TCRD Act 2 part 4
“Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!”
Steve sat stiffly eating his bowl of soup which he was really beginning to hate. In order to stretch their supplies a decision had been made to cut back on large meals. Not that large meals had not been a daily occurrence anyway. But for four days now soup had been served for Lunch. At least breakfast had been eggs, and bacon. What he wouldn’t give for biscuits and gravy, or biscuits and jelly. When they left the farm and no longer had access to eggs, fresh bacon and ham it was truly going to suck he thought.
He looked up as Henry entered the main room of the center that now served as the Dining hall and frowned for a moment.
Henry had started to come out of his shell after the fight with Ori back in Bergstown. Which had been a good thing, but the moment Stephanie, his Girlfriend who was also young enough to be his daughter, had gotten sick he had slipped back into his shell barely talking to any one and when he did he sounded pissed off at the world. I guess I cant blame him, really, Steve thought.
Tonight Henry looked pale, sweaty and nervous, maybe he was sick. God the last thing this group needs was for some bug to sweep through the it.
He made a mental note to mention the idea to Linda, who was probably already worrying about it anyway. Taking a bite of corn bread dipped in his soup he watched as Henry served himself a bowl of soup and scooped up a single piece of cornbread then just stop and stare blankly at the pot of soup for a moment. Abruptly Henry shook himself back into the world and plodded to an empty table where he sat down heavily.
“ What’s up with him?” Chris asked quietly, leaning towards Steve. “ He looks like shit.”
“ Have you looked in the mirror lately.” Steve asked.
“I am sexier than socks on a Rooster” Chris stated with a grin.
“He must really love that girl, he’s gone downhill since she got sick.” Shelley said joining the conversation.
“ Have you seen that girl, he’s in love all right.” Chris replied with a grin miming a set of large breasts. “speaking of … hows Bridget dealing with being Pregnant?” Henry was forgotten as they talked of more personal things.
Henry sat eating silently isolated from every one. His nerves twisted up tight. He had hoped, prayed that Linda would figure out what was wrong with Stephanie. But three days had passed with no results. Henry lifted his eyes and looked across the room at Kevin for the space of a heartbeat.
Kevin and Mattie were talking quietly and smiling a lot. He was a good-looking guy, a lot like Henry’s nephew had been, and about the same age. He was in need of a haircut like every one else around here who didn’t shave their heads. It was obvious that he and Mattie were falling in love which normally would have been a grand thing. A grand thing indeed if death didn’t hover in the wings for him.
Henry smiled sadly as that thought led him back to Stephanie who had found a small niche in the group being halfway talented with scissors. She had trimmed a lot of hair since she joined, and had even managed to give Jared a halfway decent flattop with scissors and a straight razor.
Funny a few months ago he would have prefaced the name Jared with that prick or the asshole. The man had turned out to be a good guy, hard but good. You only had to watch him with the children to see he had major soft side. Henrys spoon scrapped an empty bowl, surprised he looked down and realized he had eaten the entire thing with out tasting it, he rose silently and crossed the room and washed his bowl then placed it in the rack. Finished he walked slowly from the center, a tired and beaten man.
Linda watched her patient closely for a moment then turned back to her medical books. She had no real idea what might be wrong with Stephanie not that she wasn’t doing her best to figure it out. It was like playing Sherlock Holmes with symptoms as clues. Before the dead had risen there would have been a battery of tests to run that would have given her much more information pointing her towards the solution. Of course back then all she would have to do was exactly what the Doctor told her to do.
Now she was playing Nurse, Intern, Doctor and Med student rolled into one and peoples lives were on the line. She had learned a lot from Doc Winston since their arrival at the Farm. But frankly not nearly enough, she thought as she glanced towards the back where Stephanie tossed and turned as much as the restraints allowed. She hadn’t been thrilled by the restraints, even less with the reasons.
Namely, the restraints were there in case a patient died, so there was no fear of walking in and getting torn apart because a patient dead while you stepped out to go to the bathroom. God give me something to help this girl she prayed.
She looked up as Henry walked in, he gave Linda a brisk nod as he made his way to the back to sit beside Stephanie’s bed. Linda felt for the guy, She really did.
Some people had speculated the only reason Henry was with the girl was sex. She could understand why people thought it. But she’d had plenty of opportunity to watch Henry with Stephanie and she didn’t believe it for a moment.
She had no doubt that Henry was in love with the 23 year old girl and it showed as he sat with her holding the young womans hand and keeping her company for hours on end, telling her stories and talking about the life he wanted to have with her.
Today Henry was quiet, he just sat there holding Stephanie’s hand watching her silently. Only moving to get out Linda’s way any time she needed to check Stephanie.
Speaking of it was time to check her patient again, she told herself. She rose and walked to the back nodding politely to Henry as she checked the portable equipment that monitored the younger woman. Henry said nothing, but Linda could tell he wanted to talk. Finished she patted him on the shoulder and returned to her books. When he was ready to talk about what ever was on his mind he would.
Henry sat there watching Stephanie sleep, knowing he was watching her fight for her life against that one eyed ass holes poison. Around supper time he rose and kissed Stephanie on the forehead then walked to the front of the RV.
“ Doc, Linda… do you have any idea yet with what’s wrong with her” Henry asked softly as he absently rubbed the wedding ring he wore with his right index finger.
Linda toyed with the idea of lying to give him a little hope. Because she didn’t really have a clue what was wrong with Stephanie and neither did Doc Winston for that matter. But she couldn’t lie not even to give Henry hope it wouldn’t be fair to him or to her patient and if, When her patient died that false hope would end up destroying the man.
“I’m sorry no, the round of antibiotics didn’t seem to help. And frankly I’m at a loss on how to treat her. Other than to keep giving her fluids.” Linda said keeping her tone professional.
Linda looked in his eyes and saw desperation and fear. He cleared his throat, started to say something then changed his mind. He stood there looked old and drained, sick worry in his eyes. “ what if she’s not sick?” he asked suddenly with a surprising intensity.
“What do you mean Henry?” Linda asked curious at what he might be getting at.
Henry licked his lips nervously looking around the RV for a moment. “ I’ve just started wondering if maybe its some kind of allergic reaction to some thing around here.”
“ Henry this is an illness, I promise you. And Ill figure it out.” She could tell he wanted to say something, to disagree. She was certain that this was not an allergic reaction and nothing she knew or had read indicated otherwise. She watched him for a moment and a suspicion built in her.
He thought he knew what was wrong with Stephanie, Linda realized and he couldn’t seem to say what he suspected. What the hell could he suspect that he is scared to suggest to me. It was the oddest thing she had ever seen. Henry just looked at her, chewing on his lip nervously like a man who had more to say. Then he shrugged, and walked out the door.
Outside Henry looked at the sunset for a moment, then started to walk towards the center, hands shoved in his pockets feeling the small bottle in his pocket burn against his hand, He was racked by emotions he couldn’t even explain. Fury and self-disgust were right there at the top of the list.
To save a life he had to take a life. He thought it should have been easy to decide, he loved her. No matter what any one especially the one eyed scarred freak said and that should have made the decision a slam-dunk.
But to take a mans life, a man who had been nothing but friendly to Henry and Stephanie, to kill him to save her life. Which was the greater evil, to let her die when he could save her, or kill another man for the slim chance that bastard would live up to his promise.
And that was the problem, would the Russian do it, save her. Henry suspected deep down, he wouldn’t. The one eyed Freak would just let her die and laugh about it. His insults and total disdain lent weight to Henrys opinion, but could he risk being wrong and letting her die. And if Henry saved her could he live with having killed Kevin?
In movies, the one eyed freak would kill them both at the end anyway. But what the hell was he supposed to do, he knew that he only had a few days to do this in. that was the impression he had gotten during his meeting with the slime ass yesterday and if that were true he had already wasted two days. But why the rush to have Kevin killed, was it anger or hatred, what was the reason. Did it even matter? He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was important.
“ Henry” He looked up to see Jared walking towards him. “Linda asked me to make plans to find and raid a hospital for the supplies and medicines she might need to treat Stephanie, If it turns out we have to go I wanted to ask you to go with us” Jared said.
“ A hospital. Why?” Henry asked, and then caught himself. “if she thinks it might help, of course I want to go.” He replied. What else could he say? If he believed she was sick he wouldn’t hesitate. But he knew she was poisoned, maybe that was why he got the impression that one eye wanted him to hurry. So he would kill before Stephanie died. He wanted to drop to his knees and beat the ground till his hands bled. What was he supposed to do? What was the right thing to do?
Jared watched him for a moment then clapped him on the shoulder. “its going to be all right” he said sincerely, offering the only support he could. It was the warmest and friendliest Jared had ever been to Henry. And it touched Henry, making him feel even worse.
Jared excused himself and headed from the Rv they used as a clinic. Henry just stood there for a moment and watched Jared go, hating himself like never before. He walked slowly into the Center were most of the group had gathered to eat Dinner and get warm.
His eyes focused on Kevin, he would have to be here. Why couldn’t he just leave for a month? Stay in his room anything but be where Henry could get to him.
Stop staring you idiot. Henry told himself tearing his eyes away from Kevin. He made his way across the room to the table where the stew pot sat. it wasn’t really stew he thought, that’s what was on the labels, of all the cans they opened to heat, had called the congealed mess inside.
No one that saw it or ate it would ever mistake it for the real thing. At least there were real carrots and potatoes in it, taken from the Farms root cellars. He fixed a bowl and headed to a table where he sat by himself. Tension racked him, so did guilt and grief. The food was like ash on his tongue and his damned eyes couldn’t stop drifting to the man he was supposed to kill.
Jared left a sleeping Pappy, and stepped into the Front of the Clinic RV, sitting down at the small table where Linda sat she looked tired as hell he noted.
“ How did your visit with Pappy go?” She asked, glancing towards the back..
“ Same as usually, his hand writing is getting better though, its easier to read fuck you when its legible” Jared replied. Linda managed a laugh, and then closed the book she had been going over. “Any progress with Stephanie?” He asked hoping for good news.
“ Her fevers up, she has been unconscious since early this morning. What I hope is that her fever stays up and breaks tonight. In fact I think it’s likely.”
“Have you told Henry” Jared asked, leaning forward.
“ No not yet.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “ Jared I don’t know if I can do this, if I can be of any real help. I’m no Doctor”
“ You already have been. And Doc Winston said your coming along nicely.”
“Jared I cant even figure out what’s wrong with that girl. She’s 23 years old and might die because I have no idea how to treat her.”
“ she might have gotten torn apart too Linda, she might have died a hundred times since the Day. We are all living on borrowed time. Hell your not even sleeping because your reading every medical text we have trying to find something to help her,” Jared said Linda opened her mouth to protest but Jared held up a hand. “ Don’t, don’t say it. what’s your solution, quit. Move to another town. Give us all the bird and laugh when we break bones or get shot?” he asked, she shook her head. “ Okay then, that’s settled. Ill go tell Henry what you said and we will see how it goes.”
He found Henry in the center, standing near the serving table just staring at the wall. “Henry” Jared said, the man almost jumped out of his skin. “ Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you” Jared apologized. “Linda thinks you might want to go sit with Stephanie.” Henry turned the blood draining from his face.
“ why?” he asked with an obvious attempt to control the fear he felt. He was sure he was about to hear something really bad.
“ She thinks there is a chance that Stephanie’s fever might break tonight, and thought you might want to be there.”
“ Fever break, that’s good right” Henry asked
“ Yes it is.” Jared replied, suddenly empathizing with Henry. If that was Jill laying there he would be close to being out of his mind.
“But if she is…… but would it happen if she was allergic to something.” Henry said almost desperately. If she is Jared wondered exactly what Henry had started to ask. “never mind I’ll ask Linda” Henry added.
Henry walked beside Jared, hands in his pocket trying to ignore the vial he carried in his pocket. The silence stretched out and lasted till they reached the RV. as Henry started to open the door Jared laid a hand on Henry’s arm.
“ can I ask you something?” Jared asked.
“What?” Henry replied, feeling that sick at his stomach nerves ballet begin.
“What did you mean by… But if she is…” Jared asked softly.
“I just meant if she was allergic, Linda doesn’t think it’s likely but its just what I thought might be wrong. “Henry looked nervous as hell, and Jared got the distinct impression he was holding something back.
“ Henry I know we didn’t get off to a good start, and we still don’t really know each other well. but you have, over the last couple of months come out of your shell more and more and I appreciate it. So if there is something you want to talk about or need to talk about. Just tell me. I’ll never spread a word of it to any one.” Jared said softly and as far as Henry could tell, sincerely.
Henry felt so damn guilty, he wasn’t used to any one, especially not a guy Like Jared or Steve to accept him or at least appear to accept him. And now that they were accepting him, he was … he was trying to work up the nerve to kill another man, a man they both liked.
Jared stood there for a moment and then finally Henry nodded his head. “ thanks I really appreciate that” Henry said and meant it, god he wished he could just tell Jared, let him deal with that scary ass one eyed Bastard.
“ Well It just seems like you need to talk to some one. I know this has to be hard as hell on you, especially considering everything else going on.” Jared said vaguely indicating the world around them.
“ I cant right now, its.. I don’t know, I can’t figure out what to do or how to put it.” Henry said softly as he opened the door and stepped in side the RV. Jared climbed in behind him and sat at the table with Linda, to give Henry some space as he headed into the back to sit with Stephanie.
Time rolled by in the Rv, silent except for Henrys occasional whispers to Stephanie, and the sound of pages turning as Linda continued to pour thru the books and making notes. “I may have figured it out” she said excitedly three hours later, she stood and grabbed a blood collection kit and headed into the back.
Jared sat there waiting as she brought back the blood samples and set them on slides. Then placed them on the microscope. “ Hand me that book” She said absently holding out a hand. Jared passed it to her and sat back vaguely amused. She stared into the microscope then consulted the book. “ I think its Methaeglobinemia, its rare. But it explains all the symptoms.” Seeing the blank look on Jareds face she explained “ it typically happens when an individual is exposed to particular drugs or chemicals, or sometimes its genetic. In this case I’m betting on the drugs or chemicals. More particularly in this case Nitrate contamination in the water.”
“ Shit you mean we are all in danger.” Jared asked.
She shook her head slowly reading. “ No, probably not. Ill have to figure out how to the test the water we’ve been drinking.”
“well this is great but how do you treat it.” Jared asked. “ can you treat it?”
“I think so, I need Methylene blue, and its possible we have some in that haul you got from the Bergstown Hospital.”
“ And if we don’t”
“ Then we need to find it, because this can sometimes be fatal.” She rose calling out “ Henry I need to talk with you”
Henry sat at the table, stunned at the news. “ but… are you sure. Its not poison.” He exclaimed,
“ why would you think it was poison “ she asked puzzled. Henry sat there silent for a long moment staring at the tabletop.
“ that one eyed bastard told me he had poisoned her.” Henry said softy, there was so much anger in his tone that it took Linda aback. She gave Jared a puzzled look; there was no one-eyed man around that they knew of.
“ Why would any one want to poison a 23 year old College girl.” Jared asked.
“he wanted me to do something for him.” Self-disgust almost dripped from the words. “ but I couldn’t do it…” and then suddenly as if a dam had broken he told them the whole damn story. Jared sat there stunned, but he had to believe it, just the way Henry sounded as he told them of the one eyed mans insults told him the entire story was real.
No one could have missed the volcanic fury and humiliation in the mans voice. Even if he or any one else had doubts the note that the asshole had left in Henrys RV and the Vial of liquid would have clinched it. But the real question was why would any one want to kill Kevin. And why go to this kind of extreme bull crap to get to him.
“ Henry, I want you to stay here. do not leave this RV.” Jared said, wondering what he would have done if that was Jill lying back there.
“Why, I want to go with you. That’s what your going to do isn’t it. go up to the cemetery.” Henry said. Jared nodded his head as he rose to his feet.
“ it is, but I want you to stay for two reasons. The first is, that girl back there needs you. The second is he might just decide to shoot your ass from long range for not doing what he wanted. So stay in here with her. Help Linda here look thru all the stuff we lifted out of the pharmacy and see if you can find that medicine.”
“ you don’t hate me?” Henry asked nervously playing with his wedding ring again. Jared paused by the door and looked back at him.
“No, I don’t. I don’t know what I would have done in your position. And I wont pretend I would know what I’d do. But next time some jack ass slips you a note about a secret meeting, you had better tell me two seconds after you find it.”
Jared stepped outside, angry at himself. They had just coasted along with out any real security for a while now. And some one had slipped into the camp, with out any one knowing poisoned one of his people and was trying to kill another one. Why the charade though?, if he wanted Kevin dead who not just snipe him from a distance and escape. Why this way?
Starting tonight, they would establish real security. Jared decided, And tonight they would be paying Mr. One eye a visit. Assuming he was still up at there at the cemetery. Which Jared really doubted but he couldn’t ignore the possibility either. First he had to speak to Ori, Steve and the others and get their input on the basic plan that was already forming in his mind.
The cloud filled day faded into cold darkness, a barren white wasteland filled with the skeletal remains of trees. Jared scanned the cemetery from his position and saw nothing but green tinted headstones jutting up like bones from the snow covered ground. He clicked the radio twice then moved forward. Ori using the other NVG goggles covered him. Steve and Ronnie were on the right flank steadily creeping forward, while Chris and Logan covered the left.
Towards the back of the cemetery, in the tree line Jared found a snow shelter, and a trail that led west and down. He circled the cemeteries edges and found a snipers blind where someone had lain for long periods of time.
From the blind there was a good view of the Center and the Farm. “Report” he finally said into his microphone. “ Clear right” Steve responded. “ Clear left” Chris stated. Jared wanted to snarl in frustration. It wasn’t like he had really believed they would find the man sitting up here oblivious to the world eating Doritos and waiting for his evil plan to neatly wrap up.
“set up the screamers” He ordered. Ori retrieved the duffle bag and began to set out the audible alarm sensors along the ridgeline. The motion sensors were disabled, but the old school trip lines were still effective and in this case the best option since they could be set below the snow line and be essentially invisible. There weren’t a lot of them, but Ori sighted them in the areas he thought were the best to snipe or watch the Farm and Center below.
“Should we try to follow that trail?” Chris asked over the radio.
“No, think about it, he had to walk from the shelter to the blind and back, and outside to pee too. And yet the only path we see is the one heading west. He took the time to cover his tracks, all of them but that one path. I’d lay good money there’s booby traps along that route.” Jared responded. “ Lets head back to the Center.”
They moved back down the ridge, to the valley floor, silent and alert. A loud boom echoed over the valley and a fireball bloomed from near the center. “ Son of a bitch.” Jared snarled as he sped up.
Twenty minutes later they pounded onto the pavement of the centers parking lot and into pandemonium. On the far side of the parking lot one of the trucks that had been loaded with 55-gallon drums of gas was now a twisted mass of metal. Fires were sizzling out around the area.
Inside the center, Jared could hear the screams of panicked kids. “ bomb” Ori stated.
“ there might be more” Jared couldn’t argue with Ori on that one.
“Think you can figure out how he did it” Jared asked.
“Not with out an FBI lab, or some one finds the detonation device.” Ori responded.
“Ori, I want you to get under the bus and look for any bombs.” Jared said, thinking about how Terrorists liked to plant two bombs, one to kill a few people then once a crowd of first responders and citizens had gathered, the second bomb detonated to get the maxim body count.
Ori hesitated then said. “and if there is one” he looked decidedly uneasy about the whole idea.
“ we move all the vehicles from around it. Don’t even try to disarm it. Unless your damn sure you can do it.” Jared replied. Every one in the Dirty Dozen knew the reasons Ori had gotten out of EOD and into the Scouts. The stress of dealing with Ordnance disposal had finally gotten to him and Jared was not going to push him into doing this but Ori would have a far better idea where to look for any bombs and what they might look like, than any one else in the group.
“ What if our one eyed asshat has a night vision scope and is watching us just waiting to set off the next bomb?” Steve asked as Ori rushed off.
“Then he might be watching. Truth is, he doesn’t need night vision. Either he has more bombs set up on timers, or on remote and there’s nothing we can do about it with out finding them.
Either way Im betting he is sitting there laughing his ass off right now. And…..” Jared said then paused as a thought hit him. “go find Kevin, get him into the safest place you can think of.” Jared told Chris, who nodded and rushed off.
It was pure chaos out here, with people rushing around putting out the few still burning fires or checking out the wounded who lay sprawled around the area.
Spotting Linda kneeling next to some one on the ground, Jared rushed over and swore softly seeing Jim, Lloyds right hand man laying there with a huge piece of chassis metal in his stomach.
“ He was coming over for dinner and stopped to talk to Jeff.” Linda explained.
“Jeff” Jared asked feeling a bit of panic set in Jeff was his oldest friend in the world had been ever before the dead rose and killed off most every one. .
“ he is okay he was standing next to his truck. which shielded him from the worst of the blast when the bomb went off. He suffered only Minor contusions and abrasions from flying safety glass.” Linda replied
“ how many others were hurt?” Jared asked kneeling beside her.
“ Four, Sharon had parts fly thru the window of their RV and got beat up badly.”
“and the baby” Jared asked feeling a cold wind blow up his spine.
“to soon to tell Jared, but Id say the odds are very good the baby will be fine.” Linda replied He breathed a sigh of relief at that. If Marks baby died, he was damn sure Sharon wouldn’t be far behind.
“John, Logan’s Guy, lost his left hand. He was heading out to do guard duty down at the bridge. Gary, got beaned in the head. but otherwise seems fine. And Melanie, one of the girls from the farm, who was leaving Chad when it happened got cut up by flying glass and metal, but not to badly..”
“ Steve” Jared called out. Instantly Steve appeared at his side. “ Get Ronny and organize a patrol, take the NVG’s. I want that one eyed prick running for the moment.”
“ my pleasure” Steve replied his voice hard. Taking the NVG’s he headed towards the snowmobiles.
By Dawn, things were calming down, Jared had pushed the wreckage out of the parking lot with a bulldozer. While Ori had cleared the school bus, and the remaining fuel trucks with out finding any bombs and had moved to examining the RVs.
Beth was none to happy with Jared for getting Ori to do such a dangerous job and as Jared asked her, once things had quieted down around the camp, if she was willing to risk getting herself or the kids blown up if Ori didn’t check out the vehicles. Because as he told her, Ori was the only one in the entire group that had experience in EOD.
Which, Jared reflected is what also led to his decision to have Ori teach what he knew to at least two other people and spread that knowledge around.
Around ten that morning Ori walked wearily into the center and was surprised to find a full plate of Eggs and bacon with the rare biscuits waiting for him. Sitting down across from Jared who looked just as tired after having taken it on himself to check out the barns, the corn cribs, and root cellars for bombs.
“ I still have our private vehicles to check.” Ori said after he had eaten half the plate. Not even feeling guilty at the large meal that no one else had gotten, if any one had bitched Ori would have dragged them along to check for bombs with him.
“ I’ll do it myself” Jared said.
“no way in Hell brother, let me finish this food and I will check them you don’t know what to look for. ” Ori replied. Jared watched Ori rub his eyes, and yawn.
“Tell you what, you come out there. and walk me, Logan and Chad thru it.” Jared said, “Your too tired, you might make a mistake. So let us handle it”
Ori ate another forkful of Egg, and then nodded, “ why not I hate doing this crap anyway. So If I am going to get blown up, I might as well be sitting comfortable on my butt.” Ori said with a tired laugh.
Two hours later Ori was being carried to bed, after teaching them how to check vehicles for bombs. Jared damn sure understood now, why Ori had quit doing this for a living it was friggen nerve wracking.
The only two bits of good news that day was that Henry and Linda had located just enough of the medicine needed to treat Stephanie in the haul from the Bergstown Hospital. The second bit of good news was Sharons baby was fine. Thank god for the portable ultra sound they had snatched at the hospital back in Bergstown, Jared thought At least they didn’t have to run a mission to a local hospital. Jared had not looked forward to that at all. It was bound to be full of shambling pus bags with no other goal in life than to take a bite out of my butt.
The News from the patrols scouring the area for the one eyed Russian had not been good. They hadn’t located a single sign of a man or men lurking around the ridge or any other area that it was possible to look down onto the Farm and surrounding area.
Over the next two weeks, Jared got work crews organized and with the dozers built up an earthen wall around the Center and its parking area. The new walls meant the farm would not have to worry about being cut off from the Center and its hot water and lights if they came under attack.
The rest of the defenses around the farm were finished and some were improved then several new cabins and root cellars were built. Jared was making sure that any work that needed a lot of hands on the farm were finished before he and his people pulled out As it was even with Jared’s Group pitching in manpower was tight. Especially when faced with increasing the number of patrols scouring the area for undead and enemies, which meant more warm bodies had to come from somewhere.
Mikhail was really getting sick of these people, they had more than made up for their slack security. It was getting harder and harder to sneak in and out of the farm. and yesterday evening he had seen a man with Night vision goggles climbing up into the look out nest they had built in a day, that was going to make his job even harder.
What was life with out challenges. He asked himself. For now he was letting his grudge against the cripple slide. He didn’t want it to keep him from doing what he was here for and he had no doubt that the old fuck had spilled his guts to the Red headed man so they would be guarding the cripple for now.
The Red head, the same man who had decided not to follow the trail Mikhail had made sure they could find, he hoped they would come charging down it and hit the booby traps, which would have killed one or two of them. But no, the red head had suspected a trap and avoided the whole trail. At least my opponent is not the typical worm, he will prove to be a challenge.
Case in point, The barn fire Mikhail had set a week after his plans for the cripple had failed, was put out with fire extinguisher’s and only burned out half a wall. Which the people down on the farm had promptly used as an excuse to add a wing onto the barn after ripping out the burned wood and replacing that wall with a large arch entry into the new wing. Some one had been on the ball to get that fire spotted and put out so quickly and Mikhail was positive it had been the red head.
His sabotage of the dozers two nights later had been interrupted by a patrol that he hadn’t espected, so he had only been able to sabotage one dozer instead of two. It took their mechanic three days to get it back up and running. the Park service must have stored spare parts or there was no way it could have been fixed.
He had planned on burning down the smoke house and corn cribs, but they had expected that as well having posted men around all the critical buildings. Who ever had set up the guard positions had known his job, the men had bad been deployed in such a way as to make it impossible to take them all out silently with out having an alarm sounded. he had settled for setting two cars on fire in the parking lot instead.
And then last night he had found all sorts of interesting little things scattered right around the area he had been using to slip into the farm. Some one had set up Strings with dangling cans, hanging from trees at various heights and locations. Trip wires, home made caltrops, and various other booby traps had been set up as well. If this kept up he would have to start using the river to slip into the farm and he would probably freeze to death doing that.
No sooner or later he was going to have to end his little terror campaign and get back on the road where he could set up a few traps for them to stumble across on the most likely routes they would take to head to the coast. He smiled coldly but before he left, his last little act would definitely send them a message. He smiled to himself. One that the Red head would not like in the least.
Jared stomped thru the deep snow, feeling excellent. Tomorrow Lloyd’s people would have the lock installed for the Irrigation channels they had dug. After that it was only a simple matter of digging out the last twenty feet of earth to connect the channel to the river.
Thank god for the backhoe, though it had sucked up a lot more fuel than Jared was happy with. The wall along the hillside behind the farm was finally finished. Lloyd was hoping to get up the road and dismantle the old historic gristmill apparatus and haul it all back down here and install it. He even had plans on hooking up a generator to the mills turbine to get power to the cabins. That had a lot of people excited. Jared wasn’t sure how well that would work out, but it wouldn’t be started on before his group pulled up stakes and headed out.
And that wouldn’t be to long from now. The weather was already changing, the temperatures were starting to rise a bit now and stay there. There were many more days of blue sky, and Jill had sworn she saw geese flying north.
As he passed the smoke house, his mouth watered at the smells from inside. Inside were four deer, and an elk. All bagged in the last two weeks. To his mind that meant there were no zombies any where in the area because animals ended to avoid the undead.
The last three months had been hectic, and cold, damn cold. Jared thought. there had only been the occasional attacks by the one eyed prick who just ghosted in and would set a fire or sabotage equipment and then vanish back into the snow. He was waging a war of terror, not really trying to do much of anything at this point. But that would escalate Jared was sure of that. and One more thing Jared was sure of, when they left so would One eye.
Reaching the center he headed to his quarters, where he found Sharon and Jill sitting on the makeshift bed talking. He waved to them and grabbed the notebook he need and headed back out into the common area.
Sitting down he flipped open the notebook and went over the notes and ideas, that had been talked about at the last meeting. Meetings, he had thought that they would be a thing of the past. But turns out you need meetings at the end of the world too he thought dryly.
Tomorrow was set to be a big day for both the farm and Jared’s folks. Tomorrow Jared was leading the team to an RV park on the other side of Cherokee to secure more rides. They had decided that there was a serious need for RVs, to many people crammed into regular vehicles. RV’s would give ever one, especially the kids, a place to spread out and feel sort of at home.They needed those RV’s if they were going to continue riding around like modern day nomads.
Ori had decided to dump his truck, the truck he had lovingly rebuilt from the frame up to make it one hell of an off road machine. Its biggest problem was miles per gallon. Not that RVs got much more mileage either, but there was no plans at this point to go off road. the point how ever, he reminded himself was Ori’s truck sucked gas down like there was no tomorrow, and stopping to fill up the fuel trucks took a lot of time and a lot of risk.
He had also been busy setting up combat Teams, He wanted Chris, Ori, Steve, Ronny, Logan and Jill on team one. Team two would be composed of the men from Logan’s group. Chad had enough training now to do a credible imitation of a squad leader for the second tea. Mary would lead Team three composed of Henry, who had become much more of a team player since the One eyed man had interfered with his life, Ryan, a 17 year old who had been at the farm with friends when the world ended, Jerry, Ryan’s only remaining friend, along with Gabriel and Barry. All of them had been put thru the training program and were at least competent enough not to shoot themselves or hopefully any one else not shooting at them.
Ronny still wanted to get a real plane and said he knew exactly where one was at, and wanted permission to scout ahead to where that plane was as soon as the weather cleared up enough to get back over the mountains.
According to him it was some old war world 2 navy plane, made to take off and land on both rough fields and water. it could carry a pilot, navigator and he thought five or six people. Jared had asked him if he was sure he could fly it and Ronnys answer had been “ if it can crash, I can fly it”. Jared not thrilled with that comment put a question mark next that idea in his notebook. Tomorrow was going to be a true bitch he suspected.
The sun rose in a splash of rose and gold. It was a cold crisp morning, with only wisps of clouds across the sky. Jared stood beside the plow, taking a few deep breaths enjoying the morning. Lloyds people were running the patrols today, and would be pulling a lot more Patrol duty to get used to it before Jared’s crew pulled out.
They drove thru the gutted town of Cherokee, where several more buildings had burned down over the last couple of months, and surprisingly saw no zombies. Jared noted every intact gas station they passed. What he really wanted was to find one of those semi truck fuel tankers. They would be sitting pretty fuel wise if they could just luck into one.
On the south side of Cherokee, they had to maneuver thru a massive car wreck. Jared used the plow to push as many vehicles out of the way as possible. Sometimes, he could see the Undead still strapped into their seats inside the wrecks, beating on the windows or the steering wheel. It was an image that was hard to shake.
It took almost an hour to cover eight miles, between the snow and the wrecks. But they eventually found themselves on 74 heading south. “ Look at that” Jill said pointing to a Highway patrol car half buried in snow. “ coming to a stop” Jared said over the radio then applied the brakes and came to a stop near the cruiser. Jill climbed into the bed of the snow plow and covered him.
The Patrol car door was closed and he couldn’t see anything thru the frost covered windows. Most of the drivers side of the car was clear of snow where the wind had blown it away. Jared tapped on the window, but heard nothing from the inside. Steeling his nerves he tried the handle but it was frozen shut.
Undeterred he drew one of his Tomahawks and shattered the window. Shining a light into the interior he saw the front seat was empty with the barrier between the drivers section and the back he wasn’t worried about any zombies that might be inside. he checked the floorboard a second time then reached inside the vehicle and pulled the 12 gauge pump shotgun from the rack a quick check showed him the ammo sleeve on the stock was full.
He hunted around till he found the trunk release and popped the trunk. The Ice that covered the Trunk wasn’t anything to worry. He could use a Tomahawk to break it, and if that didn’t work. He could cut a hole in the trunk lid. Gotta love mil spec, military issued combat tomahawks he thought. they had been designed to cut through metal.
He was just pulling out of the window when something slammed against the wire mesh of the divider startling him. Jared jerked upright and hit his head on the roof of the cruiser. He shown his light and saw, a zombie, emaciated beyond belief, trying to gnaw thru the mesh to get at him. Its arms were still handcuffed Jared noted and it wore the old AC/DC concert tshirt the man had died in.
poor bastard must have starved to death locked in the back of the cruiser. Probably lived for a while with zombies clawing at windows before he died. He probably went bat shit long before he died, who wouldn’t, Jared thought
Getting the trunk open turned out to be fairly easy, and he grinned as he lifted out the fully tricked out AR from a case in the trunk.
There was probably ten extra pounds on the front of the weapon due to all the rails and extra gear attached to them, Jared thought as he slung it over his shoulder then continued to look through the trunks contents finding a bag with eight Magazines for the AR, a cleaning kit, and an extra barrel inside.
He wondered just how many rounds that trooper thought he was going to have to send downrange to need an extra barrel. There was also an emergency kit, mostly first aid stuff, two boxes of ammo for the mossberg, and five for the AR. The last couple of things he found was set of body armor, and in a black case, fourth gen. NVG’ with two spare batterys. He carried his haul back to the plow and stored it in the back. “Well that was worth a stop” he commented as he pulled away.
Jill was the one who spotted the sign for the RV park a little later. He slowed and took the turn, the drive during the spring would have been nice with the over arching tree limbs. In the winter it looked more like a road in a horror movie that would dead end at a cemetery.
He slowed to a crawl as they passed the cabin that served as the parks office. Most of the slots were filled he noted as they entered the campground proper. The camp was dived in two halves, a central lane ran down the center and connecting the two circular drives on each side.
Towards the back of the park were a row of cabins, six to each side of a common house that held a kitchen, dining area, bathrooms with showers and a clothes washing room. a sign at a gravel path pointed behind the cabins to a tent camping area.
“ why do you think so many stayed here” Jill asked looking around.
“ some people lived in their RVs, others were on long family vacations from out of state and probably decided that staying put was safer than trying to drive on interstates that were already being closed, and even worse ran thru a city. “ Jared replied.
They did two passes on the center road, then cleared each loop of any undead they saw. In all it took an hour.
Jared parked the plow on the center lane. “ team one and two north side. Team three your on Guard.” He said as he opened the door and hopped out of the plow. He walked around to the passenger side. where the rest of the team gathered. Here and there they could see zombies in the snow, struggling to get to the living meat. “ melee only” Jared said drawing his tomahawks. Team two already knew that on the guard function of their mission they were only to fire if any zombies made it to the vehicles.
There were twenty RVs on the north side, Jared led the team to camp site right at the entrance to the east loop. “ we need to clear them all,” Jared said. “ might be stuff in them we can use anyway.” They dispatched the two zombies near the huge maroon and white RV with slide outs, quickly.
Jared walked up and knocked on the RVs door then waited. After a moment they could hear something bumping around inside the vehicle moving closer to the door.
“ I really hate slow motion combat” Chris muttered, it was rapidly becoming his phrase of choice these days. Jared knocked again, and something hit the door on the other side. he stepped back and nodded at Logan who stood safely to one side and opened the door.
An elderly zombie, dressed in cargo shorts, a bright orange Tshirt and one sandal lunged out the door hands outstretched, trying to grasp the first person it saw, which was Jared. who calmly planted the butt spike of the tomahawk into its skull. It collapsed into the snow with out a sound.
“ Three down, and one, two damn many left to go” Ronny said watching a zombie that was steadily making its way closer thru the snow. It should be here by the day after tomorrow he thought. “ any one remember that movie Space balls” he asked.
“ Keep your mind on the mission” Jared said as he stepped inside, followed by steve.
“ just wondering if any one remembers the name of the woman who played princess what’s her name. She was smoking hot.”
“ she’s probably wandering around LA today.” Jill said giving him a glare.
The rest of the Rv proved to be empty. The Next RV went smoothly they killed the slow creepier as they approached and repeated the knocking procedure. Chris added in taunting as a change of pace.
Which was really wasted effort since the RV was empty of people as well as undead. The third RV was a bloody mess. When the door opened, the first zombie out was a kid all of ten years old, his ear was missing and part of his thigh. His sister, still dressed in a little sun dress, was missing most of her throat. Jared buried a tomahawk in the boys forehead, and pivoted to the left and smashed his off hand tomahawk into the little girls head. Jill turned away retching.
Daddy zombie piled out and somehow knocked Chris down with his flailing arms. Daddy turned and jumped on Chris instantly. Chris managed to get a hand under its jaw and was holding its snapping teeth away from his throat.
Logan rushed up his axe raised over his head, and Chris screamed at him to stop. Jill was the closest, and stepped in drawing a long knife and drove it into Daddy’s ear. The dead weight collapsed on Chris who cursed heavily in relief. So heavily in fact that Jared considered starting a Pappy’s Medal of Creative and masterful cursing and award it to him on the spot.
It was at that moment momma zombie, a once pretty brunette in a shorts and a bikini top rushed out of the RV, Straight for Logan. Who, much to his embarrassment, screamed like a little girl and back pedaled. Suddenly she went flying into the side of the RV her head caved in from the Butt of Steve’s rifle. “Focus people.” Steve said looking grim.
Jared entered the RV and tried to ignore the blood splattered teddy bear and coloring books. The cupboards were mostly full and there was no way in hell he was going to open the fridge.
In the little nightstand he found a lock box that wasn’t quite strong enough to stand against his Tomahawk. Inside was a colt 1911, two extra magazines and two boxes of ammo. he slid all of it into the cargo pocket of his BDU’s.
By one pm they had the north side completely clear. They had found several small arms, mostly glocks, a couple of Sigs. “ Do we really need to clear the south side.” Ronny asked eyeing the RVs, over there.
“ do we need food?” Jared replied. Ronny didn’t argue, every bit of food they could stock the RVs with before they left the Farm would be of great help.
“I’m claiming that one “ Ori said pointing to a Green and Tan RV that had a Land Rover parked next to it.
“ Why that RV” Chris asked.
“ Not the RV you twit the Land rover, I’ll haul it behind which ever RV I decide on.” Ori said almost grinning at the thought of having a Land Rover to play with.
“ Twit, who in the hell uses twit anymore” Ronny asked as they moved across the center lane and set up to hit the first RV on the south side. Jared had Team three move up and had team two move to the second loop on the south side.
“ Chad remember, slow and steady. Remember the drills.” Jared reminded the younger man, thinking he really should have put one of the experienced guys in the group with Team two. “ all right lets do it”
By the time they finished, it was almost an hour before sunset. Sunset in the mountains was usually earlier than the low lands, people who didn’t live in the mountains rarely knew that little fact. Occasionally if you looked up after sunset you could see the peaks still lined with the sunset even though it was dark in the valleys.
“ do you want to come back tomorrow and finish this” Ronny asked looking at the shadows already starting their slow creep across the ground.
“No, we have the RVs picked out already. Team three can pull guard while the rest of us strip as much as we can from the Rvs we are leaving behind. Concentrate on food first.”
It took only an hour to strip out all the food stuffs in the RVs. the pantry spaces and cabinets were not that large. With no zombies in sight, Jared handed out the three NVGs to Chad, Ronny and Mary who would act as look outs while the rest of the group went back in and searched by flashlight. Jared really didn’t want to come back later, and really hated the thought of leaving something they might need.
Jill stripped every set of sheets, pillows, towels, paper towels, tampons, toilet paper, pots, pans, silverware, pretty much everything including the curtains from each RV she entered.
Jared had to laugh, she was thinking practically while the men were looking for weapons and ammo, food and tools, and finding little of it. he didn’t doubt some of the weapons were laying in the snow where they owners had dropped them when they had been pulled down and eaten by the undead.
All they walked away with weapon wise were two 30 30’s, and about five hundred rounds of 30 30 ammo. two more boxes of 9mil but no weapons. A 38 and forty rounds for it. and a .22 with two thousand rounds of ammo.
they had also recovered about twenty fishing poles, ten tackle boxes. Four cb’s, a portable cd player and twenty movies. Mostly kids movies, though Ronny, go figure, had found some porn DVD’s in another RV. They loaded it all up. Team three, tasked with driving the new Rv back to the Farm s along with some of members of Teams one and two.
And that is when hit they first snags. Some of the RVs refused to start, Private Murphy struck again.
Jared decided to send Ronny and Chris back to the Farm along with the younger members of Team three to bring Rob and Eric back out here to with tools to work on the RV’s. The rest of the teams would stay here and guard their new vehicles.
Ori had already checked out the Land rover and it started up easily, much to every ones surprise.
While they waited, Jared had a few people check over the generators in the RVs. The ones fitted with the silent generators were tested and then fired up. He had half the remaining people go inside, and get the heat on and relax. While the other half stayed outside and kept watch.
“ Did you hear that.” Ori asked over the radio.
“ Hear what” Steve responded, he couldn’t hear a thing but the wind through the trees.
“ a Motor somewhere south and east of us.” Ori responded.
“ Might be Ronny coming back” Steve suggested still not hearing a thing
“ not from the southwest you idiot.” Ori replied
“Quiet let me listen” Jared called out.
At first he heard nothing, then after a few minutes he heard what sounded like a vehicles motor off in the distance. After a bit it faded out.
“ Think it could be those militia weenies” Ori asked.
“Maybe, might be a troop of heavily armed girl scouts selling cookies too” Steve said laughing softly.
“Remember that girlfriend of Ronny’s” Ori asked suddenly. “ Remember we showed up at his place and that cute little blond of his answered the door thinking it was Ronny and she was wearing that girl scout uniform, it was like two sizes to small.”
Steve laughed over the radio. “ Remember that, hell I still fantasize about that one.” Steve transmitted, chuckling.
“ com sec folks” Jared said cutting them off.
Half an hour later Ronnie and the others returned. The trucks pulled up and stopped, men piling out
Rob hopped out of Ronny’s truck, with only a grunt of greeting to Jared and headed to the first RV. Jared headed inside the powered Rv and sent out those inside to take over guard duty.
Steve sprawled on the couch, and looked around thoughtfully. “ do you ever think that heading to the coast is the wrong move Jared.” Steve asked, suddenly
“ Every day brother’ Jared replied.
“Then why keep going that way. I mean dreams and scraps of radio chatter don’t mean much. The closer we get, the thicker the towns and City’s are going to get and those places are going to be filled with those things Jared.
We faced how many zombies on Christmas, out here, and that was hard enough and with prepared defenses and a good plan and lots of ammo. But what if we have to roll thru Raleigh, or Charleston. I hate to piss in your cheerios, but we don’t have the ammo for that. “
“ I know, but we, no I have to get the kids there.” Jared replied with conviction.
“ Why, that’s all I’m asking. Throw me a bone. Im with you all the way, regardless Brother, unless you start acting really strange and wearing white robes. Then I’m knocking you ass out.” Stephan said attempting humor.
Jared looked around for a moment. He knew his friends would stay by him no matter what the answer but they were looking for something they could understand. And he couldn’t help them there. Lets face it saying because I was told to in a dream wasn’t going to cut it. he had thought a lot about it over the winter and prayed for a few more dreams. But hadn’t gotten any yet. Maybe he never would again.
“ I thought it was a great place we could live, all of us. Face it, its a large fort, can hold a pretty decent amount of people and there’s two other forts nearby we can take and hold. No way a zombie is going to get thru those walls, or any one else that doesn’t have an army and artillery. But the more I thought about it the more I get the feeling Im right and wrong. I cant explain it. but we have to get the kids there after that, I guess either more dreams hinting at what to do next or we live out our days there. me personally I plan on putting together enough people to hold the place. Then heading back here, there’s still a lot of people out here that need help. They at least need to know they aren’t alone in the world. “ Jared said.
“ King Jared and his Knights of the Automotive round table” Ori said dryly. “ if we end up having to look for the holy grail we had better find the abby with the women who bathe, dress, knit exciting underwear and like to be spanked”
“ I’ll make a note of that” Jared said with a grin.
The night passed slow and cold, Rob worked steadily occasionally getting some one to go strip a part off another RV. By morning the last of the RVs were fixed. They rolled out two hours later, having spent the extra time doing one more sweep through the remaining RVs to make sure they had not missed anything useful in the last night.
It was close to ten in the morning when they pulled into the parking lot of the Center, Jared noted that the two men on duty at the newly built gate, looked upset about something, but decided to wait till he parked to ask questions.
Stepping out of the Van the first thing he saw was a grim faced Bridget, striding towards him. Linda trailed along behind Bridget looking sick and heartbroken. Dread washed over Jared.
“ Jared, I.. While you were gone. That son of … he took Billy thornton. The patrol found him up at the cemetery.” Bridget said her voice trailed off as tears filled her eyes.
Billy Thornton was all of seven years old and had followed Jared around like a shadow when he was allowed to. For a moment the image of the smiling blond haired, chubby kids faced floated up to the forefront of Jared’s mind, the kid had been so full of life and promise.
His blood started to boil, he didn’t have to ask if the kid was alive he could hear the truth in Bridgets voice and see it on Linda’s face.
Linda finally spoke, her voice choking. “ what that bastard did to him Jared… I cant… ” she broke down sobbing. He walked away with out a word. Steve caught up with him at the Snow mobiles.
“ You’re not going up there alone Jared.” Steve said, his lips pressed into a thin grim line, his eyes hard.
“ Thanks” was about all Jared could say, his mind creating one hideous image after another and he knew it wouldn’t stop till he saw the truth for himself.
If you had stayed, he would still be alive, it tolled thru Jared’s mind like an obscene bell, a guilt he couldn’t deny it because he knew with certainty that Billy Thornton had been picked because that one eyed dead man walking had seen Jared playing with the kid.
Entering the cemetery, Jared saw the patrol first, they stood around the body, Silent as the snow around them, as if they were an honor guard. And in a way they were. He climbed off the snow mobile and strode thru the group of men then stopped his breath hissing out between his teeth as he saw the body for the first time.
Fury welled in him, pulsing thru his veins, like thunder in his ears, as he saw that small broken and bloody blue white body. Billy had been through so much, losing his parents, hell losing his world to the undead, and constant fear. With so damn few moments of happiness since the day, and then he had died hideously and painfully. Jared’s heart was beating so heavily it threatened to break out of his chest, a deep painful loss welled up inside him, for a child he had grown to care for.
“I.. I had to shoot him.” One of the men said haltingly knowing that what he had done was necessary and hating himself for doing it. “ he had already…” the man said his voice trailing off into silence. Jared nodded in understanding. Billy had died and come back as one of the undead, and that sick son of whore had left him like that.
Jared’s hands clenched spastically as he saw the sign nailed to the tree. He didn’t know how this prick knew about the sign Ronny had left back at their camp. but he did. It read Evil 1 living 2. 25 more to go.
Steve was as sick as any one there, but his eyes were fixed on Jared. Jared who looked suddenly calm, cold and collected. He had seen that look once before back in the sandbox. Who ever this monster was, he had just screwed up. Jared walked over to the little body, tears in his eyes, and wrapped the child’s corpse in his coat then gathered the kid up.
Jared didn’t speak as he walked back across the snow that crunched and cracked under his boots. There was only ringing silence from the group who watched as Jared climbed onto his snow mobile and gently placed the body in his lap, cradling it with one arm.
He sat there for a moment his eyes sweeping the woods around the cemetery. “I know your watching you low life son of Fucking whore. When we finally meet, Im going to make you suffer for every person, every child you kill. That’s a promise.” He yelled furiously, his voice echoing off the ridges.
The group rode back in silence, no one wanted to speak. Jared’s face was set in stone as he carried the child to the grave that Lloyd had prepared with the back hoe while they were collecting the body.
Jill and Steve watched and didn’t know what to say or do as Jared refused to let any one else handle the child’s body till the coffin was ready. It was nothing fancy, just a plain box really. But to every one of them it was a symbol of life cut to short, a symbol of the all the children lost since the world had ended.
Beth was sobbing so heavily that Ori had to hold her up, she was having a hard time watching as Jared gently placed the little body inside the box.
Jared paused looking down at the body thankful the kids eyes were closed. He didn’t think he could have taken seeing those eyes. He reached down and pulled his dog tags from a pocket. He slipped the chain over Billy’s head and placed the dog tags neatly on the kids chest.
“You always liked wearing them kid. Their yours now. Rest in peace.” He said as he stood and stepped away and if his eyes glistened wetly no one present would have blamed him. Lloyd’s people nailed the coffin closed then slowly lowered it into the waiting cold ground.
Lloyd led a short service and then every one headed for the Center feeling the need for companionship. Jared hesitated at the graveside, knowing that Jill and Steve were standing there waiting behind him. He looked at the small mound of dirt burning the image into his mind then after a moment he turned and walked away.
“Your insane” Steve said loudly glaring at Ronny. “ two people flying an ultralight into an airport in a town full of undead, to grab a world war 2 aircraft. And fly back out in an ultra light and a plane.”
“ we can use the damn thing, it was restored using a motor that can burn regular fuel, it has a range of 751 miles. It can hold five people, six if they are really close, land on rough fields and water.” Ronny said as calmly as he could, he knew it was a good idea, but getting Jared and Steve to see that was harder than convincing a virgin to put out on the first date.
“ And requires a large amount of space to take off and land on.” Jared pointed out.
“ not really Jared, stop and think about the advantages. That kind of range means I can fly a hundred miles ahead of the convoy and check out towns and Cities well before you reach them. I could fly all the way to Fort sumter and check, it out if you really wanted. And I can take it up in weather and areas that I wouldn’t dream of using the ultra light.” Ronny replied.
“ Okay how would we haul it. Because you cant be flying it 24/7.” Ori asked.
“ We can haul it on a trailer. or tow it behind a vehicle.” Ronnie said.
“ If I even allowed this that means the other person on that ultra light you fly into the city to pick this plane up is going to be a kid. I cant do that Ronny.” Jared said, and he meant it. Ronny had only been train Ben and Ian to fly the ultra light and there was no way in hell Jared was going to risk those two boys lives for a Plane.
“ then Ill take Jason or Logan. I can teach them the basics, enough to get them back to where we launched from.”
Jared looked thoughtful, then said. “ use Jason, you have a week to teach him how to fly the damn thing. I’m not saying Ill go for it. but I’ll think about it. But if we do go after the plane, I think we are going to need a ground team too.”
Ronny nodded happy for that much. Outside the group was getting the vehicles ready for the road. They were going to have to make a gas run, in Cherokee. Jared figured they had a week before the last of the snow to melted.
Add in another couple of days to prepare for and pick up the plane, assuming it was even where Ronny said it would be, Which Jared wouldn’t bet money on. So say two weeks tops before they could leave the Farm.
The attacks on the farm had stopped for now and Jared suspected the motor they heard that night at the RV park might have been one eye leaving the area. which bothered Jared, the man wasn’t going to just give up, or was it possible the Psycho knew where they were going. What ever the truth was, Jared was certain that there would be no more attacks on the farm by One eye.
Maybe one eye had his own dreams that told him where the group was going. Jared wasn’t thrilled with that idea, but he wasn’t really surprised. His dream and Gayle had warned him of opposition.
He glanced over to see watch Ryan, Jerry, Nancy, and Brendan loading supplies into the deuce and half. All four of them wanted to leave with the Group. Lloyd wasn’t happy about that, but there was little he could do about it, or the two adults that wanted to leave as well. As far as it went, Brendan and Nancy were 18 and qualified as adults too. But more and more these days people were having to rethink what being an adult meant and it had little to do with age and work experience.
That still left Lloyd with a fairly large group, and John Graham had already said he would send some of their folks to live at the farm to help earn the food the Cherokee compound needed.
And all this was a distraction, did his group need a plane. Yes being able to scout by air, especially long range was major bonus. But was the fuel it needed better used somewhere else. Did they really need a World War 2 plane search and rescue float plane. Might as well steal a c 130, or a C 5 while we were dreaming big, Jared told himself.
Lets face it, Ronny had been right about the Ultra light and it was possible he was right about this plane too and as Ronny had pointed out it could be landed on major highways and interstates.
Most people had no idea that when highways were being built, part of the design had been to used interstates and highways as emergency airstrips for military craft in case of war. So he was pretty certain they could find areas to camp where the plane could land.
But was the risk, acquiring the plane worth it, four men, two landing in ultra light, two more entering the airfield by vehicle. Ultra light lands, Ronny and two men secure the Plane while ultra light lifts off and returns to launch point. Ronny gets the plane started and takes off with the two-man team. How many zombies, how bad can it go wrong? Can you say crash and burn Jared. He laughed silently at the tasteless joke.
Ori and Himself for the two-man team. He decided. If he ended up giving the go to secure the craft and that was still up in the air. Pun not intended and As much as he hated to fly, if any one was going to take a risk on something this insane he was and he knew Ori wasn’t going to be left behind.
Besides Ori was the best shot and sneak in the group, possibly in the top twenty shots and sneaks in the nation. Well before it got eaten at any rate. Jason to fly the ultra light out, and of course Ronny as pilot. He made several notes, then tapped the pen on the page as He realized he had already made up his mind.
I am such a sucker, He told himself with a heavy theatrical sigh.
Besides if something really nasty went down later, Ronny might be able to get a few people out by air.
The week passed quickly, the weather continued to improve. Most of the snow was gone. Spring was in the air, other than a few snap frosts the weather was getting mild. “ I still don’t like the fact your going” Jill said stopping Jared before he could leave their room.
“ I know, but who do I send. Steve, Bridget’s expecting. Chris, Shelley, Logan maybe. No I’m the best choice, and I knew you wouldn’t like it when I came up with it.” Jared said with feeling.
“Jared it’s an airfield near Sevierville, do you have any idea how many zombies there are there. A lot” JIll pointed out, not ready to admit he was right.
“Jill I promise if it looks like there are to many I’ll scrub the mission okay.” Jared said softly, She glared at him for a moment then softened, kissing him lightly on the lips. Her body pressed against his.
“ You had better come back” she said, he felt her heat against him and smiled.
“ Better believe it.” Jared said savoring the moment then leaned into Jill and kissed her softly. He would come back come hell or high water.
They drove slowly up Newfound gap with out a problem. Lloyd had sent some men to plowed it three days ago, and they had been working to clear enough of the landslide for the trucks to pass through. Lloyd would even issue some of the dynamite to re block the road once the Group returned, or failed to return in three days.
“ You sure you want to do this. You don’t like to fly remember.” Steve said as they passed thru the mountains and began to head down towards Gatlingburg.
Jared gazed out over the scene taken by its beauty; trees were starting to turn green again there was a promise of new life in the air. “ I’m sure man. Its nothing but a thing brother. I mean the worst that could happen is I get gang raped by a horde of zombies. Second worst thing is the plane could crash. And the third worst thing is I piss myself on the flight.” Jared said. Steve shook his head almost smiling..
“ We’re here, “ Jared said pointing at the old national park visitor center.
They parked and stood watching while Ronny and the others got the ultra light off loaded and attached the wings. Rob checked over the ranger’s SUV they had left behind last fall. Jared, Ori and Steve cleared the visitor center again just to be on the safe side and found that six zombies had dropped by during the winter to see what the winter activities were like. They dispatched them quickly using melee weapons.
As they finished mopping up, they heard the truck start up outside. they looked at each other for a second. “ I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t start.” Ori said. Jared smiled with no humor.
“ Me too actually.” Jared agreed then walked outside Ori and Steve trailing behind him.
Jared and Ori loaded up their gear into the Park ranger’s truck and waved to Ronny and Jason as they pulled out. Ronny would take off in an hour. Jared wanted to make sure they arrived at just about the same time. So Ronny would fly the route that Jared was going to drive. If Ronny found the Truck wasn’t in position yet, he knew to circle and wait.
Jared drove slowly thru the wrecks there seemed to be more of them now than when they had passed thru late fall. Here and there he saw huge knots of undead pour out of buildings they passed, and stumble after the truck. “are you sure you really want to head out of the farm.” Ori asked looking out the window.
“ Not want, got to” Jared replied. “ You can stay if you want” Jared said suddenly, totally serious. “ I mean it, you and Beth can stay behind. I wont hold it against you Ori.” Ori knew Jared meant it, but there was no way he was staying behind. And there was no way Beth would leave those kids even if he wanted to.
“Forget it,” Ori replied grimly.
It was a shock to see so many of the undead, Jared realized. Since the attack on Christmas day at the farm, they had rarely seen a single zombie. Which might be due to the snow more than anything else, but here and now as they approached Pigeon Forge, the undead were every where stumbling out from around corners, and open doorways, climbing out of wrecks, even falling from building windows occasionally.
“What the hell,” Ori said pointing. Jared wished he hadn’t looked. The zombie had been pregnant when she died, her side torn open. But the odd thing was she was slowly pushing a stroller along the side of the road.
“haven’t ever seen that before” Ori commented. Jared nodded in agreement, as he spotted the turn off to the back road that would take them around the bulk of Pigeon forge. He turned and saw the road had fewer abandoned vehicles and sped up some.
The back road would help them avoid the larger population of zombies in Pigeon forge, But to get to the airport they would have to go into Seiverville and take 441. and that meant thousands of zombies, and Jared wasn’t thrilled with that idea. But there was nothing else to do about it. “Ronny is in the air by now” Ori commented.
The city of Sevierville, was a wreck. Burned out buildings were scattered through out the area they drove thru. One was still smoking. They drove past homes, where zombies staggered out of the doors. They could see a horde of zombies trapped in a grocery store as they passed, When the power went out, the doors no longer opened automatically and now the undead, trapped inside, pressed against the huge plate glass windows clawing slowly at the glass as the truck passed.
Playgrounds, Parks, Parking lots, every where they passed had groups of zombies standing around, zombies that turned at the sound and sight of the Truck and began to follow.
He drove as fast as he dared, weaving in and out of abandoned vehicles that littered the roads, sometimes he drove up onto the sidewalks or lawns. Finally they reached 441 and turned, it was a nightmare of wrecks and undead.
Jared made a conscious effort to avoid running down Zombies most of the time, but occasionally he had no choice, he clenched his teeth as the truck bounced and swayed over the bodies, trying not to hear the snap and pop of breaking bones.
Behind them the crowd of undead was growing as more and more zombies poured out of buildings and took to the road following the sound of the trucks motor. “I’m starting to think this was a bad idea” Ori commented looking back at the distant crowd that just kept coming.
“You just started thinking this was a bad Idea. I’ve been thinking that since I saw the first group of twenty zombies.” Jared said with a tight grin.
“I don’t think we can cancel the mission at this point. Too many behind us to get out, and the ones coming out as we pass keep the ones behind them excited and moving towards us” Ori commented.
A shadow passed over the truck about then and Ori leaned forward and looked up. “ there they are.” He said turning on his radio. “ What does it look like from up there” Ori asked.
a minute later Ronny’s voice came back. “You don’t even want to know what it looks like behind you. But you can speed up, there are two wrecks over the next mile but you can go around them easily.”
“ roger that keep us informed.” Ori said,
“ Hang on!” Jared said and floored the pedal. The truck surged ahead, gathering speed. Ori got slammed against the door as Jared slalomed around a wreck the back end of the truck clipping the corner of a Furniture store as they shot up onto the sidewalk. They could hear glass breaking behind them. Ori looked back and saw two zombies stumble out of the store and begin to follow the truck.
“ Turn off in two miles” Ronny said over the radio. “ the Air museum hanger area and the airport itself look clear from up here.” A minute later Jared turned off tires squealing.
The faster they could get to the hanger and shut off the motor. The more likely it was that the huge horde a couple of miles back would lose interest and wander off, at least till the plane got started. He drove past the public entrance and went straight to the gate. not seeing any zombies he hopped out with bolt cutters and cut the lock off. once he got the truck inside, he shut the gate and locked it with a chain and padlock he carried before driving around back to the main hanger doors.
He and Ori geared up and checked the area as the ultra light landed. “ Ill wait till I am sure you don’t need a ride out” Jason told Ronny. Ronny only nodded and ran to the hanger doors. they got them unlocked and rolled them open. “ Looks they never opened that day” Ronnie said pointing at the plane. “there she is.” He said. “ at least its by the doors” Ori muttered. The plane a Grumman JF6 or more accurately a OA-12, a refit for the US Air force air sea rescue plane.
The plane, a bi plane with floats on both lower wings, was interesting looking to say the least. The main pontoon or float, was part of the body it was technically a blended body and jutted forward under and past the propeller, the tandem cockpit had the pilots seat forward and the observation seat aft. A third person could actually fit in the aft section at the radio station. A hatch in the side gave access to the two-man passenger section. It had a narrow track landing gear, much like the F4.
Ronny with Ori at his side rushed to the side of the Hanger and got the tug out. Jared kept guard. “Jason, get airborne and give us an updated. If we need you to land I’ll call” Jared said. His only reply was the Ultra light moving forward.
Ronny and Ori got the hand tug hooked up and hauled the Duck out onto the apron.
While Ori unhooked the tug and moved it out of the way, Ronny climbed up and slid into the pilot’s seat. “Fuel, find the fuel truck” Ronny yelled.
“Oh this is great, of course they wouldn’t keep a fully fueled plane on display.” Jared muttered as he looked around and spotted a fuel truck parked across the field near the small terminal. “Ori keep an eye on Ronny I will be right back” Jared said as he climbed back into the truck placing his rifle on the seat.
Driving up to the terminal he could see zombies thru the windows, leaping out he grabbed his rifle and ran the five feet to the fuel truck. And of course there were no keys inside. he climbed into the cab, and closed the door, then stretched out on the seat his feet towards the passenger side. He refused to hot wire the truck from the driver’s side with his ass and legs hanging out to get bitten. He thanked Romero for that little tid bit of information.
He worked quickly, hot-wiring not being one of his strong suits. But he had rebuilt, and built enough trucks to know what wires did what on the column. “Let it start “ he prayed aloud as he touched the wires. The engine kicked over and he twisted the wires together. Sitting up he saw maybe twelve zombies coming around the corner of the terminal.
Just then Jason called out. “ You have a group coming at you”
“Thanks I see em, “ Jared replied as he put the truck into gear.
“No that’s the small group, the huge one is the one that’s pouring out of the public entrance to the terminals.” Jason replied
“Oh lovely.” Jared said and floored it. The half mile distance between the hanger and the Terminal should give them twenty minutes.
As Jared pulled up, Ronnie guided him into position then pulled out the hose and hooked them up and locked the nozzle into place, before engaging the pumps. Jared hopped out, and turned to face the hanger leaving Ori to concentrate on the terminal.
“ we have ten more exiting a hanger across the airstrip” Ori said suddenly.
“ ten more minutes and she will be full” Ronny called out.
“ are you sure you can fly this thing” Jared called back.
“ I hope so it’s a bit late to be wrong.” Ronny said laughing.
‘ oh shit” Jared muttered as he saw a door across the museum hanger swing open. “Ori we have one, no three, no hang on. One, two, damn many zombies coming at us from the museum,” Jared said, realizing that the museum must have been open that day in June after all, in the panic as the undead rolled over the airport, someone had locked the front doors down trying to save those who sheltered inside.
One or more of the survivors must have been bitten before the lockdown and died shortly after the doors had been locked.
He could imagine the nightmare scenario, locking those doors had spawned. The end result how ever were the thirty zombies now coming across the hangar right at them.
“ Engaging” Jared called out as he lifted his rifle and took aim. The bark of the commando was loud in the hangar. He ignored what the zombies looked like, they were only targets to him at this moment. He would fire, acquire, and fire again. Occasionally he would have to shoot a target twice. The last four were forty feet away when he ejected the spent mag and placed it in a pouch then slapped another mag into the receiver, jacked the charging handle and took aim once more.
“Clear, down one mag” Jared called out.
“ Five minutes” Ronny called out. Ori began to fire. Jared tossed a look in his direction and saw seven zombies, dressed as mechanics tumble to the ground. They had come from the hangar across the strip.
“ I think there’s maybe a hundred in that crowd” Ori said eyeing the group approaching from the terminal. Jared looked towards the gate they had entered and saw more there. many more than he would have expected. Some of those following the truck must have managed to keep it in sight.
“ Ronny get a move on, we don’t have time.” Jared called out as he watching the gate began to sway.
“ Two hundred feet” Ori called out.
“Lets start picking them off” Jared said as he began to fire methodically at the zombies trying to get thru the gate. He could hear Ori’s rifle firing from the front.
The gate was swaying wildly now, the sound of gun fire and the sight of the living driving the undead mad, it seemed like every one of the undead that Jared shot two more replaced, it was an unending tide of the dead.. “One minute” Ronny shouted.
“ Make it a fast minute” Ori yelled.
“ If I live thru this Ronny Im kicking your ass for this idea” Jared shouted.
The gate came down with a crash and zombies poured thru the hole, bearing down on the humans. “ Done” Ronny shouted as he pulled the fuel line free and dropped it. By the time he got the pump shut off there was a huge puddle on the ground. Jared was firing steadily into the crowd, dropping the leading zombies. He heard the air crafts engine cough once then twice as he started in on his fourth Magazine. Then suddenly the plane roared to life.
Ori ran for the hatch and scrambled inside. Jared moved backwards, “Ori tell him to start taxiing, I can run and catch up he has to get distance between the plane and those things”
“ Gotcha brother start running now.” The plane picked up speed as it moved across the apron then rolled onto the taxiway where Ronny stopped it to wait for Jared. he had Placed it halfway between both groups of zombies.
Jared ran sixty feet then turned and knelt. He sighed quickly; as the mob of zombies flowed past the fuel truck he fired two bursts into the fuel truck.
the shock wave blew him backwards, even as a fireball swallowed the closest group of undead. “Jared, Jared get your damned ass up.” Ori shouted in his ear. Jared shook his head and sat up groggily confused when he didn’t see Ori. . It was the ear bud. Yep that was it. “ Jared, If I have to get out of this plane I will kick your butt” Ori shouted again. zombies, Jared thought, his brain not really working. Lots of zombies he thought as he saw the flames leaping up into the air. he got to his feet and looked towards the terminal. Those zombies were a lot closer now. He must have been out for a minute or so.
He got himself into a unsteady run, as Ronny fed more power to the motor and stood on the brakes. Behind him several flaming zombies emerged from the fire. They only managed a few steps before the heat destroyed their brains and then fell dead.
Ori reached out of the hatch and grasped Jared’s hands and pulled him inside the plane as both men tumbled inside Ori Kicked the wall to let Ronny know Jared was aboard.
With a Roar the plane shot forward as Jared fell into the small seat.
“ Im going to kill him” Jared muttered as he strapped in. His stomach tighten as the plane turned and then began to pick up speed.
“ Take a number” Ori replied.
Ronny got them on the runway, and saw the undead at the far end. He eyed the distance between the plane, the undead and what he needed to take off and did a quick calculation then fed the plane more power, eyes scanning the instruments. The distance dropped steadily, One Hundred feet, seventy feet, Fifty feet.
The undead filled the runway in front of the plane, Ronny slammed the throttle to the firewall, and pulled the stick back at fifty feet. The plane struggled to get into the air. He heard a thump on the planes belly and then they were clear.
“Id like to thank you for flying Duck airways, today we will be cruising at five thousand feet, at a cruising speed of 155 miles an hour. The no smoking light is now out” he said over the radio.
Ronny managed to land the Duck on the road below the center where it was wide enough for the plane. He taxied back to the entrance of the Center wall and shut down the engine. Sliding the canopy back, he climbed out and hopped to the ground as the crowd of people who had gathered to watch the plane land began cheering. He grinned broadly and took a bow.
Jared slipped out of the Plane and resisted the urge to kiss the ground. he managed three steps before he was almost taken down by Jill who rushed from the crowd and hugged him fiercely. Steve and the others returned around dinnertime, the Newfound gap road resealed behind them.
Jared some how resisted the urge to kill Ronny too namely because it would have dampened the festivities and because Ronny was the only one that could fly the damn plane.
The farewell party was in full swing at the Center, Even John Graham and ten of his people had arrived to see them off and of course to see the plane that they had seen and heard in the air. They spent almost an hour walking around the plane, talking about the past and touching the thing like it was a religious icon of some kind. And maybe it was, Jared thought as he slipped away from the crowd. It represented a golden age when men had escaped the bounds of the earth and flew like eagles across the sky.
An hour later Jill found Jared standing at Billys grave, looking out over the river swollen with runoff and the distant peaks and ridges, the sun setting the sky ablaze silhouetting the mountains.
Jill slipped an arm around his waist and leaned her head against his shoulder. “ worried” she asked.
“ I am, by lunch tomorrow we will be on the outskirts of Asheville, and Im scared spit less” he said. “ its worse out there than I remembered, you should have seen Sevierville.”
“ we can deal with it. but for tonight lets enjoy. This might be the last chance we have to relax in peace for a long time.” Jill said suggestively, determined to keep Jared from falling deeper into guilt and depression.
“ I just wanted to say goodbye, he made it this far. I hate he will be left here alone” Jared said. Jill slipped a hand into his.
“ I know, but he was happy here too Jared. Maybe we can come back and visit when all this is over.” She replied. Jared nodded slowly, and then gave her hand a squeeze.
“Lets get back to the party.” He said softly. They turned and walked away leaving little Billy Thornton alone in the deepening shadows. .