The Hunters Escape

“Something is dead . . .
‘Tis time to creep in close about the fire
And tell grey tales of what we were, and dream
Old dreams and faded, and as we may rejoice
In the young life that round us leaps and laughs,
A fountain in the sunshine, in the pride
Of God’s best gift that to us twain returns,
Dear Heart, no more–no more.”

~William Ernest

Proctor stood there appearing calm as Kronnen raged around the Rv, after the disaster at the Army Base, with the Hunter keeping Kronnen busy while his accomplices blew the hell out of the camp and freed the conscripts, and the disappearance of T and Harry, Kronnen was understandably furious. Proctor hadn’t said a word but he was certain that T and Harry had fled, since Dale was gone too. There was no way in hell that T would have left Dale behind unless he was dead.

No one, with maybe the exception of Kronnen, knew why T was so dedicated to the moron. Proctor had heard all the rumors, T was secretly gay and Dale was his lover, Dale had some secret that T was trying to pry out of him, Dale was his illicit son. That one Proctor had laughed at, T would have to have fathered the half wit when he was like four.

No matter what the truth was, T had a soft spot for Dale, probably the only soft spot the man had ever had. And now Kronnen was so furious he wanted to strike T where it hurt, and killing Dale was the answer.

Proctor ignored the crash of the flat screen Tv, as he glanced at the pretty blond he had brought to entertain Kronnen. She cowered in a corner, crying silently clutching a towel over her torso. Apparently today Kronnen was not in the mood for screwing around. With out a word Proctor dragged her to the door, and handed her to one of the guards. “take her to my RV, handcuff her to my bed and then leave. You are not to touch her otherwise, am I clear:” the man nodded, slung the woman over his shoulder and headed towards the other side of camp.

Proctor would have to find her some clothes on the way back to his Rv, but having her sent there was about the only way he could keep her from being raped by one of the soldiers in her current state of undress.

He wasn’t a kind man, not by any stretch of the imagination. But there was no reason to let her be raped and turn her even more against Kronnen and his goals. It would also be hard to convince her to try and entertain Kronnen a second time after what she had seen. Which sucked she was truly one of few really exceptionally beautiful women in the whole camp. Oh well if nothing else, Ill keep her with me for a while, Im sure she wouldn’t mind entertaining me for better food privileges or other things.

Finally Kronnen collapsed into a chair, glaring at the shattered flatscreen Tv. “our men suck Proctor, they have been good sweeping up survivors and killing the undead. But against men like the Hunter, they fail, and the Hunter wasn’t even a soldier. I wont to make sure that when we finally engage with Jared Stone, our men are as well trained as we can get them. Even my Guard unit has gotten slack.”
\
Proctor thought about that for a moment, “I can think of two men that can do the job, they are volunteers, one we picked up in Colorado.” Proctor said ignoring the glare Kronnen sent his way at the States name and what it reminded him of. “ the other joined up with us in Nevada, former special forces or so he says, He did work for one of the major private contractors, though, that I do know for a fact.” Proctor said, the man had still been carrying his ID and other things that had been more than enough to convince Proctor he was the real deal, when they had stumbled across the place Steve Bradley had been holed up in.

“Make it happen Proctor, I want you to oversee it.” Kronnen said.

“ I will, but I will not accept blame for their failures.” Proctor said, the only man who could get away with talking to Kronnen like that. Kronnen glared for a moment then nodded. “lets be honest here Sir, if T and Harry hadn’t been so scared of your famous temper and believed you would kill them for the hunters attack they would still be here, and T was at least competent and never blew smoke up your ass when something went wrong. Which is far more than we can say about some of your other favorites. “

Kronnen glared for a moment longer then nodded, Proctor was rarely wrong, and Proctor was his oldest and best friend. Kronnen nodded slowly in agreement, he knew if Proctor failed it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. “ Just make it happen, and double the patrols, there are to many of the undead out there.”

Proctor pulled out a notebook and made some notations, then decided to bring up the subject he most needed to bring up. “one more thing, Nathan,” he said, Kronnen leaned back throttling his anger, Proctor rarely used his first name, when he did it was something Kronnen really needed to listen to. “You need to order the men to stop with the waste of ammo, explosives and pipe bombs, we are pouring through our supplies far to fast, and if we are looking at a fight later this year, even if we end up with the best trained army in the world, we cant fight with out ammunition for our weapons.”

Kronnen was silent for a moment letting the men blow the hell out of places was a great stress reliever, and generally kept them under control and less likely to rape one of the women in the camps. But that was a luxury that had to end, Proctor had a valid point.
“Find another way for them to blow off steam, I don’t care what, but find a way. Ill pass that order along. Now leave me alone for a while I need to think” Kronnen ordered as he rose to his feet. Proctor bowed his head for a moment then walked out of the RV.

Kronnen paced back and forth thinking, his Deal with the Dark hinged on his being able to pull it off. Humanity was doomed, but Kronnen if he succeeded would rule over the ruins and the last of humanity. The others in his army might not know what was coming, or care if they did, they lived for the moment, he had chosen wisely when he had emptied jail cells, and prison cells, the majority of the men in them were more than willing to follow his orders and lord it over the decent folks they rounded up. Which meant he had to use an iron fist to keep the few people alive and semi friendly that had the skills he needed to keep things running , patch up his men and bear more children who would die under the teeth of the undead some distant day in the future.

And if the Dark failed and humanity survived, Kronnen would still serve it, giving it a foot hold into the world where it could revel in the death, destruction and rapes that mankind seemed to love, it would corrupt as many as it could reach to bring humanity back to this point again in some far future. A never ending cycle, he thought. Not that it bothered him, one way or another unless he was killed he would rule over the ruins of the US, and then maybe lead his men across the ocean to Europe. Then as a great big fuck you, he would drop a few nukes on the Middle east to wipe away the undead that inhabited the ruins, leaving the future to forget that region ever existed. The dead rising had finally given him what he had always lacked, Power, and he was going to use it.

He smiled at that idea, power, power over the world and the people in it. Heady, erotic, Power. He felt his body responding and looked around disappointed that Proctor had sent away the play toy, but he still had options he thought as he whistled for his woman, he was finally in the mood.

He turned, a huge hungry smile on his face as she emerged from the bedroom, dressed in nothing but a trembling smile. “Make me happy”he told her as he reached for his zipper. “and this is going to hurt a bit Baby” he added.

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

Darius and his group had escaped Buckhorn heading south till they reached Houston Missouri, seeing the number of undead on the road outside the town, they had backtracked on 17, taking 32 across then turned south again before reaching Licking Missouri, as amusing as the town name was, the twisted wreckage on the roads around the town, and the undead that shuffled through the ash covered streets of the Fire charred town was no laughing matter.

Darius had pushed on through barreling through the town of 3100 dead souls. The brick and stone buildings of Licking were mostly untouched, but the wood frame buildings where gone to Darius it had looked like someone had set the fires that had burned down most of the town.

They had turned south after leaving the undead in Licking behind spending the night in a secluded area of the Ozark National Scenic waterway just after Dawn they had rolled out and reached Summerville, a small town by most any standard with only 502 people according to the sign. Darius had insisted that they raid a restaurant for, which she had to admit had been a good call, there had been all sorts of supplies inside at least once they had gotten past the undead that were still waiting for their dinner. That place had been a walk through compared to the Scavenging run into Ellington Missouri, a town nestled amidst rolling green hills, an Idyllic spot, or would have been if not for the undead.

They had lost four men, two women and a little girl, while stripping all the food from a Restaurant next to a BP, half the group were at the BP transferring Gas out of the underground tanks and refueling the Vehicles, or standing guard, while the other half hit the Restaurant.

The population sign might have said 907, but there were obviously new arrivals on the day the dead rose. Over a thousand undead put in an appearance, coming down the street or from the woods behind the BP. A wall of rotting dead flesh that slowly encircled them.

Darius and the few armed men and women put up a furious fight, covering the others at the BP as they escaped into the vehicles, Kate and the group at the Restaurant hadn’t been so lucky, hearing the gunfire, Malcom, a former teacher had stepped out to see what was going on, just as the undead appeared around both corners of the restuarant, he shouted a warning into the Restaurant and raced for the nearby Truck they had been loading supplies into, where he leaped inside slamming the door, but some of the others hearing the warning had panicked and rushed outside seeking the safety of the rest of the group over at the BP only to be dragged down and ripped apart before they made it thirty feet..

Kate would never forget the shrieks of the little girl, or the sight of fresh blood splattering the dirty windows and running in rivulets down the glass to drip onto the ground outside.

Darius had driven the RV up scraping the front wall of the building, crushing the undead till he could park with the RV door even with the Restaurant door. Kate had thrown open the doors and gotten the last of the supplies and people aboard the Rv, Tears still running down her face as the screams of a dead ten year old girl echoed in her mind.

They had almost lost four more hitting the Pharmacy off of Hwy 21, but they had scraped safely through stripping almost everything they could find in the small place. There wasn’t much else there that they could use, since they had no use for a Mine, sheet metal, mining equipment, or construction vehicles.

By 2 pm they were outside of Greenville, Missiouri, pop 511, on the eastern edge of the Ozark mountains. Greenville was far smaller than Poplar Bluff with its 17,000 or so residents, which meant Greenville was safer but only relatively. They had raided a Sheriffs station and recovered almost two hundred shot gun rounds, two more shotguns, four pistols, two magazines each and eighty more rounds of ammo, as well as six hand radios and charging stands.

As they were leaving Greenville, the Towns residents showed up to see them off. A silent, shambling pale crowd of dead flesh that advanced, ready to eat.

It had been that evening that Darius had decided that he and Quentin were going to head back and slow down Kronnens men who had to be on their trail. Kate had argued, but in the end caved in to Darius. Who could be infuriatingly stubborn.

She said very little to her brother up to the moment he and Quentin Rolled out Leaving Kate and Karl in Charge of the Group. Another thing Kate wasn’t thrilled about, she had no business’s being in charge of others lives. Darius had pulled her aside and handed her a map, “ I marked out a route to a Camp where we can meet up, but if we aren’t there in seven or eight days, you find a way across the River and keep heading towards this Sullivan Island place. Get Nate to help, he is good at finding ways around obstacles like Kronnens goons. “He had told her.

Darius and Quentin had driven back to Greenville and placed plenty of clues for Kronnens men that pointed to Piedmont being their next destination. Darius hoped that the size of the Piedmont, would lure the raiders in even with out the clues he and Quentin had left. A place as large as Piedmont meant more supplies possibly sitting in storerooms, garages, barns and homes and that was something that Kronnens men rarely avoided.

Which was how Darius found himself sitting quietly on the roof of a pharmacy in Piedmont, waiting and watching the road for the Raiders. It bothered him that there had been no sign of pursuit for last three days he had been waiting, but after the damage that Kronnens group had suffered they might be playing things a bit more cautiously for the mnoment. Or they might have gone a completely different way, sweeping the back roads looking for any sign of Darius and the escapee’s.

Darius had no illusions that Kronnen’s men would come after the escapee’s and Himself. It was only a matter of time. Kronnen and his men were not known for forgetting any slight given the, and Darius had done more than just slight them, he had stood on their table and peed in their Cheerios while they were eating. Great mental image that thought was Darius thought as one corner of his mouth lifted in what might have been a smile.

He tipped his hat back on his head and gazed out over the ruined town, lightening had struck the steeple on the old Methodist church, from his position on the roof, he could see the charred steeple leaning over the skeletal bones of beams and studs, that had once been a place of worship.

He had chosen Main street in the downtown area, namely because of the concentration of business along this stretch, and the fact that main road through town became main street so it was the most likely area for Kronnens thugs to pass through.

Main street looked a lot like the typical small towns you would have seen in movies before the undead, old fashioned brick buildings lining both sides of the road, cars parked along the curbs, some were riddled with bullet holes.

A block down from his position A Video rental place, had a tow truck through the plate glass window, down at the end of the street an ambulance lay on its side against a mini van that still had four zombies locked inside, pawing at the blood splattered windows.

Here and there ripped and tattered American flags fluttered in the breeze, at the moment there were no zombies, hadn’t been for days. Why that was Darius had no clue, but he wasn’t about to pray for zombies to show up to relieve his boredom. His Uncles foreman had commented often that Soldiers never bitched about being bored, boredom beat the hell out of the moments packed full of bullets and action and Darius whole heartedly agreed these days.

“I say we pack up and head on out” Quentin said from where he lay on the roof, stretched out on his sleeping bag. “ we have set every booby trap we can Darius, okay I know its not a lot. But its all we can do, let’s link back up with your Sister and the others and head for the Mississippi River “

Darius turned to eye the man who had become his friend, wondering if there was a little more to his wanting to rejoin the group. Maybe the reason had a name. But there was a reason they needed to rejoin the group. Supplies, before they had left the group Darius had transferred all the supplies he had gathered over the months into the other vehicles they had taken from Buckhorn, he and Quentin had taken only what they would need for four days.

Quentin sat up and stretched, “ the thing is I’m worried about them Darius. And there’s no telling what the hell Mac might be up to.”

Now that was a very good point Darius thought, his eyes still moving across the section of town he could see. Mac had decided that Darius had set up Harlan to die, so Darius could move in on Rebekka. The tension when Mac was near Darius was so think you could walk across water on it.

“Your going to have to deal with him soon rather than later Darius” Quentin said frowning.

“How exactly” Darius said finally speaking. “shoot him, dump him and Sue off on the side of the road?” he asked.

“No that’s not what Im saying Darius, but you need to figure that one out” Quentin said.

“Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that particular problem” Darius replied with an edge of sarcasm.

“bite me …” Quentin said, then fell silent as Darius raised a finger to his lips.

In the distance they could hear a motor

Darius hunkered down, pulling out his binoculars he put them to his eyes and began to check the areas he could see from their vantage point.

Five minutes later he saw a vehicle, he wasn’t sure what exactly it was, he had never seen one like it. It was boxy and as long as a RV, in fact it looked some what like an RV with eight wheels, huge wrap around windows in the front with small narrow windows along the sides. What ever it was it looked like it had once been a military vehicle.

“What the hell is that” Quentin asked finally getting a good look at the dirty pale green vehicle.

“I have no idea” Darius replied, not taking is eyes off the vehicle that cruised down the street.

“ I don’t think its one of Kronnen’s though” Darius said, debating on whether to flag down the vehicle or just let it hit the booby trap, he had placed just past the Pharmacy.

“Then wave them down” Quentin said, rising to his feet pulling a dirty white tshirt out of his pack. For half a moment Darius debated on stopping him, but finally he just sat there as Quentin walked to the edge of the roof and began to wave the shirt he held.

The vehicle slowed, then finally stopped about eighty feet from the Pharmacy. It sat there idling loudly, probably drawing every zombie in town towards this street.

“Well Guess we are about to be shot at” Darius commented as he readied his rifle.

“Don’t be a pessimist, not every one is a savage asshole these days. Take you for example, you’ve actually done a good deed a time or two since I met you.” Quentin said.

“those were not good deeds, they were mistakes that worked out” Darius commented.

“Liar, you just don’t like admitting you’re a decent guy” Quentin said waving the shirt again.

Suddenly the door opened and a man stepped out carrying an M16, Darius turned his binoculars on him. About 5’8, athletically built, shaved head, his skin was so dark it was blue black. He reminded Darius of an actor he had seen a few times, the only movie he could remember with the man in it was about some clones who had escaped some complex, which brought to mind the really hot chick in the movie, something Johnson, or johansen had been her name.

“If your going to talk to him, you might want to hurry it up before every zombie in the area shows up.” Darius commented.

“You want me to talk to him” Quentin asked.

“You waved the flag, Ill cover you” Darius replied.

“Great, I feel so much more confident now” Quentin said, as he picked up the extension ladder and lowered it down to the street and then climbed down.

Quentin walked slowly down the street, his eyes nervously darting from side to side waiting for the undead to swarm out of the surrounding buildings.

The stranger had his weapon pointed generally towards Quentin who stopped about twenty feet from him.

“Say what you will” the man said with an odd accent.

“You don’t want to go down this road, we booby trapped it just past the building I was on.” Quentin said, as the man frowned heavily.

“And you tell me this why?” the stranger asked, looking bewildered. For half a second Quentin almost joked, well we are raiders just not very good raiders. But he managed to throttle that response.

“Because we didn’t think you were part of the group we are trying to slow down” Quentin said.

“you mean raid”

“no I mean slow down and probable kill, they are raiders, we rescued a little over 30 people from them and they aren’t really happy with us” Quentin said, feeling confident that this man probably wasn’t working with Kronnen.

“over thirty people” a woman’s voice said from the door of the vehicle. A second later a very attractive 30 something dark haired woman stepped out, she looked Spanish to Quentin, with long dark hair, sparkling brown eyes and face that made Penelope cruz look plain.

“yes Maam, they were kidnapped and being forced to work for the Raiders.” He stopped as a gunshot rang out. The man had his rifle up and pointed at Darius on the roof of the Pharmacy. Darius waved and pointed past the 8×8.

“don’t shoot, he wasn’t shooting at you” Quentin said, seeing the zombie that Darius had just shot and the undead coming around a corner about a hundred feet back from the Vehicle.

“Damn” Quentin said pointing to the approaching undead, then pulled the AK off his back. “ better turn around and get out of here while you can” Quentin said. “ just don’t go down this street any further or be prepared to get hurt.” He called out already running for the ladder, and saw that undead were appearing at the other end of the street.

“Wait, I…” the woman yelled, but the man was pushing her into the RV. Quentin paid no more attention to them, his entire attention was focused on the undead.

Quentin scrambled up the ladder and quickly pulled it up after him then carried it to the other side of the roof and lowered it down to the top of the horse trailer attached to Darius’s truck that was parked behind the Pharmacy.

He could hear the vehicle moving, as he rushed back and rolled up his sleeping bag and lashed it to his pack. with that done he moved back to the rear of the Pharmacy watching as Darius finished backing his own gear before joining him. “there’s a few back here already” Quentin said, spotting the six zombies that were coming up behind the row of buildings.

“You Go first” Darius said, Quentin nodded and damn near slid down the ladder, as soon as he was at the bottom he held the ladder for Darius. The moment Darius was on top of the trailer, they lashed the ladder down with bungie cords then leaped into the bed of the truck.

The six zombies were twelve feet from the truck and about twenty more had appeared behind those. Darius dumped his pack in the back of the truck and pulled out the shotgun that had been strapped to his pack. Leaping to the ground he fired at the closest zombie as Quentin climbed into the truck.

Darius kicked the next zombie in the chest sending it stumbling backward, giving him just enough time to get into the truck and get the door closed before the undead could reach him. He twisted the key, and thanked who ever was looking out for idiots like himself when the engine roared to life.

A hand thudded against the window, Darius ignored it as he put the truck into gear and gave it gas. “you just had to talk to the strangers” He muttered. “streets damn near empty for three days, and bam one conversation with strangers and every zombie in forty miles shows up.” he was talking more to keep his mind off the sound of bodies breaking under the wheels of his truck than for any other reason. A man who listened to that to often would go insane.

He wove his way around the booby traps, wondering if Kronnen’s men were still stupid enough to just drive around the main streets like they had done for so long. He hoped so, but he had to wonder now how many of the booby traps he had left behind for Kronnen’s men had killed or injured people like those Quentin had warned off.

It wasn’t a line of thought he really wanted to pursue, but now he had to face it head on, There were other survivors traveling around and he just might have killed a few folks that were doing nothing more than trying to survive. He wasn’t sure how he should react to that, and that bothered him too.

Finally the town was behind them and they were heading east, Darius tapping his fingers on the door as he listened to Garth Brooks. Suddenly the windshield starred, and the crack of rifle fire reached his ear. He yanked the wheel and drove off into the Ditch, praying there were no undead nearby.

He realized Quentin was yelling at him to get down. To hell you say Darius thought as he crawled into the backseat grabbed the duffel bag he carried his weapons in, and opened the door opposite where the rifle fire was coming from.

He rolled onto into the ditch, eating dirt then scrambled to his feet pulling two pistols from his bag and shoved them into his belt before pulling out his 30 06.

Chambering a round, he leaned out past the front of the Truck, and fired a round into the woods near where he had seen the muzzle flash. A headlight shattered beside him.

Damn it the shooter had switched positions Darius thought as he hit the ground and rolled down into the bottom of the ditch. Where was Quentin, was he hit? Darius asked himself.

There were a few more shots, that kicked up dirt near him, then silence. Darius started to return fire, but was hit with the sudden idea that the shooter was moving positions, probably moving to come at Darius from the right side to get a clear angle on him. He reached out snagged his gear bag then rolled out onto the drivers side, only to come under fire from that direction. He hunkered down as best he could and fired into the woods. Now really worried about Quentin.

Son of a bitch, there were at least three shooters, counting the one who was probably trying to circle around behind the Truck to get a bead on me, Darius thought..

He spotted a muzzle flash across the road and just up the slope near a pile of rocks. He pulled out the M-4, shoved the two extra mags in his pockets then charged across the road zigging and zagging as bullets chewed up the ground behind him.

And to think I never joined the army Darius thought as he leaped over a downed tree, What was that slogan.. I am an Army of one, well right now Id love to see an Army of a few thousand show up to help.

Down the road the sound of a motor could be heard. “son of bitch” Darius cursed as he slid behind a rock and some brush. “Can this day get any more screwed up.”

He fired off a burst in the direction he had seen the muzzle flash, then he was up and moving again, running to a pile of logs behind some brush throwing himself into a slide as bullets tore into the ground behind him. .

“hey Hunter, hows it feel being on the other end” a man yelled from the woods on the other side of the road.

Well that answers that , Kronnen’s men must have spotted us in town figured out there were booby traps and went around the town and waited for us to head east, knowing there was only one real road to take.

Darius didn’t respond he lay there waiting and watching as the vehicle drew closer. There he thought seeing a flash of color through the trees. He stroked the trigger, putting a man down.

He continued to scan the area, especially his back for any undead. The shouting and gun fire had to be drawing them into the area. Down at the Dodge there was a sudden squeal of metal then a flurry of gun fire from the Truck, and shouting over in the other side of the road. Shit there was at least two more over there not just the one.

“how do you like that shit, Yippy Kay yay Mother fuckers” Quentin shouted from down by the truck.

Darius almost laughed with relief, but the fight wasn’t over. The sound of the Motor was louder now, almost on top of them.

From the direction of the Rocks, he heard a man scream then two gunshots. He watched and saw a zombie stand up, blood dripping from its chin, still chewing as it looked around Darius started to fire on it, but some one else from further upslope put it down.

Okay one more asshole on this side Darius thought, Im getting really sick of this.

He could hear Quentin’s AK firing, then two more weapons firing. Just up the slope Darius spotted a man leap up and start running east along the slope. Darius fired twice, but missed. Shooting slow moving zombies was so much easier he thought as the man vanished into the brush.

He rose half tempted to chase after the man but Quentin might need help. He turned and made his way carefully down the slope till he reached a stand of Brush where he could see out onto the road with out being seen.

Quentin was squatting between the trailer and the truck, firing off into the woods. To his right about twenty yards down the road, sat the 8×8 from earlier, the Black guy advancing in a crouch, firing up into the wood line. A woman stood half out of the top of the vehicle was firing on three undead that had appeared on the side of the road.

Okay maybe Quentin was right, he thought just as a smell washed over him, rotted meat and eggs was the closest he could come to describing it, and a slight scuff of feet in leaves alerted him to the undead.. Darius wheeled, only to see four undead, one looming over him. Its hands outstretched, “shit” Darius yelled as one of the rotting hands grasped the shroud of the M-4.

Screw it he thought letting go of the M-4 as he crabbed backwards through the brush, the undead coming on. He rose to his feet pulling the pistols from his waist band, and fired point blank into the zombie closest to him, the M-4 still held in one of its hands. The first bullet tore out its throat, the second struck it in the jaw ripping away teeth and part of the Jaw, the third punched into its fore head.

Really need to practice with pistols more Darius thought, as he shifted his aim and fired into the female zombie wearing what had once been a pretty snappy skirt suit, that had shown a lot of shapely leg. he pumped four rounds into her before she dropped, then five more into oddly quick third zombie, who had been at least mid 70’s before death, and was probably more spry now than he had been alive, there was still an oxygen line dangling from his head.

The last zombie was another man, wearing a Jock strap, god knows what he had been doing when he had died. Maybe at the gym changing clothes, maybe flashing old ladies at Wally world, like Danny Boscoe back home. At least he hadn’t died wearing bondage gear, or with a golf club up his Rump. Would that be a hole in one, Good god get a damn grip, Darius told himself actually laughing aloud as he gunned down jockstrap guy.

”son of a Bitch from Dallas” he shouted as a line of fire traced its across his left cheek. He hit the ground, to make himself less of a target. Touching his cheek his hand came away bloody. Just great, just damn great he growled.

“almost got you Hunter” the man from earlier yelled out. “consider that a parting shot, but next time you’re a dead man”

“oh sure run out just when it gets fun” Darius yelled back as he scooted over and retrieved the M-4.

As he grabbed his rifle, Darius saw more undead staggering down the slope towards him. Leaping to his feet he ran across the road where Quentin was sitting on the bumper, holding his side.

“you look like some one kicked your ass and good” Darius said, as he knelt beside Quentin noting the blood dripping from his pant leg.

“You should see the other guy” Quentin said, with a weak grin. Darius pistol still in hand looked up as a shadow fell across him.

Seeing the Black guy from the 8×8 he lowered his pistol, “thanks for the assist” Darius said as he pulled Quentin’s hand away from his side and saw the ragged hole.

“You are welcome, help me get your friend to our vehicle and our Doctor can take care of him.”

“You have a doctor” Darius asked surprised and excited at the idea.

“she is a doctor yes, a foot doctor, but better than nothing” the man said as he and Darius lifted Quentin to his feet.

It took them a precious two minutes to get Quentin into the incredibly nice interior of the 8×8, where a rather nice looking woman with chestnut hair, an oval face with Hazel eyes helped them get Quentin onto a bed, the Hispanic woman he had seen earlier stood off to one side watching quietly. He could hear some one in the back, and the man behind the wheel of the 8×8 unfolded himself from the drivers seat and stood up he had to be six and half foot tall, with a thick shock of dark hair, a square face, and hard looking brown eyes. He was wide shouldered and thick limbed and was the picture of a man used to dealing violence. I bet even zombies think twice before screwing with that guy Darius thought.

“Kafil, we don’t know that we can trust these people” the big guy said, the black man, Kafil, only shook his head

“trust starts from one man, Jim” Kafil replied, “this man warned us away from danger earlier when he had no reason to, I will trust him for now” he said pointing to Quentin then looked at Darius. “ I am Kafil” he said introducing himself.

“I’m Darius, that’s Quentin and thanks for the help” Darius said watching as the woman examined Quentin’s wounds.

“I hope theres nothing you really need in that truck and trailer” Jim the big man commented. Darius rose and looked out the wrap around windshield and frowned seeing the number of undead on both sides of the road slowly converging on the two vehicles. .

“I need a few things out of it, I might even be able to get it out of the ditch.” Darius said starting for the door.

“your insane, those things will be on you before you can get your stuff and get back here” Jim said.

“damned and doomed that’s me” Darius said as he started for the door. “no matter what happens to me, you save him. He saved my life once and helped me save my sister and the others.” Darius said opening the door, he leaped out and ran for his truck, stopping only long enough to scoop up his gear bag.

Jim was right the undead were far enough away Darius could reach the truck, but to close for him to get any of their gear and make it back to the 8×8. Please god, if you’re actually listening and pay any attention to a dumb ass bull riders like myself, let me get this truck out of here. I know if it was a Ford I wouldn’t have to ask, but since it’s a Dodge, Id appreciate your help. Oh and if you could help me find a decent Ford soon I would really appreciate it.

Darius had grown up in a Ford Family, from his grandfather on down to Darius, Fords had been a major part of their lives. As far as his family was Concerned God was a Ford Guy, and the Devil drove a Chevy. Dodges were for fence sitters, not quite lost to god.

He opened the drivers door, tossed his gear bag in side, then leaped in himself. Okay here goes he thought as he twisted the key.. Yes first hurdle crossed he thought as the engine roared to life. Okay heres the biggy he thought reaching for the gearshift.

“okay, Im really sorry that I keep saying I want a Ford, get me out of this ditch and I swear I will give you a nice good lube job” He told the truck, just to be on the safe side.

He ignored the first thumps on the drivers window, as he put the truck in gear and gave it gas, the truck lurched, tires spun. Oh hell no, wait no cussing the truck . don’t piss off the dodge.

Any one that thought he was crazy for acting like a vehicle was intelligent had never paid enough attention to their own vehicles. Years back Darius had owned a F150 that ran perfectly except when he was going to pick up his Girlfriend, that truck had hated her. He would climb in racing the clock to be on time, and It would stall and lurch, or just sit there letting him crank till the battery was dead.

But once she was in the truck it would run fine, like the truck was saying, okay shes inside, Ill run good just to get her out again. After they had broken up, the truck never had a problem again as long as Darius had owned it..

He gave the Dodge gas, steadily increasing the RPMs. The trailer was the problem he thought, not that he could do much about it. Suddenly he could feel the tires bite, and the truck began to move slowly at first then faster. “Yes, thank you truck” He said aloud as the truck finally pulled back up on the road, the undead now beating on the sides of the truck. He gave the undead the finger as he checked the side view mirror and managed to catch a glimpse of the 8×8 through the undead and saw it was following him.

At the first side road, he turned, if Kronnens men were starting to take a page from his book, there would be an IED or something up ahead. He was relieved to see the 8×8 turned in behind him. “well thanks for that” Darius said with relief to who ever up there might be listening.

All he was interested in at the moment was finding a spot to park, check over the truck, make sure Quentin was okay, then decided what to do from there. And he found it six miles later, following signs that led him to Grants Quarry. He parked on the rocky ground and climbed out M-4 in hand, to aware of how little ammunition he had left for it, and the other weapons.

He looked around carefully as the 8×8 pulled in to quarry and rolled across the rocky ground towards the Dodge. Darius saw no sign of undead in the area which meant little, there could be a few thousand half a mile from here that would appear the moment he dropped his pants to go to the bathroom. And the dust and dirt covered car parked near the edge of the quarry probably meant some one had been killed up here, so there might still be a walking corpse or two some where around here.

The 8×8 parked beside the truck and as soon as it came to a stop Kafil stepped out, weapon in hand moving like he had some training. Darius was slightly envious, Military training would have been pretty damn useful these days.

The big guy, Jim appeared carrying a nasty looking military rifle and together he and Kafil checked the area before giving the all clear.

Darius said nothing, if that’s how they did things then fine.

“hows Quentin” Darius asked as soon as the two men approached,

“He is doing well, so far.” Kafil said as the Hispanic woman and a Asian woman stepped out. Darius caught himself staring a the Chinese woman, she was slender, petite really, with small firm breasts smooth limbed and moved like a dancer. She had the most exquisite delicate features, with deep brown eyes a man could drown in and lips that just begged to be kissed. her long jet black hair was pulled back into a pony tail and two ringlets hung down on either side of her face. And the Submachine gun she carried just made her look even more delicate and sexy than he would have thought.

She must have been the one in the back he thought soaking every inch of her appearance trying to commit it to memory so he could picture her later.

“You might want to stop staring and put your tongue back in “ Jim said, with a small touch of humor in his voice. But the way he stood protectively was a warning to Darius to behave himself and the Ham sized hands would do some serious damage if Darius decided to push it.

“Sorry, no disrespect intended, but… well wow.” Darius said, tearing his eyes away.

“Haven’t seen to many women since the dead came back” Jim asked, Darius nodded in agreement

“not many no” Darius admitted as he opened he drivers door and popped the hood release before walking around to the front and opening the hood.

“you need to dump that truck” Jim said.

“maybe, maybe not. A bit of duct tape here, some Jb weld there, and good as new, and I owe her a lube job” Darius said as he examined the motor.

“so want to explain who those yahoo’s were that were shooting the hell out of the area, what was that one guy called you ‘the hunter’” Jim said with out looking at Kafil who probably wanted to ask the same thing.

“Remember the guys Quentin was telling you about, the Raiders, well that was one of their scout teams, the guys I was hoping to ambush, but apparently they are now playing my game and setting up ambushes for me.” Darius

“You must have really pissed them off.” Jim commented.

“you could say that,” Darius said as he pulled out a multitool and began to undo the hose clamps to the radiator hose. “they kidnapped my sister and some other people I knew, Ive been hunting and killing them for awhile now.”

Jim thought about that for a moment, no doubt leaping to the idea of sex slaves, which was part of the truth. But not all of it from what Kate had told him. “I don’t see Raiders chasing you around wasting gas just to kill you for pissing them off.” Jim said

“they have plenty of fuel, weapons, ammo and food” Darius explained. “they aren’t just Raiders, their leader Kronnen, has put together an army, that’s been moving east since last June. They have taken military bases and stripped them bare, hit warehouses and business and taken what they need

They move around in small groups only gathering into a larger group when they have secured some critical area that Kronnen wants or when running across another group that puts up a fight.

And they want me dead because Ive killed a couple of hundred of them, kicked them in the balls right on their own turf and took my sister and about 30 some odd prisoners out with us. Blew up a few vehicles, and generally made them look stupid. So yes they want me dead and they want their prisoners back. : Darius stated “ I have a talent for pissing off people” Darius added with a wry grin.

“ Great and now they think we are with you” Jim said turning to look at Kafil who shrugged.

“doing the right thing is not dependent on who it might upset” Kafil said.

Jim shook his head “ he is always saying shit like that, but he is a good man” Jim explained. He turned to the two women, who were standing there silently watching as the men talked “ This is Sonya,” Jim said indicating the Hispanic, “and this is Ai,” he said touching the Chinese woman on the shoulder..

“Darius McAllister” Darius said tipping his hat, much to the amusement of Sonya.

“you realize that’s not going to work don’t you” Sonya said, walking up and peering under the hood at the Duct tape he had wrapped around the radiator hose.

“it works on a Ford” Darius replied.

“of course it works on a POS Ford” Sonya said, Jim started to step forward seeing the look that crossed Darius face then Darius started laughing. “tell me your not a Chevy lover and we will get along fine”

“my brother loved Chevy but I cant stand them” She said, “But Im not sure I can forgive you for liking Fords. And to be honest Im not sure what your going to do, when all the Fords are gone and your stuck driving the much better Dodge, the truck of the apocalypse”

“ got that last part right, they are world ending” Darius replied, as she grabbed a wrench.

“ move over, Ill help.” Sonya said with a grin.

“so how did all you folks end up together” Darius asked ten minutes later.

“we were all in St. Louis at the Airport, when we first escaped there were forty of us. Most didn’t last past the first week, suicides and the undead thinned the numbers down. Im from LA, Kafil is from Nigeria, Jim there is from Maine, Joan the doc is from Baton Rogue, and AI is from Taiwan. She doesn’t talk much, her English isn’t all that good, its better than my Chinese though.” Sonya fell silent for a moment then leaned close to Darius. Who was surprised at how talkative she was.

“I saw you staring at her, so heads up, she saw her entire family get ripped apart, had her baby brother snatched out of her arms, and the only reason she didn’t die was Jim who grabbed her and carried her into a stairwell a maintenance guy had opened for us. The Maintenance guy, Gerald, died two days later, but he saved our lives that day and got us out of the Terminal and over to the cargo yard where there weren’t a lot of undead at the time.”

“Sounds like she, well all of you went through some shit back then” Darius commented.

“We did” Sonya said as Darius got down and slid under the truck to check for more damage.

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

Steve Bradley counted his men as they arrived at the pick up point. Out of the twelve he had taken to the ambush five had survived both the Hunter and the undead. Far better than he had expected to be honest.

The Five men who where left were either lucky or competent enough not to make many of the rookie mistakes in combat, like that Idiot Martin who couldn’t understand why you shouldn’t look over the top of your cover. The Hunter had pretty much taught old dumb ass the reason why. It was the last lesson Martin would ever learn but it had drive home the point Steve had been trying to make to the man who had been beside Martin when he died. That man was in one of the jeeps behind Steve right now.

He stared up the Jeep he had claimed for himself, waiting till the small group had climbed into their rides, then all three vehicles pulled out. When Proctor had approached him just after the Fiasco at the Airport on Leonard wood, about Steve forming and training a special forces type unit for Kronnen. Steve had been elated, finally Kronnen was giving him a chance to prove himself.

He had immediately picked 24 men, those that survived or made it completely through his training would form the core of the new Unit. The twenty four men were the best he had been able to find in all the men around him. Half of them taken from the National guard unit that formed the base of Kronnens military power.

Second Team, led by Sergeant First Class Walter Rangle, Late of Nevada National Guard was out scouting the area for every possible route the Hunter might have used to get the escapee’s away from Kronnen. .

When Kronnen had announced his new orders that there would be no more rolling into towns and shooting up the place and tossing pipe bombs, there had almost been a riot amongst the criminal element. And his putting Chuck DeAngelo in charge of training the of the Army had almost caused another, but the National Guard guys were Listening to Chuck and the slime bags were coming around. By the time they moved on that Island down on the coast, the entire Guard and his SF team’s would have a few months of training under their belts. Hopefully more, but he wasn’t going to count on having all the time he needed to train his unit.

“what next,” Danny Myers the man Steve had chosen to be his second in command asked.

“we link up with Second team, and go hunting.” Steve replied.

“How? we have no idea where he might have gone. We don’t even know if he escaped all the undead that were showing up when we left?” Danny said, more out of curiosity than anything else.

“You didn’t hear the motors?” Steve asked, he had heard them clearly when he arrived at the jeep. “ Two motors, two vehicles, the Hunter and his buddies escaped. As to how we can find them. Kronnen is going to see if he can scrounge up a predator drone but till then we are going to prowl some of the back roads, less undead and that’s the only way The Hunter avoided our little trap.” Steve said smiling.

“ but that’s tomorrow, and if we miss them we only have to post sentries on the few Bridges that cross the Mississippi River to pick them back up again. “ Steve said picturing the maps he had looked at earlier in his mind, The Hunter was running east, trying to get the people he had rescued out of Kronnens reach, well Steve was going to bring them back, and when he did Kronnen had already promised him the Hunters sister. He smiled again, and Danny shivered despite himself at the sight of that predatory smile.

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

Darius woke to silence; confused for a moment he sat up in the bed in his trailer and looked around. Quentin was gone he thought then his brain finally slipped into Gear. Quentin was still in that 8×8 Rv thing. He slipped on a pair of jeans that were cleaner than most of his other pants, saving the two actually clean pairs for some future special occasion. He pulled on a pair of old mag High Techs, pulled on a Tshirt then donned his pistol belt, and then strapped on the thigh holster that held the sawed off shotgun. He checked out all the windows making sure the immediate area was clear of undead, before he grabbed the M-4 and stepped outside into the cool morning air, where a light fog hovered over the ground.

Making his way around to the 8×8, he found Jim sitting on the top of the Massive vehicle, a weapon lay across his crossed legs. “Morning” Darius said quietly.

“Morning, don’t go inside, just yet every one is still asleep. But I can tell you, your friend is better already.” Jim said.

Darius nodded then spotted the ladder mounted to the side of the vehicle and climbed up on top, moving as carefully and quietly as he could till he could sit beside Jim.

“thanks, I appreciate you letting me know” Darius said.

“no problem” Jim replied, both of them almost whispering. If the undead hadn’t found them by now, neither of them were eager to make enough noise to draw the dead in.

“you can thank your friend, apparently he was a nurse, he told us how to treat his wounds” Jim said with a half smile.

“sounds like him, he can be annoying as shit sometimes” Darius commented.

“strange he said the same thing about you” Jim said again with another half smile.

Darius was silent for a moment, watching the sun as it slowly lifted over the mountains, sending fingers of brilliant light into the wooded mountains and ridges to burn away the darkness.

“I know you don’t trust us, or at least me. And I can appreciate that I really can. But your people really need to sit and make some serious plans before we all leave here.”

Jim gave him a look, but said nothing. “Kronnen’s idiots are going to assume you with me, and if they see you they are going to open fire. Id recommend either heading south from here or maybe north. But not back west or East, Kronnen has outpost back there, and radio communications with them, and he is heading east so that’s not a good way to go either, honestly Id go south if I were you” Dairus said.

“why are you going east if this Warlord guy is heading the same way?”Jim asked.

Darius frowned absently as he mulled over what to say, then finally shrugged and decied on the whole unvarnished truth.

“we are heading East because there’s a man there named Jared Stone, that Kronnen wants to kill and take the island Stone calls home. From what my sister overheard, theres a hundred or more people there, mostly soldiers, with some power, fuel and food, taking in any survivors who can get to the island. They have a couple of planes and helicopters in the air and other technology. It sounds like they are trying to rebuild. So we figured if Kronnen hates the guy, there has to be something decent about him.”

Jim snorted at the odd ball logic at the end of Darius’s explanation. “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” he quoted.

“exactly” Darius said, then leaned in close to Jim “ but if its true, if they do have power back on, and an island safe from the undead, its more than worth risking it all to not only warm them about Kronnen but help them stop him.”

“Ill talk to Kafil and the others, but I have no idea what they are going to want to do. To be honest we have just been driving around hiding on dirt roads going into towns when we have to pass through or need supplies.

“that’s fine, Im not trying to talk you into anything.” Darius assured him.

“even if meant getting to spend time with Ai if we came with you.” Jim said half seriously.

“even then Jim!” Darius stated.

“your either a better man than I am or you gay” Jim commented with a laugh.

At one time Darius might have gotten pissed about a comment like that from a man he didn’t know. But he had changed a lot since the undead had arrived. “Neither really, I just don’t have time for women or drooling over them these days” Darius said meaning it.

Jim shook his head slowly, “I wont even pretend to understand that” he said a moment later.

Darius thought about explaining, how, relaxing enough to get involved with women would distract him from the focus that had kept him going all these months. In the end he couldn’t find the right words so he let it drop. When Kronnen was dead and he was in a safer place then he could take the risk.

He couldn’t deny his attraction to Ai, or to Sonya for that matter but he could avoid it till it was safe for him to risk the distraction.

Kafil stuck his head up out of the Hatch, looking surprised to find Darius sitting next to Jim. “do you want chicken noodle soup or tomato soup for breakfast?” Kafil asked Jim, who didn’t look excited at either soup.

“chicken noodle” he said reaching a decision. Then glanced a Darius as if embarrassed that they hadn’t offered any food.

Darius shrugged and pulled out a Baggie with Beef jerky in it, and grinned. “Breakfast of Champions.” He said holding up the bag. “ go on down and get you some food, Ill keep watch for you till your done” Darius said, wondering if Jim was going to risk trusting him. “remember my buddy is down below too” Darius pointed out.

Jim hesitated for a moment then nodded, “thanks I will be back in a moment” he said slipping over to the hatch and a second later he disappeared into the 8×8 leaving Darius alone on the roof.

Twenty minutes later Kafil, joined him on the roof, sitting down beside Darius, he was silent as he used binoculars to study the wood line around the area they were parked in.
Seemingly satisfied that there were no undead in the immediate area, he let the binoculars dangle by the strap around his neck.

“Jim told us of your offer, and the difficulties you suspect we will have if we go any direction but south.” Kafil said, he had one of those deep voices that made him sound confident and thoughtful when he spoke. “we have decided that for now we will go east with you, if what you have heard about this island is true, we could do no worse than to find it. If its not what you, or we expect then we will continue on the road till we find a place we can settle that meets our needs. And as Joan has pointed out, your friend is going to need a few days of bed rest, and we can not afford to sit here for all that time.”

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

“What do we do now Kate?” Karl asked as calmly as he could to as not to get his daughter upset. He gazed at the collapsed bridge that they were supposed to cross, wanting to cuss seeing the sun dappled fields empty of undead, beyond the trees on the other side.

It was like looking at heaven, he thought even thought he knew that the undead were probably just out of sight beyond those tranquil looking fields, ready to swarm out and over any of the living that stopped there.

“ We go around” she said simply, hoping they reached the camp that Darius wanted them to wait in. He had made her Promise she would take the group across the river and head for Sullivan Island if he and Quentin hadn’t joined up with them after seven days. She hadn’t liked it, but like he had said, at that point he and Quentin could be dead or captured and there was no point in the group hanging out and being caught by Kronnens people or overrun by the undead.

They got the vehicles turned around on the road littered with old leaves and limbs and drove back the way came. This time encounter a small band of undead that had been following along behind the group.

Kate closed her eyes, as Karl drove straight through the zombies, she wasn’t a weak woman not in the least but she just couldn’t take that image, the sounds of bodies striking the RV, and bones being crushed and broken were bad enough.,

Soon they were past the undead, and moving as fast as they dared down the road where wrecks, abandoned cars and damaged roads could be just ahead.

It took three hours to cover what once would have taken an hour tops, the camp was located on the shore of Lake Wappalla, with only three buildings, an Office/store, a shower and bathroom building, and a Maintenance storage building. There were few undead, and even fewer Rvs and Vehicles scattered around the campground.

The Dead had risen in June, the height of the camping season, the place should have been packed with vehicles, Kate thought, unless most of them had tried to get home during the news first broke of Mass riots and killings.

Karl pulled up in front of the store, and lifted his hand to push the horn, then thought better of it, knowing the sound would draw not only any undead in the store, but zombies for a mile or more around the camp.

“lets clear the undead that are outside first” Kate said pointing to the zombies scattered across the camp ground shambling towards them.

“you sure your ready to do this” Karl asked, as he climbed out of the drivers seat and picked up the Mossberg shotgun and slung it over his shoulder and picked up the hand sledge he planned on using till he had to use the shotgun.

She nodded silently, she hated this part and was glad she hadn’t had to do it as Much as Darius or others, but she had done it before and would do it today and any day it needed to be done but she hated it. Over the last few months she had heard the whispers as some talked about how the undead were here to test man on whether they deserved to survive to create some better world, she didn’t have a hot line to god or who ever but she thought that idea was bullshit, a better world couldt be built on the deaths of billions or by those who had become brutal and callous in dealing with other survivors and the undead. What ever was going on man kind would go on just as it had before and who ever was responsible could go fuck themselves and their plan of humanity.

She picked up the Axe handle that Karl had mounted a butchers cleaver to, checked to make sure her pistol was ready for use in its holster then followed him to the door. Where five men waited, all of them looked nervous but ready to put down the undead.

She opened the door and stepped out, ready to swing at anything that moved. Weeds were already growing up through the cracks on the sidewalk that led to the office and store where several zombies were pawing and pushing at the door trying to get outside. A sign on the glass told her that the zombies would have to figure out how to pull the door open before they could get outside.

“have some one in the RV watch the Door from inside the RV, and let us know if they somehow get that door open.” Kate told one of the men who ducked back into the Rv for a moment to pass along the message.

Once they were all outside, she led the way cluster of undead who were only twenty feet away. She lifted the Axe handle over her head and brought it down in an arc, aiming for the neck. The cleaver was heavy enough it might enter the skull but she had learned years ago butchering cattle and deer with her dad and uncle that aiming for the joints was the easiest way to remove limbs in this case to remove the head. The cleaver cut easily into the rotting flesh, staggering the zombie to one side as Karl stepped forward swinging the hand sledge hammer like it was the Hammer of Thor. She drew back and swung again, this time the cleaver sheared into the spine severing the spinal column, the zombie dropped to the ground, its mouth still opening and closing and its eyes following her, but its limbs no longer moved.

She stepped up beside Karl, as he stepped over the zombies whose head he had just crushed, already swinging her Cleaver at the zombie who was reaching for him, Hammer and cleaver struck it from two sides at the same time. It dropped to the ground very dead.

“three down, twenty five more to go” Karl said as they led the men forward.

“Piece of cake” she said with a Bravado she didn’t feel.

An hour later she leaned against the wall of the store, sucking down cool water from a canteen, as others used a wheelbarrow from the Maintenance shed to move the bodies to the edge of the camp.

“you okay” Karl asked, walking up, chewing on a piece of stale gum.

“been better” she admitted. “anything in the store we can use” she asked.

“not so far, some of these folks must have lived for a few days, theres lots of empty cans of soup and stuff on the floor. Dirty clothes piled in the corner. I doubt theres anything left in the few RV’s left here. On the bright side, Chavez, who used to be a mechanic says he can probably get that Ford f350 running and that Chevy with the slide in camper.” Karl said.

“Darius will hump Chavez’s leg if he can get that f350 running.” Kate said with a shaky smile. She hated the way her body crashed after the Adrenalin rush of a fight left her system.

“Must be a Southern thing” Karl observed.

“We come from a long line of Ford lovers.” Kate said with another smile. “ I almost bought a Toyota once and that was enough to send my grandfather into a twenty minute speech about how evil Toyota’s were, and only Chevy’s were lower on the Chart of automotive hell.”

Karl snorted a laugh, his eyes never stopping their sweep of the surrounding area. “ I have people clearing the motor homes. I think if we can get a couple of them started we can pull them up here and park them in a box or something so we can have a semi safe area to camp in while we wait for your brother and Quentin” Karl said.

“lets just block off the area to each side of the RV up to the store so we can stay in the store and let folks spread out some. And I think we might want to get Chavez to pull off any parts from the RV’s we might need to keep our’s running, before any more undead show up.” Kate said standing up straight, determined to get her ass in gear.

“you go get every one settled in and calmed down” Karl said pointing at the Store. “theres a lot of really scared and nervous people in there.”

Kate started to protest but closed her mouth with a snap, he was right about the shape most of the group was in and the women would respond better to another woman after what they had been through.

“don’t worry Ill make sure you know whats going on out here” Karl assured her. “and see if theres way to get some one up on the roof from the inside.

Kate nodded not happy that she felt relieved at not having to deal with the clearing and searching the RV’s. Karl hugged her with one arm then walked away followed by Chavez and Barker.

Inside the store she got some of the women cleaning up the trash, the got the rest into setting up a camp inside the store. A quick search showed there was an attack space, thankfully empty of undead but no way up to roof from the inside. She was about to give up the idea of a look out on the roof, when some one suggested they get a ladder and some tools from the shed, and get a man on the roof to remove the side of the AC unit up there, and the bring the ladder into the store and the look out could climb up the ladder into the return air duct and out onto the roof.

She immediately got some men working on that side of the things and then set two women to doing an inventory of their food and ammo.

She was knee deep in reading the inventory list that Lisa, a blond haired thirty something woman had written in a notebook, when the door opened and Karl stepped in side. No longer distracted she could hear a motor straining outside.

“Thought Id let you know we are towing some of vehicles into place to block off the area like you wanted,” Karl said, then saw the look on her face. “what is it?” he asked.

“What it is, is depressing” she said passing the list to him.

“your sure this is right?” he asked.

She nodded silently, even with the supplies that Darius had taken from his trailer and left with them, there was only enough food to last three weeks, and the ammo situation was bad.

Karl looked thoughtful for a moment,” we have found a lot of fishing gear, and theres a canoe and a bass boat down on the shore, lets see if theres any fishermen in the group and send them out on the lake. That might help us a little.” He suggested.

“sounds like a plan” she replied, knowing that there was no way they could catch and store enough food to make any difference, but a day or two of fish would add a day or two to their long term supplies, which was better than nothing.

“we should be as secure as we can make it in another thirty minutes” Karl said eyeing the extension ladder that poked up inside the return air duct. “ is that how you got the look out on the roof?” he asked with a wave towards the ladder.

“yeah, at least if the undead show up, who ever is up there wont have to climb down into the horde to get off the roof. And if we have to we can drive the RV up along side the building and the look out can step across onto the RV roof and hang on till we are clear of the how ever many undead that show up.” she replied.

Whether god or luck they got everything set up, with no undead showing up to ruin their plans. By sunset they had the doors to the store and its windows covered and a lantern burning inside to drive away the darkness.

One of the few things that remained in the store, was lantern fuel. Who ever had sheltered in here hadn’t had lanterns so they had just left them tanks on the shelf and there were four of the big tanks as well, Karl had looked around till he found hoses and fittings to hook the lantern up to the large tanks so they had more than a weeks worth of light if needed.

The group sat and talked quietly, the kids were the first to fall asleep, then the women and some of the men retired. Finally it was just Kate, Rebekka, Mac, Sue, Karl, Brennan and Tyler still awake talking quietly. What ever Mac might think of Darius he apparently didn’t feel the same way about Kate. Which, she thought was a good thing, she would have handed him his balls if he had acted like a shit with her.

“…I think the best way to cross the Mississippi would be Charleston, or up near Cairo” Mac said.

“I think Darius is right Kronnen will have men watching the bridges” Karl commented, ignoring the angry look that lit Macs eyes at the name.

“I doubt it,” Mac said dismissively

“I don’t” Nate said from where he sat in a Dark corner, Kate almost jumped she had thought he had gone to bed already.

“you don’t know Kronnen like Darius and I do, or like kate and the others. He will want revenge, any one that opposes him dies, that’s his rule. The First thing he did when he got his group away from Leonard wood was to send out hunting teams, knowing we have only so many options to get away from him. Truthfully heading as far south as we can then crossing the Miss, would be the smartest, but then we run into needing a lot more fuel than we would if we just cross the river as close to our current location as we can . But heres the other problem, Im betting every major road with a bridge across the river we find is going to be packed with vehicles left during the chaos last june when every one was trying to escape their towns and citys.” Nate commented from the Darkness.

Mac frowned angrily, he didn’t want to agree with anything that had Darius’s name attached to it, but he had to admit that Nate had a point. Every time they stopped for fuel they risked getting people killed, the shortest route was the best for them, but not necessarily the smartest.

“so what do you suggest?” Mac asked stressing the You part of his sentence.

“we get one or more of the trucks and cars out there running and send out a couple of people with the few supplies we can spare to find something other than the main bridges across. There has to be other roads that cross the river that aren’t listed on the AAA maps we have.

“and who would we send?” Mac asked.

“Myself and maybe you, or I would Take Brennan there if you don’t want to go” Nate replied.

Mac stared into the dark corner were Nate sat, his mind ticking over the idea then finally nodded. “sounds like a plan” he said after a moment.

“good, lets get one of the vehicles running tomorrow, and we can take off and scout out the area. Maybe even get an idea how many if any of Kronnens men might be in the area.” Nate said.

Sue didn’t look happy Kate noted, but the other woman remained silent they talked a little while longer, then Sue rose and Mac joined her, then every one else climbed to their feet saying their good nights, leaving Kate, and Rebekka sitting in the lantern light

“I wish to tell you, that I hold no grudge against your brother” Rebekka said slowly, Kate almost wished she had the other woman’s complexion and that accent with that soft voice would drive men nuts. And how stupid was it to think of that at a time like this, Kate silently chided herself.

“thanks, I appreciate that. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I know the story and in your place, not knowing Darius, I might believe the same thing that Mac does.” Kate said.

“Mac is wrong, Sue even tells him that he is judging Darius unfairly but Mac liked Harlan and believes that Darius left Harlan to die.” Rebekka said, leaving out the part that Mac usually added that Darius was hot for Rebekka and that was his reason for killing Harlan.

Kate had heard the story already and honestly she could see Darius being interested in Rebekka, she was a lovely woman, beautiful in an exotic way. But if there had been something between Harlan and Rebekka, Darius would never have tried to horn in. Years back Darius had been engaged to his high school sweetheart, and she had burned him badly by cheating on him. Darius hated cheating and would never have tried to break up another couple, even if he did have the hots for the exotic woman sitting across from her.

Rebekka yawned and rose to her feet “good night Kate,” She said, something about her tone made it sound like she wanted to say more but she only walked away heading to her sleeping bag.

She couldn’t bring her self to tell kate just how envious she was that Kate had Darius. When as far as Rebekka knew her entire family in Israel were dead and she was not only the last of her family but of her people.

Kate watched Rebekka for a moment then sighed and turned off the lantern before using a flashlight to find her sleeping bag, she was asleep in minutes.

the fisherman were out on the lake by 0430hrs, and as the sun rose the rest of the group was up and eating a meager breakfast, most wishing they were sitting down to a decent breakfast. By Noon Chavez had an expedition up and running, Mac and Nate loaded up their gear and were gone by One.

The day passed slowly with a few undead showing up in the camp where they were put down silently, the entire group pretty much stayed put inside the store or the Rv making as little noise as possible as the tension rose higher in the small group.

What conversations there were, usually revolved around the island they were seeking that was slowly growing to mythic proportions much like Atlantis. Kate hated to see their hopes grow so much, but she said nothing, letting them believe the image they were building in their minds, reality would put a stop to it if and when they got there but till them let them hope that there was something more, something better waiting like a Beacon of hope just over the horizon pulling them forward to the new promised land.

She almost laughed at herself for that thought, Promised land was a bit flowery and over the top for a girl like her, but that’s what the rest of the group was starting to view the island as.

By night fall Sue was growing nervous as she fretted over Mac, who hadn’t been gone from her side for more than a couple of hours at a time since last June. She tried not to let it show but couldn’t help letting it out a couple of times, thankfully only in front of Kate and Rebekka.

After a dinner of fish, the group sat around talking quietly then turned in for the night, ready to repeat the whole experience once more the next day.

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

Nate passed his binoculars to Mac, then looked around the small cement room with its narrow slit like windows, thankful they had found this spot to hide in to watch the area down by the bridge. It kept them safe and out of sight of both the raiders and the undead.

“I think there are like twenty men” Mac said after a while “ hard to tell, since there might be more in that building they keep walking in and out of down there”

“Id say forty, max, that would be about normal for one of Kronnens Hunter teams. Im not saying there is, but I will plan on more just to be on the safe side. “ Nate whispered.

Mac nodded in agreement as he swept the binoculars over the bridge, and frowned. “there is no way we can get the vehicles to the other side. Not with all those abandoned cars on the bridge and from the look of it theres to damn many of those undead bastards on the bridge to walk across even if those raiders weren’t sitting there blocking our way.” Mac said quietly knowing it was going to keep him away from Sue. If that Bastard Darius hadn’t dragged them into this he wouldn’t have to worry about Sue being hunted by a bunch of homicidal raiders. But no the Stupid southern Redneck had gotten Harlen killed and dragged Mac and his wife into this stupid fight.

He kept his thoughts to himself; he had no real reason to share. He trusted Nate, but as far as he was concerned He and Sue were not part of the group and as soon as they reached the island or some place that Mac thought was Safe he and his wife were going to go to ground and stay there. To hell with Darius and any one that thought the redneck fucking walked on water.

Nate cased his binoculars, and moved to the steel door. What this structure had been neither man knew, it just reminded them of a bunker or some kind of defense position overlooking the Slow moving Mississippi river.

“I say we move north” Nate said said as he peered out the safety glass slit window.

“Sounds like a plan to me. I have no desire to get any where near Memphis” Mac commented as Nate lifted a finger to his lips and then slowly opened the door.

The two men trotted outside, weapons ready. So far so good no undead Mac thought as they moved behind a row of buildings and into the tree line. They had parked half a mile away, and if he thought the trip through the woods to view the Bridge was nerve wracking, it was nothing compared with the trip back.

They moved as quickly and quietly as possible, but every snap of a twig or brush against a bush sounded like a gunshot to Macs ears. Nate stopped suddenly and crouched, lifting his head he sniffed the air like a damn dog Mac thought, then a moment later he smelled it too, the undead. He peered through trees and saw a eight zombies about forty yards ahead staggering through the trees heading roughly in the same direction as their ride.

Nate must have an incredible nose to pick out that smell so far ahead. Mac usually couldn’t smell them till they were maybe sixty feet or so unless it was a large group or the wind was blowing directly towards him.

Like Nate, Mac stayed still and silent surrounded by brush watching as the zombies vanished into the distance. Nate waited ten minutes then started forward again keeping to the game trail that wove through thick brush, several times they had to move forward on their hands and knees.

Mac didn’t have to ask why they were using such a rough path, any undead that spotted them and tried to reach them would make a lot of noise pushing through the underbrush to get to them, giving them plenty of warning.

Finally Nate went from his hands and knees to his belly and snaked forward, Mac stopped watching for a moment realizing they were just outside the clearing they had left the truck parked in.

Mac stayed still knowing he wouldn’t be half as quiet as Nate, instead he waited, covering Nate’s back in case there was a zombie nearby. Finally Nate rose to his knees and waved Mac forward a slight smile on his face.

Mac moved forward as silently as he could manage and peered into the clearing, the eight zombies were already there but five of the eight were no longer much of a threat. He smiled himself now, when Nate had set out the bear traps around the truck Mac had thought it was a pretty stupid idea at the time, but now seeing the zombies in the traps could barely moved more than a foot in any direction, he had to admit it wasn’t a bad idea.

“ any good with that hachet?” Nate asked.

Mac nodded, not mentioning he had a silencer for the pistol he carried. As few rounds as he had left he was more than willing to take on the small number of undead with his hatchet and save his ammo.

They rose together and instantly eight sets of cloudy dead eyes locked on them, the undead in the bear traps managed one step towards them before being stopped by the chain that held the trap in place.

Mac planted is hatchet in the skull of one zombie but had to leave it in the skull as the second zombie came at him in a slow jog which was still faster than Mac ever wanted to see one of those things move. He backed away, and drew the hammer he carried. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nate hack into the third zombies head with a machete three times before the blade penetrated and nates Target fell dead.

Mac focused on the zombie coming at him, its hands were reaching out already eager to sieze him and draw him in close, the deadly triangle as some nerd on a show about zombies had called it, hands and teeth.. Mac raised the hammer making sure the claws were facing forward then stepped forward into the space between its arms, already swinging the hammer down will his full force. The claw end broke bone with a crunching, snapping sound. And the zombie tumbled to a stop at his feet. He kicked it once, then looked up in time to see the zombie at the rear of the Truck, stuck in a trap, pull forward leaving a foot still stuck in the trap.

It fell to the ground and began to crawl towards him. Nate was already moving, he leaped on the things back and brought the machete down on its neck severing the spine.

“Cover me” Nate said as he quickly triggered then gathered the traps not holding zombies and tossed them into the back of the truck. As he was finishing up, four more zombies emerged from the woods, and another zombie stuck in a trap was starting to pull its own foot off, as it kept reaching for Nate its teeth snapping together.

“lets go” Nate said opening the drivers door, and gesturing. Mac raced up and dove inside, there was a zombie too close to the passenger door and he wasn’t going to risk being bitten just to get into the truck. Nate tossed his pack inside then slid in and shut the door. A moment later they were pulling out and heading north.

They drove in silence for awhile, Mac watching the passing country side and the zombies they passed.

“I need to ask you something” Nate said suddenly.

“sure ask away” Mac said.

“Why don’t you blame me for your friends death” Nate asked, having decided to bring up the issue and see what this mans problem with Darius really was. “ I was there, I was driving one of the jeeps chasing the truck he was driving.”

“you didn’t shoot at him either did you?” Mac asked, already having heard the story.

“ Neither did Darius Mac, I joined up with those assholes to see if I could get close to my friends and wife and try to rescue them and if it wasn’t for Darius all that work would have been blown when I shot the idiot riding with me, to keep him from shooting who ever was driving that truck. As it turned it it was Harlan.

He died a Hero Mac, he led the undead right at the camp and took out Kronnen’s fuel truck all so Darius and Quentin could get those prisoners out.” Nate said slowly and clearly. “ Darius..” Nate paused for a second and took a breath composing his thoughts “in the months I traveled with Darius he helped out every person we came across, sometimes it bit us in the ass, other times it paid off, but one thing Darius isn’t is a cold blooded murderer.”

Mac sat there silent, he had no real answer on why he didn’t hate or blame Nate. But the anger he felt for Darius refused to go away. “He set Harlan up to die, its that simple” he stated, refusing to really think about it.

“no he didn’t Mac, but I cant prove that to you, all I can do is ask you to think about it before you do something rash. Because this much I can promise you, Darius would die before he let any one Hurt your wife or any of the others in the group.” His voice rang with absolute conviction, but he doubted it would sway Mac. He just hoped that when the two had a show down it didn’t turn into a blood bath.

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

“there’s two vehicles approaching” kates head snapped up as the Look out yelled down the air vent into the store. Two vehicles? God let it be Darius and Quentin she thought not even aware of the smile that came and went at the thought of Quentin’s name.

She rose and picked up the rifle Darius had left her, the 30 06 was a familiar weight in her hands, she had carried it many times hunting with their dad over the years.

She stepped outside, where some of the men had gathered behind the vehicles that had been dragged into place forming a wall between the store and the RV. She lifted the rifle and snugged the butt into her shoulder ignoring the nervous tremor that ran through her hands.

Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the Battered and shot up Dodge enter the campground, half its windshield was starred and opaque, there were bullet holes in the door and hood. But then she spotted the monster eight wheeled vehicle that followed behind the Dodge and the trailer it pulled.

The Dodge pulled up and stopped behind the RV, the motor shut off. The heavy throbbing motor of the 8×8 shut off a moment later.

She couldn’t help but smile as she saw Darius climb out of the Dodge, she slung her rifle and scrambled over the cars throwing her self onto her brothers arns and hugging him tightly for a moment, then stepped back holding his shoulders, realizing that Quentin hadn’t joined them.

“Where’s Quentin?” she asked, worried.

“in the MANN, he got shot up some during an ambush, but he is fine at least he was an hour ago when we stopped for gas at some little po dunk station.” Darius said then turned as the Door to the military looking vehicle opened, and a black man stepped outside, carrying an assault rifle.

“ Kate this is Kafil, who saved our butts. Kafil this is my sister Kate, Kafil means Protector in Swahili” Darius said grinning “ and you say I don’t learn new things”

her smile of surprise at seeing a stranger, turned into something else as Quentin stepped out of the vehicle, he moved stiffly but he looked okay. She stepped past Kafil with a greeting and hugged Quentin welcoming him back, Quentin groaned and separated himself. “I am injured you know” he said with a grin, then saw the speculative look on Darius’s face and wondered exactly what was running through the mans mind.

Quentin stepped aside, as a Hispanic woman , another man, and an Asian woman joined them outside. Quentin introduced them to Kate, then smiled at the last woman who climbed out of the 8×8. “ Kate this is Joan, who is a doctor, a foot doctor but she patched me up pretty well.”

“He had to instruct me on how to do the worst of it, all I did was follow his directions” Joan said with a nervous laugh as she looked around expecting the undead to come swarming out any moment now.

“lets get inside” Darius said, as he climbed up onto the trunk of a car then jumped down into the protected area. He turned in time to see Quentin grasp kate by the waist and lifter her up and place her on the truck.

Darius said nothing as he turned and looked around for Nate but didn’t see him in the small group of armed men. “wheres Nate?” Darius asked,

“He and Mac are scouting out the various bridges across the Mississippi so we have an idea which one is best to use.” Kate explained.

“You let Mac go with Nate, Good god, Kate. Mac knows that Nate was part of the group chasing and shooting at Harlan.” Darius said surprised, and now worried.

“Believe it or not Mac likes Nate.” Kate said getting angry that Darius was second guessing her and doing it in front of the others.

“Sure he does, Kate.” Darius said then calmed down as he saw Sue who gave him a crooked smile. If Mac left Sue he was planning on coming back, not out there with some wild plan to kill of Nate. unless he had just gone off the deep end and didn’t care any more. And if he killed Nate, Darius would hunt him down to the ends of the earth if that’s what it took to make him pay for it.

“stop it” Kate said, poking him in the side,

“stop what?” Darius asked as he started for the door of the store.

“I know that look, that’s the I plan on kicking some ones ass look, you usually got it in high school when you found out I had a new boyfriend.” Kate told him as she followed along behind him.

“they were after one thing Kate” Darius replied as only a big brother could.

“I was after one thing too Darius” Kate said with a grin, knowing that comment would piss off Darius.

“I really don’t need to know that” Darius grated.

“well then stop being an ass, Mac will come around Darius, Mac’s own wife doesn’t agree with him either.” Kate said, trying to be optimistic about the whole thing.

Darius stopped at the door to the store and turned to face Kate, “ sooner or later Kate Im going to have to deal with the problem. Before something worse comes out of it, and being nice isn’t going to solve this issue trust me on that okay.” Darius said evenly. “Now how long ago did they leave”

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

Darius looked around at the bodies sprawled around the barricade and frowned, this was the third time today that a large group of undead had put in an appearance if this kept up they would be under siege soon. “we are going to have to move out soon” Darius told Quentin. “ by tomorrow of the next day, there is going be a real crowd of a couple of hundred at a time and then the numbers are going to keep growing”

“we cant leave till Mac an Nate return” Sue protested overhearing.

“if we wait that long, none of us are going to make it out of here” Darius replied gesturing towards the bodies beyond the barricade. “its been three days already, and every day has brought more undead.”

“He has a point” Quentin said, like sue he wasn’t happy with the idea, and knew she had to wonder how much of Darius suggestion was rooted in the problems between he and Mac.

The others of the group looked uncomfortable at the idea but none of them wanted to hang around till there was a sea of undead around the store.

“Sue, Ill wait here for them, Me and Quentin to make sure they know where the group has gone. But every one else needs to get out of here,” Darius said looking around at the others. “get everything packed up, you folks need to be out of here before the next group of undead party crashers shows up.”

they were almost done with packing and loading when two shots rang out from inside the store. Darius rushed inside and slid to a stop at the sight of the two bodies. Lydia Mason and her daughter Julia. Lydia still held the pistol she had used to kill her daughter then herself.

“Oh my god” Kate gasped from behind him.

Darius knelt beside Lydia and pulled the pistol from her hand then tucked it into his waist band. He wondered how many others were going to eat a bullet before this was all over and done with. “ Kate get em moving” Darius said softly. “we don’t have a lot of time,”

Darius had known Lydia was close to the edge, but he hadn’t realized just how close. Was there something they could have done to change this, he doubted it. As cold as it was this had just stretched the groups food supplies out a bit more.

He loaded Lydia and her daughters gear, feeling about as cold and heartless as a human being could feel, but some one would need this stuff and to leave it behind meant risking lives to replace it later.

“we are ready to move out” Kate said as Darius covered the bodies.

“good, to the east is Bollinger Mill state historic site, I want you to get the group there before night fall. As soon as I catch up with you we are going to try to cross the Mississippi.”

“why there” Kate asked, wasting time and irritating Darius.

Darius opened his mouth to answer as a Truck rolled into the campground. What ever he had been about to say went unvoiced as Sue shouted happily as she leaped from the RV and climbed over the vehicle barricade.

“well guess I don’t have to stay behind after all.” Darius said watching as Mac climbed out of the truck only to have Sue leap on him.

“you really don’t like being around people do you” Quentin asked.

“no, I really don’t, theres a reason Im letting Karl and Kate handle the group. Im just not good with people..” Darius replied ignoring the dark look Mac sent his way.

“heads up, More undead” some one shouted.

“mount up, lets get moving” Karl called out.

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

Shortly after Noon, Darius spotted the Jameson Truck stop, where it looked like some one had tried to fort up. who ever they had been they hadn’t gotten the vehicle wall around the place completed before the end. What really drew his attention more than anything else was the Exxon Fuel tanker trailer parked in front of the store.

There were maybe forty zombies in the parking lot scattered around between the vehicles. Darius turned on his blinker as he slowed then drove into the gap between vehicles. Instantly all the undead headed towards the running vehicles.

Darius aimed the Dodge straight at a chunky blonde woman in a ripped and stained shapeless dress and accelerated till she vanished under the grill with a thump.

Quentin threw open the passenger door taking down another, actually laughing. “that just never gets old” He called out, as he slammed the door shut. Darius wove through the parking lot running down as many of the undead as he could while the rest of the group dismounted and began to clear the zombies using hand weapons.

Darius finally parked and climbed out taking his duct taped baseball bat with him. The first zombie he came to was focused on the other living people in front of it and apparently didn’t see or sense Darius who cocked the bat back and drove it forward like the winning home run drive, that snapped its neck and crushed its skull.

“Darius look left” Quentin called out. Darius turned and saw the double glass doors of the store swing open, and a pot bellied man in a flannel shirt and nothing else stumble out, his legs had been chewed up pretty badly.

Behind him six more zombies appeared, “sucks to be you” Darius said, as he swung his bat caving in the skull of the zombie, who toppled over. Then Quentin was beside him, carrying an axe.

“thought you might need some help” Quentin said as he darted forward swinging his axe at the teenaged zombie whose chest and stomach had been ripped open. The axe didn’t really piece the skull as much as it crushed it. As the body fell backwards, Quentin stepped back beside Darius.

“wont turn it down” Darius said as a male zombie lifted its arms and rushed at them, it was almost running which was a surprise. Darius side stepped swinging the bat, and crushed its left knee, as it toppled over Quentin put a large boot in its back and brought the axe whistling down into its skull. Which exploded with a sharp crack that flung gore and black ooze in a circled around it.

A woman leaped at Darius, her face a bloody ruin. Blood stained pale hands reaching for his throat. Darius batted her out of the air and sent her tumbling into the store window that shuddered but didn’t break.

“oh this really sucks” Quentin said as a zombie in a motorcycle cops uniform including helmet still firmly attached to its head, charged at him.

Darius tripped the cop, then whirled as an elderly woman, came at him, Quentin stomped down on the cop zombies neck breaking it, the safest way he could think of it to take it out of the fight.

Darius cracked the old ladies knee cap, sending her to the ground. Then he and Quentin moved in on the last zombie together leaving grandma to crawl after them as they put down the Truck stop hooker of the undead. A minute later Grandma was dead a second time.

“you know your getting used to this, when it doesn’t bother you much” Quentin said mentally reminding himself to start using his crossbow more and stay the hell out of the undeads reach for as long as possible.

By then the group had finished off the last of the undead, and Kate had people heading back to the vehicles to move them close to the store while the rest of the group entered and cleared the place.

The main part of the store was huge filled with everything from electronics to the normal convenience store snack items. From the look of it, the people who had tried to survive in here hadn’t last to long judging by the amount of food stuff still sealed and on the racks.

None of them paid much attention to the large blood stains scattered around the store and the attached Restaurant that marked where some one had died, they did stop and pick up the weapons that almost always lay close by those same spots.

They lost a man clearing the bathrooms, when he failed to notice a zombie step out of a Bathroom stall till it bit down on his shoulder, but that was the only casualty. The Bite Victim stumble outside and shot himself.

Finally they were sure the place was as clear and settled in to talk and eat after burying the Bite Vicitm and posting guards on the roof to keep a watch. The bite Victims name had been Lee Darnell, of Tulsa Oklahoma, Darius felt bad at not really know the mans name, but Kate made sure she wrote it down a note book she took from a shelf, right below Harlan, Lydia and Julia’s names. Determined to keep a record of those they lost so they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Darius finished the can of Dinty Moore and tossed the empty can into a corner as he looked around at the group.

“we need to make some plans, first, I think if we searched some of those rigs, we might find weapons and ammo inside them. Theres no telling what we might find in the trailers either. Not that we have a lot of time” Darius said.

“ and if theres undead inside those cabs we are going to lose people” Some one pointed out.

“true, but we need ammo and weapons. And sooner or later we are going to have to take a risk to get what we need.” Darius pointed out. “but we can wait on that for a few minutes, Nate what did you and Mac find on your trip.”Darius asked.

“nothing good, to be honest, we have only two choices here” Nate said looking around the room at the assembled people. “well okay three, we can head south, but I truly think that’s exactly what Kronnen wants. We can reach the river from here, abandon our vehicles and take boats across, or ..” He paused for a breath. “ Or we can use the Railroad Bridge in Scott city to cross the river. The other three bridges in range of here, have twenty to forty of Kronnens men watching them and the bridges are filled with abandoned vehicles which would take us hours to clear. And with the undead on and around the bridges, we have time to clear the a path across any one of those bridges, even assuming we took at the men guarding the bridge. The Railway bridge is the only one I didn’t see any one covering and its clear. ”

“taking boats means we would have to locate boats, unload all our stuff, load it up on the boats, cross the river, and then hunt down more vehicles” Kate pointed out. “that’s a lot of time in the open, a lot of danger”

“is the railway bridge wide enough to allow our vehicles to cross” Darius asked.

“It is,” Nate assured him.

“what about Kronnens men, they are bound to spot us or at least hear us when we make a run for the bridge.” Morgan asked the older man was starting to look really exhausted. A school teachers life had not prepared him for the apocalypse.

Nate looked at Darius who shrugged “some of us are going to be keeping them busy.” Darius replied. “ me, Nate, and Quentin”

“I will help as well” Kafil added.

“sorry buddy, your folks need you,” Darius said, ignoring Quentin who muttered something about not having a name on a star trek episode

“My people need to cross the bridge, that can best be accomplished by my helping you.” Kafil stated.

“four are better than three” Quentin pointed out.

“No, as far as I can tell, you” Darius said jerking a thumb at Quentin “ and Kafil are the only ones in this group with real military training. I want Kafil to stay with the main group. Im not budging on this folks.” Darius stated.

Kafil looked from Quentin to Darius then nodded in agreement. Which suited Darius just fine, he wasn’t in the mood to argue.

“we need to refuel our vehicles using that fuel tanker out there, while the rest of us strip this place of everything we can use before we bed down for the night. We start with the Restaurant , take everything that’s still edible, then we move out into the store.” Darius said

The Truck stop was no Pilot or Flying J. it was a state wide chain that carried almost as much as either of the national chains, once the vehicles were refueled a small group of men got busy filling gas cans and 55 gallon drums under guard.

Darius entered the store and headed straight for the electronic section. There were almost enough Cobra hand held radios in the front and in the store room for every person in the group to have one. More important to Darius were the CB radios, enough for every vehicle in the group, which meant they wouldn’t have to pull over just to talk over plans in the future.

He added in a few garmin GPS units, every Country Music CD he could find and then one of those small DVD players and every kids movie on the rack for the kids in the group.

He stopped suddenly staring at the movie he had just picked up, Herbie rides again, his grandmother had taken him to see that at Dallingers movie theater in the next town over from his own home town. As a young adult he had hated the place, the owners had refused to show any movie that didn’t meet their famiy values, instead they constantly showed old movies, particularly Disney movies. Causing Darius to miss all the movies he had really wanted to see.

He stared at the cover of the movie and a feeling of profound loss for the world that he had grown up in, wash over him. He stood there at the end of the world, a hardened killer of men and undead, crying for innocence of his childhood that was forever gone. Finally he wiped at his eyes and put the movie in a bag. Then turned and saw Quentin standing behind him, watching a look of concern and understanding on his face.

“you didn’t see a thing” he grated.

“Darius, have you really sat down and grieved for those you lost last June.” Quentin asked softly.

“been a little busy staying alive and then trying to save the only family I have left. Havent really had time to break down and cry like a little girl:” Darius said.

“maybe you should make the time “ Quentin said placing a hand on Darius’s shoulder. “I broke down last Christmas, thank god I was safely hidden away with plenty of food. I had
gotten one of those” Quentin said pointing to the portable DVD player, “ and a handful of Christmas movies, and sometime after it’s a wonderful life and a Christmas story, I lost it for a solid week.”

“Quentin I appreciate what your saying and what your trying to do, but I cant okay.” Darius said.

“oh sorry, the whole real men don’t cry thing” Quentin said

“no, topic change okay” Darius said Determined to move on. “Im wondering when you and my sister are going to stop sneaking around”

“sneaking.?” Quentin asked

“oh please Quint, Im not an idiot. I know whats going on” Darius said.

“Im not denying it, I just object to the word sneaking. Besides Kate thought you might get angry.”

“in the past I would have, because my friends back then were shit bags, oh they were good friends, but they were not the kind of men I wanted involved with my sister. You though I don’t mind.” Darius replied. “your smart, tough, and I don’t care that your old enough to be our dad. But if you hurt her I swear I will break half the bones your body.”

“to be honest Darius, all Weve done is talk so far, its not like we’ve had much time to do anything else.” Quentin said feeling a little awkward at having this discussion.

“I know, I just wanted to get it out of the way so you know that I don’t mind.” Darius said.

“ Well now that all that’s out of the way, lets get this stuff loaded up, I have plans with your sister later.” Quentin said grinning.

“Don’t push it, you dirty old man.” Darius said as they gathered up the CBs and carried them out to the waiting vehicles. Quentin burst out laughing, resisting the urge to crack a few a jokes about just how dirty he could be, but he doubted Darius would find them funny.

Thankfully the CBs were pretty easy to install, and by the time they had finished with the last one, all the food stuffs were on board.

By the time the sun was setting, Nate, Mac and three others had worked their way around the huge parking lot picking up dropped weapons and checking a few rigs, where they had scored pretty big, four Pistols, with only one mag each, two AR’s with two magazines each, almost a thousand rounds of .223, a hundred rounds of .12ga, 80 rounds of .45, and about three hundred rounds of assorted calibers.

“we might want to consider leaving here instead of staying the night” Nate said as Darius loaded his shotgun and added a extra shells to the loops of his bandalier for the sawed off.

“we are to damn close to the interstate, we are going to get a butt load of those things in here over night.” Nate said.

Darius nodded thoughtfully, they had already stripped the store bare, of everything they could possibly use. Drained as much gas and diesel as they could find and had barely seen a single zombie in all that time. “your right, lets move out of here.” He said rising and striding to the Dodge.

“come on people, lets load up and move out, there was a farm on the way in , lets head back there and spend the night, tomorrow morning we are going to make a run for the bridge. Hopefully by lunch tomorrow we will be out of Missiouri with the Mississippi between us and Kronnen.”

Darius was the last to pull out of the truck stop, and one glance to the east told him that Nates suggestion had been a wise one, about a mile down the road almost to the interstate, the undead had appeared in the twilight, shoulder to shoulder from one side of the road to the other, surging forward, breaking like waves around the Vehicles but never stopping.

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

Cary “boner” Lewis, frowned as he stepped out onto the roof top of the Real Estate office over looking the Bridge. Billy Mastis was crouched near the coping with is binoculars up sweeping them along the streets that they could see from here. Mastis wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box, but the balding Alabama redneck was as tough as they came.

“whats the deal” he asked still pissed at being woken up at the ass end of sunrise.

“Billy heard some motors about ten minutes ago, then nothing.” Franky said, the round faced Ohioan, looked eager at the thought of a fight. Lewis wasn’t, he knew exactly how tough the Hunter was, and only a fool thought it was going to be fun. But that was Franky, the man had spent three years in prison, would have died of Starvation in Prison if Kronnen hadn’t chosen that particular prison to search freeing Franky and five others.

Why my bridge damn it, they swore the Hunter would go south and right the arms of that new group of the Kronnens that’s supposed to be all billy bad ass. The Hunter was not supposed to try for the Bridge that he was guarding.

“make sure all our guys are ready, that bastard likes to sneak up on Us, at least this time he wont have bombs planted to ruin our day” Cary said.

His men, such as they were rushed into positions he had chosen when they had first arrived, allowing them to cover all the approaches to the building and the bridge. the one bright spot was, the Hunters people couldn’t cross that bridge with out coming under fire from Cary’s men or being Eaten by the undead who roamed back and forth on the span.

Now Cary wished Kronnen trusted him enough to have given him one of those satellite phones so he could call in reinforcements. He did not want to become another T.

in the distance he heard the sound of a motor, “ all right looks like the hunter and his people are going to make for our bridge, we have to convince them to head south if at all possible, but if we can kill them we do so got it.” Cary said looking around at his men who nodded in agreement. “make sure Jimmy and his men are ready with the Jeeps. If they make a run for it, I want them dogged for as many miles as we can get away with.”

Cary wanted the Hunter and his friends, it would make him in Kronnens Army if he could bring back the bastards head.

“got a truck a mile down the road heading this way, the truck is pulling a big travel trailer. And there is a beat up Winnabego Behind the truck”

Cary thought that over for a moment then shrugged it could be another band of survivors. the distance between his position and the truck shrank. But everything he had been told was some kind of weird looking RV and a truck pulling a travel trailer.

“let them get past us and to the bridge before we open fire.”

He kept low watching as the two vehicles rolled past his position, slowing as they finally spotted the bridge.

“get ready” he told his men, “ rake that RV first, they have to be packed in there tighter than hookers at a John convention. Kill a few and the dead ones will kill the rest”

“Fire” he yelled minute later as both vehicles slowed inching towards the bridge..

Gun fire tore the day apart, both vehicles shot forward suddenly trying to escape the ambush. the RV started weaving madly then turned sharply almost tipping over as it bounced over a curb and onto a weed chocked parcel of land next to the river. It came to a stop smoke and steam pouring from the back.

“ Get Jeff out there now,” Cary called out as the truck raced up on the far side of the Winnabego. It stopped for a moment, probably picking up a survivor or two, then pulled away running parallel to the sloping bank that led to the river.

He grinned as a tire exploded on the Dirty Chevrolet pickup truck and the truck began to weave like the driver was having a hard time keeping it under control. More tires blew this time on the Travel trailer.

Down the street four Jeeps, emerged from a dealer ship where they had been hidden, and raced towards the scene even as undead by the hundreds were beginning to appear in the streets. In a few more minutes it would probably be thousands of Undead Cary thought as he watched the truck fight to get back onto pavement, then the trailer jackknifed and ripped free of the truck, but not before throwing the truck into a roll that send it tumbling down the steep bank towards the slow moving waters of the Mighty Mississippi.

“cease fire, get ready to bug out” Cary yelled, seeing the number of undead sweeping towards their position. “ Jeff If you can check out the wreckage, see if any one survived, if they did, leave them for the undead.” He radio’d

“you got it Boner” Jeff replied, for once Cary didn’t get annoyed at the use of his nickname.

“lets go, we head to the fall back position and wait” Cary said almost feeling like a soldier. A year ago he had been a Sales rep for a Commercial vehicle parts business, trying to keep from dying of boredom or being sent back to Prison for a parole violation, now here he was leading men in battle, with all the Po Po dead or mostly dead. Guess you do gooders were wrong after all, the world is for wolves like me. Not for the sheep. At least I played your game long enough so I wasn’t in Jail when the dead came back.

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

The Scott city to Thebes Rail road bridge, was one of those constructions that harked back to the days when America had truly been a world leader in infrastructure. Before the days of Profit over quality led to inferior construction and a crumbling infrastructure across the nation.

It was a 3,817 long Iron bridge that reminded her of old movies and better times and it was the only way across and away from Kronnens men.

“ let the trucks go first,”Kate said as she stopped on the double wide rail bed just before the bridge. The regular trucks, including Darius’s dodge with his old horse trailer could make it across the train bridge pretty easily, but the RV and what ever the hell it was that Kafil had would have a little harder time, and she didn’t want to risk taking one of the Big vehicles across first then getting stuck or breaking down and then blocking the bridge so no one made it across.

She sat trying not to bounce in the seat or drum her fingers on the steering wheel. As her Grandfather used to say she was as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. She was worried that another band of Kronnens goons might just show up out of the blue and screw their plans, and she was worried about Darius surviving his idiotic scheme to keep that bunch of Raiders distracted at the other bridge. guiltily she admitted she was almost more concerned that Quentin wouldn’t survive her brothers plan. One night wasn’t enough not by a long shot so her brother had better bring Quentin back in one piece or she would by god kick Darius’s testicles up into his brain.

She watched as Karl made it across with Darius truck, then the other two trucks and Nates Jeep made it across, “all right Kafil, you go next, with all the wheels on that thing you stand a better chance of making it across and not getting stuck on the tracks.” Kate transmitted over the CB.

A moment later the 8×8 rolled past her, maneuvering till its wheels were between the tracks. It moved steadily across the trussed bridge, then finally it reached the other side and pulled off beside the trucks.

She sat there for a moment, then started forward, the RV bounced and jumped as she worked it over the tracks till the wheels were placed in an open space. For a moment she thought about the old toy rack track Darius had, had as a kid. The one he blew up with firecrackers as he raced his car between the explosions just to see if it could make it around the track before the fire caught his car..

Crossing the first hundred feet of the bridge which was nothing more than an open spandrel arched bridge, she finally entered the Steel truss section of the bridge. her hands were sweat slick as she gripped the steering wheel tightly. Knowing that if she sped up or drifted to far one side or another the RV would jump on the tracks, and who knew what would happen then.

“don’t want to panic you Kate, but you might want to hurry” Karl said, his voice booming from the CB speaker. She almost screamed in surprise at the sudden noise. “theres a butt load of undead coming your way from your side of the river.”

Kate forced her self to look in the side view mirror, but didn’t see anything behind her. Instinctively she sped up, not wanting to get caught on the bridge. “Kafil is coming out to meet you Kate, we have a plan. Your not going to like it but it’s a good plan.” Karl said

Up ahead she saw one of the trucks re enter the bridge it stopped and that Kafil leaped out. His Ebon skin almost glowing in the sunlight. She didn’t know who was driving the truck but they were good. As soon as Kafil was out the truck backed out the way it had come like it was following a line.

Kafil jogged forward and she reached him, he ran around to the door and threw it open as she slowed. “I would like you to stop and let me drive” Kafil said as he closed the door. He didn’t need to be a mind reader to know she wasn’t happy about that request.

“Please this is no reflection on you Katherine, the plan is to use the Rv to block this bridge, so the undead behind you can not follow. I am the better Driver of such a large vehicle, if there was a woman who could do this, Karl would have sent her.” He said, it was amazing, she thought, how calm and wise he managed to sound. While uttering such bullshit, he and Darius probably get along really well. She grudgingly admitted to herself he was probably right, she was so nervous at the moment she was having trouble just driving straight, knowing she could hit one of the rails and flip or something. At least with her luck she would flip, and probably against all the laws of physics flip right through the truss’s out over the water and plunge into the river so far below.

She slowed then stopped, not really sure there was any real skill to what Karl wanted to do, but she wasn’t going to argue, if some one else wanted to drive this rig so her hands could uncramp more power to them.

Kafil slid into the Drivers seat, waited till she had buckled in to her seat. And then pulled out. Driving much faster than she had been. She gripped the armrest of her chair, her knuckles white with strain, as Kafil took the RV up to forty miles an hour. The other side drawing closer with every passing second. Okay so she hadn’t gone faster then ten miles an hour, okay maybe she had only hit five miles an hour but still.

“you will wish to hang on Katherine” He warned her as he yanked the wheel to the right before she could respond. The tires hit rails and leaped into the air. The sideview mirror on her side was ripped off by an Iron beam, sparks flew and metal on metal screamed. Then suddenly Kafil yanked the wheel to the left and again the RV bounced, there was a ripping sound, and she gaped as she saw a tire roll towards the far end of the bridge. the passenger side of the RV slammed down at an angle, and the world tilted sickeningly around her. No not the world she realized, the RV. “Oh Shit” She managed to get out, as the RV flipped over onto its side and slid all of eight feet before it was wedged between the two sides of the bridge.

she lay there shaking wth fear, waiting for explosions and fire, it happened in movies and TV shows, it should happen the same way here just because of the famous McAllister family luck. Something stuck the bottom, now the side of the RV, then again, soon she could hear many hands pawing at the exposed belly of the RV.

A sudden laugh erupted from the drivers seat above her, she looked up to where Kafil, Blood dripping from the cut on his forehead, dangled in the air above her held in place by his seat belt.

“your telling me I didn’t have the skill to wreck an RV?, think again. And what the hell are you laughing about.” She said with a glare as she unstrapped and then crawled out from under Kafil. As soon as she was out of the way, he drew his knife and cut the seat belt free himself.

“I am laughing because I have heard Americans say Oh shit in every movie I have seen when things go wrong, but never in real life till now” Kafil said, as he flexed his fingers and moved his arms and legs making sure everything worked correctly. “you were wise to have all the passengers of this vehicle ride with Jim or on the trucks.” He added dusting his hands on his pants. “now collect your things and let us get out of here”

pulling the LED light from its pouch on her belt, she looked around and finally found her pack towards the back of the Rv where it had been thrown as the RV tried to become a gymnast. The sounds of pawing and thumping on the underside starting to weird her out. Her imagination showing her some kind of weak point that would bust inwards allowing a flood of the undead inside, trapping her with no where left to go but down in blood and pain.

She grabbed her pack and walked back to the front where Kafil waited having busted out the window in the side of the RV that now looked skyward. “here let me help you” He said cupping his hands. “leave your pack on the floor I will pass it up to you.”

“thank you” she replied setting her pack to one side then stepping into his hands and was boosted up and half out the window. She scrambled out of the way and turned in time to see the top of her pack appear. She grabbed it and pulled it all the way out then moved it out of the way. “do you need my help” she asked, worried he might not be able to climb out on his own.

“thank you no” Kafil called up, then a second later he was scrambling up onto the side of the RV.

She finally got a good look at the RV and how badly it was wedged up between the sides of the bridge. “unless some one burns it out, nothing is going to past this” she said looking at the undead that filled the bridge behind the RV.

“this was not exactly as planned, I admit” Kafil said with a shrug, as the truck that had dropped him off approached them. “ but it worked out well in the end.”

“your telling me you didn’t plan on breaking off a tire and flipping the RV onto its side to slide into position.” She said with mock surprise.

He chuckled again “I know many Americans would claim such, but we Nigerians can not lie, Yes I planned every moment of this elaborate plan.”

“I suspect your more American than you want to admit” She observed with a grin as Karl and another man climbed out of the truck “now before you learn the time honored fishing stories and how one inch equals six, lets get out of here.”

Thebes Illinios didn’t exist any where but on a map as far as she could see. The streets for down town were still in place, but no buildings sat on the empty overgrown blocks and hadn’t for a long time, there was no debris, no rubble. What ever had happened here had happened before the dead had come. There were two single wide trailers set up along one of the streets downtown, both empty their doors standing open.

At the north end of the Street grid on a bluff overlooking the River sat a building made of native rock. The historical sign out front identified it as the Original county Court house, that had been used as a church then a school. From the bluff side, it was two stories, but from the street side, the Second story was the ground floor.

For now it would make a good camp site for them, with room for everybody while they waited for Darius, Nate and Quentin to return.

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

Gregg Goldman, stepped out of the lounge onto the rear deck of the River lady to see his three guests standing at the rail with blankets wrapped around them. Gregg looked nothing like he had pre zombie, his beer gut was gone, his now narrow face, looked almost hawkish and topped with thick red hair cut short. He looked up on to the mid deck where he could see Arnold Green manning the fifty caliber machine gun. Ready to spray the idiots in the jeeps who had opened fire on them while they were fishing the three men out of the river. Or to use it on their guests, the River Lady and her crew had survived for to damn long to risk being nice with out some serious fire power to back it up.

His guests had obviously planned on ending up in the river he thought judging by the floats and Styrofoam they had attached to their plastic wrapped packs and duffle bag that held their weapons.

All three men turned hearing his boots on the wooden deck, they still looked amazed at being rescued by a River boat.

“I wanted to welcome you Aboard the River Lady, Im Captian Gregg Goldman and you are” he said extending his hand. He was going to be as courteous as he could manage till they proved they were as much assholes as the pricks in the Jeeps had been.

“well some call us the Hunters, but my name is Darius McAllister and that is Nate and that big idiot is Quentin.” Gregg shook all three mens hands, Darius was probably the youngest of the three, while Quentin was the oldest and they all looked hard as hell, till Darius flashed a smile that Gregg had no clue was a rare event. “but if you want us to become River pirates you can call me Huck Finn”

Gregg chuckled at that, wondering if maybe he should have done more than have them leave their weapons and gear sealed up.

“Id like to hear who those men were that were shooting at you, and whether rescuing you three is worth what ever is going to result in pissing off those assholes in the jeeps.”

“if you turn around and head north, and drop us off at Thebes other wise, its going to be a long walk back to our people.” Darius said as he folded the blanket and set it aside, before he stripped off his wet shirt and laid it on the deck to dry. “ as for our story, well I don’t mind sharing. Whether you believe it or not is another matter”

Up close the first thing Gregg notice aside from almost chiseled body were the number of scars from old wounds, and the incredible amount of bruises all over the mans torso. Who ever Darius McAllister really was, he had seen some hard times.

“no one lives in Thebes, the place has been a ghost town since the late seventies, I think” Gregg said suspiciously.

“we don’t live there, our friends are waiting for us there, its part of the story. Which starts a while back in Colorado, you see, a real vicious band of Assholes calls us the hunters for a reason.” Darius said launching into the story. Gregg listened with rapt attention not even stopping the man when he cut the plastic off his pack and pulled out dry clothes.

When Darius finished speaking, Gregg studied the three men believing every word of that story, he turned to see his second in command of the River lady standing by the doors to the lounge. “ head on up to the bridge if you would Mister Alan and have the helmsman bring us about, seems we are going to Thebes.”

He turned back to Darius who looked totally refreshed not that he was dressed in Dry jeans, a tshirt and boots. “so in a sense we screwed up your plans by fishing you out of the river.” Gregg said amazed at their plan, as stupid as it sounded it might actually have worked.

“yeah they were supposed to believe we drowned, which is why we sealed all the packs and the gear bag using only enough floats to keep them near the surface not floating on top. So we could pull them along with us using a rope. But this works out better in some ways too, one we didn’t drown, two we don’t have to climb out of the water miles down river, to either hike back up to thebes, or find a vehicle we can get running all the while dodging the undead. Now my question to you is this, how in the hell did you people come to be on a river boat?” Darius asked.

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

“You need to wake up and see this” Karl said poking Kate with a stick not stupid enough to be close enough to touch her, she was pretty damn quick with that knife she slept with.

“What is it?” she asked yawning and sitting up.

“trust me you want to see this for yourself.” Karl said stepping forward and helping her stand as she held out a slender hand. They walked across the room the smell of chalk in the air even after all these years. The boards creaked under their boots. Karl pulled open the door to the balcony that overlooked the River and motioned for her to step through first.

It was still early enough that it was almost dark, but tinged with gold, a light mist hung over the river, and through the mist, she saw the distinctive shape of a stern wheel river boat, its ornate twin stacks jutting up clear of the mist. Her jaw dropped, for half a second she almost expected to Confederate soldiers to ride up escorting a Pay roll wagon or cargo to be transported.

She heard a soft splash even at this distance, and then saw a narrow shadow with a pointed front end move away from the Side of the River boat, in a couple of minutes she could see it some what clearly through the mist, it was some kind of launch.

It landed down below the trees, where she lost sight of the launch, then it reappeared again heading back to the River boat.

“do you think this is their place” she asked Karl who shook his head.

“ there was nothing here to indicate any one was using it and theres no way they could have seen our vehicles from the river, I think they have business here what ever it may be.” He said then pointed where the river boat was coming to life once more its Paddle wheel churning the water as it first backed out, then started forward turning in a wide circle that sent it heading south.

Kate saw movement down by the trees, and through the mist saw three men step out of the wood line, One donned a battered looking White hat and adjusted it carefully as they walked.

“ I be damned, the Hunters are Home” she said with a smile.

8 thoughts on “The Hunters Escape

  1. I get a kick out of reading your stories okelly. You have a real knack for keeping me coming back for more. I live in Missouri just about 30 minutes east of Licking. So i got a real kick out of reading that. Thanks for what you do…

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