TRCD Act 2 part 2

TCRD Act 2 Part 2

“Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old: —
“No law except the Sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled.”
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.”

-Kipling

The Group of survivors out of Nashville had finally started to settle into the Farm, with something like relief. The tension and fear that had lurked just below the surface was ebbing but never enough to be forgotten. Each and every person constantly looked over their shoulders checking the shadows around them for the threat of the undead.

Something like normalcy had settled over the group as they worked to set up their temporary home for the winter and the steady if small supply of real food went a long way to making them feel better.

The patrols continued to scout the approaches to the farm and to report back a lack of undead in the area. They were finally began to hope that maybe just maybe they could survive, and not only survive but eventually thrive. How ever hope was something that attracted attention, and where the Darks attention was directed, its servants wouldn’t be far behind.

Logan had woken early and found Kevin gone. Fearful that the wheelchair bound man might need help, or even worse be in trouble. Logan left the warmth of Tatyana and his sleeping bag. He dressed quickly and left the small office that served as his, Tatyana and Kevin’s bedroom, stopping only long enough to add a few logs to the wood burning stove in the common area then headed out side.

He stepped outside into the blustery wind and shivered. He quickly buttoned his collar and pulled his hat down low. He had no idea how cold it was, other than it was damn cold in his book and this wasn’t the light snow fall he normally thought of as normal for Tennessee. It looked like a foot had fallen over night and more was to come. He spotted Brian who was on guard duty “Seen Kevin?” He asked.

Brian nodded as he came to a stop and began rubbing his hands together. “He headed to the farm about half an hour ago. I thought it was odd to go over there so early but its not against the rules or anything. is something wrong”

“No, just got worried when I saw he wasn’t in his sleeping bag.” Logan said trying not to let his teeth chatter. “Thanks,” he said and started for the bridge to the farm. If he stood still a minute longer, he would freeze in place.

The sun was rising when he saw Kevin in the north field of the farm, struggling to get through the snow and mud to the riverbank. The wheels of his wheelchair bogged down in the snow and mud. Logan jogged across the footbridge that connected the farm to the Visitor center parking area and quickly caught up with Kevin.

“I thought I would go out for a jog, but saw you and decided I really wanted some company” Logan said as he took hold of the handles of the Wheelchair and pushed Kevin out of the muddy rut.

“Don’t really feel like company” Kevin said testily, then shook his head. “ Sorry, and Thanks this damn thing isn’t made for offroading.”

“No problem Kev, to be honest I didn’t really want company either, but I couldn’t sit there and watch you freeze to death stuck in a hole” Logan said, his eyes sweeping the field and the trees along the ridge to the east. Seeing no undead, he put his body into it and got Kevin moving. “and don’t sit there and tell me I shouldn’t have helped”

Kevin remained silent for a moment as Logan pushed him under the snow covered limbs of the old trees, and stopped just above the bank of the wide river that bisected the river valley.

“ Thanks Logan,” Kevin said meaning it as he looked around taking in the snow covered fields behind them and the woods around them where tendrils of mist wove thru the trees. There was already thin rind of ice in the shallow still waters at the edge of the river. A crystalline stillness hung in the air, a brittle thing as if Nature her self were waiting for something.

They both stood there silent, soaking in the beauty of the moment. This was something Logan had rarely appreciated before the world had died. For some reason, Logan suddenly felt tears well up and a deep profound loss filled him as he took in the unsullied beauty of the river valley.

Logan couldn’t have even explained it to any one why that breath taking view reminded him of the world that had died, but it did and at that moment he and Kevin bonded like never before.

“ You know the ancient Irish, and the ancient Europeans believed that there was an eternal war between the summer and the winter. The oak king and the Holly king, in fact the Holly king is one of the reasons that Holly is so important to Christmas” Kevin said suddenly, his voice slightly muffled by the scarf over his face. “ its symbolic of Life and death.” He said then softly recited,

“The King of Oak,

The Holly King,

Forever they shall fight,

For one brings on the summer’s morn,

The other winter’s night.”

“ Where did you pick all that up?” Logan asked surprised. Kevin wasn’t much older than he was and had never really shown such a philosophical bent. Not that running around in a dead world had lent itself to many conversations that didn’t have a some thing to do with survival or Undead or what had happened to them on the day the world had ended.

“ Why is it that every one assumes, that a jock, well in this case, a former jock, knows nothing beyond sports?” Kevin asked with an unseen smile. “ I’ve always loved mythology and history.

Before the accident I was working towards a degree in History while playing football, don’t laugh but I wanted to become a history teacher,” Kevin said remembering the moment his dreams of the future were shattered.

He surprisingly wasn’t bitter, well not most times. The coming of the undead had made him take a different look at things how ever and face his limitations, and he hadn’t liked what he had seen. For the first time since he had lost the use of his legs he felt like a cripple what good was a man who couldn’t walk or run in a world of the undead.

Being crippled had taught Kevin a lot about himself and others. For example his former Girlfriend at the time wasn’t the stick by her man type. Once she had learned he was crippled she had made excuses and fled as soon as she decently could. It was her loss, he thought bitterly. Aside from Jake, his best friend, all of his other friends had vanished with in a month of finding out he would no longer be able to hike, camp, or play sports. They really didn’t want a cripple in a wheel chair putting a crimp in their getting laid plans at parties.

Jake had died the second day of the Apocalypse, trying to rescue his girlfriend from the Dorm, and Kevin had been left to fend for himself till he had met Logan. Kevin took a deep breath of the cold air trying to forget the horrors he had seen or the nightmare of trying to survive as a cripple in the apocalypse

Logan rested his hands on the handgrips of Kevin’s wheel chair. “ So what else is there about this time of year that most people don’t know?” he asked sensing Kevin was on the edge of getting depressed and wanting to help keep the man from going over the edge.

Kevin laughed, a bit harshly maybe, recognizing the attempt for what it was. “There’s actually a lot, some of it magical, some of it not. But I guess what really mattered about it; it was a celebration of life amidst death. Mystery, magic, and fear.” He said “Kind of fitting considering what we are going through don’t you think?” Kevin said grimly then gave a strained smile “Enough of that though, thanks for wheeling me out here to look. It’s kind of hard to move myself thru the snow. I might have to have some off road tires with snow chains added to get around out here”

At least so far there had been no zombies to deal with here at the Farm. No one was quite certain why that was, but no one complained about that fact. Logan had heard Jared discussing that topic with a few others, and they seemed to think the undead hovered in the cities and towns they had died in looking for the living, until they spotted and followed vehicles. Others thought it was the cold weather.

A few of the people, like Jared, thought it was a combination of things including the rugged terrain that surrounded the farm. Logan didn’t know what to think, but as long as the area was free of undead, he wasn’t going to complain one bit.

Logan chuckled at Kevin’s joke, weak though it was, then started pushing Kevin back up the snow-covered path. It was hard going but Logan didn’t mind and it felt good working his muscles not to mention it warmed him up.

It was the view through the trees into the field beyond the tree line, that really held their interest.   The sky was a pale blue and gold in the east, and glory limed the top of the eastern mountain, casting a shadow across the farm where warm yellow light spilled out of the windows of the log homes, creating pools of light and warmth on the snow covered ground. Oil lanterns had been hung above the doorways of the out buildings shone like fading stars. The Snow and ice covered branches of the few trees scattered around the cabins, glittered like crystal in growing light.

Kevin had it right, Logan thought, there was a magic to it, something that he had forgotten. Now he was in a world where the horror of nightmares walked, and a man in a wheel chair with a casual word had opened his eyes to the magic that he had thought had been left behind in his child hood.

Logan’s eyes were drawn to the blacksmith shop where the smith, a muscular fifty year old was using bellows to get the fire hot before he started work, two teen aged boys, apprentices now, watched and listened closely as the man talked.

“ Its like stepping back in time” Logan muttered. Just a few months ago, those two teenagers would have been playing video games, trying to get laid and dreaming of college and escaping home. Now, now they were learning how to make nails, hinges and horse shoes.

“ Its our lives now, unless we can find a lot more people with a wide array of knowledge, we will be living like this for the next hundred years or longer” Kevin responded then pointed towards the visitor center “Looks like John Graham is visiting again” Logan nodded seeing the snow mobiles that were parked outside the center.

He had been surprised to see snowmobiles here in the first place, but he supposed it made sense, that snow fall was usually heavier in the mountains than down below and that something like a snowmobile might be used during bad conditions to get around on or to do rescue work.   He did know that according to graham those were the only snowmobiles in Cherokee, and the park had never had more than a few itself.

“ He and Jared have certainly gotten chummy since they met” Logan commented.

“They seem to have a lot in common, prior military types, outdoorsman and seem to have the same coarse sense of humor” Kevin commented shrugging under the blanket.

“ Did you just say coarse?” Logan asked, almost laughing. “Who the hell uses words like Coarse?”

“ Wait a few minutes and I might use “ you’ll rue the day you laughed at me you uncultured boob.” Kevin said archly, raising an eyebrow then ruined the look by smiling.

Logan enjoyed the banter, He even liked Kevin, which had surprised Kevin to some degree. Most people before the zombies would have been nice, but few would have tried to actively become a friend. Cripples were to be treated like China, very carefully and used very little because they might break, or that’s how many had acted around him.

Logan had never once treated him as a cripple, never doubted he could pull his own weight and in short never seemed to see the wheelchair unless something happened that made him notice the damn thing.

Like realizing, Kevin couldn’t run up a flight of stairs as they were being chased by a group of zombies. They had entered a stair well that had been thankfully empty of undead, Logan had slammed the door shut, and wedged the head of the axe he carried under the door. While the undead beat on the door, which was slowly inching open, Logan had slung Kevin across his back, and then used their belts to strap Kevin tightly to him.

Then with out complaining Logan had collapsed the wheelchair picked it up and was almost to the second floor when the stair well door finally opened enough for the undead to pour through.

Kevin had shot anything that moved behind them, he hadn’t killed many, in fact the only ones he had managed to kill had been close enough to almost grab him, but as each one fell the ones swarming up behind had tripped and fallen over the corpses giving them needed breathing room.

It had been rough on the two of them, getting up those stairs and eventually escaping the undead, perhaps rougher on Logan than on Kevin. But it had been no picnic for Kevin either. They had done it though and Kevin had made a life long friend.

Logan had never once complained about having to carry Kevin or the help he had given other times and only for a little while referred to Kevin as his Siamese twin, and to Kevins surprise Logan hadn’t made that joke to be cruel or to mock him.

“ Look I don’t want to rush you or anything Logan, but if we don’t get inside shortly I’m going to lose the few things that still work below my belt.” Kevin said after several minutes. Shivering from the cold.   Logan laughed and tried to speed up.

“ Good morning” a soft almost musical sounding woman’s voice said from behind them as they reached the narrow bridge that would take them across to the Visitor center. Logan looked back to see Mattie Caldwell, Who managed to look quite, good in that old fashioned dress that had been her work uniform.

She gave Logan a bright smile that really brought out the cold reddened cheeks, and flipped the long dark ponytail back over her shoulder then turned those golden brown eyes to Kevin and her smile if anything grew brighter.

“ Morning Kevin, how do you like our farm” she asked, sincerely too as far as Logan could tell.

“ Its beautiful, just wish I wasn’t stuck in this damn thing so I could walk it every morning” Kevin replied his eyes sliding shyly away from Mattie’s eyes. That he liked Mattie was obvious, that he wasn’t sure she actually liked him was just about as obvious.

Logan wanted to reach out and jack slap Kevin for being shy, but Logan was pretty sure that being in a wheel chair gave Kevin a different perspective on women and probably not a good one in general.

Logan kept his head down, not interrupting the conversation as Mattie walked with them. He hid a smile as he pushed Kevin across the bridge and onto the cement path that ran to the Visitor center.

Logan was happy as hell to see a woman interested in Kevin, a good looking woman to boot, hopefully that would get Kevin up and out of the dark place he had slowly been sliding into lately.

As the three of them entered, the reasonably warm visitor center and removed their jackets. They saw Jared, John Graham, and Steve clustered around a Table.

Logan nodded to the boy named Ben who brushed past them. “Scuse me” Ben said, not even pausing.

“ Its pretty damn cold out there Ben, don’t stay out too long “ Logan found himself saying. Oh great I’m becoming a parent he thought with a laugh.

“ Don’t worry Logan, I’m going someplace to get warm” Ben replied as he vanished out the doors. Something about the way the kid said that made Logan look back towards the doors and frown thoughtfully.

“ Oh” Mattie said as she reached down and adjust the blanket across Kevin’s legs. Logan turned to look at them and saw Kevin blush as Mattie finished with adjusting the blanket over Kevin’s lap and smiled demurely at Kevin. Logan hid another grin.

“ What did you mean oh?” Logan asked hoping it wouldn’t lead to finding out what had just occurred between Mattie and Kevin. .

“ Ben there has been spending a lot of time with Amy Spears, great girl really. ” Mattie said, tilting her head towards the door.

“Oh” Logan said and started to laugh.

Jared watched Kevin and Mattie for a moment, glad to see something going right for Kevin who had till recently becoming more and more depressed. The Farm seemed to be damn good for him and many of the others. The lack of undead would do that he thought wryly.

Logan slipped away after a moment giving Kevin and Mattie some privacy, and walked over to feed logs into the wood burning stove in the corner.

Even with the news that John Graham had brought Jared almost smiled as he watch Mattie and Kevin talking intently once Logan had stepped away. He tipped a glance at Jill and winked, odd how love seemed to blossom so quickly in high stress situations. He turned back to Graham who was pulling out a map and spreading it on the table. The slight amusement he had felt watching the love birds vanished as he centered his thoughts firmly on the much more serious matter that John Graham had come to discuss.

For the third time since June, Raiders had struck Cherokee, hitting the building that the Small Community used as a warehouse. The raiders had stripped as much of the food and supplies as they could carry in their vehicles then set the place on fire, fleeing moments before the Native fighters had arrived.

Then two days ago, one of the Scouts, Graham had sent out, had spotted one of the raiders off road trucks on the Blue Ridge parkway, coming back from the direction of the Farm. Graham thought they might be aiming to hit the farm soon. And to make matters worse, it seemed that the raiders had a large group of zombies following in their wake.

Graham, pointed out where the warehouse had been, and the location of the scout, Jared leaned forward studying the map intently. Graham had used the information provided by his own scouts to mark out bad roads, landslides, downed bridges and large gathering of zombies and that information was just as interesting to Jared as the other.

“ Our scouts have had a hell of time past this point due to zombies. And we are leery of leading them back to Cherokee. We still have enough in town to deal with out adding more from the outside.” Graham said as he touched a point on the map with his knife.” We think, I think, that their target is the farm. Face it we have been collecting canned and dried foods, but you people grow crops, and forge tools, make oil, make clothes, and a wide variety of other skills that would appeal to any one wanting to live half way comfortable. You’re the logical target and if they take the farm, or just raid it and destroy what they cant take with them. Not only will the people here suffer. But my people will lose the help that the farm has and will provide for us.

Many of our people no longer have the knowledge to farm. And hunting isn’t what it should be, animals have been rare since the zombies showed up and started eating every one.” Graham said, it was apparent he wasn’t happy to acknowledge his peoples shortcoming, but he was too honest to not to bring it up.

Not that it would take the Natives in Cherokee long to relearn what they lacked or improve what they did know, and in truth, the Natives probably still knew more about farming and hunting than the average American who hadn’t worked here at the farm.

Jared studied the map a moment longer his mind working over how to defend the place, sandbags, and Defensive Fighting Positions with a scattering of fox holes wouldn’t really work, not with out a well trained force to defend the place. But add in walls, trenches and any other trick they could devise to slow down, cripple or kill an attacker, and the untrained civilians could probably hold out against a fairly large civilian manned force. But what they didn’t have, was the equipment they would need.

“ There’s a lot we can do to add some defenses around here. But it would be limited defensive works. To be honest, we don’t have the trained manpower to hold the place with out much heavier defensive works, and for that we again don’t have the manpower to build heavier defenses or the heavy equipment to do the job in what I’m pretty sure is going to be a short amount of time.” Jared said as he looked at Lloyd who nodded in agreement.

Lloyd’s eyes suddenly widened and he got an expression on his face like he wanted to face palm himself. “I don’t believe I had forgotten about it, but we have a maintenance yard, there’s some heavy equipment stored there we used around the park for various things” Lloyd said almost excitedly “ its right about here,”. He said indicating a spot on the map. Jared frowned, “ that would mean that who ever it was your scout spotted heading south might have gone far enough north to see the maintenance area.” Jared said noting the narrow park road that connected to the main road the enemy scout had been seen on.

Graham looked thoughtful for a moment. “ Its possible I guess, but why would they bother. Besides they would have to get on Big Cove road, and you folks might have spotted them as they got off the Blue Ridge and then crossed the bridge onto Big Cove”

Jared looked at the map and had to agree, it wasn’t more than a mile and half past the Farm. But it was still possible they could have slipped past with out anyone noticing the sound of a motor.

“ What else is up at the yard that might draw some interest?” He asked Lloyd.

“Timbers, lumber, vehicles, tools, not really sure to be honest I rarely was in there.”

“ I think we need to take a trip up to the yard just to see. And if anyone has been up there we should at least be able to spot tracks in the snow.” Lloyd nodded in agreement, rubbing at his sleeve absently.

“ I guess we should have done that before now. But to be honest, it never occurred to any of us. We had light, food and shelter. Damn I’m an idiot “ Lloyd said bitterly

“ Not really Lloyd you had a lot on your mind with so many people to tend to, and the whole dead rising thing.” Jared commented, making notes in a small notebook he almost always carried in his back pocket.

Graham nodded in agreement. “ Trust me hind sight is kicking a lot of us in the ass lately.” He said with a grim chuckle.

“ Okay then, as soon as we finish here, I’ll take a team up there and look the place over. Our first priority is to make this place secure and this place could help immensely.” Jared said then turned to Jill how had been listening quietly “ you’ve been pretty good at ideas in that regard, why don’t you get with Lloyds people and see what you can come up with for the farm.”

“ I will,” Jill stated, “ I would like to know that a place like this is here to come back to if the rest of our plans fall apart.” Jill said tapping a long finger on her chin looking thoughtfully at the map. “ Why don’t we just send Ronny up in the ultra light?” Jill asked suddenly.

“ Because of the wind” Ronny replied from where he sat. “With the possible wind shears and sudden up and down drafts here in the mountains, I’m not really comfortable with flying around.” He explained, and then shook his head. “Look I can fly, and not badly. But I really don’t have the hundreds of hours in the air, I need to feel comfortable flying in this kind of weather and terrain. And I should point out I would be doing the flying in what amounts to a lawn chair with a motor so I pretty much figure you folks will understand why I’m hesitant.”

“Any questions, concerns, or bitches, and no Ronny sexual fantasies don’t count” Jared said looking around no one else in the room seemed to have any questions so he rose and grabbed his coat off the back of his chair,

“ A word in Private if you would Graham” Jared asked.

Graham retrieved his own coat and with a nod towards the rest of the Cherokee party who sat quietly talking amongst themselves, the Native American followed Jared to the door.

Outside the snow was blowing, as the two men walked slowly around Jared’s camp. “ I know what your interested in Jared, but she still says the time isn’t right” Graham said before Jared could bring up the topic. Jared shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, and stopped to look up at the gray sky

. “Do you believe in this whole dream message thing? “ Jared asked finally. Graham was silent for a long moment listening to the wind.

“ Some of my people and even some of yours, used to believe that you could hear the spirits or God on the wind.” He shrugged his shoulders. “ With the undead walking around it gets hard not to believe in all sorts of things.” He replied adjusting his gloves.

“I was hoping for a more definitive answer than that.” Jared said, with a lopsided smile.

“Not going to get one from me, I don’t know what to believe anymore. We have medicine men, for lack of a better word, who warned something was going to happen. Both of our peoples have traditions of Magic and the supernatural. Who’s to say now, that it’s not real and that some are touched by it? I’d rather believe that God or what ever, is actually trying to save us, or help us save ourselves. Instead of sitting here, thinking it’s all gone to hell and there’s no hope. Maybe that is the whole point, Hope.” Graham said shrugging as they walked to the far end of the parking lot.

“If you start singing the sun will come out tomorrow, I will shoot you right here John Graham.” Jared warned, with a laugh. The two men laughed together for a moment, and then sobered, it almost didn’t seem right to laugh about something so mundane when the whole world had died mere months ago.

“All I can say Jared, is it is not my call to make on when its time. And she isn’t ready yet, she says it has to be at a certain moment no sooner, there are rules to be followed” graham said, rubbing his gloved hands together.

“ I keep hearing that, Rules to be followed. And I’m about sick of not being issued the rule book” Jared said almost lightly. But a tinge of Bitterness came through with the words. “ well lets get this show on the road, and I know you and yours need to get back home.” Jared added as he headed back for the visitor center.

The drive up to the Maintenance yard was took longer that it might usually have due to snow and the need to keep a lookout for outsiders. Skeletal limbed, snow shrouded trees, loomed over the roadway. Rivulets of ice hung, like stalactites from rocky outcroppings. Here and there snow slid from branches of the trees to pile on the ground around the trunks

Lloyd sat in the passenger seat of Jared’s van as they crept up the snow covered roadway. Behind them, Steve’s six-wheeled Ram behemoth clanked along on snow chains. The snow was falling heavier now, fat flakes that were piling up into what promised to become a record snowfall.   Thankfully, Jared could still see but if this storm intensified, visibility was going to get worse.   Up head through the white curtain of snow, Lloyd spotted the turn off and pointed it out to Jared who slowed then came to a stop.

Jared pulled on a toboggan cap then scanned the area out the window for zombies but saw nothing. Satisfied he opened the door and stepped out into the blowing snow. Together he and Lloyd walked the road to the Maintenance yard gates looking for tracks. They didn’t find anything, but that proved nothing. The snow that had fallen over the last couple of days and the tracks could have been completely filled in by now.

Reaching the gates, they found them standing open, the chain that had kept them closed had been cut and dangled from the chain link gate, its links slowly gathering ice.

“all right folks, come on down” Jared transmitted, as he moved into the yard, his weapon at High ready just in case something or some one was lurking inside.

Jared stayed near the gate looking over the maintenance yard, as the vehicles rumbled down the drive towards him. The place looked deserted, like something out of a movie as wind driven snow swirled up and around the buildings and across the yard before falling softly to the ground waiting for the next gust of wind to send them flying once more.

A large metal vehicle barn sat towards the back of the maintenance yard, one of its doors partially open. Another smaller building sat to its right. A large fuel tank on a stand was placed between the two buildings. There were four park trucks, two of them off road capable. A snowplow, two bull dozers, three dump trucks, a backhoe, and a grader. To the north side of the yard, building materials were stacked inside an open-air building.

“ Fuel tank” Lloyd said almost face palming him self again.

“ Well I guess we know one of the things they are going to want from here” Jared said, as the van parked nearby, then Steve’s truck parked beside it. The four snow mobiles, veered away from the gate and headed back to the road, to scout further down, just in case the raiders had left some one there to watch.

“ Well according to graham only one truck was seen leaving the area. And nothing going in since he left this morning. So they cant have taken a lot of fuel. We need to post some guards up here” Lloyd said, as he considered options.

“ Might as well check out the vehicle barn and that other building while we are here.” Jared said, as his team moved up to join him.

Lloyd stood back while the team entered the barn, he was impressed despite himself at how professional they looked entering the building. A second later Jared called all clear and he entered.

The building was open floored on the inside except for an enclosed supervisors office in the back left corner, along the left wall were shelves, work tables and tool boxes. A massive air compressor, paint cabinets and parts lockers were on the right. A fenced in 12 foot by 12 foot, eight foot tall tools locker, held chainsaws, axes, winch cables, and other tools used to clear and maintain trails.

Four snowmobiles were lined up along the back wall, and five four wheelers. Next to the ATV’s were five small trailers that could be pulled by the four wheelers, mostly used for light loads, and trash pick up along the trails.

Down the center of the bay, three trucks were lined up, their hoods open. One looked like some one had been changing its tires. The other two had parts removed from the motors. Rolling tool cabinets sat next to each truck.

“ It’s a gold mine “ Lloyd said almost awe struck at the haul of supplies and what it could mean for the farm.

“ That’s what I would call it” Jared said looking around at the neat shop. “ I think that posting guards here might end up being dangerous and useless in the long run. We couldn’t get up here fast enough to support them”

“ maybe set up an Lp/op up the ridge a ways” Steve suggested. “With out a Radio base and a antenna tower, no signal from our Talkies would reach back to camp”

Ori looked up “ if we hook eight hundred feet of wire to a tethered balloon back at camp and… “Ori said then shook his head and grimaced “ never mind forget it.”

“We could use the two water trucks outside. Fill them both with the fuel from the tank and drain that sucker dry, then the raiders wont have a real reason to try to occupy the place “ Steve suggested, Jared shook his head.

“ No, it’s a good idea, but the farm could use those water trucks, we could pump water out of the river into the tanks so they have easy access to water for the cabins and for the crops with out a lot of work. Maybe we should ask Graham if they have an empty fuel truck or a lot of barrels. We could top of our fuel tankers too. Assuming you don’t mind” Jared asked looking at Lloyd, Who shook his head not really surprised that Jared wasn’t going to just lay claim to all the stuff here. He just wasn’t that type of guy, thank god.

“ Not in the least, but we can use that equipment outside to build defense’s around the farm.” Lloyd said.

“ Lets see about getting all this stuff down to the farm then “ Jared said as he looked at Steve and smiled. “ Send Jason and Logan to pick up Jim. Lets see if Graham is interested in helping out here.”

An hour later Lloyd stood in shock, watching as Jared’s people picked the place clean. Dozers, back hoes, snowmobiles were loaded on the trailers and hauled down to the visitor center. As one group cleaned out the cabinets, another group used an engine hoist and loaded all the toolboxes into the back of their Deuce and halves. Lloyd’s people tried to keep up, but they hadn’t learned how to strip a building under threat of being eaten. Rob used a torch to cut into the tool room. As soon as he had it opened People streamed in and were passing out tools that were loaded quickly.

In the middle of all of that, Jim arrived with three large trucks with 1500-gallon tanks mounted on the back. Two more trucks were loaded with empty 50 gallon barrels. As they lined up at the fuel tank, Jim leaped out and walked over to where Lloyd stood watching the controlled chaos. “ Glad to see John was willing to help out” Lloyd remarked.

“ For a price” Jim replied, seeing the look Lloyd gave him, Jim chuckled. “ He wants one of the Fuel trucks for his people and half the barrels.” Jim said.

“ Sounds Fair enough to me.” Lloyd said. “Good neighbors are so hard to find.” Jim chuckled. “ Saw a couple of walkers on the trail over to Cherokee too, they seemed to have a hard time walking thru snow.”

“ Good to know, we might not have much of a problem with them during the winter then.” Lloyds only real fear was that the hordes from the surrounding cities and towns would wander up into the park. But there were only so many ways into the park for them to take and he had plans on dealing with that.

with Cherokee straddling the 441 any undead coming up that way would hit that town first, and Lloyd would rather run the mile and half or two miles to help Graham than have to wait for Graham and his people to come and save them. .

The parking area of the visitor center was over flowing with all the new vehicles by the time Lloyd returned with Jared. The four wheelers they had salvaged, had been fitted with the small trailers and were already being put to use hauling all the parts, paint, and tools across the bridge to be stored in the Drovers barn. They would have to wait to unload the large stuff till the Engine hoist was put back together. But then Jared put a stop to the offloading.

“We might as well wait till we can build a shelter for all of it” Jared explained. “ I think we can use some of that building material to build a shop down here, at the center so you can do what you need with out having to drive that far.” Jared said as he looked across the snow covered trees to the fields beyond.

“ You don’t believe in taking it easy do you” Lloyd asked shaking his head in disbelief.

Jared shrugged, “ think about it, we can’t get most of the large stuff across the bridge and to the barn, with out a hell of a lot of work. You need something here at the center. Besides this kind of work, gets a body warmed up” Jared said, blowing on his hands and grinned wryly at the former Park Ranger. “lets get in side, I’m freezing”

“Before all this, I never thought much about how cold it was outside, but now…now I know exactly how badly this sucks” Lloyd commented as they started towards the Visitor Center

Jared spotted Steve, over by the snowplow where Rob was working on the Carburetor. Waving a hand he caught Steve’s attention. “I need you to handle it out here. “ Jared called out. Steve nodded and turned back to the Snowplow and his conversation with Rob.

Lloyd delayed only long enough to get Jim and Rachael to join them. The small group trudged across the churned and muddy snow in the parking lot, then ducked into the warmth of the Visitor center.

Inside Jared and the others shrugged off their coats. “ Starting tomorrow we have to work on the defenses,” Jared said conversationally. “And now you have the stuff to do it with” he said motioning back at the parking lot. The group gathered around a table, where Jared produced a map and spread it out on the tabletop as he described what he thought would be the best defenses.

“we can get the heavy equipment in to the farm if we take the dozers and other vehicles up here, where the road crossed Raven fork,” the Raven fork composed the southern edge and defense of the farm’s land. The only weak point in the natural defenses was the narrow strip of land on the north side of the river near the bridge and it was the only way, with out trying to drive through the river that would allow them to get the heavy equipment onto the farm. “once we cross the bridge, we can drive the across that pasture so we can work inside the actual farm area.” Jared said pointed out the spot on the map, “ once there we can use the heavies to dig holes, and trenches, pull up trees to use in a palisade wall, which we will place across this spot just west of the bridge, which is the shortest distance between the ridge and the river.

While a group is working on that, we will fort up around the visitor center and foot bridge across the river, for added protection and a place to retreat to if we need it. a third group will be clearing this area along the hills on the eastern edge of the farm for DFP’s and an eventual palisade wall.” Jared added, Lloyd studied the map carefully picturing the area then nodded, the two men quickly worked out a plan to make it happen as fast as they could.

The river Valley where the farm was located had one hell of a view. To the west lay Mt. Stand waiti, Fox Knob, Thomas ridge loomed over newfound gap road. Directly north of the Farm, Richland Mountain lay between the Ocanaluftee river and raven fork, to the east Stony Mountain. To the southeast across the Raven lay Rattlesnake mountain and southwest Mt. Noble.

The farm itself sat in the confluence of the Ocanaluftee and Raven Fork Rivers.
Newfound gap road, the only Road access from Gatlinburg ran along the west side of the valley parallel to the Ocanaluftee which lay to the east of the road..

“ It’s a good setup really “ Jared said. “ the farm has the two rivers to act as a barrier to the undead and people who aren’t prepared to cross it except for this spot, where Coves road runs along the north side of Raven fork before crossing to the south side. We will have to build a wall there and block access from the bridge. One end will be anchored against the rock face here and run to here next to the river. That means any attackers from that direction will have a ridge on their north, the river on their south and a palisade wall in front of them. their only escape will be to run back the way they came or will have to make a run to cross the bridge under fire the entire way.” Jared said tracing out the route, and explaining his idea on forcing the enemy to slow down at the bridge by placing old cars in front of the bridge to create maze that would have to be navigated to reach the bridge. they could place traps in and around the cars to discourage sheltering in place but the whole point was to funnel the enemy through a kill zone. Hopefully, the enemy would realize it and call off the attack and no one would get killed but that was unlikely to happen for many reasons, he thought angrily.

“And then back here where the Blue Ridge comes down and joins Newfound gap at the bridge we can throw up a barricade for the short term and later build another wall and gate” Jared said touching another spot on the map nothing of his thoughts showing on his face. “ Then the next spot we barricade will have to be south of where Raven fork joins the Ocanaluftee and …” Lloyd found himself agreeing completely with Jared’s ideas as the man talked.

The first wall was the one to the east, where the raiders had been prowling around and the only likely direction they could attack from. If they came up from the south, they would have to pass through Cherokee. So east was the key.

If any zombies came down from newfound gap, they couldn’t get across the river till the bridge at the visitor center anyway, and Jared planned on using some of the old abandoned automobiles to block off the Gap at its narrowest point, which would stop any undead a couple of miles away from their position.

If they built a line of DFPs, Defensive Fighting Positions, a fancy phrase for a small bunker and posted a guard in the north field, they could watch the Newfound gap road for any raiders or undead. see any one or anything coming down the Newfound Gap road before the threat even reached the road block.

That left only the hiking trails that dropped down to farm from the wooded ridge line to the east, but there was only so much they could do in a short time and like the North field the answer was a string of fast easily constructed DFP’s and maybe a stake wall could be erected in the time they had.

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

Mattie was happy that Kevin had offered to help her with ten teenagers, five of which were girls, in making the stakes that would be placed before the wall that half the adults were working on.

She watched Kevin working with one of the boys, showing him the proper way to whittle the stakes so he didn’t stab himself or cut open his hands, she couldn’t help but smile. Some of the others thought she was insane for liking, in their words, a cripple. But Kevin had more guts and determination than any other man at the farm, except possibly Jared and Lloyd.

At least today the sky was clear, and the snow was melting under the gentle sunlight. Lloyd was expecting the temperatures to drop way down tonight. Which meant there would be nothing but a sheet of ice on the ground tomorrow, once the melting snow froze again.

Hearing a chain saw she looked towards the woods were the trails ran up towards Richland Mountain. She had seen Jared’s Friend Steve, and three others ride up that way on the four wheelers earlier with large packs strapped onto the four wheelers and carrying chain saws. Must be blocking the trails she decided.

Kevin finished giving the boy instructions and popped a wheelie in his wheel chair as he turned towards her and dropped the front wheels. “ Have I mentioned your looking nice today? “ he said. She blushed. She had gotten so used to wearing that old-fashioned 1800’s style dress, that she was almost embarrassed to be wearing a pair of tight ski pants that Mary had given her along with snow boots. The pants not only showed off everything she had but emphasized it.

“Thanks “ she said, “ your not looking so bad yourself” she remarked.

“I washed my wheel chair last night” he joked.

“Get a room” Tim Mears one of the teen boys said under his breath while rolling his eyes. Mattie ignored him, hoping that Kevin hadn’t heard, but by his chuckle he had.

* * *

Mikhail wiggled up to the ridge top and peered out from under a bush. Satisfied that his vantage point offered him a good view of the Farm, he slowly lifted his rifle to his shoulder and peered thru the scope.

They were building a wall, he noticed and smiled to himself, a wall wont stop me, he thought. Earthmovers had been brought around and driven across the Raven fork bridge and into the farm itself and were busing digging shallow holes every hundred yards along the riverbank. He scanned them for a minute then saw the low log bunkers that had been built over earlier holes, a narrow entrance covered by another wall placed before the opening kept people like him from shooting straight into the DFP’s that faced away from him.

DFP’s were fast and easy to build, all you needed to was dig a four to six foot hole, form the actual bunker with logs and cover with dirt till only the firing slits and the door were left open. They only had three built that he could see, two covered the point where the Raven fork and Ocanaluftee joined and where Big Cove road and the Blue Ridge crossed the combined river and one on this side of the bridge.

Near the barn, a group of Teen-agers looked like they were whittling stakes, a man in a wheelchair beside them talking to a dark haired woman, who had one hell of a butt . He settled the cross hair on the woman. It was no good for his purposes to shoot the man; people just considered it the cost of doing business with hard bad men like himself. Shoot a child and you might end up with a mob that wont stop till your dead. And at the moment he didn’t want a mob.

But a woman would shock them, horrify and anger them and that’s what he wanted. He lay there watching her talk, seeing the light in her eyes, and loving the thought that he was about to put that light out, watch her sink into the darkness of death and then hopefully she would get back up and bite a few of the teenagers. A twofer horror moment if there ever was one.

Mattie was laughing at a joke that Kevin had just finished. Her warm hand on his shoulder her eyes looking into his as she bent suddenly and kissed him lightly on the lips, when the sound of a gunshot rang out. She gasped as blood gushed from her side. Kevin snatched his rifle up even as he flung himself out of the chair with one arm and took Mattie down out of the line of fire, yelling at the kids to hug the ground. He lay across Mattie and lifted his rifle peering thru the scope but saw nothing but densely wooded slopes and ridges.

Mikhail swore he must have bumped the sight on the hike to his position. Oh well no big deal as the Americans say, he could adjust for that. He scanned the area rapidly thru his scope then settled his cross hairs on a Boy that had leaped to his feet and was running for the distant Barn. He was about to take the shot when he saw two women and a man running towards the screaming group of kids. He smiled and settled his sights.

Kevin heard another shot and heard some one scream behind him towards the cabins. Mattie was crying in pain under him. His concentration was total as he scanned the only area that the shooter could be in. A third shot rang out, and he saw a flash of light up on a ridge. “ Gotcha “ he growled as he pulled the trigger.

Mikhail choked back a yell as something tore his rifle out of his hands. Fire erupted in his eye and raked across his nose and the left cheekbone. He couldn’t see, and blood cascaded down his face. He made himself slide back out of the brush till he was lower than his hiding spot in the brush, and then staggered to his feet. Pain washed thru him at the movement and he reeled slamming against a tree with vertigo. He slid to his knees and stayed there in the in the snow till the realization that they would be after him shortly pushed through the pain.

He forced himself to ignore the pain and get his shit together. He ripped a strip off his shirt and wrapped it around his head, covering the damaged eye. God it hurt he thought as he got to his feet once more and started off into the woods each step sending a spike of pain into his eye.

Jared stood silently watching as Nancy Carson and her Husband Bill were carried away to be buried. Lloyd was coldly furious. Tyler Carson the couples 15-year-old son just sat by the barn, refusing to talk to any one. Bridget and Rachael finally got the boy to his feet and led him towards the visitor center. He stumbled off like one of the undead.

Mattie would be fine, according to the Doc; the bullet had missed anything vital on its way thru. Which was a miracle, Jared thought glancing at Kevin who sat in his chair looking angrier than Lloyd.

“ Give me a moment Lloyd “ Jared said, then walked over and knelt down in front of Kevin, who sat there his eyes burning as he stared at the wood line. Logan who stood next to the chair gave Jared a grateful nod.

” How are you holding up “ Jared asked gently, the budding relationship between Mattie and Kevin was well known and approved up by the entire group. The attack had hammered Kevin badly, Jared could imagine how Kevin felt, Jared would be ready to murder if some one had shot Jill. But being wheel chair bound must make it worse for the guy.

“ like a fucking cripple?” Kevin said bitterly, nostrils flaring as angry self contempt consumed him “ I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop her from being shot, how do you think I feel.”

“ Bullshit Kevin, you saved her life, if you hadn’t taken her down the second shot would have been for her.” Jared paused. “And working legs or not, you aren’t psychic, she still would have been shot.” Jared added as Steve and the men that had went out to scout for the sniper returned, the snowmobiles throwing up a spray of snow behind them. Spotting Jared the scouts changed direction and came to a stop beside Jared.

Steve pulled his hood back and lifted his goggles, his face was cherry red from the cold. He slid off the machine and looked down at Jared who was still crouched beside the handicapped man.

“did you find the bastard?” Kevin asked. Steve shook his head, glancing at Jared who remained silent.

“We found the sniper hide he used, but who ever he was he was gone by the time we got there. There was however a lot of blood” Steve said, as he turned and pulled a damaged rifle from the base on the snow mobile. “Looks like you hit his weapon, the fragments must have hit him in the face.”

“ I hope that fucker bleeds out and comes back as one of them” Kevin replied angrily. Jared didn’t comment what could he say the truth was that there was not a thing Kevin could have done to stop Mattie from being shot, but he wasn’t ready or willing to listen to reason.

“Lets double our patrols up there,” Jared said. “I know, we are short handed, to few people with training, but we cant afford to let this happen again.”

By night fall it was 18 degrees outside and would end up becoming much colder, and the snow was falling once more. Lloyd had moved their livestock into the barn, hoping to keep them from freezing to death. Groups of men patrolled the pastures keeping an eye on the roads along the river and the forested slope up Mt.Richland while patrols combed the foot hills and the ridges above them.

The silence of the night was only fitting for a group that mourned the loss of two good and irreplaceable people. By morning it would be three. Tyler Carson snuck outside, and sat by the graves of his parents watching the snow build up, lost in the happy memories of his life before the world had died. When he heard people calling his name, searching for him, he lifted the pistol he had swiped and took his own life. He did it the right way too, always responsible he didn’t want to come back and kill anyone.

The small community wasn’t shocked, sad as that was Lloyd had thought. The end of the world tended to keep a person from being too shocked. But the effect the shooting had on the farm slowed every thing down for three days. Jared’s people thank god had picked up the slack and began moving cars to preplanned positions. The plan was to create a maze that vehicles and people would have to weave through to reach the East wall.

Jared himself had led a patrol up the Blue Ridge and back; on his return they hauled cars up and dropped rocks to block off the first tunnel, which would slow down if not stop any attack coming from that direction, as well as any undead.

They were even erecting a watchtower in the middle of the field. It would only be twenty foot high, but it would allow one or two people to keep an eye on the slope behind the farm and it could be used as a deer stand as well.   what ever else you could say about Jared and his people, they worked hard and fast, determined to get the Farm ready for an attack. They all knew that sooner or later either the undead would arrive in large numbers or the raiders would and preparation was the only thing that might save them..

Lloyd wished in a way that Jared and his people would stay come springtime. With that many extra people getting crops planted and a thousand and one other things would go fast and easier.   But He also knew that food would be real tight coming out of winter and would stay that way till the spring crops started producing and with that many extra mouths to feed it would become a problem for both groups. Luckily Jared’s people had enough supplies for now that the sharing of resources was tremendous help to both groups.

He and his entire group knew that the arrival of Jared and his groups had probably saved the Farm. Food would have been tighter, medicines non existent, and the raiders would have struck with out any defenses being erected and actual trained soldiers, only a few granted, but still trained soldiers to help them hold the place.

And above and beyond all that, the arrival of the outside group had given some hope to his people. Every one had been on edge, wanting to hope, wondering if friends and family still lived out there. wondering if in fact the Government, the nation still existed.   Now with Jared’s group here, they knew others had survived out there and the new what kind of horrors waited for them if they tried to return home now.

They might mourn lost friends and family now, but they knew that here they had shelter, some safety, food and limited medical care. If they went home, they would have to scrounge, fight and possibly kill over just a can of soup while trying to stay two steps ahead of the undead who would try to eat them.

Hearing the rumble of snowmobiles, and who would have thought that they would be needed around here, Lloyd sat aside the axe he had been using to spilt wood and headed towards the center to greet John Graham and see what news the man had brought this time.

It was he found out, neither good news nor bad, instead John had come to ask that Lloyd and Jared come back to Cherokee with him. People there wanted to meet them all.

Jared seemed oddly excited to Lloyd, must be cabin fever getting to him. Lloyd thought watching as Jared and Jill climbed onto a snow mobile. Steve looked down right cheerful as he bundled up and climbed on the last snowmobile. Ronny seemed less than thrilled on his snow mobile, especially when he saw the weapons and ammo being loaded into the van that Jason would drive following the rest of the group. Once the last man had boarded the van the small convoy started off.

Jared slewed the snow mobile around a broken down car on the highway, ginning as he sent a spray of snow fanning out behind him and enjoying the way Jill was hanging tightly on and pressed against his back. Graham looked over and saw the idiot grin on Jared’s face and smiled back.

Another speed and danger junky that one was Jared thought, as he considered using a large sign that had been bent over, its top edge on the ground, as a ramp. He decided not to, it would mostly likely just collapse under the weight

And frankly there was no sense breaking my own neck and coming back as a zombie he decided. That would well and truly screw my day.

The road and Ocanaluftee River curved around a mountain spur and the ground opened up into the river valley ringed by mountains and ridges. Chamber of commerce signs proudly proclaimed such destinations as Cherokee Botanical Garden and Nature Trail, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Ocanaluftee Indian Village, Qualla Arts & Crafts Center, Black bear museum and the Harrah’s Casino.

The town itself was a mish mash of modern to quaint, with a touch of something that had to be Cherokee culture inspired. There were even signs in the Cherokee language. The few zombies they saw were dispatched quickly.

“ That’s how we keep the numbers down here, see one kill it again.” Graham explained. “Unless it’s a large group. Then we wait till we can get a team together if possible.”

Tsali Boulevard was eerily empty, like any such main street these days. Lines of cars, trucks and SUVs had been pushed against the side of the road, and none to gently judging by the damage. Most of the business’s Jared could see were tourist related, selling everything from colored visors to Beach towels with the Cherokee or the smoky mountain park logos on them.

Snow blew fitfully as the wind gusted between buildings; with each gust of wind it would rise up blowing across the road then settle back to the ground forming deep drifts against the buildings.

Occasionally the shifting snow would reveal a skull covered in decaying flesh or a part of a body. It was silent except for the echoing of the motors off the walls of buildings and soft whispering of the wind.

“ How many did you kill around here?” Jared asked Graham as they stopped for a moment on the bridge over the Ocanaluftee.

” Not really sure, we killed maybe a thousand at and around the casino, maybe four or five hundred more zombies here in Downtown. Then we got real low on ammo. By then we had the Compound finished. And moved every one we could find into it.” Graham replied

Graham looked around the dead town his eyes haunted with memory “ don’t really know what happened to most of the dead that were wandering around here.

All we know is that they seemed to just go away around august. We had five people come thru here late summer, they were fleeing Asheville, and you wouldn’t believe the stories, undead shoulder to shoulder just standing in the streets till they see or hear a person. From what we were told once they see you or hear you they swarm, thousands of them just coming at you.” Jared shivered at that mental image.

“ Looks like a few have noticed us” Steve said pointing to ten zombies that were awkwardly moving down the road towards them. they moved incredibly slowly, slower than normal and the two foot deep snow was making things even worse for the normally uncoordinated undead.

“ Lets go, we have sat here too long “ Graham said, as he started moving again not wanting to risk zombies hitting them from every direction. They put down the zombies with hand weapons as they passed, leaving the corpses sprawled in the black stained snow behind them.

The compound lay just outside the downtown area, on a heavily wooded finger of land that was part of a mountain spur. The tree-lined road that led up the compound was fairly steep and snow covered.

“We brought up semis and tipped over the trailers around the top of the spur making a wall around the houses here. The zombies have a hard time making it up steep slopes, hard not impossible and that usually gives us plenty of time to pick them off with bows or send out people to deal with them” Graham told them as the reached the entrance to the compound. Which was nothing more than a gap between two Over turned semi trailers. The edge of the trailers that faced out from the shelter was lined with sandbags and a city bus blocked the entrance but as the small party approached the gate, the bus started, backing up to opening a path for them to drive through. On each side of the gate, men stood guard in sand bag positions had been place atop the flanking trailers.

They parked the snow mobiles beside the van just inside the compound in what had been the parking lot of a small convenience store and gas station.   The road continued on, lined by neat older homes. Smoke lazily rising from the chimneys.

With in minutes the street and parking lot were filled with people as they came out of their homes and surrounded the small group, curious to see the strangers. Whether they were happy or not to see strangers, was a different question. The Cherokee stood silently watching and waiting.

Jared looked over at John Graham who gave him a thumps up then turned to the Van.   “Get it opened “ Jared called out. Jason threw open the vans rear doors and passed a M16a2 with an M203 slung under the barrel to Graham who held it up for every one to see then handed it to Two feathers who smiled at the gift.

They handed out all five of the M16s Jared had brought along with five combat vests and six extra magazines for each weapon, and passed out half of the cased ammo including one case of 40mm HE rounds they had collected. The crowd wavered between shock at such a gift from total strangers and excitement at having improved their odds of survival.

The bag with medicines they had brought was taken into the house being used as an infirmary.

“ Are you sure you can afford to part with these “ Graham asked.

“ Even if I changed my mind, I think it’s a bit late for take backs.” Jared said with a smile motioning to one fierce looking man holding a New M16.

“ I see your point “ Graham said laughing.

“ Truth is you need to get your people together and hit a few of the National Guard blockades they sat up. We found quite a bit at the one we hit near Knoxville.” Jared said, Graham nodded

“Might make a shot at one once we get the snow plow going. Since those things don’t seem to do to well in snow.” Jared continued watching as an elderly woman walked through the crowd that parted before her. Moses and the red sea came to mind Jared thought.

She was bundled heavily against the cold her brown eyes peered out from under the fur trim of her coat hood studying the red headed stranger as she stopped beside the van.

Graham looked surprised for a second at seeing the woman, then recovered himself and said. “ Jared Stone, I would like you to meet Gayle Costins.” Jared wasn’t sure whether to offer his hand, or what so he simply inclined his head politely.

“ Nice to meet you maam” he said politely. .

“ Maybe, maybe not, you’ll have to decide that later,” she said with a grimace that might have been a smile. “ Come with me, just you and your woman.” She said motioning with a hand whose joints looked swollen.

She turned and walked slowly, and a bit unsteadily down the snow covered street, not speaking to either of them. Graham tagged along but stayed far back, keeping on eye on Gayle while respecting her privacy.

Opening a gate she trundled up the recently shoveled stone lined path to a nice two-story log home. As She started up the steps to the porch that promised some shelter against the wind she stumbled slipping on a patch of new ice and Jared was at her side in an eye blink steadying the older woman, who glared at him for a moment. “I’m not that old yet.” she said tartly staring up the stairs again.

The inside of the house was much like anywhere else, Pictures on the wall of her family covering three generations from the look of it, comfortable furniture, most of which were real wood and hand made by an expert, was artfully placed around the house. She removed her coat, revealing a slender figure.

“ The coat adds forty pounds” she remarked sounding much younger than she had outside, then saw Jared looking around the room with appreciation for the things he saw there. “ Were you expecting naked men in a sweat lodge maybe.” She asked, a smile threatening to break free.

“No, I was actually thinking what a nice house it is.” Jared said. “ and who ever made your furniture was a true craftsmen.” Jared added.

“ My husband built this house, and made most of the furniture, got it finished just before his death.” She said touching the arm of a hand carved chair in fond remembrance then motioned for them to sit on the couch.

“ Used to be I could see up into the woods, and watch the bears and deer. Then I could watch the zombies, now all I see are metal walls.” She said with disgust pointing at the large windows that overlooked a snow covered back yard and part of the Semi trail wall. “Its almost as bad as a nursing home.”

Jared looked at Jill, who just shrugged then flashed him a smile. “Don’t smile like I’m a senile old bat.” Gayle said, giving that grimace again. Jared was sure she was older than sixty, but not sure by how much. She was one of those people you could guess their age and they would still be twenty years older.

“I wanted to see you, I’m sure John told you that, and some one else close you.” She said. Jared nodded ignoring the look that Jill flashed him. He hadn’t shared the note pappy had written for him or what John had told him with anyone not even Jill. .

“ You doubt things Jared Stone, and that’s not a bad thing normally, but now, your going to have to trust, Trust me, trust your dreams.” Gayle said then surprised them both with a laugh. “ I sound like some old Indian woman in a movie, or maybe a gypsy fortune teller.” She fell silent for a moment watching Jared for a reaction but didn’t get one, or at least not the one she wanted to see.

“ I know you were told about the Three and that is true, you were told about the war for Humanity and that is true.” She stopped and laughed at that. “ I was told this by, the only word that makes any sense is spirits, but the word spirits makes me sound like a Hollywood Indian and its both correct and wrong.

For me it all started the day before the undead rose, My father came to me in a dream and warned me that the world was about to change and to gather the family together to save them. I admit when I woke that morning I thought my old brain had finally slipped a cog or two. but We listen to dreams, at least the old ones like myself, and the ones who appreciate the traditions do.

So I gathered my family, and even some of my friends and their families. We survived and gathered others” she said looking out the window again, “No one is safe not what you call medicine men, not the innocent, no one.” She stopped and cleared her throat. “When you get to be my age you get dry throat a lot.” She explained, and then rubbed her hands on her slender legs. “ Since then, many have dreamed of the dead. At first it was once in a while, a rare occurrence. Just a dream of the dead who came to say goodbye, then many more dreams came, and with the goodbyes came warnings. Who knows why some can dream of these things when others cannot. A blessing, a special power. I do not know.”

Jill gazed at the older woman, a lifetime of Logic, of fact and reasoning. A lifetime of dismissing the absurdity of Psychics and Magic, of ghosts and the supernatural were hard to overcome. But she also knew that her own dreams were different in a way she could never have defined for any one else. As Jared put it, they were more real than reality.

She wanted to ignore it, go back to logic, but in a world where the dead walked reality no longer meant what it had and because of that, she had to consider that all the other things might be just as real as the walking dead no matter how much she didn’t like the idea.

That piercing gaze fixed on her for a moment, then Gayle nodded to herself. “You’ve had them too haven’t you” she asked, Jill knew she was talking about the dreams. “Not the good ones either.” Jared shot her a glance but didn’t say a word.

Jill finally nodded. “ I have, they were nightmares. Zombies every where, and a voice, a horrible voice whispering in my ear about how all this could end, if I just stepped aside when the time comes.”

Gayle studied her for a long moment then nodded as if she had seen what she was looking for. “ You refused didn’t you,” She asked gently.

“ Yes I did.” Jill replied forcefully. Jared was looking confused, of course he would be, Jill thought she had never really told him about her nightmare. How could she, it chilled her to the bone even here in the bright light of day.

“ Would you prefer that I talk like they do in movies? With cryptic comments and innuendos” Gayle asked Jared with a grin. “ I’m an old lady, and I’m very good at reading body language. That’s how I knew she had been having the dreams.” Jared looked relieved the last thing he wanted to do was to start believing in magic in addition to the undead.

“ Sorry things have gotten so weird, that I really don’t think I could handle it if people were suddenly able to read minds and start throwing magic spells around.” Jared said almost lightly but his tone didn’t fool her, she knew the whole concept bothered him.

“ Who says they couldn’t before all this?” Gayle asked, with an arched eye brow, then raised a hand and truly smiling this time. “Dreams are more than enough to deal with, I agree, but there’s more out there than just dreams these days. Something else is out there, indistinct, shadowy. It might be nothing more than a man willingly working for the other side, or it might be more than that. The other side has its own tools” she said rising with only a slight struggle then walked to a bookshelf and pulled down a book.

“How do you know that” Jared asked, like Jill not wanting to believe. But he knew deep down what she was saying was true.

“Because the dead told me in a dream, showed me the thing that is stalking you” she said as she walked back and sat down in the comfortable looking chair covered in an afghan.

“Those who dream, often dream of the three, but what does it mean” she said looking at Jared. “ I know that the number three has always been considered, magical, sacred, holy depending on the culture.” She said as she sat back down and opened the book. She fished around in her pockets till she found her glasses and slipped them on. “The ancient Celts had the triple aspect goddess, the Oak, ash, and thorn were called the fairy triad of trees, the druids like Shamans believe that they stood in three worlds at once. Celtic heroes traveled in groups of three’s. Celtic myth even stated that the Tuatha De danan had three sacred items, the sword of Nuada, The spear of Lugh and the Stone of Fails or destiny. The Greeks had the three fates, the three graces, Cerebus the three headed dog who guarded hades. Even multiples of three were considered sacred or magical, sacred like the nine muses, and the twelve Olympian gods. “ She looked over the edge of her glasses at both of them.

“ The Norse had three generations of giants, Odin had his brothers Vili and Ve, There were three norns, the tree of the world had three roots, and under each root were three wells. When Ragnarok was to begin three Cockerels were supposed to crow”

“ Wonder if any one heard them last June” Jill muttered. Gayle gave her a humorless smile and continued with her lecture. “ Legends tell us that Bifrost the rainbow bridge, that connected Asgard with the human world, had three colors. Thor had three magical items to fight the giants, a hammer, a belt, and gauntlets. Its all through out the history of mankind, the number three and specific multiples of three.

The Hindus had several symbols that were composed of three symbols, there were said to have great power, the Chinese as well, every culture to some extent has a fixation on the number three. The Hindus also believe that the number one and two are for god and nature, combined it equals three the symbol for creation.

Even the major religions, have some beliefs and legends associated with the number three. Christianity, had the trinity, which was from the Irish, it is or was believed that the when demons wanted to show themselves to torment man or possess a person. The demon would manifest most often at 3 am as a mockery of the trinity and but also to mock the traditional time that Jesus was believed to have died at, which was 3pm.” She pause and smiled at them. “ I apologize, I was once a cultural anthropologist and historian. Lecturing is in the blood” She said.

“ But what does all of this have to do with dreams from dead people” Jared asked

“to warn us, to help, to just say goodbye to those they loved, so stop being dense, you’ve had at least one dream. And I know you were told of the three and the one of the three that would either save Humanity or doom it.” Jared remained silent but she saw the acknowledgement in his eyes. “ Well there are threes and multiples of three on the other side too, and they are out there looking for people who might be pivotal in the fight. To kill or corrupt them, the other side doesn’t care which. That’s why your woman Jill dreamed. Something she does alters their plans. It might not be a big change but it’s a change that affects them. Just like what you are supposed to do will alter their plans.”

There was silence in the room for a few minutes as they both considered her words.
“ And you were told this in a dream” Jared asked finally.

She nodded “ I was told of the three, and many things that aren’t important to you. And I know what I spent a lifetime researching and learning. And this knowledge is what I needed to share with you. Like all knowledge written by man, it is incomplete. But we, you can not ignore the constant thread of threes thru myth and history, and now the three in our dreams. To be honest I have no idea what help my research can be to you, but I was told to give it to you, and so give it to you I will”

“ I don’t know that I believe any of this” Jared said. “ Three people are the key to our future, and…”

“Jared think about it, what did every one call you and your friends.” Jill said interrupting. Her eyes were wide with surprise at the thought that had just occured. “The dirty dozen. A multiple of three.”

He fell silent, frowning not wanting to really believe, even though deep down he knew that his dream had been real. And he accepted that other peoples dreams were just as real. Gayle leaned over and placed a wrinkled hand on Jared’s hand for a moment her touch cool and dry.

“whether the three are saviors of the human race or not, the reality is, you have had the dream, that is more real then reality, just as your girlfriend has, and you have been offered a choice that places you in a position to affect things” Gayle said gently but firmly

“ Well they made a mistake this time, I’m no hero.” He replied.

“ Heroes are made not born. ” Gayle replied as she closed the book and handed it to him. “Take this and read it, It may nor may not tell you what you need to know. But any knowledge about this can only help further your understanding even if it is flawed by human perception.”

Jared took the large ledger like book, and opened it glancing at the neat hand written pages, and photo copies of articles and relevant sections of other peoples research that Gayle had thought was linked to her own research.

Gayle frowned seeing the Stubborn look on his face, he really didn’t want to accept the new reality, and she couldn’t really blame him. she had been raised on the old tales of her people but her years away, living out in the white mans world, getting her degrees had made her think she knew better. The world, she had believed, was a nice logical place, where everything had its own niche to occupy. She had tried to walk between the world of her birth and the world of logic and for a while had succeeded. And then the dreams had come with the end of the world hot on its heels and she had been knocked from her tightrope into the realm she had really tried to avoid, that of the supernatural.

“I understand your feelings Jared, I have struggled with this like you, but you know deep down its real, or you wouldn’t have listened to the Message that was sent to you or come to my place to hear what I have to say.” she rose from her chair with a grimace.
“Time for you two to go, sadly we will not get to meet again, but I wish we could.”

Jared and Jill rose as well, not sure what to say. Gayle led them to the front door
and opened it, her smile gone. Graham was waiting on the porch for them.

“ One more thing Jared does Anchor chain and the Hooker mean anything to you” Gayle asked. Jared started, but before he could answer she smiled and shut the door.

Jill gave him a look but remained silent. “ I hope you heard what you came to hear” Graham said as they walked back to their waiting vehicles.

“ I think that’s been a problem for a long time now, man hearing only what he wants to hear” Jared said as he climbed on the snow mobile. Waiting till the last boxes of trade items had been loaded then fired up the snow mobile.

* * *

“ Jared” Ronny said. “ Could you hang on a second I need to talk to you?” Jared waited till Ronny caught up, letting the others get ahead of him as they headed to the farm.

“What’s up?” Jared asked, his eyes never leaving the snow pack ahead of the snow mobile. .

“ You know I like these folks right?” Ronny asked. Jared nodded; pretty sure he knew exactly where Ronny was about to go. “ Do you really think its wise to hand over the last five m16’s to Lloyds folks. What if we need them?”

“ Ronny, I have my Commando, My Mk 23. In my kit I have an AR and an MP5sd4, two shotguns, and six other pistols, oh and my .22 and a 30 06 for hunting. You have as many weapons as I do, hell every one but Rob and Eric does. I love hanging on to weapons. But consider the fact they have been sharing food with us, and they need to be able to protect this place. They can’t do that with Corn cobs and a couple of old weapons.”

Ronny stood there for a moment. “ Its just, I really don’t want to find out later we really needed those weapons” Jared reached across the to the other snow mobile and clapped Ronny on the shoulder.

“Brother if it get that deep and that bad, five more weapons aren’t going to make much of a difference. Besides, we will be passing a National Guard blockade on the way out come springtime. We might be able to restock a few more then.”

“ All right, I had my say. That’s all I wanted.” Ronny said.

“No problem, anytime you feel the need.” Jared said meaning it, if every one else wanted him to be the leader, he had no problem keeping an open door policy.

“ Now lets get to the Cabin, I heard a rumor that there’s cornbread.” Ronny said.

Jared felt his mouth begin to water. “ Pinto beans, with jalapeno’s and cornbread.” Jared said almost able to taste it. “ Damn those zombies, and damn what ever caused them, anything that takes away a mans cornbread is evil.”

“ Amen brother” Ronny said with a sad smile and led the way towards the larger of the two Cabins.”

After eating Dinner, Jared, Steve, Ronny and others stayed up till midnight talking with Lloyd, Jim and Rachael about the defenses and the need for training and sending out a team to scout out the Raiders camp. A little more talk about the nuts and bolts of operating in the snow and Rachael promised that the women at the Farm who could sew would work up a few things for them.

Two days later, Jared climbed off the snow mobile. Alert for any movement in the area. He slung his Commando across his back and unstrapped the crossbow from the side of the Snowmobile. Jill dismounted and .together they pulled white sheets over the snowmobile to hide them, and waited while the three teams of two did the same thing to their own rides. Jared noted deer track in the snow and that surprised him, he added a mental note to send out a few hunters soon.

They adjusted their clothing carefully before pulling on the winter covers the Ladies of the Farm had made for them, basically over sized coats, made out of sheets, and a pair of draw sting pants made of sheets as well, to wear over their normal clothes.
The ladies had also made each of them a pull over hood lined with wool.

Each donned the best winter gloves they had, supplied courtesy of the outfitter shop they had hit before entering the mountains. Jared pulled on the hood and smiled. Nice work even if it was rushed. Might have to see if they can make me some extra wool socks too he thought. Finally they donned the snowshoes that Lloyd had found in the Ranger station. A final weapons check and they started off.

Jared had decided that they would move in file, so if any one cut across their back track, it would be hard to tell how many people were traveling. As they scouted forward, they stopped every hour for a ten-minute break, and to readjust any clothing that might have shifted creating a gap in their clothing that would speed up heat loss.

They moved from cover to cover, which slowed them down even more. But Jared was unconcerned with that. They didn’t know where the sniper might have gone or where the raider base might be located. And unless the world had changed even more dramatically than they realized, snow wouldn’t provide any protection against bullets.

The forest was quite around them, except for the soft crunching of snow underfoot and the occasional sharp crack of a limb breaking off because of the weight of ice. At one point Jared crawled up between two large rocks and scanned the road with his binoculars. There was no sign that any one had traveled down the Big Cove road in a while.

The problems would start if they located the Raider camp here in the Parklands. Jared still wasn’t sure how they would deal with the problem. But better not borrow trouble till you have to he told himself.

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

George “mule” Reed, Commander of the North Carolina 3rd militia. Looked over the map, his men had barely made it up thru Black camp gap, to loop around to the backside of Big cove Road. He had changed his plan on using the Blue ridge because he knew that the damned Indians had spotted one of his scouts, and the fact it would be to easy to create a landslide in front and behind his convoy and trap them.

No the best way was to go around seize the fuel at that maintenance barn, and then move on to seize the farm itself. He had no desire to kill every one there. The women and girls would be left alive, and any man with skills that would be needed to run the farm. Then he would have those Indians well and truly screwed over.

As the door to the old chapel opened he looked up to see Berry Sanders, a now skinny red head, leading in the man they had found almost dead in the snow. The still raw looking empty eye socket and deep gouges on his nose and check were Disturbing to look at.

George walked around and sat down at the camp table that had been set up in the old church and indicated his guest should sit down. “ Id like to know what you were doing out here” he said with out preamble. “ And by like, I mean to say. Demand to know.”

“ I was hunting some one” Mikhail said, suppressing his natural accent, another of his little gifts, a superb acting ability.

“He must have pissed you off for you to be out in this weather.” Reed commented, Mikhail had sized the group of men up instantly, typical redneck Americans, with half way decent level of training. A militia group most likely. He didn’t particularly care for them, but they could be useful tools, especially for what he had in mind.

“Looks like he did a number on you” George observed. No that cripple did this Mikhail thought savoring the revenge he would take on that one before this was over.

“ Lucky shot, he tried to kill me and hit my rifle instead, parts of my rifle did this, “ Mikhail said indicating the empty socket and cut up nose and cheek. He had been lucky or his friend was looking out for him, because he had found two bottles of antibiotics in his bag, and started popping them like candy. Not long after that Mikhail had been “rescued” by this man friends.

Mikhail sat quietly weighed his options carefully then shrugged. “ Doesn’t matter I’m going to kill him and any one at that farm who helps him” George looked at him for a long moment.

“ That happened down at the farm?” George asked, leaning forward slightly, almost eagerly, Mikhail thought, and the hook is set.

“ Close to it, he ambushed me as I was looking down on the farm.” Mikhail replied, as he reached up and fingered the empty eye socket.

“ Don’t that shit hurt” Berry asked surprised that the man was so calm and collected with such nasty wounds.

“ Hurts less than being dead” Mikhail said earning a laugh from George.

“What did this man do to you anyway?” George asked, steepling his fingers together as he gazed at Mikhail.

“ He was a damned cop, framed me and sent me up for a while. Tried to get me to roll over on some of my friends just because we were independence minded.” And he is hooked Mikhail thought. Watching the mans reaction.

“Cop you say.” George asked, his lips thinning in disgust. .

“ Yeah, he moved down towards Knoxville while I was in jail, I got out at the right time too, a week before the, day happened. I had his address and was all set to pay him a visit and the dead started walking around while I was on my way to his house.”

He talked naturally with a southern accent weaving a totally believable tale that had George eating out of his hands by the end of it. Like we are long lost brothers Mikhail thought as he finished his story. All the years the KGB had forced them to train to blend in as Americans paying off once more.

“ Cops aint worth spit, they will take a bribe to look the other way, then call in the feds to arrest you. Double dealing assholes” George said. Mikhail tried not to smile; George had obviously paid off Agents who were trying to build a case at some point.

What an idiot, probably wanted to hire them to kill someone too. Mikhail thought with amusement

“ How many people down on that farm.” George asked, a bit more directly than he might have before Mikhail’s little story of woe.

“ Fifty or sixty at a rough count. But first you have to get past the wall they put up across the road” he said not mentioning the rough trail that could bring them down behind the farm to attack from the rear, not yet.

Besides he had to drag this out long enough for the mass of zombies in his dreams to reach the farm. He didn’t doubt for a minute that his nightmare was real. Hundreds of zombies trudging silently thru the snow covered forest. Their dead eyes fixed on the distant location of the Farm. There was one at head of the pack, indistinct, almost shadowy in his dreams. One he didn’t want to see any closer. But he knew like you sometimes did in dreams that it lead them.

Mikhail had an idea if he could get most every one involved killed, he would earn some serious credit with his Friend. And that thought made him smile.

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

Ori lowered his binoculars and slid back below the ridge top before rising and moving to rejoin his friends who waited in the shelter formed by two slabs of rock that had slipped down centuries ago. “ Well we found them,” he said as he slipped into the small area in the rock, where the group waited.. “ And its not going to be pretty”

“ I counted about a hundred fighters, most of them are carrying AR’s, some have Ak’s. I think I spotted a FAL in the lot too. They also have a snowplow, a couple of hummers and what looks like a Ferret armored car. I saw two .50s, and at least three grenade launchers.”

“ Damn” Chris muttered. “How are we supposed to stop an armored car” he looked around at his friends. “ Any one” he asked.

Ori squatted on his snowshoes and said. “ It doesn’t look like they are planning on going anywhere yet. It looks more like a permanent winter camp. There are four deer stands scattered around that they are using for Op’s. Two, six man patrols roam the perimeter of the camp, . Standard weapons seem to be AR’s. Tac vests, a wide variety of pistols.

From the number of ammo pouches on each man Id have to guess an average of six mags per man in the patrols. Other than the 40mm, I didn’t see any other grenades. Looks like ten men and four women are staying in the chapel, which also appears to be where they keep the majority of their ammo and spare weapons.” Ori said quietly

“ How could you tell that?” Jill asked curious, to her what Ori did was damn near magic.

“ first, some of the men had ice on their weapons. Which means they had them stored inside where they gathered moisture. Take them outside and the moisture freezes, its also sloppy as hell.

Secondly, I got a look inside the chapel once, when some one was exiting. There was a large pile of boxes stacked off to one side and covered by a tarp. I could see the end of one box and it was a standard Military Ammo case.” Ori explained.

“ Could be using them to store other stuff in.” Jared pointed out.

“ Possible but I doubt it. If they are storing weapons inside, then it makes sense to keep the ammo with the weapons.” Ori replied. “The fact that they use ranks, and add in the other things. I’d say a militia unit. One of the Anti Government types. There was always news about how much ammo and weapons some of those groups stocked up for when the New World Order took over.”

“ Doesn’t matter at this point, they have some training, and organization that’s what we need to know. Guess work won’t help.” Jared said, and then asked. “Anything else”

Ori nodded, “Back behind the chapel they built outhouses. In the tree line behind the outhouses, there are six small travel trailers and two Gp mediums covered by Camo netting. With a hastily erected wire fence around them, Pretty well hidden as far as I’m concerned. Now if we had thermal, it would be damn hard to hide.”

Jared looked in the direction of the camp, wanting to leave a lookout to keep a close eye on the activities there. But even if the radios could reach back to the farm, the cold would just suck the batteries dry.

If Ori was right, then those assholes weren’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. They might have time, Jared thought, to get back to the farm and set up some booby traps. “ Lets leg it out of here, file out just like we came in.

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

If Jared wasn’t mistaken, it was around the 15th of December by the time they got back to the Farm. They had paused along the way to rig up a few surprises at the maintenance yard and found a surprise of their own. Four zombies had moved in since they had stripped the place.

The whole team had gotten a bit to comfortable with the lack of zombies in the mountains, it could have turned out nasty. But luck had been with them, and they had cleared out the undead hard and fast, set the booby trap then hauled butt back to the Farm.

The first thing they all did, after stopping by to tell Lloyd what had happened on their little winter trip, was to strip down and take a hot shower, thanking god, fate or who ever for the Geothermal hot water system. As they showered, Jared glanced over at Jill who had refused to wait to get clean and warmed up by the hot water till after the guys had finished.

He was hit by the realization that she was just one of the guys as far as the rest of his friends were concerned.

Not one of the men oogled her, at least not openly, knowing Ronny, the man had collected a few thousand mental pictures for later use. Jill had already reached the same conclusion and had been torn between being pissed and happy that the battle of the sexes had ended. she wasn’t going to complain one bit.

.

The good news such as it was, the Farm had finally gotten back on an even Keel, and there was even talk of having a Christmas celebration. Jared wasn’t sure how that would go over with some of the folks. But for the kids it might be a good thing. Of course it would also remind them they no longer had parents. Not something he could do anything about other than make sure that the whole group was there for them.

By the time he got dressed and headed into the common area. Half the group was assembled for dinner. Jason and Linda waved at him to sit with the two of them. Rob and Eric as usual were sitting across from them. Dinner was a thick stew, with actual meat in it. “ Where did that come from” he asked Carol.

“ It was canned meat, we took it out drained it, then spiced it up added it in and let it simmer all day. Eat it and shut up,” she said with a smile. He took a bowl and had to admit it smelled good,

He looked around and saw Mattie had been released by Linda, and was sitting with Kevin and Logan. Anne as hard as it was to believe was actually sitting with Gary and talking quietly and smiling often. Linda leaned over. “ She’s moving on, its nice to see” she said. Jared nodded feeling an odd protectiveness for the girl. Ill make sure she makes it safely to the end he thought.

“ Aren’t you worried about leaving Jill in the showers with Ronny” Jason asked, with a grin.

“ Only for Ronny. If he flirts and Jill doesn’t kill him, Mary will castrate him”Jared said with a casual shrug, Rob and Eric started laughing. Linda looked up as Steve entered the room still damp from his shower. There was something about the way she watched him and then her eyes would slide to Bridget.

“ What’s going on?” He asked her as Steve sat down next to Bridget.

“ Can’t tell you yet,” Linda said. Jason rolled his eyes and than made a semi circle with his hand from his rib cage to his waist. Jared didn’t get it for a second then his eyes widened. Which was when Steve rose from his table staring at Bridget, he looked terrified, happy and totally lost. “ Pregnant, when, how…. I mean…” Steve said loudly then fell silent his tongue tied as he tried to sort out his thoughts.

“ Well when two people love each other … ouch stop hitting me” Ronny called out from the hallway as Jill Gibbed slapped him.

Steve swept Bridget up from the table and was hugging her. A party atmosphere filled the room as people called out their congratulations to the couple. Jill crossed the room, and slipped into the seat next to Jared and slid an arm around his shoulder for a moment, Jared felt some anxiety as he looked at Bridget, worried that with the limited medical supplies and skills, any woman getting pregnant was in danger, as well as the baby. Remember the raincoat old son don’ t want or need a baby at this point. He told himself.

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of activity as they worked on building up the fences around the farm and adding to the barricades. On the 17th, six zombies appeared on Newfoud gap road and were stopped by the barricade.

Hikers from the looks of them, dressed in the summer hiking clothes they had worn when they died. They were put to down easily and with no threat to others. Jared hadn’t wondered till that moment just how many undead there might be out there wandering around the hiking trails.

It wasn’t a thought he liked either, with the trailhead behind the farm. What they needed was another fence along the backside closing off the area that was only covered by the DFP’s and stake fence that they had hastily emplaced.

In the world before zombies, Jared would have established a few lookouts with sat phones or a relay COM chain up on the mountain watching the trails, . But he didn’t have a sat phone assuming that system still worked. And after finding zombies up at the yard, he didn’t want to send men out to sit around with their Asses in the wind with no way to get help if they needed it.

He visualized the map in his mind and then smiled. he might not have a way to really keep watch on the trails in the eastern hills on the edge of the farm.

But The Raven fork Overlook would give them a good observation point down the Big Cove road where the raiders would be coming down. More importantly, who ever he sent up there could drive straight up the Blue Ridge and park, so that eliminated or at least minimize the threat of being trapped by the dead. Secondly, it should allow Radio communications between the farm and the scout team.

The ace in the hole was the fact that they had a few heavies of their own, That the other side didn’t know about. He wasn’t even aware of Jill sitting down beside him as he studied the map considering fields of fire, dead zones, and possible enfilade fire.

But if the militia split their forces and sent people back country to come down into the farm from the mountain behind it, it could get really ugly. Which only added emphasis on getting a wall back there instead of DFP’s. The question was did they have the time, so many criticial issue remained to be dealt with, and the chances of those trails becoming critical were not great.

“ When do you think they will strike” Lloyd asked loudly as he sat across from Jared. the center was almost empty at the moment, with every one else out working on Vehicles or defenses.

. “ Can’t really say. “ Jared said looking up. “ For all we know they are on the move now.”

“ But Ori said that they were set up for winter camp” Lloyd said, hope in his voice.

“ That doesn’t mean they can’t load up their fighters and come rolling down the Big Cove loaded for bear and Biscuits.” Jared commented, as he pulled out his little notebook and looked over a few of his notes.

“ Bears and biscuits?” Lloyd repeated chuckling despite his case of nerves.

“ Never mind, the deal is, you have things they don’t, buildings, Food, water, heat. Things they are too lazy to do for themselves. Even if they aren’t moving now, if they get to cold, or to hungry, They know that just a few miles away is a place that has every thing they could want.” Jared pointed out. “ they aren’t going to just sit there and freeze to death, or starve. If only for the simple fact they knew we hope they do just that.”

“ I think I might send Jim to ask John Graham if he could send a few fighters to help defend the place. Its to their benefit to get rid of the raiders too.” Lloyd said, Jared nodded in agreement at the suggestion.

“It’s a good Idea, but it’s up the Cherokee elders, not John. They might not see it that way.” Jared said then held up a hand. “ I know, its not likely but it could happen. So you send Jim to visit, and Ill send Ori and Jason up to the overlook to keep an eye on the road.”

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

Mikhail kept behind the scouting force Captain Reed had ordered out. He snorted at the pretensions of Rank; his face as always was blank when he wanted it to be. He watched the men flounder around in the snow, even with snowshoes they had trouble moving thru the now 24 inches of snow. This was nothing compared to his Homeland, Americans were so weak he thought contemptuously. He had no idea that this snow was already record setting and was actually going to surpass the old record before it was over, and he wouldn’t have cared if he had known.

Reed had refused Mikhail’s suggestion about working along the ridgeline, believing that it was to steep and had too much snow to make it practical or easy to move men around up there. What a fool Mikhail thought with no real heat in the end it wouldn’t matter if his own plans worked out Reed and his men would die right along with the farm and the people he hunted.

The Russian peered thru his binoculars; only need one lens these days he thought acidly, hatred for the cripple warmed his heart. He noted the vehicles that had been placed across the neck of the valley before the wall. The tires had been removed from the cars and trucks, and probably other parts as well to keep any one from sneaking up in the dark and moving them.

Mikhail let the rest of the scouting force advance, at least they were trying to use what ever covered there was. But it was to little and in Mikhail’s mind probably too late. He would, if he were the leader of the farm, have had a spotter out here somewhere at least a mile out, to give the farm warning.
He felt the skin on the back of his neck prickle suddenly, and knew he was being watched. He felt a satisfaction at having been right, he didn’t need to see the scout to know his feeling was spot on.

Ori scanned the entire ten-man team that scouted ahead of the enemy. Well eleven really counting the guy that was hanging back. He studied the man thru his scope noting the missing eye and still healing gouges across the left side of his face.

“ Base this is overlook, positively identified eleven members in the Scout force.” He paused consulting his map. “ Position, one mile from perimeter. At marker 21.” He wondered if the folks struggling along down there had even paid attention to the rods with orange tape around the top and placed every 60 feet.

The Raider scouts spread out hunkering down in the snow, trying to stay out of sight of any one that might be on the wall. “ Position marker 17” Ori reported as he kept an eye on them.

“ Roger stands by.” Sharon said from the Center. Minutes passed as the scouts worked there way from car to car in their advance towards the wall. “ Overlook, this is base, you will support the team inbound.”

“ Roger, out “ Ori said.

Mikhail was far behind the scout team, who didn’t seem to give a damn where he was. Which was their problem he thought. Since they weren’t as good as they thought they were. He smiled as he scanned the ridge where he had sniped down on the farm. It took him a while, but he finally saw movement, something dark, moved across the snow up there then vanished out of sight behind some brush. .

A casual observer or an inept scout would never have noticed. Mikhail wasn’t a casual observer, but if he hadn’t known to check that area he might not have noticed it either. He slipped into the back of a pile of boulders; he had no intentions of dying today.

He watched from cover as the scout team stupidly tried to reach the bridge in an attempt to by pass the wall.

“halt, and identify yourselves” a voice bellowed from the wall, amplified by a megaphone.

Mikhail watched as it went south from there, the so called Lieutenant Misslin, panicked just as Mikhail had suspected he might, the man yanked his weapon up, and fired full auto at the wall racking his fire across the top of the wall.

The Farms defenders return gunfire caught Misslin in a crossfire cutting him down. The rest of the scouts, began to shoot wildly. Some aiming up the ridge, others at the wall not sure where the enemy was, and were cut down almost as quickly, a few smarter and better than their fellows, had slipped into cover, and tried to return accurate fire, but they gave up after a moment as a sniper from the south, up on that overlook mostly likely, Mikhail thought, began to fire on them..

Three men of the scout team survived all that the farm threw at them and crawled out of the ambush using every bit of cover they could find.   then tossed away their weapons and ran for their lives. The Defenders of the farm let them go.

Mikhail, slipped out of his current hiding place and made his way quickly and stealthily into the brush behind the boulders, where he vanished from sight again.

That defeat, Mikhail thought, should really motivate Reed to attack in force. And when they arrived at the end of the they would be highly motivated to kill every one living at the farm. Then if things went well, they would be slaughtered by the undead themselves. It would be as the never sufficiently damned Americans say, a win, win.

Ori swept his rifle across the area but was still unable to locate the gruesome looking one eyed man who had lagged so far behind the scouting group. He was reasonably certain the man had hidden in or behind that pile of boulders.

From the boulders, it was only twenty feet to the brush line and the forested slope to the north. He scanned down the Road away from the wall, knowing that the one-eyed ass hole had to be heading back but saw nothing. .“Damn” he muttered. “ That asshat is good. I really hate the ones who are good”

Ori watched the survivors of the scout force retreat back down the road, he hadn’t heard a vehicle, so either it was parked miles up the road, or they had come all this way on foot, he suspected on foot, which would mean two days for them to get back, 24 hours maximum if they didn’t stop to sleep. If they did have a vehicle they could be at their camp in hours.

As it was, the Farm ended up with almost a week of extra time.

* * *

Gayle sat in her favorite chair by the bedroom window and shivered as she looked out the window into the night, snow was falling heavier now in fact this was shaping up to be a record snow fall. She let the drapes fall back into place then rose to her feet. Pulling on the old thick flannel robe and fleece lined slippers she shuffled into the Kitchen. Where she fixed herself a cup of coffee before heading into the Living room where she sat slowly cradling the steaming cup in her hands as she gazed out the large window watching the snow pile up inch after inch.

“ Are you okay? “ John asked entering the room silently. She managed not to jump. “ I’m fine.” She replied, and then sipped from her cup enjoying the warmth that filled her from the coffee. John slept lighter than a mouse, he always seemed to know when she rose and walked around the house at night, and like a good grandson, he often checked on her, usually scaring her out of an extra year of life he was so quiet. Tonight she had been expecting him, but he still had taken her by surprise.

“ You had another dream” he said, it wasn’t a question.

“ Yes” she replied, feeling a pang of regret this was happening tonight of all nights, but Christmas eve didn’t have the same feeling these days as it did before the zombies. She watched with out comment as he sat on the arm of the chair and gazed at her.

“ Who was it for?” He asked gently, he could see the fear and resolution in her eyes.

“ For every one here, and for me.” She replied, then fixed him with a steely gaze. “ I want you to gather ten men and go to the farm. But you have to leave as soon as possible.” she told him.

He looked at her surprised. “ Why?”

“ Because they are coming, and the farm will fall with out help. If you and the others leave here tonight, you will be that help. if you delay here to long, we will all fall.” She said gently reaching out a to thin hand and touched him lightly on the cheek.

She saw again in her mind, the undead flowing down the trails of the park. Plodding thru the snow with single-minded determination. The undead marched thru the falling snow like a plague, dark shadowy shapes full of a dark bloody hunger. They poured out of the woods while a battle raged at a wall. The few defenders who were in place were swept away, under a tide of dead flesh that tore them apart. Then that horde turned to the cabins and the men on the wall fighting.

“ I think they will come from the woods on the slops of the ridge to the east,” she told John.

He nodded as he rose reluctantly “ are you sure we can spare that many men from here?” he asked, wanting to help the farm, but not at the expense of losing his home and people.

She nodded, oh the undead would lay siege here as well, that she knew, which is why she wanted them to move now. But she had faith in the men and women who would be left behind to deal with that problem. Well she had faith in all but one, and she wouldn’t know who he was till it was time. The weapons and ammunition that Jared Stone had provided went a long way to evening the odds if the undead somehow broke through the walls and got into the compound.

But their presence here was really to keep her people from helping the farm, which is why the messenger in her dreams had come to her, so that she could send help before they became trapped in the compound.

“Yes I am sure, and you have about two hours to get your gear and supplies ready and leave, but no longer.” She told him, wishing she could spend more time with him now that the all the events she had been warned about began to come together.

. “ Wake Kat up and send her to me, before you leave.” She said, as John left the room she felt a pang of regret for not telling him the truth and saying goodbye, but if he knew what was coming he would refuse to leave and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

She had much to do yet and not a lot of time to get it done. When Kat entered, she smiled sadly at her great granddaughter. “ We have much to discuss. Sit please.” She said gesturing towards the chair opposite her own.

Candied apples and popcorn chains were hung in the rooms of the Main cabin. Candles in colored bags lined the shoveled paths between cabins, the snow creating indistinct halos around each bag. Outside the cabin a large fir tree had been placed and decorated. Candles flickered from its branches. Jared watched the kids stand at the window, soaking up the ancient magical sight, and smiled at the pleasure he saw on their faces. Like all children they were up hours before sunrise, and were eager to dive into the huge pile of presents that had appeared over night.

He knew they missed their parents especially on this day but maybe there was a little magic in the air that kept them happy for this small moment. He hoped so, god knew those kids deserved it.

John had thought he was nuts, when Jared had approached him about what he wanted in trade for the rifles, but now with all the decorations and presents, here at the farm and at the center, Even Ronny thought it was awesome, especially the pile of presents for the kids. It was Jared thought a major poke in the eye of evil. It was screaming defiance at the Dark, a Challenge daring it to do its worst.

Not that he didn’t expect a response from the Dark for actually having a moment like this, a big one too, but the dark could take a flying leap off a short pier as far as Jared was concerned. He suspected the Dark would take being poked with extreme displeasure. But it wasn’t like the Dark wasn’t already trying to kill them. which was why they were as ready as possible for the darks displeasure.

Jared had already explained to Lloyd if it started going south his first priority was to protect the kids, and that included the ones at the farm. All the kids would be loaded onto the bus with guards. And if the farm fell those guards would fight their way out and keep trekking east if need be to keep the kids safe.

Jared had even offered a ride out to every woman in the Farm if things fell apart. He would as he promised Lloyd get as many out as possible. Not that Jared would be leaving with the refuges and he really didn’t believe many would get out no matter what they did. He could only do so much after all and if this was were he died he wasn’t going to complain.

John and his men stopped on the trail and looked back as they heard the distant sound of gunfire from the direction of their compound. The snow and terrain carried the sound well, and John could only stare back through the falling snow, seeing the undead surround the compound in his minds eye.

He wanted to turn back, to deny what his grandmother wanted, but he couldn’t. as he made that decision he saw some thing that chilled his blood, indistinct shapes staggering thru the snow, from the direction of Cherokee following the nature trail John and his people rode on, just then a cold crisp wind brought a stench of the undead to Johns nose.

“ We have to go, “ he called out to his men pointing back to the undead, Frank looked back and saw the first zombie clearly and nodded in agreement.

With a roar, the snowmobiles shot off slinging snow behind them, racing along the trail till they erupted onto the road. ten minutes later they crossed the second bridge where the Farm had set up a guard post, John stopped only long enough to warn the Farms guards, who moved two vehicles onto the bridge bumper to bumper and blocked it behind Johns people.

The kids had finally opened their presents shortly after dawn; there had been shrieks of excitement as they discovered their toys. Jared had smiled as he watched Billy open his present. With a huge smile Billy held up the old Y combat harness and baseball bat he had gotten. “thanks Mr. Jared” he bellowed happily

The kid had been following him around every chance he got. Jared had to admit he liked the kid. None of the presents were fancy, and nothing that required batteries. Dolls, stuffed animals, bats and gloves, and a myriad of other things it was all they could do and it was thankfully more than enough.

Little Sally squealed in delight clutching the Teddy bear she had gotten from Santa, She held it close and stroked its fur, promising the bear that she would keep it safe from the zombies.

Sally had looked puzzled as Jill broke into tears and Jared wiped at his eyes, that simple heartfelt sentence from a little girl, got to him; he felt tightness in his chest, shaking his head, he headed out side, heart sick for those kids losses, and vowing once more to give his life if necessary to keep them safe.

Later Jared would feel glad he had stepped outside, the frantic message over his radio, a moment late, would have upset the kids.

. “ Jared, John Graham just crossed the bridge, and says there’s a horde of undead heading this way from Cherokee. He should be at the Farm in a couple of minutes.” Carry one of Lloyds men manning the bridge check point reported. Jared had no sooner acknowledged the transmission, when Ori, who was now stuck up on the blue ridge as long as the bridge was closed, reported in. “ Merry Christmas looks like the neighbors are wanting to crash the party.”

“ Roger that Ori, have Jason watch your six, there’s a bunch of undead coming up from Cherokee. If you have a possible escape route take it the instant you see one of those things. “ Jared ordered.

Ori really only had a couple of possibilities at his present position, Climb down the ridge or go over the barricade they had set up at the first tunnel and strike out on foot. Neither was a great option, but no one promised things would be easy. “ Roger that Jared, luck to you, out.”

“ Luck to you too Brother. Out” Jared replied as he sent a quick prayer for Ori and Jasons safety winging up into the sky.

“This is Bill up on the Gap Barricade, we have a whole mess of those things heading this way. “ Jared grimaced, the next time I decided to poke the devil in the eye, remember this moment and make sure you piss in his cheerios too. Might as well go for broke.

Jared ducked back into the cabin and summoned Lloyd, Steve and Rachael to join him outside, . as soon as they had gathered on the porch, Jared spoke quickly

“Rachael, its about to happen. Get the kids into the bus. Steve get the fifty out. Aim for that damn Ferret. Tell Rob to get his special projects ready. Looks like we get to deliver the other presents today.” He turned to Lloyd. “Sorry man that it happened today. But I thought it would. Evil just loves trying to screw up a good time.”

“ I will get my men ready” Lloyd said turning on his heel and striding off towards the other cabins to gather the men not already on the wall, or patrolling the edges of the farm.

Jared stood there for a moment as the others rushed off to get their tasks completed. He looked at the wall, but his eyes kept drifting to the meager defenses and the three DFP’s that were supposed to cover the trail approach. He had a bad feeling about that spot.

The children were led out of the Cabin all of them looking scared and clutching their new toys. The happiness and excitement of minutes ago gone as they were taken to the waiting bus, Jared felt a slow fury rise up, no the world wasn’t fair, never had been, but what stupid damn rule would it break to give those kids one damn day with out fear.

Jared heard the rumble of the snow mobiles, then spotted John graham and ten others come around the cabin near the footbridge, Graham waved and came to a stop next to Jared, “ I think zombies might be in the woods on the rigde back there,” he told Jared, before the Red head could say a word. Jared shook his head hating the fact he was right about that ridge then grunted a bitter laugh. of course there are zombies in the woods, it never rains but it damn sure pours a lot. .

“Already planned for it” Jared said as he looked towards the wall, where a few shots rang out, the scattered weapons fire was growing into a full scale fire storm.

“ Gayle dreamed it and sent us here to help.” John said, trying not to let the fear he felt for his own people overwhelm him. this was where Gayle had wanted him, this was where he would stay.

“ Sounds like my dance card just got punched” Jared said gesturing towards the distant wall. “You can support the line that covers the slope. Do what you can John, but try to keep your people alive. I think they’re going to need you back home.” Jared said extending a hand. Graham shook the other mans hand, then Jared was gone, rushing for the wall.

“Logan, I want you to go support the DFP’s covering the trail head coming down from the ridge, There might be a lot of zombies in the woods up there. Id prefer you and the others don’t get eaten while your at it. if the undead are there, hold them there till every one is evacuated from the cabins, then run like hell.” Jared Transmitted as he ran across the churned up snow towards the wall. “Good Luck and God speed” Jared added.

* * *

Reed stood in the back of his Command truck studying defenses up ahead. He wasn’t eager to engage now that he saw it for himself, the survivors of his scouting party had done little note taking apparently, and that one eyed bastard had left out a few details as well Reed noted,.

Like the machine gun that periodically fired on the ferret Armored car every time it started to move, forward. It wasn’t a .50 he knew, it was to light to do more than make sparks when its rounds hit the Ferret. But if the gunner realized that and shifted his fire to the men accompanying the Ferret he would do some serious damage.

He also didn’t like the way those abandoned vehicles had been placed, creating a maze that covered the road and both sides of the road cutting off a direct approach to the wall or the bridge to the walls left. There apparently were more men than he had been led to believe as well, judging by the amount of return fire.

That irritated him, he had hoped to sweep in under covering fire and secure the place with out using large amounts of ammo. Well in for a penny in for a pound, he thought

“ Send half the company forward to support the ferret, have Lt. Carwells mobile units act in support.” Reed ordered, his nerves taut. He was sure now that the farm was worth it. Aside from the fact, some one over there had gone to a lot of effort to fortify the place. They had to have enough food to feed this many people. Reed knew he was going to lose a lot of men and possibly even irreplaceable equipment. However, the food, weapons and women he would seize would go a long way to offsetting his losses.

He shouldn’t have given the farm time to prepare he knew but his men had needed that week. I should have delayed the scout mission till I could have followed it up with an attack with an hour, not a week later.

Well hopefully the Defenders were enjoying their Christmas present, because he was going to enjoy open the farm up and getting everything inside.

Reed scanned the ridge where his scouts had been taken under fire from and saw nothing. Why he wondered why ignore a position that would give them a tactical advantage. Was it possible he had taken them by surprise, and they were unable to reach the ambush spot because his men were in the way. That made no sense, there had to be a way from the farm to that spot that would avoid the road. No matter how rough it looked from down here.

Michael had tried to convince him to send men along the ridgeline, but he had refused for the simple fact it was more than likely heavily booby-trapped. It was what he would have done, spikes hidden under the snow, grenades, claymores. No his decision to use the road was the best. He started to swing back to look at the wall, when he saw something dark against the snow up there. Their ambush team might just be getting into position now. He thought.

A man appeared up there, and it took a second for Reed to realize what he was seeing. The man dressed for summer, stumbled forward and slipped in the snow and began to tumble and roll down the ridge. Behind him a line of people appeared.

“ Zombies right flank” he shouted as the wall of undead began to make its way down the ridge. It was a nightmare avalanche of dead flesh that hit the road. Five of his men were ten feet from a pile of bodies and began to fire into them. But more fell around them and then suddenly they were taken down as the undead gained their feet.

His eyes were glued to the ridgeline, where one zombie stood on a boulder a silhouetted against the gray sky. Shadowy almost indistinct, Reed focused his binoculars on it and almost took a step back as he saw the narrow triangular face with a pointed chin, an almost impossible long hooked nose. Oddly shaped cloudy eyes stared down at the militia from sunken eye socket
The wispy white hair that dangled from under the Old Bowler hat it wore blew in the breeze.

And then those dead eyes focused on him. He didn’t know how, but it was staring at him. The lips quivered into a grin, or maybe it was a grimace, that bared filed down shark like teeth. He didn’t know, didn’t care. “ Shoot it, fucking shoot it” Reed yelled pointing a finger at the figure so far above.

He dropped his binoculars, taking deep breaths before he grabbed his rifle and lifted it to his shoulder intent on taking out that creepy looking zombie, just as explosions rocked the area as the maze went up in a smoke, fire and screaming metal shards.

* * *

Steve hunkered down on the fire step of the wall, trying to clear a jam. “ Damn M16 piece of shit “ he muttered as bullets slammed into the wall, or screamed by overhead. The fifty he had humped to the wall, sat ready for use, when Jared called for it.

“ Its not the weapons fault, those things just never liked you” Chris said as he popped up and fired into the advancing men ducking back down quickly. the .50 mounted on the Ferret fired at the wall, the wall shuddered under the assault.

“ This thing aint going to last long” Chris remarked as he glanced at Dennis who was using the SAW they had recovered from the check point. The weapon had only slightly more ammo than the Fifty. Dennis fired again, then fell away from the weapon as the return fire chewed up the top of the wall.

“Long enough” Steve said as he finished clearing the jam. “ I’m guessing they have as little ammo for their fifty as we do, that’s why they aren’t just firing till the wall comes apart.”

“I really hope your not bitching about that,” Chris asked. Steven grinned as he lifted the M16.

“ No not really, there’s only one reason I grabbed this piece of shit by the way.” Steve said as he tucked the butt of the 16 under his arm, he gripped the magazine and put his finger on the trigger of the M203. “ Merry Christmas you bastards” he snarled as he popped upright, sighted on a small cluster of men and sent them 40mm of High explosive Christmas cheer.

“ Ori what’s their position” Jared asked from his position, there was a delay then finally “ sorry got a few leakers up this way. Position marker 16, count is 40, no 35. Steve just popped five.”

Jared nodded and threw a glance towards the firing step, he could see Steve hunched down and reloading the grenade launcher. Give em hell Jared thought silently cheering on Steve.

Jim was just about to climb up onto the fire step when some one shouted sniper. Bryan Jameson, whose family had been lost in Asheville, fell backwards off the wall and landed in front of Jim.

Jim had time to note that Bryan, father of two and a good man was dead of a chest wound, then Bryan’s eyes opened. Jim dropped his rifle knowing he was to close to be able to bring it into play, he fumbled for his pistol. Bryans cloudy eyes locked on Jim, and the mouth yawned open. Bryan’s body sat up one hand grasping Jim’s thigh and digging deep, too deep. Jim shouted in pain as blood flowed.

Bryan’s teeth were but inches from the meat of his thigh, when Jim leveled his pistol and pulled the trigger. Bryans head snapped back and a spray of blood and bone erupted from the back of his skull, wildly patterning the snow

Jim leaned back breathing heavily and saw Jill ten feet away, her hand resting on the hilt of that sword of hers. She nodded to him before turning and rushing back towards the Barn where people were moving all the livestock out and across the bridge.

When the next body tumbled off the step, Jim didn’t hesitate; he stuck his pistol against its skull and pulled the trigger.

“ Position marker 15, 40” Ori reported. “ And I’m getting ready to be really busy up here”

“ Roger that, keep your ass down and get out of there. Good luck and out.” Jared said. “Rob now would be a good time to deliver the Santa’s gift to all the bad little boys and girls” Rob didn’t respond over the radio, he didn’t have to, as the bombs they had managed to make and then hide in the maze detonated as one.

The pressure wave and fire washed over men. The gun on the ferret stopped firing, but it continued to roll on for another seventy feet before bumping up against a guardrail and stopping. Men were tossed like rag dolls. Lt. Moran who was leading the advance was thrown to the ground; he dug his fingers into the earth and hung on. His eyes wide as he saw a car hood, still smoking, spinning thru the air and rip thru Sgt. Tucker.

Private Archer, a new recruit was running towards Moran, when a flying piece of metal took his head off. He ran on for three steps before his body pitched over.

Around him, six of his men were still alive, fires burned here and there amongst the dead. “ Oh shit” Moran said aloud. “Get up damn it,” he yelled at his men who began scrambling to their feet. Even as the undead, who had till a minute ago been friends and companions began to sit up.

“ Jared, you’re not going to believe this but zombies just showed up on the ridge, and are attacking the Raiders.” Steve reported.

“Steve use the ma deuce on the undead, try to cripple them, let the Militia survivors go unless they fire on your position.” Jared said transmitted. “Logan did you hear that?” if there were undead coming down the ridge onto the road then there the undead were already above the trail that led to the farm, they were probably already on their way.

“ Yeah, I did. And I think I see some in the woods heading this way.” Logan replied, looking up the slope, where he could see dark shapes struggling through the snow, heading straight for the line of DFPs, and the unfinished section of wall.

“ hold for as long as you can.” Jared said as he climbed onto the firing step and looked out.

The dead from the booby traps were climbing do their feet. Seven desperate militia men had started to run for the bridge across the Raven, only to stumble to a halt as they saw the undead that had come down from Cherokee on the other side, steadily approaching them drawn by the gunfire.

“ Sucks to be them” Steve said with out humor as he fired the ma deuce into a knot of undead down the road, heading towards the wall .

“ They can still escape” Jared commented. Beyond the wall there was wild gunfire and screaming in the distance where the main militia force was concentrated.

“ Jim if any of those men out there make it across the river, disarm them and get them across the bridge.” Jared told the older man as he watched men toss away weapons and gear and leap into the river, swimming down stream trying to escape. .

“ Yes sir.” Jim replied as he sent two of his men to gather others and get the survivors out of the river.

“Lets get to the line and see if we can help Logan hold, “:Jared said, leaping from the firing step, Steve raked fire across the advancing undead, grinning humorlessly, as bodies tumbled to the ground, some lost arms and legs, and those still able to stand got back to their feet and kept coming.

“ Aren’t you worried “ Jim asked suddenly not sure what to make of Jared. Undead were coming down into the farm, and were covering the roads, and Jared and his friends seemed unfazed, “ I mean we are pretty much surrounded” Jim added.

“In the words of Ferdinand Foch at the battle of Marne, ‘Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking.’” Jared said with a grin. “No point in worrying, I can do that when this is over”

Jim gaped at Jared like he had just grown a penis out of his forehead, Steve laughed and clapped the older man on the back then let one of Jims people take over the Fifty before leaping to the ground beside Jared.

“ “We’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem. Chesty Puller said that and he was right” Steve said looking up at Jim, then he and Jared smiled at each other before they took off running for the far side of the farm.   Jim stared after the two men who raced to meet the undead laughing like lunatics.

John graham and his men lay in the dead grass and snow, watching as the first of the zombies appeared at the edge of the woods. Logan and his team, Team, john thought with humor eyeing the college kids, began to fire. Not quite the word he would have used. But in this day and age who was he to quibble?

A steady stream of fire was pouring from the DFP’s. Ripping deep into the growing horde of zombies. There was no way they could keep that kind of fire up for long. Every one was to low on ammo.

Where in the hell did all those zombies come from? he wondered. They had to come from the towns around the park, he thought as he saw a zombie wearing a Wal-Mart smock, another one wore a box store business shirt. What drew them into the park he didn’t know? And didn’t care, he rose up to one knee and sighted. “Shoot slowly, take your time and make every bullet count,” he told his men.

Beth glanced at Sharon who sat in the driver’s seat of the bus. The kids were huddled on the floor hugging their Christmas presents to their chests and crying as they listened to the shouts and gunfire. What a Christmas she thought angrily. These kids didn’t deserve this shit.   Ori was out there too, up on the mountain where zombies might be able to get to him. She only wished she was better with a weapon, if she was she would be right beside Ori, watching his back.

Billy, who idolized Jared was loudly telling the other kids that Mr. Jared and Mr. Ori would kill all the bad men and monsters, she wiped at her eyes and said nothing, she only hoped Billy was right.

Ben crouched near the Bus door, the pistol he had carried since the zombies first rose clutched in his hands. The girl he had been seeing on the sly sat next to him her hand on his thigh as she tried to act brave. 14 years old and armed, with a 15 year old girlfriend waiting for zombies to get on a school bus and eat every one. What a world, the thought only made Beth angrier.

Mikhail climbed up the ridge and settled himself in a hollow between two rocks and settled down to wait. He smiled as he watched the activity below. How small and insignificant they look from up here. He had stopped sniping the minute the zombies showed up. He didn’t trust that his friend could keep him safe at the moment, and he had no intention of drawing zombies to his position by firing his weapon.

Down below Reed was getting his raiders turned around and running back for their camp. Which would only draw the zombies after them. He had no doubt that Reed would break down the camp and run for another spot as fast as he could. Didn’t really matter his force was shattered now. Mikhail wasn’t sure how many were dead at the farm. But from the gunfire there were a lot more than he had thought.

He had seen the strange zombie with the bowler hat earlier on the ridge. But it had vanished during the confusion. For some reason he doubted that it had been killed.

The zombies were the problem right now; he hadn’t wanted them here, not yet but it wasn’t his call either. What ever it was that led them had made that decision.

“ Do not worry, your services are still needed, you did well today, “ a voice said suddenly out of nowhere. Mikhail shuddered at the sound. Only stubborn will kept him from showing how much it affected him. “ So many culled, so much death.” The voice neither male nor female said. Pleasure seemed to suffuse the voice. “ You will have a chance soon to strike at the leader.” And it was gone. He woke with a start; scared he had never just drifted off before with no warning. Part of him suspected something had made him sleep, he wasn’t happy about it but he didn’t dwell on it.

Jared ran thru the farm, checking till he was satisfied that no one remained. “ Logan, the Farms clear, fall back. We are moving up to support.” He said as he led, Steve, Chris, Lloyd and Jill towards the backside of the farm.

“ Bug out, farms clear. “ Logan shouted, urging the men to climb out of the bunkers and run for the bridge. The message spread like wild fire, and men poured out of the DFPs firing into the dead as they fell back. Only one DFP remained in action and Logan knew who was still in there.

“Chad cover my ass, I’m getting Kevin out okay” Chad nodded slowly the former football player looked grim.

“ You got it, we aren’t leaving any one behind today,” Chad vowed.

Logan ran to the center DFP and ducked into the doorway. “ You ready “ He asked Kevin who was dragging himself to the door, to wait for Logan. .

“hell yes, I thought maybe you forgot I was in here.” Kevin replied, looking back through the firing slits, the zombies were still a safe distance away from the DFP.

“ Not a chance buddy. I don’t leave friends behind. Besides Mattie would cut my balls off if I left you.” Logan replied.

“ I hate this thing,” Kevin said as he plucked at the harness he wore. Mary and Jill had designed the thing for just this moment.

“ I do believe Mary and Ronny are into S and M now though.” Logan chuckled as he picked up the three straps by the door and hooked them to the harness Kevin wore.

A quick look out the firing slit showed him he had a couple of minutes. He grabbed Kevin under the arms and dragged him out the door.

“ Ready he asked.

“ Sure, why not babies used to ride like this all the time.” Kevin remarked as Logan slipped his arms thru the shoulder straps, and rose. Kevin dangled from his back facing away from Logan,

“Just a second.” Logan shouted as he fumbled at the waist strap a second later he had it locked and cinched.

“ Now would be a really good time,” Kevin said as he shot at a zombie and missed his aim ruined when Logan suddenly leaped forward running for their lives. Though calling it running might be generous. Kevin bounced around with each stride, he gave up trying to aim, and only shot at the closest zombies. From Kevin’s position it really didn’t seem that Logan was moving as fast as he could have in these conditions..

Logan stumbled a few times, and once even slid several feet when he hit a patch of ice under the snow, but he managed to catch his balance and stay upright.

“ Remind me to thank Mary for her sex harness saving my life.” Kevin grunted.

Jared knelt in the snow and lifted his rifle, men were streaming past his position with the undead not far behind. He picked a target, sighted, controlled his breathing and stroked the trigger. The zombies face vanished from his sights. He shifted to another target; beside him Steve was doing the same thing. He saw Logan barely keeping ahead of the horde with Kevin strapped to his back. Kevin was shouting and shooting at zombies, but was barely able to hit as he bounced around on Logan’s back.

The men still manning the wall fell back once there were only zombies out on the road. Zombies couldn’t get over the wall so they raced to the footbridge joining the men from the DFPs to stream across to the fortified camp on the other side.

Jared took out the closest zombie to Logan and then the one behind it, and then fell into a pattern of sighting, shooting and moving And then suddenly there were no more men between Jared and the Undead, with a start Jared realized that Logan was past him and almost to the bridge.

“ We gotta go “ Steve yelled tapping him on the shoulder. Jared nodded. The zombies were fifteen feet away and closing.

“ Move it,” Jared called out to his team. He popped the magazine and replaced it with a fresh one as he ran. Surprised to find he had shot two full mags already. He fired back over his shoulder as he ran with Steve at his side.

Reaching the bridge they pounded across it. Lloyd stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. Jared reached down with his off hand and snared Lloyds collar and half dragged half threw the man to the end of the bridge where others helped Lloyd move to the back.

Jared and Steve were the last to cross, they ran past the sandbagged position where Jeff waited with his hands on the remaining Ma Duece, the undead flowed after them, a wall of dead moving flesh, eager to get at the living on the other side.

Men knelt in lines covering their end of the bridge, their weapons ready. “ fire” Jared called out as the undead reached the center of the span.

The bridge was only wide enough for four zombies at a time. The heavy .50 caliber slugs tore through the zombies at the front in a shower of gore, shattering limbs and body’s. the massive thumb sized slugs, tore through not one but two sometimes three corpses at a time. Sending many to tumble into the water.

Small arms fire from the assembled men, ripped into the zombies on the far bank. Gunfire thundered in the early morning, It was madness, madness the men embraced, and every bit of hatred and fear they had felt for months flowed out directed at the walking corpses that just kept coming. .

The snow was fouled by the coagulated blood that oozed from the shattered undead. The stench was almost overwhelming.

Steve began to punch 40mm grenades into the zombies behind the bridge. Explosions rocked the early morning. It didn’t matter if the grenades killed them, it crippled enough that it would make mopping up easier. Bodies toppled and fell, mangled beyond recognition in many cases.

Suddenly it was over; The Undead lay tangled in heaps of torn bodies. Jared slammed the last magazine he had into the well and looked out over the farm. Bodies lay everywhere. It wasn’t the battle he had expected; they had barely even engaged the raiders. But the third player in the game of life had hit both sides hard.

“ Evil zero, Living 2.” Ronny muttered shivering as the adrenalin started to fade and he began to feel the cold thru his sweat soaked clothing.

“ Every one take five. Get the kids calmed down. Find out how many we lost” Jared said as he sat heavily in the snow. “ Then we get to start cleaning up. Merry fucking ho ho Christmas every one”

Shelly was worried about Mary, during the battle she had looked out and become so pale it had scared Shelly, Mary had muttered something about a man in a hat and then repeated its not possible several times before she fell silent.

“ You okay?” Shelly asked finally, touching Mary’s arm. Mary blinked several times and then gave her a shaky smile.

“ Fine, really. I’m fine” there was a quiver in her voice but it faded. “ Just saw something, It was my imagination, no biggie.”

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

Gayle was standing by the window, when the door to her study slid open and a man walked into the room. She nodded to him politely. Kat knew everything she had to know, but there was so much more to pass on. Maybe in a dream she thought, almost eager to see her husband again. She gazed at the man she had known all of his life, and knew it wasn’t him any longer.

“ We have some trouble at the wall, and…” he began only to be cut off.

“ don’t lie to me, I know why you’re here.” She said her voice as strong as she could want. He cocked his head studying her.

“ Do you now.” He said, a dark grin that fairly quivered cross his lips. “ I guess that you do.” He said producing a pistol. “ I’m surprised to be totally honest.” He said still smiling as he stepped around the couch. “But no matter, this has been fun. So much fun really, I hate that it has to end.”

“ What are you?” She asked curious she knew that this was not the boy she had watched grow up.

“ Oh you are smart, maybe there is something to the whole Indian medicine man bull.” He said grinning again; it was a dead thing, no humor and no real life in it. “Why I am human of course. Through and through. But what really matters is your dead. We can’t have you passing on messages like some spiritual western union. You’re just another fraud. So we regret to inform you of your impending death.” He said his voice cold, and mocking.

He lifted the pistol and fired twice. Smiling in satisfaction as the old woman crumbled and fell in a pool of blood. He felt a flicker of annoyance as he saw she was smiling as if she had one final joke.

“ Jokes on you old lady, your going to rise and eat half you house, then they will finish off the rest of your damn people.” He stiffened as the door slid open and a woman’s voice from behind him said.

“Actually you’re the punch line” and his world exploded in a flash of light and the thunder of God.

Kat rushed over and shot her Great grandmother in the head as tears spilled down her cheeks. She hadn’t wanted to come back as one of the undead and Kat had made sure she wouldn’t.

Kat gave look of pure disgust at the body of Two feathers were he lay on the floor in a pool of spreading blood, her eyes slowly lifted to the door where two of her cousins stood, weapons ready.

“It should be over soon” she said as she stepped back and let them gather her Great Grandmothers body. She hadn’t wanted to take over for her great grandmother. But that didn’t matter, her great grandmother had asked and Kat had said yes because she had no right to refuse after all her Great grandmother had done for her people.

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

The zombies that infested the roads were blocked by the barricades and the steep hills, bluffs and ridges, and at the moment were no real threat. The horde that had tumbled down the ridge onto Cove road, had mostly turned and followed the retreating Raiders. A few remained before the wall, milling about seeking a way inside. They would have to deal with the undead outside the farm later Jared knew, but not today.

He got things organized, and sent half the men forward again, to cover the men who would spend the rest of the day gathering the corpses and pile them up by the river in the north pasture to be burned.

Casualties were lighter than expected, but still a blow to both groups, two of the men that had escaped Knoxville with Logan had died on the wall, Lloyd had lost three, almost twenty had been wounded, though none seriously.

Steve, had been shot in the thigh but he but hadn’t said a word, he just soldiered on till he collapsed at the bridge.

He would survive but he was down and out for a few days, Chris had been grazed twice by the raiders but was okay. Eric would end up with a scar down the left side of his face; he had been at the wall when a fifty cal round punched thru sending a six-inch splinter of wood flying, which tore open his cheek.

They had been unable to establish any contact with Ori and Jason. Linda was a wreck but buried herself in treating the injured so she didn’t have to think about Jason possibly being dead out there. Beth took it in stride, but it was obvious she was just waiting till she could get away from the kids before she let herself feel anything.

Jared was coldly furious at himself; he should have trusted his fears of an attack thru the wood. He should have listened to his gut. But he hadn’t, not really he had made only a token effort at defense there. And people had paid, paid one hell of a heavy price for that miss step. And to top it off, he had placed two friends out there to spy on the raiders with out creating a fall back plan simply because he had assumed that the vast majority of zombies in Cherokee were gone. So there wouldn’t ever be a wave of the undead like they had just gotten, he had thought, God I was an idiot.

There had been Seven hundred twenty zombies in that attack on the DFPs at least according to the body count. And that was not counting what had been milling around on the Cherokee side or on the New Foundgap road or that had hit the raiders. He suspected that there had been almost 2500 zombies all told, but would never know for a fact since no one was all that interested in counting the bodies. The bodies were just loaded into dump trucks and hauled to the fires and those outside the walls would be bulldozed into gruel when their time came.

He felt sick at his mistakes, but anger and determination flared in him. I fucked up this time, yes. But the kids, all of them are safe and so are many people who might not have lived otherwise. Or would they. Would the zombies have even attacked like that if the Dirty Dozen and their lost boys hadn’t come thru? Enough he told himself sternly, Deal with it.

Tomorrow Chris would be in charge of the new Weapons and maneuver drills for their people and for Lloyds, every one was going to learn at least the basics of combat after this.

He finally looked up at Logan and Jill. “First thing tomorrow morning we go find Ori and Jason. Then we go to Cherokee and check on them. After that, the Raiders are top of the list.” Jared said as the sun was sinking behind the mountains and snow began to fall heavily once more blanketing the world in silence and white.

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

Mikhail walked thru the wreckage of the Raiders camp. Most of those that had escaped the undead at the wall had stopped only long enough to grab what they could shove or hook to their vehicles in a hurry. He stood there for a moment, smiling. There were footprints and scuffmarks everywhere in the snow, but the falling snow was starting to fill them in. By tomorrow there would be no sign left behind of the undead that had passed thru the camp. He smiled and walked back to his car opening the door he looked back once more and froze.

The chapel door was open revealing a black rectangle beyond that swallowed the dim gray light of the outside world. Something stood there in the darkness, something with humped shoulders and a slightly over sized head, Some thing that wore an old fashioned hat. He climbed into his car; he didn’t want to know what that thing was. That it wasn’t a normal zombie was becoming clear. But exactly what it was and what it could do, was something he hoped never to find out. Never!

He started the car and drove towards Maggies gap. He needed better wheels, his car as cool as it was, wasn’t doing to well in the snow. He drove off, the song “evil Angel” pouring from the speakers.

continue to Act 2 part 3

2 thoughts on “TRCD Act 2 part 2

    • thanks, and your right, Ive been going back off and on correcting what I can find.. I’m glad you can see past the issues to enjoy the story.

      thanks for reading and I hope once I finish book three to either find some one who will help me edit or I will attempt it myself.

      I can say, that my later writing shows improvement, though not perfect.

      Like

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