“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;”
The forest lay silent under the misty mountain peaks; here and there patches of snow still clung to the ground in the shadows where it was protected so far from the suns warmth. A cool breeze, smelling of spring blew down the road channeled by ridges and the mountains themselves.
The line of vehicles snaked slowly thru the mountains, stopping occasionally to pull wrecks out of the way that blocked the road, using the winch on Steve’s truck. The town of Cherokee and the Farm were miles and an hour behind them.
“ I miss the days where 15 miles on a highway took ten minutes to drive” Jill said as she watched a zombie that was stumbling down the side of the road. Jared lined up on the zombie who had once been a State trooper, and ran it down. He hated doing that, but he was learning to not think about who or what the undead might have been before they were threats now, and it was far safer to use a vehicle as a weapon then to get out on the ground, where a few hundred could appear seemingly out of no where to drag you down.
“ I miss the days were you could drive down the road and not see a zombie” Jared replied as he used the mirror to looked behind them at the line of vehicles. Many of the RVs were pulling secondary vehicles. The only thing that bothered him about that was the fact the added weight caused the Rv’s to use more fuel. But no one was eager to leave behind their personal vehicles, which gave them a second option for escape if needed.
Ori how ever had been the exception, he had chosen to leave his truck, the second love of his life at the Farm. He’d had tears in his eyes when he walked away from it. Jared could sympathize his own truck was still sitting in front of a tire shop with a crushed motor, where a flying acetylene tank, launched by a bomb, had struck it.
He still missed that truck. Even though the massive custom off road van he now used was a far better vehicle, and not that he would admit it, but it got better gas mileage than his much loved truck too.
They rolled down the state highway, the thick forest before the dead had risen, had been cleared back ten feet from the road. Wooded ridges and mountains towered around them,. It was a beautiful crisp cool pre spring day. Trees were starting to put out new leaves. At one point, two bucks, followed by several does ran across the road. A hawk circled lazily overhead. It was the most wildlife they had seen in a long while.
“ There’s a gas station up here.” Ori said over the radio, he was riding in his new land rover while Beth Drove their RV.
“ Copy, Lets fill every one up if we can.” Jared replied. The large country store and gas station, with its tourist gift shop for Smoky mountain visitors sat off the road in a large parking lot that was surrounded by forest on three sides.
Jared pulled into the lot parking besides Steve’s truck and Ori’s Land Rover in front of the doors to the convenience store. Chris drove up and joined them a moment later. The line of big vehicles came to a stop on the road idling while waiting for what Jared thought of as Team one, swept the area around the store. They found one zombie in the back parking area where, a dumpster enclosed in a slat wood fence sat. Legless it dragged itself towards the team, its one eye fixed on Logan. Jared strode forward steeling himself and put it down with his tomahawk.
They peered into the forest behind the store and to either side but saw nothing. with that done they returned to the front of the store. Jared had Logan and Chris get the pump set up to transfer the fuel from the stores tanks, and the vehicles began to pull in to be filled. Team two, dismounted and took up guard positions spread out across the front of the gas station and to the side.
Team One entered the store slowly knowing that anything could wait inside. It was in shambles which wasn’t surprising. shelves lay scattered across the floor where looters had dumped the, it was the usual result of speed to get in and out and carelessness. Here and there they could see dried bloody handprints on the cooler doors, and the wall that led to the storeroom in the back.
Clearing the area behind the counter, they moved to the employee door where Jared knocked on it and then whistled. After a minute a minute of waiting, there was no sign of anything on the other side, so he opened the door. Beyond was a narrow hall that led to a small stock room and the manager’s office.
A trail of blood smeared on the floor led to the stock room. The door to the manager’s office was standing open and proved to be empty. Remembering the outfitters shop, Jared made damn sure there were no closets in the room before they moved into the dark stock room following the smear.
Their footfalls sounded loud in the silence of the dark room. Jared sweeping his flashlight across the floor looking for crawlers spotted a boot . It was covered in dried blood, a rotted lower leg jutted up out of it. Near by was another boot laying in a pool of dried blood. The rest of the room was empty.
“ Guess this is were the zombie out back came from.” Jared said looking around at the mostly empty stock room.
“ How did he get out? The doors were shut.” Jill asked, eager to get out of the dark stock room.
“They were shut when we got here, doesn’t mean they have been closed since June of last year.” Jared said then shrugged if off. “ Lets see what’s left and get what we need and want.”
Half the vehicles were fueled up by the time they got back outside with boxes of goodies. There were also six new corpses on the road. “I still say I should get the bag of hot and spicy pig skins.” Steve protested. “I do have a woman who is pregnant.” He pointed out.
Jared just shook his head. “ I found em, I keep them, you can suffer the wrath of pregnant woman craving.” Jared said with a grin.
“ You sir are cruel, cruel and cold. Jill?” Steve said turning to Jill who only shrugged and said “don’t even get me involved Steve’s, it between you two and your addiction”
It was actually amazing what the previous scavengers had missed inside the store, several bags of chips, some pig skins, one single bag of hot and spicy pig skins, a box of foot long jerky that had been under a shelf. Two cases of off brand beer in the back of the cooler. Which Ori had pointed out might indicate exactly how good the stuff was if desperate people had left it behind. Ronnie of the firm opinion that any beer was good beer had scooped it up.
He obviously had never tasted Billy beer or been sober when drinking Pabst blue ribbon. The one discovery that had gotten every one excited were the two big containers of Columbian coffee that had been stashed in a box and missed by the looters, they had also found several pre ground and bagged gourmet coffees, and three large bags of coffee beans and a hand grinder.
They thanked god or who ever was responsible for not letting the previous looters be coffee drinkers. “ Im almost tempted to get Ronny to fly some of this back to the farm.” Jared said then smiled. “ Almost.”
At least his sense of humor was showing again Jill thought watching Jared. He had been distant and cold for a short while after Billy’s death. She didn’t know how many people even now noticed; he wasn’t quite the Jared they had known.
He avoided the kids now, and she couldn’t help but feel that bastard who had lured Billy away and killed him would enjoy that little fact. At least till Jared got his hands on him, Jared didn’t say much about it but she could see that steely eyed, cold look he got anytime the subject was mentioned or he even thought about it. She forced herself to smile over the coffee with the others, wanting to stay in a good mood herself.
They had scored on condiments too, boxes of Ketchup, mayonnaise, Relish, sweetener, mustard, salt, pepper, and lots of cups and other Styrofoam products.
“ You do know the single guys are demanding a run on a porn shop right,” Chris said, with a grin.
“Sure just what we need, clearing zombies from a peep show.” Jared muttered
“ Zombies in the adult toy aisle, we need clean up.” Ori said chuckling, then looked around at his friends. “What, that was funny.”
“ Maybe in England.” Ronny said.
“ I have no idea why I even talk to you people.” Ori said with a grin, as he removed his glasses and cleaned them. An hour and half later they had all the vehicles topped off including the fuel trucks, and pulled out of the parking lot.
Shortly after noon, they came to a stop and as Jared eyed the road they were supposed to turn on to. There was no way they could haul the Plane down that. The wings were too wide. But that wasn’t a huge problem he thought looking ahead at the long straight road they were on. And there was a lake by the rental cabins they were headed for.
It took an hour for Steve, Rob, Ori and Gabriel to pull the few wrecks off the road to clear enough room for the plane to take off. Ronny was grinning happily as they winched the plane down off the trailer. “ Okay heres the deal, fly our route to the cabin and then the route I want to use when we leave the cabins, once you get that done check out Ashville.” Ronny nodded then waved at Ryan to join him.
Ryan his shaggy brown hair now shaved down was one of those guys who was handsome enough he could get any woman he wanted, but not so handsome that he made you think of a movie star. And at 17 he knew he looked good. Jared almost smiled as he watched, Ryan who subconsciously flirted with Jill. Jared’s Great grandmother would have called him “ a little hen shit sport”
“Your riding back seat” Ronny told Ryan who looked less than thrilled at the idea as Ronny handed him a set of binoculars. “ All you have to do is look down.”
“ Is there a parachute?” Ryan asked as Ronny grinned.
“ No, but I promise if we go down, Ill aim for the ground at full speed.” Ronnie replied
“ Great, just great.” Ryan said as he climbed up and looked into the cockpit.
“ Ryan the real trick to flying is always forget to hit the ground.” Ronny said with what he considered an encouraging smile.
Ryan gave Jared the save me please look, which Jared ignored feeling slightly evil. At least his emotions were not see sawing any more, and he was finding his sense of humor again every once in a while. Beth was still broken up over the death, she had gone thru hell to save those kids, and with the death of Billy she felt she had failed.
Jill touched him on the arm drawing him out of his thoughts. She was getting good at that, he thought. She knew him so well now she could catch the little signs that he was sliding down into anger and bring him back with a touch or a soft word.
Finally Ronny climbed up and settled himself into the cockpit strapping himself in. with that done he reached up and slid the canopy closed. Ryan looked scared out of his mind as he sat in the back seat staring out the canopy. Jared expected Ryan at any moment to press his hands and face against the Plexiglas canopy and beg to be let out. The motor coughed into life then the plane swung around in a tight circle lining up in the middle of the road.
It rumbled forward gathering speed, and then finally left the ground with ease. Ronny did a graceful turn to the north and in moments the plane was out of sight.
“ Lets get moving” Jared said turning and heading towards the vehicles.
They reached the camp two hours later. The camp, situated near the base of a mountain, was deep in the woods of a state park, the cabins sat back a short ways from a small lake, which was one of the many reasons Jared had picked it. He planned on using every state park and campground he remembered or could find on a map to keep them out of densely populated areas.
The cabins were spread in a line facing the tree-lined lakeshore, where water gently lapped against the rocky shore, under a cerulean sky. Jared got excited when he spotted a hawk riding the thermals over the lake. A hawk meant small game, and that meant food.
Team one swept the cabins and then half mile around the place, but found nothing. Establishing a perimeter and setting the screamers, Jared walked over and got the Vehicles parked. Using the RVs to make a u shaped wall around the cabins. The open end of the U facing the lake. While the vehicles were being parked, Rob got a group together and set up the Deer stand he had modified with longer legs to use as an LP/OP in the middle of the lager. They were just settling in, when Ronny flew overhead, banked and then lined up on the far end of the lake and landed in a spray of water and mechanical thunder.
He taxied the plane up to the beach, and cut the motor as Jason splashed thru the water to tie the plane off. By then Ryan was out of the cockpit and leaping into the water with a wide grin on his face. He and his friends were hugging and backslapping each other much to the amusement of the rest of the group.
Jared passed out fishing poles and nets and got some of the folks down to the water. Ronny even unloaded the canoes he had brought along so the fisherman could get out and find some good fishing holes.
With that done he got Ronny to one side. “ What was Asheville like” he asked. Ronny’s good mood faded.
“Not good, looks like half the city was bombed, and I mean bombed. Looks like thousand pounders, bomblets, even artillery fire judging by the moonscape landscape on the south side of the city. Who ever did it walked artillery fire back and forth leveling everything. About half the city is still reasonably intact. And it’s filled with the undead. I buzzed a couple of streets and they were packed in there like sardines. Maybe there are living people around there, maybe not. As for the route, well I marked it out on the map. There’s some hellish wrecks in a couple of spots but nothing we cant get past with some work.” Ronny said passing Jared a folded map.
Jared took the map and spread it out on a picnic table studying the locations of the wrecks. Hearing Mattie shouting some thing at Kevin, Jared looked up to see Kevin doggedly wheeling and hopping his wheel chair down to the lake were Mattie was watching three of the children. “ Damn it Kevin, Ill come and get you, stop before you hurt yourself.” She shouted at him. Kevin happily ignored her determined to do it himself.
Mattie, refusing to be separated from Kevin, had left the farm to be at his side, and was now Beth’s Assistant with the kids. She apparently had a knack for teaching and the kids loved her. She was only one of the people from the farm who had wanted to leave with the group, Colin, a thirty year old IT professional, and one of the newest members who had joined up from the farm, was chopping wood. He at least had been an experience climber and hiker, and Gary had already gotten him to help connect some of the systems in the Com RV. Colin, with his shock of dark hair and brooding eyes, was friendly but a loner. Jared would not be surprised that Colin was a regular visitor to Comic con or had a star trek uniform stashed away his stuff. He smiled slightly thinking of his little brother the closet nerd, and Special Forces soldier.
The last adult addition from the Farm, Lindsey, was a tall statuesque blonde, who had no real skills but leaped into any task, with good humor and eagerness, she was asked to help with. She also seemed to be the main interest of Ryan, Jerry, and Ben. The girl Ben had liked back at the farm had stayed and he was now gravitating to the older women once more. Not that he had much of a choice. And that wasn’t something Jared wanted to get involved in or know much of anything about.
“Well that’s a sight you don’t see every day” Ori commented as he walked up in time to see half the group strip down and jump into the lake. “ Group skinny dipping, is that an Olympic sport” Ori asked, Jared shook his head, not really smiling but not frowning either, which was a good sign for any Joke Ori attempted.
“ no, but it should be.” Jared said with a smile then turned and walked towards the medical RV.
Ten minutes later he and Jeff carried Pappy outside to enjoy the day, Linda following along with a bulky bag. When she explained she was carrying stuff in case pappy needed help. Pappy wrote out on his pad. “ If you want to help, help me stand up and hold my Pecker while I piss.” Jared smiled and this time there was real humor in his eyes.
He watched the people splashing about in the water, thinking that most of those people before the Day, would have never considered skinny dipping in front of another person. Much less a whole group of people, the kids didn’t seem to care, they were racing around splashing in the waters edge, but their eyes constantly turned towards the woods, expecting to see undead at any moment.
Jared shrugged, hating the reality, but nothing he could about it, he sat down at a picnic table, he had plans to make so there was no time for him to get in a swim just yet. The impromptu swim, turned into a clothes-washing party. As tubs were dragged out and filled with water, and scrub boards appeared. Most of the RV’s had washers and dryers in them. But to conserve fuel and propane, they had all agreed to only use them three times a week to wash three loads of clothes only. It sucked but so would running out of fuel.
By five most of the fisherman were returning, many of them with catfish, bass and croppy. It seemed zombies had been good for something after all, with no fisherman all summer; the lake was hopping with fish. Jared decided that it might be a good idea if they spent a day or two here to stock up on fish. Some they could dry, others could be Vacuum sealed and placed in the freezers.
The fish were being cleaned and the cooking fires lit. People not on guard had clustered together in groups. Some were working on the fish, others were mending clothes, another group was cleaning weapons, and even a few kids were helping out. Jared wasn’t sure how he felt about that. They needed to know, and understand firearms especially to survive these days. But at the same time, seven years old was young, probably to young. Damn he hated what life had become.
The next day they patrolled further out from the camp and found a few zombies wandering the woods and slopes of the mountain. They quietly dispatched the undead and left them where they fell. He doubted that the wild life would touch them. God knows fly’s and ants didn’t get near them. Which was weird and creepy if you stopped and thought about it.
The Fishermen of the group had gotten up before dawn to take to the lake. The vehicles for the food run were already set up for an incursion into the zombie held town just outside the park. Jared particularly wanted a phone book; if he could locate the distribution centers for the stores in Ashville he would consider a run to one of them. He rather doubted they would find much in any grocery store no matter how lucky they had been in the beginning. What he really didn’t want to do was to have to clear a neighborhood so they could strip houses clean. But he knew it was mostly likely going to come to that.
They set out after their patrol, two teams again. Jared didn’t feel anything smaller was safe enough for this kind of job. Jared would have preferred to have a battalion or two of men, an Arty division and air support from a battalion of Apaches, But he had what he had.
The Parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly was about half full of vehicles, two dozen zombies wandered around the lot. Half the plate glass windows were shattered, and they could see a lot of empty shelves inside. “ Should we even bother, “ Jill asked, as she watched more zombies appear down the street. She knew that there would only be a few at first, then that would turn into a flood.
“ Stand by I’m going to get a better look” Jared transmitted to the rest of the group as he drove over the curb into the parking lot, running down as many zombies as he could reach as he swung around the lot to stop in front of the store. Through the shattered windows, He could see more zombies inside; they had been wandering around the empty shelves.
From what he could see there wasn’t anything left on the shelves, and with this many zombies in the store, he wasn’t sure that what ever was left in the stock rooms was worth it. “ Forget it, its stripped bare.” He said over the radio a minute later. “ Lets go up the road a bit, I see a convenience store and I really want a phone book.” He said ignoring the look Jill gave him.
The great phone book battle as it was later called started off like a textbook operation. They hit the parking like a swat team dropping every zombie in sight. Team one hit the store spreading out around the counter. Jared leaped on top the counter making sure it was clear then leaped down and began looking under the counter. “ Found a shotgun, Jason catch” Jared said passing the Remington to Jason. Who had flinched expecting a thrown weapon. Jared chuckled.
“ What a damn waste” Jared said looking back under the counter “ the butterfingers under the counter are ruined.” He grabbed the phone book and leaped over the counter again. “Lets go “ he called out as he snatched a chamber of commerce map off a stand and stuffed it in his pocket.
They hit the parking lot heading for their vehicles when they heard shouts for help. A quick glance showed all his people were accounted for. Ori scrambled into the back of Steve’s Truck and then pointed back towards the Piggly wiggly they had left ten minutes ago. “ Two men and a woman” Ori called out. “ And a shit load of Zombies”
“ how many are a shit full” Logan asked.
“ Way to many to see in one sitting” Ori yelled as lifted his rifle into position waiting for the range to drop to increase his odds of hitting targets. He could easily have stated dropping them, but anything that made his job easier he would use.
“ Jared” Jill said tugging his sleeve and pointing. Zombies were coming from behind the convenience store they had just left . At least twenty and probably more behind that group too.
“ Mount up” he bellowed shooting down the first two zombies. No point in being silent now he thought as Logan stepped up next to him. Team two was firing on the move as they headed for the relative safety of their vehicles. Jared backed up slowly; Logan at his side, knowing if any zombies were coming from the other side Jill or Chris would have said something. He was only partly wrong, the warning shouts came ten seconds too late.
Suddenly, something slammed into him and his commando flew from his hands to skitter across the parking lot. Hitting the ground he took the fall and did hand spring back to his feet. The wall, disguised as a zombie had smashed into Jared then taken Logan down and was tearing at him. He was by far the biggest man, zombie what ever that Jared had ever seen. He drew his tomahawks, and leaped forward. Only to have to spin away to face two more zombies that lunged from the doorway of the store.
They must have been in the back he thought in the stock room or what ever it was called he thought as he torque’d into a spinning snap kick. its head splitting with a loud crack as Jared’s boot slammed into the side of its head. he dropped into a crouch, and hooked the bearded point of the tomahawk behind the second zombies’ ankle and pulled. Sending the mobile corpse falling to the ground. Logan was screaming for help as he used both hands to hold the zombies snapping teeth away from his neck.
The other zombies that had come from around back, were almost on top of he and Logan. I really hate the undead, Jared thought as he slipped a tomahawk back into his belt and drew his pistol firing from the hip as it cleared the hostler.
Logan screamed again as the zombies head exploded and sprayed his face with bits of bone and brain and the full weight of the seven-foot tall wall of dead muscle collapsed on him. Jared pivoted and shot the zombie in the head that he had sent to the ground then sprinted over and managed to roll the zombie off Logan. Who scrambled to his feet, cursing steadily his hands shaking from the brush with death.
The sudden crack of the commando and the whine of a bullet startled Jared. he looked around and saw Jill had leaped out and collected his weapon and was shooting the lead zombies coming around the store. He gave her a thumbs up then helped Logan to his feet and together they ran back to the van. Steve’s truck roared to life and backed up then Steve twisted the wheel and ran down the zombies coming around the corner of the store. Steve slammed the truck into drive, pulled forward then reversed again, crushing more undead. Jared pushed Logan into the side door of the van then leaped in himself as Jill climbed back into the drivers seat.
“Head for the people” Jared said pointing to the three survivors who raced for the line of RVs and trucks. Behind the survivors, the street was filling up with undead, all of whom were heading straight for Jared and his people.
Jill passed Jared his rifle then started the van. The three survivors were eighty feet away and running hard. “ Strap in” Jared told Logan who gave him a look but buckled up. “ Now hang on to my belt”
Logan got the idea and grasped Jared’s web belt. Jill bounced up over the curb then down into the ditch, the vans motor howling as the big tires dug deep but it climbed out the other side with ease. Logan grimly hung onto Jared’s belt to keep him from falling out of the open door of the van, The muscles in Logan’s his arms straining. Once they were back on the street Jared hung out the door and began to fire into the leading zombies of the crowd chasing the three people. Bodies tumbled and some lay still. The zombies behind them tripped and sprawled on the street creating more hazards for the zombies behind them to navigate. Sadly only a few more stumbled and fell, the rest began to stream around their fallen comrades.
Jill slowed but didn’t stop as she drew even with the runners. Jared slung his rifle and helped them get inside, the two men were filthy, and under fed. But the cute Asian girl looked cleaner and certainly better fed.
let go with a grunt. “ Damn we need to put in something you can hook to for that.” He said. Jared nodded hanging on as the van turned tightly and began to accelerate away. Steve and Chris’s trucks joined them as they headed away from the crowd.
“ You do realize we are heading deeper into this town right,” Logan said. Jill nodded and kept driving.
“ Are you folks okay?” Jared said as he knelt and looked over each one. Aside from a hand axe and a bat the men were unarmed otherwise. The woman had a holster but no pistol. “ Yeah good thanks dude” the blonde man said as he sniffed and wrinkled his nose in distaste. “ Man I knew I stank but god, “ he said.
Jared laughed. “ Compared to the zombs you smell like a rose.”
“I’m Roger, that’s Thomas, and she is Mai Linn. We just met yesterday.” The blonde guy said
“ I’m Jared, that’s Jill driving, and that’s Logan.” Jared said introducing them.
“Are you from around here. Is there a shelter or something?” Roger asked looking hopeful.
“ No just passing thru.” Jared replied.
“ Damn, was kind of hoping. We’ve been hiding and looting since June. Broke down on the interstate the day it all started. Walked into a town down the road from here, to ask for help and saw. Well people attacking and eating other people. Watched the local sheriffs deputies get dragged down and eaten too. We ran around behind some old store and went in the back door.” Roger said
He went on to describe how they found four other people hiding in the store. And how they had slowly and silently blocked the rear door, and then went upstairs where the owner had lived and sat down to wait for help. After awhile the canned food on the shelves downstairs had gone and they had begun to sneak out and hit other stores and then homes trying to find food. They had survived the winter thanks to the Natural gas heater upstairs and the huge full tank out back.
“ Anyway it started getting warm and we all headed out to try to get into a grocery store down the way. Me and Thomas were the only ones who lived thru it. The zombies followed us all the way to the store we had been staying in. so we just hopped on some bicycles and rode out of town. Met Mai Linn here and were making plans when we heard your vehicles. Had to take the risk you might be assholes because we need food pretty bad.” Roger said, and then leaned back his story finished and closed his eyes for a moment.
Jared rummaged in his pack for a moment then pulled out some beef jerky and passed it to the three people who were almost drooling as soon as they smelled it. They wolfed it down quickly. “ What’s your story “ Logan asked Mai Linn pointedly.
“No story saw people die, some were close to me. I survived, and now I just want to get to Charleston and see if my mother and father, brothers and nieces and one nephew are still alive.” She didn’t sound hopeful about that. Jared noted, what he did find odd, what are the odds of being this far out in the sticks, off the beaten path as it were, and find a woman, hell anyone from the very area they were heading to. The odds were greater in being struck by lighting at the same time you were having sex with the your Hollywood dream date.
“ We could get Ronny,” Logan started to say but Jared only shook his head.
“ Don’t need to waste the fuel. Besides I have a map” Jared said as he pulled a map from his pack and spread it out on the fold out table. Then as an after thought he pulled out the chamber map and spread it out too.
“At least the roads with important business’s are marked out,” Jared said as he pointed to one in particular. “ We just passed that place. Jill slow down. “ He called out. “ see just ahead of us is another road that runs around the north side of this town and then hooks back up to the main road right at the Highway exit. Which puts us six miles from the park entrance. Jill look for Commerce Street.”
Moments later they were speeding past businesses and small homes set off the street. A few Jared really wanted to hit, like the welders shop, a parts store, and medical supply store. Might do that on the way out he mused. He was only half listening to Logan telling the new folks about his escape from Knoxville and how they had met up with Jared’s band and then made their way across the state and thru the Smokies.
“ How many people are with you “ Roger asked. Before Logan could answer, Jared cut in. “ More than what’s here.” And shot a warning look to Logan. Granted they were going to see how many people there were. But he didn’t want to just tell them. No reason to trust them at this point. Then suddenly an idea occurred to him.
“ You wouldn’t happened to have seen a scared one eyed man around recently,” Jared asked casually. Mai Linn jumped ever so slightly, and her eyes widened just a hair. Roger shook his head; Thomas shrugged then shook his head.
“ Is he a friend of yours “ Mai Linn asked her face totally blank. Something in her body language told Jason his answer would be important.
“ No, you might say we have business together.” Jared said. Jill flashed him a look of surprise at just how calm he sounded.
“What kind of business” the woman asked obviously working to control her voice.
“ The kind that will end with one of us dead.” Jared replied, his voice flat and cold as his eyes. Roger actually recoiled at the sight. Jared force back the emotions and turned to Roger.
“ What, you think the law’s going to come flying in waving badges and round up the bad guys after they arrest all the zombies.” Jared asked caustically. Roger shook his head, Logan felt kind of sorry for him, and he was obviously scared shitless of Jared at this moment.
“ I’ll tell you the short story version, he killed a few people I knew and butchered one little boy to get at me.” Jared said fire flashed in his eyes and then was gone. “ He is a stone cold killer, and I’m going to put him in the grave for it and for all the others he might end up killing.” Jared said calmly, even as anger flickered in his eyes, then turned to Mai Linn.” does that answer your question?” he asked and she nodded. For some reason she reminded Logan of Jill.
“When you do, shoot him twice for me” she said softly. “ We ran into him as winter was ending. Claimed he was in an accident. I got up early one morning and went looking for food for us. Me and two of my girlfriends. It save my life, I came back to a bloodbath. He let them die and come back. I managed to shoot both of them and lost my pistol when I fell running from a small group of the damn things a day later.” She said tears in her eyes.
On the round about way out of town they saw few zombies. Once they were back on the park road. Every one relaxed a bit. Except for maybe Jared, Logan thought. He seemed tense even though he was smiling off an on.
They pulled into the camp and parked. Roger and Thomas piled out after Logan and stood staring at all the people, and the kids running across the grass playing chase. “ My god” Thomas said and actually started crying. “ I never thought Id see kids again much less people fishing and enjoying the sun.” He managed to say with out his voice breaking. Roger seemed a bit more composed but it obviously affected him. He couldn’t stop looking around.
They both gawked at the Sharon who was so obviously pregnant as Steve hugged her gently and then led her off toward one of the cabins. Mai Linn looked around with interest, but didn’t comment. You could almost feel the walls she put around herself. Afraid to get to close to any body. Believing, that sooner or later every one would be dead around her, and she wasn’t willing to risk the hurt.
“ We have soap and towels. You can bath in the lake like every one else. Sorry we haven’t filled up the water tanks on the RVs yet so no showers.” Jared said as he waved Carol over. “ If you could get these folks some soap and what ever and get them something to eat Id appreciate it” he said. Carol smiled broadly and said. “ No problem Jared, Anne just finished doing inventory Ill get her busy on lunch. I hope you folks don’t mind fish. And we have some tartar sauce too.”
“ You know sooner or later we are going to have to stop taking people in.” Ori said watching the three new folks follow Carol. Roger in particular kept staring at the Plane floating by the shore.
Jared turned slowly “ what do you want me to do then Ori. Leave people to starve, or die alone thinking they are the last people left alive. Or even worse, see people who we could have helped and drove on by leaving them to die. I can’t man, I really cant. We will make it work. There are warehouses full of food, and other gear scattered around every county, With enough people we can hit one and empty it.”
“ I trust you Jared, but just remember there might come a time were we cant help. I don’t want to see you come apart when it happens.” Ori replied. Jared place and arm around his shoulder.
“ No problems, with you and Steve riding herd on me I cant go wrong.” Jared said then smiled. “ At least not to badly” He amended.
The final throes of winter ended with a late frost then the Blueberries bloomed. On day three at the camp Ori returned with an eight-point buck, and a brace of rabbits. He and the dirty dozen dressed them and then prepared them. Half the deer were added to the smoke racks, the rest of the meat was vacuum sealed and frozen. “ We might want to consider a freezer truck,” Steve suggested as they hit the lake to wash off the blood.
“Might” Jared said as he floated on his back for a moment he wasn’t really able to relax well when he couldn’t feel the weight of a firearm on his thigh or across his chest.
“ We leave tomorrow,” Jared announced suddenly.
“ Why there’s game around here, and Mary and Jill discovered that overgrown garden.” Chris protested.
“ Because they are coming,” Jared said finally. His friends gave him a long look.
“Did you have another dream?” Steve asked.
“ No just a feeling. I think if we stay another day or two, we are going to get hit. Face it we aren’t that far from Asheville, or the town we hit the yesterday.” Jared said, pointing out the obvious that should have occurred to all of them.
No one argued with that. But the evidence of game in the area, slim as it was, should mean the undead were not around. “ I’ve made a change in the location of our next two camps as well.” Jared added.
“ I take it your waiting for some one to breathlessly ask, where oh glorious leader?” Steve said cracking a smile.
“Just wait peon, Ill have you flogged and tortured badly with ugly women porno.” Jared replied with a regal sniff. Steve smiled happy to see Jared’s Humor make an appearance.
“ There’s a camp just off the highway near a lake, don’t remember the name off the top of my head,” Jared said, “After that I think Camp Summit around Cedar Mountain. It used to be an old airfield. The strip is or was still there two years ago. Its in a state forest and keeps us away from Charlotte.” Jared said. “ Both places Ronny can land at.”
“ You realize that seriously limits our options right.” Ori said looking at Ronny
Jared shook his head. “ No not really, if I think its hurting us, we dump the plane. Sorry Ronny.” Jared said, as he stood up in the water.
“ just talk with me first and give me a chance to come up with a solution.” Ronny asked.
“ I will, to be honest, as much as I hate flying I think that plane can help us a lot. And speaking of I want you to get Ben or Ian checked out and up in the ultra light for local scouting. We also need to get better organized because I want to run a raid, that should set us up like kings for a while.” Jared commented as his mind turned over options.
“ Does it involve women in gold bikinis?” Ori asked with a grin.
“ No not unless we stumble across Princess lea.” Jared said shaking his head.
“ Does it strike any one as odd we are planning things while standing naked in a lake.” Chris asked.
“ Why ?, does making plans give you wood?” Steve asked. “ I mean every body has a kink. That would explain why you never missed a company meeting”
“ bite me sasquach,” Chris said with a laugh as Steve looked down at his almost hair less body.
“ I’m thinking about hitting a major warehouse in a city. More than one if we can pull it off” Jared said cutting of the building joke war before it got started. Every one but Steve looked at him like he had grown another head. “ I’m serious, with the right weapons, and planning. As well as some serious skill, we can pull this off”
“ and shit pot loads of luck.” Ronny added. “ You do remember what happened when we went to get a plane from a small city right.”
“We don’t have to rush it, but come summer we will need to really think about it” Jared commented. Seeing Jill wave at him from the porch of the Kids Cabin, Jared waded out of the water, looked down at his blood stained clothes spread on a rock, shook his head and headed to the RV to get clean clothes.
Roger and Thomas sat together eyeing the women around them, until Mai Linn they hadn’t seen a woman since July, at least not a living one. It was like two kids in a candy store with the candy under lock and key.
Roger rubbed his head enjoying the feel of clean, short hair again; he had a few embarrassing moments while the Good looking blonde cut his hair. She hadn’t commented on his condition and then found at later that day that she was married or something to a guy old enough to be her father. He glanced at the really attractive brunette, Anne he thought her name was, who reminded him of Natalie Portman.
Roger had been told by several people she was off limits completely. Thomas how ever was making eyes at the attractive pregnant woman. Who seemed totally uninterested, out side of being nice to the horn dogs released in their midst.
Roger took another bite of the fish dipped in tartar sauce and eyed the reasonably decent hushpuppies. Wishing he had fries to go with it. But after months of the occasional can of nasty Ravioli’s. Even popcorn would have tasted like a gourmet meal.
Thomas excused himself with a smile and headed over to the pregnant woman, Sharon if he remembered correctly. Roger just watched noting how the Huge shaven head guy and Jared watched Thomas closely, who was totally oblivious. He probably didn’t see the down boy gesture Sharon gave the men at the table either. Oh well he might survive this might not. Roger stood and carried his plate back to the table and like every one else washed it in the tubs set up for that purpose.
It was funny actually; for once in his life he didn’t mind washing dishes. In fact ever dish he had to wash, was a meal he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Funny how you change your outlook on things after the end of the world. Though having a naked maid would still be nice. Of course he needed to have a home again to have a maid.
Stepping outside, he walked down to the lake aware that one of the men in the stand at the center of the camp was watching him. The AO 12, floated serenely in the water. A rough looking man with an M16 stood guard watching the plane. What did they expect, zombies to steal the damn thing.
“Nice night” Roger turned surprised he hadn’t heard any one approach. The deep baritone belonged to Jared.
“ Yeah, nice. Would be nicer if I was sitting here drinking a beer and watching women in bikinis walking along the beach. Instead of worrying about getting eaten by zombies,” Roger said bitterly.
“ It would be, but it is what it is and we cant change it” Jared said hooking his right hand in his web belt just over the pistol strapped to his thigh. “ We are leaving tomorrow, and I needed to talk with you, Sharon is talking to Thomas, it is Thomas right.” Roger nodded, curious where this was leading. Were they about to be given the boot or what?
“ Thing is, I apologize for thinking you and your friend were gay” Jared said with a laugh. “ Not that it matters in this group, but still”
“seems kind of stupid to hate gays, blacks or any one else these days” Roger said. “About the only good thing that’s come out of this whole mess.”
“ It is that” Jared agreed. “ We have a few problems, nothing major. We have enough food for a while but we can’t splurge, we are always short on ammo, and running fights like the one the other day eats thru our supplies. We got lucky early on actually or we would be as screwed as you were when we found you. Or you found us actually”
Jared paused as weighing his words. “ I want to offer you and your friend a place with us, but I also need to know you can pull your own weight. And hopefully have some skills we can use. That’s not necessary of course, grunt work is good enough. But as much as I hate to say it, everyone has to pull their own weight or we cant carry them.”
“ I understand, and it doesn’t offend me” Roger said “ I have a few skills that may or may not prove useful to you, I’m an electronics repair tech, a licensed ham operator, and judging by the antennas set up around that RV you have a Ham rig inside. And lastly I got my pilots license after being in the civil air patrol.”
“ What did you do for a living before all this?.” Jared asked.
Roger laughed for a second, “ I wasn’t rich. My dad was into Ham radios; I had my license by 18. I’m a diver too, got certified open water when I was 19 and living in Puerto Rico. Finished flight school by 20 and got my license. Just rarely had the money to rent a plane to fly, but got hours in by being friends with people who did own their own planes.” Roger explained.
“ You wouldn’t happen to have weird sexual tastes, a wicked sense of humor and date dominatrix’s would you?” Jared asked suddenly. Roger looked at him oddly for a moment.
“ Thought we established I’m not gay.” Roger asked raising an eyebrow. Jared started laughing, surprising himself and it felt pretty good, but at his core, anger burned bright and pure, waiting for his chance to get his hands on the one eyed freak.
“Sorry just wondering if you and Ronny will get along, he is the closest we have to a pilot, in fact this particular plane was his idea.” Jared said after he stopped laughing.
“ So he has weird sexual tastes, a strange sense of humor and dates Dominatrix’s” Roger asked with a slight smile.
“ I see you two are talking about me. Not nice.” Ronny said stepping up behind the two men. Lanterns and tiki torches were being lit around the camp. No one wanted a dark spot where zombies could show up unseen.
Just discussing his particular skills.” Jared replied.
“ He’s a pilot or so his friend inside says” Ronny said jerking a thumb in the direction of the Cabin. Jared really hoped there wasn’t about to be a jealous tiff starting.
“ I’m not wanting to take over your piloting gig” Roger said holding up a hand.
“ Its okay, Jared has been having me train a few others in the basics. Having a real licensed pilot would be incredible. Truth is, as long as the weather is good. And god and glue keep the wings on I’m okay.” Ronny said as Jared raised an eyebrow quizzically
“ There are times Jared needs me on ground operations, and it would be nice to have some one else to fly my bird. And some one else to help me sand off the rough spots and make me a better pilot.”
“ I haven’t even said yes to staying with your group yet,” Roger protested.
“ Got a better invitation. I hear the governor needs…. Oh sorry forgot he had dinner plans, he was the plate of honor. ” Ronny said as Jared shook his head slowly in mock disgust at such poor taste in jokes.
“ You have till tomorrow morning, if you decide not to, Ill make sure you get some gear, some clothes, and a weeks worth of food. You can stay here or we can drop you off some where along the way.” Jared said “ no hard feelings if you don’t stay” then turned and started walking away.
“ Where are you going anyway?” Roger asked before Jared made it ten steps.
“ Sullivan islands for starters then across the harbor to Ft. Sumter. Figure a fort on an island is about as safe as you can get these days.” He said and walked away.
“ Wanna look inside the plane.” Ronny asked.
“ Love to “ Roger replied.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, a cool breeze blowing off the lake stirring the trees and rustling the leaves gently. Jared paused as he carried a case of MRE’s back to the RV and looked around at all the people, He had started off with only handful of friends, along the way they had collected twenty five kids and Beth, Jeff and his family, Jason and Linda, Henry and Kathy. Then Logan and the twelve survivors with him had fallen in with Jared’s group, they had collected eleven more at the Farm. And now three more had joined up with them.
He saw Mai Linn talking with Carol as she helped them load up the single women’s RV as it was being called. Pappy was outside taking in the morning whether he was actually enjoying the fresh air was debatable considering the scathing observations he was making about one person or another. Jeff, Pappy’s son, stood near by keeping an eye on his dad and keeping watch in case the undead showed up while the camp was being taken down.
Fifty-four adults including Ben and Ian and twenty-five kids. No wonder Roger and Thomas had been so surprised. Really Jared hadn’t realized just how many people were traveling with them now. Not on an emotional level, not really. But by god it was like a small town had survived.
Really Ori was right, they couldn’t continue to pull in every one they ran across, but part of him believed that how he, and by extension the group dealt with survivors they came across was part of what ever in the hell was going on.
He would just have to deal with each case it as it came along but for now they had just enough food to last two months, three and half if they kept rationing. By the end of the month, they were going to have to hit a warehouse. Sooner really.
And of course they were going to have to hit a fuel dump soon and fill up the fuel trucks unless they stumbled across a fuel tanker truck. Note to self, have Ronny fly over a couple of interstates and look for one or two.
“ Are you just going to stand there, or wait till old age forces you to drop the case,” Logan asked with a smile.
“ Why are you and your Russian hottie living in my RV again.” Jared asked as he started for the RV once more.
“ Because you need some one to drive it while you and Jill go up ahead in the Van to play zombie hunter” Logan said picking up the last case.
“ Aah, that’s right. Maybe A slinky chauffeurs outfit for your woman, one that shows lots of leg and cleavage.” Jared said thoughtfully a half smile crossing his face.
Logan grinned. “ I don’t mind at all, but I think Jill might nail your balls to the floor.”
“ You might be surprised at what Jill would and would not like” Jared said with a cryptic smile then laughed along with Logan.
Once everything had been loaded Jared had every one police the camp site to make sure nothing was being left behind. “Load em up and lets move out.” Jared called out as soon as they had finished. in moments engines were started and the line of vehicles began to pull out.
Jared waited till he saw the plane start up and roll down the landing field before he too pulled out and followed the convoy.
Ronny taking Jerry Today, would fly ahead checking the route, and would set down around noon wherever the convoy was at. Assuming of course there were no zombies trying to eat them all.
They detoured only long enough to drive back thru and raid the Medical supply store and the welding shop they had spotted the other day. There were few zombies, in or around both places. But as they finished loading up a huge crowd undead began appearing down the road staggering and lurching towards the collection of vehicles and the people they carried. With little left inside either store, Jared decided against hitting the two other shops he had thought about stripping bare and in moments the entire convoy was rolling out and heading south.
Cole, all of six foot, ran a hand thru his longish brown hair and stared at the wall. He could hear people talking down the hall, but ignored it for now.
“ Hey, we need your help with something” Oliver Jones said from the doorway. Cole looked up.
“ With what?” Cole asked, figuring it was yet another crisis like stale donuts.
“ A Couple of people are arguing and some of them want to leave.” Oliver explained.
“Let them” Cole replied.
“They want you to come down, and that Jerry Carlisle is getting involved.” Oliver said sounding exasperated. Cole sighed and stood, wincing slightly his knee was acting up again.
He followed Oliver down the hall, then down the B staircase to the second floor of the administration building. He could hear them now… “ You’re not taking half the food, no fucking way.” Terry was saying loudly, not quite a yell, but for Terry it might as well been screaming. Short, with an awesome figure, hair so blonde it looked white, and with her porcelain white skin, people who didn’t know any better thought she was an albino. And one of the sweetest, and till now quietest women he had ever met.
“ Look bitch, we helped collect it so we are taking it.” Jerry was saying as Cole walked into the room.
“Your not taking shit Jerry” Cole said before Jerry could respond to his arrival.
“ Now those other folks can have two weeks worth of food.” Cole said pointing to Rebe and the people clustered around her “But you, you didn’t do a damn thing to collect it; you haven’t done a thing to help around here. So you don’t get a damn thing to go with you.” Cole said, his tone was razor edged.
Jerry glared at him, but the skinny, dark haired wimp wasn’t usually one to push Cole.
“You can’t do that Ill starve.” Jerry whined.
“ Apply for welfare if you find an open office.” Cole responded. Jerry glared at him for a long time.
“ I’m going to take food, you don’t want to try to stop me Cole.” Jerry said his voice trembling with either anger or fear, neither particularly worried Cole.
“ Jerry let me put it this way, if I catch you with food, Ill beat you unconscious, strip you naked shove a knife handle up your ass and toss you outside.” Cole said, his glare was much more intimidating than what Jerry had managed and the once rich funds manager physically flinched away.
“ Is he the one that talked you into Leaving” Cole asked the others, Reba nodded but her jaw was set, she had no intention of staying and from the looks of it neither did the others. “ If you want to leave I wont stop you. Two weeks worth of food, you can share with Mr. High and mighty here. But that’s it. Once you leave there will still be ninety people here and they need to eat too.”
“ Thanks Cole, appreciate it, I really do” Reba said ignoring the spluttering of Jerry.
“ Mind if I ask you why you people want to leave, this place is safe. Or at least safer than most anywhere else.” Cole asked his voice level, almost friendly sounding.
Reba, looked down for a moment, she knew Cole liked her. She had claimed at one point to like him too, during their friends with benefits stage of survival. But lately she had become distant. “ Cant really say Cole, its just not right around here.” She said then paused as if searching for the words she needed.
“ It’s the dreams.” Jenna said stepping up to stand beside Reba.
“ Dreams?” Cole asked, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
“ Dreams Cole, I told you about the first one and you laughed. But now some things different, it’s been different since you let that one eyed guy into the place.” Reba said, he felt bad about laughing at her dreams, but on the face of it, it was stupid, like out of a movie or a bad horror novel. Cole sighed with frustration, he hadn’t let Michael Carrington in, others had insisted.
A popular vote had assured him entry. He stuck in Cole’s craw sideways, and he couldn’t explain why any more than Reba could explain her dreams in a way that made any sense.
“ I wish you’d stay Reba, but if you have to go Ill miss you” Cole said after a moment.
“Cole, don’t trust him, not one inch. Something bad is going to happen with him around. I know it.” Reba said, hoping she could get him to believe that much. Cole stepped forward and gently kissed her on the forehead.
“ Be safe Reba” Cole said softly then walked from the room. Oliver on his heels
“get down to the stock room and tell them that Jerry is not to be given any food, outside of regular meals here. That prick isn’t taking food that some of us died to get, while he sat back here stirring up trouble and not helping.” Cole stated as they reached the stairs. Oliver nodded and rushed down the stairs heading to the building that housed the Cafeteria.
Cole strode into the old office, with its huge old desk , paneling dark with age, and massive book shelf on one wall. He ignored all that and headed straight to the huge window behind the desk and looked out over the grounds of the old Asylum then to the thick walls that surrounded the place, where maybe two hundred zombies were attacking the gate in slow motion. He knew Reba would use the Tunnel to escape the place. It was the main route out if the zombies somehow got into the place. He silently wished her luck. The hospital was slowly emptying out, and no one came back once they left.
He saw Michael, if that really was his name, walking across the grounds heading to Ward one, his rifle slung across his back. Cole might have been a construction worker before the end came, but he had always liked weapons, and that was a Russian sniper rifle a draganov or something like that. Not something you would normally see a person lugging around.
He frowned, dismissing his thoughts of the strange one eyed man, as he looked out over the compound, where once almost four hundred people had sheltered in the beginning now they were down to a little less than a hundred people. If this kept up, he would be back to the ten men he had started with. Well almost, Frank had shacked up with the Former trophy wife of some rich guy who had been in NYC when the shit hit the fan.
Cole really needed to make some plans for getting folks out of here fast if things went south and wishing wouldn’t change that there was always a chance something could go wrong.
He might have a hard time accepting Reba’s warnings based on dreams but they dove tailed with his own gut feeling that something was off and was about to go as far south as the Border. He sat down at the old desk and began to write down ideas on the legal pad he kept there.
The Black van idled in the middle of a four way stop in a town that had three buildings and single flashing light. The sign as they entered town had proudly proclaimed it as Merrik population 105 people. It wasn’t even on the map. Merrik nestled in a wooded valley of the Smokey’s looked abandoned. No wrecks, no zombies, no broken into or burned down businesses.
It was easy to see how intact the business’s were since the entire down town area of Merrik was four buildings situated at the four way intersection. Moore’s gas, sat on the east side of the four way, Moore’s Grocery sat on the north east side of the highway, and Talbot’s Co Op sat on the north west side of the intersection and an old building long abandoned sat across the street from the Co Op a faded sign read Connie’s Dairy mart.
As they rode into the town, they could see farmhouses perched on the slopes of the hills, overlooking the fields. But nowhere did they see walkers or people.
Jared climbed out of the van, and center slung his Commando. Then walked across the intersection and checked out the grocery store thru the plate glass window with the name of the store displayed in gold paint.
From what he could see, there was food on the shelves. He looked around frowning slightly. Not really worried about threats since team one was out and covering his back. He walked slowly across the street his boots thudding softly on the asphalt and peered into the gas station. The little convenience store side, which was no more than ten by eight, and had an old-fashioned soda cooler against the outside wall,was empty. But the mechanics bay, was fully stocked and in order. At least what he could see thru the oval windows in the roll down doors.
He turned and eyed the old Texaco sign that was mounted over the canopy. The Letters were faded but legible, but it was the winged horse logo that made it old.
He stood there for a moment, feeling nostalgic then got that old tingling sensation, like some one was watching him. It was a feeling he never dismissed because it was rarely wrong. Acting casually he walked back to the van, considering the few facts available, and what they all told him was people still lived in this town.
“ Mount up, we keep going” Jared said as he climbed back into the van. In moments all of team one were back in their vehicles and the convoy was back on the move. Maybe he could come back thru later and see how many people were still there. But any one with a gram of sense would have avoided a large, well-armed, Mobile force and pray that said force didn’t strip what little was left in town. And Jared wasn’t going to take food that other people had when there was more sitting out there with no owners, waiting to be picked up.
Even with the stop they covered more miles than anticipated. They reached the next camp by mid afternoon. Namely because there were fewer wrecks they had to clear on today’s highway. Jared knew a few wanted to press on, but he didn’t want to have to alter his plans and try to find a new camp site that might or might not be clear and have to set up in the dark.
Team one swept the camp and the area around the camp, while the fishermen grabbed their gear and the canoes and hit the lake. Once the team finished their sweep, Ori, Jerry and Ryan grabbed the hunting rifles and hit the woods, while the rest of the group set up camp. Ronny landed in the lake an hour before sunset. This close to several small towns, and scattered farms, and a highway six miles away, they kept as quiet as possible. Only willing to risk gunfire for hunting.
The only things offloaded were bare essential, nothing they couldn’t leave behind if needed. The hunting was bust; there were no signs of Deer or anything else in the woods. Which didn’t bode well in Jared’s mind. but the fisherman caught quite a few fish, they cooked enough for dinner that evening and the rest were cleaned and wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in freezers.
Jared sat at the table in his RV, his hand wrapped around a mug of Cider. “ I think we need to hit a RV place,” he said eyeing his friends.
“ Why?” Ronnie asked.
“ Because they should have a few of the Propane or natural gas powered freezers there, and hopefully some silent run generators to replace the noisy ass things in some of the RV’s. Not to mention spare parts, we will surely need sooner or later.” Jared replied, as he lifted the mug and cradled it in both hands eyeing the amber liquid as it sloshed around.
Every one of them agreed with stocking up on spare parts, any one who doubted only had to look in the backs of their trucks, even before the zombies they had carried large number of spare parts for their truck, in case of a break down while off roading.
. “ But that means a large town or small city” Steve said thoughtfully.
“ It does” Jared said agreeing.
“ Which means we need to scout, make an ops plan, practice and then execute the plan, while expecting it to fall apart the moment we are boots down.” Steve added, not happy with the idea. There was silence for a while after that as everyone considered the plan.
It looked like Hendersonville was the next target, and there were potentially eight thousand or more zombies in there. To be honest Jared wasn’t as worried about that as the others. Unless things were really fucked up, he couldn’t see eight thousand plus zombies just hanging out in spots as a mob and doing nothing, while they waiting for a band of humans to be stupid enough to hit the very spot they were staying in. so far what Jared had seen, zombies tended to be spread all over a town or city. except when drawn by noise or chasing people.
Most of the people in the convoy wondered why they were heading south, and if they had asked Jared would have explained at length that crossing North Carolina was intensely stupid. Two many heavily populated areas that they couldn’t avoid all together. South Carolina wasn’t as heavily populated before the dead and they wouldn’t have to work so hard to avoid large populations simply because there never had been one.
Hopefully by tomorrow they would be south of Asheville and safely camped at summit airfield.
Jared awoke to fire lit storm clouds. The Horizon was blood red as the sun rose. As they loaded their gear into the vehicles, a brisk wind kicked up off the lake. Ronny was anxious to get the plane up and away before the storm rolled in. But Roger the new guy stepped up and offered to fly backseat and instruct Ronny on how to fly in bad weather. Jared approved the idea and told Ronny to get airborne and heading south now before the storm actually hit.
They got the last few things loaded as the plane roared down the lake and took off droplets of water falling away behind it like a spray of daimonds. Jared climbed into the van thinking about how fast they adjusted to things. Just a week ago the thought of seeing much less having a plane was the most exciting thing they could have thought of. Now, it was old hat, oh sure it got the blood going. And got people a bit excited but not on the level it had at first. He started the Van and with out a look back left the campsite.
The storm cut loose an hour later, lightening flickering across the sky, rain coming down in sheets cutting their vision down to feet in front of them. Occasionally they could make out dark shapes of buildings as they drove thru small towns. Every once in a while a zombie would appear out of the rain. And Jared would only have time to brace himself before the van bounced over the walking corpse.
Soon the storm slacked off to a drizzle, allowing them to pick up speed once more. But lightening still cut across the sky in blazing jagged fingers hat danced across the mountain faces and ridges at regular intervals.
The closer they got Asheville the worse the roads became. At one point they had to spend two hours moving wreckage and shooting zombies. Rounding a curve they could see into the city from the ridge and the entire convoy was shocked to see, rubble and craters. Ronny hadn’t exaggerated when he said it had been bombed. Half the downtown buildings they could see from this distance were gone, what remained were skeletal frames with shattered glass, broken brick walls and twisted steel. But there were whole sections that looked intact. The rain only made it worse, it added to the gray desolate look of the city.
At their closest pass to the city, a meager five miles, they had push wrecks out of the way with the trucks. There were to many zombies on the highway to safely get out and winch the wrecks out of the way. Even running the undead over seemed pointless, for every one they ran down, ten more flowed onto the highway from the suburbs of the city.
Jill was biting her lips as hands pawed at the windows and sides of the van. Some leaving dark gooey looking smears that may or may not have once been blood mixed with the rain. She couldn’t look out the window or she would go nuts watching all the mouths opening and closing, the silent hisses and screams. Thank god it wasn’t like the movies, if they could moan and make noise it would really drive her nuts.
It seemed endless, but in fact it only lasted two nerve racking hours. Before they got past the worst of the wrecks and were able to speed up once more leaving the lumbering hordes behind them. “ God I don’t even want to think about what its actually like in a city” Jill said as they finally entered the state forest late that afternoon.
They wound up the tree shaded road, driving slow, looking for fallen trees across the road or more deliberate blockages but found nothing to slow them down. Finally they turned and drove down a washed out gravel road and emerged in a long clearing. A long strip of concrete ran to the east, for five hundred feet or more down the center of the clearing. The camps buildings were spaced along the northern side of the old airstrip.
They had found the Camp. But they weren’t alone, there were vehicles parked in front of two of the cabins and thirty-five undead were pawing at the walls and windows. Or they were, at the sound of the motors, some of the undead turned and began to shamble towards the convoy. Jared placed the van into park “ Team one lets deal with them, team two rear guard” he said as he jumped out of the van. In moments the rest of the team joined him. “ Ronny” Jared transmitted.
“ Ronny here” “ stand by we need to clear out a few things before you come in” Jared said.
“ roger that out “ Ronny replied. Jared didn’t doubt Ronny wasn’t having as much fun as he normally would have. In fact Ronny had landed twice to wait out bad parts of the storm.
They advanced on the zombies moving slow and shooting smooth and steady, dropping the zombies that moved towards the convoy. Leaving those still around the building for hand weapons, so as not endanger who ever was inside. as the last of the advancing undead fell, Team one slung their rifles and drew melee weapons then as one they waded into the undead still laying siege to the two cabins. It was over in minutes thankfully.
“Ronny, its clear now “ Jared said, as he waved the convoy forward and pointed to where he wanted them to park in a line on the river side of the air strip.
“ Thanks” A man, said stepping from the first cabin. He looked excited, nervous and worried pretty much at once. And He was possibly the shortest man Jared had ever seen four foot eleven if he was lucky. Late twenties, sandy blond hair, carrying a rifle that was almost as long as he was tall.
Jared heard Ori mutter something about Umpa lumpas. Chris whispered the word hobbit. Jared ignored them both. “Your welcome” Jared said as some one shouted over at the RVs and the sound of a revving motor and tires spinning soft dirt could be heard. One of RV’s had gotten stuck Jared realized.
“ On it “ Steve said before Jared could say a word. He turned and jogged back towards his truck.
“ I’m Seth” the short guy said introducing himself and looking questionably at Jared, who force himself to smile, that name grated on his nerves, he hoped Anna wouldn’t freak out on hearing it, Jared introduced himself and those of Team one standing there with him in the rain.
“ How long have you been trapped in there” Jared asked nodding towards the cabins.
“ A week, me and Keith went into town to get food, which we managed to pull off. But some of the zombies followed us back here. “
“ You folks planning on staying here” Seth asked as a cute woman, girl next door kind of cute, peered out the doorway.
“Who are they? “ she whispered just loud enough that Jared could hear her. Seth started to introduce Jared and the others, when he heard the drone of an airplane. Seth and his wife stared mouths sagging open as they saw the first airplane since last June, approaching the field for a touchdown.
By the time Ronny lined up and touched down. Every single person had exited the cabins, with out any concern that the strangers might be dangerous, the plane was like some magic charm of a lost civilization that drew them out side mouths hanging open, and delight in their eyes, staring in shock as the first plane they had seen in months landed.
“And that Seth is why we are here,” Jared said pointing to the runway “ this camp has a runway, which we need. So you’re stuck with us,” Jared said ignoring the two kids that clung to their mother’s legs.
Seth introduced his wife Paula, and his son Jimmy five. And then Keith and his wife Nina, and their daughter Gem who was six. The other six people were, or had been Travelers on the road that day in June, they had escaped the roads together, and had ended up staying together till by luck they had stumbled across the camp.
Gem and Jimmy watched the airplane taxi up and stop with totally fascination till their mothers shooed them back into cabins and away from the bodies of the undead strewn about the cabins.
The camp was suddenly whirling with activity, as equipment was set out. The plane chocked, the group of fishermen, almost as heavily armed as the Teams grabbed their gear and trooped down to the river.
While Jared talked with the Seth and the others, Team two swept the other buildings for zombies and then moved out into the woods. They found six more zombies out there but thankfully that was it.
By eight that night, every thing was set up and Seth and his people were sitting in the lodge digging into the Venison that had been cooked that evening. They had even broken out the flour and other ingredients that Lloyd’s folks had supplied them with for making biscuits. Seth and the others stared at the Fresh corn on the cob, venison, Mashed potato’s, Gravy and biscuits like it was the ambrosia of the gods. They some how managed not to attack their food when they got their plates.
Jared shoveled up the Gravy with his biscuit and moaned in pleasures. Then grinned at Jill who only rolled her eyes and continued eating. Even the instant potato’s tasted good, especially drowned in the gravy. But that wouldn’t last if they ate them more than a few times a week.
Finally with the meal done and the dishes cleaned and put away. Jared pulled out his notebook and began to ask Seth and the others questions, about the lay out of Hendersonville. Till he had a more or less accurate map to go by with different business marked on it.
Ronny had gotten excited when Keith had mentioned there was an old Air museum at the Hendersonville airport. If there was any place they could get parts for the Duck it would be there, and he needed to refuel and thought that using regular aircraft fuel would be much better than basic unleaded fuel.
In the end, the objectives that Jared had marked out was the RV Dealership, a Mechanics shop that did custom 4×4 work, a Wal-Mart distribution center which was located on the edge of town, and actually fairly isolated from population groups, a National Guard armory, and lastly the Airport.
Steve looked at the hand drawn map and then looked at Jared. “ You do realize this could take more than a month. Right” Jared agreed and tapped the Symbol for the distribution center.
“ This is our primary, if we don’t hit anything else we have to hit here.” Jared said, and was damn glad Seth and Keith were from town, or he would never have known about that place. If they could seize it, clear it and hold it. There should be enough food and other supplies there to last them for the year.
“ We need to plan this out right, and what we need badly is a real map of the city, and I can only think of one place to get one” Jared said. Ori groaned knowing what was coming. “ The courthouse”
Four days later, both Teams entered Hendersonville, moving slowly down the streets. Reaching Main Street they turned north weaving amongst the abandoned cars and the wrecks.
As they closed in on downtown, the buildings changed from more modern structures to those built of red, tan or dark brown brick. They looked straight out of a movie from the thirties. Tattered bunting still dangled from some facades. Several of the old store windows had been shattered. A banner, one end ripped free, proclaiming an upcoming Fourth of July Parade and picnic dangled down in the street. Its free end ripped and tattered.
A Police cruiser was parked in the middle of the street, at Main and tenth. An ambulance was sticking out of Maxines flower shop just past Sixth Street. A four car pile up sat at the intersection of fourth and main. Trash blew slowly across the street driven by the still cool spring breezes.
There were not many zombies around yet. But that would change the longer they stayed here. Jared didn’t want to make plans based on the rough map he had drawn and then find out some ones recall was screwed, and a road supposed to take them to their goal was actually a dead end and trapped them with a few thousand zombies right behind them.
“ Team two secure the perimeter, Team one will clear,” he said over the radio the van bumped over the curbs into the broad lawn that surrounded the courthouse. Team two would for now drive around the square running down zombies, to keep from alerting the possible ten thousand zombies in the six square miles of the town that people were out and about.
Coming to a stop before the steps of the courthouse, they parked across the sidewalk at the base of the steps and leaped out. Taking only a moment to do a final weapons check and adjust gear. Satisfied they pounded up the stone steps and thru the double glass doors. In the hallway, which led to the Lobby, seven zombies turned and began to head their way. Using only hand weapons the team raced to meet them.
Logan planted his axe in the forehead of a rail thin zombie wearing a dark suit. Steve wailed away with Louisville slugger.
Jared hung back with Ori and Jill, to make sure no zombies came out of the offices behind the lead team members.
With the zombies in the hall down Jared, Ori and Jill cleared the offices, which were empty. For a moment Jared half expected to see corpses set around each room and posed, like at Bergstown, but that bastard was long dead now.
“ Hurry it up” Steve said over the radio. “ We have company coming in from the lobby.”
Not seeing what they needed, they rushed back into the hallway and joined the others who were keeping the newly arrived undead at bay in the Lobby. They advanced slowly leaving a trail of bodies and gore on the floor, making it slippery to walk on.
Clearing the lobby was slightly harder than the hallway, being much wider and with two intersecting hallways and a staircase; it took work to keep zombies from getting around behind them. Once they had the area around the main doors cleared. Jared pulled a chain and padlock from his cargo pocket and chained the doors shut. Finally as the last zombie fell they had time to take a breather. Jared consulted the directory mounted on the wall, saw the office he need and led the way.
As soon as he entered the city Registrars office, he saw exactly what he wanted mounted on the wall. Taking Logan with him, he left the others to take care of the few zombies in the suite of offices. Five minutes later they had the map out of its display case and folded.
“ Instead of going back thru the lobby lets take the door at the end of the hall if there aren’t many zombies outside. “ Entering the hall again, they could see that more zombies had appeared in the lobby, probably from the other hall they hadn’t checked and from the upstairs. Jared ran to the other end of the hall they were in and looked out the window set in the door and saw nothing on this side of the courthouse. Team two was doing a bang up job of keeping zombies away from the courthouse.
He threw open the outside door “ Come on, lets go” he said holding the door open and counting as each team member went past. As the last one passed he stepped out side and let the door close. They ran across the grass and around the building to the van Steve realized Jared had a phone book tucked under his arm. “ You and those damn phone books” Steve laughed. They reached their vehicles and in moments they were moving again.
Jared had Logan unfold the map and find the street the RV dealer was on. He wanted to drive by so he had an idea what it looked like. Logan quickly found the right street it and five minutes later they were cruising past a huge fenced in area full of fifth wheel trailers, and every thing from Class A to class C RVs. And one or two odd looking custom RV’s as well. In the back of the yard was a metal barn like structure with two large doors. Jared saw no undead inside the yard. It might actually be a snap to get in and out of there after all.
As they passed a walled condo complex, Jill pointed out a sheet hanging of the balcony that said alive inside. He slowed but seeing all the undead inside the walls, he sped back up. No one appeared on the apartment balcony to shout or wave at them. Probably dead by now He thought, but he would come back by a few times more before leaving the area and give them a couple of chances just in case.
They swung wide around the town, passing thru the Druid hills subdivision; one of the nicer places to live or had been. No doubt all the zombies in the yards and streets had driven property values way down. Logan found them the best route to Distribution center, and twenty minutes later Jared finally saw the holy grail of Loot.
A rectangular yard, about the size of four-foot ball fields surrounded by a fence. A two-story building that served as the offices sat close to the gate which stood open. Behind that five huge warehouses were spaced evenly apart with room for eighteen-wheelers to turn around and park between each of them. “ Why so large “ Jill asked. “ it used to supply every Wal-Mart in its district. From the size id say there were quite a few in its district.”
What he didn’t like was the number of undead inside the fence. There were plenty of cars and trucks in the parking spaces. So god knows how many of those things there were in the yard. He stopped at the gates and leaped out, with Jill covering him he ran over and pulled them closed and used the last chain and padlock he had in the van and secured the gate. At least no more zombies would get inside before they came back. There were already more than enough to deal with as it was.
Once back at Camp, Jared got Ians dad Kelly to help Rob on improving a couple of the trucks for zombie street clearing. Kelly had once been damn good at building custom Four by fours. Jared knew that lately things were strained between Kelly and his wife Joan. God knows why. But maybe this would help. Kelly was another one of those round pegs in need of a round hole. Thank god he hadn’t said that aloud, Ronny would have ran with that comment for hours.
At least no one was trying to get him to make some sort of ruling on lifestyles and dating ages and what ever else. Things were working out quietly behind the scenes, with out his help and no one seemed to be complaining about what had been decided on.
By this time next week there should be one or more Semi’s up here. Fully loaded with some luck. Steve and Chris were already working up Drills, to run the teams thru and Jared needed to put together two more teams. Though team four would only be two men, one a dedicated sniper.
Bit of good news though, Linda had reported that Pappy had managed to actually speak today. Linda had dropped a book on his left leg, and Pappy clearly said Fuck. She had also told Jared, that pappy had written a two page monologue on his opinions of her competence, worth as a human being and her sexual predilections. Jared rather doubted it was as polite as she made out.
But at least pappy was getting better. He missed that old man riding in the back of a truck with his rolling litany of insults directed at the zombies. He smiled to himself as he bent over his notebook and started writing.
Cole walked into the Dorm room and wanted to hurl. Blood was everywhere, and the five bodies were turning towards the doorway eager to get at him.. Shreds of duct tape still stuck to the wrists and ankles. That sick bastard had cut them free when he left the room, content to let zombies run amok on the grounds.
He shook his head, I should have listened to Reba he thought as Danica, a once pretty older woman, now a shredded mangled ruin of human flesh trotted towards the door, her teeth clicking as she reflexively opened and closer her mouth. The only thing that had saved the day had been Danny Morris dropping by to talk to Danica. The newly risen zombies hadn’t seen him and he quietly shut the door and blocked it, before running to find Oliver and tell him what he had found.
Cole lifted the one weapon he liked to use up close. His nail gun and pulled the trigger. 16 penny nails slammed into Danica’s face and head. Sending her back into death. He shifted his aim and pulled the trigger again. Walking the nails up Monica’s breastbone, throat and finally to her eyes. He shut the door and calmly reloaded the nail gun, which had been his favorite before the zombies because it had a large air tank attached to it, so he didn’t have to drag an air hose across joists or roof tops and risk tripping on it or snagging the damn thing.
He let the next one get two arm lengths away, he refused to even think of her name, it hurt to much, then pulled the trigger at point blank range and literally hammered her back on her heels before she fell to the ground dead. It only took a few moments to finish off the last of them.
As the last one fell he slung the air gun under his arm and looked at Oliver. “ Get Frank and the rest of my crew and search the grounds, start at the tunnel. Just in case he left that way and left the door open. If you find him kill him.” He said angrily. God he should have listened to his own feelings, he had known that one eyed bastard was trouble. Reba had warned him too. But he had ignored it all. This was his fault.
“ Danny come with me, we are going to search the basements, but we will stop and get Martin and Dean to go with us.” He said. Hoping that old one eye hadn’t gone down and messed with the boilers. That’s all they needed at this point.
Six hours later they had searched the entire facility and found no sign of one-eyed Michael. But oddly while searching Michaels old room, Cole had smelled something off for a few moments. Like one of the undead had been in here, but it had faded away leaving no trace.
“ Well aint that just interesting” Ronny said he walked around the modified deuce and half. Rob and Kelly had worked for four days on the thing. And now it looked more like something out of mad max. With the cowcatcher up front, knee cappers were attached to the rims by four legs so that lugs could still be accessed and the rims could still be removed. Rob had fashioned a pintle mount on the bed for the fifty cal.
The cattle catcher was strong enough not to rip free, and with the power of the deuce behind it, it could shove most vehicles out of the way. Jared would prefer a dozer or a tank but they had neither.
“ Wished caltrops would work,” he muttered.
“ What about that chainsaw thing from that remake of an old zombie movie. The one where they were in the mall.” Eric asked. Jared looked at him in surprise; Eric had never come across as some one who watched horror movies.
“ Do you happen to remember how well that whole chainsaw thing worked out for them” Jared asked. Eric’s brow furrowed as he tried to recall then nodded “ I see your point” He answered with a slight smile.
Rob leaned against the wall of the riding arena crossing his arms over his chest. “ We got the cleats installed in both deuces, we didn’t have enough scrap metal to make a second cattle catcher but that doesn’t matter really, Beast number one can clear them, beast two can run over what’s left. Id like to have one empty semi trailer and truck to modify. We really need something bigger and better outfitted for the kids.”
Jared shook his head slowly. “ No for now the school bus is fine for them to travel in. I just can’t figure out what we could use that’s large enough and safe enough for 24-orphaned kids. Outside of what we have already.”
They talked for a while longer discussing how best to use the deuces in the upcoming assault trying to see if there were any tricks they might have missed. No one assumed this job was going to be easy. Jared was trying to consider every angle hoping to keep any one from getting killed. But he knew that it was impossible to hit all the angles, and there were always surprises. And surprise by its very nature was unpredictable.
Finally, he returned to his RV ignoring Logan and Tatiana who were doing the dirty in the forward fold down bed. At least the lights were off, not that he minded one way or another. He entered the master bedroom and stripped down before climbing into bed. He was asleep before he is head hit the pillow.
The sun was warm on his bare chest as he stood on the summit and looked down over the river valley. Trees swayed in a gentle breeze, and the sunlight sparkled on the river down below. Just behind the bend he could see the mist rise above the trees were the calm river entered the rapids. A nasty set of breakers and troughs that he had shot many times. “ Always loved this place Hoss,” a deep voice said behind him, a voice he recognized. He turned slowly to see Brendan Coolidge standing there, wearing only his favorite pair of black cargo pants, the same ones he had died in, and hiking boots. He was just like Jared remembered. They had climbed up here to catch the view, and ended up pulling off their sweat soaked shirts to enjoy the breeze. Brendan had been dead three hours later.
“Your dead” Jared said.
“And your quick on the uptake like usual” Brendan replied with a lazy grin. His teeth a startling white in contrast to his tanned face.
“ This is a dream,” Jared said turning back to the view. Soaking in the beauty to calm him self.
“Again your right on the money.” Brendan said walking to his side. “ I wish I could stand here and just take it in like we used to do. Remember, we could just look for hours lost in the view.”
Jared nodded slowly those were the days. “ Cant do that now, got things to say. And you have things to do.” Jared looked towards the distant rapids before turning to face Brendan. They had been brothers even shared some of the same blood, after Jared had been wounded and Brendan had supplied the blood he needed.
But the guilt he still felt after all these years came welling back to the surface. “ I’m sorry Bren, I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t save you.” Brendan smiled sadly as he looked into Jared’s eyes as if reading the soul behind them.
“I know, I knew then too. I never blamed you bud, not even at the very end. I saw your hand, but I couldn’t quite reach it. And then I hit the rock. Not a thing you could do with out dying yourself. Besides, It kept me from having to deploy to that hell hole again.” He said and the grin was back.
“Always looking at the bright side,” Jared said laughing despite himself, at least one millstone about his neck had been lifted.
“Always even now. But times short, and as beautiful as that view is and how great it is to see you my brother from another mother, we need to get down to brass tacks. First things have changed, there’s some one gunning for you and those kids, which you know. What you didn’t know was that you’ve managed by luck to avoid a couple of the traps he set for you and that’s pissed him off. He never expected you to take the route you did. But he has changed his plans and is heading this way. He has inside information you might say. He might not get here before you leave, but he will be hot on your ass like a hooker looking to get paid.” Brendan told him.
“ Then I’ll wait for him. Got a score to settle for some one,” Jared said ice in his voice.
“ I know you do, but you cant wait around for him, got to keep moving. But when you do meet up with the prick and his buddies, do it for the right reasons Jared, not for some mystical war or the fate of humanity, or some other high sounding shit, do it right for yourself.” Brendan said. His smile almost sad then he spoke again “ look things are going to get real interesting soon, more players on the board, some good, some bad. Be careful and keep you head on straight. That’s what’s important. And there will come a point were you need to remember, when it seems darkest, the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. Remember Kipling”
“ That is about cryptic as hell,” Jared said laughing.
“ I’m dead we are supposed to be cryptic.” Brendan said with a smile.
“Dead and still a smart ass” Jared replied Brendan just smiled and wrapped an arm around Jared’s shoulders.
“ Got to say brother you’ve done well and come a long way. Got your self a beautiful and smart woman. Saved a lot of lives. I’m proud of you brother and I wish I could be there at your side like old times.” Brendan said as Jared smiled his emotions running away for a moment as tears came to his eyes before he got a handle on it. “Its beautiful down there isn’t it” Brendan said softly. Jared woke to Jill snuggling up against him in the predawn light tears sliding noiselessly down his cheeks.
continue to Act two part six