“About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white.
And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.”
Steve sat silently, in the LP/OP drumming his fingers slowly as he watched the road to the camp resisting the urge to look at his watch. He was feeling antsy, for no particular reason really. He had that feeling that something was brewing just over the horizon. The last time he had felt this way, the world had been overrun by zombies intent on eating the life out of the world.
Three months had passed since they had arrived at the camp, three months since the world had ended. Steve thought, and they had gotten so much done, but maybe not enough to be of much help. In that time they had cleared the trees from the either side of the road leading up to the camp out to forty feet from the edge and almost two hundred yards down, allowing them to keep an eye on that section of road without the foliage being in the way. The trees that had been cut down to clear the sides of the road were being used to build the wall to protect the camp.
The LP/OP or watchtower as most here called it, stood in the center of the open area in front of the Cabins. It was basically a small box mounted on four creosote telephone poles with heavy bracing. It was nothing more than a fancy Hunters blind really. A zip line ran from the tower to the upstairs of cabin Two, so if someone was on watch and zombies somehow got into the compound, they would be able to get to the cabin without having to climb down and run thru the undead.
He lifted his binoculars and swept the perimeter once more. Focusing for a minute on the Backhoe Eric was running to dig the trench that the railroad ties they had taken from the lumberyard down the road would be placed into.
Jill had come up with a system to speed things up; each section of wall was laid out and assembled on the spot. Then, using block and tackle and a truck winch, each newly completed wall was lifted upright, its base sliding into place. The trench was then backfilled holding the wall sections in place. It was a fast and efficient way to erect a wood and dirt palisade.
There had been arguments about placing towers along the wall. But they had decided to wait on doing that till the wall was completed. The wall such as it was, was placed across the section of the ridge where it jutted out into the valley like a fat slightly rounded finger. By the end of the week the last hundred feet would be finished, and the only way to reach the camp would be to either blow the walls or climb up the bluff that the camp sat on.
It was looking more and more like a military camp, he thought with the Antenna towers, fuel tanks, and stacks of building material, and cords and cords of wood. The framework of a smoke house sat to the west, they had plans to get it finished before hunting season.
After the first few walkers appeared in the area, the wall had taken on a much greater importance. No one talked much about the idea, that the dead were heading out of the towns and cities looking for living now. Mostly Steve thought because they were all trying to ignore the thought that one day they could wake up to literally thousands of the things around the camp.
He finally gave in and glanced at his watch, assuming nothing had gone wrong Jared and the others would be back in a few hours. He wanted to pray for nothing having happened but he suspected that God wasn’t in a listening mood anymore.
At least Ori would be replacing him as soon they were back and then he could get back to doing something that wasn’t so mind numbing boring. He suddenly smiled, remembering other years and other posts on LP/OP’s and who would have thought after years of being out of the service, he would find himself back in an LP/OP keeping watch this time not against Soviets or some other ideological enemy but the undead.
The sudden growl of a large motor jerked him out of his thoughts. He focused his attention back on the road, while keying his radio as the sound of other motors became clear. “This is the tower, I have vehicles approaching the camp.” He honestly would prefer to set the throat mike on Voice activated, but the damn things tended to broadcast the slightest noise. So people were constantly stepping over each other’s transmission, which was the reason they used the remote call button.
Shelly had sat down one night and figured out a way to connect the remote buttons to their off-hand gloves, so now they only needed to move a thumb to touch and send a message.
He mentally cursed the civilian model throat mikes. Despite its flaws he loved the compact unit which beat the handsets that most people, like the cops, had used clipped to their shoulders or collars.
Down below he saw a truck emerge into the cleared area before the gates, pulling a Scorched fifth wheel travel trailer. A battered RV pulling a jeep came next, then a little Subaru. Focusing on the cab of the truck, he studied it for a moment, then a smile spread across his face as he recognized the truck. Jared was going to be happy about this. “This is the tower, we have company and its friendly”
Jared stopped his Truck in the overgrown lawn, and slid out as Ronny pulled along side. His right hand resting on the grip of his Colt Commando as he studied the two-story log home. This was the sixth, and last, home on their list to search and clear for today. It was twelve miles by road from the camp, and almost as isolated sitting a half mile from the main road surrounded by overgrown fields and thick woods.
At the moment, there was no sign of undead but that could change at any moment. Usually this far out the undead were thin on the ground, appearing only in small groups, but make too much noise and loiter to long and the numbers would grow
Jill climbed carefully out of the truck having pulled a muscle in her calf when she had taken a tumble down a rickety staircase earlier while clearing the basement of a house. “Don’t see anything from here” Jill said, lowering the scope she had used to look thru the windows.
“It’s got a basement “ Jared replied.
“ You could have mentioned that little fact when we were planning this” she said wincing at the memory of the last basement.
“ Just remembered it “ He replied. He didn’t blame her for her reaction. It wasn’t just the about the tumble she had taken basements tended to be the most nerve racking places to clear and just creepier than all hell.
The Log home was or had been a 1.5 million dollar home placed on several wooded acres.. Jared had actually been inside twice, when he came over to talk to Robert Burton the owner about a four-wheeler Robert had up for sale.
Roberts’s wife, Sheila had been standoffish at best. Personally, Jared had gotten the impression that she was a gold digger pure and simple. But the interior decorator she had hired had really made the house shine so at least she had taste in decorators.
Behind the house was a large garage/barn with a workshop attached. Robert had done a bit of this and that, from woodworking to metal work. This was really the reason they were here today, to salvage as much of the tools and materials they could lay their hands on.
Assuming of course that Robert wasn’t alive and well inside in which case Jared would wheel and deal to get what they needed for the camp.
Another reason for the visit was the house like so many others was far from town and less likely to have been picked clean in the last days of the world. It should hopefully still have food and supplies they could use. Even a small quantity was better than none.
“ Me and Mark will check out the Barn, or garage or whatever the hell that huge ass thing is back there,” Ronny said motioning to Mark to follow him around back. Ronny gave a casual yet jaunty wave to Mary as he and Mark walked away.
“ I got guard duty,” Mary said as she climbed into the back of the truck with her rifle. She would rather have gone with Ronny but this way she gave Jill time to be alone with Jared and hopefully the dimwit would figure out what was going on.
“ Have I told you, how fetching you look in that dress, I have to say that those combat boots and Ammo bandoliers really set it off” Jared said with a grin, more to relieve the tension and pre entry jitters than any real attempt at humor.
“ Ronny likes it, especially when I wear that little white shirt and short plaid skirt with my boots.” Mary replied with a matching grin.
Jared chuckled and then started across the lawn his expression smoothing into serious concentration. Halfway to the house he stopped as he heard a buzzing rattling noise, Jill started to step past him without thinking he slapped hand across her chest to stop her, to late realizing exactly what his hand was now cupping.
“ Um… stop rattle snake” he said reluctantly removing his hand. What a time to get all hot and bothered he thought wryly, Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mary smirking at him. Sometimes I really hate her, he thought rolling his eyes.
Drawing his pistol he studied the ground ahead of them intently. Finally spotting the Rattlesnake, he had heard, about six feet away from them. “Back up and to the right slowly” he said. He waited till Jill had stepped far enough back that there was no way the snake could strike her then fired twice, hitting the snake both times.
The snake began to flip around mindlessly as Jared stepped forward and slammed a boot on its head and then drew his Khukri and cut the head off. Most people had no clue that a dead snake could still bite and poison a person and or bite itself ruining the meat. He wasn’t going to risk either, Snake, rattlesnake especially was good eating.
“ Oooh god I hate snakes” Jill said looking at the snake, she had no problems with blood, Spiders, or much of anything else, but snakes set off her gross out meter like nothing else. Well outside of giant cockroaches.
“ Ever ate rattle snake,” Jared asked.
“ No and I don’t plan on it either. But let me guess it tastes like chicken” She replied.
Jared laughed picking up the snake and carried it back to the truck. Smiling evilly, he pitched it into the bed of Ronny’s truck. Mary hated snakes with a passion.
“ Keep an eye on the that.” He said grinning in response to the glare Mary gave him as she climbed up onto the top of the cab to get away from the dead snake.
“ No problem, I’ll just do it from up here” she replied giving him the bird refusing to scream or act girly and give the red-headed Asshole the satisfaction.
With Jill following close behind, he slowly crossed the yard then circled the house twice, looking in windows and knocking on the walls and windows trying to draw any undead out into the open.
Finally, he moved the front door and found it locked. “Good sign” He muttered though he knew it meant nothing really.
“ How so, they could have locked themselves in and died” Jill pointed out echoing his thoughts, as she readied her pistol. He resisted the urge to call Ronnie on the radio and see if there was a truck in the garage, but he would bet there wasn’t.
The last time he had been out here Robert had the garage filled with his four wheelers, a dirt bike, tools, boxes and pretty much anything but his truck or his wife’s Mercedes.
He broke out a pane in the window next to the door and reached in to unlock it. Jill hissed between her teeth as she realized how stupid that move really was. He pulled his hand back and grinned. “ Nothing there, I checked the floor thru the window before I broke it” he said smiling. “But thanks for the concern.”
“ I was only concerned with wasting an extra bullet if I had to put you down as well as a zombie” Jill replied smiling weakly
The living room was huge and done with tasteful southwest style décor. A staircase led up to the master bedroom loft and home office. A 62-inch flat screen dominated one wall. “ Nice” Jill said as she noted the fireplace, and its custom mantle.
“ Very nice” Jared said eyeing the flat screen. “ We need to take that with us.” She gave him a puzzled look.
“ How are we going to haul off a fireplace?” she asked.
“What fireplace, I was talking about the TV. Ori would kill to watch porn on that thing,” Jared said with a laugh.
Jill turned towards the arch and then stumbled back with a sharp intake of breath. Jared instinctively spun around at the sound, cursing silently at having dropped his normal rules about silence when clearing a home. not to mention letting his attention drift .
Sheila had been a damned attractive woman in life with damn near Barbie proportions. Jared had suspected a plastic surgeon had helped with at least two aspects of her appearance. In undeath she was still stunning, but in a very different way. She must have been in the kitchen when they entered and gotten stupidly distracted.
It was pure training that put his rifle in his hands and snugged against his shoulder, he fired three times. Jill fired almost at the same time. Five bullets smashed into the former beauty, her head vanished in a red haze spraying across the Navajo blanket on the wall behind her. He shuddered, feeling a bit of horror, he was so sick of doing this. Get a grip son, he told himself.
“ Damn I hate those things, they are too damn quiet.” He said. He shook his head in disgust at himself, looking around to make sure Robert wasn’t sneaking up on them. Then realized Jill was still looking into the kitchen doorway, with an intensity that set his skin to prickling. “ What is it?” He asked.
She blinked slowly, the look of dread passing. “ It… sorry I thought I saw something else in the kitchen, just before the Big boobed undead Trophy wife attacked.” Jill told him
“ Something else? “ Jared asked, puzzled. “ Let me look, ” he said starting forward. She reached out and gripped his shoulder hard. “ No.. Hang on for a second, okay. Give me a moment.”
Now he was really puzzled, this was totally unlike her. She was shaken, and scared worse than the first Day of the end of the world. He glanced back to the stairs, to make sure nothing was there, and then focused on Jill.
“ What kind of something?” he asked.
“ I guess it was a shadow, for a moment I thought it was another zombie, and then of course undead trophy wife stepped out the door, but I saw it behind her. Then it…. I guess it was just a trick of the light “ she said wonder if it sounded as lame to Jared as it did to her. She wasn’t about to tell Jared what she had thought she had seen, not unless she wanted be treated like a nut case.
They stood there for a few minutes till she got herself under control then motioned to Jared to lead the way into the kitchen. Where sunlight fell through tall blood smeared panes. Shelia must have spent a fortune on the once elegant kitchen, filled with the most expensive top line appliances that could have been bought when civilization had still lived and breathed.
Jared doubted she would have approved of the new look, best described as bathed in blood. On the floor behind the kitchen island, he found what was left of Robert who lay in large dried pool of blood his head had been ripped off and lay on the floor staring sightlessly at the wall. One side of the skull had been crushed possibly in a fall or stepped on maybe.
Sheila or some other undead had really done a number on old Robert who had, Jared remembered, been a good man who had deserved better.
Even if the head had been attached to the body and intact there wasn’t a whole lot to animate anyway. Robert had been reduced to shreds of flesh clinging to a skeleton, Actually Jared thought after a moment of gazing at the scene, there had to have been a lot more than one or two zombies to do that kind of damage. They usually stopped feeding the moment the body died. So that meant that a whole lot of undead had been tearing him apart at the same time. Jared shivered as cold fingers of horror rippled up his spine while his imagination created a mental movie of Roberts last moments of life.
On full alert now he led the way down into the basement, ten minutes later he had found nothing but clothes and cobwebs. The rest of the house was just as empty. It wasn’t till later he started wondering, if there had been more zombies than just Sheila, how did they get out of the house and lock the doors behind them.
“You really need to come out here and look at this” Ronnie said over the radio. As Jared finished searching the last room. He sounded pretty excited.
He and Jill made their way quickly out the back door and across the overgrown lawn towards the large barn/garage. For a moment it was like a normal day, with a light wind stirring the hemlock and oak tree limbs under a deep blue sky. The only thing missing was a hawk circling lazily overhead while bees droned.
Stepping thru the double doors into the dim interior, of the barn, it felt instantly cooler. Tools and equipment had been stacked by the door ready to load on the trailer they had found. Ronny stood by a long blue bag, and was examining a contraption that sat beside the bag.
Jared walked closer curious, as Ronny turned to him. The contraption was egg shaped the top half clear; the blue bottom had three struts with wheels arraigned in a triangle. Inside the body were two seats. A tapering tail made of aluminum stuck out behind the egg. “ It’s a custom Ultra light Jared, this is so damn cool” Ronny said more excited than Jared had seen him in a while. “ The wings are in this bag, I could put them on and fly it back to the camp.”
Jared couldn’t help but stare at the small aircraft. Yes he hated air planes. But he could see so many benefits to having it. there were important questions as well like how much weight could it carry. How far could it fly? As he thought about this Ronny was talking about mounting twin m248s to the nose to strafe zombies and adding a rack that could drop grenades.
Jared almost laughed it was actually good to see Ronny excited for a change. “You do realize how much ammo that would waste trying to strafe zombies and hit them in the head right. And I don’t think we are going to go to war anytime soon”
“ We could fly over zombies and drop dynamite, or bricks or… “ Ronny said excitedly.
“ Don’t get carried away Ronny “ Jared cut him off before he could start getting really wild.
“Just get it loaded up with the rest of the stuff and we will see what we can do with it” Spotting Roberts old Enduro dirt bike, Jared walked it out of the barn and around to the front of the house and with work got it loaded into his truck.
Not really sure if it would be good for much. It’s not like a zombie couldn’t grab a guys’ shirt and snatch his ass right off a motorcycle. But it still might come in handy, so he loaded it with the rest of the things they needed.
By the time they got back to camp, the sun was setting under the gray clouds piling up on the horizon. They rolled thru the gateway, which hopefully would be filled with a gate in the next few days. Jared pulled up to his normal spot next to the bus parked next to his Cabin and stared in surprise at the new vehicles parked in front of the cabins.
Steve walked down the short steps of the porch of Cabin Two with another man as Jared climbed from his truck. Five foot ten or so, a shock of dark brown hair. “Jeff? Holy shit, Jeff” Jared said with a huge smile, they met halfway and hugged back slapping each other. “Glad to see you survived. Hell glad to have you here.” Jared said, as close to emotional as Jill had ever seen him.
“ I be damned, you drag my ass all across the back woods of Tennessee, just to hang out with that Army pussy.” Pappy said from the porch then hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat into the bushes at the base of the porch.
“ Good to see you too Pappy “ Jared said turning to the porch were pappy sat in a camp chair, his shotgun propped between his legs. Pappy rolled his eyes, but didn’t comment further. He looked more exhausted and frail than Jared had ever seen him.
“ Sorry Jared, we didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Jeff said as they walked back to the porch. Jeff lowered himself to the steps, watching as Ori and Mark parked two trucks bumper to bumper across the entrance.
“ What happened to your cousin in law” Jared asked squatting down next to Jeff
“ Some bastards in Hummers burned the place out. The only reason we are alive was I took the entire family down to the river to do some fishing. Thank god Pappy went with us to guard the kids and Vickie. You know how he is.” Jeff said, Jared nodded, glancing up at Pappy who looked sleepy.
The door to his cabin opened at that moment and Vickie, Jeff’s wife emerged and there were other people behind her. Seeing him Vickie smiled widely, but Jared could see the Grief, loss and pain in her eyes from the months of hardship, as she limped quickly to his side and hugged him hard. Like Jeff, Jared had known Vickie since his childhood. They had been good friends all through school.
“It is so good to see you Jared.” She said pulling out of the embrace she motioned to the others. “ Hope you don’t mind, but we ran across a few other folks on the way here.”
Jared turned to face the small group. A muscled twenty something guy, stood with a rather plain-faced woman stepped forward and extended a hand. He looked tired, and hungry. “Jason, Jason Collins and this is my wife Linda.” He said his voice was deep, and seemed to rumble up from his thick torso.
“ Nice to meet you “ Jared said taking the hand she offered, mildly surprised by the strength in her grip. Looking into her face he decided, he was wrong, she wasn’t plain faced, not with those eyes. Granted most men wouldn’t get past her chest, or the flat stomach or long legs. But she had the most stunning and warm eyes he had ever seen.
“ And this is Henry Servile, and Cathy Hamilton of Kentucky “ Vickie said, as the square-jawed silver-haired man extended a hand. He had a strong handshake, his eyes were a pale blue and unflinching. Unsettling was the word that came to mind looking into them. Cathy looked nervous but gave him a smile. She was probably worried that Jared would order the strangers out of the camp.
Jared eyed Jeff for a moment; he had lost something over the last three months. He looked beaten. Vickie was trying to hold it together for all of them. And Jared didn’t doubt it had been hard, especially with Pappy around. Pappy was not the easiest person to deal with not even for Vickie whom Pappy adored.
Even Pappy, seemed down himself. Subdued really. Most likely the lack of people to insult and bitch about on a daily basis has finally taken the fun out of his life, Pappy lived to bitch, considered it a right actually. One earned in the military.
What ever was bothering Jeff would come out when the man was ready to actually talk about it and Jared would be willing to lay good money on Vickie being the first one to bring it up too.
“ Well let’s get you folks fed” Jared said, by now every one was gathered outside the Cabins. Except for Ori, thank god some one was on watch. That’s all they needed was to be sitting out here like it was the fourth of July, and have a few undead show up to crash the party.
Dinner wasn’t much, some canned meat, the rattlesnake he had shot earlier that day, cooked Cajun style read as spicy, seasoned rice, and one huge honking pot of baked beans.
Beth, the teacher, surprisingly had gone all out on the beans adding some of the last of the brown sugar to them and had a much needed talent for cooking. Much to every ones delight.
The new comers dug in with a gusto, which pretty much confirmed Jared’s idea that they hadn’t been eating a lot lately.
“ How bad was it for you folks “ Jason asked, pushing away his empty plate. “ the first few days?”
“ Not that bad to be honest. We left pretty quickly all things considered. “ Jared answered. Mary looked like she was about to speak but didn’t. Jared wondered if Ronny even knew exactly what Mary had gone thru that first day in Downtown Nashville. She had talked to Jill about it, but Jill had not talked specifics when Jared had asked but from what Jill said and what Jared knew about how bad downtown had been that is was almost a miracle that Mary had survived being downtown as the city melted down.
“ Let me clarify,” Jared added “not that bad considering how many died. And how fast it went down. The downtown areas went fast, but once it spread out into the surrounding areas, it slowed down, because by then people were holing up, and had warning. It took us a couple of days to get here, and most of the towns we went thru looked empty. Half the time we didn’t even see the damned undead.” Jared added
“ Not many at any rate till we hit Livingston” Steve added as he wrapped an arm around Bridget. “ Now that was a damned nightmare.”
“ Isn’t that where you picked up all those kids” Cathy asked having heard some of the story already before Jared had returned. Jared nodded, but let Jill and the others tell that story. He still got almighty pissed every time he thought about what those kids had gone through.
“I guess Summer school saved their lives.” Linda commented. “if they had been home..” she said then shrugged not having to finish the sentence.
“It wasn’t summer school” Beth offered. “We had just started a new, and frankly idiotic, all year school schedule. They called it an experiment, but I suspect unless it really drained the coffers they would have kept it going till the end of time.”
Jared grunted something as he looked around but didn’t see Ben. Ben had pestered all of them for a while now about going out with one of the teams. But so far they had managed to keep convincing the young teen ager to stay with the kids and help guard them. But with the wall almost done, Ben would get even pushier about going along. And the truth was, none of them wanted that kid to have to deal with the crap any sooner than he had to. He had been thru enough already.
They spent maybe four hours swapping stories about that day. Well all but Henry who said he really didn’t want to talk about it. Jason and His wife had gone thru hell, before escaping Chattanooga where they had stayed at a hotel on vacation.
Finally, Jared rose and grimaced as he realized just how dirty he was. In all the excitement, he hadn’t even bathed yet and it was getting damned late.
“ If you folks will pardon me I should have gotten a bath as soon as I got back,” Jared said rising to his feet and stifling a yawn. Once he had gotten thru the round of good nights, which felt strangely normal he grabbed a towel and headed out to the hot tub. He couldn’t wait till they got a pump running so he could take a shower inside. For now, being able to fill the hot tub with hot water so that he could soak and bathe was wonderful. Some things about civilization were missed more than others.
He had a lot to think about, not just the about the new arrivals either. The questions surrounding Roberts house bothered him a lot. There had to have been more than one zombie in that home. And there had been only Sheila been inside, what had happened to the others?. who had locked the door?
The one question he didn’t want to think about tonight was how they were going to increase their food supply to feed the new mouths. By the time he got out of the tub and headed upstairs, every one else was already in bed. Jason and Linda were asleep on the floor in the living room, wrapped in an old afghan to ward off the chill of the night.
Once in his room, he slipped off his shorts and decided to use some electricity and turned on the light so he could do some light reading. He had started getting into a technical Manuel on how to rewrap generators the other night, which he was sure might be helpful later on.
But all thoughts of reading vanished, as he saw Jill sitting naked in his bed, the sheets pooled about her narrow waist. Her hair was unbound and fell around her face in delicate waves.
“ What are you doing here “ he heard himself asked. Like he didn’t know and wasn’t more than eager to do the deed.
“ Mary told me you can be a bit slow, after two months of hinting I decided to take the direct route. Get in this bed, and make me very happy.” Her eyes drifted to his crotch and she smiled. “ And so far I’m pretty happy with what I see”
Later he worried that all the noise might have drawn the attention of the undead in town. As he drifted off to sleep he realized it was worth the ammo they might have to use to fend off the undead.
The courtyard was huge, he thought as he looked around. The arcades were deep in shadows. “ Do you remember this place?” Elliot Stone asked. Jared turned, surprised, but not. This was a dream; his dad had been dead for years now.
“ Ft. Sumter,” Jared replied.“ We came here when I was 12 or 13,” Jared said smiling at the memory then looked up to see His dad smiling and nodding.
“ Best vacation we ever took,” Elliot Stone said, as he rubbed Jared’s hair with a large callused hand.
‘“ I liked St. Johns myself, dad,” Jared replied, he should have found it odd such a banal conversation in a dream but it beat the nightmares he had, had. Then again, he thought it was really odd he knew he was dreaming.
There was a strange feeling of reality to this dream too. Something that he had never really experienced in a dream before and couldn’t have explained it to any one else and have it make sense. .
“ That’s were you met Donna Maria.” His dad said as they walked across the courtyard. Jared grinned remembering the pretty Puerto Rican girl. She had been his first love, his first woman. They had spent the week sneaking off to skinny dip in the ocean and make love on a deserted beach.
“ Always thought your old dad didn’t know you were up to no good.” Elliott said with a smile. Jared grinned at that. He wasn’t surprised his dad had known, the old guy was pretty sharp, had been he corrected himself. “ I have to say dad you haven’t aged a day”
Elliot Stone stopped and looked at Jared. “ Its one of the better points to being dead.” He replied. “ Well for those that passed before the end of the world”
“ You know about that, “ Jared asked. Elliot looked around the old fort and smiled in fond remembrance.
“ Nice place to bring kids, even ones that aren’t into history. Old forts are magical to a kid.” Christopher said softly, then turned to face Jared once more. “ Times short son, you’re going to wake up soon. Back to that pretty woman in your bed. Your mom likes her by the way. “ Jared felt tears well up in his eyes, for once not hating the surge of emotion.
“ There’s a lot you should know, but I can’t tell it all to you, not yet. Maybe not ever. There’s good and evil loose in the world, battling it out. And it all hinges on one man. You haven’t met him and may not ever get to. But you and your friends have a part to play. It wont be easy, but we are pretty sure you can do it. And while the Light, has its champions. So does the Dark and one of them has an interest in your group. Can’t tell you why son, or it changes things. It’s got to be done because it’s your decision not because you think its fate. There are rules to this; both sides have to play by them. Even the champions whether they knew them or not.”
“ Is this a dream dad, or just in my mind? I mean” Jared asked.
“ Rules Jared, its what you decide it is,” Elliot said, then placed hand on his sons shoulder and led him up to the top of the wall.
Father and son stood and watching the moonlight play on the choppy water of Charleston harbor and a star spangled sky. The wind was cool on Jared’s face, and the smell of the water was strong and pleasant. He could even taste the salt in the air. “ Its time for me to go son, but I want you to know, “ Elloit said breaking the silence as he turned and gazed at Jared. “You’re a good man Jared, and I’m proud of you.“
Jared woke up, feeling a pressure on his chest where Jill’s head rested. Her hair splayed out and tickling him. One toned and tanned arm was draped across his stomach.
He lay there feeling more relaxed and at peace than he had in a long time. He ran a hand thru her hair and smiled. He could still almost smell the water and feel the light wind kiss his skin before he drifted back into a peaceful dreamless sleep.
Seth sat on the roof of the old courthouse watching the zombies mill around down below looking for a way into the building. “ Not going to happen, you stupid shits.” He yelled down at them. One or two actually looked up at him. No doubt trying to get their body to obey the command to give him the one finger salute.
“ Got me plenty of food, and water,” He said to himself, so far he hadn’t started arguing with himself, but no doubt that would come later. He was really starting to get on his own nerves. “Has to be the lack of sleep, okay lack of good sleep” lately he’d had a lot of nightmares. The kind that left him feeling flayed alive, and they didn’t fade out when he woke up. No these fuckers hung around for hours pushing him closer to the edge.
“Well its feeding time “ he said, then rose and headed to the door.
His footsteps echoed off the walls, as he made his way down the stairs to the basement passing Deputy McDougal. Seth nodded to the deputy who ignored him “ damn stupid asshole. Think being dead is an excuse to be rude,” he said rounding on the corpse in the chair. “ Maybe you want to go outside and be with your buddies. Oh, that’s right their better than you aint they. They get to move around. You only get to sit there.” He spit on the body and kept walking to the old civil defense shelter.
“ At least they used the Federal funds they got after 9/11 to actually stock this place with modern stuff. “ he said refusing to look at the old cases of civil defense Spam stacked against one wall. “ You hungry yet honey,” he asked as he dug thru a case of MRE’s and pulled two out. “ Enchilada dinner, or Steak” he asked holding first one then the other up.
“ Steak it is for you then” he said as he opened the pouch and began to lay the contents out on a tray. “ I knew you liked steak, you have that kind of look,” he said as he carried the tray over and sat down on a chair and studied the girl taped to the chair across from his seat. He smiled as he pulled away the duct tape that covered her mouth. “ Who knew that at the end of the world me and you would be here, with the man who tried to keep us apart “ he said motioning to the doorway beyond which lay the Deputies body.
“ You’re a fucking nut job “ she hissed, hatred flared in her eyes.
“ Now, now, if you want to eat you’d better be polite” he said offering her a Spork full of rehydrated steak. Honestly, I think the enchiladas are better. But not by much”
“ You could at least untie me. Its not like I can run out side” she said bitterly.
“ You might try anyway and I just couldn’t bear losing you. “ He paused and made a show of looking thoughtful. “ but I guess, if I put you in a cell. You’d be safe enough.” He said finally then smiled again, a smile that chilled her blood as he studied her nude body. “ But then it would be hard for me to do the things you want me to do” he said a hungry tone in his voice. she slumped in her seat, with out saying a word. Obediently opening her mouth for the food he offered, shame and rage tearing her apart.
Once she had finished eating to his satisfaction he disposed of the trash and then pulled out a wrapped package. “I got you something. I know you’ll love it,” he said. “ Here, I’ll open if for you. I know how you hate to do the little things for yourself” he said he opened the package and pulled out the “ gift.” A black leather strap with a buckle on one end, and a rubber ball mounted in the center of the strap. He giggled as he held it up for her inspection. “ Found this in one of the deputies desks, he was a naughty boy in private I guess.” He said as he walked to her side and force the ball into her mouth then buckled it into place gagging her. He smiled happily as he gazed at her tear filled eyes. “ Your so beautiful” he said.
“ Tonight we are having company, I hope you get to meet him. He really likes you. Thinks we are a great couple” he said as he grabbed her chair and wrestled it up onto a furniture dolly and carried her into the Her “ bedroom” which was nothing more than a Closet he had set aside for her. The door shut leaving her, still tied to the chair, in blessed darkness. At least on the nights he had company, he never touched her.
At first she had thought his company was just part of his obvious insanity. But one night a month ago she had begun to wonder, after waking up and hearing voices. She wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn that there had been two voices. But the conversation had stopped a moment or two after she had woke. God she wished she could just die, but what she feared more were those things outside getting in and she would be sitting here tied to a chair like a thanksgiving turkey all ready to be eaten. But maybe she should start being more worried about Seth’s company even more.
Jared had dreaded going down to breakfast the next morning, knowing they were going to get shit from every one. He wasn’t wrong either, though every one expressed some form of appreciation for Jill being so patient while wondering if she was perhaps touched by a bit of heat stroke. They were not so gentle with him.
He chuckled as he remembered pappy’s complaining about being kept awake by a pack of howling monkeys covered in motor oil playing Tarzan. The fact that he rarely slept wasn’t mentioned, nor the did any one ask how he knew what a pack of motor oil smeared monkeys have sex while playing Tarzan sounded like. No doubt it happened during the war on some remote island while pinned down and pissing him self.
Odd dreams aside, he was in a good mood. he stepped out on the porch of the main cabin and looked over the camp while waiting for today’s team to get the lead out. They were going into town today.
They needed clothes for the kids, food and drugs. Especially drugs, at the moment three people were sick. And the whole group was worried that it might sweep thru the camp. It was getting cramped too.
If they found any more people he didn’t know what he was going to do with them. Already the area they had planned to use to grow food was now being used to park trucks, a camper and an Rv on. Not to mention the steadily growing pile of material they were collecting to build with.
Jill fairly glowed, as she walked up and flashed him a smile. On impulse he reached out and pulled her close, then kissed her. Ignoring the few catcalls and one rather descriptive comment from Pappy. Something about Lard, a water hose and Herbert Hoover.
Chris appeared, trying not to grin every time he looked at Jared. He had taken to shaving his head like Steve but had grown a goatee that was still pretty short but well maintained.
“ Is that the new Apocalypse fashion, combat vest with no shirt.”? Jared asked gesturing at Chris’s attire
“Depends on if you or Jill are planning on adopting it” Chris said, as he ejected the magazine in his rifle, jacked the slide and snatched the ejected round out of the air.
“ Oh its for me, I kind of like it” Jared said
“ In that case no it’s not the new style.” Chris said as he popped out the Magazine in his weapon, checked it and then slapped it back into the well on his weapon.
It was a nervous habit he had developed, making sure he had a full magazine.. Which normally was a good thing. But he was starting to do it all the time.
“ Now if Jill were to …” Chris started but Jared cut him off.
“ Don’t you have a wife” Jared asked.
“ well yes, but I can’t get her to dress like this.” Chris said with a half-smile, as Jill laughed softly.
“I tried to tell her that since we can’t just go out and buy new clothes, she should try going naked around camp to conserve her clothing. But she thought that I was being overly pessimistic.”
“I’m sure she did “ Jared said, as Mark joined them still yawning.
“Shelly and Sharon want to go too” Mark said tilting his head towards the two heavily armed women walking towards the trucks.
“ Why not makes us the dirty half dozen” Jared said. “ the dirty quartet just sounds like a barber shop group gone bad.”
“ Sounds more like a gay porn musical” Mark commented with a grin. “ Remind me to ask Rob if he has ever seen it.”
With the small group assembled, Jared made sure everyone knew what the plan for the day was. “ …. That’s pretty much it, we hit Wal-Mart, then the fuel supply yard. And then the pharmacy.” Jared said finally wrapping up the mission outline. “every one got it” he asked. There were nods all around then every one headed to their vehicles and climbed inside, while the trucks blocking the gateless gateway were moved out of the way.
Wal-Mart had if anything more undead in the parking lot than the last time Jared had scouted the place out a month ago. “ Odd how they gather sometimes, like maybe they remember shopping there or something” he commented as they stopped on the feeder and looked across the road and down into the parking lot.
“ at least we only need two trucks to block off the doorway “ he said as he put his truck back in gear. “with three trucks it will be easy as pie” Jared commented.
The road was higher than the parking lot of Wal-Mart, and ran parallel to it. at the traffic light they turned down the narrow entrance road. As the entrance road entered the curve into the parking lot, Chris pulled up along side Jared’s truck and side by side they ran over the zombies at the parking lot entrance.
Jared went straight down the aisle while Chris went to the left and down the next aisle. Mark went right. As gross as they found the procedure they cruised the parking aisles running over zombies. As they made a turn at the front of the store they would sweep past the entrance and run over any that were coming out, then down another aisle of the parking lot running down undead stragglers.
Jill was looking green at the gills by the time Jared was satisfied with the work so far. They turned onto the lane that fronted the store and as they approached the doors Jared swung up on the sidewalk and drove between the Crash poles up to the open door. A moment later Chris then Mark pulled in and parked bumper to bumper. Two trucks could have blocked off the door, but with three nothing was coming in or out of the store.
At least not without climbing into the truck beds or through the cabs and the undead were not the most coördinated of creatures. Jared took a deep breath before throwing open the driver’s door and jumped out slinging his commando across his back and grabbing his crossbow.
The plan such as it was, had Mark and Chris standing guard out here with the trucks, they would load the supplies that Jared and the others brought out.
Unless a huge crowd of zombies began to gather in the parking lot they were not supposed to start shooting. At that point the sound of gunfire wouldn’t matter since the zombies would already know they were here.
Shelly looked nervously around as she hefted the fire axe she carried then nodded at Sharon, who took a practice swing with the old Louisville slugger she carried and gave a reassuring smile to the other women.
From the looks on their faces they would prefer to be carrying the AR’s slung across their backs, Jared thought. He felt the same way, but Gunfire would draw far more undead and from further away than the truck motors would.
No if they kept the noise down it would keep the number of undead down and give them longer to strip the store before a huge horde descended on them and forced them to leave.
“okay we stick together, if there’s to many inside we get back to the trucks,” he said softly. The women nodded silently, they were scared but holding it in check as well as any combat vet could have.
He gave them a moment to steady themselves then said “Lets go” as he stepped through the open door. Dim light spilled in from the opaque skylights leaving the majority of the place in shadow between the racks and shelves.
The floor was littered with items that people had dropped when they had fled the store. As dim as it was, Jared had no problem spotting the huge dried bloodstains on the floor. A crusty molding Teddy bear lay in the middle of one stain, a hand covered in leathery skin lay nearby.
The smell was almost overpowering, between the rotted food smell from the grocery section to the right of the entrance and the zombies it was enough to make even hardened vets want to hurl. Jared fought down the bile, but jill doubled over and hurled chunks.
Embarrassed and sick she glanced at Jared then hurled again. Sharon with absolutely no modesty removed her AR then stripped off her t-shirt, which she tied around her mouth and nose.
She looked exotic he thought as she slung the AR again. Big breasted bra wearing combat mama he thought with a silent laugh as he continued to scan left and right for threats. It was only a passing thought his attention was focused on the area around them for possible threats.
At the moment it was clear, but that would change and soon. He could feel it. Shelly followed Sharon’s lead and soon he was standing there with two almost topless women, and one woman dressed in Dominatrix leather. “ King Jared and his faithful amazons go to Wal-Mart “ he whispered. Jill glared at him for a moment, but there was humor in her eyes. Which was far better than the fear that had lurked there just moments ago.
They had a list and Jared was determined to get that list filled first, once they finished the list if there was time they could head back into the stock room. At least there was a serious absence of undead in here, which hopefully meant there would be few to none in the stock room as well.
“lets go” he said starting down the main aisle that divided the grocery side from the normal store. The children’s clothing section was right there along with the jewelry counter. Jared’s plan was simple walk the main aisle and drawing out any zombies that might be hidden by clothes racks or shelves.
There was no need to increase their danger by actually moving through the sight obscuring racks and shelves where a short zombie hiding in the half price shirt rack might surprise them.
Reaching the end of the main aisle they turned left to follow the back aisle, baby clothing on one side, office supplies on the other. They passed into the electronics, camera and DVD section Jared saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Something in the shadows to the right of the music cd shelves had definitely moved.
He swung around just in time to see a heavy-set zombie in a Wal-Mart blue smock step towards the small group. It moved with that unsettling fast walk or a slow jog that some of the undead used, its pudgy legs rubbing together with an oddly unsettling noise. Jared lifted the crossbow and fired. Then cursed as the bolt missed the zombies head by a hair, a damned hair.
Jill’s shot was much better and the thing fell over on the rack spilling cds across the floor. Damn it he thought “ cover me while I get the bolts back” he said starting forward, Jill nodded nervously looking around ready to fight more zombies. Jared reloaded as he jogged quietly down the aisle to the back wall where his bolt was stuck in a flat screen tv. He looked both ways at the connecting aisle then down at the floor before stepping forward and pulling the bolt free. He slipped it into the clip, pulled Jills’ bolt from the zombies head and then jogged back to the waiting women.
“Contact!, straight ahead, two’ Jill said tersely as he stopped at her side.
“ Contact! one at our rear, near the household cleaning supplies” Shelly whispered.
“ Come on” Jared said and began to walk forward. They were just passing the shoe department on the left and computer stuff on the right when, a thin, pasty white, blue tinged, zit faced, teen aged zombie nerd who lunged out, latching on Jill. Before she could react It bit down on her arm.
Oh hell, the thought flickered through Jared’s mind as he tried to turn and bring his crossbow into line, Panic and fear reared up as the zombie bit down. a tooth breaking on the Motocross armor she wore over her leathers.
Jill dropped the crossbow, which thankfully didn’t go off or Jared might have ended up with a bolt in his ass. She grabbed a handful of greasy dead hair and pulled its head away from her arm by brute strength. Before the zombie could recover, she slammed its head down to meet her rising armored knee knocking out four of its teeth on the high impact plastic knee armor, the zombie straightened up like it had been pole axed dancing on its toes before falling on its back.
Sharon rushed forward and cracked its skull with one swing of her bat. Jared, relieved sent a bolt straight into the forehead of one of the zombies ahead of them. it toppled silently over its skirt riding higher revealing thick pasty white thighs
Shelly choked back a shriek, as a zombie lunged out of the shoe section. Her swing powered by panic planted the axe deep into its skull.
As she wrenched the axe free from the zombies skull, Jared calmly reloaded and dropped the other zombie ahead of them. Jill cursing picked up her crossbow, and turned and shot down the one coming up from behind.
“ man this makes shopping with women so much easier and fun“ Jared commented.
“ Just wait till we get back, I feel the need to kick you in the ass a couple of times” Sharon said.
“ I will hold him for you.“ Jill offered flashing a strained grin at Sharon.
“ maybe get Mary to spank him too” Shelley said. “ naw he would probably like it as much as Ronny.”
“ Can we stop discussing how sexy you three find me and let’s get this done” Jared whispered not quite smiling.
“ He is so getting spanked now” Sharon whispered back.
Two passes thru and Jared was satisfied that they could gather what they needed. They had limited time anyway. So as long as they were careful, it should be okay. Shelley and Sharon snagged carts and loaded armfuls of children’s clothing into the carts and wheeled them to the doors. There were more zombies at the edge of the parking lot, now. Mark and Chris loaded the supplies from the carts into the back of the trucks, not commenting on the women being in their bras.
This time they all grabbed carts till they had ten carts lined up down the canned food section. Jill stayed on one end while Jared took the other side guarding the aisle while Shelly and Sharon scooped cans into the carts Once the carts were filled they wheeled them back to the front where mark and Chris loaded them.
They stripped the automotive section of batteries, plug kits, tire valves, oil and any thing else they could use. once that was finished they headed to the Pharmacy section.
Before everything had fallen apart, it had been hit, but enough remained that they were able to find aspirin, cough drops, vitamins, allergy meds, decongestants, there wasn’t a lot of any one thing but there was a lot overall. They loaded carts by the armful and then would rush them back to the front.
“ Better hurry up.” Mark said as they dropped the last cart off at the door. Jared looked out into the parking lot and did a quick count there was maybe a hundred of the stumbling, jerking semi dead assholes out there and he could see more coming from the woods and across the field between Wal-Mart and the neighborhood back there.
“Pharmacy again” Jared said leading the women back into the store.
They lined up more carts at the pharmacy and began to load first aid stuff, along with all the other things they thought might be needed.
“Why don’t you two hit the sporting goods section and load up while we have the time. We haven’t seen another zombie in here. its probably safe.” Shelley said looking at Jared and Jill.
Jared shook his head, “ you must not have watched horror movies, rule number one is never split up” Jared said looking around for any threat.
“ That’s rule two “ Jill said quietly. “ rule one is never have sex”
Shelley shuddered “ I will deal with the zombies any day before I follow rule one” She said with a grin.
“ Well that tears it “ Jared said. Sharon shook her head. “we are doomed,”
“ we need the stuff in the outdoors section Jared. lets hit it fast we have four carts, lets fill them and run.” Sharon said softly.
“ okay” Jared said, when he didn’t hear another shot from outside.
They moved quickly to the outdoors section, still carefully keeping watch, it was possible they might have missed a zombie or two.
Jared was honestly amazed at how much stuff was still left in the outdoors section. Water filtration straws, hand and pocket warmers, cans of lantern fuel as well as propane bottles. Waterproof boxes, again there wasn’t a lot of any one thing, but there was a lot overall. They loaded everything they could find in the carts.
Jill added air mattress’s, tents, and sleeping bags. Jared grabbed what little gun cleaning kits, patches, oil and anything else that was left on the shelves. There was even some ammo left on the shelves. Behind the counter was a shotgun with dried blood on the stock. He loaded the weapon with the other stuff into the carts. Just then more gunfire sounded from outside.
“ That’s it we cant add another damn thing anyway. We’re out of here” he said. They were almost to the front doors, when three zombies stumbled out of the hallway that led to the break room and offices just to the right of the main door. Jared shoved his cart thru the front door and lifted his crossbow.
The bolt hissed as it flew straight at its target and a zombie dropped with a shaft sticking out of its eye. He tossed the crossbow thru the doorway towards the trucks and drew his pistol. Not even bothering with trying to get to his Commando.
He would, if pressed admit to loving the Socom Mk 23. 45-caliber pistol and anyone watching him fire it would have believed it. He lifted the pistol in one fluid motion, sighting, and touched the trigger the sudden boom was so surprising to the others, they jumped at the sound. His second shot followed so close that the two shots sounded like one. As the two bodies crumpled to the floor he saw more movement behind them.
Son of a bitch all this time they were in the office and stock room . More likely in the storage and loading area room He thought. I should have explored the place. I screwed up, Hell if I had known they were back there. I might have been able to block the door, do something . We got lucky that they didn’t come wandering out while we were on the other side of the store and trap us inside away from the doors. .
He didn’t fire again, the ones at the back were moving forward at a fast shuffle but there was still time. They reached the family bathroom door twenty-two feet from his position. “How’s it going?” Jared asked.
“Almost loaded.” Mark hollered no longer concerned with making noise. Jared shot the first zombie, a twenty something guy in skinny jeans. He hated those damn things. They should be called chicken leg jeans. Any guy that wore them looked like a girl from the waist down and could barely move anyway. No wonder he got bit, he couldn’t escape the undead in the damn things.
He shot down a woman, whose face was half gone, and her left arm had been gnawed to the bone. There were so many of them that they were now spilling out around the service counter. He backed into the doorway, the zombies were now ten feet away.
“Ready to roll! “ Mark shouted.
Jared backed up quickly watching as the crowd, of maybe twenty zombies, reached the store door. With the open door of his truck behind him he fired , then fired again. He heard Mark and Chris’s trucks start then turned and leaped into the cab of his own truck, barely getting the door shut before the zombies reached him. “to damn close “ he said shuddering, he just knew one had been a hair away from grabbing his legs and dragging him back into the crowd.
The Zombies were pawing at the windows, Jill was shouting something, Motors were roaring. Then suddenly Mark and Chris were gone clearing the way for Jared to leave. He slammed his foot down on the accelerator, with tires squealing and he shot forward fender scraping the crash guards with a squeal of tortured metal.
The trucks didn’t go for the entrance to the parking lot, there were way to many zombies back there, instead they jumped the curb on the south side of the store into the fields that separated the store from the homes beyond. Driving through the knots of zombies scattered across the field till they reached the road into the neighborhood then turned right and drove back towards the main road.
From the main road they could see almost to the center of town, and there was a crowd down there as well filling the street all the way past the stop lights before the courthouse, from the looks of it they were clustered around the courthouse.
Jared frowned and tapped the steering wheel.
“Something has them worked up and its not just us” he said aloud then keyed his radio. “Lets call it a day. The neighbors are being pissy” he said “We got some over the counter meds that should help” he didn’t look back as they took the back way around to 127, then headed back to camp.
Jared hated this town now; if there was some way to get to the fuel storage area with out going thru the center of town life would be much easier. But there wasn’t, unless they went cross-country to reach Hw 52. Tomorrow though, tomorrow we start clearing this damn town.
She sat shivering in the darkness of the closet, wishing she could pass out. on the other side of the door, she could hear Seth talking. His voice to low for her to make out what he was saying. She heard chairs scrape on the basement floor as if two people were rising to their feet and then another voice answered Seth. She couldn’t make out the words, but the impression of something dark and hungry struck her almost physically. She heard Seth laugh and tried to convince her self he was talking to himself. She didn’t believe it no matter how hard she tried to.
She couldn’t judge time at all in the dark, but the conversation seemed to go on for a long time. “ Well thanks for dropping by, ignore the deputy on the way out he can be pretty rude.” She heard Seth say clearly. Then the old fall out shelter door shut with a clang. “Honey, you missed our company. I hope your awake baby I need some loving.” Seth called out.
Tears welled in her eyes she resigned herself, she hadn’t escaped being raped tonight after all. “Companies coming to call in a few days, gonna be a hell of a good time” Seth said as he opened the closet door wearing nothing but a smile.