TCRD Act 2 Part 3

TCRD Act 2 part 3
“The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat”
-Greenleaf, snowbound

“ I could be curled up with my wife right about now,“ Jason mumbled as he rubbed his hands together trying to warm them up.
“ So could I” Ori replied just as softly. Jason shot the other man a look then gave a small tired smile. Down below their position the knot of undead hadn’t moved in two hours.

They just stood there in the blowing snow, still as statues while the snow piled up around them. There was no way to go forward with out passing the undead and no way back with out passing through the horde on the other side of the wall of vehicles down at the tunnel.

The two men, who lay in the ice and snow, were just far enough away that they were unnoticed by the undead. But that couldn’t last and they both knew it. “Hate to be an asshole, but I cant take laying here in the cold much longer” Jason whispered barely louder than the wind. Ori had to agree; the cold wet clothes were slowly sapping their strength soon they would have trouble moving.

“ We need to go back half a mile,” Ori said. Jason nodded, moving was preferable to laying here slowly freezing his pecker off. Assuming, he thought, it wasn’t already frozen and fell off when he started moving. With that cheery thought, he inched slowly backwards hoping the blowing snow kept them hidden from the undead.

They moved with agonizing slowness, putting foot after foot between them and the undead. Ori had noticed that even if the undead heard a sound and swarmed, they would lose interest once they saw there was no living being near them.

So as far as Ori could figure from observing the undead, camouflage worked against them assuming of course that a man or woman had the stones to stay absolutely still while the undead stumbled around them. Happily it meant Ori’s skills were still more than useful.

Finally after almost an hour of creeping through the snow storm. they were around a bend in the road and out of sight and able to stand. “ What’s the plan? “ Jason asked as quietly as he could and still be heard over the wind. The cold wet clothes he wore were plastered to his skin setting his teeth to chattering.

“ Two options, one we climb up the there” Ori said pointing with a flick of his finger to Rattlesnake mountain. “And then work our way around to the trail on the west side, or two, we go up the road a bit and rappel down. Then take the Cove road back to the farm.”

“ What if there are any zombies down there on Cove road.” Jason asked thoughtfully? Occasionally looking back they way they had come to make sure that no zombies had appeared at the bend.

“ We can stay ahead of them, even climb up the ridge on the other side and head to the farm that way. The roads the easiest route though.” Ori said, his eyes constantly sweeping the area for any threats. “that’s assuming we don’t come down in the middle of a horde .” he added and with the low visibility the snow storm imposed they wouldn’t be able to see the undead till he and Jason were with in reach of the walking dead.

Jason sat there for a minute his mind replaying the day before. The zombies had come up the road in drivels. The first few he was able to dispatch with an axe while Ori called in the position reports of the enemy militia unit to Jared. as time passed the numbers of undead coming up the road had increased till there were far to many to take on with hand weapons. Ori had made his final report as Jason leaped into the truck.

Slamming the truck into reverse, Ori had backed over the undead behind the truck. As he started to turn the truck around to drive back down the Parkway, one look revealed a horde of undead sweeping around the bend, not two hundred yards away. The undead were packed shoulder-to-shoulder and advancing towards them like a slow flood of rotted flesh.

With that many undead, it was impossible to take the road back to the Farm. The weight of that many bodies would slow and eventually stop the truck, so Ori had headed up the road instead, heading for the tunnel they had blocked off days ago.

They had driven back past the overlook were they had been spotting for the Farm, the undead they hadn’t put down now beat on the sides of the truck as they passed.

Jason could remember the thumping and how the truck actually shook a few times under the pounding. Ori hadn’t slowed, or even cussed he just stared fixedly ahead through the snow driving higher up the Blue Ridge parkway. After a minute Jason could see the dark yawning mouth of the first tunnel and the wall of stacked vehicles that they had barricaded the tunnel mouth with, to keep both the militia and the undead from pouring down the blue ridge to reach the farm.

Ori turned the truck so that he could park sideways with the passenger side of the truck almost touching the barricade. The undead were not far behind, but if they hurried, they could make it up the Barricade and out of reach of the undead. That at least would give them breathing room to figure out what to do next.
“ I want you to keep calm, roll down the window and climb out. Once your outside climb up to the top of the barricade and I’ll pass the packs and gear up to you,” He said then saw how nervous Jason was and added “its going to be okay.” Ori said sounding totally confident that the situation would turn exactly the way he wanted it.

Down below them the undead had rounded the bend in the road and were heading towards the truck. Jason had nodded numbly scared shitless. A few zombies no big deal, even ten or twenty with a guy or two at his side and no big deal, if you were careful. That mob coming at them was too much for him.
Jason had taken a deep breath and made himself calm down and had then climbed out the window. He’d had to wiggle a bit, it was a tight fit between the truck and the barricade. The cold snow covered metal gouged and poked at his skin as he dragged himself up to the top of the stack of cars then looked down the road, where the undead were drawing closer with every step.
Ori climbed out the sliding window in the back window of the truck and passed up the packs from the bed to Jason.A quick look showed that there were no undead on the tunnel side of the barricade so Jason dropped the backs to the ground.

Ori was handing up coils of rope, when a zombie rose up from behind the truck, its chest and belly a shredded ruin where it had been dragged behind the truck as it hung on to the bumper. Jason had managed to draw his pistol and fire, it took three shots but he put the bastard down. the sound of the shots echoed off the mountains.
Ori swore, hoping the wind had kept the sound from traveling to far, if there were zombies on the other side of the barricade and heard those shots, they would be heading this way. The tunnel on the other side could be fill in with the undead in minutes.

“Take the damn rope” Ori shouted. “We are running out of time.” Ori tossed the last of the gear up at him rapidly, some flew past Jason and smacked into the snow on the other side of the barricade, and then mob of undead reached the truck, Ori didn’t even look at the remaining gear he simply leaped up grasping for a handhold. Jason dropped to his belly and somehow grasped Ori’s wrist keeping the other man from falling back into the bed of the truck which would have been a bad thing.

Undead hands were reaching up but they couldn’t reach Ori over the sides of the truck. Then one of the undead had somehow tumbled into the bed of the truck. “Son of a bitch” Ori shouted, as the Zombie below him started to get to its feet. “Now would be a good time!” Ori shouted as Jason hauled with all his strength and damn near pitched Ori over the barricade.

“You all right” Ori asked quietly shaking Jason out of his reverie.
“Sure yeah sorry was just thinking about our escape.” Jason said, his stomach still in knots at the close escape.
“What escape, we are still out here, in the snow and the muck. With the undead prowling around” Ori pointed out.
“ What was the deal with them just standing there anyway?” Jason asked, not wanting to make a snap decision about their route. The undead acting out of character bothered him far more than he wanted to admit.
“They didn’t see us or hear us. So they did nothing.” Ori said confidently.
“ I’ve just never seen them do something like that. It was almost like they were on guard duty,” Jason said, not thrilled at all with that idea. That implied intelligence and the one thing he didn’t want to see were intelligent zombies.
“ Don’t read more into it than there is” Ori replied calmly as he stood and dropped his pack. Squatting he opened the pack and removed dry clothes. They were both soaked to the skin from crawling and laying in the snow. Before Jason could ask what Ori was going to do, Ori pulled a Bear gyllis and stripped right there.

“ You’d better change too, get into dry clothes now while we have the chance. Its only cold for a second then you cant feel a thing” Ori said with a smile, apparently unaffected by the cold as he slipped on thermals, then dry pants and a flannel shirt.

Jason stood and dropped his pack as well, removing dry clothes he placed them on the pack and looked at Ori who was replacing his boots after changing socks. Jason shrugged; it couldn’t be any colder out of the wet clothes than in them anyway. He thought and stripped down.
He was only partly right. “ you lied, its still cold.” Jason grunted as he reached for dry under wear, his teeth chattering.

“Aint you a big boy.” Ori said with a grin. “ And I said it was only cold for a second. Once you go numb you dont feel a thing”
“ Shut it asshole!, I’m already numb. And its still cold.” Jason said actually laughing quietly. He pulled on his dry clothes thankful that he had packed the good winter clothes that Jared had suggested.
Once they were both dressed again and the wet clothes tucked away in bags and strapped to their packs. Ori looked at him “well what do you think”
“ Climbing down sounds like the best option. It damn sure beats climbing up” Jason said Ori nodded in agreement.

“ Rappelling down is a lot easier, the only real difficulty will be the ice and wind ” Ori replied, at least till they reached the ground. Then the question of whether the undead were waiting or not would be answered. The two men shouldered their packs and trudged back up the parkway towards the tunnel. Snow, driven by a cold wind, swirled around them growing heavier by the minute

“ You can’t go out looking right now” Lloyd insisted. “ Trust me, you can reach Cherokee, no problem, but to try to get up the parkway in this shit and you’ll crash or even worse get buried in a landslide.”
“ We cant leave them out there either” Jared said angrily. “ and now that the Damned undead have just wandered off, we have a chance to get out there with no real danger”
“you think I like it?.” Lloyd snapped. “Hell no! But you don’t know what its like around here during the winter, and this is shaping up to be a bad one, worse than usual. The wind cuts down into the valley here and then rushes back up the ridges, carrying loose snow with it causing white outs. you can get disoriented in that shit and drive into a wall, or right off the road. If you run into undead up there on the parkway and start shooting, you could start an avalanche and then we have to mount a second rescue attempt. No, you need to wait till tomorrow. The weather might clear off. Most times these storms only last a few hours to a day maybe two. I think Ori is smart enough to find shelter and wait it out.”
Jared settled down all to aware of the mistakes that had led him to this point and he wasn’t going to rush into making yet another one. He trusted in Ori’s skills to keep himself and Jason alive. He trusted those skills but it did nothing to stop the burning need to go to his friends rescue.
He took a deep calming breathe“ your right, I’m sorry,” he said then looked at John Graham who looked as stressed as Jared felt. Who could blame him either, last night there had been an orange glow in the sky in the direction of Cherokee. Something was burning, and John and the other Tribesman were eager to get back and check on their people.
The undead that had been pressing up against the barricade at the bridge since Christmas day had slowly wandered off sometime after midnight, flowing back towards Cherokee, as if summoned. That had shaken every one, usually, as long as there were people; the undead just stayed were they were at trying to get at the living.
“Okay, here is the plan and no arguments this time, we take the plow and head into Cherokee, and get John and his folks home. John you stay with the column. If there is a large group of undead there, you’ll get dragged off those snow mobiles. We will get you folks back to your people and help clear the area.” Jared said, not even asking for suggestions or waiting for agreement.
He didn’t add he planned on going up the parkway on their return, just him and maybe Logan. Jill like it or not was going to stay behind this time. it was his fault and his responsibility to get his friends back safely or bring their bodies back for burial.
An hour later Lloyd stood at the southern bridge across the Ocanaluftee, watching as the convoy of five trucks and seven snowmobiles led by a snowplow turned down the highway and started for Cherokee. He knew Jared had folded to easy. He only hoped that Jill could keep the redheaded idiot from doing something stupid like heading off by himself into the mountains on a rescue mission.

Jared drove slowly thru the ruins of Cherokee. What ever had sparked the fire, had burned through many of the old business’s and homes on the outskirts of the town. Flames still danced in the snow-choked ruins. They crossed the bridge where they had stopped to talk on the last trip here, the plow taking out twenty undead who were clustered on the span. Graham, on his snowmobile, pulled ahead after the bridge and guided them thru the streets till they were heading up the wooded slope to the gates of the compound.
As they emerged from the tree line onto the flattened hilltop they could see well over fifty zombies trying to scratch their way into the compound. Another two hundred lay scattered on the ground around the walls, many with arrows sticking out of them.
The snowmobiles peeled off and fell back behind the rest of the vehicles. Using the larger vehicles as cover, and keeping an eye on their back trail in case undead put in an appearance.

“Park and dismount!” Jared transmitted. The line of vehicles slowed then stopped, as the still mobile undead turned and headed towards the idling trucks.
Jared leaped down cradling his rifle in his arms watching as the undead bore down on them. It was an unnerving sight, but one he was growing used to, he thought as he called out an order.
The group spread out in a skirmish line, weapons at High ready. Most of the mean and wome were nervous at being out in the open, there could be zombies in any direction just waiting to sweep down on them.
“Take em out!” Jared said as he started shooting. It was a turkey shoot all things considered. Zombies fell one by one, but for every one put down there was two more still mobile. The steady firing kept up, undead bodies tumbled to the ground their numbers finally thinning.
The Cherokee men and women on the wall held their fire to avoid overshooting and hitting the people on the other side of the zombies. “ cease fire, Melee weapons “ Jared called out, slinging his Commando, then drawing his tomahawks advancing on the remaining ten undead with Jill on his left and Logan on his right.
It was a short brutal fight,Jared stood over the last corpse, and sheathed his tomahawks, looking around at the carnage before the walls, wondering if one day the undead would just drop over and this would finally end. God he was sick of this, putting down the undead might be a mercy but it was hard on a mans soul. With his rifle back in his hands, he ejected the half spent magazine and replaced it with a fully loaded mag, then walked over to the snow plow where Kale, and Mannie two of Lloyds men were still hunched over from throwing up.
Kale gave Jared a weak embarrassed smile, “sorry, weak stomach I guess” the dark haired man said.
“Nothing to feel sorry about, it happens to every one at some point. First time I was in a firefight I pissed my pants and threw up.” Jared told him. Kale looked almost relieved that Jared hadn’t made fun of Mannie and himself.
“All right lets mount up and get inside before a few more of these things show up” Jared called out. He waited, keeping an eye out for more undead, till every one was back aboard their vehicles then climbed into the van .
The convoy lurched forward once more climbing the narrow road to the top of the ridge, the gate opened as they approached and Graham and the others sped ahead into the compound. The Men and women of Cherokee rushed out the gates and began to search the dead that were scattered around the base of the wall. Nothing was left to waste, if it could be used it was taken.
The Van rolled into the gate as Jared watched men removing arrows from corpses, while others stripped the bodies of anything that might be of use, one man held up two pistol magazines he had taken off a corpse and showed it to another man.
Jared came to a stop in the old parking lot, and saw Graham standing by his snow mobile in deep conversation with the pretty girl from Gayle’s house.
There was something wrong, Graham appeared to be upset as he listened to the woman talk.
He finished his conversation and walked stiffly back to Jared, his face like stone. “Gayle died yesterday, two feathers shot her down. From what Kat said, after I left Gayle called her in and told her what was coming and that she would replace Gayle in the family and on the council.

She knew, Jared, She knew she was going to be killed and she sent me to help you,” Graham clenched his fists; he believed if he had been there Gayle would still be alive, Jared thought. I am damn familiar with that feeling these days. “I’ve known two feathers all my life, why would he kill her, she was like his own grandmother.” He said angrily.
Jared thought about that for a moment and had no answer. Really there was nothing he could have said. Gayle had acted one what she had believed, and if John and his friends hadn’t been at the Farm there wouldn’t have been enough men to hold the undead long enough for every one to escape across the bridge and the Farm would have fallen.
Jared remembered Gayles comment during their conversation about how she had been told things in her dream that were for her and her alone and wondered if she had been forewarned that John had to go, and she had to die.
Destiny, he thought disgusted at the thought, what a load of crap. Man created his own destiny, fate might get you to the crossroads but you picked which way to go.

The world he decided was truly insane, when I seriously stop and consider, Dreams and Prophecies as reality. God just get rid of these things, all I want to do is lounge naked on a beach with Jill for the rest of my life not wallow around shooting pus filled walking rotted meat bags.
“ I’m sorry John,” Jared said after a second. “ I didn’t really know her, but what little I saw of her, she seemed an incredible, smart and kind woman. And she obviously gave you her sense of humor.” Jared said sincerely.
Graham smiled sadly at that. “she was more like that pappy guy you told me of, only less cussing. she could tear a strip off you then have you laughing between each slap of the belt on your ass.” the pain in the other mans voice struck Jared pretty hard, he wasn’t sure if a hug or handshake was appropriate, or even if touching was okay. People and customs were thorny and difficult for him sometimes especially in this kind of situation.
He decided on touching Grahams shoulder. “I am sorry and if we can help.” Jared offered.
Graham slowly shook his head. “ no but thanks, the fact that you came with me to help in case they were under attack more than proves to the others here that you can be counted on and that Gayle was correct about you and the Farm.” Graham started to turn away then stopped. “ if you will wait an hour I’ll help you look for your friends.” Graham knew Kat had a handle on things here, and he really needed to get out of here and think with out having to deal with the sympathy and pity others would insist on dropping by and showing.
“ I thought we had agreed to wait” Jared said innocently.
“Lloyd agreed, you how ever will not leave one of your people out there any longer than necessary.” Graham replied, Jared tilted his head in acknowledgement.
“ I’ll wait an hour, and thanks John” Jared replied.
“ Well this idea sucks” Jason said as they looked down, the snow was falling so hard they couldn’t see to the bottom. To be honest they couldn’t see five feet down with the snow blowing wildly up the rock face from the heavy gusts of wind “ well we know where the bottom is, that’s a plus” Ori said as he shrugged off his pack and retrieved the climbing harness, Carbiners and other gear. “bright side is we can’t miss the ground.”
“you really want to head down in this shit” Jason asked. Ori jerked a thumb over his shoulder back towards where the zombies were.
“if they decided to head this way, we wont see them till they are almost on top of us.” Ori pointed out, his mind busy studying the conditions they would face going down.
if they didn’t rappel down or climb up Their only other option was to head for the tunnel this side of the barricade and shelter there, and to be honest it was to dark and to open for Ori to feel comfortable in and he damn sure didn’t want to light a fire in the tunnel and draw the undead. Not to mention the wind cut down the blue ridge would blow right through the tunnel and cut through their clothes like a knife. As an added bonus from hell the undead could show up at any time, leaving them with no place to go.
It didn’t look good, from any angle, he knew he could make it fairly easily, but he doubted Jason could make this, in normal circumstances they would just walked the road, but that was certain death these days. The only option they really had, was to scale the short vertical face next to the road, and reach the steep slope above, earlier he had seen multiple places along the slope that could be used for shelter.
Going down the wall to the road below, had its own set of problems, no visibility, high winds, ice and snow that made the descent more dangerous down a vertical cut with no place to stop, and possibly an army of undead waiting at the bottom. Being blown all over the bare cut face, and possibly having a rope cut by a stone shard that would send them hurtling to their deaths wasn’t something he really wanted to risk.
He glanced up the mountain, not really seeing much thru the snow. But he knew about a hundred feet up there was a shelf, a large one with trees on it. In good weather, the climb up would be a moderate challenge. But only the first fifty feet since what part was sheer with few hand and foot holds. He knew he could make it with little problem. The wind and ice would be the biggest complications But Jason? he doubted Jason had the skill or knowledge. All we have to do is make it fifty feet then it will get easier. The slope is steep, but the trees and brush will block the wind, and there will be plenty of hand and foot holds.
So many choices and none of them good he thought.
“ okay look “ he said and outlined the problems as he saw them. Jason at least wasn’t panicking and that was good. But the longer they stood here the greater the chance that zombies would appear out of the snow and it would be all over but for the screaming like little girls.
“ A hundred feet to climb and camp, sounds better and easier than risking the wind and wet rocks, and zombies going down.” Ori was in total agreement; they couldn’t stand here all day and night. The temperature was dropping as the storm intensified, they needed to get into shelter and do it soon.
If they were attempting this during the summer, the climb would actually be fairly easy with little gear needed, but in this weather, and Jason along he would rather approach it like it was the eiger.
“ Okay I’ll go first “ Ori said as they moved to the wall side of the Blue ridge. “ Ill help you as much as I can.” Ori assured him.
“ Thanks” Jason said, he had never been a climber, rappelling yes, and he loved it. though the thought of rappelling in this weather made his testicles want to climb up and throttle his brain. But climbing, he had always been a bulky guy, a weight lifter, not exactly the body type you wanted to try to hang on to a sheer wall. What he climbed, true rock climbers sneered at.
“ Its not hard, just do what I tell you” Ori said then had Jason drop his pack and dump it out. He hated wasting time, but he wanted to make sure the pack was packed correctly and the weight distributed properly to make the climb a bit easier. Once he had finished, he had Jason get into his climbing harness. Ori checked him over, eyeing the knot he shook his head and retied it.
With that done, Ori started up the wall, setting Stoppers every so often, the climb was tricky with the ice and snow, but for him it wasn’t all that hard. Only the wind made it tricky and twice gusts of wind and the blinding snow almost knocked him loose.
He reached the top of the cut and carefully moved onto the slope where he slipped between two boulders and he roped himself in to position then set the belay before he tugged on the rope signaling Jason to start up.

Jason couldn’t believe he was doing this. fifty feet to clear the roughest part had sounded easy. It took a minute to get his balance and pull himself up even a foot. T hen the wind began to strike his pack, threatening to tear him loose and send him sailing off the mountain. He pulled himself up, his fingers wrists and forearms were burning. He climbed slowly and steadily, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulders, arms and back.

Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder. “ Hang on, don’t look down” Ori said in his ear. And of course Jason looked down and almost hurled up his nonexistent breakfast, forty feet down, a zombie stood there pawing at the wall. He only saw it for a moment then it was gone swallowed by the snow again. he looked at Ori who was hooking his line into some kind of rod with a carbiner. “ I told you not to look” Ori said, his voice almost lost to the wind.
“at least I was up here” Jason commented. Ori didn’t respond.
Ori hadn’t warned Jason, when he first saw the thing, because Jason was actually out of reach of the zombie by a couple of feet. They must have been walking up the road the entire time, Ori realized, and if it weren’t for the storm, they would have been seen.

He had feared if he said a word to the already worried Jason, the man might have reacted badly and fallen back down onto the parkway and that would have been that. he stayed silent and pointed up. Jason looked up and then said clearly “ Lead on McDuff.”
The climb was a nightmare for Jason. His muscles burned, his back was killing him. His fingers felt raw and had stopped protesting, but now he could barely feel them. Once off the cut, they were past the vertical climb and up where there were plenty of boulders, trees and other things to grab a hold of. it was still steep, and getting harder to climb. Handholds were getting slick, snow and ice was sliding down and falling down into his face.
At one point his hand slipped and he found himself hanging there one handed, afraid to move. He knew if he let the fear he felt get the better of him he would make a mistake and end up falling to the road below.

He tried to get a firmer grip with his feet but they kept slipping, his arm and hand was growing weak, and if he fell free the only thing that might stop him from plummeting to the road below was the rope.
The slope went under the bottom of the ledge, so the climbers, Ori really would have to move along the bottom of the ledge to reach the lip and pull himself up then help Jason reach the safety of the ledge.
Ori reaching the ledge set a stop and was about to pull himself up onto the top of the ledge when he felt three sudden rapid pulls on the line and knew exactly what it meant, Jason needed help.
Rapidly he secured the line so Jason couldn’t fall. Then set the second line, double wrapped, and went back over the ledge face down in a Free Rappel the wind beating at him.

Panic hovered in the wings of Jason’s mind waiting to consume him. suddenly a hand caught his wrist in a vise like grip.
“ Come on you can do it” Ori said, hanging there upside down in his harness, one hand grip stopping the free end of his line, his feet hooked around the upline . “ your good, you cant fall.” Jason struggled for a moment and then his feet found a good grip and he was suddenly stable. “ Secure your line like I showed you and hang on” Ori said, watching as Jason secured his line. Then Ori somehow flipped upright and scrambled up the line and vanished into the snow and wind.
The wind tore at Jason; it had intensified while they were climbing. He really wanted to reach their destination and at the same time didn’t want to move from this small secure spot. He had no idea how long he clung there, fighting the wind, snow and cold refusing to move a muscle. Then suddenly there was a tug on his line then Ori was pulling him up.
He scrambled for hand and foot holds more confident now. With Ori’s help he moved up rapidly, till he at last reached the lip and pulled himself over and fell sprawling onto the rocky overlook.

Ori helped him up and they moved up into the tree line where Ori located a shallow cave maybe eight foot deep and about as wide, that was safely away from the overlook. “rest in there and let me look around “ Ori whispered into his ear.

Ori disappeared into the weather leaving Jason alone. Grateful for a reprieve Jason fell back against the rock wall at the back of the cave, thankful to be out of the wind and snow. The muscles in his arms and back were trembling now, in a little bit it was going to be difficult and painful to move.
Taking off his pack he dug out a three packs of hand warmers, removing his boots he slipped one into each boot and slipped his feet back into them then held one with both hands. The grey light was fading into darkness, when Ori reappeared dragging a tree branch.  Ori dug thru the snow near the mouth of the shallow cave till he got down to the leaves and other detritus.
As Ori set up the fire wood he started talking. “ We are pretty safe here, its so steep around this spot, no zombie I’ve seen can make it up the narrow trail I found. Its only slightly less steep than the climb we just made.” He said as he used a folding saw to cut the almost dry limb into small logs and sat them beside the pile of tinder and smaller sticks he had built up.
“ Where did you find dry wood?” Jason asked.
“ Its amazing what you can find under overhangs and dense brush.” Ori replied.
Ori took off his pack and set it against the wall, and then retrieved a small can from the side pocket of his pack. “I cheat sue me “ he said as he poured lighter fluid on the tinder. then using a lighter from his pack set it aflame. “ To cold to even try to use primitive methods “ he explained then pointed to a pile of tender and twigs. “ feed that stuff in slowly. I’ll be right back” he said then vanished back into the storm. Reappearing minutes later with more logs and limbs, The logs he stacked next to the fire to dry out. then he cut the some of the limbs into equal lengths.

Jason watched as Ori hammered the four limbs into the ground he had cleared at the mouth of the cave, forming a narrow rectangular shape in front of the cave. With that done he placed the remaining logs between the stakes, forming a wall of logs in front of the shallow cave maybe five feet from the fire.

Ori went out again and came back with more logs till he had a four foot high wall built then bound the top of the stakes together so they wouldn’t shift out of place and spill the logs out. Once that was done he place Stoppers into the rock over the cave and then pulled a poncho from his pack and hooked it to the Stoppers and then placed the free end across the log wall and weighted it in place with rocks.

Ori wiggled into cave and flashed a grin at Jason, who looked exhausted. He settled himself into the cave and sighed feeling the gathering warmth. He fed a couple of logs into the fire from the pile he had placed next to it. “nice idea building a wall like that “ Jason said pointing his hands finally working.
“ it’s a wall yes, but it’s main job is to act as a reflector. It reflects the heat from the fire back into the cave and blocks the wind. Add in the poncho as a wind breaker and we will be as cozy as bugs in a rug.” Ori explained. “ Speaking of get out your poncho” Jason found the poncho and passed it to Ori who strung it up quickly across one of the gaps between the log wall and the cave blocking the wind from that direction. Placing a few rocks to hold the bottom of the poncho in place he moved back to the wall again smiling. “ we can block the other gap off in a little bit, need circulation for the smoke. But once the snow covers everything it will get really warm in here.”
“ Where did you learn this stuff” Jason asked,
“ Here and there, some in the army. Some in the civilian world. Sometimes we had people ask us to guide them on some really rough trips. Had to have these skills to make money. I can lead people on this kind of stuff, but I have to admit, I enjoy white water, well any water trips more. Water, sun and sand. That’s the life. and of course women in bikinis.” Ori said the smile faltering and sliding from Jasons face as he remembered the women in bikinis were dead, the world was dead, and no one would be hiring him to take them out into the woods again.

Jason sat there for a moment “ I feel totally useless, what I called climbing was nothing like what we just did. And I thought I was pretty survival ready and tough, but I don’t know a quarter of what you guys do.” He said staring into the fire.
“ Don’t worry, buddy. I think Ill be teaching you a lot of things about wilderness survival before we get back. Your pretty steady in a pinch and did a damn good job on that climb.” Jason felt himself smiling at the compliment.
Ori picked up Jason’s harness and tossed it to him. “ Lets do some practice, get that on and Ill show you how to tie in using a bowline and thumb. Some people use the figure of eight follow through, but I prefer the bowline and thumb in this kind of weather its easier to undo if your line freezes.” He said as pulled out a coil of 9m rope.

Outside, the wind moaned thru the trees. Snowdrifts shifted and changed with the wind. It was easy to understand how primitive man had feared the world was dying during the winter. The snow steadily piled up covering all but the open gap till there was only a hump of snow with a natural looking hole in its side.
Jared returned to camp with Logan and John, disappointed at not having found his friends and angry that he couldn’t stay out there to look longer. But the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. The storm was getting bad by the time they staggered into the visitor center. And of course he returned to an equally angry Lloyd and Jill. The two of them tore him a new ass for going looking for Ori. Finally as a very pregnant Sharon brought them coffee, Jill sat down next to him and kissed him on the cheek. A first really, neither of them had ever done PDA except for hugging or handholding.

Taking the steaming cup, of rare hundred percent coffee, he took a sip and sighed with pleasure. “we found the truck, but it was empty. All most all their gear was gone.” He paused to take another sip of coffee. “It looked like they made it over the barricade and into the tunnel. After that they must have shagged on out of there because there was no sign of them in the tunnel. By the time we got there it was snowing pretty heavily so we couldn’t look around too much. Didn’t really have the gear to make it overnight so we headed back this way.

We left the truck there so if they do come back they would have wheels to get them back here.” He saw the looks on Linda and Beth’s faces. “ don’t worry, they got out alive. And we didn’t see a single zombie on the other side of the barricade.

I’m betting Ori found them a place to shelter in and as soon as the weather gets better, we will met them coming down from the Mountian.” He knew that they, particularly Beth, took only scant comfort from his words. However, he didn’t know what else to say.
He didn’t want to tell them about the group of zombies that had been lurking around the truck, as if waiting for Ori and Jason to return.
It had taken a bit of work to kill that group of undead with out getting bitten but he wasn’t going to leave them there, in case Ori did make a try for the truck.
He turned and looked at Chris, “ how did the weapons drills go today?” Chris shrugged. “Not to bad, ran thru mag swaps and how to properly sight and shoot. But didn’t use any ammo today. Figure we might be a bit low to be wasting it.”
“ Good thinking, but we need to pick the ten best at the farm and our own folks and let them shoot some. With out actually shooting a weapon its pointless.” Jared commented.
“ I let Sharon get away with out assuming the prone position” Chris said with a grin.
“ damn good thing to asshole, I would have just wobbled back and forth on this belly like some huge kids toy.” Sharon responded. Chris’s eyes centered on her breasts, her pregnancy enlarged breasts
“With those…” he started to say but was cut off by Mary who lifted a hand.
“Say it and I will slap your head into next week” she warned. Chris grinned and set back in his chair.
Ronny with a pained look on his face said“ now you see how I’m abused” Mary only laughed. Jared forced himself to smile as he glanced at Beth who hadn’t allowed herself to become distracted. She was worried about Ori and wouldn’t stop worrying till either Ori was back or his body was found.
The next day the storm had grown dumping a record amount of snow in the valley. Jared paced the visitor center, betraying his nervousness. Finally, around noon, he summoned Logan. “We are going for a ride” he said. “ get your gear, we are going to take the snow plow down big cove road. Lloyds right about the Parkway. If the park thought it was too dangerous to clear during the winter Ill bow to their expertise. So I’ll take the low road.”
They got the plow refueled and loaded their gear. Once they got in to the cab it didn’t take long for it to heat up. “I suddenly feel like I’m Kurt Russell in the Thing” Jared muttered. Logan knew who Kurt Russel was but didn’t know the movie, he just nodded and settled back into the seat.
Jared put the snowplow in gear. Logan could feel the almost soothing vibration of the motor thru the seat. Amazed at how it brought back memories of life before the zombies. it was like being wrapped in a cocoon, safe from reality for the moment.

Once they passed thru the barricade at the bridge, they trundled down big cove, pushing snow and bodies out of the way, till they made it past the what was left of the maze. “come spring time, its going to stink around here.” Jared observed, Logan didn’t want to think about that he stared out the window at the river, where the water still flowed past ice slicked rocks. “ problem is if Ori and Jason come down the ridge they will end up on the other side of the river.” Jared observed.

“ but at least if we see them over there, we know they are alive and can go back and get what ever we need to get to them.” Logan replied. They rode in silence for awhile. Seeing nothing but snow, the river and occasionally caught glimpses of the far ridge through the snow..
Jared finally brought the plow to a stop. “ Another mile and we will be on top of the Raiders camp” he said.
“ Do you think they are still there” Logan asked, his hand sliding over to rest on the grip of his rifle.
“ Its possible, but I doubt it”
“ Why? I wouldn’t run off into this storm when I had a camp to stay in” Logan said, watching the snow blow around them.
“Remember they had a butt load of zombies chasing them. Me personally I would have stopped long enough to gather what I could and then keep going. The only way to lose the zombies would be to get out of sight and hearing.”
“ You really want to check the place out don’t you” Logan asked, almost smiling.

“yes, I do.” Jared replied staring ahead into the falling snow.
“Then lets roll. I bet even if the raiders are there we will spot them and be able to get away before they can shoot at us, and if theres zombies there, I am pretty sure with the snow and ice we can out run them.” Logan urged.
Jared sat there for a minute longer, doubting his gut feeling. But then pushed aside his doubts and put the plow back into gear. “ Lets check it out, an then head back.”

He watched the odometer closely slowing, as he got closer to where the camp had been. “ Keep a sharp eye out okay?” he told Logan. They crept forward, and then like a whale breaching the surface, an old turn of the century chapel appeared out of the snow. Its doors stood open.
“ That’s it, that’s their camp.” Jared said as he steered towards the chapel. He came to a stop. A few of the tents still stood, their walls snapping in the wind. Back in the trees, he could see a travel trailer leaning to one side with a flat tire, its door swinging open and closed with the wind.

“ are we getting out “ Logan asked. “ no, give it a few minutes. Lets see if any undead appear.” Logan sat back, he was more than happy to wait an hour if that’s what it took to keep from getting bitten. Finally, Jared lifted his rifle “ ready” he asked.
“ No but lets do it anyway” Logan said. Jared opened his door and the cold roared in.

Logan had been thru snow and snowstorms before, and it never ceased to amaze him how quiet it was. The only sound was from the wind blowing through the trees, the snow was like a curtain of white that cut their view down to maybe five feet not as bad as earlier. snow crunched under their boots as they walked up the snow covered steps of the chapel and peered inside. The glow from the plows lights lit some of the interior but not much. Huge sections were cloaked in shadows.

To the right of the door twenty feet in crates lay scattered around. Some of wood others green metal. “ Ammo crates” Jared commented as they stepped inside. Snow had blown maybe five feet into the chapel, creating a soft white fan shaped spray at the door. “No footprints in it “ Jared noted. Though a zombie could have entered before the snow and still be in here. Jared wasn’t too worried it was only one open room anyway.
He clicking on the mini mag clipped to the Tac rail of his rifle and swept it around the room, while Logan kept a watch at the door. The raiders had left all kinds of things he noted there were even a few maps on the floor near where the pulpit had been. Some one had take two pews and faced them at each other then placed boards across the seats to form a bed. There were still crumpled dirty sheets and a battered pillow still in place.

A metal barrel converted into a wood stove had been placed in a corner.
As his light swept across the walls, he stopped. A message had been scrawled in charcoal. “ Abandon all hope ye who enter here”he read aloud then dismissed it, as he moved to the ammo boxes.

Spotting a case of 5.56 he opened it and found to his delight it was half full. He went thru them rapidly and found two more 5.56 cases that were full, one case of 7.62. six boxes of 12 ga. were left in one case, and six boxes of .45 in another, he shrugged off his pack and stuffed the 12 gauge and .45 boxes into his pack. They must have stripped an armory or National Guard roadblock he thought
“Watch my back while I load this shit” he told Logan. He trudged back and forth for several minutes loading every bit of ammo. As he loaded the last case, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. the feeling that something was out there was to strong to ignore.
He walked quickly over to Logan. “ walk with me back the plow and get in on my side” he said.
“why your side” Logan asked.
“Because I have a feeling something’s out there and we cant see the passenger side from here. So get in on my side..” Jared replied, as he brought his weapon up to high ready p
“what ever you say.” Logan replied, not wanting to walk around the plow and find a hundred zombies waiting in its shadow.
They walked slowly back thru the still falling snow, as they approached the plow, Logan started to get nervous; he could almost feel something watching them.

The sudden image of the undead plodding thru the snow just out of sight came to him and he couldn’t shake it. Reaching the plow, Jared opened his door glad he had left the plow running. He peered into the cab checking to be on the safe side and then moved aside letting Logan climb in. Logan was no barely in his seat when Jared leaped in and slammed the door shutting out the storm and cold.

“ Damn” Jared muttered as shapes appeared in the light, staggering through the snow towards the plow, . Logan shivered and turned to look out the door and almost screamed, outside looking up at the window, a face stared back at him. Narrow and triangular, deep sunken leathery cheeks, tendrils of wispy white hair blew around its face, but the oddly shaped milky eyes sunk deep in the sockets, were locked on his face. The thin lips under the huge beak nose were pressed together, but as he stared the thing seemed to grin at him, cocking its head to the side almost like it was studying him. He raised his rifle ready to fire.

“ stop, don’t shoot out the damned window” Jared shouted as he put the plow in gear and backed up rapidly. Something hit Logan’s door hard enough to make the window rattle. Logan saw the thing still standing there its arm raised as the plow started to turn around.
And then they were hauling ass back down the road. and for once Logan wasn’t worried about sliding. He was worried that that damn zombie in the bowler hat, that had pointed at him, was right on their tail. He didn’t relax till they passed the Wall at the farm and crossed the bridge to safety. “ did you see that thing” he asked finally.
“what thing” Jared asked, as he drove up to the visitor center.
“That zombie that was staring at me back there, the fucker pointed right at me as we drove off. “
“Zombies don’t point” Jared said.
“This one damn sure did”
“ maybe he was missing all but one finger so it looked like he was pointing.” Jared suggested as he parked the plow in the parking lot. Logan had to admit that sounded more plausible than pointing zombies. he gathered his gear and threw open the door leaping to the ground as Chad, Chris and Jill rushed out.
Logan shut the door of the plow “ we found ammo” he told Chad who was looking past him at the cab of the plow.
“ What the hell did you guys hit” Chad asked. Logan turned and saw a fist sized dent in the door, and suddenly believed again that zombie had been pointing no matter what Jared said.

Jill only glared at Jared as he pulled off his coat and settled into a chair. The others clustered around waiting to hear what they had found if anything. Jared told them quickly about how they had went all the way to the Raiders camp and found it empty. A few folks were thrilled at the news of the Ammo they had found.

“ I can’t believe you risked your life to check out that camp” Jill said suddenly. “ You should have taken a team”
“ didn’t need a team, I had Logan.” Jared replied wondering exactly what her problem was totally unaware he was being a typical male at the moment.
“nothing went wrong, we even beat the zombies to the truck. there was only one close enough to have done anything, and thanks to Jared’s gut feeling, I got in on the driver side of the truck instead of the passenger side or that creepy looking fuck would have had me for lunch.” Logan commented as if that made everything all right, he fell silent when Jill turned a glacial glare on him.

Mary sidled up to Jared and pitched her voice low “ you might want to consider the fact, the lady is in love with you and you ran off like a damn fool with only one other guy.”
He sat there surprised, and wanted to face palm himself for not thinking. That is getting to be a really bad habit old son he chided himself. He stood suddenly and walked over to Jill. “ Im sorry, It’s the way I am. Id rather take chances my self than to send some one else to do it for me. But for you, Ill try to hold it down to a minimum okay”
She nodded, her anger fading by a degree or two. “ about time you hairy lump” she said wiping at her eyes. Jared squatted next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.


Jason woke with a start grasping for his rifle, the realized that the noise had been Ori wiggling into the cave. “ Sorry, next time I will wake you before I come in” Ori said as he stacked the logs he had pushed into cave next the fire. Jason ached; his arms felt they would beat him to death if he tried to do anything other than sit here.
“ You should have woke me up before you left” Jason said.
“Figure you were beat. So I let you sleep.” Ori said as he warmed his hands over the fire.

“ Its still snowing its ass off out there, so we get to stay put for awhile longer.” Ori said as he dug thru his pack and pulled out a baggy of Jerky. He opened it and Jason felt his mouth water at the smell. He reached out to take the piece that Ori offered him and winced at the pain in his arm and back.
“ might have something for that” Ori muttered as he detached the first aid kit from his pack and dug thru it. “ damn thought I had some muscle rub, so you have two choices, start moving and see if they loosen up or Ill have to massage your back and arms and probably your legs too.”
“ Rob and Eric would pay good money to watch that” Jason laughed as he flexed his arms and tried to turn side to side and almost passed out as the muscles in his back cramped. Ori shook his head, but said nothing letting Jason deal with it.

After a few minutes Jason gave up and leaned back and started to chew on the jerky. “ Here.” Ori said offering him a silver hip flask. “ apple cinnamon shine, smoothest stuff youll ever taste. Hope the old guy that makes this stuff is still alive. Would be a waste of talent if he wasn’t.”
Jason accepted the flask as he unscrewed the lid he asked. “ isnt this stuff illegal. Or wasn’t it. Oh hell you know what I mean.”
“ he didn’t sell it, only gave away a bottle here and there, and sometimes the guys he gave it to, would clean his barn out, or cut his grass. And since all the idiots that made the idiot laws are now well and truly dead. Or mostly dead it doesn’t matter.”

Jason couldn’t argue with that so he tilted the flask and took a sip, and almost moaned in pleasure at the taste, it tasted just like apple pie. And it barely burned going down his throat. He felt a lot warmer to. Ori grinned and took the flask back. “ More than three shots of that stuff and you’ll be dancing naked in the snow screaming at the shine fairys to call 911 before you feet fall off.”

Jason laughed, but had to admit; just from that one sip he could see how fast that stuff would put you down for the count.
“ He made some peach shine once, I had six shots over two hours and was so fucked up, I lost my pants at his house and my underwear some where on the drive home. Thank god I wasn’t driving at least. Jared still wont tell me what happened to my underwear. He just laughs when I bring it up.” Ori said as Jason started laughing.
They sat there in companionable silence for a while. “ I wonder how Linda is taking this?” Jason said suddenly.
Ori shrugged “ about as well as Beth I’m sure.”
“ I never thought she was all that strong till this shit.” Jason said. “ She escaped a hospital, even saved two patients and got them to their families. Worked her way thru Nashville till she found a car and took it to get home. Surprised the hell out of me to be honest. Luckily she managed to get thru on the cell before the system went down. I was just about to try getting into the hospital to look for her. There were patients, staff and visitors that had barricaded themselves into rooms, and had broken out windows to scream for help. And I was going to go into all that, she saved my life with that call let me tell you.”
“ I was at home, when it all went down. My girlfriend and I saw the news, laughed about it. she headed home that morning to get ready for work and I never saw her again. Even managed to get within a block of her house, but the undead were so thick I couldn’t get past them. Turned around and headed to Jared’s. Sad part is, I have trouble remembering her name now.” Ori said with a shake of his head. “ that bothers me a lot sometimes.” He said softly.
Jason didn’t know how to respond to that so he stayed silent for a bit. “ I don’t know about you, but I only have three days worth of food in my pack.” Jason said finally, changing the subject.
“ Figured, I have about six. Which if we share food we can both it make about seven days total. And I have Vitamins” he said then dug thru his pack for a moment before pulling out a plastic container with compartments. He opened it and extracted two pills. Passing one to Jason. “ Vitamin D, medical grade. We can both use it.” he said then popped the other pill in his mouth and dry swallowed. “ so basically we have two days of waiting, then we have to leave regardless if we want to have a snow balls chance in hell of getting off this mountain.” Ori said thoughtfully.

By the next day Jason was still stiff and sore, but he could move a bit more than before. Ori taught him as much of the basics as he could and by nightfall was satisfied that Jason wouldn’t accidentally cut his own pecker off or fall down the mountain. They sat and talked about their lives before the Day. And found they had more in common than they first suspected.
By dawn they were awake and geared up. Jason shifted uncomfortably for a moment. “ not used to wearing a climbing harness under my pack.” He muttered. “ its going to pinch off my nuts.” Ori just flashed him a grin.
“ in this temperature, that’s okay we can put them in a baggy and your wife can sew them back on.” Ori said with a lopsided smile.
“ Funny har har” Jason said but smiled.
Reaching the edge of the shelf, Jason hesitated looking at the steep rocky shelf that wound around the outcrop. Here and there a tree grew up in the middle of what Ori optimistically called a trail.
“just do it slow, it will be fine.” Ori said as he started down. An Ice and rock axe dangling from his wrist. Ori moved cautiously setting up the Stoppers for forty feet then stopped and set the belay, before he tugged the rope to get Jason started across the trail, Removing the protections as he went. Even in the driving snow and wind, there were times that Jason could see the trail was barely wide enough for his feet. Inching around a tree, he was thankful, as hell for the Stoppers Ori had set out or his ass would be half way down the mountain by now. Finally he reached Ori’s position and clipped himself in and rested.

“same as before its only thirty more feet to the saddle” Ori said and set off.
Jason was tired, but when the rope jerked he set off, slowly working carefully down the trail using ever crack he could find for a grip. At one point, he felt the wind grab his pack, and somehow he managed to ram his hand into a crack as he was forced to twist at the waist as the pack pulled at him. Then it was over and he hugged the rock face.
Eventually he reached Ori, who motioned for him to unhook. The saddle was a low lying area between two rocky areas, the ground fell off sharply to either side. “ wait till I get over and Ill set the belay so if you slip Ill be able catch you.”
“ What if you slip” Jason asked.
“ cut the rope so you don’t go with me” Ori replied and started walking carefully across the saddle. Once across he set the belay device and tugged the rope. Jason made it across fairly fast.

“ okay we have maybe three more hours before we need to start looking for a campsite.” Ori said, then led the way into the snow shrouded dead trees.
“ what are you looking for.” Lloyd said as he pulled up a chair and set next to Jared who was studying a topo map of the area. “ just thinking about what the conditions are and responses.” Jared said. “ it been four days now” “
I know Jared, its possible they are still alive.” Lloyd said reassuringly.
“well I know Ori, he always carries enough food for six to eight days. And Jason packed the normal three day emergency load according to Linda. So that means they have around eight to nine days worth of food. Ori would have chosen the fastest route.” He said tapping the map, “ and the only place he could rappel down would be between the Sharrif tunnel and the rattle snake mountain tunnel. Ori knew there were zombies on the other side of the Barricade at Sharrif. So this is the only place he could have gone down. Trouble is its pretty steep almost sheer. And Jason has never climbed or rappelled anything like it and damn sure not in almost blizzard conditions.”
“ so your saying they are still on the road some where.” Lloyd asked, frowning as he thought over how likely either of the two men could survive in the open, unless they sheltered in one of the two tunnels.
“maybe, but I know Ori. He would have chosen to go up, and around. Its not as steep going up, at this point” Jared said pointing. “ and from there they could make it along this path across the saddle here and eventually reach this spot were theres a decent grade to make their way down and check the big cove road. or…” he paused for a second and looked at Lloyd. “ make for this old road just on the edge of Cherokee.”
“ but that would mean more climbing around. On a map its only a couple of miles but in reality it could take days to reach there.” Lloyd said, eyeing the map
“I know but that’s where I think he is going. Think about it, that’s an easier path, than trying to rappel down with a man who has only rappelled a few times in good weather”
“assuming they aren’t still on the road.” Lloyd pointed out. “and you really think climbing around up there is easier than rappelling down?”
“its only vertical in a few places, mostly its just steep slopes, with boulders, trees and plenty of handholds and places to shelter. Ori knows there is or was undead on the roads, so rappelling down in a snow storm could drop them right in the middle of a horde, so yes I think he would risk the climb.”
“ But just in case we are going to check out the road today. Right after breakfast, Me, Jill, Logan, Chad and Eric. Id like you to go along too.” Lloyd nodded, today might be their only chance to get up there. the snow had slacked off and was barely falling. But the wind kept driving sheets of snow around, that almost blinded a person.
“ maybe tomorrow the storm will have passed.” Lloyd suggested.
“ maybe, but Im not waiting on the off chance that the weather will improve. We will check the road past the barricade. Then wait a day or so and hit the unpaved road in Cherokee and take it all the way up. And spend a night or two if we have too.” Jared paused. “ after that if we don’t find them, Ill have to rethink whether I believe they are alive or not.”

Lloyd didn’t respond, he knew how hard that would be for Jared, and he wasn’t going to say anything that might sound like he didn’t care or didn’t understand. “ if you can wait till I get my gear Ill be glad to go with you.”
“ an hour then, that way we can all eat breakfast.” Jared said as he folded the map up and slipped it back in the pouch.

Chris drove the van, following closely behind the snow plow. “ Look at the view” jill said staring past Chris to the snow covered river valley and the ridge beyond. “ it would be nicer if we didn’t have two guys lost out here and possible zombies.” Chris responded.
She felt a moment of Chagrin, then let it pass. She knew Chris wasn’t being an asshole, he was just worried and wasn’t about to get side tracked.
As they pulled up to the barricade, there were four zombies standing in the thigh deep snow. Seeing the vehicles they tried to walk but didn’t seem to be able to force their way thru the snow. Jared hoped out of the plow with his Crossbow, and took aim.

Once the undead were dispatched, Chris pulled the van up next to Ori’s truck and parked. It had been a hell of a ride up, even with the plow clearing the way, and the chains they had slid a few times.

Jared had every one gear up and then had them check each other over one last time. Jill had wandered why they needed all the gear till Jared had pointed out, that if something happened. And they couldn’t get back to the Vehicles it was better to have this stuff with them than to not have it when the shit hit the fan. She didn’t argue, she remembered how long it had taken to get her stuff together when the zombies came, back in june. And she wasn’t in a mood to repeat that little performance again.

They climbed over the barricade and dropped down into the dark tunnel. At the far end they could see a spot of gray light from the outside. And then shapes moved across the light. There were zombies in the tunnel. Jared dropped his pack and drew a flare. One hit of the striker and it flared to life. He tossed it down the tunnel, really wishing he didn’t have to see to fight. “ no firearms” he said lifting the cross bow. Lloyd notched an arrow in the compound bow he carried, Chris cocked his own Crossbow. The rest took up melee weapons and waited.

the red flare flickered, lighting the tunnel with dancing red light. Twenty zombies were slowly trudging towards them. Jared let fly and his first bolt took one in the nose. It must have hit the spinal column because it pitched over. Lloyd and Chris loosed almost at the same time and two more zombies went down. Lloyds second shot took his next target in the throat. But it didn’t fall. Chris and Jareds weapons were slower to handle over all so they got off their second shots as Lloyd was loosing his third. This time the zombie dropped. Jared’s bolt took one in the shoulder and chris’s target fell to the ground.
“combat in slow motion” Chad said waiting anxiously. As three more zombies fell.
“that’s almost half of them.” Logan said as he lifted his axe and moved forward. Lloyd had found his rhythm and sent two more arrows downrange and each one dropped a zombie. Chris shot down a another, a half naked female zombie that had once been very pretty and tried not to let that bother him.
“ Ranged weapons down, melee up.” Jared said as he dropped the cross bow and pulled out both tomahawks. By the time it was over they had worked up a sweat. They put away their weapons and put their packs back on. Jared led the way thru the dark tunnel and out onto the other side where the wind cut thru their clothes like a knife.
There was no chance of finding tracks after so much snow. So Jared didn’t even try. His eyes scanned the road looking for threats. About midway he stopped and walked to the wall next to the road.
“What is it” Lloyd asked. Jared pointed to a black symbol drawn on the wall.
“it’s a trail code we use. He went up” Jared said staring up. His eyes came to rest on the ledge up above. “he went for that ledge, look at how it drops down to the right,and curves around the flank of the mountain to the saddle. that is where they went.” He paused and turned to Lloyd. “ and no Im not going to suggest we climb up there and check. I don’t know about you Lloyd, only Chris and myself have the skill to make that climb out of the rest of us.”
“ your sure then” Lloyd asked.
“damn sure. If they had rappelled down, he would have left a different mark and over on the side they would have gone down at.”
“ at least we know they were still alive after the battle.” He said.
“does that mean we are going back to the vehicles” Jill asked almost dancing in place to stay warm. “ unless you feel like being dragged up the mountain at the end of a Rope”.
“ no thanks Ill leave the kinky rope stuff to mary and Ronny. I just want to be able to feel my butt again.” Jill said,
“Lets head back scout out that unpaved road. they cant have reached it yet, so we have a day or two.” The two mile trip back to the Vehicles went faster than they expected. Jared climbed up the barricade and checked to make sure it was clear on the other side then helped get every one over.
The trip back down was uneventful. The only things they could see was snow, lots of snow and occasionally the road and river.
They managed to scout about halfway up the road. snow shrouded trees, bare of leaves loomed over the old track. In a year or two, it would be gone. With no traffic nature would reclaim it fairly fast. At the midway point, they pulled into a old yard of a collapsing log cabin. As they turned around Jared spotted something and stopped.

“cover my back “ he said as he slipped out of the plow and walked slowly over to a snow hump where something red was was partially exposed. He lifted his crossbow and poked at it with his toe. Seemingly satisfied he knelt and began brushing off snow, till he revealed a backpack with coils of rope and other gear attached. He gently removed it from the corpse it was attached to, then carried it back to the plow. Back inside he shrugged. “ we can always use more gear” he said as he drove away, the van slowly following.

The camp was actually a good one. Ori had Discovered a Rock shelter that was fifteen foot deep, forty feet long and ten feet high. There was a crack in the back wall that actually led into three small caves. Once they had check out the caves to make sure there was nothing in it that might not like neighbors. Ori and Jason hauled in firewood and soon a merry little blaze was burning the second cave where the floor was more vertical. They refilled their canteens and water bottles in the Pool of water in the last cave.
“ If I weren’t in such a hurry to get back to heat and sex, I could camp here for a few days” Ori commented. Jason only nodded in agreement as he stripped off his pants and hung them to dry near the fire.
“ you know, I never thought Id be hiking and climbing a mountain in a snow storm and camping in caves” he said as he pulled out an MRE and ripped it open. “ Mmm love the short bread “ he said holding up a package.
“ Id kill for a thick beef stew right now.” Ori said as he rummaged around in his pack and pulled out his own meal. “ but Ill have to settle for stroganoff.” He grinned at the look on Jasons face. “MRE’s are great for emergencies, no doubt. But the next time we hit a wally world or outfitters shop. See if they have Mountian Food meals. Best stuff on the market.” Ori commented.
“ I hate you” Jason said with a grin.
“ really, you do. Is that why you took off your Clothes and are lounging seductively, short bread in hand, next to the fire.”
“what you don’t find Short bread hot.” Jason asked.
“ only every other Sunday, at noon. During leap year. Then you might get me.” Ori replied
“ oh well cant blame a guy for trying.” Jason said laughing. “ never knew you were such a smart ass. You never talked much at camp.”
“ don’t talk much at the best of times. But I talk less around people I don’t know.” Ori replied as he fixed his meal.

They sat there for a while eating, and then Jason kicked back in his sleeping back with a book he had in his pack. “ you carry a book in your pack” Ori asked.
“ I carry two. One is a survival book. Figured it might come in handy in an emergency. And this one is a spy thriller.” Jason explained.
“ aah “ Ori said.
“ aah as in cool, or aaah as in how stupid.” Jason asked.
“ aah as in it was the only response I could come up with.” Ori replied a slight smile flashing across his face.

Ori lay back on his sleeping bag near the entrance, listening to the storm build back up. They had actually made good time today. Depending on the weather tomorrow, they might actually make their destination by nightfall or the next day at the latest. He didn’t know what to expect when they got there, with a road, there was always the possibility that zombies might be around. Deal with it when it comes he told himself.

Jason lay there reading for maybe ten minutes than put the book back in his pack. “for some reasons I cant read that with out wondering if the characters survived The day” he said. “ it ruins the whole idea of escaping from reality when reality keeps intruding.”
Ori looked at him for a moment, then said “ I met Jared in the Reserves, we had both been off active duty for two years at that point.” He chuckled at a memory. “ any way our Reserve unit got shipped to Korea. Some fun and Kimchee, which by the way was the nastiest stuff every invented by man. So one weekend, we get some downtime and head to Seoul. Things were going great, beer, music, dancing, and the women. Let me tell you, some of those Korean women were hot, with a capital H. So there we were having a good time, and we see this Grunt over at a table with six of the hottest women in the bar. Well we walk over determined to have a talk with this hogger of hotness, and what does he do, invites us to sit down buys us beer and introduces himself. Seems he was in our unit too, we both vaguely remember seeing him around but he kept to himself. “ He paused smiling. “ anyway, it gets late and we head back to the Barracks, our new friend hauls along three of the women. Well the barracks are supposed to be closed to females after 11. but usually no one checks. So we sneak em inside. get up to our new friends room and start doing what comes naturally. Well this guy’s new woman is a bit of a kink ho. And whips out some handcuffs and cuffs him to the bed and climbs on top and starts playing bed room rodeo, whooping and hollering.
What none us knew, was the E6 in charge of the barracks had been kicked out of his house by the wife and headed to the barracks to sleep. Well he hears all this whooping and hollering, gets out his keys and heads upstairs. “ Ori stopped for a moment and wiped at his eyes, half laughing.

“ well the door flies open, and the E6, Chavez was his name if I remember rightly, stomps in and glares at me first and yells. “ what the hell are you doing in here, no women in the barracks after hours.” Now the kink ho hasn’t even slowed down, and is hollering YEEEE HAAAAA. And Chavez wheels around, and Ronny rattles the cuffs and goes. “ Sarge I tried to make her leave, save me” all the while his woman is just riding hell bent for leather. She had been paid and was determined to give him his moneys worth” Jason was laughing now. “ Chavez turned bright red, spluttered something about telling the Top and stormed out of the room.”
Ori had to stop he was chuckling so hard tears were in his eyes. After a moment he got control and continued. “ Well the next morning, there’s like a hundred sets of handcuffs and boxes of condoms at the barracks room door. and we are all were summoned to CQ. We are told to go into the commander’s office. So we march in to the office, snap to attention and report in. sure we are about to get the butt reaming of the century. Well Colonel White, just reaches into his desk and pulls something out. he walked over to Ronny and tells him to hold out his hand. Then drops a handcuff key into Ronnys hand. The First Sergeant, the Shirt as we called him, is sitting on the couch, turning red trying not to laugh as he tells all three of us we were scheduled for more hand to hand training so no more four foot hookers could handcuff and rape us.”
Jason was laughing pretty hard by then. “ and that’s how we met Ronny.” Ori said as he pulled the hip flask out and passed it to Jason. Jason took a swig and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“That’s funnier than hell” Jason said,
“ Remind me later to tell you about the time Chris tried stand up comedy amateur hour. Or when Ronny met Mary.” Ori said, resting his head in his clasped hands chuckling at the memory.

Jason started to pass the flask back but Ori waved it off. “ drink a bit more buddy, tomorrow might be rough. Enjoy tonight. Besides I have a couple of quarts stashed away.”
The next day they left the shelter of the cave, and stepped back out in a renewed storm. Visibility was maybe two feet. They roped together, and worked their way across the mountain with Ori working ahead setting up a safeties for Jason.

Jason had almost argued about that, but then as they were crossing a fairly steep section, Jason hit a icy rock and his feet shot out from under him. He had time to shout and then suddenly found himself hanging by the safety line ten feet down. With Ori’s help he got back up on the trail and they continued their trek.
The gray light was fading out into black again, as Jason finally reached the last leg of the days travel. Snow fell around them, lighter than it had been all day. Ori scouted around for almost an hour till he found a spot about ten feet in diameter in the midst of several large boulders that lay tumbled together.
Using the ponchos again, Ori rigged up a shelter in the middle of the clump of boulders and then they both collected firewood. In the flickering light of the fire, Ori unfolded a map.

“ okay tomorrow is where it will get dangerous., you see we are now just above this ridge.” He said pointing to the spot on the map. “We climb down here and head north and a bit west and should come across a building and a Road. chance of zombies are moderate to severe with a chance of piss pot full.”

Jared walked out side, with a scarf wrapped around his face to keep the biting cold wind off. He almost preferred the heat of the middle east to this shit. Almost, of course there a man would have go deal with fragging camel spiders as well as zombies and to be honest he wasn’t sure which one was worst. On the plus side, the odds of running into a zombie clown were zip in the middle east.

Lloyds folks had done wonders in the last few days, felling trees and building a wall across the back of the farm. with only a small gate so they could enter the woods on the other side and hunt.

Lloyd had seen a huge ten pointer up on a ridge the other day and was all but drooling to go after it. It took some guts to work outside like that during the heavy snow. Every time there was a lull in the snow fall, the sound of chainsaws and cracking wood filled the air.

“ When are we leaving to look for Ori” Logan asked as he walked out side to stand beside Jared.
“ Two hours. Rob wants to change the oil and do some minor work on the plow before we leave.” Jared turned and looked at the younger man and frowned. He had dark rings around his eyes and looked like hell. “ did you sleep at all last night” He asked. Logan shrugged and looked embarrassed.
“not really kept having nightmares” Logan said, not eager to discuss it, the sooner he could forget that dream the better.
Instantly Jared was concerned“ about what” he asked as casually as he could.
“ That damn zombie at the chapel. Out of all the ones I’ve seen, that one scared me shitless. Still does.” He said and shuddered.
“ Sounds like it must have been intense if it kept you from sleeping all night.” Jared observed as Logan nodded
“ It kept talking to me, taunting me. And no matter where I ran to it was there waiting for me.” Logan said a trace of the nights fear lingered in his voice.
“ It talked to you?” Jared asked.
“ yeah that was the weird part. Its mouth never moved other than to smile or grin. But I could hear it in my mind.” he shivered slightly and it wasn’t from the cold. It kept telling me we couldn’t protect the kids, it was better to give up now. Just step away and you’ll live.” He paused for a moment. “ In my dream I think it had been a serial killer or something like that. You know how in dreams are you know things with out being told them”
Jared stared at him for a moment and felt the anger boiling in him. Even if it was just a nightmare, it meshed with the other dreams. Made a twisted sort of sense, yet another form of evil stalking the innocent. As if Zombies out to eat them wasn’t enough. and all we have to do to allow evil to flourish is to do nothing. To stand aside and ignore honor and the basic decency. Well screw you, you evil bastard. The devil can take a flying fuck because I wont stand aside. This far and no further he quoted silently.

“ You okay?” Logan asked suddenly. Jared realized he was clenching his fists so hard his nails had drawn blood.
Relaxing he nodded. “I’m fine sorry. Look if your exhausted stay here today. Get some rest get some Tatiana, and relax.”
Logan smiled slightly and said “ not going to let you down man. You guys would do what it took to find me or any one else in this group. So the least I can do is the same thing. Sleep be damned.” Jared looked at logan for a moment, gaining new respect for the younger man.

“ Here’s the deal, you can go today. But the first time I think your dead on your feet. You go to the van and get some sleep. And regardless of what happens, tomorrow your ass stays here in bed with your woman and that’s an order.”
Logan grinned for a second then said “Lets just find them today, and we can all spend tomorrow in bed with who ever we like.” Jared laughed pushing aside dark thoughts and fears.
“ Go get your gear before I have Linda tranq your ass.”
Logan still smiling headed off to gather what he needed. Jared stood there for a moment lost in thought before he got busy himself.
two hours later the team was assembled and loading their gear aboard the vehicles.

Jared looked over the team he was taking today. Jill and Chris with him in the plow. Ronny, Logan, John one of Logan’s guys, and Chad would be in the Van. While Lloyd was going to follow along with three men from the Farm and cover the exit, just in case a horde of zombies decided to head up the road behind them.

They mounted up and headed out an hour after Jared had wanted. But Rob had insisted on the extra time for the plow. And there was no way Jared wanted to lose it at this point. So he had not complained one bit.
As they approached the edge of Cherokee, a group of zombies could be seen along the middle of the road. Jared almost laughed at the sight as the undead tried to flounder thru the snow. It wasn’t all that deep but the undead weren’t very coordinated at the best of times. He had every one stop while he aimed the plow and drove over them a few times till he was satisfied nothing was left. “ form up and lets move.” He said turning towards the road.

Ori had spent two hours making snowshoes out of tree limbs and paracord, which impressed the hell out of Jason, They strapped the snoe shows on and began to trudge slowly down the ridge. Keeping a wary eye out for the undead. After so many days they were both exhausted and it showed.

The snow still fell around them, drifting down thru the skeletal limbs of the trees. The light had a bluish tinge to it which made them feel colder. Then thru the trees, Jason saw what looked like a roof. Ori pointed to a rocky outcropping that loomed ten feet off the ridge top. Reaching it Ori motioned at Jason to stay put, and then dumped his snowshoes to climb up. Moments later he was back beside Jason. He strapped on his snow shoes quickly.

“ theres a cabin up ahead. With zombies out side of it. maybe forty in all. But there might be more I cant see.” He said softly. “ they cant move well in the snow, but its not deep enough to trap them.”
“ we can go around them right” Jason asked.

“ if we don’t make any noise, yes. But the way they are acting, I think some one is inside that cabin. “ Ori explained.
“so you think we should rescue them. Why not get back to the farm and bring back help instead.”

Ori thought about that for a bit then nodded. “ it shouldn’t take more than hour and a half to reach the bottom if we can get onto the road. then another hour and half to two hours to make it to the farm. sounds like a plan “ he said. “ lets move.”
They moved silently at an angle away from the cabin, ghosting thru the trees. As they drew closer to the road, with the cabin almost a hundred feet away, the sound of heavy motors suddenly shattered the silence. As one the undead at the cabin turned and began to head down the road. Ori crouched low, thankful that Jason followed his lead and taken cover. They were twenty feet from the road. They didn’t dare move at this point. Any movement would do nothing but show the undead they were there.

Ori said nothing but Jason had to have realized as he did that it was more than likely that the on coming vehicles were from the Farm, they sat and watched as the zombies streamed by a hideous parade of rotted flesh and a catalog of injuries. The smell couldn’t even be driven away by the wind. The last few were passing Ori and Logans hiding spot, when there came a sudden crack as a limb, overloaded with snow, gave way and crashed down behind Ori. .
Heads turned, and many of the undead began to stagger towards the sound, which took them directly towards the two men in hiding. Ori wanted to curse of all the fucking times. There was no way they could stay hidden now. Those damn things would be on them like stink on shit. He stood up before the zombies could get to close, and instantly was the center of attention.
“ Run to the cabin” Ori barked as The undead immediately headed straight for the two men, of course the ones still on the road had heard as well and were now turned and heading back towards the food they could see.
Ori and Jason rushed as fast as they could for the cabin. “ just hide you said. They wont notice us you said. “ Jason complained as they reached the porch, He bent and undid the snow shoes before leaping onto the porch.
“They didn’t notice us till I stood up. Would you rather have just sat there till they tripped over you.” Ori asked, looking back over his shoulder at the undead who pursued them.

“well putting it that way, we really have to work on our communication skills” Jason said as he reached the door and knocked loudly. “ if there’s any one inside now would be a good time to open the door.” Jason said looking back over his shoulder. The zombies were now fifty feet and closing.
“ Just try the damn knob” Ori yelled. Jason reached for the knob but it refused to turn.
“its locked.” Jason said, twisting the knob again and rattling the door.
“ talk dirty to it and it will open faster than a virgins dress comes off on prom night.” Jason rolled his eyes and even managed a chuckle. The sound of motors was growing louder now, and some of the zombies at the back of the crowd turned and began to head towards that sound.

Jason rammed the butt of his rifle against the door hard enough to shake it. “ come on open up in there. Id really like to not have teeth marks in my ass. I just put on clean underwear.” Jason called out.

Behind him Ori’s rifle fired, the sound was loud and echoed off the snow and rocks. Clumps of snow fell from nearby trees.
“ shit” he cursed softly as he saw the zombies were at the porch steps. “Okay if your alive inside. we are coming in.” he yelled and slammed a boot against the door right next to the door knob. Not so long ago, Jason had been able to leg press 500 pounds. He hadn’t lost much of that strength over the months, bad diet not with standing. The lock tore free and Jason did a roll thru the doorway feeling stupid the instant he did it. but for once stupid saved a life. the bullet that would have hit him in the chest only took a chunk out of the door frame.
He had his rifle up and ready as he rolled onto the balls of his feet, his sights trained dead center on the chest of slender dark haired man, who looked terrified. The hunting rifle in his hands was shaking now, as the stranger stared down the barrel of Jasons AR.
“ don’t shoot damn it we don’t want your shit” Jason shouted.
“ coming in .” Ori yelled as he pounded across the porch and dove into the cabin kicking the door closed. Which would have worked had the door jamb been intact. Instead the door hit and swung back open as the first zombie appeared in the doorway. Ori shot it in the head, it tumbled back out onto the porch.

The man with the rifle didn’t seem to know what to do, his rifle swung between the door Ori and Jason. Ori scrambled to his feet even as another zombie appeared in the doorway.

“aint this just the fun shit” Ori called out as he grabbed the door. Jason took a chance and swung around and centered himself, settled his sights and fired twice. The zombie stumbled backwards and flipped over the porch rail. Ori slammed the door shut, but not before an arm got into the doorway.
“ son of a whore” Ori yelled. “a little help would be nice right about now, if your not too busy.”
“ Don’t move” the man decided on saying.
“not helping” Jason observed, as he looked rapidly around the room for something to use.
“you’ve got to be kidding. Can you arrest us after we get the door closed and blocked” Ori asked putting his back to the door, that the zombies were now pushing against.
Jason slung his rifle and grabbed the axe he spotted in a corner by a log basket and rushed to the door where he quickly discovered that hacking off arms looked really easy in the movies but didn’t quite work as well in reality. It took him three swings before the arm was severed and fell to the floor. He threw his body against the door next to Ori, and between the two of them they got the door closed.

“ okay they have us where we want them “ Ori said, then looked at the man who still held a rifle on them. “ if you shoot us, please do it in the head. if your not going to shoot us just yet, get the fucking rifle out of my face till you do.” Ori snapped.
“Put the damn rifle down Lee” another man said emerging from the upstairs, the pistol in his hand was carried close to his side.
Outside the blessed sound of motors could be heard and then rifle fire. “ thank god “ Ori said looking relieved. “Those are our friends out there. so try not to shoot us. Jared wouldn’t be real nice if you did,“ Ori said then glanced at Jason. “ three count.” Jason grinned with relief as he nodded in agreement. .
Kyle and Lee watched unsure what do as both Ori and Jason counted down and at one they both leaped away from the door that instantly flew open from the weight of the zombies pushing against it, immediately two zombies fell into the room.

Ori kicked one in the head as he got his rifle into his hands. Jason, fueled by Adrenalin ran up and grabbed the second zombie by the neck and belt and threw it back out the door, and over the porchrail. Taking out two more zombies on its way across the porch.
“zombie bowling three points” Jason shouted as he lifted his rifle and began to fire into the mass of dead on the porch.
“ I think that was a gutter zombie personally” Ori quipped.
“hey I will take a mulligan on that then.” Jason said, feeling a wild emotional surge at the idea that the current Ordeal was almost over, that he would be with his wife in just a short time

“no wonder you suck at zombie bowling, your trying to use golf rules”Ori quipped putting two rounds into yet another zombie. The former nurse, fell face forward onto the porch, Kyle and Lee looked at each other and looked back to the two mad men who were shooting up every zombie on the porch and laughing. There was a wild unrestrained relief in that banter and the laughter.

“ they are totally insane” Kyle commented.
Jared stood on the running boards and shooting down zombies one after another a wild grin on his face as he saw a zombie fly out of the cabin and heard Jason’s triumphant yell over the sound of the gunfire, they could hear snatches of something about zombie bowling rules, being naked and Jello wrestling penaltys. He shook his head with amusement, and then suddenly the last zombie was gone.

“I still say you cheated, cant add a home run into bowling rules just because you used a butt stroke, has to be debated by the rules committee first. I bet you’re a damn cubs fan to” Ori was heard to say.
“ Me cheat, I am not the one who used lighter fluid to start a fire.”
“oh says the almost naked guy by the fire with sexy short bread, trying to seduce me.”
“you’re the one that gave me a rub down”
“ shut it, what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain”
“ if you two are completely done flirting can we get on with this damned rescue before my nuts freeze” Jared yelled laughing despite himself. Relieved and overjoyed both of them were still alive. A minute later Ori and Jason walked out grinning happily.
“ its about damn time you got here, we had them right were they wanted us” Ori said with a grin.
“are we going to have to hold a wedding when we get back for you two love birds “ Jill asked almost smiling, then rushed forward and hugged them both. “Im sure Beth and Linda wont mind your engagement.” She said.
The rest of the group surrounded them, shaking hands, and hugging. Jared looked up to see four people walked out of the cabin and stand on the porch looking at all the dead strewn around. They looked shell shocked. Who could blame them either.

“ Im Lee, this is Kyle” the slender dark haired man said, Kyle looked fit and lean almost too lean. “ and that’s Melissa and Donna.” Jared turned to the two women, and decided that there were going to be a lot of happy men around the farm soon. “ now can we ask what the hell is going on.” They all looked totally confused and that set Ori and Jason into laughing fits.
“ well, it all started several days ago…” Jared told the story as fast as he could while he studied the four who looked underfed and nervous. “ and the rest only those two know till they got here and your know that part of the story.”
Jason turned to his unwilling hosts and smiled. “ look Im sorry about the door. but if you want to come back to the farm with us till I can get back up here and fix your door your more than welcome. we have food, hot water and lights down there. oh and cornbread coffee and bacon.” At the word coffee both women looked like they wanted to drool.

“ Let us get our things together “ they both said and rushed back into the Cabin.
“They were on vacation down here from LA, when it went to hell.” Kyle explained “ they ran into a mob of those things and turned onto our road to escape, long story short, they ended up on our front door and we have been pretty much stuck here ever since.” If they were expecting a reaction to the use of the word our, they must be surprised not to get one Jared thought.
“Look you two look like you need a good meal, and you damn sure need that door fixed. And if the promise of coffee doesn’t give you wood, a hot shower should.” Jared said almost laughing at the looks on their faces at the words hot water and shower.

“oh for craps sake, if its because you think we might not like gay guys, we have a couple in our group. We are an equal opportunity survivor group.” Jill said exasperated. “ so get what ever you need for a few days and come down to visit. And if you get in tight with Lloyd youll probably be able to work something out and get into some eggs, veggies and meat. But decide fast because its so cold out here my nipples could cut Diamonds and I want to get warm.”
She walked back to the van and climbed in as every one stared at her then the chuckles began. “ shes your woman, deal with her” Chris said grinning at Jared.
Jared turned to see the two women exiting the cabin carrying suitcases. Kyle and Lee looked at each other and talked quietly off to the side, then Lee went into the cabin reappearing five minutes later with two duffle bags, his rifle slung over his shoulder and a pistol on his belt. He passed Kyle the orange duffle bag and headed to the van where Jill was helping the two women inside.
Jason strode up onto the porch and tied a string around the doorknob then tied it off to a nail on the door frame. “ Better than leaving it standing open “ he commented as he went to the van and tossed his pack inside.
Jared stood there for a moment longer looking up at the snow covered mountain for a moment then smiled., An hour later they were back at the center.

As they walked inside the warm building, people turned and stared, Beth dropped the book she was reading to the kids as she saw Ori stepping around Jared. , she ran and leaped on him. Linda was only slightly more reserved but she hung on to Jason for almost an hour, as if he would vanish if she let him go.

The four guests looked around eyes wide with pleasure and shock as they took in the electric lights, the crowd of people, the little kids talking excitedly about the return of Ms. Beths boyfriend and Jason.
“ Follow me, Ill show you the showers. Take your time, we have plenty of hot water, and after that Im pretty sure you’ll eat better tonight than you have in months.” Jill said to the four newest survivors motioning at them to follow her.

It took a full day before the celebration of the return of two of their own, and the discovery of four more survivors, to wind down.
Before it was all over, Ori had asked Beth to marry him. The sound of 25 cheering kids could be heard for miles around, most likely sending the undead into fits trying to discover the source of the noise. All Jared knew was he almost lost his hearing before he got them calmed down, the shrieks of childish laugher were louder than most Jets as far as Jared was concerned, Jason seemed to have grown over the last few days, he had more confidence and the nervous energy that radiated off him was gone.

It took a bit of work to iron out the wedding details but in the end, every one agreed that Jared as the de facto leader of the group should be the one to marry them. Ronny had asked who the best man was going to be and Ori surprised every one by asking Jason to stand with him. The Seamstress’s of the farm went to work that night, and using materials they had on hand they had a Wedding dress ready by the next day. Beth seemed to be shocked and elated at the whirlwind of events that had engulfed her. but as she stared at the white gown, with its old lace and satin ties. She burst into tears not only at her impending wedding but she thought of all those who had been set to spend the rest of their lives together and were now dead, never having gotten to walk down the aisle.

The wedding was held in the Center, the children demanded to help and pitched in on the decorations. Lit by glowing candles, amidst decorations that brought the 19th century to life. Jared led the first wedding of the new year and the new world.

Mikhail sat on a headstone, and looked around the snow covered cemetery that sat high above the river valley. He had always felt comfortable in places like this. At least till the Day. Death had been a constant companion for so long that being at cemeteries was like visiting friends. He had even once dreamed of building a nice home on a cemetery. But the laws forbade it.

Yet another reason to hate the old order. Always butting in to peoples lives, almost as bad as the old communists back home. He snorted with contempt, wishing he could have seen the undead swarm over the fat and power hungry congress. He would have enjoyed that news broadcast.

He sat there under the gray sky; reveling in daydreams of the people he hated being eaten alive and finally dying becoming just another mindless drone. Nothing special, no money and no power feeling just hatred and hunger. Hearing the crunch of boots on snow he looked up and smiled. “ So glad you could make it” he said rising.

“Didn’t have much of a choice did I” the man said bitterly, hatred burned in his eyes, Mikhail smiled coldly at the man who was helpless to stand against him.

“ No you really didn’t, but that’s no matter. I have a little job for you. Do this and you’re free of me” he lied smoothly.
“ bull shit and we both know it” the man replied. Mikhail chuckled. Knowing his ruined face was hideous to the man who stood before him. He reveled in that revulsion.
“ I have no reason to lie to you, none. You do this for me and I give you the antidote, your woman lives and you wont see me again . but I will see you thru my scope. Fail me and you both die. all you have to do is slip this into the cripples food, and that’s it.” Mikhail said holding up a small vial.
“Why” he asked.
“ because I hate him, and I want him dead.” Mikhail said. “ that’s reason enough” He held out the vial and the man took it with a shaking hand, like it was viper waiting to strike. He didn’t even look at the vial, just slipped it into a pocket and glared at Mikhail.

No spine none at all Mikhail thought. he should have felt jealous at the unmarred good looks of the older man. But he didn’t, the American was a dead man walking and didn’t matter. And his woman was a slender brainless beautiful slut, so typically American. She thought beauty, big breasts and what’s between her legs was enough to make up for her lack of intelligence. She was no better than the undead. Worth nothing beyond her ability to have sex and this fool fell for her and thinks she loves him. Ha. Soon enough he would see the error of his ways.

“ if I do this and I see you again, I will kill you.” The man said with a fury born of self disgust.
“ if you were a real man you would have come at me guns blazing today hoping I had the antidote on me. So spare me your false bravado, American. ‘ Mikhail said rubbing salt in the wound, and enjoying himself immensely. “go do the job. If you really love that Pzidi, you’ll do it as soon as possible. You do love the whore don’t you.”
“she’s not a whore” the man snapped clenching his fists, only the thought that Mikhail held the means to save his Girlfriend held him in place. .
“ she’s young, and spreads her legs for anything, even dogs” Mikhail replied with savage delight, hoping the fool charged him. The man clenched his fists again and took a step forward. But the pistol Mikhail suddenly pointed at him stopped the stranger cold. “ do what I ask, and she lives. I don’t care who or what she beds. You only have to decide if you really love her. her life for the cripples life. Now get out of my sight.”

Mikhail began to laugh watching as the man turned and stumbled away. Oh what fun it was to break a mans spirit. The fact he had snuck past their defenses and made a camp up here in the cemetery overlooking their precious farm was just added pleasure. He could get rid of that annoying Red head whenever he wanted.  But first he wanted him to suffer a bit. maybe burn the barn down, set their precious center on fire too. Rape and kill his woman.
Killing the cripple would be a start, but he had a few other strings for his bow just in case that old bastard screwed him over. He was in no real rush. He had time enough. he only had to stop them from reaching that Fort. Why he didn’t know and didn’t really care. Of course if the man found out that his precious whore was actually sick, and not poisoned before he applied the poison to the cripples food he would most likely tell the red head about Mikhail being up here, But once the cripple was dead, the man could never admit he had done the deed.

Either way Mikhail had ruined his life, and his soul and that was only little less entertaining then killing some one. Aaah like the good old days he thought. There were times, like today, he missed the good old days. Back when he was young maverick in the KGB, and then the FSB after that, with his side job in the Grupperovka as a hit man.  Moscow had been such a wonderful place to practice his trade. But now, now he had the world to practice in.
Maybe he was insane, what was it G.B Burgin had said “I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and know it, than to be sane and have one’s doubts.” He laughed aloud.

A chill settled over him, that had nothing to do with the weather, the cloying smell of rotted flesh filled his nose. “ Well its started, but it will be a slow process. That accelerates the closer they get to their goal. But I promise you that none of them will reach their destination.” He said aloud, not looking behind him. He knew it was standing there, silent and evil. Head cocked as it studied him. Its eyes peering out from under the brim of that absurd hat.
“ I had hoped that the Militia fools would have killed more, but they were as incompetent as I had thought.” He got the distinct impression it agreed but was still pleased with the outcome, and then suddenly it was gone, If it had ever really been there. who was to say if all this wasn’t in his mind. a phantasm set to haunt him by his very psyche. Destiny by coincidence and psychosis he thought with a laugh. but that didn’t matter either. He had a job and that gave him purpose. And after this little job, he knew there was another one for him up north once he succeeded here. An even bigger job waited that would make him a prince amongst men.
Storm clouds rolled in breaking like combers over the mountains. Swollen and dark they carried the promise of more snow. A cold wind boomed thru the valleys driving a wave of snow before it. The old year was dead, and the new year struggled to take its first breath.


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