“Noiseless as mists and vapors,
From their graves in the trenches ascending,
From the cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee,
From every point of the compass, out of the countless unnamed graves,
In wafted clouds, in myraids large, or squads of twos or threes, or single ones, they
Cole looked around the complex one last time then slung the 30 06 rifle over his shoulder. He wouldn’t miss this place, he thought as he made his way down the worn cement ramp into the dank basement area of the maintenance building to the tunnel entrance. Once it had been used to carry the bodies of the dead from the Asylum, back when it was a TB hospital in the late 1800’s, to the road at the back of the hill that the six-acre complex sat on.
The reinforced metal door that usually sealed the tunnel stood open, with only one man standing guard.
He picked up the last box of supplies and started down the sloping tunnel floor towards the road.
Road? These days it was barely a road, Reba must have had a hell of time getting a bus down the mostly washed out road. He thought. About halfway down, he saw Diana leaning against the wall and stopped. “ You okay” he asked. She shook her head, and appeared to shivering. Then with an effort she stood upright “I’ll be okay, just the flu” she said and began to make her way down the tunnel again, keeping one hand on the wall as if to steady herself. Cole watched her move slowly away, feeling worried. He hoped what ever she had wasn’t catching. With no doctors even the flu could end up being deadly.
The road was bathed in hazy rays of golden sunlight that fell thru the thick blooming trees. A hint of honeysuckle hung in the air. a soft breeze stirred the leaves that covered the road, setting them to rustling. a large black and red tour bus was parked before the Tunnel entrance. It glittered in the sunlight, a beacon of promise
Cole was relieved to see no zombies were in sight at the moment. He pushed the box into the cargo compartment of the Tour bus, and then pulled out the map that the plane had dropped on its second pass thru. He passed it to Reba and smiled with apprehension, “ready to go find some people” he asked.
“any where is better than here, Michael might make another appearance” she said as she climbed into the bus and sat behind the drivers seat. Cole followed her onboard and shut the door. Starting the bus he noted it had almost a full tank at least we’ve had that much luck. He thought as he put it into gear and drove away.
* * *
The plan to head to the old airfield south of Spartan was well and truly shot, Jared thought, as they drove north to Chesnee. Steve had thought heading to Cowpens might be better but the road to Chesnee had been clear on the trip down, it should be clear going back.
Ronny had damn near panicked flying over the highway towards Spartan, reporting wall to wall undead on every major road. Jared had thought he was exaggerating till they had driven past I85. the lead vehicles had nearly been swamped, only the fact that Beast one and Steves Chevy were the two scout vehicles with plenty of weight and ground clearance had allowed them to turn around in that mass of stinking, putrid wall to wall flesh.
If Jared hadn’t held the main group back half a mile just in case, the RVs would have been trapped unable to turn around or move forward, with all the bodies that would have ended up wedged under the frame and tires.
From the reports Ronny had passed on, it sounded as if all three hundred thousand residents of the tri city area were on the road directly between the group and the route they had chosen, the most direct route to Charleston at that.
Jared wasn’t thrilled as he climbed down out of the RV and looked around the gravel lot just about halfway between Chesnee and Mayo, they might not have seen a zombie till they passed 85 but the road had been thick with them till the reached Mayo. But once they got through that town the numbers went back to small groups scattered here and there.
Jared looked around the huge gravel lot; surrounded by trees with the mountains and ridges as a backdrop, they were two miles off the main road. Jared had stopped only long enough to leave a message spray painted on a building wall directing the Complex folks to the new camp and warning them of the mass of zombies further south.
He didn’t know what the old complex had been in the past, Ronnys description made it sound like an old hospital, what it was today was a smoking ruin that held a small group of survivors.
He studied the two massive warehouse like buildings that sat side by side in the middle of the huge gravel lot surrounded by rusting equipment. Rob was excited at the prospect of using some of it for scrap so he could make the Cattle catcher and knee cappers for Beast two. But he needed Erik’s help since the wound to his shoulder made working hard.
Camp was going to be a fast one this time, just the walls hooked between the Rvs, but nothing offloaded. They were to damn close to almost quarter of a million plus undead cannibals to get comfortable. Jared sat on the bumper of the RV, watching as Team one entered the warehouse, since he was wounded Jared had decided to sideline himself so as not to be a liability to the Team. A few more days and he would be finer than frog hair. Linda didn’t think two days was enough time for him to have healed but Jared didn’t care two days was almost to long to be out of it.
An hour later Team one had finished sweeping both buildings, Beth had gotten the kids unloaded from the different RVs that they had been staying in since the bus had been shot up and was trying to herd them to the area she wanted them. It was more like an exercise in herding cats, Jared thought as he watched little Sally skip across the camp to talk to Anne, He turned away, the death of Little Billy still to fresh in his mind.
Steve found him half an hour later, in the second building looking over the old machinery. “ Find anything we can use.” Steve asked sitting on what looked like an old generator turbine.
“ I don’t even know what half of this shit is” Jared said wiping his hands on his pant legs.
Steve was quiet for a moment; Jared leaned against a beam waiting. “ I just wanted to talk to you about… well the whole Sharon thing.” Steve said finally.
Jared cross his arms over his chest and gazed calmly at his friend. “ If you feel like talking to me about it, I don’t mind listening. But frankly it’s not my business.”
“it is Jared, because of Mark. We were all his friends.” Steve replied as he shifted his position, trying to get comfortable. “ heres the deal okay, I never even looked at Sharon like that when he was alive. I need you to know that and believe it okay. She was my friend just like mark. And She damn sure never cheated on him.”
“ Steve, here’s the truth. I believe you; I never thought you two were doing anything on the side. Hell as much time as all of us spent together before all this, it would have been damn near impossible to be knocking boots with her or any one else with out the rest of us knowing about it.” Jared said with certainty.
“ Thanks Jared, I couldn’t take it if anyone thought that Sharon had done that to Mark. She’s not like that at all.” Steve replied the relief in his voice evident.
“I’ve said this before and Ill say it again, I don’t care what sort of relationships people have, as long as every one involved agrees on it. The day I can Color coordinate my clothes and walk across water with out getting my pants wet Ill worry about setting down rules for people, and since that’s not likely to happen, I think your reasonably safe from my tyranny. Besides, you’re the poor asshole living with two pregnant women.” Jared said ginning.
“ God let me tell you the only thing great about the end of the world, Is I don’t have to worry about being sent to the store for kidneys, Ice cream and onions at 0300hrs.” Steve said.
Jared grinned at that, “ I can honestly say I don’t envy you.” He told Steve. “ now lets get back outside, I want to start coming up with plans on getting our collective asses safely around the undead.” He said as he limped for the door. “ Besides, we don’t have anything else to do but patrol, and post out guards for the next few days” Jared said as he stepped outside.
Rob eyed the last weld and then nodded in approval as he stepped back and eyeballed the cattle catcher, this one unlike the original had hydraulics and a winch installed so that the cattle catcher could be lifted in case of terrain that called for it. Ryan and Jerry were busying laying out the Metal that was to be used in making the knee cappers. But the system on Beast two would be slightly different. They had also added spikes along the bottom edge of the cattle catcher. The louvered covers for the windshield of Beast two were done, and if Erik didn’t fall behind, they would be installed by nightfall.
Satisfied that it was all going according to plan he walked the short distance to one of the Rv’s to get started on the tune up. If they stuck by Jared’s newest time line, he would only have three of the Rv’s serviced before they pulled out. Assuming something more critical didn’t come up and it seemed like it always did.
The problem with working on Rv’s was the motors were in the back, which meant half the time you had to pull up the floor and bed in the Rv just to do minor work. Now that Semi Truck RV Steve had found was a beauty, easy access engine in the front making it perfect to work on.
“ Need any help?” Henry asked walking up and eyeing the Rv. Rob hid a smile, as he studied the older man. Not a bad looking guy over all he thought especially now that Henry has lost that little bit of a pooch. Like every one else these days, Henry had filled out and slimmed down. He would have had to have spent a fortune at a gym to get that build last summer. Rob got his mind back to business.
“ I don’t mind the help at all” Rob said tossing Henry a socket driver. “ help me get this damn thing tuned up.” Henry grinned and pulled off his shirt, folding it up neatly before setting it safely out of the way of any flying oil or dirt.
“ lets get dirty, and no not that way you perv.” Henry told Rob with a laugh. “ I have an appointment with Mai linn for a massage later. god that is a little bit of heaven in those tiny hands”
“ it’s the end of the world, we need to snatch what little pleasures we can, while we can” Rob said leading the way into the RV. “ and I talked her into Teaching Erik some of the techniques” Rob added.
* * *
Cole was exhausted; things couldn’t have gotten much worse over the last two days. Diane had been the first to die. She had died on the bus with out any one realizing it till she turned and ripped out the throat of Robert Caswell, resident of New Jersey who had been touring the smoky mountains with his family back in June, now his ten year old daughter Emily was alone in the world. Then Christy, Lane and Carlos had died from what ever the hell they had caught.
The one stroke of good luck had been finding two trucks, with canoes on the roof racks and camping gear in the back. Eight backpacks in all, four were packed with women’s clothing and feminine stuff. He assumed it had been four couples setting off on a camping trip and had died before getting there.
In fact it had been while they were unloading the camping gear that Diane had died. By the time Cole hearing the screams, got back on the bus. Diane was chewing thru the cartilage in Roberts throat, blood spraying everywhere. And Emily just sat across from her father covered in his blood and screaming till she passed out.
Now they were holed up in a Bed in Breakfast, that had once been a popular haunt for newly weds with a great view of the mountains and far from any homes or towns. Like many B&Bs in this part of the country, it was an old sprawling building, with lots of arbors, lattice and gingerbread built most likely in the late 1800’s possibly the early 1900’s. It sat amidst large old trees, mostly Hemlock and oak.
It was on the modern deck at the back of the place that they had found the bodies of a newly married couple Daniel and Lissa Morrehouse.
Searching the building they had discovered a note left behind in the honeymoon bedroom. Daniel and his bride had only been married for four days when the zombies put in an appearance.
According to the note the owners of the B&B, had packed up and fled early on along with three other guests. Daniel and his wife had already heard on the Radio before the broadcasts stopped that Knoxville their home had been overrun, so with no place to go back to they had settled in hoping against hope that the situation would be brought under control.
They ran out of food early September and were slowly starving. When his wife started fading, the hunger pains growing to much for her, he fixed her a mixed drink from the small bar in the dining room, and laced it with pills he had found. When she had fallen unconscious he had shot her with his pistol.
His last written words had been, “ I am going downstairs to hold my wife’s hand one last time and then kill myself. At least, for how ever short a time, she was my wife and I loved her dearly. Pray for our souls”
Cole had that letter in his pocket and the wedding picture of the happy couple. He hoped never to lose it. Some one someday should remember the man and his wife.
Call me romantic he thought, but that kind of love and sacrifice should be remembered.
“ She’s fading fast.” Reba said from behind him. he turned slowly hating this part. “ I had Frank and Tommy take her out onto the deck.” Cole nodded and started across the room. “ You don’t have to do this Cole, let Frank or some one else do it.”
He shook his head. “ I need to do it. I can’t foist this off on someone else” he said. She watched him leave the room.
Christy was lying on a blanket; her eyes fever bright and sunken. She tried to smile at him. The once vibrant, tough woman who had tried her best to keep every one cheerful was wasting away. “ I knew you would be the one Cole.” She said. Her voice a ghost of what it had been.
“ I’m sorry Christy” he said, his voice calm. She turned her head and looked out over the mountains.
“ its so beautiful here, and at least there’s not a thousand zombies beating at the doors. I can almost believe the world is normal again.” she said. “ Never thought Id die from being sick.” Her voice was fading now. “ Don’t be sorry Cole. You should marry Reba you know.” Her voice was thready and weak. She lay there barely breathing then weakly lifted a hand as if offering it to some one. “ Jerry” she said with a smile and died.
Cole knelt and placed the barrel of the pistol against her head, and pulled the trigger. He wondered if she had actually seen her husband Jerry there at the end. He hoped so. He pulled the blanket over her still form and rose. Frank and Tommy waited till he stepped out of the way before carrying the body off to be buried. Before the day was out he had to do it three more times.
The next morning Frank, Tommy and Lydia, grabbed their weapons and left in the truck parked outside to look for food. Callie, the trophy wife was almost terrified to be left behind. She just knew that Frank was going to die. Six more people had gotten worse over night, and if the disease worked the same as before most or all of them would be dead before midnight.
Two of the sick, Bill Norton and Stacey Boyd killed themselves. Stacy had been one of Cole’s helpers from the original work crew. The twenty year old had dreamed of becoming a master carpenter in a world filled with people dreaming of becoming stockbrokers and lawyers.
Stacy had wanted to create things that would still be around a hundred years from now. He had dated a pretty girl and was supposed to have been married last July. He had even designed the home he was going to build for his fiancé. And now he lay dead, found propped against a tree where he had gone to see the view and then killed himself with a pistol.
Cole didn’t know much about Bill, Bill had never really talked about his life before the zombies. Cole knew he had been married; he still wore the wedding ring, and had a picture of a plain woman with kind eyes and a beautiful smile in his wallet. But that was all he knew.
He and Ty dug shallow graves, and then gathered the two dead men for burial. Cole hadn’t wanted anyone else there just in case of the Disease. He stood over their graves, dry eyed and angry, wanting to ask God to end this but he didn’t, God didn’t seem to care anymore. Instead he reloaded his pistol. It was going to be a busy day, and he only hoped he didn’t lose his mind with each friend and acquaintance he shot or end up dying himself from what ever was killing the others.
** ** **
Rob was glad for the downtime, even though Jared was itching to get moving once more. They had been here four days and so far no undead had stumbled across their camp. They had put in an appearance on the main road but so far not a single zombie had been spotted near the camp.
Rob had spent those days tuning up vehicles and repairing anything that he knew how to repair. In truth he had only done half the work, with his shoulder still bandaged and hurting from being shot, he got Erik to do the heavier jobs while he instructed.
Two surprises, pleasant ones had been the fact that Mai linn was a licensed masseuse and had a black belt in Wushu and Akkido. All she need now was to be a contortionist and Jared could ditch all his fantasy’s about Lucy Lu.
Jared had been the last one in the camp to discover this little fact, when he had mentioned how many men and women were entering the RV that Mai Linn shared with Carol and Anne, especially when neither of the two women were there. Jill had laughed and told him to haul his ass over and get the worlds best massage. Jared had decided not to point out that there were probably no more living masseuses in the world, so there was no real competition to the title, so she was the best by default. He had however sang Mai linn praises later that night.
Mai had used that skill to pay her way through the last two years of college and as it turned out she was, if not the best, one of the best masseuse’s Jared had ever met.
Mai was quickly becoming a valuable member of the crew, she didn’t hesitate to leap in and help, or take charge and get things done that needed doing. Jared only wished more of the group was like her. He knew from experience that few people had that kind of drive.
Henry had actually come out of his shell in a big way these days, and insisted on being on a team for most of the missions. He wasn’t the best with a firearm in the group, but he was getting better. And even better, to Jared’s mind, no one in the group doubted just how much he loved Stephanie anymore. That was a relief, the constant background comments and sniping had been bad for morale.
“ Is there a reason your sitting there looking stupid.” Kevin asked as he rolled to a stop next to Jared who was sitting beside his van tying a fishing lure.
“ just thinking “ Jared replied then focused on Kevin intently. “how’s the walking thing going” he asked.
“ You know about that “ Kevin asked lowering his voice.
“Logan told me about it, and asked me not to mention it to any one else. I don’t see what the big deal is but okay” Jared commented. Kevin eyed him for a moment, there was no real reason others shouldn’t know, except he just didn’t want to have all these people encouraging him and then it not work.
“ I stood last night with out falling, you don’t know how big a deal that is Jared. but please don’t say anything yet. Until I actually can take a step and not eat ground I don’t want to say a word and jinx it.” Kevin said his excitement muted.
He wasn’t going to get worked up about this till he could actually walk. “ What I stopped by for is you need to get Jill to talk to Anne. Mattie and Carol are worried about her, she’s not sleeping much and has nightmares when she does sleep.”
Jared nodded, he had wondered about the Girl. Anne had come along way in a short time since they had saved her from that Man shaped Animal Seth. Linda had talked about all sorts of mental problems Anne should, and most likely did, have. “ I’ll talk to her in a bit about it Kevin.” Jared said. Kevin gave him a nod of thanks and wheeled off.
That there were tension and problems in the camp were not news, that no one had gone ballistic yet was. At least by all appearances what ever they had worked out about sex and relationships was working.
Jared didn’t know what the over all opinion was, other than there seemed to be no more behind the scenes arguments and fights. He suspected that a lot of it came about at the farm. He wouldn’t be surprised if the farm had a population boom in eight months or so.
He stood up and put weight on his leg; there was still some pain but nothing he couldn’t deal with. He walked almost normally through the camp, ignoring any pain he felt and refusing to let it show. The only thing that worried him was infection and that so far hadn’t been a problem.
He smiled at Mary as he walked to the back of the van and pulled out his combat vest and Rifle. The pistol was comforting but he preferred full kit. “ I really hope your not planning on doing some thing, shall we say stupid” Linda said walking up.
“ Define stupid” Jared asked as his lips quirked in an almost smile.
“ Jared, don’t make me sedate you. Stay off the leg.” Linda said, determined to get her way.
“ no problem Doc, Ill just go sit down with my gear on.” Jared said as he walked towards the only table that they had set out where Team one was already gathering. Damn all busybody doctors and doctor wanna be’s Jared thought smiling.
“ You get one more day Linda, then I stop listening “ Jared called out.
“ Pigheaded asshole” Linda replied then blushed. She really didn’t like cussing but being around Pappy so much she found herself using the occasional off color word.
“ Sounds like you have been around Pappy for to long “ Jared retorted almost laughing.
“ to damn long you fuckstick” Pappy called out from the Med Rv window. Pappy’s voice was actually fairly clear and loud all things considered.
Jared laughed as he sat down ignoring the look of irritation that Jill shot him. if she had her way he would be laying in bed for the next two weeks.
“ All right, we have been here four days, and to be honest I don’t want to wait much longer. the undead have started appearing on the main road so we can’t have a lot of time before they stumble on the camp.
We should head out this afternoon no later than tomorrow morning” Jared said looking around.
“ so any ideas on what road we are going to take.” Steve asked, as he eyeballed the map that Jared had place there earlier.
“ I have a few ideas. But I wanted to run them by you. Basically we head thru Chesnee all the way to Lumberton then head south from there. its not ideal. But to be honest I suspect that even if we made it thru the crowds weve seen on our original route, we would just see more and more of them the closer we got to Charleston.”
“ So your saying we might run into crowds like that even on the new route” Chris asked.
“ Possibly. Most likely to be honest. Especially once we reach Mt. Pleasant. Which is were we need to get to, and this new route takes us almost directly there with out entering Charleston.”
“ I thought we were going to Ft. Sumter” Jill asked confused.
“ We are” Jared said looked around at his friends, “ but we will hit Sullivan’s island first.”
“ Okay I’m confused, the ferry’s that we need to get to Sumter are in Charleston, why Sullivan’s island?” Steve asked.
“ Glad you asked Steve” Jared said tapping the island on his map. “ Let me start by saying, Sullivan’s Island only had a population of 2000 thousand people before this shit started, and only two ways onto the island. The major entrance is pivot bridge that connects it to Mt. Pleasant. The second way is a bridge that connects it to the Isle of palms. We will enter on the Isle of Palms side, Once we are on Sullivan island, one team will turn the pivot bridge if its not turned already. which will keep any undead from entering Sullivan island from the mainland. The rest of us will block the bridge that connects Sullivan to the Isle of Pines. The idea is to seize Ft. Moultrie as a base of operations.” Jared explained and then launched into details.
“ God you have really thought about this.” Steve said twenty minutes later. Jared nodded almost amused at the looks his friends and the others who had walked over to listen, gave him.
“ I have, but it didn’t start coming together till Ronny talked me into getting that damn plane. With it, we can get four people onto the pivot bridge quickly. Once the bridge is turned, that team can rappel off the bridge into the water and swim to the plane. Easy no muss no fuss and that also means.
Using the plane, we can take the ferry’s or any other boat we need with out having to travel through Charleston or any other populated area to get to them.” he looked around knowing they understood just how much that would improve not only the odds of succeeding but of living thru the mission.
“ I figure it will take us a month and a lot of time, ammo and damage to the vehicles to clear the island. Which means we can plant crops safely next spring. But more importantly we will have two forts to live in, and one is on an island that no one lived on. so unless the zombies figure out how to swim or operate boats, we will be safe.”
There was silence after that as they savored the idea of safety.
Jared was glad he had finally shared his plans, as he watched hope grow on their faces. Now all he had to do was pull it off with out getting them all killed. He thought as he watched his friend’s head off to do chores or ran patrols.
Thomas, pointed a chubby finger at the woods “look see a puppy” he told Sally excitedly. Sally nodded, just as excited as Tommy was. “lets get it” he said starting forward, Feeling brave in his camouflage pants and woods boots.
Sally looked back at the camp, she knew they were already too far and Ms. Beth would be angry. They weren’t supposed to even leave the camp and she wouldn’t have except for the Puppy. She loved puppies, She’d had puppies at her house before.. before the dead people. she still cried sometimes at night thinking about how her puppies had died with no one to feed them.
“ Come on, Ms. Beth wont be angry once she sees the puppy.” Tommy said. In six year old logic that made perfectly good sense. He started across the gravel lot calling to the puppy quietly, afraid that if they were hear Ms. Beth or another adult would stop them and tell them they couldn’t have a puppy.
Tommy wasn’t going to ruin this chance He’d always wanted a puppy.
He looked back once and Sally was following behind him, he wished sometimes she talked more. But Mr. Ori had told him that one day he would wish girls rarely talked. He didn’t understand that, so it must be an adult thing.’
Reaching the edge of the woods, he could see the puppy hiding under a bush whimpering. Tommy fished a cracker out of his pocket and held it out, creeping forward. The puppy darted deeper into the woods.
“come on” Tommy said “I got food puppy” he said following the puppy.
Before he knew it, he and Sally were deep in the woods and out of sight of the camp. But the puppy had finally stopped running and was laying under a brush shivering and staring at him with big, sad looking eyes.
He held out the cracker and knelt not a foot away from the scared puppy. “Look what I got for you” He whispered.
“ Tommy” Sally said suddenly, the fear in her voice brought him to his feet. He turned saw her pointing past him. Her face pale and shiny with sweat. He followed her pointing finger and felt fear course through him. Three zombies were staring at him through the bushes.
At that instant the puppy growled and lunged at him grabbing his pant leg in its tiny sharp teeth and began tugging as it urging him to run. Sally finally screamed at the top of her lungs and kept screaming as she turned and ran for the camp.
The fear spawned paralysis that held him broke, He scooped up the puppy and ran in the opposite direction of the camp, his chubby legs pumping for all they were worth. He had to lead the dead people away from Sally and the camp. He whooped and hollered, knowing that the dead people would follow the noise.
He wove through the trees and underbrush his breath coming in gasps, he wasn’t even sure where he was now. Spotting a large Oak tree, with thick spread limbs, he thought if he could climb it he would be safe, Mr. Jared and the other adults would come and save him and his puppy. Desperate to escape and hide, he shoved the wiggling puppy into his shirt and ran to the tree, he had always been the best climber in school.
Jared had just eaten lunch and had decided to go see if he could help Rob, more to get out of Linda’s sight and cut down on the nagging than for any other reason. He was almost to the warehouse when he heard a high piercing scream then another.
He followed the sound to the edge of the camp and saw little Sally her pig tails flying, running across the gravel towards the safety of the camp shrieking for help and pointing towards the woods to the north of the lot.
“dead people, Dead People. Tommy’s still in the woods” Sally screamed.
Oh my God, Jared thought as dread filled him. He didn’t hesitate he took off running for the woods ignoring the pain that pulsed in his calf. Halfway across the lot A shirtless Henry jointed him. As they reached the wood line, They heard a boy yelling for help.
Fear lent Jared speed, he pushed the pain away, it didn’t matter he could let himself feel it later when there was time. Right now there was a kid in trouble and he would be damned if he didn’t do everything he could to save the boy.
“ Over there” Henry said pointing as they heard another cry for help, and then what sounded like a puppy or small dog yipping. The trail wasn’t to hard to find, zombies weren’t worried about being tracked.
They charged thru the underbrush and around trees, leaping fallen logs and a hundred yards from where they entered the woods, they found a small weed choked clearing. Seven zombies surrounded an old oak tree reaching into the air, where a boys foot dangled just out of reach. Henry lifted his weapon but Jared pushed it down and out of the way.
“ if we start shooting zombies will hear it for miles” Jared said as he came to a stop and slung his own rifle, then drew the tomahawks he carried. “ hey shit heads” Jared called out. “ get him out of the tree and away from here ” he told Henry as the zombies rushed him. Jared met them half way, while Henry ran around the group to the tree.
“ come on Kid” Henry called up to the boy, whose blue eyes were the size of dinner plates. A puppy peered out of the boys shirt. “ come on jump” Henry said looking back, to make sure that none of the zombies had followed him to the tree. What he saw were three more zombies advancing thru the woods.
“ come on” Henry shouted. But the boy only shook his head wildly and held on with one arm to the trunk for dear life.
The trick to fighting small groups of zombies when alone, was number one never fight against small groups of zombies when your alone, failing that, do not stand still, keep moving.
Much like Musashi’s open on all eight sides. Jared thought as he rushed forward, struck a zombie then leaped back and spun to face another zombie this one on his right side. Another good point is never taunt them, just kill them.
Jared launched into the zombies running in circles around them attacking here and there. the dead sucked at turning quickly, he thought with a grim smile as he planted a tomahawk in one of their skulls, killing it.
“Kid if you don’t get down, I cant get you away from the zombies. come on jump into my arms.” Henry pleaded holding his arms up. the boy finally moved, tensing himself in preparation of jumping.
Jared’s calf hurt like hell and it was starting to slow him down. He ignored it and continued to move around getting the zombies spread out in a loose arc instead of the close knot they had been. Satisfied he moved in on the closest one and cut it down. Then turned on the next in line. his tomahawks whirled and flesh and goo flew.
“ don’t let me fall” The kid said, fear in his voice as he cradled the puppy to his chest thru the shirt. Then screwing up his face in determination, he dropped into Henry’s arms.
“ got him” Henry shouted as he turned and ran back thru the woods. The kid tucked up against his chest. Dodging limbs, logs and trees like OJ ran thru airports. Which was at least faster than OJs police chase on the news.
Out of the corner of his eye Jared saw Henry running with the boy towards the camp, but several more zombies had arrived hearing the noise and where heading after Henry.
Jared shouted and jumped up and down to draw their attention. It worked, they turned and started after him instead. twelve zombies in all, so the only course of action Jared thought was , to run like hell in the opposite direction. He started running, whistling and calling to the zombies till all of them were fixated on him. he kept with in sight of the group for almost three hundred yards then started really hauling ass yelling and whistling at them, before finally falling silent and running in an arc till he was headed back towards camp with luck the undead would keep going in the direction he had fixed in their little rotted minds. If not he would be back at camp and getting every one ready to move before they wandered into the lot.
The camp is just ahead, Henry thought as he put on speed. He looked back over his shoulder and saw more undead scattered in the woods nearby. Just great he thought it was then that his foot caught an exposed root sending himself tumbling to the ground. He curled around the boy to protect him. sliding to a stop in the soft dirt and leaves he saw a zombie reaching down for him and the boy. Where did you come from, Henry asked silently as he shoved the boy out of the way then kicked the zombie in the stomach knocking it back giving him time to scramble to his feet.
He drew the long knife that Rob made then given him last month, it was as long as his forearm and called a bowie knife.
The zombie tried to lunge past him to reach the whimpering boy, which was not normal behavior as far as Henry was concerned.
He drove the knife into its back and yanked, sending it stumbling away from the kid and the puppy, and almost lost the knife which had wedged in between bones. henry wrenched the knife free, and the zombie whirled on him teeth snapping air, its ragged hands pawing at Henry trying to seize him.
“ run kid, run for the camp, straight ahead till you reach the gravel” he snarled snatching his arm out of the way of a grasping hand. He didn’t have time to check and see if the kid was doing like he asked.
The zombie lunged at Henry and snatched at his shoulder, henry thanked god he wasn’t wearing a shirt as its hand slid off his sweat slicked skin. Already three more undead were as quickly as their swollen rotting legs could carry them.
“ oh man, this is gonna suck” he said to himself as he stepped to the side of the attacking zombie and drove his knife up under its jaw and up into its skull. He glanced back and saw the boy was standing there staring wide eyed at him and clutching the puppy to his chest and crying.
For some reason that set Henry off, he rushed the three zombies snarling at them. He lunged past the outer zombie on the right side and turned slamming the knife across its spine it staggered and fell heavily, dead or paralyzed wasn’t a big issue.
He remembered a martial arts move that Jared and his wife had taught during the winter. they had hammered it into each person, till they couldn’t forget how to do it. and Henry used it now. He snap kicked the second zombie in the knee shattering bones and then stomped his foot down on the things instep, bones snapped with a sound like breaking twigs and it toppled over . He whirled left to take out the last zombie just as an arrow appeared in its head. it fell over backwards and lay still.
Henry finished off the cripples then rose to see Steve, Ori and Chris stride out of the brush.
“ good job” Steve said giving Henry a friendly slap on the back. “ damn good job”
“ Where’s Jared.” Ori asked peering into the woods, where they saw no more zombies.
“ Not sure, he distracted the others while I got the Kid I was bringing him back to camp when this group showed up.” Henry said looking back towards the spot where the clearing was. “Take the boy back and Ill go check” Henry said starting forward.
“ your nuts right, you get Tommy out, and his puppy. Which Beth is going to love. And let the THREE of us search” Ori said stressing the fact that numbers mattered, they started forward only to stop as Jared appeared thru the trees and placed a finger to his lips as he ran up to them.
“ there’s another group of undead out there, I led them towards the road, hopefully they are still headed that way” he said in a low voice. “lets get back and start loading up” Even if I led them off, sometime in the next few hours more of them will show up and stumble into the camp, he told himself. At least we had four days.
** ** **
Cole glanced in the rear view mirror to make sure the rest of the group was still with him. Not that it was much of a group left, twenty one people had died from the disease. In less than two weeks, they had gone from almost a hundred to eighteen people left, not counting himself, god help him he had failed them.
“ Damn things are thick as shit today” he muttered to no one in particular.
“ Maybe we should forget meeting up with people we don’t even know” Frank said from the back seat . Cole didn’t have to look to see Callie nodding in agreement. There was a brittleness to Franks voice that Cole didn’t like. But what could about it, Frank like every one else had been hammered by the deaths that just kept coming.
“ Frank, I know you’re nervous about this. Hell I am too. But think about it, we have four rifles and two pistols, very little ammo and very little food. And we are running out of gas.
Honestly man if you can suggest a way that we can get more weapons, food, ammo and fuel before we end up stuck on the side of the road with those things out there I will happily do it.” Cole said as Reba place a hand on his thigh offering silent support.
He could see in the rear view mirror Frank shaking his head. He also didn’t add that Reba had a dream where she was told they needed to meet up with these people. That would send Frank up a wall. Not so long ago it would have sent him up a wall too.
“ If I can Frank, I plan on meeting them by myself so no one else is in danger from them. But they didn’t have to drop that map and the note inviting us to join them, they have a plane for gods’ sake. They have to have food, and everything else we might need.” Now why do I sound like I am trying to convince myself, Cole thought.
But he did believe it, any one that could be flying a plane and using radio’s had something going for them and with the piss poor job he had done leading these people, they had to be doing better than he had. I hope, Man I Hope.
“ I just don’t know if we can trust them Cole. We have already lost so many people.” Frank replied turning his head to stare out the window.
“ I know,” and its all my fault Cole didn’t say. “ it’s not easy for me either. But I just cant see them going thru all this when they don’t know if we have anything worth while. It would be easier for them to have wormed their way into the Complex like that Prick Michael did.” Cole said, bitterly. Almost every person who had voted to allow Michael into the complex had already died.
Maybe I just want to believe that there is help at the end of this trip. But we had to have some kind of goal, we couldn’t stay at the complex any longer. Honestly I’m surprised that they haven’t killed me for getting so many of them killed.
Up ahead he could see a sign that simply said Welcome to Chesnee, Cole remembered driving thru the Chesnee in better days. like to take a date out to dinner in Spartan or go to the Battlefield in Cowpens. But these days the streets were covered in trash. windows were broken, Abandoned cars littered the streets. Here and there they could see where wrecks had been pushed out of the way clearing the road.
Callie turned her face away from the window, not able to face the sight. As memories of the final days of civilization flooded thru her, the desperate race to escape the chaos as people died around her, being eaten by loved ones and total strangers. Trapped so far from home, with no one to rely on or to help her. She had stolen a car and finally run out of gas at the entrance to the asylum, Zombies were chasing after her, and the sight of Cole and Frank appearing with Pry bars in hand to get her to safety inside the walls had been like a miracle.
In the complex it had been easy to not think about what the rest of the world was like beyond the walls, but now that she was outside those walls again, seeing the reality day after day, death after death she felt like she was on the edge of going mad. .
Occasionally they saw zombies wandering along the sidewalks which turned and began to move after the vehicles. Here and there were burned out buildings. A small plane had crashed into a grocery store, its broken tail still sticking out of the roof.
Cole drove around zombies as much as he could, he couldn’t stand hearing the crack of breaking bones and thuds as the bodies bounced against the bottom of the Truck.
Finally, they emerged on the other side of town, the number of homes dwindling and no sight of the undead. They drove another five miles or so when Reba tapped his arm.
“ Look at that “ Reba said pointing to an old country store. Some one had spray-painted a message on the wall, “ If your using the map we dropped, to many zombies ahead. Plans have changed, two miles up turn left on gravel road and drive two miles will be there for as long as we can, will leave note if we have to leave”
Cole felt his nerves tighten, now that they were so close. Doubts poured through him. at a mile and a half later, he slowed, tensions rising there were a lot of undead on the road again, more than they had seen in Chesnee. They just seemed to be standing there, blocking the road, till they spotted the vehicles, and then they surged forward in that utterly silent and horrify way they had. He prepared to turn when suddenly the tires blew on the truck and he almost lost control.
The Van right behind him, blew its tires as well, the last van hit its brakes and stopped. Immediately the zombies mobbed it beating on the glass and metal a mind numbing rhythmic pounding.
Cole was having a hard time controlling the truck. Something slapped against the wheel well on the drivers side as the shredded tire ripped free of the rim and went flying. Sparks flew as the rim began to chew on the asphalt.
Callie was sobbing in the back seat; Frank was cussing believing that this was a trap set by who ever had dropped the map. But Cole didn’t think so, that was a lot of work to go through when all they had to do was scam their way into the Asylum and shoot them all there.
He managed to turn onto the old washed out gravel road the note had said to take, but the rims dug into the gravel and they were moving no faster than a zombie. both vans were still on the main road but were staying in place. Just then a gunshot rang out.
With all the zombies at the doors and windows there was nothing Cole could do, they were going to die here.
** ** **
Jared sat in the Passenger seat of Steve’s truck, with Logan and Jill in the back seat. The rest of the team was in Ori’s Land Rover.
They were heading to the main road, to check out the vehicles Chad had reported coming down 221. The call had come at a good time since they had been loading up every bit of gear around the camp in preparation of leaving. Rob was having fits trying to get the Rv back together that he had been working on but promised it would only take another half hour.
I hope we have half an hour, now that engines are running the undead will be swarming this area in no time.
They were almost to 221, when Chad was back on the radio. “ Some one put out spike strips, Don’t ask me when or how, but couldn’t see them because of the undead. Two of the vehicles, a truck and a van ran over them and are stopped dead. The truck made it onto the road to the camp. The last van, just tried to back up and some one shot the shit out of it.”
“ Spike strips” Steve said, shaking his head. “ How they weren’t there this morning, to many damn zombies out there for any one to risk putting them down”
Jared wasn’t so sure “ unless they were put out before the zombies showed up and the mass of undead masked them” he said. Almost positive that again some unseen hand had kept the zombies away till who ever had set out the spike strips. No lets be honest, you know it’s the one eyed prick again, who else could it be.
“ at least we had some one posted out to watch the road today” Jared said “Erik get in Beast one and get down here as fast as you can and bring team two with you.” Jared said over the radio. “ roger that on the way” Erik responded.
“ What do we do” Jill asked, looking at Jared. “ We save as many of them as we can.” Jared told her, then keyed his radio and said“ Ori do you think you can sneak around the zombies and spot the sniper with out getting your ass chewed off”
“ Let me take Jason and I can promise it” Ori replied, the transmission almost drowned out by static.
“ get er done buddy “ Jared said. A moment later the land rover pulled over long enough for Ori and Jason to leap out and then it was in motion again.
Reaching the final bend in the road before 221, Jared had Steve stop. “ Give Ori a chance to get into place, and Erik should be here about then.” Jared said, praying he was right.
Five minutes later he looked at his watch then told Steve “take us around the curve, but only around it no further, we can dismount and shoot the shit out of the zombies around the truck. And turn that stereo on I want it blasting. That should draw off some of the ones on the road towards us and away from the vans. If I timed it right, Erik will be here in two more minutes and Ori should be about ready”
I hope that the sounds of the trapped vehicles keep them occupied long enough not to notice ours. But once the beast gets close, there is no way they can miss that sound.
They rounded the curve straight into hell, Jared couldn’t even tell how many zombies were around each vehicle, there were so many that you couldn’t see the vehicles. The road was filled with the shambling rotting wreck of humanity.
Steve pulled off the road at an angle and hit the brakes, Only forty feet away from the strangers stopped truck. “ All right lets make it happen,” he said as the land rover pulled in behind the Truck creating an L.
Cole sat in the seat, wanting to fire, but not daring to. If the glass were broken nothing would keep the zombies out of the truck. And as maddening as the sound of hands pawing at the windows was, he could handle it for now. Cassie was a different story; Frank was holding her to in an attempt to keep her from throwing open the door and trying to run. He was stroking her hair and telling her she would be fine as she struggled and shivered in panic against him.
The gunshots had died off a moment before, but then suddenly he heard more gunfire, definitely different weapons and a lot more, plus he could hear men shouting and music blaring. “ What the hell” Frank said from the back.
*** **** ****
Mikhail had spent a day setting up his blind, and around three am, the undead had almost vanished from the area. Taking advantage of it, and almost certain his friend was behind it, he had snuck down and laid the spike stripes out on the road, hoping that the next time his prey left their camp they would run across them, and block the whole convoy. He figured he might get off ten or fifteen shots before they pinned down his location.
He had suspected that the new arrivals that had tripped his trap were the survivors from the Complex, which was fine he had intended on using any that survived his bomb and the poison as bait anyway.
Obviously more had survived than he had expected but not by a lot. This was better than he had planned. Now he understood why his friend had insisted he wait just one more day. He had set his sights on the windshield of the last van, the one that had not run over the spike strips, and was now trying to back up, Harry Cusler was behind the wheel, he had smiled tightly and blew Harry’s heart out.
some one inside the van managed to kill Harry a second time but not before Harry killed a couple of people in the van. At least judging by the blood that sprayed on the windows and the sound of two rapid gunshots from inside the vehicle. Always disliked that shit he told himself silently. He grinned at the word; AmErikans had always had some really colorful swearwords. One of the more pleasant aspects of this backwards, arrogant country. To say that Mikhail was not a fan of AmErika was being mild.
He was almost taken by surprise when gunfire broke out down below and zombies began to drop on the road he grimaced as some hideous AmErikan rock music began blaring from a large six-wheeled truck. He hated AmErikan rock music. He watched through his scope and saw the red head male, Jared, running at angle along the side of 221 followed by the hot woman in leather that was always with him. Both were firing into the mass of undead near the vans and shouting, he suspected they were trying to draw some of the undead away from the vans and the men fighting them.
Mikhail started to stroke the trigger and put the red head down but held off he wanted the man to suffer first.
The women would make a great target but once she was dead, he suspected that any other death would be anticlimactic to the red head and that would just ruin Mikhail’s plans on terrorizing the man and his people. Better to pick off others, letting it build, so that Jared would worry more and more that a bullet would find some one he really cared about.
Mikhail swung his gaze back to the truck just in time to see the Damned modified Military truck come barreling around the corner pausing only long enough to drop more men by the six wheeled truck. Spotting a familiar figure he smiled, time to pay the piper old man. Hope your slut woman suffers. He thought as he pulled the trigger.
Henry hit the ground, running proud of himself for how well he had done in proving himself to the others and oddly proud to be with the men and women around him. for the first time in his life people respected him, trusted him. Not that kind of trust that people used to have. That old kind of trust where they trusted you not to piss on their floor, or trusted you not to wave your pecker around at the dinner table. Few people rarely trusted one another in the old world, no matter what they said, not in regards to the important stuff.
But these men and women trusted him to have their backs, to risk their lives knowing he would be there if they needed him. he smiled as he rushed to take cover, and was still smiling when he hit the ground with blood pouring from his chest.
Ryan gaped at the sight then pulled Henry to cover knowing it was too late but he had to at least give the old guy a chance. He hunkered down behind the land rover, next to Henry and tried to stop the flow of blood. But then the body twitched and he was crying as he lifted his rifle and was unable to pull the trigger till the milky white eyes fixed on him. Anger suffused him; he wanted the bastard who had shot Henry, Henry who had become a good friend to him no matter how much of an age difference there had been between them.
Mikhail smiled happily to himself he had vowed to kill the old fuck and so he had. Hopefully he would be able to kill the whore girlfriend soon. But not today, no today he wanted another target. He sighted on the second van, and could see a leg clearly from this angle. Even a wounding shot was a fun shot he told himself, especially if the undead can reach thru the broken windows and drag them out. the height of the windows on the van might preclude that, but it was worth the shot. He pulled the trigger and laughed.
Jared heard the first shot and knew it wasn’t fired by any of his group, the sound was all wrong. He dove to cover dragging Jill down with him. A second shot rang out a moment later. They couldn’t lay there long, the whole intent of this run had been to draw some of the undead away from the vehicles then run into the woods and loop back around to the truck. well the first part had worked out pretty well Jared thought as he noted the number of undead heading towards them. the sniper fire how ever changed part two of the plan.
“keep your head down, and start crawling for the brush” he told Jill.
“ not with out you” she hissed back at him.
“ yes with out me, Ill meet you there I promise, just move slow and steady.” He said and patted her on the butt, knowing it would piss her off.
“ Asshole” she muttered.
“ Sexist is the word your looking for, I prefer buttock addict myself.” Jared responded.
She started moving knowing she wasn’t going to win. “ fancy way of saying you are an ass man.” She said.
“ right on the money” Jared said as he began to fire on the closest zombies. he barely heard her mutter “ pig” as she crawled away. He did wish he could take the time to watch, but maybe later.
The Deuce plowed thru the zombies right up to the truck that was stuck in the gravel. Pushing up along one side using the knee cappers to take out the zombies beating on the windows, the cappers scrapped the side of the track with the shriek of metal on metal that made Eriks teeth ache.
two shots struck the metal louvers that Rob had installed as armor over the windshield. Erik, driving the deuce, flinched as two shots struck the metal louver that Rob had installed as armor of the windshield. He gave the unseen and unknown gunmen the bird..
Reaching the end of the side road, the Deuce turned and went back along the other side of the truck. Steven and the others poured fire into the zombies coming down from the highway. Bodies were tumbling to the ground in cords. But even then the undead were slowly advancing regardless of the damage.
Mikhail was having a grand old time. it didn’t matter, if he killed anyone else today or not he wanted them to feel terror, terror he was sure his employer and his hat wearing friend enjoyed. He settled his sights on the shaven headed Muscle man down below and started to take up the slack when a bullet smacked into his hide. He flinched as splinter ripped thru the air he touched his empty eye socket and growled softly.
That damn big military truck was proving to be tougher than he had thought. Dismissing the shot into his snipers blind as a random chance. But before he could settle in for another shot at the Deuce, two more shots hit his blind. That wasn’t chance he decided.
He wasn’t sure who on the other side was responsible, but he knew it wasn’t the crippled prick. He slung his rifle and set the booby trap and slipped out. Tomorrow would be another fun day. or maybe the day after that. He thought as he slipped into the woods.
Jared waited till the zombies were twelve feet from him spread out and moving in that weird stumbling jog they used.
I cant out crawl them, he told himself as he rose to his feet and bolted for the tree line. He slid into the brush and saw Jill scrambling to her feet ten feet away. Thank you he said silently to who ever might be paying attention.
“ Lets go, “ he said leading her deeper into the woods angling away from the road to the camp after a minute he made a wide loop and headed back towards the fighting.
Cole sat there for a moment, confused, but realized that there were no zombies close to the drivers side now, he threw open the door and leaped out shouting at Reba and the others to get out. Cassie had the door open and out before he finished, Frank right behind her.
Zombies were everywhere and the way to the trucks where the men were firing from, was forty feet away. “ Lets go” he said slinging the rifle and drawing the pistol. He started to run with Reba at his side, Cassie stumbling along behind them with Frank half carrying her.
Cole barreld into a zombie like he was a line backer and knocked the zombie out of his way, he closed lined another and then had to shoot two down, but he was so close all he had to was put the pistol to their heads and pull the trigger.
Then suddenly a man in military pants and a t-shirt that had an alien giving the world the finger painted on it was there slipping an arm around Cassie and lifting her up till she dangled between frank and the stranger.
Cole shot down three more zombies that were to close then pushed Reba forward as he turned and fired into the zombies chasing them. he almost froze at the sight of the hideously disfigured woman in a nurses outfit. I will not hurl, I will not hurl, he told himself as he the snarling mangled face right between the eyes. Portly farmer was right behind her, his arm gone, and entrails hung out of the side of his overalls, dragging the ground. He shot again silently chanting I will not hurl.
“ That fool is gonna get us killed “ Chris muttered. “ clear the field of fire you idiot “ he said cursing then ran forward in a crouch firing to the right of the man as he advanced. “ get to the trucks we don’t want to shoot thru you” he told the dark haired, dirty and exhausted looking man. Who nodded and then ran past Chris who wished he had a grenade or two.
The deuce finally turned around, headed for the second van plowing over anything in its way. “ Team two advance behind the deuce and get those people out.” Jared said over the radio as he emerged from the wood line by Steves truck.
Ten minutes later it was pretty much over. The zombies still on the road were to far away to reach them in time to stop them. Cole just stood there watching as the passengers in van one piled out and were helped into the large military truck. Then the men running behind the truck pulled out the meager load of supplies and handed them up. The run flats on the truck were barely inconvenienced by the spike strips As it pulled up to van two and Cole felt sick as he watched five people get out of the bloody interior of the van and were placed in the back of the truck along with the supplies.
Jared reached the truck and was about to join Steve when he saw henrys body behind the land rover. He felt a moment of grief but pushed it back down. Just two hours ago he had helped save a kid and now this. It was really a shame he thought Henry had turned out to be a pretty good guy. What a fucking world.
“ Ori, Jason get back here, we are leaving.” He looked out onto the road and saw Team two had recovered the spike strips and were loading them into the deuce. Good men, we are turning into first-rate scavengers.
“ get Henrys body loaded up, we are leaving “ he told Ryan who looked like he had been crying. The teen nodded his head then he and three other men loaded Henry up into the truck.
Jared watched for a moment then walked over to Steve and the Dark haired, wide shouldered man who stood next to Steve. A short blonde woman leaned against his off hand side crying into the new mans shirt.
Another man, with dark hair and rough good looks knelt next to the truck holding a stunning blonde with ten thousand dollar boobs, talking to her gently and stroking her hair.
“ Lets get you people back to camp, we can talk there,” Jared told them as Team one started boarding vehicles. At the last moment Ori and Jason trotted out of the woods and climbed into the land rover.
The entire column sped back down the road where the RVs were already set up to leave.
The undead would follow of course, It had only been four days, Jared thought once more.
** ** **
The Smoky Mountains loomed to the west and north. As they drove thru the hilly forested region, full of rivers and creeks that all flowed towards the coast. Ronny flew ahead of the column trying to locate a place to set up the new camp. The last three hours had been rough on every one as they sped thru roads, running over undead, and avoiding wrecks. They had even had to pull part of the wreckage of a passenger plane off the road at one point just so they could pass.
It had been even harder for others Jared thought as he glanced at Cole who sat at the Table looking out the window his face haggard and tears in his eyes. He and his surviving people were shell shocked, and after hearing the whole story Jared couldn’t blame them. Fourteen people left out of the almost two hundred that had sheltered at the old asylum. That one eyed SOB was one really busy asshole.
Cole blamed himself, and that was a cross it was hard to stop carrying not matter the situation, a man or woman would forever regret the road not taken, replay the events over and over believing that there was something, anything they could have done that would have changed the outcome.
Jared had only lost two during the fight to save Cole’s people, Henry and Jonas one of the guys that had been part of Logan’s group. four others had been wounded, mostly light stuff, a sprain here, a cut there. But it had been Henrys loss that had hurt the worst.
After Stephanie had recovered from her sickness, and the whole one-eyed man situation had ended. Henry had busted his ass for the group. Determined never to be a liability again. People had grown to like him, even count on him. what a damn waste Jared thought once more.
Stephanie had collapsed in Jared’s arms when he told her the news. J ared hadn’t wanted to tell her, but he had done it anyway. Henry had been one of his men, he wouldn’t dishonor him by pushing the gut-wrenching job off on some one else. But how he had wanted to, he would never forget the way her face had crumbled and the light in her eyes had dimmed as she swayed then collapsed.
Jared had carried her into Henrys Rv and placed her on the bed, then had sent Chad to Drive the Rv with Ryan to keep him company. They had quickly buried Henry, Rob had still been carving Henrys name on a piece of steel that was the tombstone, with a plasma cutter when the first of the zombies had appeared.
The group had held its ground against the horde as Rob finished the job, weapons blazing and brass sparkingly in the sunlight as it poured to the ground. Rob had shouted he was finished and he and Erik placed the plasma cutter into back of a Truck and the convoy had started moving, the last team members scrambling to board moving vehicles. The Deuces had rolled thru the mass of undead like a steamroller clearing the way for the rest. When all this was over Jared would come back and say the words over Henrys grave that he didn’t have a chance to say earlier. He deserved that much.
He listened silently as Ronny called back with directions to a spot he had found near Great falls, right on a river. They managed to skirt Gaffney with out incident. Eventually they ended up on 9 driving east more or less till they turned south on 21. they drove slowly hearing the plane somewhere over head, and then Ronny’s voice on the radio. “ Turn off to the left just ahead.” He said then continued to guide them all the way to the sight.
It had been a corporate retreat in the past Jared thought as he climbed down from the RV and looked at the glass and wood lodge the size of some hotels. The Runway was three thousand some odd feet long, with two hangers on the west side of the airstrip. The doors to one of the hangers was open and Jared could see one helicopter, it looked like a Bell 222b, but he wouldn’t swear to it and not that it mattered unless there was a helicopter pilot in Cole’s group.
The other hangar was shut, but it was large enough to hold two maybe three planes, he thought as Ronny came in for a landing.
“ Team two go clear the hangers” Jared said over the radio as he checked his pistol then the commando one last time. “ I want to go with you” Jared turned to see Cole standing in the door to the RV. a 30 06 in his hands.
Jared eyed him for a moment, wanting to make him stay behind, but knowing that it would be a long argument and decided to just let him come along. “ Leave the Rifle” He said “ Steve bring up one of those M16s for Cole” Jared said over the radio. Cole looked at his rifle then placed it next to the door inside the RV.
Steve appeared a moment later and passed a web belt with six full magazine pouchs and a weapon to Cole who donned the belt and stood there listening to Jared as the other man showed him the select fire switch, and the safety, how to clear a jam and what was the best way to carry the weapon. “ Remember they are slow, single shots, stay calm. If you miss there are other people that can and will help. And stay in the back with Jason, Jason is your buddy for this mission.” Jared said then grinned, though there was little humor in his eyes.
They entered the lobby, flashlight beams sweeping side to side pushing back the darkness, that only waited and then flowed back in to cover the area as the light left it.
There might even be metaphor in that Jared thought.
Just inside the doorway was a receptionist desk, and beyond that comfortable leather furniture arraigned in conversation groups around a circular fireplace in the center of the room with a polished copper hood. A curving brushed steel staircase with oak treads wound up to the second floor. Two sets of double doors on each end of the east wall were closed. Between the doors was a long hallway.
It actually took less time to sweep the downstairs than Jared had feared, there were only bathrooms, four offices, a maintenance room, two conference rooms filled with high tech gear, and an auditorium.
The second floor were basic hotel rooms, more rustic than usual. But when the power was on and life had been normal they had every convenience known to man. They also found eight zombies on the second floor.
The third floor had four huge apartments now doubt for the CEO and his closest friends to stay in. in the nicest of the four, they found a silver haired zombie in the palatial living room, and a half devoured woman in the master bedroom. Jared did them both with his tomahawk. Cole had stood silently watching but didn’t argue at being kept out of putting the undead down.
They were making their way back downstairs, when suddenly the lights flickered on then died. “ Jared there’s a generator in an outbuilding.” Chad said over the radio.
“ I guessed that when the light came on and then died again. Jared replied dryly.
“ Sorry you want us to fill it up and get it running” Chad asked almost eagerly.
“ Not tonight, we are getting low on fuel.” Jared replied. They hadn’t had a chance yet to hunt down a decent supply of the stuff . Make that a priority he told himself.
They walked back out into the cool night air, where a thousand stars glittered overhead in the black of space. The trees that surrounded the camp swayed slowly in the breeze that swept off the slow moving river where the reflection of the moon rippled on the dark water.
“ Lets get the kids and Cole’s people inside then lets get the vehicles parked around the entrance and the west side of the lodge “ Jared said starting the process of setting up camp.
Half an hour later he was sitting around a conference table, finding it oddly amusing. I wonder if who ever designed and decorated this room ever envisioned a bunch of dirty, well armed men and women sitting around this high tech table holding a meeting and cleaning weapons under lantern light. I rather doubt it. Jared thought as he listened to the Ronny talk about the three helicopters and the leer jet in the hanger. Roger was certain he could fly the jet if they could find a use for it.
The great news however was the almost five thousand gallons of aviation fuel in the tanks. That alone would extend their unleaded fuel for vehicle use considerably. Unless they could find a few more diesel RVs and Small vehicles and do away with gasoline use for all but the generators.
“ Let me think about it, but honestly I don’t see a need for a Lear jet at this time” Jared said then turned his attention to Rob. Who stood up for no particular reason other than that’s what he thought people did at meetings.
“ I know no one wants to hear this, but we need to stay here for as long as we can. Most of the Rvs need repairs. The Transmissions getting wonky in Chris’s Rv, Ori’s Rv has been leaking oil. The steering is getting loose in Henr…. Stephanie’s RV. and we need to find another vehicle for all the kids. The Ambulance is just about shot it needs a lot of work.
All of the vehicles need tune ups, oil changes and god knows what else. “ Rob said looking around. “unless of course you would like one to just stop running when we are trying to escape a mass of undead, or just driving thru the middle of no where.” He added.
“ I thought we got all those parts to keep the Rvs running” Chris asked.
“ Lets see, parts that are never installed never solve the problems.” Rob commented.. “I’ve been shot, we’ve had problems, and I can’t seem to work on vehicles while being attacked by zombies, packing up to leave, or while they are being driven down the road. I know that I’m like the Gay miracle worker version of Scotty. But I do have my limits” Rob said with more than a hint of amusement. Jared choked off a laugh.
“ get with me later and tell me how long it will take to do the most critical of the repairs” Jared told him, Jared held up a hand to stop Rob from interrupting.
“ Look we can get Team two to change the oil and do tune ups. So there’s a day, Ori can look for his own leak and repair it. Steve can check out the loose steering in.” Jared paused almost saying Henry again. “ Stephanie’s RV. While you repair the transmission and look over as many of them as you can to see if there’s anything critical that needs replacing.. I figure three days max and more likely two. If you think, after looking over the rest, we need more time tell me once we know for sure.”
Jared was well aware that RVs were not designed for long continuous driving; especially not when pulling a load thru high mountain passes and steep roads. If they had to delay the next and hopefully final leg of their trip, they would but there had been to many delays already. A formally twenty minute ride down a highway could take hours now depending on zombies, wrecks and weather. And Jared was almost eager to get to the end of this even if it meant a big fight and dying.
Sticking to the back roads was keeping them a lot safer but it also added so much more time to what should be a short hop. Hell, he would be surprised if they were more than thirty miles from the camp they had left earlier.
He looked at Cole for a moment, who seemed out of it. Relieved to no longer be responsible for the people he had led for so long. Jared could sympathize, but let Jared make one decision that might not be good for Cole’s people; he would be up and on it in a heartbeat, arguing for his group.
Linda coughed discreetly, one of the rare times she had wanted to sit in on a meeting. She obviously had something to say.
“ I guess you want to speak” Jared said with a ghost of a smile, hoping it wasn’t going to be more bad news. Especially since the sickness that had swept Coles people.
“ I do, one Pappy is recovering better than I expected. Doctor Winston, at the farm, had told me sometimes a stroke victim can make a fairly spectacular recovery. But will never be whole again, and that seems to be the case with pappy, he will never be able to walk again, or use the right side of his body. But his mind, foul as it is, seems to be okay and his speech and coordination in his left hand and arm is goo and I need you to talk him Jared, he is demanding to ride on patrols. Says he can sit on the passenger side, strapped in so he wont fall over and I quote. “ Even one armed, limp dicked and crippled I can still shoot the nuts off a gnat at forty feet with a pistol. So tell that poofter Jared that I want to plant my old hemorrhoid ridden ass in a vehicle and do something manly.” She said as chuckles swept the table.
“ I think you’ve used more swear words repeating what pappy says then you ever did on your own, in your life” Jared said with a grin.
“ I never saw a reason to swear, but pappy cant seem to ask to go the bath room with out at least six swear words and making a pass at me.” Linda replied. “ limp dick my ass” she muttered then smiled herself but that smile faded as she considered what she had to say next. “ that aside, we don’t have to worry about disease from the new arrivals” she said and the room fell silent knowing she had gotten to the real reason she had shown up tonight.
“ Are you sure” Jared asked. She nodded grimly.
“ Almost positive, I’ve spent the last two hours talking to Cole and his people about the symptoms and their observations. And I believe they were poisoned.”
Cole sat upright, anger and confusion in his slate gray eyes. “ Are you sure, I mean really sure” he asked tightly.
“ a hundred percent no Cole, I cant say that. But I am sure enough to show up here to tell you and the others. I suspect that the people who died were drinking poisoned water.”
“ They all lived in Building c.” Cole said suddenly. “ Each building had its own water supply. But many of them became sick after we left the Asylum.” He replied shaking his head. “ I just don’t see it.”
“ Where did they get the water they were drinking after you left the Complex” Linda asked gently.
“ Their canteens and the water jugs…” his voice faded off. “ the water jugs we filled up before we left. Theirs would have been filled up in building c. SON OF A BITCH” he snarled. “ I could have saved every one of them just by making them drink different water.” He said furiously. “ and I know exactly who did it. That one eyed son of whore.” He collapsed back into his chair.
“ But why didn’t any one else get poisoned if it was in the water.” Jared asked.
“ Because we each carried one or two jugs to drink from, jugs we filled up from the water supply in the buildings we stayed in, and Michael stayed in building c for the short time he was there.” Cole said bitterly as he looked at the ceiling. “Reba tried to warn me, even after the explosion. But I, hell I was a contractor not an assassin or a Doctor. I never even suspected some one would just try to kill us for the fun of it.”
“ Tried to warn you how” Jared asked curious, Cole hadn’t mentioned that during the ride here. Cole looked at Reba who nodded slowly obviously not happy about it but not willing to with hold anything at this late of a date.
“ She’s been having these dreams, were dead people she knew had warned her about Michael and the explosion and other things. I know it sounds crazy, but the dreams have been dead on so far.” Cole explained. ‘ I didn’t believe it at first “ he admitted to the others.
“ She’s not the only one “ Chris commented looking at Jared. Cole stared around the table.
“ there’s been a lot of that going around” Jared said and began to explain his and others dreams and where they were heading and why.
** ** **
Mikhail smiled to himself as he drove down the interstate. He had removed the rear view mirror so he would never accidentally see or be tempted to see what sat behind him, on the rare occasions he was aware of it.
He had begun to suspect a few weeks ago that some how this thing what ever it was, could cloud a mans mind like that old American comic hero. In this case it could ride along with who ever it chose, with out them seeing it if it didn’t want to be seen.
But it seemed only able to do it for any length of time around people like Mikhail, people who were already dark. Which sucked really it would be great if it could just walk up to Jared and rip his throat out. He might also be wrong, it never really answered him when he advanced his little theory.
Its possible all of this was in his mind, But he believed, no he knew it had ridden in the same vehicle with him several times. He had driven mile after mile in the dark with something dead and evil in the back seat or even next to him. With only the occasional whiff of the stink of corruption, and a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of something in the dash lights. Something hunched forward, bowler hat cocked jauntily on its head. As it’s oddly shaped eyes peered out the window hungrily.
He didn’t understand and honestly didn’t care; he had embraced evil years ago. It was a drug to him. To do what he wanted when he wanted. No rules other than his own. He had raped women on occasion because he could; he had killed because he loved watching the life flow out of people, that was real power. Not money or politics.
People paid for murder thinking they had power over their fellow man, in truth Mikhail and men like him held the power. And he had proved that to a few rich and so called powerful who thought waving money around meant he would pant after them like bitch in heat. Torturing those men and one woman had been such a turn on, breaking them, watching them realize when it was far to late that colored bits of paper and figures on a computer screen meant nothing. That it couldn’t stop the knife from slicing off whatever Mikhail had felt like taking from them. The only sad part was no one had ever known Mikhail was behind it. He shook away the thoughts, trying to banish the Erection he had gotten just remembering those heady days.
What mattered now was the fact that the enemy was driving straight into the trap he and his friend had set up. Whether Mikhail was insane or not no longer mattered. The zombies were scarce when he needed them to be and thick when he wanted it. and insane or not he somehow learned in his dreams where they were stopped at each time. That had started a week ago.
He knew that he was being given this information to help his mission, just like he had been sent after Cole and his band. Why Mikhail didn’t know, it wasn’t important. What was important was doing what he had been hired to do, kill. That was more than enough, unless his friend wanted to toss him a bone and let him keep a couple of the women.
He smiled as he thought about his plans for Jareds annoying group, he already had a special death in mind for some of the kids; he had never burnt a child alive before much less five or six. That ought to put the fear of the devil in those Pizdi. He thought with a laugh, and only barely shivered when he heard an echoing laugh from behind him.
“ You and I, we will set the town on fire” Mikhail said. Regretting that time was running down, he would love to have a few months to kill a few here and there till only the Red head and the kids remained to feed the undead that would come with him at the end.
Maybe he was going mad he thought with a laugh as he drove thru the night with out a care.
** ** **
Unseen by Mikhail, for miles around, a tide of undead were advancing towards the living. A mindless uncaring horde, moving thru the darkness, the only sound was the whisper of cloth and the shuffling of thousands of feet.
They streamed down the moonlit roads, male and female, children and adults, of every race and occupation. Nurses, teachers, mechanics, prostitutes and police, farmers and bankers, united in a way that they could never have in life, united by the hunger that drove them and something else that pushed them just a bit in the right direction.
** ** **
Stephanie lay curled on the bed sobbing, not caring that Ryan sat at the table in Rv worried that she might do something stupid. She had finally found a niche in life, able to be her self finally with out pretending to be smarter than she was or acting stupid because that’s what people wanted and expected out of a tanned big breasted blonde.
Henry had not cared about any of that, he had seen past her shell to the woman inside, who was neither a genius or a moron and he loved her for who and what she was and now, Now he was gone, like every one else she had cared about. Shot down while trying to help people.
She drifted off to sleep wracked with grief and then smiled slowly and shyly as He came to her one last time.
Ryan did his best to ignore the sobs from the bedroom of the RV, but it was almost impossible. All he really wanted to do was go hold her. he knew no other way to show he was there for her. But he didn’t dare. For the first time he realized the depth of her feelings for Henry, and hoped one day to find some one that cared that much for him.
Ryan rubbed his leg where Henry had shot him while saving his life, and wished he could have saved Henry. Alone in the dark he cried a bit too.
** ** **
The clock was ticking down again, all of them felt it. Some of them tossed and turned trapped in nightmares, others dreamed of loved ones and a peace settled over them. and they knew, even in their dreams that they were drawing closer to an ending.
They knew there were three, and humanities future rested on the three. They might not understand that, or why getting to the Fort most had only heard of, was so important but Jared had tried to explain to some of the group when they were talking about Dreams of the three. “ What we do might not be earth shattering by itself, but like the butterfly effect it can change things we will never even know about.”
So they slept and dreamed of clocks ticking slower and slower, and through the nightmares of some a hunchbacked spindly creature more of darkness than flesh stalking them. Its milky white eyes peering out from the shadows under the brim of its old fashioned bowler hat, its thin lips quivering into a grin that was both mocking and hungry and promised pain and misery to those who stood against it.
continue to Act 3 Part 2