“Out — out are the lights — out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm”
~Edgar Allen Poe
When the sun rose in the United States on Jun 23rd, 2010, no one suspected it was the last day of the world. Like every other day, people rose from bed and went through the routine; they rushed through breakfast, bundled complaining children into their vehicles and headed off to work and school.
The radio stations played far too many commercials compared to music and talk shows voiced their opinions, believing they could solve the worlds problems with witty one liners in the time it took the drivers get to work. The traffic built, horns honked and like every day there were wrecks and hot tempers, it was to all appearances normal.
By 7 Am the first reports of violent attacks had begun to hit the airwaves. At first, it was only a few reports from distant places and no one in the US paid much attention to them. Then a report of a riot in London appeared on CNN, then another in Paris, soon Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Jerusalem were added to the list and there on Tv for all to see were the smoke and flames of major cities burning.
The footage was horrific, but few in the US saw it, being at work. But the word began to spread and by the hour more and more people were clustered around radios and Break room TVs.
The Internet carried rumors and wild stories from far off places written by people who were easily dismissed as liars, their reports dismissed as hoaxes, pranks and just stupid bull crap. But still cities were burning and people were starting to pay attention.
Attacks in the US at first were only reported by local news channels. The attacks being so widespread and sporadic it was easy for the national media to ignore. But that didn’t last long. Attackers and their victims were taken to hospitals where the victims turned and became violent, and more people were bitten and the cycle began again. Casualties began to pile up in the major cities as the crisis spiraled out of control.
In a desperate attempt to keep panic from sweeping the US, the Government tried to clamp down on the news, hoping to get the situation under control quickly, but that hope was short lived. The news broke as the Governor of New York mobilized the guard and sent them into New York City, where they were deployed in penny packets and overwhelmed, their deaths filmed and broadcast to the world on International news channels and the internet.
Realizing that the needed to move fast local and state Government officials across the country began to mobilize the National Guard and reserves but it was too late. Law enforcement was already on the ropes and without control of the streets the situation spiraled out of control, and with every death, the numbers of infected grew.
By 10 Am Eastern Time random attacks had turned into riots and were being reported in every major city of the United States. By 11 Am it was being called a disease, The CDC speculated that it was a Bio Weapon. They were wrong and regardless it was to little and to late. By nightfall, civilization would be hanging by a thread. In a week it would be gone
The class was silent except for the scuff of feet and sudden exhalations as they worked thru the advanced set of Kata’s. Occasionally the instructor would correct a student then step back and watch, showing neither approval nor disapproval as he gazed at them. Allen Spears, the Sensei, at 54, had the lean, muscular frame of a man who had been active his entire life, his dark hair, sprinkled with gray, was kept cut short.
Jared Stone flowed thru the new Kata’s with ease. Years of training in other styles gave him an insight and understanding of the mechanics behind the moves that benefited him in learning new styles. Martial arts were something he loved and excelled at and had since his dad had enrolled him in his first karate class, at the age of ten.
At 10 am Central time, the class came to an end the students bowed to the Sensei and began to file out of the room talking excitedly. Jared toweled himself down and then slipped his Muscle shirt back on, his eyes drifting to Jill Montaigne, five foot eight with dark, almost jet black hair.
Many would have said she had the body that Jessica Biel wanted when she starred in Blade Trinity. It was her face that truly captivated Jared especially that soft smile and her sparkling blue eyes. She was by any but the lowest standards or Hollywood stick admirers, a knockout.
“ Feel like a sparring for a couple of rounds” Allen asked from behind him. “Hand to hand or with sticks, your choice” Jared cursed under his breath the man was always just appearing out of thin air like that, much like another friend of his liked to do. Ori the little shit loved trying to get people to fly out of their skins just about as much as Allen did, Jared thought with a silent laugh.
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind some hand to hand,” Jared said then asked.” Full contact or wuss with pads? “ He asked grinning at Allen.
“What do you think would impress the young lady more? “ Allen replied with a matching grin.
“Neither, she talks, but never seems interested” Jared replied with a slight smile, his eyes sliding towards Jill, who was limbering up by the bags and the Dummy.
“Ah, grasshopper, the mysteries of women can only be learned with many boots to the head over long periods of time” Allen replied as Jared started laughing.
They had been good friends for five years now. Though few of the students realized that, since both men worked to maintain the proper roles in class. Those, like Jill who stayed afterwards for additional training or practice knew that the two men were close.
“You sir, are a total idiot” Jared said with the easy familiarity of friendship as he stepped onto the Mat. Allen shook his head in Mock despair at such rudeness then smiled hugely.
“ For that I will introduce you to my foot many times till you surrender” Allen said with a grin as they bowed to each other. There was no humor from the moment they came up from the bow.
The two men circled around each other, gliding in and out of attacks, sometimes moving with blinding speed, other times it seemed deceptively slow.
Jill who had been determined to work harder to perfect her stick fighting skills, paused to watch the two men spar. They were both masters, she thought. It was evident that Jared Stone had been trained in several different styles, she thought recognizing some of the varied attacks and blocks he used. That might normally have given him an edge against most martial artists with less training, but not against Allen who himself had mastered three other style.
At Five eleven Jared stood only a few inches taller than Jill. He wasn’t a huge man, but he was solid muscle with a Gymnasts build. He kept his reddish blond hair, cut military style, and had a touch of crow’s feet at the corners his Emerald green eyes. He had a solid, dependable feeling about him that she liked and it didn’t hurt that he was cute as hell. Just watching him made her regret having sworn off men for a while.
And he could fight, she thought watching as he blocked a kick with a forearm block, went into a foot sweep, then leaped up torqueing into a flawless spinning snap kick, which Allen barely blocked. Jared twisted into a flip to gain some space, but had his feet swept out from under him as he landed. Jill almost started laughing at the look on Jared’s face as he lay on the mat. Then Jared himself started laughing.
“ That’s cheating! “ Jared said, leaping to his feet and grinning at Allen. Who looked as satisfied as a cat that had just eaten the proverbial canary
“Cheating is using a tactical nuclear weapon in a CQC, anything else is just unexpected or failure to see the obvious” Allen replied with a smile. Jared bowed and they shook hands. “ Next time, I’ll wipe the mat with you, ” he promised.
“I look forward to it, ” Allen replied. “But so far you have failed to put words to action” Allen added then gave a pointed look in Jill’s direction.
Jared chuckled ignoring the silent suggestion then walked over to gather his things, focusing on his gym bag, so he didn’t stare at Jill, it was hard, she was the perfect woman in his book.
“ You have a good form” Jill said as she flipped her ponytail over her shoulder, watching Jared as he picked up his gym bag. Secretly admiring the play of muscles in his arms and shoulders as he moved. Why he had been reluctant to actually commit to asking her out he didn’t know. Today how ever he thought he might just take the plunge.
“ Thanks” Jared replied, deciding that telling her, her form was outstanding was probably not the best thing to say. “ I’ve watched you spar before, Id have to say you’re as good or better than I am” He hated it when he complimented a woman. He always suspected that women thought he was just sucking up when he complimented them, but in Jill’s case, it was the simple truth.
They had shared this class for four years, and in that time he’d had ample time to watch her train. Like himself she had studied several styles, few of them the so called soft styles.
She smiled at the compliment, and Jared felt a response that was definitely not appropriate for the moment. “ Thank you, ” she replied as she put away the practice sticks.
Allen watched them for a moment then shook his head slowly, for his two best students, they were denser than lead he decided as he headed for his office wondering if it were at all possible to actually kick some sense into Jared’s head.
They had been dancing around each other for several years now, obviously attracted to each other and yet never quite reaching the point of dating.
“ Aren’t you going to spar “ Jared asked lifting a golden red eyebrow seeing Allen leave the room.
“ I guess not now, “ she said with a light laugh. “ You hogged all the time”.
“ Sorry next time I’ll…. “ He started to say, but was cut off by loud nervous voices that came through the door that connected to the gym side of the building.
“ Wonder what’s going on?” Jared said as he walked to the door that led into the gym with Jill at his side. He wanted to smile as he caught a whiff of her shampoo and sweat. So damn good…. Stop it. Stop it right now he told himself.
Half the gym had gathered around the bank of TVs by the treadmills. From what Jared could see, the news was showing some riots in what looked like London. Fires were raging out of control and police and army units were firing into the crowds. “ Mother of God, “ he said softly going to get a closer look, what ever was going on It looked totally insane.
“Hey Lisa turn up the Volume” someone shouted. Lisa, who was manning the front desk, lifted the remote and pushed the button without even looking. She wasn’t known for her friendliness, and many had speculated she was actually hooked to a life support unit hidden under the desk. At least she was good looking which made up for her almost complete lack of anything resembling enthusiasms for her job or interactions with people.
The volume rose and the calm, professional voice of a reporter could be heard clearly and the location had changed, Jared recognized the Chrysler building. What the hell is going on? He asked himself.
“ The chaos here in New York is only getting worse as the hours go by. The Mayor has declared a state of emergency here and asks that all citizens stay in their homes or to shelter in place at work. The streets are not safe while the riots are in progress. I repeat….”
“What’s going on” Jared asked, turning to Chuck one of the personal trainers.
Chuck looked shaken as he replied. “Riots all over the place, New York, Houston, London, Moscow, Beijing. Some kind of virus, the people infected are going nuts and attacking everyone they come across.” Chuck added, his face pale.
“Sounds more like a horror movie than reality “ Jared commented, glancing back up at the TV. The reality on the screen refused to go away.
Jared watched as the view switched to an anchor room where an artificially cute anchorwoman with a million dollar plastic smile sat looking into the camera trying to appear confident and poised. She managed neither; instead, she exuded tension and fear. You could see it in the set of her shoulders, the way she sat, and the way her eyes were constantly moving as if searching for some threat beyond the cameras.
“ No one seems to know what’s really going on at this time.” She said her normally smooth and controlled voice fraying. “ The CDC has issued a statement declaring that this is a Biological weapons attack using an unknown pathogen.
The explanations issued by other sources are to be frank, too fantastic to be believed.” She paused for a moment a slight nervous tick at the right corner of her mouth, her smile dimming by a few megawatts. “What is known is that across the world, those infected appear confused and suffer from total memory loss reacting violently to all those around them. The reports so far are clear on one fact, if you are bitten, you will become infected in a short time frame. We are now going live to our correspondent in Memphis, where riots are now in progress.”
There were gasps around the room as the image of a riot appeared behind the anchorwoman. Memphis was only a few hours down the road from Nashville. Making the event close enough to hammer home how close the danger was. No one as yet had asked for the channel to be changed to one of the local channels. They were all too caught up by the news rolling past their eyes to watch any other channel.
The reporter in Memphis was a thin blond man wearing casual clothing looked fearfully into the camera. Beside him stood a panicky looking man in blood-splattered clothes, the man constantly looking back over his shoulder at the approaching rioters on the other side of the police lined barricade. “I’m here in Memphis where the Rioters have rolled over multiple police barricades and are sweeping through the downtown area. Behind me Memphis PD has set up yet another barricade and have brought in riot police, to stop the advance of the infected. Beside me is CJ, who barely escaped a city bus that the rioters got aboard.“
Behind the reporter, Jared could hear authoritative shouts and then saw tear gas blooms among the advancing rioters. He could picture what it was like in that smoky haze all too well, from his NBC training in the Army
But the effects he remembered didn’t seem to be in evidence, no one in that crowd was gagging, or falling away. He couldn’t even see a single shadowy form in that haze wipe at their eyes. The Rioters just get coming on, walking slowly through the chemical haze showing no ill effects.
He stifled a shudder at the sight and noted the infected made no sound he could hear. They just staggered and stumbled forward, Arms outstretched as they headed s towards the riot police at the barricade.
There was something unnatural about that single-mindedness that kept them rolling forward, but Jared wasn’t yet ready to face what exactly it reminded him of. Despite that the whole scene gave him a case of the shudders.
“ CJ what exactly happened?” the reporter asked as more shouts erupted behind him.
“ Those freaks, were biting people, tearing chunks out of them. Dude, they were eating them. Blood was everywhere. Well, I got the emergency window open and managed to get a couple of kids out and then had to climb out myself. I don’t know what happened to those kids, but when I hit the ground they were gone and those things were everywhere. I barely got away. “ CJ’s words were rushed and he kept darting a look back at the barricade. It was obvious to all those watching the man was terrified the rioters would get past the police line behind him and was ready to make a run for it before that could happen.
“ Things?, Don’t you mean the infected” the reporter said, looking nervously over his shoulder as the shouts intensified, the beating of batons on shields could be heard as the Riot police advanced.
“ Things dude, they were dead and walking. One dude had his face half ripped off and was tearing into this fat lady like she was a Christmas turkey.” CJ said, his voice almost breaking with Fear.
“ This reporter thinks that…..” Jared never found out what the reporter thought as screams erupted behind the man. The Camera started panning to the barricades, everyone watching could see CJ running for his life, not willing to wait and see if the Barricade was holding.. “ Good luck guy” Jared said softly to the fleeing CJ.
“ Jesus, ” someone near Jared muttered.
“ I got to get my family, ” another man said, nervous sweat beading his forehead. Without another look, he headed for the locker room to get his keys. Others rushed away from the TVs to retrieve car keys and get home. The ones that remained, were almost spellbound by the news footage.
Jared stood rooted with the others, watching as the rioters, all pale and bloody and moving clumsily overwhelmed the riot police. Two and three would latch on and drag a cop to the ground. Blood was spraying into the air. The News crew caught the screams of fear and pain and transmitted them to the world.
The camera zoomed in centering on the face of one rioter, there was a collective gasp from the men and women watching at the gym as they saw the infected mans lips had been torn off at some point, an eye hung down his face and his shirt was covered in blood. “ That shit ain’t human “ Bill, one of the personal trainers said before turning and running to scoop up his Gym bag and rush towards the front door, others followed him out.
On the TV Gun fire erupted along the barricade as the regular officer moved up. The advancing line of rioters stumbled some even fell, but all of them kept coming. Here and there, a bullet struck a head and that person would tumble to the ground and not rise again.
“Holy crap” Jared didn’t know who the slightly overweight guy was that had spoken, he had just started at the Gym. “ I’m gonna head to the house” the man said, bolting for the locker room.
The Anchorwoman was back and stating for the record that the dead were not rising, that a biological agent has been deployed and for people to stay calm and indoors with their doors locked. “ The president will shortly address the nation regarding this crisis, please stay tuned for updates as they arrive at our desk.”
“ I think it might be smart to get on home” Jared said, turning to head to the locker room. Jill placed a hand on his arm to stop him and held up her phone to show him a local newscast. A list of locations were scrolling across the right hand side of the screen as a voice read off the locations He leaned down to hear it better.
“ Local police are asking that everyone that doesn’t need to be on the road to please stay in your homes. All local business’s are asked to start letting employee’s go home in an orderly manner so as not to jam the roads. If there are infected in your area, we ask that you shelter in place till authorities can deal with the situation.” Jared shook his head in disbelief as the reporter droned on with the usual don’t panic, you will be saved etc. Etc. At the best of times there were not enough officers to deal with a city wide situation. And if this was happening in Major cities, it was probably occurring in smaller cities and towns as well so even calling up the guard and the entire army wouldn’t be able to do much more than slow it down in some areas.
From what he had seen on the News he didn’t buy a bit of the official story line. There was no way he could see that a biological agent could have been deployed simultaneously around the globe like that or infect so many so fast with out some kind of incubation period. But what else could it be, if not a virus? he asked himself not sure if he really wanted to know the answer. What ever it was it was spreading quickly and the failure of the police to get the situation under control was ominous.
“ Here is the list of area sightings again” Jill said. They both watched the scrolling names. Then she paled “ that’s right by my Condo. Makes sense I guess with Vanderbilt being right there” Jared lifted an eyebrow but didn’t say anything if her condo was in the area with Vanderbilt she must make some very good money.
After a moment of watching the list scroll Jared gently tapped the screen as his location came into view. “ Looks like nothing near my place yet’ he said.
“ You live outside the city, ” she asked, surprised to note the location he had checked.
“This place can be fun at times. But living around here with all the idiots, druggies, drunks, criminals and respectable city folks is just a bit much for me.” He gave a strained smile the news he had seen pretty much killed his sense of humor and good mood. He tried to ignore the uneasy feeling that time was running out. He felt a need to get his butt home, secure the place and wait till his friends showed up. This was Jill, damn it. “ Uh.. Look, if you need a place to stay. I have plenty of room, just till they get it back under control” He said knowing she would most likely say no to the offer.
“ Thanks, but I need to see if its bad near my place and get some of my things together. I will probably stay at my sisters if I can’t get to my house.” She said as he reached into his bag and pulled out his wallet. Extracting a card he passed it to her, “ that’s my address and Cell number. I don’t think the cell phones are going to keep working for much longer if this gets worse.” He said thinking of the fires and damage he had seen on the news in London and Paris. “But if something happens and you need a place. Come out, all my friends and their Girlfriends and wives will be showing up, and there’s plenty of food and water. “
“ Thanks, I mean that, ” she said softly. Glancing at the card, she saw the Legend “ Stone and Crew. Guides, outfitters and authorized firearms dealers.”
He wanted to linger, but he knew that every moment he wasted standing here could be critical. “Good luck” He said.
“You too” Jill responded then turned and headed for the women’s locker room. He wondered if he would ever see her again.
The locker room was half empty; the gym members that remained looked worried as they hastily dressed. Jared kept finding himself looking up at the entrance half expecting to see one of the infected… no, call it what it looked and acted like, a fucking zombie. He told himself almost angrily. Even if they aren’t really zombies they damn sure look and act like and that more than anything scared him badly.
He didn’t bother with a shower, the thought of being naked and half blind with soap in his eyes when one of those things showed up was more than he wanted to deal with at the moment. f he ended up getting bit, wandering around as a naked zombie wasn’t how he wanted to be remembered.
He almost jumped when the door to the locker room opened and five men entered. They looked nervous, but had that I’m not going to stop my routine for anything attitude written all over their faces. Tired of feeling figuratively naked he reached into his bag and pulled out His HK SOCOM Mark 23.45 caliber pistol, and placed it on the bench next to his bag before pulling on a pair of tan Cargo pants.
Some of the newcomers looked at the pistol nervously, as they began to dress for their work out, but not one made a comment. Despite their Bravado, they were as worried about what was going on as anyone else with half a brain.
Jared was breaking Allen’s rules about no firearms just by having it in the gym. But at this point, he didn’t care what the rules or the law might say. He clipped it to his waistband, ignoring the shocked stares of the new arrivals, before pulling on his Hi-Techs. The old kind of Hi-Techs, without the zippers on the sides that blow out after a week of just walking.
He slipped on a T-shirt then slung his bag over his shoulder and headed for the door, his hand hovering near his pistol as he stepped into the gym proper and saw it was almost empty. If those five guys stayed, they would be alone, Jared thought,. Everyone else was leaving. He wished them luck and started for the front doors.
He stopped only long enough to check on Allen, who didn’t seem surprised to find Jared entering his office. Jared knew it was bad when Allen didn’t even frown seeing the pistol he wore. A small TV sat on the corner of his desk and the news was on. So that might explain his lack of anger over the pistol. Alan knew how bad it was getting out there
“I was going to let you know what’s going on but I see you know already” Jared said tilting his head towards the TV.
“It doesn’t look good does it?” Allen asked, looking uneasy.
“No, it doesn’t. If… If you need a place Allen, you know where I live. I might only be there for a few days and then head out. I plan on giving it enough time to see if they get this under control before I head for the hills. But If I do head out I’ll leave a map on how to find us.” Jared said, his hand unconsciously brushing the holster he wore.
Alan noted the gesture, but said nothing about the pistol or Jared’s breaking the rules. Alan knew deep down inside that the situation out there was already out of control. Besides he knew Jared had a cool level head and the military training to use a firearm without going bat shit nuts.
“ You and the dirty dozen?” Allen asked almost smiling using the nickname the band of friends had earned years back. Alan had spent quite a bit of time with the group over the last few years, and liked them all.
“Can’t leave my friends behind now can I “ Jared said with a ghost of a smile. “Don’t stay here Allen, those windows won’t keep the… rioters, the infected out. And you’ll end up trapped upstairs.”
“ You were about to say zombies weren’t you?” Allen asked, his face pinched.
Jared nodded slowly, “it’s as good of a description of them as any, and more accurate too” Jared replied with a shrug of his thick shoulders.
“Maybe your right about that, and Thanks. If it gets bad enough, I will try to get to your place.” Allen said. Jared knew Alan was lying.
This was Allen’s home and place of business. The only place he had left after his wife had died six years ago. He didn’t plan on going anywhere. Jared didn’t argue, he already felt like the clock was running down and he really didn’t want to be here when the buzzer sounded.
“ Good luck guy” Jared said softly.
“You too Jared.” Allen said with a tired smile as his friend walked out of the office, for what Allen suspected was the final time. Alan sighed and rose from his desk, he had a lot to do to try to secure his business from the Rioters and needed to get started.
Jared would always remember that the day the world ended, the sun was riding high in a clear blue sky. A gentle wind stirred the trees in the parking lot and the smell of cappuccinos from the coffee stand down the strip filled the air. It was the kind of day, that all you really wanted to do was go hiking or ride four wheelers.
But he could also feel an edge to it, hard to describe even to himself. But there was a heavy electric feeling in the air that set his nerves even further on edge. Like something was building up, a dark and malignant power, its time almost here.
He suddenly remembered an old poem he had read in high school.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The feeling of a clock running down came to him again as Jared walked slowly to his Truck, eyes sweeping the parking lot for any threat, old habits and training coming to the fore once more. He moved quickly but carefully assessing threat potentials but saw nothing that truly alarmed him.
Things seemed out of whack; the people he could see were moving quickly heads turning alertly. Across the street, a steady stream of people were leaving the stores and heading to their cars. In the distance, he heard the distinctive crack of gunfire, almost lost in the noise of traffic.
The traffic on the street in front of the gym was heavier than usual for this time of day. Some of the passing cars were loaded with suitcases and boxes. Many people doubted the official news story that the problem was under control. So they were heading out to safer areas. Maybe they felt the same thing he did, time was running out.
As he reached his truck and opened the door, Jared heard screams and shouts of alarm from the nearby coffee shop. Jared waffled for a moment, then tossed his bag into the truck and slammed the door, then turned and ran to the coffee shop to see if he could help. He couldn’t help himself, most everyone ran from screams, and danger. Jared by his nature was drawn to it. The white knight complex as his little brother Eric had called it
People were streaming out the fancy faux French doors of the coffee shop and into the outdoor sitting area with its brightly colored umbrella covered tables. Most kept moving into the parking lot for the questionable safety of their vehicles. An attractive woman was on the ground, where she had fallen as people in their panic had knocked her down.
“ Damn do gooder crap will get you killed yet” he told himself as he ran towards the danger instead of away. He came to a stop just outside the coffee shop, weaving between the outside tables trying to see inside the shop.
Reaching the woman on the ground, he saw that she was shaken, bruised and scraped but otherwise unharmed. He clothes lined a man who was about to run over the fallen woman then helped her to her feet. The man he had knocked down was cursing angrily, but it was obvious his outburst was driven by fear and was no threat so Jared ignored him.
A man in a dark suit stumbled out of the shop doorway. Panic on his face, and holding a hand over his forearm, blood leaking between his fingers. “ What happened “ Jared asked him, sure that the man had been bitten.
“ Some asshole went nuts and jumped a woman. Bit me when I tried to pull him off” Jared wondered if the guy had seen the news, Jared should have shot him then. He couldn’t do it, not yet. They, the experts, might be wrong. Either way he suspected before this was all over he would be able to shoot anyone bitten without a twinge of guilt. He hoped not though.
Jared drew his pistol frowning in disgust as some of the people that had stopped outside drew back, more scared of the sight of a firearm than the infected inside the shop. Idiots, total idiots he thought angrily.
Stepping into the interior he paused, letting his eyes adjust, after the sunlight outside, the Coffee shop seemed dimly lit.
Most of the tables were to his right and many had been overturned. Cups, newspapers, and puddles of spilled coffee covered the floors. Here and there were purses or magazines that had been dropped as their owners fled in panic.
A Teenage girl, blonde and terrified stood behind the counter her hands over her mouth, staring at a man in a dark shirt and jeans who straddled a woman on the floor in front of her counter. Jared could smell hot coppery blood in the air. He glided forward, his every instinct screaming for him to just shoot the kneeling man, but without knowing what was going on he held his fire.
The man had his back to Jared and was hunched over the woman. The kneeling man suddenly jerked his head from side to side, and Jared heard a wet tearing noise as the man straightened up. It reminded Jared of an animal ripping a piece of meat free from a carcass.
Sickened at the thought and knowing it was correct, he centered his sights “ Hey asshole.” Not he admitted the best one liner. But it’s what came out, so deal with it he thought.
The man’s head cranked around almost mechanically. The eyes were cloudy and sunken in the dark rimmed eye sockets. The skin was fish white with a blue tint. A strip of muscle and flesh dangled from its mouth as it chewed. It was the right word, there was nothing human in those eyes
It seemed like Jared stood there forever, fear and shock warring with the need to do something anything. But it took less time than a breath, and as he breathed out he stroked the trigger twice. The .45 boomed, the noise battered his ears in the confined space. The first shot struck the zombie, in the shoulder, twisting it around. The next round that punched thru the mans forehead and sent a spray of blood, bone and brain out the other side. It pitched over the body of the woman on the floor and lay still.
Not the best shooting he had ever done, he thought. But I had to keep from shooting the girl accidentally.
“ You okay? “ He asked the girl who nodded, so shocked by what she had seen that she couldn’t speak. “Anyone else in here, that might have been bitten? “ He asked. She nodded again and pointed to the double doors at the back of the room that led to the prep and storage areas, where the manager’s office would be too.
Outside he heard more screams and something crashed to the ground with a clang, he pivoted on his heel enough to look out the door without losing sight of the woman on the floor and saw the Man in the dark suit struggling with another man amidst overturned tables. The man on the ground was trying to keep the snapping teeth of the businessman who had been bitten, away from his throat.
A sudden shift of the zombies body weight and the struggling man lost his grip and instantly teeth latched onto his shoulder taking out a huge chunk. Blood poured out of the wound as the man writhed in pain. The dead business man’s head dipped down again and bit into his victim’s throat and ripped it out.
Out of the corner of his eye Jared saw the woman in front of the counter sit up in a pool of her own blood. She had the same cloudy dead eyes of the man who had killed her. Before she could stagger to her feet he shot her down. “ Do you have a car?” He asked the teenaged girl who just stood there staring in horror, the authoritative crack in his voice shook her out of the almost fugue state that gripped her.
“ No, my dad dropped me off” there was a quiver in her voice, but she seemed to hang on to her sanity by the tips of her fingers.
“ Okay, don’t panic, ” he said checking the outside door, where the businessman had risen from his victim and was stumbling out in the parking lot trying to catch some of the people fleeing the scene in terror.
So far the newly infected didn’t seem interested in the coffee shop, maybe the screams being so close kept the zombie from noticing the gunfire. Maybe it was just a predator noticing the easy game within reach that might escape. The Dead Business mans victim was already sitting up, head swiveling towards the people screaming and running for their cars.
Its just not possible, a small voice in Jared’s mind protested. Well possible or not you just saw it happen there is no way that guy could be alive or the woman you just shot.
Jared held a finger to his lips, hoping the girl didn’t start screaming. He could he suppose just shoot the thing, but he wanted to save on ammo and draw as little attention as he could to himself and the girl till he could bolt for his truck.
Just then, his desire to save ammo came to an end as the doors at the back of the coffee shop opened and a slightly overweight man wearing a vest over a bloody white shirt staggered out. The blood splattered name tag proudly proclaimed “ manager Vince Doener, how can I help you”
The dead eyes fixed on the trembling girl. The dead man stood right at the entrance that led behind the counter. The zombie took a stumbling step forward arms outstretched its body pushing open the swinging gate that let into the area behind the counter.
“Jump over the counter “ Jared told the girl motioning urgently. She was too scared to move, he realized, as she just stood there shaking with fear.
Jared’s mind raced as he considered if he had enough time to close the distance and kill the thing, beating it over the head with his pistol to keep from firing and attracting more attention before the former manager could reach the girl and knew he would be just a hair too late. Damn it, he thought as he fired. He really didn’t want to shoot again and draw the attention of the others outside.
The .45 slug destroying the mans face. The wall behind him got a gory repainting. Instantly Jared spun around to face the door, the business mans first victim was on its feet and at the sound of gunfire turned and began stumbling into coffee shop seeking the source of the noise. It was only ten feet from Jared when he punched two bullets into its head.
“ Come on, “ he told the girl. “ I’ll drive you to your house, if you stay here your going to die, ” she scooped up her purse then looked around hesitating.
“ I really don’t think locking up is worth your life or going to matter for much longer, ” he said scanning the parking lot. Not really believing that was what she was thinking. There were ten zombies or infected now, and five more bodies, that he could see, that were starting to twitch. Interesting, he thought. At least there’s a warning before it gets back up.
It was forty feet to his truck, and only two zombies close to it. As slow as they moved, he and the girl, Steph her name tag said, could easily reach the truck without getting to close. All the people fleeing the few other business in the strip were drawing a lot of zombie attention. Screaming is like ringing the dinner bell Jared thought with morbid humor. Good to know that too.
He waited while she worked up the nerve to step nervously over the corpse of her boss, and join him by the door. “ Okay, stay close to me, we only have to jog, if you spot a body warn me, don’t assume I see it. Understand?” He asked. She nodded, her eyes huge, but she seemed to have her fear under control. “ Let’s go, ” he said and started out the door.
Halfway to the truck, Jared got lucky, between two parked vehicles a body lay where it had fallen between the two hoods and was not visible till he was on top of it. Only the girls sudden warning gave him the second he needed to spot and avoid the grasping hands before putting a bullet in its head. Somehow the girl managed not to scream as the things head exploded.
Reaching the truck he yanked the door open, thankful he hadn’t locked it when he ran to the coffee shop. That last shot had definitely attracted attention. Several more corpses had climbed to their feet now and starting heading towards him.
Jared practically tossed the girl into the truck then leaped in after her. Slamming the door he jammed the key in the ignition and twisted. It was times like this that Murphy usually showed up. Maybe even Murphy didn’t have the heart to screw with someone with the world going to hell around him. The truck started with a roar and he slammed it into reverse, pulled out, then shifted into drive and shot forward, bouncing over the curb into the street where vehicles still passed. Horns blared and tires squealed as people hit their brakes and he was given the Finger by several people whom he didn’t believe meant he was number one like his mother had insisted it meant
Seeing the entrance to the parking lot Jared was damn glad he had chosen the fast way out of the lot. Several cars, desperate to escape had tried to force their way out, and slammed into each other sealing the entrance. People were abandoning their vehicles and running away on foot.
Behind him, people who had fled the shops last were following his example and jumping the curb to escape, Horns blared and brakes screamed behind him as drivers tried to avoid the sudden onslaught of vehicles entering the street from multiple points. Jared heard the crash of metal and shattering glass as he turned onto a side road.
After a minute of silence, and desperate to hear what was going on Jared turned on the radio and felt something die inside at the sound of the emergency alert signal.
The irritating sound ended and a mans voice began listing off areas that people were to avoid. Time was almost up now, Jared could feel it like a jagged knife tearing away at his reality. Weirdly, he wondered what Poe would have to say about what was going on.
My high school English teacher would be impressed not only at the thought, but that I even remember who Poe is. He had always tossed off quotes, but usually didn’t remember who had written or said it originally. Though he had gotten a lot better at it once he had grown up and joined the Military. it had driven his superiors and the men under his command nuts when he tossed off quotes from Famous officers and above all kipling. Most had never expected a southern born and bred country boy to even know poetry existed much less taken the time to read it. It was amazing really how the mind could jump to total unimportant things while in a tight situation he thought not for the first time. Or maybe it was just him.
“Where is your house? ” he asked Steph who sat shaking in the passenger seat. They were passing thru a residential area at the moment, and it looked normal here. Except for all the people loading cars as they prepared to leave.
“ North by riverside mall” she replied.
“ Do you have a phone?“ He asked and frowned as she shook her head. Who doesn’t get their kids a cell phone for emergencies? “ Where does he work” Jared asked, absently wondering if any of these people would survive this.
“ Downtown” she replied, her voice almost breaking.
Downtown was out of the question since the radio had just stated that downtown was off limits due to riots. Riots my ass, they are eating people, He thought grimly. Then made up his mind right then. He would take her to her house. If no one was there he would leave a note with his address explaining how she had come to be with him and get her to sign it as well.
Jared didn’t like it, but there was no way he was going to leave a teenage girl alone in a home with zombies running around waiting for parents that might already be dead. No, he would wait as long as he could then take her home with him if her parents didn’t show.
Jared fished his phone out of his bag not taking his eye off the road and passed it to her. “Here try calling your mom and dad. Don’t freak if you can’t get them, everybody and their dogs are trying to call friends and family right now. Keep positive okay, ” she nodded and began to punch in numbers.
It took almost an hour to wind his way through back roads to reach the area near the mall. At one point he had to get on a feeder road and was surprised it was clear. The interstate that he could see was a parking lot.
What He didn’t want to do was get close to the mall, god knew what kind of chaos he would find there and unlike the movies, holing up in a mall was not the brightest idea in the world.
I keep coming back to that, he thought, holing up somewhere, escaping its like every one is tuned into some kind of primal fear that is urging us to get out, there’s danger. Zombies and mass hysteria, what a combo.
Steph, remained quiet except for when she told him when and which way to turn. She sat staring out the window watching as people fled the area, Fear tearing her apart after she was unable to get either of her parents on the phone. He felt for her, she should never have had to see the things she saw today. Society wasn’t just dying, Innocence was being strangled out of the world and that was something he would forever hate.
Finally, Jared turned down a tree-lined street, passing neatly kept homes. Most the homes had wrap around porches, expensive manicured lawns and well-kept flower beds. With the occasional decorative fountain splashing merrily in counterpoint to the fear he saw on every face they passed.
People were rushing to load their Vehicles with supplies as they prepared to leave. At one home, a rail thin man stood guard on his porch with a shotgun while his wife and children packed supplies into the Mini van in the driveway.
“ There, that’s it” Steph said suddenly, pointing to a restored Queen Anne Victorian, huge old oaks kept the manicured lawn in the shade and a huge new RV sat in the driveway. There no other vehicle was in sight.
Jared didn’t need to look at her to see her eyes were filled with fear since there were no other vehicles in the driveway. He pulled up to the curb, hating to waste time. He wasn’t going to just rush off till he was sure the rest of her family wasn’t going to come back.
He sat there feeling like an ass as she sobbed quietly. Then finally he slid an arm around her shoulders and let her cry against his shoulder. He felt, uncomfortable having a teenage girl in his arms, even if was only to cry. The minutes ticked by slowly, and the mental image of a clock running down came to him again. It was so real he sucked in a breath.
Forty five minutes later he let her go and dug thru his bag for a pen and paper and started writing the note he was going to leave. Just as he opened the door to go put the note on their door, a ford explorer sped into the driveway. Steph shouted with joy and leaped from Jared’s truck to rush to her father who seeing her almost flew out of his explorer and hugged her tightly, Tears of relief streaming down his face.
“ Thank you, Mister. I was stuck on the interstate trying to get to her job and get her out of that coffee shop then I saw you pass on that side road-heading north. Took me damn near twenty minutes to just get off the interstate and head back this way.” He kissed the top of Steph’s head, smiling from ear to ear, then noticed Jared’s eyes sweeping the area constantly. “ It’s bad isn’t it?” Steph’s father asked quietly.
“Worse than you think “Jared said. “She saw some nasty crap, Sir, stuff that it won’t be easy to get over. And I think we will all see some really bad stuff before it’s all said and done”
“ Thank you, I mean that. You saved her life getting her out of there” He held out his hand. “I’m Arthur damned glad to meet you, ” he said, tears brimming at the corners of his eyes again.
“ Jared Stone” Jared said as they shook hands.
“ My wife’s at the store with friends buying more stuff, and then we are going to load up the RV and head out of here” Arthur said, looking nervously in the direction Jared assumed the store was. “ Not sure where we might go, but anywhere is better than here. Do you need any help “ Arthur asked suddenly.
“No, but thanks, I have a place up on the plateau that me and my friends are going to head to. “ Jared looked at the girl and suddenly felt the urge to tell them where the camp was. Could he feed them all, would they even be useful? He felt ashamed to even think like that. But it was a serious consideration. But more importantly, could he live with himself if he didn’t try.
“Look you folks need to strip every bit of food and medicine out of your house and load it up in that RV, don’t leave a thing behind that you might be able to use and keep an eye out. One minute the area can be clear and then suddenly one of those things just shows up.” Jared said, thinking of how fast that parking lot at that gym had filled with the things and then how quickly they had appeared on some of the streets he had driven through.
Arthur looked worried at that idea. But didn’t seem to panic either, which was a good sign. “ Do you have a gun?” Jared asked. Arthur actually went red with embarrassment as he shook his head. Jared walked to his truck and pulled a Remington 12ga pump action shotgun from behind the seat and a box of shells then walked back to Arthur.
“ This is a 12ga, it can be pain in your shoulders, but it’s pretty easy to use. Point this end at what you want to kill, Aim for the head. Don’t panic, they are slow and you can stay ahead of them pretty easy. A group will probably be more dangerous, so try to avoid those,” Jared said then took a few moments to show Arthur how to load the pump action shotgun, where the safety was, and not much else. Arthur was going to have to be responsible for whatever happened and judging by the way he held the shotgun, the man wasn’t going to go swinging it around wildly.
“Avoid the interstate, it’s a parking lot. When you get to the next town or the one after that and if it seems safe. Stop at a store, load up on food, water, supplies like toilet paper and ammunition. Buy a pistol or two. Spend every cent you have and max out the credit cards. I don’t think you’ll end up having to pay it off, not if this gets as bad as it looks like it might.” Jared said, then made his decision. “ if you find yourself on the Plateau, near Pickett park or the Big South fork. Give me a call on Cb Channel ten. I might be able to help you out can’t promise though. But if I can, I will. Keep them safe Arthur. ” Jared said, turning and climbing into his truck as the man thanked him tearfully. He said a quick prayer for the family and drove away.
* * *
The living room was full of people, gear, and nervous conversation. By the time he had gotten home, Ori had been waiting for him, his truck loaded with gear. Steve had arrived twenty minutes later, with his cell phone plastered to his ear as he kept trying to reach his girlfriend.
Jared had opened the company gun safes in his basement, first thing, and the small group had armed themselves with their personal weapons. Assuming no one missed a lot, there was enough ammo in the basement to keep a small army going for months. And more in the secure storage building he had rented on the northeastern side of town.
Ori, the shortest of the men, stood at the window keeping watch for late arrivals and any zombies that might wander by. His thick blond hair sticking up wildly from running his hand through it constantly a nervous habit that he couldn’t stop even when he wore a high and tight. He looked down at the heels, Jared thought. Ori had tried to find his latest Girlfriend but hadn’t been able to get past the road blocks and infected to find her.
Steve looked about to break, as he paced the room waiting for Bridget to arrive. He was easily the tallest and the biggest of the Group of friends. “ What if something happened to her, ” he said for the millionth time. Nervous sweat gleamed on his shaven head. Steve started to reach of his cell phone again then stopped. The system had crashed or something two hours ago, cell phones were just so much junk now.
“ Nothing happened to her” Jared replied, emerging from the kitchen
“ And if she doesn’t show up “ Steve asked, his hand unconsciously moving to rest on the butt of his pistol.
“ Then we go look for her” Jared replied. Not thrilled with the idea, but he wasn’t going to ditch Bridget without making the effort to find her.
Steve relaxed slightly, not doubting Jared’s word. Jared clapped Steve on the shoulder and said “Chill brother, she’s fine.” though both of them knew that it was more than possible Bridget had already been killed. A lot of people had died already according to the news.
Mark and Sharon, didn’t look up from the map they were pouring over while talking quietly, neither wanting to get involved in the conversation about Bridget. Sharon, was still dealing with the disappearance of her parents. They had found only blood on the floor in the kitchen and living room when she and Mark had arrived to check on them and offer to take them to Jared’s and then on to Jared’s Camp.
She knew what had happened to them no matter how hard Mark tried to give her hope. Sharon was determined not to say anything to Steve that would make him feel as hopeless as she felt.
Mark looked tense and kept rubbing the bridge of his nose, he had spoken very little for the past hour. Well who in the hell could blame him, Jared thought.
Jared frowned as he looked around the living room. His friends were on the edge of losing it. Hell fire, he was on edge too, and that wasn’t a good thing when everyone was heavily armed. He had to do something about it, if he could. “Look, we expected the cell system to go down, and we all know what the roads are like. And you can bet the roads have gotten worse since you got here. So chill out. They are just having to take more time to get here” Jared said.
Ori turned to face the room and pushed his glasses up with one finger. “ We can’t afford to sit here till a sea of undead surrounds the place either” he said calmly. No one argued with the term Undead, not even Steve who was usually the most skeptical of the group.
“ He has a point.” Mark commented as he rose from his chair and stretched. Steve looked like he was about to explode, but Jared placed a calming hand on his shoulder.
“ That’s why we will go look for Bridget, Chris and Ronny if they don’t show up by morning. That way we can have everything loaded and ready to bug out when we come back.” Jared said to calm them, and give them a purpose to think about.
Four other couples that were their friends were not showing up, three of them were rounding up family and determined to wait it out, the fourth couple Dave and Sabrina had never answered their phones both worked downtown and that worried Jared a lot. Ronny’s fiancé, girlfriend, Dominatrix, Mary worked downtown as well which meant Ronny had probably headed downtown to make sure she was all right. Jared didn’t mention that to any one, they were all busy enough worrying about what was happening and where it all would end up.
“ Think Allen will show up “ Mark asked quietly as he pulled a Beer from a cooler. Jared made a mental note to make sure that no one got drunk, that was the last thing they needed if things got hairy.
“ Not really, but I offered” Jared replied. Allen was well liked in the tight-knit group; and had actually come to many of the BBQs, when he wasn’t at the Gym or teaching a Martial arts class, they all had hoped Allen would show up, he was a good man all the way around. There was silence in the room for a while as they all began to realize just how many people had died and were dying as they sat here.
People they had met on the street, or talked to in line at a store. How many of the kids, they had taken on guided camping trips with their families, who had loved their time in the backcountry, were now dead. Jared refused to feel sick about it. There would be time later to mourn the world. But not now, and not for a while.
Suddenly Ori cocked his head to one side as if listening. “ I hear a motor” He said in his soft voice way, his mountain accent stronger than usual.
Steve moved to the window looking out hopeful. From the direction of the highway, a red car appeared. The Prius wove wildly down the street, dragging a zombie that for some reason would not let go of the door handle. “ That’s Bridget’s sisters Car” Steve shouted rushing to the front door. Jared grabbed Steve before he could throw open the door.
“ Let me go damn it” Steve shouted, trying to break free. Even as strong as he was, Jared’s Grip was stronger.
“ Hang on. Gotta make sure one of those things didn’t come around from the back and are ready to bite your ass off as soon as you open the door” Jared said, pushing Steve against the wall, despite their size difference Jared was as strong as Steve.
“ They just drove on to your grass “ Ori called out. “ There’s five more of the damn things coming from up the street” he added.
“ We go together, okay” Jared told Steve, his voice hard. “ Do it the right way, okay” Steve nodded in control of himself once more. So simple to check Jared thought as he peered out the window at the top of the door and saw nothing on the porch.
He looked at Jared, “ ready “ Jared asked, reaching for the door knob, “ slow and steady. Got it” Steve nodded and tucked the butt of his M-4 to his shoulder. Jared opened the door, and Steve went thru in a combat crouch, weapon tracking left and right. Jared moved out and to the right side of the door covering Steve.
Steve moved into the grass, Bridget sat behind the wheel of the Prius her face strained, in the passenger seat her three month pregnant sister was sobbing.
“ Contact “ Jared called out, spotting a zombie coming around the Barn that had been converted into an attached garage, then his colt Commando fired twice. “ Clear” He called out.
The zombie, hanging on to the door handle, had been a teenager who still wore the grocery store smock he had died in. It finally got itself righted and climbed unsteadily to its feet, reaching for the Passenger side door handle again. A flap of skin hung down over one milky eye, its mouth worked spastically.
Steve whistled drawing its attention and waited till the zombie moved past the hood of the car, then shot it down. The corpse fell back across the hood, before sliding to the ground. One-handed Steve reached for the door handle and opened it before turning to face the street where three more of the Infected, undead or whatever the hell you wanted to call them had joined the original five.
Eight zombies still remained, three women, two adult men and the three children stumbled towards him. He felt his bile rise at the sight of the kids. The children seemed to be slightly faster than the adult zombies. He still had plenty of time before they got close enough to be a danger. But just watching the staggering, twitching gaits the Blank cloudy eyes, and the clicking teeth bothered him.
“ mine“ Jared said as he moved past Steve, noting Steve’s hesitation but not commenting on it. Jared raised his weapon in one fluid movement and sighted. “Ori’s got the door, You get them inside” Jared called out Steve didn’t respond, he didn’t need to. He just turned and helped Carol out of the passenger side of the car while Bridget jumped out and dragged her backpack from inside. She shouldered the pack and then reached back into the car snagging another smaller pack. She paused only long enough to smile shakily at Steve then headed to the door with her pregnant sister, where Ori stood guard. Mark was inside, covering the back of the house from an upstairs window.
Steve did flinch this time as he heard Jared’s weapon bark out eight, then ten rounds. He knew how much shooting those kids would screw with Jared. Steve stopped at the Front door. waiting for Jared who trotted up a moment later, together they entered the house, Ori was the last inside, slamming the door and locking it.
“ Well, that was some fun shit “ Jared said bitterly, as he ejected the magazine from his weapon and replaced it with a fresh one. “The worlds really gone Tango Uniform when you have to shoot kids, even if they are semi dead”
Steven helped a sobbing Carol to sit on the couch, then turned and almost smothered Bridget in a bear hug. “ Hate to mention this, but we probably either need to fortify this place some or bug the hell out right now” Ori said as Jared nodded, in agreement.
“ I have plywood, studs and all the wood I bought to build a deck, stored in the garage. Might as well cover the windows.” Jared said.
The sun was setting by the time they finished boarding up the windows, Bridget and Sharon had fixed sandwiches, and the entire group sat down to eat. “ We can keep watch from the upstairs windows” Jared said after a moment.
“ We could do a better job of making this place more defensible.” Steve said, looking at the plywood over the bay window.
“ In a little bit, what we have is enough for the moment” Jared said.” It’s not like we are going to be staying here for much longer anyway” Just then the sound of a heavy motor could be heard, and gunshots. Ori dropped his sandwich and rushed upstairs. “That’s Jeff Sloan’s truck!” Jared said, rising to his feet and unslinging his weapon. He recognized the sound of the old Dodge Truck Jeff drove.
“We do this smart okay, “ he said, looking directly at Steve who nodded. “ Mark you got door duty.” The three men clustered in the Foyer. Jared checked the porch, and then opened the door. Steve slipped out, swinging left to cover that side of the house, Jared moved right. Mark looked nervous as hell, but assumed position on the door. Ori was in the upstairs window ready for a hail Mary if they needed it.
Jeff’s truck was moving slowly down the road its headlights cutting thru the gathering shadows a beacon for every walker within a mile. The reason he was going slow was readily apparent his father was in the standing in the bed of the truck a shotgun ready in his old callused hands. Seven or eight zombies were trailing the truck looking even creepier than usual as the brake lights lit them up. Jared could see several more wandering thru the fields across the road, heading this way.
Jeff was heading towards his own house just down the road no doubt he had gone to pick up his dad who lived at the end of the country lane. The crusty old fart was in full form as he hurled insults at the zombies. He was without a doubt the most offensive, old man you could meet. Jared usually took a perverse delight in getting the old guy riled so he would go off on long tirades. It was truly impressive the amount of creative swearing that old man could do when he built up a head of steam.
“ Charley Crist, I see you back there. Hell, I would have thought you’d look better dead. But you don’t, you worthless piece of shit. “ He yelled out then fired his shotgun, the zombie he hit staggered but kept coming. “ don’t worry you tards, I got lots of ammo.”
“ I be damned, Shirley. Even dead your looking good. The only good thing about you being a zombie is you are probably smarter now “ the old man fired twice more, missing once. The second shot hit, but only rocked the Elderly female zombie.
“ You, the ugly fat zombie girl. You damn sure could have scared the stink of shit when you were alive, and you ain’t got no better looking since. Id be embarrassed to die dressed like that. About as sexy as socks on a rooster”
Steve actually had to smother a laugh as the old man kept up a running monologue of insults directed at the zombies. The sad thing was, he had been only slightly less offensive to the living, Steve thought.
“ Steve take the zombies in front of the truck, I’ll take the rear “ Jared said.
“ Milly Jones, you pasty faced old bat, I never liked your damn cornbread. You couldn’t cook worth shit.” Pappy Sloan yelled out firing again, then whooped with delight as Milly, took a lucky pellet in the head and pitched over, and didn’t get back up.
Jared grinned to himself as he listened to Pappy rant. Jared picked his first target, a woman with her face half eaten, dressed in a sexy come hither tight shirt, and short skirt. He fired once and she dropped out of his sights. The 5.56 rounds almost took her head completely off at this range. Shifting, he took aim at Charley Crist, the old man, had always been about as surly as Jeffs dad. The story of Halloween 1999 and the feud it had spawned between Pappy Sloan and Crist had become legend in these parts. He stroked the trigger, and Charley was no more.
“ Woooo hooo, you fart sniffer. He done blew your head off. You look a lot better now you asshole.” Pappy crowed from the truck bed. Jeff hearing the gun fire and seeing zombies drop ahead of his truck and behind, came to a stop. Pappy’s shot gun boomed three more times accompanied by laughter that ran down to hacking coughs.
“ Take that you flat chested, ugly as hell skank. Never liked your mama either” Pappy shouted, doing a victory dance in the back of the truck as the “ skank” dropped to the ground and lay still. Well Jared supposed that the old coot thought that shuffling, off balance weaving was dancing at any rate.
Jared put down the last two zombies behind the truck and wheeled to the right as Mark’s Hk G36 fired from the porch. The zombie Mark had shot had come around the Barn turned garage,now lay neck stump down in the driveway.
“ Jeff, what the hell you stopping for?” Pappy asked loudly. Jared jogged over and stopped by the Drivers door. “Thanks “ Jeff said rolling down the window then hooked a thumb towards the bed of the truck. “ He refused to be trapped inside the Truck as he put it. He wanted to be able to make a quick escape. The fact he ain’t much faster than one of those zombies seems to have escaped him.”
“ Jared Stone, you fornicating cuss you. Id have thought your wimpy ass would be running for the hills by now” Pappy said as he reloaded his shotgun. Jeff made a face. His dad was of the opinion, anyone born after 1955, were all dress wearing cowards like that Hoover fellow.
“Don’t worry sir, I’m gonna run for the hills in a few hours. Just wanted to make sure you don’t need an extra box of depends.” Jared responded.
“ why you little prick, I aint pissed myself since Iowa jima. And that was only because the nips had me pinned down for two days. I was porking cheap hookers when your daddy was pissing his knickers in kindergarten …… “ Jared tuned pappy out, wondering if the fact he was actually finding this funny at the end of the world meant he was losing it. The worry vanished from Jeff’s face for a moment as he started to smile.
“ Damn you Jared. You get him riled up every time. He will be cussing you, the liberals and the ungodly hippies for the rest of the night.” Jeffs smile faded as swiftly as it had come. “ He ain’t gonna like it, but we are heading out tonight. Got the Fifth wheel loaded with every bit of food we had in the house and what Vickie was able to buy before the stores were stripped bare. We are heading for Vickie’s cousins farm up around Gainsborrough”
“ Good luck Jeff as soon as Ronny and Chris show up, we are going to head to the camp” Jared replied.
“ Good luck to you too. I wouldn’t wait long though. Last I heard those things were all over Nashville and a lot were heading up the interstate. Following the cars. As slow as they are, a lot of them will end up here pretty quickly.”
“ Back roads buddy, that’s why god made back roads. But we are leaving by tomorrow afternoon I think Or the morning after that but no later”
They shook hands and Jeff began to drive away, Pappy steadily cussing Jared. Jared waved goodbye “ Pappy, if you can’t find any more depends, they make rubber panties.” Jared called out a he slapped the side of the truck.
Mark was laughing as Jared entered the house. Pappy’s cussing could still be heard even now, but it was more like a distant aircraft droning by with sudden rises in volume. Once safely inside, Steve leaned against the wall in the hallway torn between laughing and feeling guilty for finding anything funny with the world coming apart around them.
Jared smiled humor was the only thing that was going to keep them from losing it completely. This wouldn’t be like a deployment to a combat zone, where you only spent a certain time in the zone and knew if you didn’t get killed you would end up back home, safe and sound and far away from the nightmare. Not this time, this time there would be no escape. No R and R or downtime, at least not that he could see.
“ I have never heard half of the cuss words he was using there at the end” Mark said suddenly. “ What the hell is a wanker?”
If it had been a normal night, they would have been lounging in the back yard. As it was the cool night breeze brought the smells of smoke, tinged with the reek of plastic, rubber and a thousand other products. Clouds moved in just after ten bringing a light rain that did nothing to remove the smell. Steve sat beside the window in the back bedroom, keeping watch on the back yard occasionally looking over to watch Bridget, who lay in a splash of moonlight, her sleep was fitful and full of nightmares judging by the way she tossed and turned. A terrified look on her face from what ever she faced in her dreams.
Twice in the light of the almost full moon, he saw small groups of people move slowly through the fields in the back. He could tell by the way they walked they were more zombies. They paid no attention to the silent dark house, they just shambled forward vanishing into the woods on the north side of the property as they headed towards the homes further up that had every light burning as if to dispel the darkness instead those lights only served to draw in the zombies like moths to a candle flame.
Chris arrived around 2 am, Shelly his girlfriend was a blithering wreck. Her family had been attacked and she had watched helplessly as her father was dragged down and devoured. Her mother had pushed her into the basement, but in the process had been bitten on the leg. Shelly had listened to the screams for as long as they lasted. Shuddering with revulsion she had searched the basement for any thing to use as a weapon then she had crouched in a corner with a hatchet listening to zombies claw slowly at the basement door. Chris had shown up twenty minutes later.
Once Sharon had gotten Shelly to sleep Chris continued the story. “ I got there and her dad was clawing at the Basement door. I put him down. Then the one on the ground came crawling at me. It was half gone, no legs, dragging its entrails, most of the flesh had been stripped off the torso so you could see the rib cage and some of the organs, the skin had been peeled off the skull. I killed it, and then saw the wedding ring. It was, had been her mom. Ain’t no way I could tell her any of that shit “ He said with a shudder. Jared only gazed at the wall thinking about that. Who the hell would ever want to see their parents like that. “ I dumped both bodies out the back door so she wouldn’t see them, no way in hell she needed to see that crap”
Chris looked older already, the muscles in his jaw twitched and jumped now. It was the hopelessness in his eyes that bothered Jared the most. We will all end up with gray hair and twitches if we survive this Jared told himself. “ But what really bothers me, I haven’t seen a cop since noon or so and there is no National Guard, or Reserve out there. And Man, that’s scary as all hell to me.“
It was scary, Jared thought. It meant it was so bad no one was responding to the call up. Or it had gone south, so fast there hadn’t been time for a call up. Hell Nashville was well on the way down and if there was going to be National Guard deployed it would in the state capitol.
He wasn’t so surprised about the cops; those guys would have been some of the first to be bitten, after responding to the initial calls and the paramedics would have gone down damn fast too. Those that survived the first hours would have rushed home to save their own families once they knew it was hopeless and he didn’t blame them at all. That was the basis for his fear. Without an organized force out dealing with this. The undead would just roll over everything and it would be hopeless if the first responders were gone.
“Clark stopped by my place to warn me this warning” Ori piped up. Clark was a friend of Ori’s and a Deputy Sheriff. “he said a few of them were going to bug out if it got any worse”
there you go, Jared thought and I don’t blame the man a lot of them have probably died since this started.
Once they got the exhausted Chris to sleep on a cot, they sat looking at each other in silence. The good mood from earlier gone now. “ We can’t stay, you know that right” Ori said, pressing a hand over his mouth to stifle a yawn.
“ Never planned on staying here long term, you know that” Jared replied.
“ I meant we can’t stay for a week. Sarge” Ori said, referring to the bug out plan they had come up with years before in case of some unlikely disaster occurred and society crashed down. “Man we have maybe two days before there are so many wandering around out there that we end up trapped here” Ori said, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger. It had been a long emotional day and he was exhausted, they all were. Steve nodded in agreement with Ori, which pretty much settled things.
“I think I mentioned not wanting to stay more than a day or two more. And stop calling me Sarge I’m not in the Army anymore” Jared said, thinking that might be too long as well. “Look, if Ronny isn’t here by noon tomorrow we go to his place and look. Whether we find him or not we leave for the camp no later than the next morning. If he isn’t here by then he knows where to go and we can leave a note” Jared said. Ori and the others nodded in agreement and the matter was closed.
Jared picked up the remote and turned on the Tv, the EBS alert warning was on every channel he checked. All 320 TV stations, available from across the country were off the Air. Without a word he turned off the TV and they all looked at each other. Jared knew the clock had finally run down.