture of his wife lay face down on the dresser.

He walked slowly over and picked up the picture and felt his heart lurch seeing his wifes face was gone. He stood there trembling, wanting to beg some one to let him see her face one last time.

“you failed me Nate” Maggie said from the bed. He turned slowly still holding the ruined picture. Maggie sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at the floor the off color sunlight that spilled through the window washed over her staining everything into a sepia toned photo. “you didn’t kill Stone or Darius, Nate. You were supposed to kill them to save others.”

“and My wife was supposed to be there” Nate snapped. “ you lied to me”

“of course I did Nate, I needed your help to save thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people from the Fate that Stone will consign them too. You didn’t want to hear that your wife was pregnant with another mans child, and that she loves being a sex slave. You don’t want to hear she doesn’t miss you, that all she wants now is to be bred and protected.”

“shut up” Nate snarled his clenching his fists.

“ I could tell you where she is at. But I wont, she loves her new life the life you gave her too by not staying around.” Maggie said still staring at the floor.

He stood there a cold realization flooding through him, “your not my sister” he said.

There was a profound silence in the room, as the sunlight dimmed and became a smoky flame tinged colored light as if the world was on fire outside the window. “but of course I am Nate, but I am dead too and serve a higher purpose now. One you were supposed to help me with.”

“your not my sister,” Nate repeated as he backed away from the woman on the bed.
”I don’t know what you are, but your not here.”

“I suppose there is no convincing you then” she said sadly, with an undertone of cold amusement. She flowed off the bed, never looking up at him. “I only wanted to save others, and save your own soul Nate.” she said plaintively. “that’s all I wanted.”

“bull shit” he retorted, suddenly afraid she would look up, he knew he didn’t want to see her face not now or ever.

“I love you Nate” She said her head starting to rise, as a smell like Rotting blood filled the room and darkness lapped at the corners threatening to flow out and engulf his reality.

She stepped towards him, and her leg buckled like it was broken, she took another lurching step, and he could see glittering wild eyes peering out from a tangle of dark hair that covered her face. “I love you and I’m going to rip your heart out and eat it, because you, you worthless piece of shit failed me. I wanted Stone DEAD, HE HAD TO DIE BY YOUR HAND and you FAILED” She screamed, the glass in the picture frames around the room shattered, the window coughed its glass out onto the fire blackened lawn, smoke and embers swirled into the room being driven by a hot wind.

Nate dropped the picture he had been holding blood dripping from the where the glass had slashed his forearm. The thing that posed as his sister took another step, its entire body moving with jerky fits and starts. It began to laugh the sound like knives and broken glass as two gnarled hands parted the hair over its face, revealing a grey rotting triangular face, oddly shaped eyes and long hooked nose. Its mouth yawned open in a mad smile of Sharks teeth. “the Bride will finish you Nate, cant have you spreading tales outside of class.”

Nate woke and sat bolt upright, god how could I have been so stupid, he thought as he scrambled to his feet, adrenalin pumping wildly through his system. The small room he slept in was filled with the smell of rotting blood. he had been played and he knew it, what ever that thing was its touch was madness and it explained his rapid mood swings, his growing dislike of Darius and Jared Stone, he really had heard its whispers in the day time, it had never been his sister trying to help him get Kelly back, it had only wanted Darius and Stone dead.

I have to warn them, he thought as he reached the door knob and almost ran from the room. It was dark in the hallway, only a little light reached up the stairs from down below. He had no idea if warning Stone and Darius would help or not, but they had to know.

He reached the stairs and could smell Breakfast and hear muted conversations, and then something slammed him in the back of the head knocking him off balance, blobs of light danced in front of his eyes as he teetered there on the top stop, trying to get his balance. And then something hit him in the small of his back and he went tumbling down, the last thing he saw as he head hit the thin carpet over the cement floor was a woman in the shadows at the top of the stairs and a figure as insubstantial as the shadows dressed in a tux and bowler hat capering wildly behind her its spindly arms waving as it danced and a laugh like broken glass grinding together followed him into darkness.

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

Jared stepped out of the RV, into another world, the storm that had blasted through last night had coated everything in ice, Limbs, antenna’s, pebbles, all of it covered in a quarter of an inch of ice. Encased and trapped like a bug in amber.

He pulled his hat low, and closed the collar of his jacket as he walked through the sleet towards the Restaurant.

He stepped inside and found half the group sitting around, in the light of two lanterns, “as you can guess we are not going anywhere till all this ice and bad weather is gone, we cant risk an accident” Jared said to the room as he walked over to the table and fixed himself a plate of rehydrated eggs and something that masqueraded as sausage. “okay what the hell is this” he asked Brock while pointing at the disk shaped object.

Brock added a pile of pale yellow egg substitute on his plate then poked the grayish patty. “Freeze dried country sausage.” He said.

“Ori and I are going to teach some of you how to make sausage, this is against the Geneva convention, hell its even against the rules of the apocalypse” Jared muttered as he ignored the tray of pasty white things that might or might not be biscuits. .

He sat down and shoveled the so called food into his mouth, thanks to the military he had learned a long time ago how to eat with out tasting and it was turning out that might be the second most valuable skill he had for the apocalypse.

As he finished, Chris, Ori, Ronny and Mary joined him. “I thought you were going to scout out the area” Jared asked Ori, then shifted his gaze to Ronny and almost whistled in appreciation at the jet black rings with streaks of yellow and green around his eyes.

“I did, more or less, I only made it out a couple of miles, ice is everywhere out there and trees and tree limbs are down all over the place.” Ori said.

“God this shit sucks worse than that place we ate at in Amsterdam” Chris said, fighting his throat to swallow. He wanted to swallow his throat wanted to violently eject the offensive material.

“What Place in Amsterdam” Ori asked.

“That so called Italian food place, remember had the out door tables and you threw your piece of pizza out on the square and the pigeons wouldn’t touch it either.” Chris said.

“oh that place, the one with the pay toilet, that Ronny got asked to leave because he kept climbing under the stall to use it instead of paying a dime.” Ori said grinning.

“it was the principal of the thing” Ronny said. “and I didn’t have german change.” He said “ and they charged for toilet paper too.”

Jared finished his meal and leaned back in his chair, his gaze wandering over his friends who sat talking quietly about past good times. Chris, was getting gray in his hair and mustache, Ronny under the battered exterior still had his boyish good looks, but his eyes looked old.

Ori still looked about the same but he frowned a lot more and his nervous habits seemed to have intensified, he drummed his fingers a lot and tapped his foot, every time he stopped himself from running his hand through his hair.

His eyes lingered on Mary, long enough that she noticed. “what?” she asked curiously.

“just thinking about how hot you are, I might leave Jill for you” Jared said.

“You wouldn’t last a day with me, the first spanking and you would be begging Jill to take you back” Mary laughed.

“Your probably right” he said with a shrug then grinned at her. Mary was still as pretty as ever, but he could see changes, some silver in her dark hair from constant stress, a few more wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and fear that lurked just below the surface of her brown eyes.

We all need a rest, a long one, Jared thought glad they were here but wishing they had the sense to abandon him and go back to the island.

At that moment a man burst into the restaurant from the motel door, “ we need a medic, Nate’s hurt” Jared rose to his feet and ran to the door and into the motel. Half expecting to find out Nate had picked a fight and gotten his butt stomped.

A small crowd had gathered at the foot of the stairs where Nate lay sprawled, “make a hole” Jared called out as he approached. The group of people parted like the red sea allowing Jared to reach Nate and kneel beside him. the man was sprawled on the dirty floor, his left arm and right leg bent at angles that nature had never allowed for.

Jared checked for a pulse and found one, weak but there. Nate’s eyes flickered open, his lips moved as he said a single word. Jared leaned over and placed his ear close to Nate’s lips. “pushed” Nate whispered.

Jared stiffened as the anger rolled up from some dark pit in his soul. “who nate, who pushed you” Jared asked quietly, hoping no one heard him. this wasn’t something he wanted getting out.

“Woman, wedding dress” he said his voice trailing off then his eyes closed.

Wedding dress? Jared thought as he heard Darius shouting at people to get out of his way.

“What the hell happened here Jared,” Darius demanded angrily.

“Don’t know just yet, he tried to speak but I couldn’t hear what he said’ Jared lied, he want going to allow a witch hunt and that’s what Darius would do, no matter the problems between Himself and Nate, Darius still considered him a friend and would raise six kinds of hell till he got to the bottom of it. No Jared was going to deal with this little problem, and when he found him or her falling down a set of stairs was going to be the least of their worries. “it looks like he tripped in the dark and fell down the stairs.”

“my ass” Darius snarled. “nates not clumsy”

“I said it looks like, we wont know till he wakes up again,”

“One of Kronnen’s people did this” Darius snarled.

Jared rose smoothly; keeping his mouth shut wasn’t going to make a difference after all he realized not that he was going to tell Darius what Nate had said not yet, he needed to think about what it might mean.

“Assuming he was pushed, or dumped down the stairs, he has pissed off a lot of people lately Darius, My people, yours, probably even the undead. if Kronnen’s people wanted to kill someone it would be you, or me. Who ever did this did it for personal reasons.” Jared said. And Kronnen’s people wouldn’t wear a wedding dress to attack some one.

Julie stood in the small crowd watching as men with a stretcher, and both Medics arrived and began to load the victim onto the stretcher, Darius and Jared were almost nose to nose arguing. She managed to maintain the grave look on her face hiding the humor she felt.

Nate should have died, and he might yet, if nothing else she could help him along with something from the medical cabinet. Something the medics wouldn’t notice. Jasper had insisted that she not practice her art on the man. What Nate had done to anger Jasper she didn’t know. But Jasper wanted him dead, so dead he would be. She reached out and snagged Max’s arm and leaned against him, making herself tremble.

She would have to egg on, carefully, his feud with Jareds friend. Especially now that he seemed less angry at the crippled pilot. She didn’t really care if much came from it, as long as it kept tension levels high. So when she finally reached the final act in her little play the climax would be a work of Art. It was just to bad that she would just have to settle for killing Max and The Queer cop. Max because he stood for everything she hated, and the Cop because that’s what Jasper wanted.

In the end most of these people would be dead, from poison and the knife, and she could not wait for Mikhail to be well enough to help her. she felt fire in he groin at that thought, Mikhail was the one man in the world she thought she could actually live with, with out killing, well maybe for a while she amended shivering with pleasure, that Max mistook for fear. He wrapped an arm around her protectively. Feeling his blood splashing on me would fee so good right now she thought as she looked up, making sure her face showed just the right amount of fear and uncertainty. You have no idea what’s going to happen to you Lover, she thought.

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

Darius sat beside the bed that Nate had been placed in, occasionally casting glances at the Medic who was reading a book. A GD book, while Nate is laying here possibly dying.

Nate was still unconscious which worried Darius, and he wasn’t hooked up to IV’s or anything which was standard procedure as far as Darius knew of. He glanced back at the medic who was still reading which only made Darius more annoyed. Finally he rose and walked over to the Medic who looked up at him, “ can I help you.”

“yeah, you could get off your ass and do something for my friend.” Darius said angrily but keeping his voice down so as not to disturb the other patients in the motor home.

‘I am doing something for your friend” Justin replied. “I’m reading up on the types of injuries he sustained and seeing what if anything I can do about those injuries and any possible complications. I’m not a Doctor man, I’m a paramedic, I can treat a lot of things, but if some one needs surgery or might need it, I have to do my research and then pray I get it right.” Justin said calmly then waved at the seat across from him, “ have a seat, and Lets talk”

Darius swallowed his anger, he had to admit they were lucky to have a paramedic and a couple of Medics. Most people out there had nothing these days. He sat slowly.

“first, His arm and leg were easy, multiple breaks, one fracture, all of them are set and secured. There is either damage to the spine or swelling I don’t know which it is or it could be both , and at the very least a concussion  up to serious brain damage. I wont know till he wakes up, if he wakes up” Justin said. “the one bright spot here is Blaine, the man is certified Trauma Doctor and should be here soon., he is out running a patrol at the moment.”

“your Doctor is running a patrol” Darrius said in disbelief.

“The man is Special Forces first, you can discuss what you think his priorities should be with him when he gets back.” Justin replied. “Me personally I will let him decided what he needs to do with his time.”

“I will make a note of that” Darius said “can Nate die from this?”

“its possible, there could be internal bleeding that I haven’t discovered, he could have severe brain damage, there’s all kinds of things that could kill him. To be honest I don’t have the equipment to get those answers.” Justin said then held up the book he had been looking through, “this is the best I can do at the moment, research and pray it wont come to having to use this” Justin said tapping the book.

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

Jill entered the Rv, and found Jared sitting at the table the laptop open, leafing through a thick sheaf of papers. “what’s going on” she asked sitting down across from him.

“ Research” Jared said as he turned a page, she reached over and turned his Laptop towards her and saw what was on the screen and frowned.

“is there a reason your going through this stuff that Gail left us” she asked.

He stopped what he was doing and looked up at her, “You’re the only one I’m going to tell for now” Jared said pausing to let it sink in. “Nate spoke to me, and told me he had been pushed, I asked him who did it, he said a woman then wedding dress. I don’t know if he meant she was wearing one, of it means something else entirely. But it hit me later, that ghost, zombie or what ever that Ori and Jeb have seen, that thing in Ronny’s dreams they both wore white and looked the same judging by their descriptions. Then I remembered something from a few months ago, in a dream I was told about the dark Trinity, one of them was called the bride.”

Jill nodded she remembered Jared telling them about that, “I thought that was supposed to be Carrie”

“so did I, but what if its only a title, who ever assumes the role becomes the bride.” Jared said.

“Sounds about as reasonable as anything else that’s happened” Jill said shaking her head. “not that any of this reasonable by the old standards of course.”

“ tell me about it.. I’m tired of this crap, the undead okay I can handle that, but this ghosts, portents, Champions of the dark crap is for the birds, the end of the world should be simple.. ‘here are your rules, go out and survive and earn a second chance, or don’t’,” Jared said “ but this is. ” he said dismissively.

He fell silent as he read something on the page he was looking at, with out a word he passed it to Jill.

“I hate this crap” he said again bitterly.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter Twenty three

  1. Yay! Another excellent entry!
    I can’t believe there’s only a month and a half until the AUD’s Crucible event! Does this end there or does it continue? Whatever happens, you need to find someone to publish all this greatness!
    Thanks again, O’kelly!

    Like

  2. Excellent job, O’Kelly. You progress the story and the characters, all the while making me want more. You’re good at that, always writing in the cliff hangers.

    Like

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