“Who will you be when faced with the end?
The end of a kingdom,
The end of good men,
Will you run?
Will you hide?
Or will you hunt down evil with a venomous pride?”
~from the book Snow white and the Huntsmen.
April 2011 deep in the Land of the Dead.
A beam of light from the sky light, fell on the bloody figure on his knees. His short dark hair was slick with blood, his torn shirt revealed a solid muscled torso covered in growing bruises and bloody scrapes. Even with his head bowed, there was no air of defeat about him and that annoyed the men who stood to either side of their prisoner.
“ Darius Zane McAllister, you’re a persistent fuck aren’t you” Darius blinked trying to clear his vision at the sound of the deep voice. His head hurt from where some one had slammed a rifled butt into his skull, his ribs were cracked at the very least, and his shoulder had been dislocated.
“Kronnen, your a sick twisted fuck aren’t you” Darius snarled mockingly, then doubled over as a fist slammed into his stomach. Hands grasped his arms and pulled him up right. He gasped at the pain that radiated from his shoulder.
“You’ve followed me all the way from Colorado, Ill grant you persistence, but Shes mine now.” Kronnen said an edge of amusement in his voice. The other men in the room chuckled harshly.
“You kidnapped her and made her a slave” Darius exclaimed, then his breath exploded out of him as he was struck in the stomach again.
“ Farm, fight or breed, those are the only jobs left Darius. People earn their keep with me, no slackers no welfare. Survival of the fittest. I would think a cowboy like you would appreciate that.” Kronnen said. “she joined of her own free will, and she knew she couldn’t farm or fight, Darius.”
a thick hand, that seemed cold grasped Darius by the chin and lifted his head. Darius saw the square jaw, the deep dark eyes, but it was the mocking smile that dominated his vision. “You gave her a choice between dying by fire or becoming a slave. Don’t pretend it was free will” Darius choked out.
“she had a choice, she made it freely.” Kronnen replied. “no one said lifes choices would be fair or kind. I only wish I had waited for you to come back to that little town, this would have ended back then. But you’re here now and you have a choice too. A fast death or a slow one”
Kronnen stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest, then looked up at the over cast sky and smiled at something. Darius lifted his head slowly trying to ignore the pain, looking up to see three crows circling overhead. Darius’s mouth worked for a moment as he focused on Kronnen again, then he spit on the ground.
“Sadly I do not have time to enjoy this today, we have places to go and things to do.” Kronnen told Darius then turned to the men who held Darius between them. “ strip him, beat him, then shoot him. Once he is dead, hang his corpse from a light pole as a warning to any one else stupid enough to come after us for vengeance.”
Darius was dragged out of the building and out into the street. Part of his mind wandered where all the undead were. Two men held him down while one cut his clothing off, as soon as he was naked, they began to punch and kick him. He managed to grab one mans ankle and more luck than anything else pulled the man off balance and sent him falling to the ground. Darius rammed his elbow into the fallen mans throat, but he was to weak, and the blow only set the man to gagging instead of crushing his throat.
The other two men,rained punches down on him. Darius rolled from side to side trying to evade the strikes but gave up after a moment and took the brutal pounding. He only cared about striking back hurting his enemies before he died, he punched and kicked as best he could but his best wasn’t good enough, pain, injuries and hunger had weakened him. One eye was swollen shut and the vision in the only eye he had that still worked had been reduced to blurry tunnel visions, his mouth was full of blood and his limbs felt like concrete.
Finally the beating stopped, and he was dragged to his feet and tossed onto a pile of bricks, he could hear motors somewhere, and knew that Kronnen was leaving. He had failed, all this way and she was still a slave and he was going to die.
“Don’t kill him fast” a voice slurred with pain said. “ make him suffer”
“He is suffering asshole, your just pissed because a half crippled naked guy took you down” another man replied with a laugh. “hear that Boy, you done pissed him off. Even with the beating you got earlier you put up one hell of a fight, be proud of that. Most just beg for their lives.”
“lean over, and Ill piss on you” Darius said through swollen lips. The man laughed sounding almost friendly.
“to bad your not smart enough to join the winning team, you would be one hell of a fighter for the caus….” The mans voice chopped off suddenly, as something warm splattered across Darius, then dead weight fell across his legs. He heard shouting, which stopped after a moment. Only the sound of motors fading with distance could be heard and then it too was gone.
Darius tried to sit up, but he felt so dizzy he fell back on the pile of bricks and waited for the world to stop spinning on him.
To his right he heard bricks and rubble sliding and then nothing again. He tried to turn his head but his neck didn’t seem to work, then tried to sit up and again his body ignored his commands. Fear trickled through him, zombies, it had to be zombies. somehow he managed to roll off the bricks and landed on his shoulder, the vision in his one good eye grayed for a moment and the world spun as the pain washed through him. Struggling to move dead limbs he tried to crawl. He refused to give up even now, if he was going to die, he was going to die trying.
Broken brick, shards of glass, and gravel tore at his skin, but the pain was minor and unnoticed compared to the pain he already felt. It felt like he had crawled a hundred feet, but he knew it wasn’t more than a foot or two, and felt despair and anger knowing he was going to die, with out saving Katy.
“son, your going to kill yourself” a man said gently almost in his ear. Darius somehow rolled over prepared mentally to fight, but rolling over took the last of his strength. The world was a steadily shrinking point of light being swallowed by the dark.
“your going to be okay…” was the last thing he heard.
He woke instantly, smelling food, every inch of his body hurt. His one good eye was almost swollen shut leaving just a slit left to see out if. Turning his head was agony.
But he finally was able to make out a man kneeling beside a small metal can, where a fire was burning, the stranger held an can of soup or something and was eating slowly, staring out a narrow window. Then the world faded to black once more.
Darius woke again to a warm room, where sunlight splashed through a window. He still ached but not as bad as before. He raised a swollen hand and touched the bandages around his head and left eye. Slowly he ran his hand over his chest and down to his midsection and found that some one had wrapped his ribs as well.
“Trust me you look like shit” a man said.
Darius turned his head surprised to find he didn’t get dizzy this time, The man was around six foot, wide shouldered, with a massive chest, thick arms and legs but oddly as muscular as the rest of him looked, he had a belly. The stranger’s hair was buzzed down to stubble, and might have been black. His angular jaw was covered in stubble, his nose had been broken sometime in the past. a scar bisected his right eyebrow. He was maybe forty, Darius decided.
“where am I” Darius asked, his voice almost unrecognizable.
“a place I like to call, I hate this damn place” the man said with a tired smile, as he walked across the small room and sat a bag down on the rickety table with a clink of cans and glass.
“who are you?” Darius asked as he managed to prop himself up on his elbows.
“Quentin Jones” The man said sitting down a chair that was two sizes to small, it looked like a chair taken from a kindergarten class room. “and you managed to get the hell beat out of you”
“why did you rescue me” Darius asked, already feeling tired. “and how long have I been here”
”I rescued you because, any one that pisses off Kronnen is okay in my book, and you’ve been here two weeks already. “ Quentin told him. “ you were in and out of consciousness”
“I have to get out of here” Darius said struggling to sit fully upright, then finally gave up and fell back on what ever it was that passed for a bed.
“easy there sport, your not going anywhere for a while, and your going to need clothes before you leave too” Quentin said
“why am I naked” Darius asked laying there staring at the ceiling.
“well first Kronnens goons stripped you, then beat the hell out of you, then I rescued you, hauled you out on my shoulder, while undead tried to catch us. Then I found it was easier if you were naked to cut down on ruined clothing when you had accidents. Its not like you woke up to hit the head and you have a sheet.”
Darius blushed embarrassed as hell, this man had spent two weeks taking care of him like he was baby. “ I have to admit I thought about adult diapers at one point,” Quint said with a lopsided grin “but I figured your dignity was going to take a major body blow anyway so why add to it. Besides.. I was a nurse so its not like Ive never had to do this before.”
“you a nurse” Darius asked thinking of the mans heavy muscles.
“I know, I look like I should be breaking knee caps for a loan shark. but yeah I was a nurse. US Army trained, got out in 2008, started work at a local hospital here in Kansas city, and for the first time in my life I was really lucky, I was on vacation when the dead got up and started eating my fellow employees. By the time I got back here, the city was almost overrun, the Guard were retreating, fires and chaos everywhere, and all but a few of my friends at the hospital had been eaten.
I tried to help out but the evac center was overrun and I barely escaped with my life, been surviving ever since, then Kronnen rolled into town a month or so ago pretending to be part of a government relief effort, gathers up the few survivors that came out of hiding, and the rest I’m sure you know.” Quentin said as he opened the bag and pulled out two large cans of soup.
“Hearty meal, Mmm Mmm good” he said, then grinned as he pulled a can opener from the bag and opened both cans. Sticking a spoon in one he passed it to Darius who hadn’t realized how hungry he really was till he smell the greasy congealed mess in the can.
Darius didn’t talk he ate, and then he used the spoon to scoop the sides of the can clean, if he could have he would have stuck his head in the can and licked the walls clean.
“I hooked you up to Ivs and liquid food, every other day, sorry I couldn’t do it for the entire time, but supplies are limited and its almost impossible to get in and out of the hospitals to get more these days” Darius found himself exhausted again and felt his eyes closing, in moments he was asleep.
Over the next week he grew increasingly stronger, finally able to sit up and even stand. Quentin had popped his shoulder back into place while he was out and his eyes were returning to normal. Now dressed in cargo pants and a Tshirt, he sat staring out the window to the rubble strewn street, another Kronnen signature, when they rolled into a town, they set fires and bombed half the town to cripple and kill as many undead as possible, as well as to deny supplies to any one who might be hiding in the area or came in after Kronnen left.
The Room he was in was small eight by eight, and had been a small office in an old building that had been mostly empty when the dead rose. Hearing the a door open in the hall outside, Darius picked up the revolver that Quentin had left for him. The long barrel .45 was heavy, but it would put down just about anything.
“its me” Quentin said from the hallway, before he opened the door. Darius feeling relief, knowing he wasn’t recovered enough to fight zombies much less men lowered the pistol as the door swung open.
“traffic is a killer out there today” Quentin said with another grin as he sat the large bag he carried on bed he had made out of plywood and cinderblock. “ I got you boots, a glock .40, got some noodles and spaghetti sauce for dinner tonight.”
Darius eyed the boots, for a moment then nodded in appreciation, they were red wings a damn good pair of work boots. “ don’t worry I got them from a shoe store, not off some dead guys feet” Quentin said anticipating the next question.
Darius as eager as he was to get moving after Kronnen, actually found himself wanting to linger and he did for another week and half before he was finally well enough to leave and couldn’t pretend otherwise. Quentin was friendlier than usual as it grew apparent that Darius was healing, as if he were hiding his own thoughts on the matter. But he had been alone far longer then Darius, the man had to be dying for company, hell a rat would have made a good friend to talk to after so long.
“I’m leaving tomorrow” Darius finally said one night over a dinner of canned stew.
“I hate to point this out” Quentin said, “ but you don’t have any gear to go cross country, and that pistol isn’t going to get you far. A lot of undead have wandered back into this part of town.”
“ I just need to get back to my rig, everything I need is there.” Darius told him.
“Rig as in big rig, Mac, peterbilt, that kind of Rig” Qunetin askd.
“no sorry, an F-350, a dually, power stroke diesel, with a fifth wheel camper horse trailer. I left it about five miles from where Kronnen had set up his HQ.”
“Ill go with you as far as your rig, if you give me a ride back here, its dangerous over that way. Not just the undead. A few of the gangs are still alive and kicking there, unless they joined up with Kronnen and left with him. Which I doubt all of them did.”
“ no Problem Id be happy to have some one cover my back” Darius said, wondering if he should ask Quentin to leave with him.
They left shortly after dawn the next day. Moving quietly down the street, hiding as often as they moved. Darius carried a piece of rebar that he had picked up, while Quentin carried a two pound sledge.
They managed to make it a mile before Darius stepped past a building that had an empty lot beside it and into full view of three zombies who had just been standing there trying to draw flies.
Darius stepped back as the lead zombie, a pot bellied zombie dressed as a baker charged in that slow jog run they had. He swung the rebar like a baseball bat and hit the thing in the side of its head, and fell over like it had been pole axed. He side stepped the next zombie, moving stiffly and would have been grabbed by the third zombie a former convenience store employee, with half her face gone if Quentin hadn’t crushed its skull with the hand sledge.
Darius turned back to the zombie he had sidestepped just as it was lunging for him, Darius rammed the piece of rebar into its mouth, shredding its lips and breaking teeth before the end of the rebar punched into its brain case and killed it.
”we are going to have to run” Quentin said jerking a thumb over his shoulder, where twelve more zombies had emerged from a insurance company office and began shambling towards them. “ like a good neighbor my ass”
Darius wasn’t sure if he could run far, but he was going to try. They ran almost a block before Quentin caught Darius by the arm and pulled him left across the street and into a parking lot where they slowed and entered the next street over. Seeing no undead they headed west again,
They made it another mile and then had to hide in a store that had been closed before the apocalypse. Darius watched out the dirty dust streaked window as a horde of undead streamed by, maybe two hundred in all.
Darius, lay on the floor to keep from being seen, watching as every size, shape and color of living dead staggered and lurched past the store window. It was like the UN of the Dead he thought. Finally they vanished down the road leaving only the stench of their passage hanging in the air.
“lets get out of here, before they come back” Quentin said, climbing to his feet from where he had sat against the brick wall.
Darius nodded in complete agreement with the older man. They stepped outside and headed south away from the horde. Darius was getting tired, his muscles ached and every five minutes they would encounter a zombie or two and have to change direction, then hide and wait for the undead to lose interest. A trip that should have taken two hours ended up taking five.
The sun was sinking low on the horizon, when Darius finally spotted the two landmarks he had memorized, a fire blackened church steeple and a Billboard that announced a popular strip club.
With growing confidence Darius passed between a pharmacy and an Auto parts store to step onto a street where the windows had been broken out on almost every store, Tv’s, clothes, shoes, kitchen appliances, game consoles and a million and one other things littered the sidewalks and street. His mind conjured images of rioters and looter who had thought that the time had finally come to take what they had wanted, only to have the living dead sweep down on them. In panic and fear the looters had dropped their stuff to flee but it had been too late.
Ten minutes later he was climbing into a burned out shell of a building and stopped studying the truck and trailer he had parked here over a month ago.
“looks like you were raided” Quentin said noting the open doors, and bits and pieces of clothing scattered around the doors.
“maybe” Darius said as he crept closer pistol drawn. He peered into the truck first, then moved to the combo horse trailer and opened the door to the camper section then peered inside. Finally he stepped to the back and looked in.
“okay it cools, help me pick up this crap up and then lets blow this taco stand” Darius said pointing to the scattered bits of clothing and gear.
“why theres nothing here worth taking” Quentin said, pushing at a empty cardboard box with his boot.
“exactly, I scattered that stuff around the doors, and around the rig, so any one that stumbled across it would think it had already been picked clean. Its worked pretty good so far. But sooner or later someone will take a closer look, to see if something like a can of beans got left behind.” Darius said as he picked up the stuff on the passenger side of the truck and shoved it into one of the boxes on the ground.
“not a bad idea, you should have planned like that when you went after Kronnen” Quentin said as he started picking up the things on the drivers side.
“I did, but I didn’t plan on him having working motion sensors and NVG camera’s.” Darius replied as he opened the hood of his truck reconnected two wires, then reached down under hoses, a wire bridge and other parts, and flipped the kill switch that couldn’t be seen from above. He took only a moment to recover the Shot gun and rifle he had hidden in the frame of the truck.
“ready,” He asked climbing into the drivers seat, almost sighing with pleasure at the touch of the leather seats. As soon as Quentin was inside, Darius reached under his seat, flipped a second kill switch, then turned the key in the ignition.
The truck started, the sound of the motor loud enough to rattle windows for a hundred feet. Darius backed out carefully then pulled onto the road. Where undead, drawn by the sound of the motor, were already appearing out of buildings along the road.
“it always creeps me out, how empty an area looks until a loud noise draws them out” Quentin said watching the undead.
Darius didn’t respond at first he was debating with himself, as he approached the block where the old office building was that Quentin had been living in, he slowed “ Look I owe you my life, and to be honest I’m kind of used to you being around. How about you go with me. There aint shit here in Kansas city other than the undead.”
Quentin twisted around in his seat, and looked at Darius. “Mind answering a question” he asked the younger man.
“why not” Darius replied as they rolled closer to Quentins destination.
“why are you after Kronnen, I haven’t pried the entire time you’ve been with me but I need to know before I answer your offer” Quentin said, watching Darius closely.
“I was in Colorado, for a rodeo when all hell broke loose, me and my sister Kate. It was bad, and I mean bad there. We made it through with a bunch of others, and ended up in some little tourist town, with about a hundred other people. In fact there were something like 12 small towns up in the mountains that made it through more or less intact. Winter was rough and we lost people to starvation, suicide, and the cold,and lost more when the dead got up. But we made it through, then Kronnen came through in Feburary, I was out hunting with six other guys. We saw the smoke five miles out and rushed back, thinking a fire had broken out, instead we got there just as the convoy was leaving. Ten of his men were still on the ground stringing up the bodies of men and women I had gotten to know and like.
We took the Butt wipes down hard, made them talk and then hung them like the trash they were. It was after that I found out that Kate and about half the women and eight guys had been taken. We set out after them, and Im the only one to have made it this far. Im getting my sister back and setting the others free or Im going to die trying” Darius said, his voice rang like steel at the last.
“and that’s it” Quentin asked quietly.
“what else should there be” Darius asked.
“stopping Kronnen would be a start” Quentin replied.
“how exactly, I mean if I killed him, some one else would just take over, and that group is damn near an army, they even have a bunch of military gear.”Darius said, as he turned down the street and saw the office building.
Quentin was silent for a moment,Like Darius he had gotten used to company. He refused to think about the other reasons he might have. Clearing his throat he looked back at Darius. “ Ill go with you and help get your sister and friends back. But you have to promise me youll help me, theres someone I need to get to that might be able to do something about Kronnen, help me get to him that’s all I ask.”
Darius didn’t even stop to think, he only nodded “ you have a deal.”
Scattered white clouds drifted across the blue vault of the sky, as the battered Ford 350 approached the looming Ozarks. The horse trailer it pulled, was scorched and dented. It rolled into the densely wooded foothills, then turned down a short gravel road finally parking in front of a sprawling stone and wood building.
Darius hid his impatience at having to keep to the back roads to avoid the undead, interstates and highways clogged with abandoned vehicles and having to stop to search for food and other supplies in order to stay alive. His sister and the others suffered more with each passing day that Darius wasted with the survival.
But Darius didn’t let it show, he knew he couldn’t rush, things were what they were, and couldn’t be changed. But he let it feed his anger and his hatred and over the last week he had thought more and more about Quentin’s desire to end Kronnen and his people threat to the rest of the survivors and wondered if it wasn’t possible after all. Nothing of his thoughts showed on his face as he reached for the door handle.
The door of the truck opened and Darius stepped out, clapping a battered straw cowboy hat on his head, he studied the camping and outfitters business for a moment watching as a female zombie in shorts and a tank top staggered across the stone porch and fell down the steps, it rose unsteadily and stood there swaying for a moment as if to get its balance. .
Darius lifted the Winchester 30 30 he carried and blew it straight to hell. “I don’t see any more of them” Quentin said as he studied the area around the building.
“Good lets see if there’s any thing left inside” Darius said striding forward. he climbed the steps and noticed the smell was growing stronger. He slowed as he approached the open door, then sticking two fingers in his mouth he whistled loudly.
Something crashed to the floor inside the building and then silence, but the smell if anything was growing stronger. Darius stepped back, lifting his rifle then waited his legs spread shoulder width and slightly bent at the knees
A zombie stumbled out of the door, strips of dried flesh dangled from its face, and bare torso there was a massive hole in its side that had allowed some of its organs to fall out sometime in the past.
Darius snapped off a shot, striking it in the shoulder. He jacked the lever reloading the rifle and as it rushed him, he fired again at almost point blank range in the forehead. It toppled over, just as a zombie kid crawled out of the building, its legs gone from the thigh down.
“got this one” Quentin said stepping past Darius leveling the 12 gauge and firing point blank. The little corpse stopped moving. “ I hate the kid ones” he muttered, Darius didn’t seem fazed by the experience and Quentin couldn’t read him well enough to hazard a guess in how Darius viewed child zombies.
Darius stepped up to the door and looked inside. Shelves had been knocked over and pushed up against windows, and the door at some point. But the one at the door had been pulled away and now lay six feet from the open door. Ten corpses lay scattered around the room, all in advanced stages of decay. Beside several of the corpses were packs, and weapons. He spent a minute or two just looking into the store while he reloaded his rifle.
“ stay close” Darius said as he stepped inside the dim shop his rifle ready the shop itself was empty of undead. Just behind the counters, was a door way that led into darkness. Darius clicked on the LED light clipped to his shirt pocket, and stepped into an area with work benches, shelves and cabinets. A quick look around revealed that the company had repaired, equipment onsite, including bows and cross bows. Which was a let down, since there wasn’t a complete bow or crossbow in the place.
At the far end of the room, something hit the the floor with a thumb. Darius with Quentin covering him, moved across the room, the beam of the LED light slicing through the darkness, revealing another door way.
Darius hesitated at the doorway, then stepped into the hallway on the other side, two doors to the left, two to the right staggered so no one door was directly opposite the other, which was a great thing as far as Darius was concerned.
The first Doorway was to his left, revealed an office. A single cheap desk, and chair, with filing cabinets. Some one had dumped the contents of all the drawers out on the floor, and shattered the computer monitor.
He turned and headed to the next door on the right, just as a zombie lurched out into the hallway. This one was no threat not really, Darius thought. From the looks of it, some one had handcuffed the poor bastards hands behind his back, and slapped duct tape over the mans mouth, there were no obvious wounds on the body which made Darius think that the man had been left to starve to death, or maybe suffocated. Either way he had come back like all the others.
Slinging his rifle, he drew his hunting knife and drove it over hand into the zombies eye and up into its brain case. A quick twist, to scramble the brains, then pulled the knife free letting the zombie fall to the floor.
He peered into the office that the zombie had come out of and saw that some one had tossed that office as well. The next two offices were exactly the same, trashed, with nothing of worth left inside.
The door at the end was unlocked and opened up to reveal a large room with racks of Canoes, and paddles. Shelves that were mostly empty actually still held a few backpacks, and other camping gear. Who ever had stripped the place must have run out of room or they would have taken the last few items.
“Watch out” Quentin shouted pulled Darius back just as a zombie lunged up from behind some large boxes, right at the spot Darius had just occupied its rotting arms closing on empty air.
Darius recovered his balance and snapped his rifle into place, firing once, then twice. The zombie fell backwards, bits of bone and flesh flying out from the back of its head.
Towards the back of the room where they hadn’t been yet, something moved, then directly opposite that noise, something metal clattered to the floor.
“ Into the hallway” Darius said backing up wanting to limit the space the zombies could came at them. As he backed towards the hallway, first one, then another zombie came out of the darkness, their white flesh glowing in the light of his LED flashlight. Behind them he saw yet another.
Once in the hallway, he drew his pistol. “ watch behind us, in case some of the damn things come in from outside” Darius told Quentin as he steadied his pistol. Long ago, his daddy a deputy sheriff and US Army vet had taught him to shoot, Darius wasn’t a gun slinger, but he knew how to point and aim fairly well, and zombies moved slow enough he usually had time to aim. Today was no different. He shot the first one three times, twice center mass once in the head. The next one, a woman who might have been pretty if she hadn’t had dried blood smeared around her mouth and been dead got a double tap.
It took a few minutes for the third one to make it to the doorway, but when it did Darius put it down with another double tap. And then a fourth and fifth appeared one after another, the pistol roared in his hands,his ears already ringing, rang louder.
He stood there breathing in cordite rank air, watching the door way in case yet more undead appeared. After several minutes he stepped forward and peered into the room once more and saw nothing moving. Quentin followed him closely, this time Darius moved around the large room ignoring the remaining equipment while he secured the area.
Finally satisfied that the room was now empty of undead, Darius examined the backpacks, picking two large ones and leaning them against the wall. then he rummaged through the remained gear in the room. Adding two small cookware sets, collapsible bowls, rubber plates, and a few other odds and ends to the gear he intended to take.
Quentin slung the shotgun over his shoulder and carried the packs as he followed Darius back to the front. An hour later Darius had emptied all the packs that had belonged to the dead and made piles of duplicate gear and essential gear he was going to take.
Once sorted out he packed the gear away in the two large packs they had recovered from the back. There was also a box of 9mm, and almost twelve full magazines of 9mm for various model pistols, two glock .40 magazines, one fully loaded. After stripping mags and combining the rounds he had five full magazines of .223 for one AR.
The place was a puzzle, he decided as he sat back on his heels and looked around, it was obvious that the men and women laying dead in the front had been in one hell of a fight judging by all the spent brass laying around. They had barricaded windows, and it looked like some one had escaped or forced their way in moving the heavy shelving unit that had blocked the door, but were they the ones who had tossed the offices and left zombies in the back. It didn’t make sense, for some one to just leave zombies in the building behind them. He had to chuckle silently at himself, it didn’t matter and he would never find the answers anyway, unless some one had left a note he hadn’t found yet.
With the gear packed away and all the Ammo collected, he moved to the door and checked outside to make sure it was clear, satisfied that no zombies were waiting for them, they carried their new gear out and placed it in the truck.
Darius climbed into the drivers seat and sighed, rubbing his eyes. “ I hate this crap” he muttered. “ The AR is yours” he told Quentin, “Id rather stick to the shotgun and rifle for now.”
“if you insist” Quentin said, reaching into the back and pulled the AR up and into his lap, where he checked it over quickly and expertly. “not much different than what I was issued in the Army.”
“I thought you were a nurse in the Army” Darius asked, turning to look at his companion.
“I was, but every one in basic learns to shoot, and there were a few times Uncle sugar PCS’d me to an outfit that didn’t need a Nurse, so I spent a few months as a grunt till I got routed to a medical unit. The only combat I saw was from a medical center perspective, unless you count exercises as a Ground pounder a few times.:”
“Never served, there were times I wanted to, but I never did. Wished like hell I had stopped cowboying and joined up, Id have training I could use now.” Darius commented.
“you would probably have died along with majority of them” Quentin said,
“The Majority of them, what about the rest” Darius asked.
“not sure, all I can say for certain, was, as the Evac center was collapsing and the undead were pouring in. there were a few messages about falling back to be evacuated to prepared facilities. The last time I saw the surviving military and Guard units, they were hauling ass west, with the few civilians they could get out, heading to a rendevous site.” Quentin said, lost in his memories for a moment.
“why didn’t you go with them” Darius asked,
“because I wanted to find and save a few friends, as it turns out they were already dead, and I ended up trapped in a dead city.” Quentin replied then fell silent.
“you’ve been alone almost a year” Darius asked.
“not quite, theres people all over the city, some of them banded together. Some are alone but work with others. A couple of people came to stay with me, one got caught outside when a horde swarmed through, the other one committed suicide one day while I was out gathering supplies, after that I was alone for about four months or so till I stumbled across you being beaten to near death.”
“shit happens I guess” Darius said, and that pretty much summed up the world of today. Yawning Darius reached into the back and pulled a blanket up to the front and covered himself. A moment later he was sound asleep.
Quentin sat there for a while looking out the window, one hand running up and down the AR like it was a long lost friend. Wondering if Darius had guessed just how close Quentin had been to ending it all before he had stumbled across Darius.
He had come so close to saying no to Darius offering to come along, knowing he couldn’t stand watching one more person die. But he had looked into those Gray eyes, and saw the determination to get his sister and friends back, and Quentin had realized he wanted to help Darius but he also wanted to end Kronnen and his band of Merry cutthroats.
It might have something to do with the odd dreams he had been having for months now. frankly he didn’t care if it was because of the dreams. Kronnen was like a cancer and needed to be cut from the body of humanity, in reality, like his dreams, Kronnen wasn’t human he was an animal, the worst side of humanity given form. Evil for lack of a better word, and he thrived in the land of the dead.
All that Quentinh would keep to his self, Darius didn’t strike him as philosophical, in some ways he came across as cold and uncaring. Quentin suspect that was a result of all the he had been through and would warm up as time went on, or not.
Enough he told himself, as he made sure the doors were locked then pulled a sheet over himself and closed his eyes, his hands still cradling the AR.
Darius woke with the sun rise, he sat there for awhile shifting uncomfortably in the seat needing to pee, as he looked outside, making sure it was safe to open the door to relieve himself. Satisfied it was safe, he opened the door and slid out into the cool morning air, the scent of dew and loam filling the air. He just unzipped and let fly with out stepping away from the door. When he finished he zipped up and climbed back into the truck.
Starting the truck, to let it warm up, he woke Quentin, who stretched and then opened the door to do his morning business. Like so many others in the ZA they had learned that privacy had been the second casualty of the undead.
“ damn that felt good,” Quentin said shutting the door, then stripped off his shirt and stuffed it in a bag he used to hold dirty clothes. “ need to find a river so we can wash clothes. I refuse to get my ass bit just to scavenge clean clothes, when I don’t have to risk it.”
What Darius had once thought might be a beer belly had turned out to be barrel of ripped abs. For a Nurse Quentin, did look like the wall of muscle enforcer he had joked about at the beginning, the tattoos were the tipping point for that look Darius decided.
Using baby wipes, Quentin cleaned his torso then pulled on a clean shirt, while Darius pulled out of the parking lot and got back on the main road, heading for Lake of the Ozarks..
The road steadily rose, passing rocky outcroppings, deep forested slopes, and briefly glimpsed rivers and creeks. Darius was able to drive faster, due to a mostly empty road, only having to slow down to weave through vehicles when the road passed through small towns or exits to small towns.
Darius drove around a bend and hit the brakes, almost throwing Quentin into the dashboard. Up ahead the road was blocked by a wreck just at the bottle neck of a bridge across a glittering river.
“ accident or on purpose” Quentin asked looking around.
“probably accident, but lets go with on purpose to be safe about it.” Darius said as he opened the door and climbed out, pausing only long enough to sling the Winchester over his shoulder then picked up the shot gun.
Quentin got out and then climbed into the bed of the truck, eying the woods on either side of the road suspiciously his AR ready, while Darius walked slowly up to the wreck, and peered inside the vehicles that were crushed together.
Some one had stripped the interior of the vehicles of everything but trash, Darius saw, straightening up, he looked around then shading his eyes he gazed across the bridge, to the other side. Where trees swayed gently in the breeze under the golden beams of an early summer sun.
To go around would add days to their time, and would use up fuel they couldn’t afford to waste. No he was going to have to clear the wreck, and hope that no one was standing around ready to shoot his happy ass.
Half an hour later he had the tow chain hooked up and had pulled a car free and off to the side of the road, the second car took less time, and soon the truck was dragged off the road its rims squealing and throwing sparks as it was dragged across the pavement.
With the road cleared, Darius packed away the tow chain then sat there for a moment opening a can of chili and a package of stale crackers and ate lunch while Quentin decided to go with out, he really wasn’t hungry and some one had to keep an eye out.
“mind If I ask you how you know where Kronnen is going” Quentin asked.
“took you long enough to ask” Darius said with something that looked like a smile.
“he heads for the nearest big city every time. This time its either Memphis or St Loius., Im betting on St. Louis. But if not we can head south to Memphis and after that will be Nashville.” Darius explained then pulled a map out for the glove compartment and opened it up to show Quentin every city that Kronnen had stopped in since Darius had been chasing him.
“he likes the big cities because of the warehouse’s and massive amounts of supplies that are still sitting there at rail heads, docks, and shipping centers. And theres almost always more people for him to snatch up and put to work.” Darius said, anger tinging his voice.
“ why not Branson or some other city in Missouri” Quentin asked.
“I don’t know, all I know is that he goes for the biggest cities and raids the areas I mentioned, then usually burns whats left so no one else can use the stuff.” Darius said.
“theres no way he can burn all of it, that would be impossible” Quentin commented, “and its stupid, to burn stuff he could come back for.
“it is but doesn’t stop him from burning what he can.” Darius said, “sometimes I think he burns the stuff because he enjoys it.”
Darius fell silent as he studied the road map, wishing he had a topo map, but he had no clue where to get one with the net down. Maybe a rangers station, but he didn’t know where one of those was at either. . he had avoided I 70 to avoid all the towns and along that route, choosing to go south away before entering the foot hills of the Ozarks, and soon he was going to have to head north again, unless he wanted to head to Memphis instead. But St Loius made more sense. It had been a major shipping hub, someplace that Kronnen would want to capture, and either hold or burn to the ground. This time, he was betting Kronnen would establish a base of operations there, like he had done in Denver.
Darius put the truck in Gear and headed across the bridge, by night fall they had pulled off into a small state rest and picnic area, nothing more than three cement picnic tables with cement benchs under cement covers, nestled amidst soaring trees beside a river. It was literally miles from any town and the perfect place to camp.
Tonight Darius decided to stay in the camper section of the horse trailer. If anything happened they could wiggle out the window into the bed of the truck and through the sliding rear window. Or rather Darius could, Quentin was to large to fit through anything but a door. With the few windows covered, Darius turned on the LED lantern and then fired up the gas stove, Dinner wasn’t fancy canned stew, that Darius spiced up with spices from the spice rack but it was hot, which was a major difference to both men. Quentin studied the belt buckles mounted along the wall just below the edge of the roof, and the various plaques from the Rodeos Darius had been in. it was the first time Quentin had been inside the camper section in the week and half he had been with Darius.
“I guess you are the real thing after all” Quentin said as he sat down at the table while Darius cleaned the dishes.
“what real thing” Darius asked.
“A cowboy” Quentin elaborated.
“I was once at least I worked a ranch, rode herd and worked cattle. Then I started Rodeoing, which is a different animal all together” Darius said. “ real cowboys work long hard hours, get paid shit, eat lots of beans and generally are happier than most other people, no matter how much they bitch and moan. Rodeo, is lots of travel, eight seconds of being scared shitless and if your lucky lots of money, women and music. No matter what you do bones are going to get broken, your going to spend some time in a hostpital, and , that’s assuming you don’t get killed by a bull named Bodacious or one of his evil twins”
“Music” Quentin asked, curious.
“I like music, so I bought a lot of CD’s and went to lots of concerts when I could. The Houston Live Stock show and Rodeo was the best one to ride in my book. At least for entertainment and women. Lord god the women.” He said with a real smile.
“don’t know about you but Im tired and the thought of sleeping in a real bed, where I can stretch out sounds like heaven.” Darius said as he rose. “theres only one bed in this thing, so you can either share the bunk which is queen sized by the way, or sleep on the floor, I don’t care which, just decided fast.”Darius said yawning.
After so long of sleeping on concrete floors and plywood, the leather seat in the truck had been life changing, but now the thought of a real bed no matter who might be in it with him was like a sirens call to eternal bliss. he reached a decision even before Darius had shut his mouth. “ Bed” Quentin said.
The next day, Darius still in his boxers checked out the windows to make sure it was clear then stepped outside and took a deep cleansing breath of cool forest air. By the time Quentin stepped outside, Darius had a fishing pole out and was digging around under dead leaves for worms.
“your kidding your going to fish.” Quentin asked, having grown up in a city, Quentin had only seen fishing in movies and heard other guys talk about it.
“canned food is running low, and a couple of fish would taste good right about now.” Darius said as he entered the trailer again. When he came out he had pulled on his clothes.
“guess you pull guard duty,while I fish.” Darius said with quirk of his lips that might have been a smile.
Fishing was good today, Darius thought as he deposited his seventh catch of the day into the cooler. His eyes swept the area for undead out of habit, any one who stopped paying attention usually ended up a zombie snack treat.
Hooking another worm, he drew back and was about to cast, when he distinctly heard a snap in the woods across the river. He let fly casually, acting as if he had heard nothing, if the noise had been an animal no problem, a zombie was no problem either, but if it was another human being sneaking up on them. Darius had no desire to show he had heard a thing. The longer he could keep them from shooting at him, the better.
Unobtrusively from under his lashes he watched the other bank, for any sign and was finally rewarded to see a flash of color as some one moved from one tree to another.
After a couple of fear soaked minutes, waiting for bullets to fly. He propped his pole on the Y shaped stick he had stuck in the ground, then laid a rock across the handle, then rose and stretched acting as casual as he could manage then started towards the trailer.
“the problem with fishing,” he called out to Quentin sounding as normal as ever.”is that I start craving Beer. I would kill for a cold beer.”
“I don’t need to fish to crave beer.” Quentin replied, as Darius walked around to the drivers side of the truck.
“other side of the river, men” Darius said in a low voice, then louder. “well you know the song, Countryboys can survive.” He grabbed his tackle box and carried it to the picnic table. His palms were sweating and despite how calm he looked his stomach was rolling and his testicles were threatening to climb up into his body and kicks his brain in for making the rest of the body stay.
“Got news for you, knowing all the words to that song and drinking beer, does not guarantee you will survive” Quentin replied, casually looking around, showing no real attention to the other side of the river.
The river was to deep to run across, so if there were gun men on the other side, they were there to help who ever was sneaking up on the camp on this side of the river.
“when are you going to actually cook one of those fish you’ve caught. Don’t tell me you know how to catch them but not cook them” Quentin said, wishing he had spent more time on CQC training and weapons training. But in the old world, it hadn’t been a skill set he really had needed.
“I was hoping you knew how to cook” Darius said opening the tackle box.
Apparently the men stalking them had gotten close enough or were tired of the banal conversation about cooking and fishing in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Which ever reason it was, “Don’t move, drop your weapons” was the first warning or so the raiders thought. Quentin realized that the voice was behind him, they had used the trailer to hide their approach. If theres a next time sit on the trailer idiot, he chided himself.
Darius reached into the tackle box, and came back out clutching a pistol which he fired into the brush where he saw movement. Quentin leaped from the back of the truck just as some one shot at him. Fire flared across his shoulder as he was grazed. He hit the ground and threw himself against the trailer watching the far bank. While Darius ran and dove into a stand of trees, firing on the run.
Darius had learned a few things since the zombies had come, one of the biggies was a fire fight was not like a movie. One your hands got sweaty, your heart would beat like a tripp hammer while your mouth got dry as the Gobi desert. Second and really more importantly, no matter how great a shot you might be, it was hard to hit a target when you were running and ducking trying to keep the other guy from shooting you. a third little lesson, and something really mentioned in a movie was the amount of ammo used. In a movie Tom Cruise could run across a room, empty a magazine and put two rounds in each and every bad guy. In reality, Darius found that he could empty a mag just firing at one combatant. The Bastard was usually unconcerned that your self image of billy the bad ass required him to stand up and be shot, instead he would dare to shoot back causing you to duck and weave, which did not look cool especially when that ducking and weaving usually involved words repeated over and over again like “Jesus” which was one of Darius favorites, other words used just about as often would be shit and fuck.
today, Darius could hear those words coming from a clump of bushes, just past a log. Oh for a grenade he thought then realized he would probably just blow himself up if he had one. “you might want to run away” Darius shouted, then ducked back as bullets ripped into the tree in front of him as well as shredding a few bushes to either side of him.
Gunfire from across the river, was answered by AR fire, Darius decided to ignore behind him, let Quentin deal with that.
He traded shots with the other guys, getting a good idea of where they were. And noting places nearby that would make good cover. That paid off, as he saw a man leap up and run for three logs laying across each other, that Darius had just thought about using.
Darius lined up his sights, and fired four quick shots, at least two hit the running man who pitched face first to the ground. there was silence for a moment and Darius took that moment to pop the mag in his weapon and slap in another one. Some one on the other side must have recognized the sound, and realized Darius was reloading, a man leaped up from behind a log and rushed at Darius position before he was finished..
It was like riding a bull, two seconds was an eternity. He seated the new mag,, rounds were punching past him, he jacked the slide, more bullets, a couple tugged at his clothes one round screamed past his ear. He raised the pistol calmly, his mind clear and squeezed the trigger three times. Blood bloomed on the mans shirt once, then twice, Darius third shot went wide as something slammed into his left shoulder.
The man tumbled to the ground, Darius was up and running, the pain in his shoulder nothing compared to what some bulls had done to him. At least two men were still out there judging by the number guns firing at him as he ran.
He ran past the picnic table, the truck and trailer blocking him from the two men on this side of the river, and scooped up his shot gun with his off hand as he ran by. The shooter across the river took a couple of shots at Darius. His mistake, Quentin spotted the muzzle flash and hosed the area around it with rapid fire.
Darius slammed up against the trailer, holstered his pistol, and readied the shotgun. “this is fun” He muttered, blood streaming down his left arm.
“aint it though” Quentin replied.
“Im going left around the back of the trailer” Darius said for no real reason, it just popped out. Then he was moving.
He had no sooner cleared the corner of the trailer giving him a good angle of fire on the gun mans last position, when he spotted a man running for the truck in a crouch. “Hey” Darius said all friendly like as he pulled the trigger. Sending the man tumbling to the ground.
The remaining gun man broke and ran, Darius let him go, might as well save a few rounds of ammo for the newly risen zombies.
Once they had put down the newly risen dead, Quentin almost hauled Darius back to the picnic table . “hey” Quentin said laughing as he bandaged Darius shoulder, “that was your one line”
“you try doing better when your bleeding and being shot at, I don’t think I heard on witty one liner from your ass old man.” Darius said with a tired smile.
“Im smart enough not to talk and give away my position” Quentin replied as he finished his work and stepped back. “I think I finally understand Bullriders, your all masochists” Quentin said with a smile.
“Lets get this shit loaded and move out, before all the zombies that heard the shoot out show up” Darius said rising to his feet. Looking at his bloody shirt, his favorite shirt in point of fact. He left it laying there on the picnic table and headed down to the river to haul his cooler full of fish back to the truck while Quentin stripped the bodies of anything worth taking, by the time they were driving away the first zombie had appeared staggering out of the woods.
An hour before sunset, Darius had found a place to camp for the night, atop a ridge that looked out over a wooded valley and a glittering river. He cleaned and cooked the fish, and for the first time in a long while, the two men ate a real meal. Darius even dug out two old warm cokes that they savored like fine whiskey.
After dinner, they cleaned weapons, and counted ammunition, tomorrow they were going to have to find a way to replace what they had used Darius decided. That fire fight had eaten into the meager stock of Ammo, another fight like the last one or worse and they would be out.
Once they were stocked up, Darius was going to drive straight for St. Loius, hopefully Kronnen would still be there, If not, then he would head to Nashville and try to beat his enemy to the city. A reckoning was coming, and Darius was determined that Kronnen wouldn’t survive the encounter.
Kronnen walked slowly down the street between burning buildings, stepping over the bodies of the undead and the newly dead, a smile on his face. Some where nearby women were screaming as they were broken to the yoke.
The town was small enough that his people had no trouble clearing it of undead, but other than the forty survivors there was little here worth the work of clearing it, it was just a way to keep his men in fighting form and the women would satisfy their lust for the moment. He passed beyond the main street area, where buildings were few and hadn’t been put to the torch yet and stood there in the dark with the fires burning behind him and smiled broadly. “I will be a prince at the right hand of the Devil” he said to the darkness that pressed forward eagerly waiting for the flames to die so they could reclaim the town for the darkness.
“yes, you will” the voice out of the night was cold and sibilant. It had come far after its tool had been defeated in the east. Kronnens smile didn’t falter as a figure scuttled out of the darkness, its pale triangular mottled face with its impossibly hooked nose was lit hellishly by the flames, its long arms dangled at it side. Cloudy dead eyes glittered with hatred under the rim of a battered bowler. It cocked its head and its leathery dead lips parted in a quivering smile of hate and hunger, revealing blood stained teeth filed to points.