Matt and Larry ran from the house toward a gathering around the flag pole. The shooting had stopped. When Matt jogged up to the crowd, it parted to allow him to pass.

The yard was filled with the adult residents of the camp, while the children peaked from windows and doorways. Everyone stared at Jenkins and Maggie. Jenkins held a handgun by the barrel while Maggie stared at Roy and Billings, both lying dead in the gravel and sand.

“They didn’t deserve to live. That bastard raped my daughter and Mary. Roy killed my husband, and his sons knew what he was doing to those children. They are all as disgusting as Billings.” She took a breath and turned to walk toward the camper.

“Aren’t you going to stop her?” Screamed one of the boys.

Matt kicked the young man and ordered. “Shut up, or I’ll be shooting you. Your fate is still undecided. You watched and didn’t help those kids.” Matt took a breath. “Maggie saved me the trouble and hopefully got some measure of peace from the killing your old man and that bastard. Lord knows, she needs it.”

Suddenly the wives burst from the trailer and past the guard. When he tried to stop them, Matt shook his head not to bother. The crones stood staring at the bodies.

“What are we going to do with the rest of them?” Jenkins asked.

Matt looked around then ordered. “Everyone get busy doing what you need to be doing.” He turned to Jenkins. “Put the bodies in the back of that bus. Then bring those two dipshits and the wives. We’re giving them a chance to live but not here. I’m going to talk to Maggie, and her daughters.” Matt crossed the yard to the trailer that Maggie had entered. He knocked on the door, and a timid voice called out for him to enter. The four girls were sitting at the table staring at Maggie who sat quietly on a small couch crying.

“If you want me to leave, I’ll understand. Please don’t make the girls leave. They’re safe here, and I won’t be able to protect them.”

“No one is asking you to leave,” Matt answered. “I want to know about the boys. Did they take part in shooting your husband and the girl’s families? Simple question. All I need is a yes or no answer.”

Maggie looked up and took a deep breath. “No.”

Matt reached out and covered Maggie’s clenched hands. “You’re safe here, and you’re welcome to stay or go. It’s your choice. We work hard and try to help each other. If that suits you, this can be your home.”

“Thank you,” Maggie whispered.

“Take the time you need to get settled. Talk to Jasper and Joan about clothes, shoes, whatever you need. We have three meals a day at the food truck. Just watch for the crowd.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Maggie whispered.

“Nothing to say. Just know you and the girls are safe.” Matt rose and cleared his throat. “I’ve got things to do.” He crossed the room and stepped out into the morning sunshine. The bodies had been removed. Jenkins and two men guarded the two young men now seated on the ground in front of the women’s camper.

Jenkins turned around and slammed his fist against the door. “Get out here now.”

The four women came outside looking even more browbeaten then before. Finally, a crone with tightly bound gray hair at the back of her head looked up.

“What are you going to do with my sons?”

“The six of you stood by and watched while those men murdered people and raped children. Maggie said none of you took part, so I’m inclined to let you live.” All six faces brightened until Matt continued. “But not here.”

“But we…” The woman began.

Matt interrupted. “You will be given ten gallons of gas in the bus. It has enough food and water loaded for three days. You will be driven away from here, and when my men leave, you can go any direction you want but do not come back here. We will give you no weapons, you can learn to fend for yourself or not. Frankly, I don’t care.”

“But…”

“No buts.” Matt continued. “You’ll be alive when we leave you. The rest is up to you.” You have ten minutes to get whatever you want to take from the camper. Limit it to what you can carry out in one trip. No food. Only clothes.” Matt turned to Jenkins when the preacher’s women had been dismissed. “Take three men and one of the trucks with the extended cab. Make sure the bus has what I promised. Put ten gallons of gas in the tank. That’s all. No maps, no guns. Blindfold them and leave them as far from here as you dare. If you can, do a little backtracking and make a few circles so they can’t stumble back here by dark. Before you leave them, loosen the rope on the old women. She can untie the rest when she works her way lose.”

“I got a place in mind. It’s on the far side of Kerrville.” Jenkins answered. “Might be a little hairy getting there and back, but they won’t be coming back.”

“Better sit down for this,” Matt suggested before he relayed what he had found at the preacher’s trailer. “I got the men under guard and zip-tied to the flagpole. The old women are in the camper under guard. The victims, four girls and a woman, are in the two bedroom camper next to your camper.”

“What are you going to do with the men?” Doc asked.

“Billings is a rapist, and Roy killed people.” Matt ran his hand through his hair. “I won’t let that stand without being punished. The women and the sons, well, they were party to the whole thing in one way or another so they can’t stay here.”

“I’m glad you see that,” Helen added.

“Young man, you and your friends have some decisions to make. In the meantime, we’re not as young as we used to be and delivering a baby is hard work.” He turned to his wife. “Coming, dear? Let’s go to our new home and bed down for the night.”

Helen picked up a bag and followed Doc out the door. “I’ll check on the new folks.”

Larry appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “I think we need to get the rest of the campers from the campsite where we found the others. We don’t want anyone to settle down anywhere near us.”

“And we can use the extra room,” Matt added. “If we’re going to stay here, we need a way to give folks a little room to spread out.”

“You think it’ll be long term?” Larry asked.

Matt nodded. “You know what it’s like out there. We’ve got a secure place. We sure can’t load up all those kids and trek across the country to a place we don’t know can even support us. How big can a hunting camp be?”

“What about the girls. We promised to take them to their grandfather.”

Matt sighed. “I know. Believe me, that weighs heavy as well.”

“Maybe in a couple weeks. If we can get the camp stable, then Jenkins can take over for a few days, we get the kids north and then come back.” Larry suggested.

Matt sighed. “I’m beat. Let’s get some sleep then we question those women and figure out what to do about the wives and the sons.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Larry crossed the room to a stack of sleeping bags and dug one out to spread out on the floor. He took off his gun belt and laid it next to him as he settled into the far corner.

Matt watched his buddy for a couple minutes then did the same. He woke once in the night to the sound of the newborn crying. He smiled at the sound, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Dawn came with the sound of gunshots. Matt bolted upright. Larry rolled over and jumped to his feet with a gun in hand.

“What the fuck is going on?” Asked Larry.

“How would I know! Let’s get out there.” Matt answered as he strapped on his gun belt. Jake appeared at the door, and he ordered. “Stay here. Protect the kids and Amanda until we know what’s going on.”

Jake nodded and pulled his side arm and checked the load. “Got it.”

Matt walked out of the camper with Mary clinging to his hand. “He nodded at Lawson the only female soldier present. “Take Mary and the three girls to the Rec Center.”

Within the group of women, the younger woman gasped in panic. “Where are you taking my daughter?” An older woman elbowed her.

Matt glared at the crone and growled. “Do that again, and I’ll shoot you.” He turned back to the younger women and added “They’ll be all right. We need to figure out what’s gone on here.”

While the older women cowered, the younger stepped around the group and announced. “I can tell you what’s going on. That bastard is a fucking rapist!”

Matt held up his hand. “I figured that out. Could you tell me your name before we get started?”

“Maggie Sanders. That fat bastard shot my husband and the other men in our camp after they killed the infected that invaded the camp. Billings raped me.”

Billings snorted. “She was doing her wifely duty.”

“I’m not his wife. He forced me into that sham of marriage.” Maggie retorted.

Matt glared at Billings. “I know you’re a rapist. That’s already been established when I saw what you did to Mary.”

“The child is my celestial wife, just like Sister Maggie. You have no business interfering with a blessed union.” Billings argued.

Jenkins kicked out and knocked Billings to the ground, and he pressed the barrel of his handgun to the preacher’s head. “You’re a fucking child molester! We don’t need to investigate this jerkoff.”

“Agreed.” Matt said. “Zip-tie these four to the flag pole.” He ordered, then turned back to Maggie. “What’s the story with those four?” He nodded toward the sour looking women huddled together a few feet away.”

“Two of them belong to Roy. The other two are Billings’ wives.” She looked back to where Jenkins and one of his men were putting zip-ties on the men. “The boys are Roy’s sons. Both of them are dumb as posts, but they do whatever Billing’s orders.”

Matt turned to Jenkins. “I want a guard on those idiots until I decide what to do with them. Put those four women back in that last camper with a guard.” He turned to Maggie. “Is it alright if you and the girls stay in the two bedroom camper?”

“Sure.” She answered. “That bastard took my husband’s guns. I want them back.”

“Tomorrow we’ll clean out that boar’s nest and get your weapons.”

“Fine. We need clothes. I won’t wear these rags a minute longer.” She announced.

“We can probably take care of that. You and the girls may end up in t-shirts and cargo pants or shorts, but they’ll be clean and functional.”

Matt led Maggie to the Rec Center. There, they walk in to see Lawson with the girls. It looked as if all had showered and now wore soccer shorts and t-shirts. Mary sat in front of Lawson. She was working a brush through Mary’s tangled hair.

“Are you girls alright?” Maggie put her arms around two of the girls.

“Fine.” One of the girls answered. The other stood silently just watching Lawson.

Maggie held out her arms, and all the girls stepped to her side. She pulled them close. “We’re free now. Those people can’t hurt us anymore.” Both girls turned and cried against their mother.

“Mary, you and Sarah are part of our family now if you want to be.” Maggie studied Mary and the small girl sitting next to her.

Mary nodded. “We would like that if the old wives aren’t going to be there.”

Maggie laughed. “No, they are NOT going to be anywhere around us, I promise you. We’re free of those people.”

Lawson handed Maggie a stack of clothes and pointed at a door. “Right in there, in the back is the shower. I keep a bottle of conditioner in the last shower on the windowsill.”

Maggie nodded and disappeared into the showers. When she reappeared, the four girls were still sitting with Lawson. All four girls had freshly brushed and combed hire. Lawson was telling a tale of Matt falling in horse poop, and the girls were laughing.

Despite being the butt of the joke, Matt looked up and smiled at Maggie. “If you’re ready, I’ll lead you to your new home.”

Maggie nodded and together with girls, Matt led them to an empty camper and carried a small camp lantern inside. They walked through the camper examining the two little bedrooms. “This is fine. My daughters and I can sleep in the back bedroom. Mary and Sarah can share the second bedroom. We’ll be all right, won’t we girls?” She leaned down and gathered the four girls into her arms.

“If you need anything, just ask a soldier.” Matt turned and walked outside closing the door behind himself.

Jenkins and Larry appeared out of the shadows. “What in the hell are we going to do with the rest of them?” Larry asked.

“Billings is a rapist, and Roy is a killer. I’m not turning them loose to do this again. The others, well, they can’t stay.” Matt answered.

Matt returned to the manager’s office to the sounds of a new baby’s cry.

Amy met him at the door. “It’s a boy! Mr. Matt.” She squealed excitedly.

“A boy? Well, ain’t that sweet.” Matt smiled as he collapsed into the recliner.

Heavy steps descended the stairs and Doc with Helen at his side appeared. “Well, we have a new member of our merry little band. A strong little guy nearly nine pounds would be my guess.”

Matt chuckled. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Doc leaned close. “If I might ask, Jake acts like the father, but the child is not biracial. Is there a story here?”

“Amanda was in that busload of folks we rescued from the roadside park three months ago. Jenkin’s crew was in the same operation. Jake’s been acting like a nervous father the last month or so.” Matt sighed. “I thought she was just being nice, but I guess that wasn’t quite the case.”

“She sure doesn’t look like she minds the attention to me,” Doc answered. “It sounded like there was some excitement outside.”

Captives – Part 2

Posted: July 1, 2017 in 22 Captives - Part 2

Brian looked at his watch and cringed. He had been hoping the party would continue to cover the sound of the truck’s return in the quiet of the night. He watched as one after another retrieved bed-rolls then began bedding down. The fire waned and became little more than a red glow of coals. He checked his watch again and realized it had been almost forty minutes. He heard a snap of a branch in the distance and turned to see five shadows making their way toward his hiding place. “Damn!” He cursed under his breath.

He eased back into the shadows and waited. Each of the figures approaching clutched weapons. Real quickly he recognized Leon, Juan, and Billy. Then he saw the two women following a few feet behind the three men.

“Crap.” He whispered as he slipped out of the shadows and duck-walked back down the side of the road to meet the five members of his group at the base of the hill. When he met them, he realized each carried a bladed weapon and a gun.

“We brought both vehicles. They’re parked a quarter mile down the road. The girls didn’t want to be left alone, and after a discussion, we decided it was better to stay together.”

“This is not a fucking democracy!” Brian declared. He took a deep breath through his nose and exhaled through his parted lips. Finally, he spoke again. “Alright, you’re all here, so all the dry-firing is going to pay off or not. We have a dozen bad guys. We have to make sure to take them all out to save the two captives.”

The two women stood staring at him while gasping for breath after running from the vehicles.

“I need to get in shape.” Margo quipped.

“What are you two doing here?” Brian demanded.

“My fault. Leon told us what happened. Those women are going to be scared. We can help.” Margo answered.

“Besides, what if you aren’t successful? If you fail, we’re left to fend for ourselves. We need to help just to protect ourselves.”

“We loaded up the rest of our supplies and brought both vehicles,” Juan announced. “Just in case.”

“Well, that was a vote of confidence.” Admitting defeat, Brian held up his hands, palms out. “When the shooting starts, I’ll take out the guard. You get to the girls. The keys for the chain are in the shirt pocket of the guard. Get them and head back this way. If you see anyone besides one of us coming over the hill, get in the truck and leave. You have the map. Dump the big truck as soon as you can and keep going. Don’t come back because we’ll be dead. Get as far away from here as you can.”

Margo gave a quick nod then she and Paula stepped aside.

“Okay boss. What’s the plan?” Leon asked.

Brian outlined his plan. “We got twelve men, four are on guard duty. We each take care of a guard and take their place. I’ll hunker down from the little rise over there and take out as many as I can with the silenced rifle. Soon as the closest guards are taken out, Margo and Paula gets the girls and, take them out of here. I only have half a dozen shells, so we take out the rest by hand. No guns if we can help it.”

Leon leaned close. “Stab them?”

“Use the knife.” Brian pointed to his back at the kidney. “The pain will keep them from calling out giving you time to grab their head and slit their throat.”

“Shit!” Juan whispered.

Brian looked to Billy then studied each Leon and Juan. “If you can’t do this, we walk away. Billy and I can’t do this by ourselves.”

“No.” Leon looked at Juan, and he nodded. “We can do it, boss.”

Captives – Part 1

Posted: June 24, 2017 in 22 Captives - Part 1

“What are we going to do?” Leon whispered.

Brian stepped back pulling Leon with him as he replied. “We can’t do anything right now.”

“What?” Leon queried. “You can’t be serious. You know what’ll happen to those two girls.”

Brian eased back down the hill. When he was out of sight of the mayhem beyond he jogged toward the truck with Leon close on his heels. At the truck, he pulled a sniper rifle, a combat knife and extra magazines from behind the seat.

“We can’t save everyone, but I’m not willing to abandon those two. Take the truck back and get Billy and Juan. Gear up and get back here as fast as you can. Park down the road about a quarter mile and make your way to the place where we were.”

Leon jumped into the truck and cranked the engine. Brian leaned close. “Don’t use the lights or race the engine until you’re out of earshot. I don’t want them hearing the truck. You got an hour. I’ll keep an eye on them and meet me here. Tell the women to be in the van ready to head out, just in case.”

“Got it.” Leon shoved the truck in gear and pulled out onto the broken asphalt and quickly disappeared.

Brian carried his personal arsenal to the crest of the hill to watch the camp when the two women were led to a truck where they were chained to a bumper. Brian watched the man with the key and noted he spread out a sleeping bag and settled down for the night not far from the girls.

The felonious crew passed around two more bottles and a second man had found in a truck. They scrounged food and laced metal cups of coffee as they sat around the fire. The drinkers grew steadily louder. The celebrating would soon obscure any distant rumble of the returning truck. It would all depend on how long the boss let the party continued.

Brian ignored the mosquitos buzzing and lighting on his bare skin as he slowly screwed the silencer on the end of his rifle. He hadn’t done any serious distance shooting other than at the range in a really long time. He hoped he was up to the task if the need arose. He watched the celebration spin up into a full blown party.

The men toasted each other for a well-executed ambush, and the plethora of supplies gathered from the victims including the women. As the salutes grew more raucous, one of the men approached the women rubbing at the front of his jeans. The guard jerked upright and growled curses while pointing a gun in the man’s direction. The would-be abuser crept back to his friends amid a myriad of laughter.

Brian slowly released his breath as he watched one of the men shove his way through the celebrating group breaking up the party. He talked to four people, and they headed off to stand in the shadows at the edge of the camp. The drinking suddenly slowed, and the party began to wind down.

Penny bounced on the back seat while she called out to Zack. “We go? We take horsy?”

Steve laughed. “We go.” He slapped Zack on the back and chuckled at the uncomfortable look on the kid’s face. “Remember, slow and easy taking off, and it will take longer to stop with the extra weight.”

Zack shifted in the seat with a bit of discomfort. “Got it.”

The drive down the access road was a bit hairy, but once they pulled on the blacktop the morning wore on pretty uneventful as they drove down State Road 505 toward US 90 West. The rough hill country terrain had disappeared shortly after they left the cabin and trees grew more stunted, and patches of bare earth turned into even more arid land. The straight arrow road disappeared into the distance. Mountains gradually appeared through the haze in the distance.

Zack pressed his foot on the gas, but Steve interrupted. “Keep it around forty. Remember about stopping.”

“Valentine Texas? I saw a special on television about that town. It’s famous. The post office receives thousands of cards every year so they can be sent from Valentines all over the country.” Darlene announced.

Della laughed. There was a movie called “Dancer, Texas” filmed there in the nineties.”

“And that’s important why?” Steve turned and asked.

Della poked him with the tip of a slender finger. “It was a cute movie. I wonder if the eighty or ninety people who lived here are alive.”

Steve sighed. “I guess we’ll know soon enough. It’s not much more than five miles ahead. Then we pass Lobo. Then hopefully, a clear shot to the mountains.”

“There’s a Prada store there.” Della laughed. “I saw it on a Sunday morning program, Prada Marfa was erected as a work of art. It has shoes and stuff from a Prada collection.”

“For sale?” Darlene asked. “Can we stop?”

Della shrugged. “No. It never opened. Supposedly, it’s an earth-friendly building that will decay and fall into ruin along with the shoes and purses. I doubt anything there will be worth our time.”

Steve chuckled. “Not many places to wear high heels now.”

Darlene sighed. I could have tried on a pair of Prada shoes.”

Zack interrupted the conversation when he stepped on the breaks. “There’s your Prada store, but where’s the rest of the town?”

Zack slipped the truck into gear and stepped on the accelerator. The truck pulled away from the cabin as his eyes filled. “We could make her come.” He whispered.

“It was her decision. She only has a few days of medication left.” Steve answered.

“What if someone comes?” Darlene argued.

“She has a gun,” Steve answered.

“She can barely see. How can she protect herself?”

“Not why I gave it to her,” Steve answered with a catch in his voice. “Enough. Drop it.”

Darlene flopped back in the seat more than a little angry while Della remained quiet. Her words had failed to dissuade her when Millie announced her intent of staying behind when they left. Despite Della cussing and discussing the decision over and over again for the last two days, Della knew she could say nothing that would change Millie’s mind. In the end, Millie turned away and refuse to even discuss it.

Zack followed the narrow trail back to the shed and corral. The horses milled around the gate, anticipating their daily allotment of hay. Zack stopped the truck, and Della jumped out of the back seat door anxious to be out of the cab and the sadness of sniffles and tears. She hurried to the trailer and stood next to the hitch on the trailer with her arm above the connection.

“Can you do this?” Steve asked with a raised brow.

“Hope so,” Zack answered.

He slipped the truck into reverse, and it moved toward the trailer. Della began to point to the right. When Zack seem to ignore her guidance, she made a more frantic pointing motion and yelling, “Right! Go to the right!”

Steve turned and could see he was missing the hitch. “Hold up a minute.” Zack kept moving, and Steve shouted. “Stop!” Zack stopped, jerking everyone against the seat belts. Steve leaned forward. “Let’s try this again, but this time, you do what I say. Let’s do this slow and easy, okay?”

“Alright.” Zack pulled the truck forward, stopped and put the truck in reverse.

“Straighten the wheel before you start moving, then just do as I say,” Steve spoke calmly.

After three long minutes of left then right and back again, the trailer was connected, and Zack pulled the trailer from the barn. “Damn. That’ a lot longer than I thought it would be.” He stopped when he got well past the gate and again slipped the truck into reverse.

“This is a little different,” Steve instructed. “You turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go. It seems crazy, but that’s how you do it backing up a trailer. Now, straighten the wheel and get a clean start.”

Zack took his foot off the break and with a few adjustments, the trailer rolled toward the gate.

“Wheel to the right,” Steve instructed. “Ease off the gas. Slightly to the left.” A moment later he announced. “That’s it. Stop.”

Zack jerked stepped on the break with a sigh of relief. “Shit. I would have never gotten that done by myself.”

Darlene and Penny climbed out of the cab to watch all the activity fro the side of the corral. Della and Zack walked inside the pen closing the gate behind them and bridled each of the horses. Once they were each tied to the fence, Zack led them, one by one, into the trailer and tied them in place. The whole process took nearly an hour. When Zack was done, he got back in the cab with a sigh of relief while Darlene, Penny, and Della climbed into the back seat.

Randy reached out, but Harry turned away. “Lead out.”

Randy turned to the other. “You three come along, but be quiet.”

Meanwhile, three women had appeared on the front porch. The younger woman rushed down the step to begin examining Liz. “Is she bit?” She asked.

“No,” Harry growled. “She’s pregnant. We had an accident a few days ago.”

Randy pushed his way past her to reach for Liz. “It’s Liz. Will’s daughter.”

Wilma reached toward John and the kids. “Let’s let them take care of Liz. If you come with me, we’ll get you cleared and a snack, okay.”

John looked at her and scowled. “We ain’t bit.”

Wilma held up her hand to let Randy, Harry and Cassie disappeared into the building. Just then two men, both Hispanic and wearing sidearms appeared from behind the building. “I’m sure that’s true, but we have a process and everyone, and I mean everyone who walks in this door gets inspected. You can relax and make it easy for everyone or….” She let her voice trail off then continued while giving John a big smile. “My friends will assist either way.”

John sighed. “Fine. But ain’t no man checkin’ HER out.”

“Of course not.” Wilma led them into the main room of the lodge.

All three of the newcomers looked around in awe. Their footsteps slowed as they took in the massive room with two fireplaces, and an open stairway to a second story.

“Quite a little hiddy hole,” John turned to Cody and whispered. “Not what I expected for sure.”

Wilma led them to a hallway and to a side door across from a first aid station where voices spoke in hushed whispers. “This way, please. Mr. Edmond’s daughter is in good hands. Our doctor is my little girl.”

At the next doorway, Wilma pointed inside and stepped back. “You and the boy can go in there. Jose will give you a quick once-over then you are free to wander around. Maria is gathering drinks and snacks.”

The men disappeared into the room, and the door closed. The second man stopped outside the door.

She turned to the preteen girl. “Hi, my name is Wilma. What’s your name?” Trace answered then Wilma continued. “We’ll go in here then make sure you have no bites or sores that need to be treated.”

They stepped inside, Wilma completed her inspection then helped the young girl right herself, and they stepped outside chatting like old friends. John and Cody stepped out of the room.

“Now, you folks are probably hungry. If you go to the dining room to the left of the stairs, Maria and a couple ladies will bring out refreshments in no time. Dinner won’t be for a couple hours and Jose, and I have some people to clear.”

John and the kids headed off to where they were directed while Wilma stuck her head in the exam room where Randy and Harry stood aside while Cassie inserted a needle into Liz’s arm.

“You two can’t do anything more. Randy, I think we need to get inspections done then figure out what we’re doing with all these folks. Will won’t be back until dark, so it’s left up to you.”

“I want that ultrasound you snagged at the vet office, too,” Cassie added.

“Right.” He looked to Harry. “Come on, Harry. We get folks checked out then settled in.”

The caravan headed for a metal structure that appeared in the middle of an open expanse between the edge of the forest and a distant camp. The road angled toward the structure, and a ravine that ran the full width of the canyon entrance became more evident.

“Well, that’s a hell of a ditch,” Harry commented. “It looks like someone went to a lot of trouble.”

John pointed toward the left canyon wall. “It looks like there was a natural arroyo part way across the entrance of the canyon. They used heavy equipment to extend the trench all the way across before laying out that razor wire on the far side. It’s good to see the old man used the natural terrain to fortify the compound. Now it looks like only one way across the arroyo, that metal bridge.”

Randy’s truck pulled up across from a guard shack and waved. A man appeared at the gateway, gave a wave, and headed for a nearby metal structure and raised bridge.

“It looks like there’s a metal bridge of some kind,” Harry commented.

With the angle of the approach to the rock-strewn landscape, Harry and John could watch the guard reach out and turn a huge metal wheel at the side of the metal support structure. As the wheel turned, chains at the top of a tall metal structure extended and a skeletal platform began to lower toward the abyss of the gap.

“Fucking drawbridge?” Johan asked.

“Looks like it,” Harry answered.

Randy headed down the length of the caravan. When he got to the camper, Harry opened the side window. “Follow the rest and park the vehicle in front of the big building. We have a procedure in place to ensure we’re not bringing infected into the compound. Just stay inside the vehicle, until we get to you.”

“No problem.” Harry nodded. “A few more minutes is not going to kill any of us.”

“I’ll be taking Liz in first. Her father would have my hide if I didn’t. Besides, she needs to see the doctor.”

“Agreed.” Harry hesitated then asked. “Is that bridge sturdy enough for this rig?”

“Shouldn’t be a problem. May not take a loaded 18-wheeler, but it’s designed to carry a good size load. We already had the sides reinforced. Just take it slow and keep moving.”

“Now that’s promising.” John laughed.

A few minutes later the caravan pulled up in front of the Lodge. Harry got out from behind the wheel and walked toward the back of the camper. “You kids sit tight for now.”

“Yes, sir,” Cody answered.

When he got to the back bedroom, Harry used his knuckle against the door frame. Liz lay still. Harry whispered. “Lizzy? Lizzy, girl you’re home.”

She lay still. Harry walked to the side of the bed ready to jostle her awake, but when he saw her face, he stopped still. Liz’s face was flushed and glistened with moisture.

Harry reached down to lay his hand on her shoulder. He shook gently. “Lizzy, wake up now. You’re scaring me.” Liz lay still.

“John, holler at Randy. Liz is unconscious. We need to get her inside right now.”

Harry slid an arm under Liz’s shoulders and then behind her knees. He grunted and struggled to his feet. John rushed into the bedroom just as Harry turned to walk out. “She doesn’t weigh hardly nothing,” Harry complained as he sidestepped through the door and made his way to the side door. “We should have noticed how much weight she’s lost.”

“John followed behind Harry. “We have been a little busy if you’ll recall. You were gimpy, and I had a busted rib or two.”

“We let her take care of us like we were a pair of geriatrics.” Harry lamented as he stepped aside to let John open the side door. Harry stepped out with John, the kids, and dog close on his heels. The dog ran in circles, while the kids danced around excitedly.

Randy appeared. “What the hell are you doing? I told you….” He turned toward the kids. “Quiet!”

“She’s unconscious. You said you have a doctor.” Harry demanded. “She needs to see him now.”

Harry watched Randy slow as they crested a hill. “Guess this is the place. He mentioned stopping and picking up a few more people.”

“Looking like more than just a few. Four vehicles included two large extended-cab pickups with trailers, a suburban and SUV.” John shrugged.

Harry glanced up at Cody in the rearview mirror. “Has she moved?”

Cody moved his head from left to right. “No, sir. She’s still sleeping. My sister is sitting with her, sir.”

John turned to Harry. “I told you, I checked her. Looks like she’s sleeping.”

“She ain’t been right since the ambush. I’ve seen her favoring her side when she thought no one was looking. I hope her ol’ man’s place isn’t far.” Harry answered.

“Randy’s motioning the trucks to move out. Hold back. Looks like we’ve got four more vehicles coming with us.”

Harry pulled to the side to allow Pablo to pull up next to the camper. Harry gave a careless wave. “Picking up a few friends.”

Pablo laughed. “Sí. Y cabras, goats.”

John chuckled. “Makes sense. Goats can live on limited forage and can provide meat and milk. Smart.”

“What we’re attacked or someone tries to follow us?” Hugo asked.

Pablo shrugged. “Señor Randy say we shot them.”

Hugo shrugged. “Sí.”

Pablo nodded toward the last vehicle as it pulled onto the highway. “Señor?”

“Yeah. Got it.” Harry slid the camper into gear and pulled the camper out to follow the last vehicle.

Harry followed the trailer for another ten miles then saw Randy lead the caravan into a turn. When Harry got to the turnoff, he guided the camper across a cattle guard onto what looked like a fire road. It was a gravel trail that was little more than a cattle path. He glanced at the side mirror and saw Pablo pull across the ground gate and stopped.Hugo stepped out of the truck and stepped into the brush and pulled several dried branches from the roadside. He shoved several tree-looking pieces of the brush into the cattle guard. Once that was done, he used two more lengths of the brush to obscure the tracks of the vehicles that had just passed. He tied a rope on each limb and tied the end of the line to the back of the truck. He hurried back to the cab and the truck followed.

The caravan spent another two hours winding through scrub oaks, rock formations and a terrain that got steadily more rugged. Canyon walls gradually grew up from the rough landscape in the distance. Soon, the vehicles were swallowed by the wilds of Guadalupe National Park.

Harry growled as the camper bucked and rolled at yet another dry gully crossing. “Damned road sucks. I wonder how much longer.”

John pointed at a building in the distance.  It was not what he had expected. As they drew closer, he could see a large log structure on a distant hill. The lodge was a two story log structures with a metal roof of forest green. Additional buildings could be seen through the stands of trees. On either side of the trees in the distance could be seen the towering faces of the canyon.

“So this is it. Pine Springs.” John whispered.