TCRD Act 1Part 6

“Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion,
Scarce can endure delay of execution,
Wait, with impatient readiness, to seize my
Soul in a moment.

Damned below Judas:more abhorred than he was,
Who for a few pence sold his holy Master.
Twice betrayed Jesus me, this last delinquent,
Deems the profanest.

Man disavows, and Deity disowns me:
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore hell keeps her ever hungry mouths all
Bolted against me.

Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers;
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors;
I’m called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence
Worse than Abiram’s.

Him the vindictive rod of angry justice
Sent quick and howling to the center headlong;
I, fed with judgment, in a fleshly tomb, am
Buried above ground.”

-William Cowper

The trees were starting to turn with the change of seasons, reds, oranges and golds mixed with deep green. It was that time of year where a subtle undefined quality shifted and the sunlight took on a glorious cast, like a last gasp of glory before the Winter with its gloom moved in.

Soft Fall winds, cooled the nights heralding the coming temperature drop. It was beautiful, a magical time of year as the season prepared to shift. But the undead did not notice, nor did they care.

September 12th , Carol gave birth to a 10 pound baby boy, She named Eric Mark Stotts; Sharon had spent half the day crying when she heard the babies name.

Needing supplies Jared had returned to town, twice since the disastrous raid and found few zombies anywhere. No one could explain what had happened to the majority of the undead nor did they really care as long as the dead stayed away.

They had secured the fuel storage lot with no problems and returned with two fuel tanker trucks they had recovered from the side of the road..

During their exploration they found the first pharmacy they checked full of undead. The risks were too high so in the end they left it alone, deciding to wait till there were enough healthy people to deal with the large numbers of the mobile dead.

On the second trip into town, they hit the National Guard armory, they found that there was no actual armory inside. It was a major disappointment to say the least. Jared spent about ten minutes expressing his opinion over that little fact in a manner that would have made pappy dance with joy.

They did find parked behind the armory in what passed for a motor pool a M978, 2500-gallon fuel tanker, as well as two deuce and a half’s that had been used to block the rear gates. One of the better finds at the armory was cold weather gear, especially several sets of Mukluks which were essentially canvas like knee high boots with rubber bottoms and wool inserts. They were incredibly warm and dry to wear in extreme cold weather.

They cleaned out everything that might be of value in the armory, which over all wasn’t a lot, but every little bit helped. Taking the fuel tanker and both deuces spread out their manpower but the vehicles were just too valuable to be left behind. The deuces would allow them to haul more supplies back to camp and having three fuel trucks was not something to sneer out in a world where fuel was going to become scarce as time went by.

They drove back across town, to fill the fuel tanker. Leaving Shelly, Mary and Steve to fill the thing, while the rest drove back down Clinton to strip the trucks that had been totaled during Seth’s attack. It took some time to pull off all the spare parts and tools, and Jared insisted on pulling off transfer cases and anything else that might be useful later on.

The plan to hit the auto parts stores was scrapped when Jared had found a booby trap on the first two stores and decided to leave them all alone just to be on the safe side. The asshole that had shot Mark had been busy around town it seemed.

With auto parts out of the question at the moment, they settled for moving the dozer out of the courthouse doorway, then used two deuce and a half’s to haul off every thing in the Civil defense shelter.

The undead left in town slowly converged on them and as the day wore on they were forced to dispatch more and more. There was no official count but later Steve would estimate they had put down almost five hundred during the day, thankfully they came in as individuals and or small easily dealt with groups.

On the way out of town, they stopped at the old resale shop see what was inside. it was a treasure trove of clothes, and old fashioned non electric items, like two straight razors.

A quick search revealed no booby traps but one silver haired zombie locked in a closet, that had once been named Edna Price. Jared had met her back when he had first started coming up here. She had been a kindly woman, he remembered. With two kids who had given her six grandchildren that she had doted on. All dead now, he supposed, and I am the only one who will remember they even existed, he thought trying to ignore the depression that thought brought on.

With the store secure they loaded up every bit of clothing and shoes they could find. As well as the three shelves of books. Despite what many pre zombie survivalists had loved to claim, people needed some entertainment or they went nuts.

It was an hour after sunset when they finally returned to the camp exhausted but satisfied with all they had accomplished.

By the third week of September, the question of where the zombies had gone was becoming obvious, small groups of the walking dead began to appear on the road leading to the camp.

They were dispatched fairly easily but the odds of larger groups appearing were good and had every one on edge. No one doubted that the zombies were staggering across untended fields and deep woods making their way to the camp.

The days were still warm, but the nights were getting colder. Coming into October, they had finally found sign of wildlife. Steve and Ori set out from the camp and tracked then bagged two turkeys and an eight point buck. At this time of year, a man would normally be tripping over Turkey, and Hogs. Deer would be a bit scarce on the ground, but that was normal.

But there was nothing normal about this year, Jared and every man that had ever hunted in the group believed that Deer knew exactly when hunting season opened and took a trip somewhere only they knew about to get out of the line of fire. What was odd was the lack of prints. Usually you could find a slew of animal tracks along the creeks and rivers. But that hadn’t been the case this year.

Till now there had been no sign of game, or of stray animals. No deer tracks at the waterholes, no dogs wandering up to whine for food. No cats disappearing into the brush. No coons, possums or anything else.   Jared hoped that the reappearance of wildlife meant that life might return to something like normal. Which at this point meant the dead stayed dead instead of wandering around looking for people to it.

What ever was going on, they at least had some fresh meat for a change and that made a hell of a difference in the morale around camp.

Jared was sitting on the deck behind his cabin, idly making notes in a notebook when he heard shouts. He was on his feet and running thru the cabin rifle in hand in less than two seconds. He burst out onto the porch and saw Ori and Henry rolling around on the ground punching each other. Jared swore heavily and raced towards them while Jill, and Beth, carol and Jason were yelling at the two men to stop.

“ Jill” Jared yelled as he ran past, she looked up he tossed her his rifle and leaped into the fight.

He yanked Ori off Henry having to block a punch, but as soon as Ori saw who it was that held him, he backed off. Henry leaped up, and threw a punch at Jared and whooped in surprise as Jared spun to one side, catching Henrys wrist, pivoted again, and sent Henry flying into the side of a truck with a hip throw.

Henry started to get to his feet, but Jared’s voice stopped him cold. “ move and I break your fucking arms” one look at Jareds hard flat eyes caused him to drop back on the ground.

“ What the hell is going on” Jared demanded turning on Ori. No one could miss the tone of an Army Sergeant that rang in Jared’s voice, he wasn’t asking he was demanding an answer.

“ Sarg… Jared he….” Ori said then fell silent gathering his thoughts.

“ he wouldn’t take no for answer” Beth said suddenly, tilting her head towards Henry.

“ I’m interested so sue me” Henry said sullenly, both his eyes already starting to swell, his nose looked broken as well.

“ you’ve got a Girlfriend you prick” Jared snapped angrily.

“ She isn’t my Girlfriend, I just picked her up outside Chattanooga. I’m a free man, just ask her.” Henry protested.

Ori bristled but a look from Jared stilled him. “ calm down Ori, I mean it” he rounded on Henry. “ We cant afford to fight amongst our selves. Trust me when I say my first reaction is to just kick your ass, not because of what you did, but because like every one else here I’m at the edge and you annoy the crap out of me.” He paused then held out a hand. “Sorry but if you tried to be a bit friendlier” Jared said. Henry accepted the hand, and Jared hauled him to his feet.

Henry turned to Beth and met her eyes squarely. “ Im sorry, I was out of line. I should have realized you two were a couple” Beth, forced a smile and bobbed her head in acceptance.

“ Apology accepted.” She said politely then turned a glare on Ori who would no doubt have to sit through a stern talk later. Beth was not the kind of woman that thought a men fighting over her was acceptable.

Jared looked at Ori, and crooked a finger as he walked away. Ori was still angry but followed Jared to the barn. “ Ori, you’re a brother to me, you know that, and I have you back. But you know you shouldn’t have leaped his ass.”

“ He just pissed me off so bad, I just snapped.” Ori said. “ I’ll try to keep it under control, Im really sorry Jared.”

“ no problem Ori. Just keep a lid on it okay” Jared said, “we have enough enemies out there, don’t need to make new ones inside with us” Ori nodded, and looked sheepishly at Beth who waited with the others she seemed less than amused at the whole situation.

Jared watched as Ori walked over and apologized to Henry, and then to Beth for “ making an ass of myself” the two men shook hands and parted. This was not going to be the last fight, Jared was damn certain of that.

“ we are all slowly losing it “ Jill said as she came to stand by his side.

“ I know, and I don’t know what to do about it” Jared commented

“ not much you can do about, none of us were raised to spend our lives fighting for survival, Or to face undead. To many people with different backgrounds crammed into a small area, there’s bound to be clashes.” Jill said. “ I mean hell I took my own sisters head, and I’ve put down more zombies than I care to think about.

If there weren’t zombies in the world, right now Id be wearing something slinky, with spiked heels and making bedrooms eyes at you over a thick rib eye steak in some expensive restaurant” Jill said with a saucy smile.

Jared laughed suddenly surprising himself and those who heard him. “I guess it’s a good thing the world ended then, I was a notorious tight ass when it came to eating out. Id have taken to you McDonald’s with a buy one get one free happy meal coupon.”

“ I guess you would still be waiting to get into bed with me then” she said, then turned and walked away. Throwing a bit extra swing into her leather clad butt.

“ damn you woman, damn you” Jared said with a smile, feeling the depression that had gripped him since Marks death start to fade a bit.

The next day was one of those crystal clear blue sky days, that made it hard to believe evil could exist, much less be walking around eating people. it was a bit on the warm side with a cool breeze that blew across the camp. Jared waited till every one was gathering for Breakfast and walked out onto the porch.

“ listen up everybody, there is something important we need to get done today, its going to be hard work but I know working together we can get it done.” There were moans, groans and boos from the assembled men and women.

“ What the hell is it this time” Henry asked earning a glare from pappy who like the rest didn’t particularly like the man.

“ First Im going to need people to help me haul up stuff from the cave, then Im going to break out the beer, and we are going to have a damn good party for the day.” Jared announced. There was silence at first as what Jared had said sung in, then Steve whooped. “ its been a long time since we did a damn thing to unwind. So today is, National I don’t give a damn day” Jared told them, there were cheers from the assembled group. Ori leaned out of the tower

“ Hey what about those of us on watch?” he asked.

“ you can watch, “ Jared called up. There was general laughter from every one. “ oh and Ori, I don’t give a damn either”

“ bite me” Ori called back but grinned.

By noon they had fashioned crude tables and laid out a spread of food. Cold beer was laid in. drooling men couldn’t take their eyes off the brown bottles of hops and barley goodness. Jill and Sharon had gotten together and using corn meal created tortilla chips and whipped up a huge patch of homemade salsa to dip the chips in.

Finally, the party got swinging around noon. Jared had even flipped off the forces of darkness and had some music playing. Sprawled out on a blanket propped up on his elbows, Jared was enjoying Jill sitting between his legs her back resting on his chest, as they watched the kids run around and play in the sunlight. The smell of cooking meat filled the air.

“ You know that the way our lucks running a pack of undead will show up soon” she said.

“ Probably, but with out an invitation they aren’t getting in ‘ Jared replied as he slid one hand up her side.

“ Down boy, not here,” she said slapping the searching hand away.

“ You, lady are entirely to frigid,” he replied.

“ Keep that up and you’ll see what frigid really means” she retorted.

“ Mind if we join you or is your making out a private thing” Ronny asked. Jared blinked, not sure… yes Ronny was wearing shorts.

“ Is there a reason, that after knowing you for ten years you suddenly appear in shorts” Jared asked.

“ Easy access” Ronny replied as he dropped to the blanket, then grunted as Mary sat on his lap.

“ You sir are a cad,” Jill said with a stern look, though a smile flickered across her lips.

“ you didn’t figure that out the first time you met him, killing zombies and the idiot is drooling over you” Mary said with a sad shake of her head, then smiled

“ I had noticed he wasn’t entirely focusing on the proper way to go about killing the undead,” Jill said with a grin.

“ Jared Help me out here,” Ronny pleaded, with a smile.

“ Its not worth my life to side with you, you cad,” Jared replied straight faced

“ et tu Brute, you wound me sir” Ronny said with a laugh.

“ Shut up and drink your beer.” Jared said tiling his own beer in salute.

“ I will thanks, but one question. Where in the hell did you have this stashed at” Ronny asked holding up a bottle.

“ Oh sure I tell you and you go and get your drunken buddies to raid my stash.”

“ you forget, your one of my drunken buddies. “ Ronny pointed out.

“ Oh now I’m one of your buddies” Jared replied then something changed and all humor fled. He gently extracted himself from Jill and stood up.

“ Excuse me” he said loudly, and then repeated it till he was sure every one was looking. “ I don’t want to bring anyone down or stop the party. But I’d like to propose two toasts, “ He said “ To absent friends and Family” he called out lifting his bottle in salute. In silence the others lifted their cups and bottles as they thought of lost friends and loved ones “and last but by god not least. To Mark” he said. After every one had toasted and drank he smiled again. “ now then lets get back to national I don’t give a damn day” there were cheers from the rest.

“ how’s Sharon feeling?” Jared asked as he settled back down with Jill.

“ Coping, she’s pregnant, going thru morning sickness and lost the man she loves. She can’t do anything but cope.” Jill replied leaning back against jared.

“Maybe I should…”Jared said but didn’t finish before Jill cut him off.

“ do nothing” Jill said, shaking her head in emphasis,“ let it be Jared, shes as good as she can get at the moment.” Jill stopped talking suddenly causing Jared to sit up in alarm. He relaxed again when he saw what she was looking at.

“ I be damned,“ he muttered as he looked to the porch. Anne stood there with Carol at her side. Anne smiled shyly, but looked nervous as she saw the men. Jared couldn’t blame her after what she had been through..

“ Don’t make big deal about it, okay “ Jill said moving so Jared could stand.

“ Come with me” Jared said moving Jill aside so he could stand. Jill held out hand for him to help her up. “ Be back in a few minutes Ronny.” Jared said

“ no problem brother, do what you have to do” Ronny said wrapping his arms around Mary.

Anne took a step back as Jared mounted the steps, but stopped when Carol laid a hand on her Arm. She was a pretty girl, he realized. Her long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, she wore a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Carol had even found her a pair of boots that fit her, or least came close to fitting. “ How are you feeling” he asked gently stopping a good distance away to give her needed space.

“ Better” she replied, her voice like soft velvet. She was so scared she was almost shaking.

“ Do you want something to eat” he asked, he noted carol shake her head slightly.

“ Id love something to eat… but Ill get it myself. thank you though” Anne said, her eyes darting to see past him. She watched the kids play for a moment. “ its something I want to do for myself.” Jared realized what carol had meant with that single shake. Anne didn’t need a man helping or even being that close, not yet.

“ When you get your plate, you and carol can come sit with us” he offered, she actually smiled, well as much of a smile as you could expect at this point.

“ We will thank you ‘ she replied and sounded like she meant it.

“ I hope you have a good time “ Jared said smiling then turned and walked down the steps giving her space.

“ You did good “ Jill commented. “ she’s actually doing better than you could expect. Maybe its because of what’s going on out there in the world, and she knows there’s worse things waiting” Jill said then shrugged, and pushed the thought away determined to enjoy herself today. She couldn’t have even explained to Jared how much control and strength Anna was showing just by coming outside to be part of the group.

He grabbed two more beers in passing and they returned to the blanket and settled in. “ can’t believe that sick bastard held her for almost three months, naked and locked up like an animal,“ Ronnie said accepting the new Beer Jared passed him. “ just turned eighteen, senior in high school, the world ends and she’s kidnapped and kept as a sex slave”

“ lets talk about something else today, it’s a party isn’t it” Mary said. “ so behave or ill peel your damn shorts down and whale the shit out of your ass”

“ you can see why I love her” Ronnie remarked.

Jared shook his head slowly “ do not try to influence Jill, or I will hurt you both” He said. Mary just laughed in response. They sat and talked most of the day, with the others joining them as time went by. There was little talk of what they had gone thru. But as the day wore on people started talking about the things they missed.

Anne and Carol finally joined them around six, she looked nervous as she sat down and Jared noted she was careful to make sure there was a woman on both sides of her. But other wise she laughed at their jokes, and talked about the things she like to do. Thank god most of them didn’t depend on groups of strangers or electricity.

She had raised goats, rode horses and been an all around tomboy, the one thing she did that wasn’t on the tomboy list of favorites was had been a member of the singing club and could play a guitar as well as a flute. As the sun was setting, the party wound down, the kids were hustled inside and put to bed. The adults wondered off to their private accommodations to play more adult games.

Around midnight Jared lay tangled with Jill, still damp with sweat. “ do you want kids one day “ he asked. She didn’t hesitate.

“ not till this is over with. I cant, wont bring a child into this world till its safe. That’s why I made sure some of the stuff we grabbed were birth control pills.” She said then fell silent and then asked“ do you want kids”

“someday, when there’s a safe place to have them” he replied. “ Even if these things are still around, we can make one place safe for kids to grow up in” she didn’t say anything, the hope in his voice was surprising.

“ I hope we can Jared I really do” was all she said after a moment, then curled up and rested her head on his chest and was asleep in minutes.

He woke early and pulled on a sweater, his favorite actually. A brown wool military issue sweater. Nothing beat it for warmth and comfort. He thought as he walked down stairs fixed himself a cup of coffee, then walked outside.

The edge of the sun was just coming up, setting the light ground mist to glowing. It still smelled damp outside and there was a crisp feeling to the air. He could hear the ring of tools on metal and soft conversation over by the barn. And decided to head that way and check out the Motor pool.

Jared walked down to the barn, enjoying the misty morning. He wanted to take a look at the new vehicles they had brought back. Parked in front of the doors, was a deep green Ram 6500 pick up truck with six wheels. Some one had spent a fortune on modifying the damn thing. And it was set up for off roading, with a six inch lift and military grade suspension and off road run flat tires. A thirty gallon second tank had been installed in the bed right behind the cab. They had found that truck a week ago, while scouting out homes and farms around the Parks.

Steve had fallen in love with the thing on sight. To every ones surprise it actually ran and steve had driven the monster back to camp. Then in a fit of generosity gave the Van to Jared. Jared was actually pretty happy about that, the Van was the coolest thing he had driven off road wise at any rate.

Next to that was a IH truck, now that was a real find. Tough as hell, great on or off road, and could carry a good sized load. The US military should have been smart and used IH for vehicle contracts back in the day.

To the left of that was a one of those RV’s that looked like a really big van. This one was a Nasty yellow color, with a red stripe down the side. Rob and Ori were standing next to it talking, about the best way to rework the suspension and give it some offroad capability, while Eric was just inside the barn, marking out a pattern on a piece of sheet metal.

“ Morning Jared” Rob said seeing him approach. Rob looked tired, his brown hair was longer and shaggy looking and there were bags under his eyes. How did I not notice this before Jared asked himself. Ori didn’t look much better to be honest. Even after the party his folks were overworked, and had little sleep.

“ have any of you slept more than a couple of hours in the last few weeks” Jared asked as he studied the truck.

“ between, all the work I’ve been doing around here, Eric needing attention, and guard duty. No not really”

“ Me needing attention, your damn near a nympho..” Eric retorted

“ I really don’t need to hear details okay “ Jared said with a chuckle. Ori looked at him for a moment adjusting his glasses, and gave Jared a Crooked smiled.

“to much to do and not enough people to do it sarge” Ori said.

“ Don’t call me sarge Ori, neither of us are in Uniform or in anything that qualifies as a military. El jeffe, or your supreme majesty will work for now” Jared said then noticed the skeletal framework that sat to one side of the barn door. “ what the hell is that” he asked.

“ its going to be a camper shell. After lunch it gets set in the bed of Steve’s new truck and welded into place. Then covered with Tin and sealed. After that we wire it, add insulation and a few other odds and ends.” Jared looked at Rob, then back towards the Cabins.

“ no your not” Jared said finally.

“ what, why not” Rob asked puzzled.

“ you can mount it and weld it, but Steve can do the wiring and insulation. His truck he can do the light work” Jared said as he shook his head, Rob had to be the busiest person in the camp outside Jason. And it looked more or less like they were both being taken advantage of. Not on purpose really, but other people were tired, and stressed and were more than willing to let some one else, who seemed more motivated, do the things they needed done while they took a break.

“ one we cant keep blowing fuel on the generator. The only welding I want done after today is what is essential for repairs or armoring up a vehicle. Which means in most cases bars or chain link across windows. We can get more fuel I know but sooner or later it will run out. so id like to make it last as long as possible” Rob nodded in agreement. “ so as soon as you get that camper shell mounted, you get Steve’s ass over here to help you set the tin. Once that’s done, you take the rest of the day off. Ori you had guard all night. Your off today and tonight.”

They stared at him for a moment like a penis had grown out of his forehead, then nodded in acceptance. Rob was smiling as he considered actually being able to relax and possibly get five full hours of sleep. His smile faded after a second. “ you might want to tell Steve that,” Rob suggested, Jared nodded in total agreement.

“I’ll do that very thing right now.” Jared said turning on his heel, the movement was so sharp it was almost an about face.

Rob and Ori watched Jared cross to the Cabin, and then looked at each other. “ I guess I might go wake Beth up” Ori said with a grin. “ and then spend an hour at least, playing explorer”

Jared climbed up the steps to cabin three, and stepped inside. What I need is a damned DI, he thought noting the mess as he passed thru to the stairs. Steves door was closed, no surprise there. He knocked, then knocked again. “ who is it” Bridget called out.

“ your friendly neighborhood zombie hunter.” Jared called out.

“ come in Jared” She replied, he heard Steve say something, but it was to low to make out.

He stepped inside, and saw the place was a wreck, dirty clothes scattered everywhere. Bridget looked embarrassed, but she was still bed ridden for the most part. Steve sat on the bed with his back propped on the headboard wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, that hid little at this point. “morning Jared”

“ morning Steve, Morning Bridget” Jared said as he looked around again. “ Ill get to the point, you need to get dressed and get down there and help Rob get your camper shell mounted and covered. After that if you want it wired and insulated youll have to do it your self”

Steve eyed him for a moment. “ was he complaining or something” he asked, with a touch of irritation.

“ Not a bit, I told him not to” Jared replied levelly. If Steve wanted to argue he was going to know it was Jared he needed to fight with not Rob.

“ why?” Steve asked surprised.

“ the man has been working his ass off for every one in the camp, take a good look at him Steve, he is about to drop. Eric helps him as much as possible and looks about as bad. Ori’s been pulling more watches than any else and looks tired as shit. And you know we cant afford to lose Ori to exhaustion. He is our best shot, and I damn sure don’t want him on a Run when he can barely focus and gets his ass bit off, or gets one of us bit.” Jared replied.

Steve looked down for a moment frowning. “ I’m not jumping your ass, I’m just telling you because Rob didn’t want you climbing all over him when Im the one that told him not to do the wiring and stuff. “ Jared said then fell silent as Steve swung his legs off the bed

“ your right man.” Steve said as he reached for his pants. “ Im sorry, I just..” his voice trailed off as he looked at Bridget. Jared understood completely, Steve had lost a world and almost lost the woman he loved. He had wanted to spend as much time with her as he could.

“ your like a brother to me Steve, Hell you all are a brothers to me.. Did you know Ori jumped on Henry not to long ago, because he was flirting with Beth.” Steve nodded,

“ I heard about it. didn’t sound like Ori at all to be honest” Steve replied.

“ exactly my point, he is stretched thin. We all are buddy. I had hoped that the party would help, and it has some but if Ori has gotten that short tempered we should do something, So Im giving him a few days off. In fact we need to sit down and work out an honest to god work schedule, Might make every one feel better with some kind of normalcy and stability.” Steve pulled on his pants, then leaned over to kiss Bridget before finishing getting dressed.

“ might as well add in some PT, and gym time. I think we could all use it” Steve said.

“ we can all get together this evening and discuss the whole thing. Im not going to play little lord fauntleroy, at least not yet” Jared said as he smiled at Bridget. “ so when are you getting pregnant.”

“ Don’t you start on me” she said. “ I’m still injured.” Jared laughed almost normally.

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

Logan Mills, was a twenty two years old. He was a six-foot, Italian/greek, third generation American. According to his mother he had gotten all the good genes from both sides. The dark skin, classic good looks, and the women had seemed to agree with his mother. He had been a sale person at a big electronics box store. Box store, what a stupid thing to call them. One of the problems with the old world he thought as he ran a hand over his close cropped black hair. No soul to anything. Box store, product. Soulless meaningless names and titles, that some dim wit came up with to distance themselves from the lack of quality, and the total disregard of customers.

Well he didn’t miss it, not that he liked flesh eating zombies, or the fact so many had died. But maybe just maybe, when this was over. People would stop with the meaning less crap and get down to being human again. And maybe your to much a dreamer he thought. College had turned out to be a dream when zombies had eaten his soccer team, the professors and quite a bit of sorority row.

If any one had told him a year ago he would be playing mad max, with sorority girls, some nerds, a couple of football players, and a guy in a wheelchair he would have laughed but here he was.

He glanced at the girl who rode beside him, four months ago he would have been hitting on her something fierce. Leggy, tan, blonde, heart shaped face, and lips made for .. kissing he thought, stay away from thinking about other things he told himself.

“ how much longer? “ she asked. like they were just going to stop at for dinner and a hotel room along the interstate.

“ don’t know” he said as he slowed for a curve. Driving thru the smokies, you could almost imagine that the world was normal. Traffic had never been heavy on this road. At least not in the years he had come up here to camp, hike and kayak. “ maybe another hour or two” he added. “ I know this old lodge, its pretty big, and wasn’t real popular with mainstream folks so its possible no one was there when .. when the zombies showed”

“ they aren’t zombies” she said, she refused to believe no matter what she had seen. “ they are just sick” he shook his head, he really needed to get Joan to ride next to him. She was cute and smarter than a brick unlike Stephanie,. Or Tatiana, he loved the name, loved her Russian accent and she had a smoking hot bod on her. and she was smart, she had been working her way to a masters degree when the world ended. He only hoped that when the reached their destination it wouldn’t be a waste of time or get them all killed.

A couple of weeks ago they had begun to hear radio transmissions from some where.   It had been the first proof they’d had that they were not alone and it had made a hell of difference in the group. four of the former students had already committed suicide, and he really believed those radio messages had kept two people for sure and probably others from doing the same thing.

After the first few broadcasts, they had gotten the name of the town. Gary had talked to Logan, Chase, and Michael about heading out this way, certain that once they got close to the town he could reply.

The military gear in the National Guard command truck they had picked up at an old checkpoint didn’t have the power to transmit that far, which meant, he had said, that who ever was broadcasting had a base unit with a lot of power behind it. they were using a HAM unit, what ever that was, because they were transmitting in the HAM bands, Gary had explained. Either way, it gave them an excuse to get the hell out of the city.

By Logan’s estimations, they should be close to Bergstown day after tomorrow, if everything went well. Hopefully Gary would be able to get those folks on the line before they rolled into the town. Last thing he wanted was to be in a zombie infested town in the dark, with no idea where to go, and what was safe.

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

“ What do you think” Steve asked Jared as they stood on the firing step of the wall and watched the dark plumes of smoke rising from the direction of town.

“ Its on fire” jared replied, with no real humor in the comment. “ I guess we need to go check it out” he said finally.

“ Id like to make a suggestion” Steve said.

“ and that would be.” Jared asked cautiously,

“ We use the ultra light. Other than crashing, it’s the safest way to go into town and look around. And it doesn’t use much fuel. We both know that little bastard seth has been setting booby traps every where. We don’t want to risk losing another life or a truck to one at this point” Steve suggested.

Jared looked dubious at the suggestion. “ Look I know Ronny can fly the damn thing okay. So do you. He was working on getting his pilots license” Steve insisted.

“ for six years he was working on it. that doesn’t inspire me with confidence” Jared came back with.

“ Come on Jared, just because you don’t like to fly, don’t slam him. He was taking classes when he had the time and the money.”

Jared nodded, “ your right, I don’t like to fly, and for good reason. But your right too Ronny can probably fly it.” he admitted. “ tell him to get it loaded up in your truck, we can haul it down to the main road and take off from there”

“ Plenty of room here” Steve replied.

“ I don’t know that, and neither does Ronny. So lets get on the road and see how long a stretch will we need. Then we will know for a fact, If we can fit a runway into the camp …” Jared said then stopped and groaned. “ more land we could use for crops going up in smoke. We really need a bigger place” Steve totally agreed, he had been one of the only ones willing to comment on occasion that they really needed to consider possibly finding a new place.

An hour later Jared was strapping into the tiny cockpit. Fighting down the queasy, sinking feeling in his gut. Its not going to crash he told himself. Ronny was humming happily as he climbed into the front seat and looked over the instruments. Of which there were not enough in Jared’s opinion. And that lack of instrumentation did nothing to inspire confidence in Jared.

Steve, Jason, Rob and Pappy were playing guard outside, keeping a watch for zombies. they would wait till the ultra light returned or crashed, before leaving for camp. “Radio test” Ronnie said keying his unit. “ Roger, hearing you loud and clear.” Eric said from the Radio at camp.

“ okay assuming the wings don’t fall off we are good to go” Ronny said, flashing a grin back at Jared who was decidedly pale.

“ I will shoot you in the ass if you crack another joke like that” Jared said thru gritted teeth, knowing that Ronny loved seeing him scared shitless.

“ Amazing that you will stand there calm as hell with people shooting at you, or zombies trying to eat you. But a little bitty aircraft makes you shit your drawers.” Ronny said with a grin.

“ that’s because if I get shot I wont be falling ten thousand feet and becoming a stain on the ground.” Jared replied.

“ well we wont be at ten thousand feet unless you really want to” Ronny said as he touched a button and the engine roared to life. “ we have contact. Ladies and gentleman, please make sure your seat backs and trays are in the upright position. And your flight attendants are vertical. We will be cruising at an altitude of two hundred feet today at a speed of a hundred miles an hour. “

“ shut up and get us airborne or turn it off and let me out” Jared said, he had barely finished speaking when he was pushed back into the seat as Ronny started accelerating.

“ sorry we cant let our passengers disembark once the gate has been closed. Hang on and cross every thing you have for luck” Ronny announced with a smile that Jared couldn’t see from behind.

Jared held on tightly, trying not to remember a day when a black hawk he had been on had been shot down. The pilot had managed to get into auto rotation, but they were still two thousand feet up with no engine, fuel spilling out and oil everywhere. Brush had scrapped the bottom of the Hawk before he was able to land it in near a river.

Jared had never gotten over that moment. Even though he had flown many times after, and always with a change of shorts and gut wrenching fear. But once he had re entered the civilian world he had avoided aircraft. Till now, assuming you can call this thing an aircraft.

The motor howled, and the ultra light moved down the road picking up speed. Its wings suddenly going taut as they caught the air at last, Ronny pulled the stick back and increased power. And then suddenly the rough ride stopped as the little aircraft left the ground. Jared looked out the open side of the cockpit and watching as they cleared the tree tops. “ I wont take us much higher if that’s okay with you “ Ronny said.

“ doesn’t matter at this point, fall a hundred or a thousand. The sudden stop will still kill us. “ Jared replied

Ronny grinned as he leveled off and then did a slow bank and aimed at the smoke in the distance. “ thank you for flying apocalypse air, I hope you enjoy your flight thru hell. The no smoking sign is now off. “

“ bite me” Jared muttered, his fingers stroking the pistol grip of his rifle longingly. Then he shook the thought away,shooting the smart ass pilot while airborne was counter productive to staying aloft.

They flew slowly over the town looking in disbelief. There were huge knots of undead wandering the streets but nothing like they had seen in the days leading up to the disaster and Marks death. Several homes were on fire, and others around them were smoldering. the strip center with the tractor supply was almost a gutted ruin. That fire had spread into the homes behind it and were still burning steadily. The densest smoke was rising from the Fuel storage yard.

“ that son of a … “ Jared chopped the comment off no real point in finishing it. .

“ he set the town on fire” Ronny called back as he banked and flew along 52 towards the hospital. Smoke was rising from the hospital, mostly from the new ER section. The older section looked to be intact. But the pharmacy they had planned on hitting further down the road was in flames.

“ swing around and take us over walmart” Jared said already sure of what they would find.

They flew low over the parking lot, zombies wandered around, and the few cars that had been parked there were gone. Jared suspected they were inside the burning building. The Walgreens across the street from it was intact, but the KFC was burning. “ this isn’t good is it” Ronny asked Rhetorically.

“ Not in the least buddy” Jared said levelly. He sounded calm but any one that saw his white knuckled grip on the coming would know instantly he hated being in the air.

“ look at the bright side, theres no zombie clowns flying around up here” Ronny said as he banked again, wanting to get a look on the other side of town by the Co op.

Two hours later they landed, roughly but they landed and the ultra light was still intact. During their flight they had broadcasted some of the disaster back to the others. Steve ran up and helped Jared out of the ultra light, who looked happy as hell to be on the ground again. If the situation hadn’t been so bad he would have laughed at the look on his tough friends face. “ He burned out almost everything we could have used” Jared said furious. “ I should have found a way to get into that damn sheriffs office and killed him then” Jared said angrily.

“ Spilled milk Buddy, we had wounded and one badly abused girl to get back to camp and there were to many undead” Steve replied.

“I bet he is hiding around the courthouse somewhere” Jared said the muscles in his jaw jumping.

“We cant waste the time to hunt him down Jared. Not yet.” Steve said calmly. Of course he could be calm he hadn’t been flying around in a rickety contraption. Jared thought. “we are going to have to head to Byrdstown or Clarkrange to get fuel now, and possibly Cookeville for the stuff we need. “ Steve said. Jared nodded in agreement, that was going to be a long haul with a lot of danger. Clark range was the closest place to the south. But it didn’t have much to offer other than a few stores and two gas stations.

Regardless they would have to raid the place now. Assuming Seth didn’t plant a few IEDs on the by pass that they would have to drive on to get there “theres Monticello to the north in Kentucky, and Onieda to north east. We don’t have to go thru town to get to either of those “ Jared said thoughtfully. Onieda was actually the closest to the camp if you just looked at Miles. But the nearest road that would take them there cut through the park, and was narrow and winding, passing through the south fork river bottom and around multiple ridges. In the best of time it took almost as much time to reach Onieda as it did to reach Crossville.

In the Pro category Onieda had been larger than Bergstown, both in population and in land area. Which meant more undead which was a Con, but they would be faced with large numbers in most of the places they could reach. Another Pro was not having to pass anywhere near town where Seth could have laid bombs.

He glanced over at Ronny who had climbed out of the Ultra light and grinning.

“Get that thing disassembled and lets get out of here” Jared said. Trying not to think about the fact that the he had been in a flying death trap that could be taken apart faster than a kite.

“ damn that would have been fun with out the town burning” Ronnie said with a look towards Jared, as he and Chris removed the wings and stored them in their bag. Once that was done, they got the ultra light stowed in the back of the truck and tied down.

Driving up the road to the camp, they encountered a group of ten zombies. they drove over them then stopped and finished them off with axes and bats. Jared kicked the last one a few times. “ This is starting to get old” he muttered as he tossed the bat into The truck and climbed back in. Steve got in behind the wheel

“ it really is, but is there a better place to be” steve asked. Jared couldn’t help but think about the odd dream he had a month ago or the transmissions they had picked up from time to time, all military transmission.

“ Maybe there is “ Jared said not elaborating.

They pulled into the camp and found that there had been five zombies at the gate before their arrival. Pappy and Jeff had shot them down, and were dumping the bodies off the bluff on the north side of the camp. People clustered around them wanting to know what was happening in Town. Jared climbed out of Steve’s new truck and held up his hands, till they quieted down. “It appears that something caught fire and the fire spread over large areas of town. Lets talk about in a little while okay. I need to go throw up and clean out my shorts at the moment” Jared said

“ He doesn’t like to fly,” Ronny explained to the crowd. “scares the shit out of him, literally.” Thank you Ronny, one application of icy hot in your shorts coming up soon, Jared thought as he headed for the deck and a date with the hot tub.

By the time he was finished, most of the rest of the group had gathered in Cabin two. He sighed as he walked thru the doors and saw them waiting. Ronny was sitting off to one side, with Mary. They fell silent as he entered the room. he finished running the towel over his hair and then tossed into the box by the door, with the other dirty towels.

“ How bad is it?” Jeff asked.

Jared sighed “ its bad, but I don’t know how bad yet” he said. That didn’t seem to satisfy anyone. Henry snorted, but remained silent. He told them what they had seen from the Ultra light, but stressed that it was impossible to tell just how much had been lost till they went in on the ground.

No one looked happy; Jared hadn’t expected them to be either. time for damage control, if they start panicking and worrying this group will fall apart faster than you can blink. Before he could say a thing Jeff stood abruptly.

“ what are you people upset about. We can go further out for stuff we need. Its exactly what we would have had to do if we had stayed around Nashville.” Jeff said looking around the room at each person. “yes it will be dangerous, and it will take more fuel but sooner or later we would have to do it any way once we had stripped Bergstown bare.”

Jared sighed and sat down on a stool by the counter. He had to admit that driving further out posed more dangers. There was always the chance no matter how unlikely, that zombies from another town might follow them. That was of course the biggest fear every one here had. “before we start panicking, lets go over the list of supplies we have and what we need. Rob you can start, whats our fuel and parts situation look like?” Jared asked.

It took a hour and a half to get the details of their situation laid out.   Jill and Beth had taken the longest but they had provided a very accurate count of not just food supplies, but seeds, clothing and other essentials.   Linda, who looked uncomfortable at being put on the spot, provided information of the medicines and possible medical problems to expect.

Steve and Ori’s assessment of the Ammo, weapons and lack of training didn’t make any one feel comfortable.   Robs inability to fix the backhoe with out parts meant a new way was going to have to be used to finish the wall.

All in all they were not bad off, but any one small disaster could screw them badly. Jared didn’t flinch from giving them his thoughts on how what could go wrong here but he laid out a good case for remaining at the camp for a while.

Most of the group ended up agreeing, but there were some very vocal protests about remaining.

“look lets give it thru the winter, come spring time, we can make a decision. But, we make preparations to leave in case of an emergency.” Jared said trying to find a balance between the two arguments. “That way if anything happens we will be ready and can leave with our supplies. Is that okay with every one” he wanted to smile as he saw the nods of acceptance around the room. Another crisis averted, he thought.

They spent another hour hammering out a basic prep plan before Jared finally called the meeting to an end

He and Jill made their way to their bedroom silent lost in their thoughts. As soon as the door shut, Jill leaned against it. “ Why didn’t you tell them you think leaving is a good idea” she asked more curious than anything else as he crossed the room and sprawled on the bed and lacing his fingers behind his head. “ what makes you think I want to leave” Jared asked.

“ Jared we have been together almost four months now, I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. Tell me I’m wrong and Ill drop it.” she crossed her arms under her chest and watched him.

Four months, sometimes it seemed like years, he thought. I wish all four months had been as a couple but that was my fault for being slow on the uptake. And wool gathering isn’t getting you any closer to answering her, he told himself.

“ okay, okay, yes I think we should. But every reason I gave for staying is just as true” Jared said.

“ then why do you think we should leave” she asked. Jared shifted uncomfortably for a moment.

“ You wouldn’t.. I don’t…” Jared said then paused and took a breath. “ sit down please. Its not a long story but its odd. So just listen okay” he waited till she was seated on the bed, ignoring the curious looks. “ see a while back I had a dream…” he began. And to her credit she didn’t give him a single odd look or ask a question thru the entire thing.

Once he was finished they sat there in silence for a bit. “ your not the only one having odd dreams, did you know that” she said finally.

“ What?” Jared exclaimed surprised.

“ Sharon told me the other day, she had a dream about Mark, that was as real as if she had been awake. He told her that soon she would have to be ready to leave for another place. And something about the Number Three. But she didn’t understand that part.” Jill explained.

“ it was probably just a dream” Jared said though the number three part puzzled him, and bothered him. Three had played a part in his odd dreams.

“ she’s not the only one either Jared. most of the kids have told Beth that they have had dreams about their parents. Who told them to be brave and soon they would be in a better home. “ She looked at him for a long moment. “ Jared, I don’t know what to think honestly. I’ve.. Had odd dreams too. But they were more like nightmares. I don’t think they are prophetic. But I do think that something odd is going on. It might be psychological, but with the dead wandering around out there. It does make me think that there might be more in the world.”

“ So you think we should just pack up and run,” He asked.

“ no I think what you said was exactly what we need to do, have the trucks loaded with gear, like you did before all this, and like we all did when we first got here. Because every once in a while I get a feeling that the clock is ticking down on us. And Id rather be halfway prepared than caught out with nothing.” Jill replied

He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close. He smiled as she whispered in his ear. There was very little conversation after that.

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

“ I don’t like this place “ Stephanie complained for the tenth time. Logan sighed and rolled his eyes.

“ I suppose we could go into the burning town and see if there’s a room open.” His sarcasm lost on her. God could there be any one who fit the stereotype of a blonde sorority girl any better.

“ The mattress feels funny and it smells moldy” she complained.

“ Jesus Stephanie, just pretend it’s the hotel room you used to take those old guys too” Chad said from where he sat by the door.

“ screw you Chad.”

“ You already did, five times. No thanks not again” he replied. I should have been smart enough to stop after the first time, he told himself.

“ just in case you haven’t noticed, theres walking dead folks out there. You know the kind that want to eat you Stephanie and not in a good way” Logan said annoyed with her constant bitching and moaning

“ your just a freshman, I don’t have to take shit off you” she snapped.

“ no you don’t you can walk right out that door and get chomped on” Logan said. “ otherwise shut up, or I just might tie you up and gag you because I’m really tired of the complaining and the noise.”

Her mouth snapped shout as she stared at him. At least she was quiet, though it might have been pure shock at being talked to like that. he didn’t really care. If nothing else he would pay some one to sleep with her, at least she didn’t talk during sex. Sadly that would only be ten minutes worth of peace, most guys couldn’t stand to be around her longer than that.

She stomped over to the bed and dropped down on it pouting. Out of all the people on campus to survive getting eaten. he shook the thought away. At least they had found this campground just outside of the town. It had twenty large cabins, and a huge old timey looking general store and get together area as well. And very few zombies which he considered a major amenity. How long that would last was any ones guess.

Gary had said he had heard radio conversations earlier, faint but there. But since they had gotten close enough to actually transmit, who ever it was, was no longer on the air.
He hoped they could reach the group tomorrow or the next day.

But before they tried to contact who ever it was in town, he and chad were going check out a convenience store with gas pumps a few miles back to see if there was still gas in its tanks. With the hand pump they had, they could fill all the tanks pretty fast. Assuming there was no huge zombie presence and enough gas.

Chad who had been watching outside through a gap in the curtain, suddenly got out of his chair and doused the light from the lantern. It had been dim enough that maybe who ever it was he had thought he had seen outside hadn’t noticed it.

“ hey turn that back on” Stephanie complained.

“ shut the fuck up, theres people outside” Chad hissed angrily as he moved back to the window. Logan slid off the bed and drew the pistol clipped to his belt.

“ How many” Logan asked quietly as he joined Chad at the window.

“ Looks like two” Chad said as he peered outside thru a crack in the drapes. “ Now there’s only one, sneaking around not a care in the world. “ he said in a whisper moving aside to let Logan look for himself. It took him a moment to spot the figure, a man, not an undead judging by the way he moved. The stranger was peering into the vehicles as if he was looking for something.

“ Should we go out there” Chad asked. “ No not just yet. Lets just see what he does. If he wanted to talk he would have knocked on the doors or yelled or something. so I think he is looking for stuff to steal.” At least they had removed all the food and weapons from the vehicles when they got here.

Finally the guy who ever he was, snuck away from the vehicles, and vanished into the darkness beyond the parking lot. Logan breathed a sigh of relief, and holstered his pistol. “ we better keep a real close eye on the vehicles tonight.” He said as he lay back down on the bed, surprised to find Tatiana laying on his bed. He remained silent, as a warm hand slid down his stomach then lower till it cupped him. To think it took the end of the world for her to notice me. He thought happily.

Chad rolled his eyes, at the noise coming from the bed. But grinned to himself, at least it wasn’t Stephanie Logan was with. He could hear her snoring from the other bed. What did I ever like about her. Her body was great, but there needed to be an on and of switch for things that passed for a brain in her head, he thought as he peered back out the window.

He couldn’t see anyone or anything. But he was positive that some one was out there, watching him. Something dark and dangerous, the thought flitted thru his mind. he didn’t laugh it off like he once would have. Not when zombies now ruled the world.

Jared climbed wearily into the Van.   Today they were going to go back into town. Well along the edges, he told himself. Specifically Walgreen’s and then down towards Alred and the sporting goods store that was about half way between Bergstown and Alred.

Their ammo was getting a bit tight and Jared hoped they could find more, especially 5.56. They really couldn’t afford another battle like that last one they had burned through too much ammo. Chris despite his injuries was insisting on going along, though he still had a limp and his fingers were splinted. The Truth was they needed him. They needed every extra living body they could get.

Jared was pretty sure that Steve wasn’t a hundred percent either but a gun was a gun , both men knew their limits and wouldn’t allow themselves to become a liability. Allow no, but crap happened so they would have to be extra careful .

Hopefully they could find what they needed in and around town, if not Jared was seriously considering going to Onieda to look for the supplies they needed. It was risky and not just because of the undead, that was a lot of fuel to burn and if they couldn’t find more they would be down even more fuel than they had started with.

Jared had finally decided to use Ronny and the Ultra light, Aerial surveillance should allow them to avoid wrecks, mobs of undead and burned out buildings, saving fuel and time. Not to mention it might just help them avoid another ambush and being swamped by undead.

He had been careless the day Mark had died, he should have considered being attacked by another human being and planned for it and because he hadn’t Mark had paid with his life and most every one else had been injured.   He managed to shove aside the dark wave of anger and self disgust and get his game face on.

Reaching the by-pass, they stopped and unloaded the ultra light, while Ronny and Ori attached the wings every one else stood guard watching the woods and hills on either side of the empty stretch of road while Ronny ran through a checklist.

Jared didn’t know if a check list was necessary but if made the death trap even a little safer he wasn’t going to argue with Ronny who seemed to think the list was necessary.

Walking over he leaned into the cockpit, as Ronny was preparing to start the motor. “Remember if there’s a lot of those things around don’t fly straight back to the landing sight, and follow the damn road. Don’t need you getting lost” Jared said.

“ Don’t worry about it buddy. Got it under control. Ori even has a plan to mount a few of those propane bombs on this thing so I can drop them on Zombie groups” Ronny told Jared who only shook his head, he really needed to talk to Ori and soon.

“ Good luck” Jared said and shook Ronny’s hand.

“ You too, you’re the one that will be on the ground.” Ronny said with a grin. Jared backed away and a second later the motor spun to life.

“ Lets go “ Jared said walking to his van. The moment Ronny was in the air the rest of the group pulled out and headed towards town.

As they rolled up 52 and approached their exit, Ronny radioed. “ Looking good in the parking lot. Give me a minute I want to fly over towards the Co op”

“ roger that, keep us in the loop” Jared said. “ copy and out” Ronny said.

With Ronny flying overhead, the Trucks made good time to the Walgreens, encountering only a handful of undead that they put down easily. The store sat on a large lot with a Long Johns/KFC combo fast food place. a Chinese fast food place called the Lucky wok across the street. A handful of abandoned vehicles were in the parking lots of all three, at the main entrance to the Walgreens parking lot truck was wrapped around a light pole.

Jared turned into the parking lot, hoping that there would be food inside. He wasn’t banking on it, but the place was locked up tight, unlike the walmart just down the street.

Even from here he could see the thick plumes of black smoke that still roiled out of the entrance to Wally world, the sickly sweet smell of charred flesh filled the air. He pulled up the passenger side towards the Walgreens door and stopped.

The side doors opened and Jason leaped out with a portable cutting torch. He reached the door and pulled to see if it was locked. Jared and Jill reached the door and covered him as he fired up the torch to cut the locks on the door. Steve drove around the parking lot, running over any undead that put in an appearance.

“ its done” Jason said, as he ran put the torch back inside the Van.

“we are ready” Jared said over the radio. A moment later Steve pulled up close to the doors and parked the monster six wheeled truck he drove. Eric and Rob stayed with the truck to provide security.

As Ori and Steve joined them, Jared hid a grin. Each of them wore armor that Jill had designed. Bracelets or Vanbraces as Jill called them that ran from the wrist to the elbow, they were made of thick cloth with metal plates riveted to them. Just above the elbow to the shoulders was another set that were attached to the shoulders of the combat vests each man wore to keep the upper arm armor from sagging down.

She had plans on thigh and shin armor as well for later. But this was all that could whipped in time for to days run. At least it would be a harder to get bit on the arms right now. Jared had a mental image of her future designs, full plate armor like the old knights had worn with Sub machine guns as part of the armor.

“ Okay remember no firearms unless we have to. Melee weapons only. “ he said as he pulled one of the two tomahawks from his belt and grinned wrly. 2010 and he was going into a combat zone with weapons a Crusader would have appreciated.

“Open it” He said. Jason nodded and slipped a piece of rebar with a hook on the end, into the, still red hot, hole he had cut. He pulled to one side and slid the door open. There was some resistance due to the dust and dirt that had gathered in the track.

Jared moved into the store searching for threats. The customer side was nothing more than L shaped section of counters and displays that ran around two walls, the rest were shelves, with the pharmacy tucked into the back left corner.

the front half of the store was lit by the outside light, but the back half went from shadowed to pitch black. From what they could see the shelves were mostly stocked. “ Stay together, we do this as a group” Jared said as they moved to the right. He glanced at the dusty floor and saw footprints. “ There’s a couple in here for sure “ he said pointing at the tracks, but the smell was all wrong.. With the others watching the aisles Jared quickly looked over the counter tops and saw a purse, a couple boxes of open bandages, and blood spots.

“ Lets clear it” Jared said loudly. They swept down the outer lanes first, flashlights lighting the way. a soon as the aisles near the front door were cleared they worked their way thru the middle aisles and still no zombies.

Finally, they had the entire shop cleared leaving only the stock room and offices in the back. they assembled in front of the heavy metal access door to the employee area.

Jill sniffed and shook her head. “ Something’s not right” she said.

“ You think its booby trapped, maybe Seth lured fifty or sixty back there and locked them in.” Jared asked

“ No I don’t smell them, you know they have a reek all their own. It just smells musty in here.” Jill replied

“ She’s right “ Steve said, then pointed down the aisle that ran past the Pharmacy counter to the section with Power bars, weight loss, and exercise supplements. There were open wrappers on the floor. “ Someone is alive in here.” he said softly.

“ Maybe” Jill commented, but looked nervous all the same.

“ Well .. “ Jared said then reached out and knocked loudly on the stock room door. “ Hello, any one in there. This is your favorite neighborhood zombie hunters.” He waited hearing nothing, smelling nothing.

“ Maybe they bailed out of here.” Steve suggested. Jared shrugged then pushed on the door and opened it slowly. Dust motes danced in the light of the flashlights. Beyond they could see a short hallway, with a bathrooms on the left, and two office doors on the right, beyond that through the doorway at the end of the hallway he could see rows of shelves loaded with cases of items.

They cleared the bathrooms and the offices, and then moved to stockroom. Towards the back of the stockroom they saw a cinderblock room, with a swinging door. Boxes loaded with trash were stacked by the loading dock doors. Jared pointed to the room at the back and the others nodded. Jason stayed at the hallway as a rear guard.

“ Ready” Jared whispered. There were nods all around. Jared, Knocked once, and listened intently, but heard nothing. His nerves were singing, “ Jill come in last” he whispered. Then held up a hand and counted down with his fingers. Reaching three, he burst thru the door, swinging right and knelt. Steven went left kneeling. Ori held the door for a moment as beams of light swept the room.

Jared saw movement on the far side of the room, and centered his light on the spot. He rose for a better look then slid the tomahawk into his belt. “ We aren’t going to hurt you” he told the Strawberry blonde teen aged boy and the middle aged man who stood before a woman and two ten year old girls. They looked like they had barely been eating. Probably rationing what food they had knowing that no help was coming. God how screwed up is this world.

There was a resemblance between the man and the boy; most likely they were a family. “Who are you?” the man asked. There was something vaguely familiar about him but Jared couldn’t place him.

“ Jared Stone, and these are my friends “ he said an introduced each of them. “ look we didn’t know you were in here, we called out but you never answered.”

“ What do you want in here, this is my store” the man said. He looked scared but defiant staring into the lights..

“ mother of god is that coffee” Ori asked noting a large red container on the counter.

“ That’s ours!” The man snapped taking half a step towards the counter. His son looked confused and remained silent. The woman how ever leaned forward and placed her hand on the mans arm.

“ Kelly, please calm down.” Her voice was calm and level, but her eyes kept moving to the weapons they had slung. Kelly, the name rang a bell for Jared. Kelly Armstrong, he had met him several times out offroading.

“ I remember you, you had a really great ride, a Dodge, jacked up six inches, replaced the stock motor with a 401, and added what a dana 60?” Kelly looked at him for a moment, then nodded.

“ we rode the teacup and had a couple of parties up on the preachers rock last summer.” Jared said. Kelly was obviously relaxing a bit. not much but he wasn’t about to leap across the room and jump some one. About then the radio ear bud crackled in Jared’s ear “hows it going in there?”

“ We found survivors, how’s it looking out side” Jared replied into the throat mike, noting the looks on the faces of the family as they realized he was in contact with others.

“ A few here and there at the moment. Nothing to worry about we have time”

“ Roger that, call back if there’s trouble. Out”

“ Are you military?” the boy asked, his name was Ian, if Jared remembered correctly.

“ Not any more, used to be.” He replied.

“ are those throat mikes” Ian asked. Jared smiled.

“ Yes, sadly not the military ones. But good enough for what we need them for” he paused then looked around. “ Here’s the deal, we need food and medicine. We have one pregnant woman and 26 kids, and several other people back at our place. You can either come with us, or we can leave most of this, but I’m sorry we have to take some of it.”

“ Kelly” Joan, his wife said almost pleading. “ is it safe there” she asked.

“ safer than here, but really safe?. No I can’t promise that. No where is really safe not anymore. But there’s power, hot water, and people.” at the mention of hot water, he knew he had them. They began to gather what little stuff they called their own. “ I gather you have keys” he asked Kelly. Who nodded.

“ I was the manager here. It was so bad, we never opened. And when those things were crawling all over town, I brought my family here.” He explained as they stuffed clothes into cheap packs, really school book bags.

“ would you happen to have a key to the pharmacy” he asked. Kelly nodded and passed him a ring of keys. “ there’s not much in there, we were supposed to be restocked but it never happened. The trucks probably on the side of the road somewhere” Kelly said.

“ What ever is in there is more than we had.” Jared replied as he tossed the keys to Steve.

Finding a semi wasn’t hard, there was one behind the still burning walmart. It was empty which sucked but you couldn’t luck out every time. The half a tank of fuel, was more than enough to get it back to camp or at least close. And that’s all that mattered to Jared. it took them three hours to load everything. There wasn’t a lot of food, maybe a months worth when spread across the entire group. But there was a mother lode of TP, paper towels, paper plates, condoms, lube, makeup, and every other product that people could want. When they left, there wasn’t a lot left on the shelves of the Walgreens.

Jill was especially thrilled at the makeup and hair trimmers. She looked at Jareds grown out hair as they drove towards the sporting goods store and grinned. “ When we get back, Im going to cut you hair. Either shaved down, or the kind of hair cut you had the day you started to ask me out, you know the same day the world ended.” Jared shook his head, to be honest he didn’t mind if his head was shaved he did like the look. It was her comment there at the last. She had known he was going to ask her out. that brought a smile to his face.

“ I never claimed I had great timing.” He said. Glancing in the mirror to watch Kelly and his family who sat in the back. They looked terrified to be outside again after months of hiding and worrying about starving.

Jared was actually surprised that Kelly hadn’t made a stand or something. I guess he had reached his limit, either his family died by the undead, starved to death locked in Walgreens or possibly die at our hands he opted for hope one last time, Jared thought. I mean face it every option he had before we showed up was a short terrifying death or a long drawn out death, why not take a risk with us and hope we were honest.

The trip to the sporting goods store was fairly short, a good fifteen minutes down the road and as it turned out mostly a waste of gas and time.

They pulled in running down the few undead in the gravel parking lot then parked around the open front door. It wasn’t a good sign, once they entered they found only a three zombies inside, two of them men that Jared had known casually from his visits to the shop.

Once the store had been cleared, a quick look told them the place had been stripped by some one a while back.   In the end they salvaged several packs of Broad heads, arrow shafts, replacement knocks, crossbow bolts, spare strings, four boxes of 9mm and one of .45 that had been overlooked. Two bricks of .22 that had some how been kicked under a shelf. No 5.56 though. There were plenty of holsters for various weapons, and they grabbed all those. Extra slings, and a variety of other things, that might prove useful.

They gathered up what was there, and got out as the zombies numbers coming down the highway were starting to swell. By the time they were heading back to camp, dark clouds were gathering and lightening was flickering across the sky.

They reached the Rendezvous point, about four miles from the Walgreens, Ronny had landed some time earlier and waited in the truck that had been left for him. There were more undead in the area than there had been earlier but not more than ten or so and those had had been drawn here by the sound of the Utra-lights motor. Ronny had just stayed in the truck, unwilling to deal with even a low number of undead with out some one else to cover his back.

Seeing the undead around the parked Truck, Jared parked the Van and climbed out lifting his commando into position and shot down the undead around the truck that were now heading towards him.   Steve and Ori joined him and the moment the last of the undead around the truck were down, they turned and began picking off the more distant undead that were now staggering down the high verges on each side and onto the highway. The rolling thunder may have covered the sounds of weapons fire, but Jared had a feeling it wouldn’t matter somehow the undead would know they were here regardless.

They picked each target with care, taking one or two bullets to put down each target. While Ronny and the others rushed to break down the ultra light and get it loaded up. it seemed like only seconds before the ultra light was loaded up and strapped down, making Jared wonder if they had just set a record for breaking down an ultra light.

“Let get out of her…” Ronny said as a cold moist wind gusted around them, his voice trailed off as Jared pointed at something to the south of them on the road. In the distance there were headlights, several sets of them and coming closer. .

“ Should we go talk to them “ Steve asked looking around, several more zombies were in sight coming down the slope to the west, where a small church steeple jutted into the cloudy sky.

“ Well I’m pretty sure they can see our headlights “ Jared said, “Rob you and Ronny head back to camp, the rest of us will go meet the new guys”

Jared didn’t have to drive far, only half a mile where the two lane road widened into four lanes that passed under the Highway 52 overpass, an exit curved up and around joining 154. who ever was in the other vehicles were taking their time, whether it was because they were being cautious or because they were planning some thing remained to be seen.

Jared parked under the overpass just as a chilly rain began to fall, flashing his lights three times to get the oncoming vehicles attention he glanced at Jill, half tempted to tell her to stay in the Van but didn’t she could handler herself.

“Ready?” He asked Jill.

“Yes,” she said simply with out any sign of the worry she must be feeling.

He opened the driver’s door and climbed out weapon ready. Steve had parked further back where he and Ori could watch and cover Jared if necessary. He only hoped that the undead continued to stay away.

The new vehicles slowed then stopped out there in the rain, then one of the vehicles, a Jeep wrangler pulled up and stopped under the overpass, its wipers steadily clicking. A man who looked to be six foot, with dark hair and an olive complexion got out of the jeep, armed with only a pistol that was holstered at his waist.

Logan studied the Red head man and his weapon for a moment, then the woman who he decided was hot and as heavily armed as the man. The Couple and he was pretty sure that’s what they were, walked slowly towards him. the mans right hand resting on the stock of the weapon slung across his chest. but neither of them acted threatening in any way.

“ Evening, We might hurry this up, zombies about” the red head said with the ghost of a grin in the head lights. “ I’m Jared stone, and you are?”

“ Logan Mills” Logan said, deciding that this was by far one of the stupidest things he had ever done.

“Nice to meet you Logan, your pretty brave to meet with two disreputable types like me and Jill here” Jared said with a nod towards the woman. .

“ Speak for yourself Jared” the woman, Jill said.

“what brings you here, and I should tell you there aint much left around here,” Jared said using his off hand to indicate the ruddy glow on the horizon behind him. “Some one set fire to the place.”

“We came here because we picked up some radio broadcasts that mentioned this town. But Id really like to talk some place a bit safer.” Logan said as he tilted his head towards a zombie that had slid down the wet embankment and was climbing to its feet on the rain slicked road behind the overpass.

“Just a moment if you don’t mind “ Jared said.

Logan blinked at the gunshot, god that man was fast. His right hand had gone from the butt of his rifle to draw his pistol and shoot down the zombie all in one smooth movement that was so fast Logan didn’t even see Jared move till he holstered the pistol.

“If your looking for a safe place to talk, I can take you to one. You can stay there for as long as you like. Its up to you, trust us or not” Jared said. “But got to tell you I’m not standing out here any longer.” He said nodding his head towards a group of zombies that were slipping and sliding down the embankment now.

“ We will follow you “ Logan replied and almost leaped back into his Jeep eager to get away from the undead.
.

“ sorry folks there is going to be a slight delay before we head to the cabins.” Jared said to Kelly and his family as soon as he was seated in the van again. he felt a surge of excitement at seeing new faces, it felt damn good to know that there were still people out there. He turned around and headed back towards the National forest.

Jill was silent as they drove down the winding some what tree shrouded road, lighting flickered crazily across the sky. Occasionally she could see barns deep in pastures situated on rolling hills. As often, as she had been down this road, tonight in the storm it looked entirely different. What spooked her, at one point lighting flashed and she saw a group of zombies plodding along across a field, wet hair and clothes plastered to their bodies. They just moved through the storm with out seeming to notice.

Before they reached the turn off to the camp, Jared turned onto a paved road that led into the National forest. After two miles it became gravel.

Jared had to stop once and cut the lock off a bar gate then opened it so they could drive through. The Road beyond the gate dropped the road past the gate slowly dropped down into the bottoms, where heavily wooded slopes rose to either side, they drove through a creek, the water rising slowly in the storm.

Jill squinted trying to see through the gloom and rain, but all she could make out were shadows that seemed to move in the light making it easy to imagine a thousand zombies to either side hidden by the weather just waiting to descend on them when they stopped.

The road finally began to rise cutting along the flank of a rocky slope till it curved into an open forested area where Jill saw a fence to the right. Just past the fence Jared turned and entered a gravel covered parking area. There wasn’t enough room for all the vehicles to park on the Gravel so Jared got out and directed them to park under the Swaying willows

In the flash of headlights and the lighting, Jill saw a series of log buildings two were built on a deck situated on a slope. The rest sat on the overgrown lawn or maybe meadow she wasn’t sure. Leaving Ori and Jason to watch the their vehicles. Jared led the group across the grounds amongst the willows and old oak into the first and largest log building, like all the other buildings it appeared to be straight out of the 1800’s.

They entered the main room, flashlight beams stabbing out pushing aside the darkness as men and women fanned out clearing the main room then the rest of the building.

With the building cleared they gathered in the main room once more. “there’s a bunch of Oil lanterns over there” Jared said pointing with his flash light at a shelf. One of the strangers, began to take lanterns down and light them. In a moment the room was bathed in the soft welcome glow of oil lanterns and flashlights were turned off.

It was a large room, with a large stone fireplace built into the chinked log wall on the north side with a door on either side of the fire place.   two long rows of tables covered with gingham cloth took up most of the space in the main room. The benches were made of split logs with thin cushions placed on them.

A counter and old fashioned looking cabinets ran along the east wall under the shuttered windows.

.

“ what is this place?” Jill asked, as she watched the group of twenty something’s talk excitedly amongst themselves.   All but one, a tall, tanned and leggy blonde, whose large breasts probably cost five grand a piece. Jill knew that was being catty but there was some thing about that girl that just set off her bitch sense.

The younger woman looked around with distaste, standing by a wall with her arms crossed below her chest, a deliberate move meant to emphasis her charms. Just like the way the girl would lean back or to the side. She was primping, looking to get laid. And her apparent Target for conquest was Jared judging by the looks she kept giving him. No doubt thinking if he was tough and in charge she would be well kept if she bedded him.

Jill didn’t let her dislike show, or do anything so catty as showing her possession of Jared. Kelly and his family, looked out of place, but at the same time being out of that damn store and around people again had them excited now that they were starting to really believe that Jared meant to help them.

“ it is, or was a hostel.” Jared said. “part of the National forest. Hikers and horseback riders would stay here.” Jared replied answering her question “used to you couldn’t drive down here it was off limits. You had to park up by the bar gate and hike or ride your horse down.” Jared explained, . “ I’m guessing who ever might have been here when the end came left for home.” He said with a shrug.

“you were not you worried about there being any undead here” Jill asked.

“Not really, there never was a lot of people who stayed here, the most I ever saw was twenty and its far enough out from anywhere that I didn’t expect a horde to have gathered here.” Jared said. “Now lets get the introductions out of the way.”

It didn’t take long for the introductions to be made,

Steve was by far the largest man in the room. But Logan and Chad were still pretty solid looking. Now Logan, Jill thought he was young and had classical good looks and the dark Italian or Greek Complexion that so many women loved and if she hadn’t met Jared she would have at least hinted at an interest in going to dinner with the younger man.

She sat beside Jared, listening as he told them about the escape from Nashville and some of what had happened to them since they had arrived here.

“So this isn’t where you stay?” Logan asked then gave a shake of his head. “Never mind, I guess I don’t blame you for not wanting us to see where ever it is you do stay.”

“Trust is a hard thing to come by these days” Jared replied. “but lets see what we can work out. A good start would be Why are you folks here. this area is pretty far off the beaten track.”

“that’s the truth,” Logan said then shrugged. “we came out of Knoxville. Most all of us are… were students at UT. For a while we just moved around close to the smokies staying away from every big town, scavenging everything we could find, Gary,” he said motioning towards the skinny, sandy haired Uber nerd who sat on the Hearth. Commandeered a National Guard Com vehicle at a old checkpoint and started listening for transmissions. “

We kind of hoped we might hear about some place that government had set up as a shelter. Hell we hoped we would hear anything to tell us we weren’t alone. then about a month ago, Gary heard something, it sounded military but it faded in and out. We kept listening and that’s how we heard about this place.”

She listened as Logan explained about the Radio broadcasts, that had brought them to this area hoping to find more people. Then explained all that had happened on their way here, and it hadn’t been pleasant. From what he said there had been five other guys with them when they started. There had been a few suicides and a couple had all been bitten and had been put down.

“we were going to head for the coast till we heard the transmissions and since we were so close to this place, we thought we should check it out first. “ Logan explained as he finished. “ so that’s the story”

“ Why the coast?” Steve asked.

“ Well, its partly because of the Navy Broadcasts we have picked up.” Logan explained.

“ What navy broadcasts” Jared asked, curious despite himself and a little excited, if the Navy was still around then there might be something left of the country. .

Gary, who was cute in a nerdy way stood up and looked around. He was wearing a “Nerds are sexy too” tshirt, which pretty much proved to Jill he had never had sex with a living woman. Well that and the way he kept staring at every set of boobs in the room told her was at the very least socially awkward.

Then again, she thought, he was guy, he just wasn’t as subtle as most older guys would have been. She had been around Jared and company to long she decided when the sudden urge to flash the guy just to see if he would faint passed thru her mind.

“ uh..well see, we found a military command truck, the ones with all the radios and such. “ Gary said awkwardly then blushed as he remembered they had already been told about the truck. “ anyway, five times now I’ve picked up broadcasts. Two were asking if there where any people still alive and please respond. But the others sounded like Pilots talking and being guided into a landing on a carrier deck.”

“ Why didn’t you just answer them” Jared asked, he looked like didn’t really believe the whole story or maybe Jill thought, he didn’t want to get his hopes up by believing in it.

“ We tried to answer you and to answer them. Thing is we could pick up distant signals. But we don’t have the power to answer unless we are close. I don’t have a good handle on the gear to be honest. Who ever has been broadcasting from here was using a ham unit. I could tell that from the Freq. It was you wasn’t it”

Jared nodded. “ it was my people” Jared admitted. The storm outside was getting worse and Jared kept looking at the door. Jill knew he had already radio’d the camp on the way here and told them the team might not be back tonight. So she was a bit curious about why he was acting like he wanted to leave. “ To be honest Id like to know why you drove all the way back this way.” He asked finally and leaned against the wall. “Lets face it you were up on the edge of the Smokies, south of Knoxville and then you turned around came north west to get here.” She knew he wasn’t too worried most of Logans people here were armed with bats, and crowbars with only a few pistols scattered amongst them. Jared by himself was better armed and better trained than the whole motley crew of college coeds.

“ Well the thing is..” Logan said, then cleared his throat and began again. “ it kind of started with a dream.” That was the first time, that Jared gave any sort of reaction. Steve frowned but stayed silent as Logan began to explain. “Every one that had the dream in our group kind of dismissed it, mostly because it was too damn freaky, but then part of that dream came true, when we heard your radio conversations and twice you mentioned the name of the town we had dreamed about.”

Logan, embarrassed at discussing the subject, quietly described the dreams that he and several others had, had. He knew how crazy it must sound but he didn’t care any longer.

Later after Logan’s group had bedded down for the night, Jared and his people sat around one of the tables talking quietly in the light of oil lanterns. The rain pounded the tin roof ,a steady soothing sound, that wove into the sound of the wind moaning under the eaves.

“ I don’t buy it, a dream come on!” Steve said looking at Jared. To call him skeptical would have been stretching the meaning of the word. He didn’t believe it, refused to believe it. Even with the Undead he still clung to as much of the old reality as he could and prophetic dreams and dreams of the dead visiting to say good bye were just to much for him.

“ There are a few of our people that have had some odd dreams.” Jill pointed out.

“ Yeah, dreams about loved ones who died, that’s natural no matter how real the dreams seem. But this, being told to hunt us down by a dead Professor. And what about the whole seek out a fort thing “ Steve said shaking his head in dismissal. Jill wanted to say something but it was up to Jared to talk about his dream not her.

She looked over to where Kelly and his family had bedded down and saw the teen ager was awake. His eyes were focused on the slutty blond who had, against all common sense dressed in something lacy and skimpy for bed, no doubt trying to entice some one into joining her and that boy looked damn tempted she thought with a laugh.

“ Steve, Ive… damn it. I had the weirdest dream a little while back..” Jared said then slowly began to tell the story. Other than the wind and rain there was silence in the room as his friends listened.

When he finished, Steve didn’t know what to say. “ so you think your dad came back to tell you to go to fort Sumter.” He asked.

“ I don’t know, honestly I’ve tried to tell myself it was only a dream. But it was to weird, too real. And he warned me about people that work with the dark, and then we met Seth. Remember what Anne said, he had someone she never saw that would show up and talk to him. She never could understand what was said, but she knows it was two different voices. And Jason there thought he heard someone talking to Seth just before that sick SOB escaped and thought he saw some one with Seth. And then Chad’s story about seeing two men, and then when he looks back theres just one guy creeping around their vehicles.” Jared said then paused and looked around “ tell me that’s all coincidence” he challenged.

There was silence around the table as the friends looked at one another. “ now suddenly more than half the group has been thinking about leaving the camp. And no one really knows why, its just a feeling they all have. Except for the kids, the kids are ready to leave because momma and daddy told them to get ready for a trip in a dream.” Jared added

“ what the hell is going on? “ Steve finally asked his disbelief beginning to crumble.

“ Buddy I have no idea” Jared replied. “ But we might want to think about it doing what those dreams are telling us”

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

Pappy had just finished walking the wall, of course calling what he did walking was a exaggeration. He was feeling antsy tonight, for no real reason that he could come up with. Jeff was on the LP/OP. which left only Vickie and Pappy to deal with and protect the little ones. He drew his rain gear closer about himself, trying to fight off the cold wind at his age it cut thru him like a knife.

“ to old for this shit” he muttered, but what can a man do when two wars and 78 years of life hadn’t managed to kill him. Or the damned zombies, in fact he had somewhat resented Jeff showing up at his house when things were going to hell. Pappy had, had things under control at the old homestead, in fact he had been enjoying himself. He was sure some uptight twat of a shrink would think he was nuts for enjoying it. but what did they know, probably all of them were zombies now anyway. So, analyze that you pricks.

Pappy had just reached the travel trailer his family stayed in when the night erupted with a flash of light and a popping noise that almost deafened him. He looked around, and gaped for a moment as he saw that one of the antennas had been hit by lightening, it was okay but the damn wall was actually on fire. “ fire, fire, wake up you asshats, the walls on fire.” He shouted as loud as he could.

Thankfully a few people heard him over the storm and spread the word. Pappy people rushed from the cabins ready to do what ever they could to put out the fire.

Pappy started to hobble over to where he knew some buckets were kept then froze he realized that one of the fuel trucks was parked close to the wall, and the fire was licking its way towards the Truck and its precious, very combustible cargo. Pappy made his way across the compound moving as fast as his old bones would allow. He was almost wheezing by the time he got to the truck.

All he wanted to do when he got there was lean against the vehicle and give himself time to recover. But he couldn’t there just wasn’t time. if that fire reached the truck, the explosion wouldn’t just take out the wall, it would kill the people working to put out the fire and probably level the Cabins.

“Move your wrinkled ass” he told himself as he made himself climb unsteadily into the cab of the truck ignoring the stab of pain in his head.

The fire was close, to damn close he thought as he fumbled at the keys. His vision oddly blurred. He could feel the motor turn over more than hear it. instantly he threw it into gear afraid if he waited his vision might go, or the wave of weakness that swept over him might make him pass out. He could barely see through the mist that covered his eyes as he drove the truck away from the fire and parked it behind the barn. “that’s one, your not done” he told himself as he tried to turn and open the door but he was too weak and the pain that was no radiating out to his arms and legs was almost to much to bear. He leaned his head back against the seat rest as his vision darkened. “just rest a minute” he managed to say aloud.

Ronny, saw the fuel truck’s brake lights flash and felt a moment of panic as he realized the threat the fire posed. “ Mary, Fuel trucks.” he yelled pointing. She nodded, as she played the fire extinguisher across the rapidly spreading flames.

Ronny ran over and was about to leap into the cab, when he smelled gasoline. He flipped on his flashlight and saw the storage tanks valve wasn’t completely closed, allowing a small amount to dribble out. he shut it and then leaped into the cab. He pulled up along side the other Fuel truck, parked then leaped out and ran back to the remaining fuel truck.

As he drove it away, he saw flames race along a track of gas to the puddle that had been under the truck he first moved.

He parked the last fuel truck and was about to run back to help fight the fire. only to stop as he realized that some one was still in the cab of the First truck that had been moved.

Drawing his pistol just in case, Ronny climbed up and looked in trucks window. Oh hell, he thought seeing Pappy sitting there head tilted far back, mouth open. He looked dead, not taking any chances., Ronny tapped on the glass, and got no response.

“ oh fuck!” he said aloud as he took the risk and opened the door. He checked pappy’s pulse and found one, it was thready but there.“ We need a Medic” he shouted.

Jared pulled up to the charred gate and stopped. He climbed out of his van and stared at the fire charred wall. In places it was still smoldering, thin curls of smoke rising into the air.

The newly installed gates creaked open, and Sharon waved them thru. From the look on her face something had happened other than the fire. He thought as he waved at Jill to drive the van thru, he walked past the gates and waited till Logans Jeep had cleared the gates then helped Sharon shut the gats and bar them.

He could see a pile of corpses on the north side, where Rob and Eric were dragging the corpses to the bluff and tossing them over.

He turned to Sharon who looked grim. “ what happened.” He asked.

“A lightening strike started the fire, and Pappy got the alarm out. And..” she hesitated, looking upset.

“and?” He prompted his emotions already surging, as his mind anticipated the worst news possible.

“ Pappy, its bad Jared. Pappy had a stroke he saw the fire racing towards the area where the fuel trucks were parked and ran to move them. Ronny moved the last two and found Pappy still in the cab of the first one. Jeff’s really fucked up. And while that was happening, almost two hundred of the smellys showed up. No one got bit, but they almost got in. it was insane.” She answered.

Smoke still hung in the air as he walked across the compound; Shelley lifted a hand in greeting but said nothing as he walked up the steps of the cabin and opened the heavy wooden door.

Pappy was strapped to the stretcher they had taken out of an ambulance they had found and stripped on the way to the camp. Jeff sat nearby his eyes red but other than that he seemed calm. The left side of pappy’s face was slack, dead. The right eye moved and seemed to focus on him. He had been intubated so he couldn’t talk even if he wanted to.

Linda looked frazzled as she motioned for Jared to step out side. He followed her out on to the rain slicked deck. She didn’t waste time. “ I can’t do a damn thing for him Jared. nothing. If things were normal they would run a lot of tests see how bad the damage was, either place him on life support or get him into therapy to regain some movement. But I don’t have the stuff here to even try the tests and even if I did Im not sure I would know what I was looking at. Im not a doctor.” She said, shaking her head, upset that she couldn’t do more.

“ will he live” Jared asked.

“ Maybe, if you call that living. He might be a foul mouthed pain in the ass, but he pulled his weight around here. but now… “ her voice trailed off. “ and we have to keep him strapped down. If he wasn’t strapped down and died and no one was here to see it.” she said shaking her head at the thought. Jared nodded in understanding. Pappy would rise and start attacking people. it was possible they could lose several people before any one realized what was going on.

“ have you talked to Jeff?” he asked. “explained things” she nodded.

“ he hasn’t said much. But he is your friend so.” Jared didn’t know if he had the right as a friend to even suggest to Jeff what Linda was hinting at. Putting the old man out of his misery. What if he is crippled and never recovers, Jared asked himself. Some one will have to take care of him, and that will take people away from guard duty, and he will use food that ….

He stopped that train of thought disgusted with himself. Maybe that was the right way to look at things, but it damn sure wasn’t the Right thing for him. He’d always had a code. When he was in the military he had believe, his duty was to protect those who were unable to protect themselves, to do the right thing. It didn’t matter what the Politicians had thought, he justified his actions through that lens and had never violated his beliefs in that regard. Thankfully.

But now, he also had to think about the safety, and survival of every one else including twenty five kids, so he had to at least consider the option. The world wasn’t what it had been and Jared was going to have to live with what it had become. The question was could he live with what he might become.

Logan, Chad, Tatiana and Gary were almost invisible in the main room of the Cabin. It was obvious that some kind of crisis had occurred overnight, and the old man on the stretcher looked pretty screwed up. They waited while Jared stepped outside to talk to a woman. Not sure what to do surrounded by people they didn’t know and weren’t sure they could trust.

Finally, Jared walked back into the room while the woman he had left with went and checked the old guy. “ why don’t you come with me “ Jared said leading them across the grounds and into Cabin two. Things were less hectic in cabin two, and almost immediately they were surrounded by people who were apparently excited at seeing new faces, a babble of voices asked a thousand and one questions that they were barely able to answer. Kelly and his family were taken off to get fed and given some new clean clothes shortly after their arrival and Jared doubted they would be done eating in time to make the meeting.

Jared hid a smile and managed not to laugh as he realized Carol was flirting with Logan. Well if she was lucky Logan might just like women 15 years older than he was. But the way he kept close to the Pretty Russian woman Jared suspected Carol would be disappointed. Unless.. no leave that alone he told himself, you do not need to even think about that. .

Gary, and Rob were already deep in conversation about all kinds of Techno nerdish things that Jared didn’t really get. He suspected they were all going to have understand that kind of stuff too if they hoped to keep technology alive and rebuild. But he would cross that geek rubicon when he had to.

Finally everybody but Linda and Jeff and his family were assembled. Jared got down to introducing Logan and his friends to every one. Then had Logan tell how they had been in Knoxville and how bad it had been on Z day. He noticed that every one listened intently; especially when the younger man emphasized that they had only survived by keeping on the move. Jared made a mental note to talk about that with Logan later.

That of course sparked a new debate one that Jared had known was coming, whether to stay or go.

Surprisingly far more of his people wanted to head east, regardless of winter coming on. Most thought it might be the best time, because the zombies might freeze or move slower due to temperature. Jared harbored no such beliefs, not any more, those things didn’t even bleed they oozed. Applying logical thought to zombies was just a mistake.

By the time the debate wound down, Jared had managed to convince every one to stay put for now. Jared wanted to make sure that they couldn’t stay here before they uprooted and headed east all based on a dream. If it proved as bad as expected, Jared didn’t care what his feelings might be about it, facts would move him. So as every one wound down began what passed for casual conversation these days.

Jared sat there working up a plan that would depend heavily on sending Ronny up in the ultra light to do another fly over to see how much was burning or had been burned, and what might be left for them to salvage. If the group had to start traveling forty five miles or more to look for food, ammo and fuel there really wasn’t much of a point in staying here at the camp, they would waste far to much fuel making runs to secure supplies.

After a long conversation with Logan, Jared decided the younger man had a good head on his shoulders for being twenty two and no real training. Jared had wondered over the years just how much potential was wasted in the country by the out of sight education costs and idiot insistence on a degree that in many cases only proved the holder could borrow money and memorize enough data to pass tests while suffering thru a hang over.

None of that mattered anymore, zombies were the great equalizers. The smart and the stupid were out there right now dead and walking. In the case of some of the stupid they weren’t much different now than before.

He shook himself out of that train of thought it was pointless really and he felt almost guilty making fun of people who had died screaming in terror as they were ripped apart. .

Ori, Logan and his friends piled into Logan’s jeep and pulled out of the camp. He was going to bring all of his folks up here to help put the camp to rights. Jared was now more than eager to finish getting everything set to bug out just in case. Deep down inside he knew they would ..

First he needed to set up routes, load outs, consider every angle. As soon as he had that roughed out he needed to organize teams to hunt up RV’s. he knew where four RV’s were for sure, and the camp grounds around the area should have more.

As soon as Logan had left, Jared gathered up six people and Ronny and they hauled the ultralight down to the main road to be assembled. Rob had been hounding him about installing a digital camera on the ultra light and Jared had decided it would be an asset and so would the propane bombs Ori could install on the thing. He grinned at the image of Ultra light bombing runs over hordes of undead.

He stepped back as the motor on the craft fired up and in second Ronny was hurtling down to the road, the wings caught air and the small craft sailed up and away.

While they waited for Ronny to return Jared came up with a few ideas about a RV or Semi trailer set up as a Garage, machine and woodshop that he talked over with Rob and Steve, something like that would be a huge benefit to what would amount to a modern day nomadic lifestyle.

.

When Ronny had returned, the news wasn’t good. Most of the business’s and about half the homes had burned. He didn’t see much in the way of zombies, but he had actually seen large groups along ridge lines and down in the bottoms. Normally Jared would assume that rough terrain around the area and leading up to the camp would have been a major obstacle leaving only the roads as the areas the undead could approach from

Jared had returned to his Cabin and virtually locked himself in his home office, to think and plan while Steve ran the teams, over the next few days to recover the RV’s and find supplies.

it appeared that the zombies would just take the most direct route regardless of how rough the terrain might be and some of them, many of them were making it through.   And if a large group attacks, , Jared thought, the group’s Ammo supply would bottom out once they had to engage the undead. Fighting hand to hand against a large group was almost impossible. There just wasn’t a way they could fight hand to hand against large numbers with out losing far to many people and Jared didn’t want to lose any one if he didn’t have too.

It appeared there was no real reason to stay here any longer. Not with most of the town gone and the wild life was as absent as the living. Add in the fact that area he had planned on using to plant his seed stock was now a parking lot meant they would need to expand the area of the camp and clear land to plant on. All of which required more food to fuel the body, more fuel to run the equipment if they wanted to get it done in a decent amount of time and that meant more area to guard with the limited number of people they had.

All which led Jared to the fact they would have to leave here, the real question was leave now or leave in the spring. And if they stayed he had a feeling the undead would arrive here at the camp as a horde on Halloween, maybe he felt that way because it was just the most appropriate day of the year for the undead to show up.

He rubbed his eyes and stood up from the old wooden desk that he had restored several year back and stretched. He looked down at the map he had been working on and the eight routes to the coast he had come up with.

Now at least if they had to leave, and he was pretty sure it was when not if, there was a plan in place. He would have Anne and Carol copy the routes onto other maps, so that every one would have a copy, and if they became separated from the rest of the group they would still be able to link up with the group again by following the maps.

Tired of being inside he walked down the stairs and out onto the front porch. The RV’s that they had recovered were now parked in what had once been the front yard, and were being loaded with supplies, one was even being converted into a Mobile medical clinic, complete with solar panels on the top and all the portable medical devices they had taken from the Hospital ER.

Chloe one of Logans people was Paramedic and had been pre med had offered to help Linda out. the older woman had almost cried when she found out there was some one else out there with medically knowledge, and apparently more knowledge than she had. Which was another bit of really good news as far as Jared was concerned.

It had been less difficult to decide on who rode with who if they had to leave, and Jared was thankful for that He really didn’t have the patience to listen to arguments about who got to ride with what person. Sharon was going to be riding with Bridget one RV, while Steve drove the modified six wheeled Ram Truck. there had been some talk about whether to drive the trucks and use even more fuel, tow them or leave them behind.

After a long discussion, every one had come to realize that the trucks with their offroad capabilities could be essential, and that having vehicles ahead of the column of Rvs to scout out an area ahead of the column could keep the bigger heavier vehicles from ending up in places that they couldn’t get out of.

He stood there for a long moment watching as trucks were loaded, Rob was busy welding plates and expanded metal to some vehicles as armor. People were busying sorting through gear and getting ready, driven by an air of urgency that most if not all of them felt.

Logan walked up to stand by Jared. wiping the oil on his hands onto a rag as he too watched the activity in the yard. “ You still think you can make it thru the winter here” he asked.

Jared shrugged then explained. “ Maybe, maybe not. food wise yes, even feeding you people. but zombies, who knows. We can’t just sit back and let them block us in, and we cant afford to waste ammo to break out or clear the area. But if they come at us scatter gun, we might be able to deal with them easily.”

“ But you wont know till they get here” Logan said.

“ Actually I know right now that it’s a horde.” Jared said with a shrug of his wide shoulders. “It’s a gut feeling. Time is ticking down like a celestial stop watch and come Halloween its going to hit zero on us.” Jared said.

“ so your going to leave” Logan asked. Jared smiled grimly but said nothing for a moment. He didn’t need to. No one really believed they were going to stay now..

“ I am thinking about getting every one out before Halloween and setting up somewhere else. while I come back and sit on that bluff across the way and watch and see what happens.” Jared replied. “if the dead don’t show up, we can move back in. But if they do, at least we wont be trapped in here.”

By October 20th, they were as ready to bug out as they could be. They only thing they had left was to send out a team to clear the undead from the camp ground they would stay at the first night or two.

Jared hated leaving the place, partly because it was home, his home. But the feeling that if they were here when the axe came down would mean they all died only grew stronger.
At least the Camp had given them time to get their crap together, recover from the horror and devastation, cope with the horror and the devastation might be the more accurate term. What ever the term it had allowed them to prepare to move on.

Pappy had been moved to the Medical Rv days before, his condition hadn’t changed which bothered Jared a lot, but Jeff wasn’t going to put down his own father or let any one else do it either. The man was still praying for a miracle and who knew, he might get it. Jared wasn’t going to hold his breath for it either but he couldn’t blame Jeff for hoping. Besides Jared wanted a miracle too, he liked Pappy a lot and the man had been there as a surrogate, if obscene and embarrassing, uncle since he had been a kid.

October 29th, the caravan rolled out of the camp for the last time. Jared looked into the rear view mirror, already feeling the loss of the last place he could call his own. He didn’t know if he would ever see it again. Probably not but who ever might end up moving in would know they had been here, he thought looking at the sign Ronny had made and hung on wall beside the gate. The clenched fist with upraised middle finger had been carved deep into the wood of the sign as had the legend. “Evil 0, Living 1, we are still alive.”

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

Seth settled himself on the ledge, safe from any zombies that might be here in the woods. He hummed silently to himself as he pulled out his binoculars and turned them on the camp across the hollow. He loved Halloween, its one of the greatest days of the year. his satisfaction faded as he saw the empty field, deeply rutted with Tire tracks around the Cabins.

Not a soul moved across the valley on the opposite bluff. No lights burned in the cabins, no one lingered over a beer or a meal on the porch. The Gap in their wall had been filled with several over turned vehicles as well as logs. He could see the hordes of undead wandering around the wall, but the will that had driven them this far from town was gone just as their victims were gone.

Seth and his friend had known that they might leave. It had always been possible, that the other side might just interfere. Seth didn’t understand that part, but it had been a great concern for his friend. He took it as a bad thing, and didn’t doubt that the other side, who ever that might be had definitely interfered.   Oh well he had a car, he could find them, and when he did would find a way to kill them, all of them but the kids and his woman.

He climbed to the top of the bluff to retrieve his pack and found it gone. He had placed there against that crooked looking tree, he thought as he looked around wildly.   he didn’t dare use a flash light for fear his neighbors might come calling. He was certain that some one had stolen his pack.

“ I really thought, you would be smarter than this” A deep glacially cold voice said out of the darkness. Seth began to shake and started to reach for his pistol. He didn’t know how Mr. Commando had known where to find him. but find him, he had.

“ I wouldn’t draw that and shoot, every walker in twenty miles will show up here.” The voice called out. “not that I really care.”

“ What do you want?” Seth asked, hating the quiver in his voice.

“ I want to kill you. You killed one of my friends, hurt a few more. You kept a young woman locked in a closet and raped her repeatedly. you even killed every survivor in that Courthouse. So what do you think I’d want to do with you.”

“ She was my fiancé” Seth said flatly the anger finally starting to burn.

“ she was your rape victim you sick fuck.” The hard voice said from the darkness. pain flared as something smashed into Seths jaw, and teeth flew, the force of the blow enough to spin him around where he collapsed. Sobbing in pain and fear he tried to crawl away, but an iron hard hand grabbed his ankle and pulled him back.

“ Not so easy as that shit head” The mans voice was cold as iron, Seth was hauled to his feet. Before he could run or even try to defend himself, a fist slammed into his stomach, as he doubled over his face met a rising knee that sent him sprawling on his back. Blood flowing from his nose and smashed lips.

Seth was sobbing and scrabbling backwards when he remembered the edge of the bluff and stopped. He was able to get to his feet and drew his pistol to hell with the noise; he could stay ahead of his neighbors. He saw something move in the darkness under the trees and fired, then fired again. He stalked forward and was barely able to make out the shape of his pack laying on the ground. A hand lashed out of the darkness and wrenched the pistol out of his hand, breaking his trigger finger in the process.

Finally he could see his attacker in the dim light from the slim crescent moon, Jared tossed Seth’s pistol off to his right. A cold smile on his face and for the first time in a long time a sliver of sanity entered Seth’s mind.

“ Killing me want bring anyone back” Seth said, he refused to apologize. He had enjoyed it too much to pretend otherwise.

“ True, but Killing you will let their spirits beat your ass on the other side.” Jared said as he twisted into a spinning snap kick that sent the little shit bouncing off a tree. It sounded like a few ribs might have broken.

Time to end this Jared thought, he wasn’t going to sit here and pound this shit bag into a pile of jelly. Simply because he would enjoy it to much, and the realization he could share even that much with this piece of human slime shook him.

“I’d do it again “ Seth hissed, as he staggered to his feet. His eyes glinting, he drew a hunting knife.

“ I know you would “ Jared said. “ that’s why you have to die” he said gliding in, blocking the sweeping knife attack with a forearm block, then a kite strike to a nerve plexus deadened the arm and the knife fell to the ground. Jared struck with the edge of his hand across Seth’s throat then spun the Gagging man around and snapped his neck. Jared let the body drop to the ground.

Jared gazed at the corpse for a moment feeling an intense satisfaction that bothered him. Shrugging he walked over and retrieved the pack and Seth’s Revolver. He had far to go and zombies to avoid.

As he headed down the narrow trail to the bottom of the bluff, part of a poem that Mark had liked ran thru his mind. Mark had read it and posted it every Memorial Day for as long as Jared could remember.

Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking:
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.
In our isle’s enchanted hall,
Hands unseen thy couch are strewing,
Fairy strains of music fall,
Every sense in slumber dewing.
Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Dream of fighting fields no more:
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Morn of toil, nor night of waking.

“ Rest in peace Mark, the bastards dead” he said into the cool night air.

Continue to Act 2 part 1

4 thoughts on “TCRD Act 1Part 6

  1. Awesome story so far! Looking forward to future installments! Really great to see characters who don’t simply follow the same plot format as most stories or movies!

    Like

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