Archive for April, 2015

River Rats

Posted: April 26, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
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Liz pulled herself to her feet and ran. She could hear the infected getting closer. They were stumbling down the embankment all around her. She heard moaning and faltering steps following her, but she was focused on escaping the infected in front of her. She didn’t have time to look over her shoulder.

Tears slid down her face as she dodged around outstretched arms. She prayed sending her girls through the fence would keep them safe. With her they had no chance, they would have died. She could only pray Amy would find a safe place to hide.

“Run Amy” She called out. “Hide! I WILL find you!”

Twenty minutes later, Liz was exhausted and could barely stay ahead of the infected still following her. She had no choice but to keep running away from her daughters if she wanted to survive. Even though she was leading a growing crowd of infected away from her daughters, she was also moving farther and farther away from them herself.

Her sides ached, her breath grated in her throat, but she kept moving and dodging around the blood-covered, creatures. Their reaction to her passing was slow and confused. By the time the infected grabbed for her, she was out of their reach. She just had to keep moving and not let them close in around her.

Liz’s mind fought to make sense of the horror movie come to life. What could cause people to turn on each other and tear flesh from their victims? Liz was terrified for her husband and daughters. She prayed they would stay safe.

She passed three vehicles and noticed a van parked at the side of the street with a side door open. She had outpaced the closest infected and dodged around the stalled cars. She duck-walked around the car nearest the van keeping low enough the infected could not see her. She eased up to the van and peeked inside. When she saw no movement, she slipped inside and slowly slid the door closed as quietly as she could.

The van smelled of insecticides and chemicals. The smell was so overpowering she had to fight gaging. She looked around and noticed one of the sprayers had been tipped over and chemicals had spilled on the floor of the van. She righted the sprayer and used a rag to mop up the liquid and dropped the cloth out the window. With the chemical smell saturating her sinuses, she couldn’t tell if it helped much.

She squatted behind the front seat near the open window and balled up a wad of her white sun-dress skirt and covered her mouth and nose. She took shallow breaths while she listened to the infected stumbling past the van still looking for prey.

An hour later, she peeked out the window from behind the seat. She crawled to the back of the van and looked out the back window. She saw nothing moving on the sidewalks or street. She made her way to the front seat and looked over the seat through the windshield. A few of the infected stood before a door half a block away but otherwise the street was clear. She figured it was as good as it was going to get. It was time to get back to her girls.

Liz slowly slid open the van door glad to finally escape the chemical smell. Her head felt light and her stomach rolled in protest. She stepped out into the night air and took a deep breath to clear her throbbing head but instead was forced to her knees by a gnawing pain in her stomach. She vomited again and again, unable to move.

The insecticide made her violently ill. After several minutes, she had nothing left to throw up and her stomach began to calm. She rose to her feet looking from side to side, ahead and behind. If any of the infected had taken notice, she would be dead.

She took a steadying breath and stepped around the side of the truck and made her way to a darkened doorway. Her heart pounded as she moved out of the shadows and sidestepped along the side of the building to the next doorway. She fought against nausea as she made her way down the block, doorway by doorway, building by building. She came to the first cross street and stopped to catch her breath.

When her pulse steadied from the exertion and the sound of blood pulsing in her ears silenced, she could hear growls and slurping nearby. She imagined a starving animal would make such sounds after a fresh kill. She forced herself to look around the corner and her breath caught.

Three infected soldiers huddled over a body laying a few car-lengths down the street.

She had to get across the juncture without being noticed if she were going to get back to her girls. She cursed under her breath. Her skirt billowed around her as if a white flag of admission of defeat. At least her sandals made little noise on the pavement.

Liz gathered the unruly skirt in her fist and took slow deliberate steps to cross the intersection. All the while, she watched the feeding trio. Every breath she took was slow and deliberate for fear the infected would hear.

She spent the next three hours working her way down one street to the next, detouring around a gathering only to return to the path again. One detour was several blocks out of the way because the surrounding infected were all heading toward the street in front of a balcony where a man sat on a deck chair, gulping Jack Daniels and hurling curses and bottles at the assemblage below.

Despite the detours, she was steadily making her way back to the small strip center where she hoped her girls were hidden.

Just thinking of the monsters with their hands on her children made her tremble with fear. Liz’s breath caught. They had to be alive. They had to be safe.

She came to the corner of the fence surrounding the retail buildings at the side of the freeway. She saw the brown UPS truck in the distance and realized she was within blocks of where she had put the girls through the wire fencing behind the buildings.

When she looked from the alley to the freeway above the shopping center, dozens of infected milled around the cars. She looked back to the street and saw even more of the creatures in front of the row of buildings. She would have to make her way past a herd of monsters to get to her daughters.

She crouched low and hurried to the end of the block where she used an outstretched hand to catch the corner post of the hurricane fencing. Being so close, all Liz could think about was getting to the girls. She stepped around the corner. So close…so close.

She stopped at the side of the building, ready to slip across the open street to the next building. She peeked around the brick corner and her breath caught. Two infected men were on the street stumbling in her general direction. She stepped back into the shadows and watched as they stopped and milled around near a body lying on the street.

The monsters tilted their heads upwards.  Liz could hear them snuffle at the air. They sniffed left then right then back in her direction again. She realized they could smell her and began to slink back deeper into from the street when a sudden scream in the distance distracted the dead focused on her.

The monsters turned and headed toward a side street where the moans and growls of several infected announced they had spotted prey. The two monsters disappeared into a side street to join their brethren.

Liz hurried toward the neon sign at the end of the next block. She was so close. Yet she felt the distance between her and her girls was still so far with even more infected ahead in the middle of the street. She stopped and looked around the corner of a doorway.

She groaned in frustration. The street was chaos, cluttered with cars and wandering infected attacking anything that still moved. Doors hung open on some of the vehicles while windows were shattered on others. Writhing torn bodies remained belted in their seats.

In the street, the infected clustered around the body of a living person, pulling and gnawing their flesh, exposing white glistening bones covered in gore. Their final screams of terror mingled with the sound of deep-throated moans made by the undead.  More sounds of terror emanated from inside a building down the street.

Liz eased away from the corner and tip-toed her way to the side of a parked car keeping it between her and the meandering infected wandering the streets. She slowly raised her head over the hood of the SUV and saw half a dozen infected heading in her direction as if they knew she was there. Her breath caught as she looked over her shoulder. More and more of the infected were moving down the street in her direction. She ducked behind an open car door and peeked over the window. She reached into the car looking for a weapon. She grabbed a heavy flashlight lying at the side of the driver’s seat.

Suddenly two men bolted from a nearby building. Still looking over his shoulder at his pursuers, the leader almost crashed into the back of an infected woman. Both men skidded to a stop and turned toward Liz. She saw the terror on their faces as the closest man changed direction and ran toward the alley across the street. The second man followed suit.

The infected in the vicinity turned at the commotion. The leader slammed his fist into the face of the nearest infected. It was a bone-shattering blow. When he pulled his hand away it was covered in dark blood and gore. The strike left the infected with one eye dangling and bones caved in around the eye socket. The creature still reached out and grabbed the retreating arm.

Before the man realized it, the monster was taking its first bite. The man screamed in pain as two more attackers fell upon him. Staring at the attack on his companion, the second man crab-crawled backwards into the arms of three more infected. His screams filled the night.

“God.” Liz whispered as she fought the bile building at the back of her throat. Suddenly she could hold it no more. She retched and bile spilled onto the ground. How could she survive this? How could her children survive?

Still crouching behind the SUV, Liz jumped at the sound of a muffled moan behind her. She straightened up ready to jump to her feet and run, but a cold hand grabbed her shoulder holding her in place. She opened her mouth to scream, but her voice failed.

Frozen in fear, she waited for the pain of the monster’s teeth tearing into her flesh when suddenly she was drenched in cold sticky goo. She jerked away from the cold hand only to be grabbed again from behind.

A thick arm circled her waist as a meaty hand covered her mouth. She was pulled away from the prone infected on the sidewalk while a deep voice ordered. “Be quiet if you want to live!”

The arm around her pulled Liz from the sidewalk into the dark recess of a cave-like entrance. Her feet left the concrete sidewalk and scraped across wood planking. Once inside, a heavy wooden door closed quietly across the opening and a bolt slid into place.

She mumbled curses and orders to let her go while clawing at the hand covering her mouth. She kicked out, but the soft sandals made little impact against the heavy boots of her captor.

The man whispered into her ear. “I’ll move my hand, but you have to be quiet. Okay?”

Desperate to be free, she made a quick nod.

The arm around her waist and the hand covering her mouth fell away and she was free. Her freedom came so quickly she fell to the floor with the loss of support.

“Sorry lady, I couldn’t take a chance you’d scream and bring the rest of the crazies down on us.” The deep voice apologized. He reached out to help her to her feet.

Liz drew a deep breath into her lungs and looked up at the bear of a man in front of her. She accepted the calloused hand and he pulled her to her feet.

As soon as was she standing, she pulled away to get a good look at her savior and his two companions.

As her eyes adjusted to the dark, relief faded. She had been saved by a trio of rough looking bikers. From the frying pan to the fire, she thought.

Her rescuer had hair long enough to tie at the back of his neck with a length of leather. He was a big man well over six foot with the lower half of his face covered in a thick, dark brown and gray beard.

She felt diminutive when he leaned toward her. Between the mustache and beard, a gentle smiled separated the unruly facial hair. His eyes mirrored his smile.

“You okay, lady?” He asked.

“You killed him,” Liz whispered as she looked down at her sundress covered in gore and her own vomit. She couldn’t tell which smelled worse.

“Yeah. They would’ve torn you apart if I hadn’t got you outta there.” He answered.

She began to tremble. “Thank you.” Slowly, Liz looked around. “My name is Liz Jameson.” She turned to the door. “But I have to leave now. I need to find my children. I put them through the fence behind a bar down the street and left them. I told my daughter to find a place to hide and stay until I came for them.”

“You can’t go back out there now.” A second voice stepped to her left and placed a hand on the door. “The town is overrun with those dead fucks.” He laughed hoarsely. “It’s a fucking Zombie Fest.” The man folded his arms over his chest.

“My name is Harry.” The bearded man stuck out his hand. “Harry Walters and this puny fella next to me is David Simon and that’s John Tilman. Look, I understand what you’re saying, but you can’t go out right now.”

“I hate to tell you this, but if they’re out there, they’re probably dead already.” John commented with a scowl.

“No!” Liz gasped.

Harry stepped up and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll figure something out in a little bit. If you die, you can’t help your young’uns.” When she didn’t answer, he let his arm drop and led Liz to a door marked private. “Let’s find you some clothes. You’re covered in Zombie shit and smell like puke.”

He turns to his companions. “Dave, watch the door and John, you stock up the bikes in case we have to leave in a hurry.”

Liz allowed herself to be led away unsure of what else to do. The blood from the infected was beginning to get tacky and dank on her skin. Not good, Liz thought. It smelled foul and toxic.

She looked around the room and realized they were in a run-down sports bar of some kind. The center of the back wall included a display of bottles behind a chipped and scarred bar-top. To the left of the alcohol display was a gas grill, a toaster, and chest freezer. On the opposite side sat two glass-fronted refrigerators sporting a collection of bottled beer, water, and soda. An old style television sat on top of the second refrigerator. At Liz’s raised brow, Harry shrugged.

“It’s a private club, sort of,” Harry commented at Liz’s look. “Don’t look so scared. The three of us are old toothless dogs.” He chuckled.

“Where are we going to find clothes?” Liz asked. “I don’t imagine you keep a collection of women’s clothes lying around.”

“Well, Lizzy, there’s a patio through that side door and it leads to the resale shop next door.”

Liz looked around and found they were leaving the bar and stepping out into an open courtyard. At the far end, a wrought iron gate with a smattering of ivy protected the open space from the street. Three small tables and a half dozen wrought iron chairs were arranged on a concrete patio. One of the tables included remnants of someone’s lunch. In a distant corner, something was covered with a blanket. It looked like a body.

Liz hesitated when she realized it could mean only one thing. “What?”

Harry sighed. “Edith.” He guided Liz toward a second door. “It’s her resale shop we’re going to. She called, said she wasn’t feeling well. We offered to drive her home, but she turned us down so we said we’d check on her later.”

“We kinda forgot about the call since we were watching all this crazy shit on the television and talking about what we’d do if we saw one of those crazies. We heard someone scratching and beating at the patio door.

“John opened the door and she fell into the bar and attacked John. I swear she was trying to eat his face. Anyway, Dave grabbed a crescent wrench on the bar and caved in her skull. After that, we couldn’t decide what to do with the body so we drug her outside and covered her up. Dave was pretty friendly with Edith, living in the apartment upstairs and all.”

Liz glanced at Harry. “I’m sorry. It sounds terrible.”

Harry just shrugged. They crossed the courtyard and Harry took out a set of keys from his pocket and opened a second door. He stepped inside a dark store room and crossed to an open door. He reached inside and a single dim light in a bathroom came on. He pushed the door closed leaving only a narrow beam of light.

Harry nodded toward the front of the store beyond a dark curtain stretched across the room. “We can’t turn on more lights or they’ll notice. When you’re out there, duck down and stay behind the racks. There’s glass across the front and we don’t want one of those crazies to look inside and see us.”

The store was a typical resale or second-hand store. Racks and rows of clothing filled the place. After a quick scan, she realized the children’s clothes were up front and women’s clothes hung on racks to the right of a main walkway.

Harry stood to the side with his arms folded across his chest. “Get a couple sets of whatever you need. There’s a shoe rack on the far side. Myself, I don’t much care for someone else’s toe jam in my shoes, but under the circumstances you can’t be too picky, I guess.”

Liz gave a quick nod and made her way to a rack of jeans. She pulled a pair of size six from the hanger, stepped out of her sandals and into a pair of pants. She decided they would do, buttoned the waist, and left them on. She pulled two more pairs from hangers. After a quick examination, to make sure they weren’t shredded on the legs she draped them over her arm and moved on to a rack of t-shirts.

She glanced over her shoulder toward Harry and saw he was watching the front window. She pulled four dark colored shirts from the rack then headed toward the front of the store where racks of new underwear and socks were displayed. As an afterthought, she grabbed a card of hair bands.

When Liz got close to the front window, she ducked below the checkout counter to make her way to the display. After a quick perusal, she found the right size socks, grabbed two packages from the shelf and retrieved a package of boy’s briefs when she didn’t find anything but frilly scraps of nylon for women. She stooped behind a row of racks displaying purses and bags. She grabbed a backpack from the display.

As she walked away, she stuffed clothes in the bag keeping one shirt out to put on after she got cleaned up. Her last stop was the shoe rack.

She found her size but saw nothing she thought would be practical so she moved down the aisle to the boys shoes. She found a pair of boy’s work boots with a steel toe. She picked up her foot and pressed the boot to the bottom of her bare foot. With a shrug, she settled on a stool and slipped on socks and the boots and tied the laces.

After her four-minute shopping spree, she made her way to the back of the store staying below the racks. She nodded toward the bathroom. “I need a minute?”

Harry shrugged. “Feel free. Try to be quick.”

Liz slipped inside leaving Harry in the dark. She looked in the mirror and realized how much blood covered her neck and shoulder. She jerked up the dress and turned the water on. She grabbed a clean handful of skirt soaked it in water and began scrubbing at the gore still clinging to her skin.  She scrubbed the wet cotton against a white bar of soap and cleaned her skin. When she was satisfied she no longer bore the remnants of carnage, she splashed water on her face then dried with paper towels. She pulled a white wife sleeveless wife-beater undershirt on, then a cotton t-shirt.

She finger combed her shoulder length hair and used one of the hairbands to pull it back from her face. She fought it, but tears glistened in her hazel eyes. Her oval face was void of makeup but still flushed from exertion. Where was Brian? Where were her children? Were they safe? Please God.

“You about ready, Lizzy?” Harry whispered through the door. “The natives are getting restless out front and I don’t like being in here with all that glass.”

“Sure,” Liz answered. She slipped a t-shirt over her head and picked up the backpack. Being small busted made the lack of a bra a non-issue. She squared her shoulders and stepped into the gloom of the darkened store.

“You get everything you need?” Harry asked.

“I need my daughters,” Liz answered.

“I hear what you’re saying, but right now we can’t do anything. “It’s dark,” Harry answered as he locked Edith’s shop. “The streets are crawling with those fucks.”

When they stepped into the bar, Liz could smell cooking meat.

“Hey. Are you two hungry?” John asked from behind the bar. He held up a beer and nodded toward Liz.

Liz sighed. “Water, please.” She dropped the backpack at her feet.

Harry settled on the bar stool next to Liz with a deep sigh. He unbuttoned his sleeves and rolled up the cuff twice. He stared into the mirror behind the bar while he clutched the opened bottle in front of him. Finally, he took a long swig of beer.

“Beer tastes like shit with the smell from outside creeping in here,” Harry complained.

Liz glanced at him then turned back to study the pictures taped to the cracked mirror. She saw images of young soldiers that included Harry and his two companions. Despite the picture being at least 35 years old, she could recognize the three younger versions of the men.

John laughed. “Far as I’m concerned, beer has always tasted like cow piss. Only now you can smell it, too.”

Liz continued her musing while they discussed beer. She imagined the trio was Viet Nam Vets so Harry and his friends had to be at least sixty years plus in age. All three wore jeans, heavy chambray shirts and leather vests with an emblem with a caricature of an angry rat holding a machine gun. The two-word moniker, River Rats, was embroidered in gold and black thread. The angry rodent was surrounded by a medallion edge of bamboo.

Harry chuckled. “So you’ve been drinking a lot of cow piss so you’d know what it tastes like?”

John coughed. “Fuck you. Harry, you’re a disgusting fuck.”

Harry just grinned back and raised a hand with the middle finger extended.

Liz felt the corner of her mouth raise at the good-humored ribbing and continued her assessment. John was a man of medium build with dark hair thinning at the top. His eyes sported a fan of lines at the side and she imagined the hazel color sparkling when he laughed. The laugh lines at the sides of his mouth were hidden by more than a five o’clock shadow hinting at the number of days spent away from home.

Dave was the smallest of the trio. He was a nervous man that seemed to be more distressed by their confinement than the other two men. He would pace from side to side then suddenly stop in front of the door, open the peephole then peered through the opening at the streets beyond. After several minutes of watching, he would close the opening and begin pacing again.

Dave’s dark blonde hair was thinning and looked as if it had not been washed in days. A strong jaw hinted at having been a good looking man at one time, but now his mouth seemed to be in a perpetual frown. When he reached up to smooth back his hair his hand trembled.

Harry glanced over his shoulder. “Dave, come on over and have something to eat. We got a mission.”

Dave glanced toward the peephole in the door then turned back to cross the room to the bar. “Mission?” He mumbled. “Right. Good to go.”

Harry sighed. “When things calm down, we have to help Lizzy here find her kids.”

“It’s almost full dark. Maybe we can get out tonight.” John commented.

Laughing without humor Dave answered. “Haven’t you watched any of those Zombie movies? Those bastards don’t sleep.”

“Enough.” Harry walked to the peephole and looked outside. “If we can’t make it any sooner, we’ll wait until morning. The crazies are chasing anything moving right now. Good chance they’ll wander off when there’s no one to chase.”

Liz sighed. She closed her eyes and prayed softly. “Please God, send angels to watch over and protect my daughters.”

“Amen,” Harry whispered behind her. “We’ll do what we can, Lizzy. I promise.”

The evening was filled with terror. Screams continued to shatter the stillness as the night grew dark. Safe inside the bar, Harry, John and Dave took turns watching through the peephole in the heavy wood door. Liz took comfort in not hearing the scream of a child.

The infected moved up and down the street until they would suddenly congregate in front of a window or door. They would pound and push until the barrier gave way or glass shattered then they would stumble inside. Those who ran for their vehicles were quickly surrounded. They would try to dodge and weave around the bloodied bodies only to be pulled to the ground and devoured. Their terrified screams echoed through the night until they fell silent, time and again.

One such attack happened right in front of the bar door. They hid behind the door, but no one made a move to open it. They knew it would be a fatal mistake. The victim’s screams finally stopped. Liz stood by with tears sliding down her face.

Harry took a deep breath then whispered. “Let’s go upstairs and get some rest. Dave, can we use your place to crash again tonight?”

Dave looked as if he would protest then shrugged and turned toward a side door. “Sure.”

When Liz followed them up the side stairs she realized Dave had lived above the small bar in the apartment for several years. The one bedroom apartment included worn remnants of carpeting and the barest of furnishings. He had a few pieces of living room furniture, a dinette table, and two chairs while the bedroom held a battered dresser and a neatly made double bed. A couple cots and sleeping bags had been stacked in the corner.

Dave offered the bed to Liz, but she insisted she wouldn’t sleep so she could rest on the couch. As it was, none of them got much rest, the rest of the night was filled with the screams of those unfortunate enough to be found by the infected. As soon as it got quiet, another unfortunate soul would be torn from their hiding place and the terrified screams would begin again.

The men took turns watching the street from the second story windows while Liz curled up on the couch to worry if her children were warm and safe. As the night wore on, tears slipped from her eyes until finally exhaustion pulled her into a fitful sleep where she dreamed of Brian.

Her husband’s arms held Liz close. “If anything ever happens, head to your dad’s cabin. The General and I have plenty of supplies stocked up. It’s important you don’t wait for me. Get in the car and get there. I’ll find you.”

Liz sighed. “We can’t leave you.” As she stroked his face.

Brian pulled Liz away. “There’ve been things going on that really scare me, Liz. We live too close to the base for you and the girls to be safe. If I’m not able to protect you and the girls, you have to do like I say and if the base ever declares an emergency you have to leave right away. No question. Go to your dad’s and I’ll know where to find you.”

Liz snuggled into his arms and fell asleep knowing Brian would always be there to protect them.

Matt Monroe slumped on the tattered barstool in front of a battered bar. He knew the cheap booze was clouding his mind, but that was the point. He drank because he wanted to forget. He’d been drinking on a regular basis since he’d returned from Iraq.

It was a country with a hopeless population. Add all the radical jihadists and as far as Matt was concerned the United States government was pissing down a dry hole in the Sand Box, many of the soldier’s term for Iraq. Nothing was ever going to change. People, poverty, and religious extremists made it impossible to live together. They would be killing each other until the end of time. Now the world had terrorists using religion as justification to kill people they didn’t even know.

He pushed away the thought of shattered lives and dead children. His actions were slow and deliberate when he reached for the next glass. He could barely hold his head steady on the fisted hand at his temple. There were nearly a dozen shot glasses lined up in front of him when he reached for the full shot glass.

This particular bar was a shithole frequented by serious drinkers and Matt considered himself a serious drinker. He didn’t care about the decor. Getting drunk could be accomplished in a high-class bar alongside a bunch of suits and cost a lot, or in a dive like the current one with enough money to do it over and over again. Matt chose the latter, hands down.

Since he was six foot four and weighed close to two hundred pounds, it took a lot of alcohol to get him drunk. He ignored the amber liquid splashing his fingers as he drew the glass closer to his lips.

“Hey, buddy.” A voice behind him interrupted as an arm snaked around his shoulder and grabbed the glass from his hand. “You’ve had enough.”

“Fuck off, Larry!” Matt slurred as he reached for the drink Larry had set on the bar to his left.

Before Matt could reach the glass, Larry gave it a shove down the bar. A grizzled old man, four stools down, reached out and snagged the glass and downed its contents in one fluid movement.

“Hey!” Matt protested. “My fuckin’ drink.”

Without responding, the two men behind Matt each grabbed an arm and pulled him off the backless stool.

“Time to get out of here, man!” Larry declared. “Shit’s fixing to hit the fan.”

Matt’s head spun and images swirled around him, ebbing and flowing until finally engulfing him in an opaque haze. His final coherent thought was that the cheap whiskey was finally doing its job.

Oblivion was preferable to the distant screams from his past he could still hear. Those screams even intruded into his thoughts as he slipped into the void, he could hear them again. He could hear the terror and pain filled screams of women and children.

Larry Benson’s companion, Jake Curtis, pulled at Matt’s arm. “How in the fuck are we going to get him out of here? He’s passed out cold. It would serve him right to get eaten by those freaks,” Jake complained as he supported most of Matt’s dead weight.

“Come on, Jake. I got an idea. Back door. Now!” Larry slid under Matt’s arm.

He had been a frequenter of this particular dump and knew the back parking lot was fenced off. That left only the front of the alley to worry about.

“There’s a fence behind this place. I figure we can cut it, escape through the hole and then zip tie it back together.” He began pulling Matt toward the back door.

When the bartender saw them head toward the store room door, he grabbed a bat from under the bar and followed the trio. “Hey! You dick-heads can’t go back there!”

Jake held up a hand, palm out. “It’s okay man, we’re just leaving.”

The bartender raised his bat and ordered. “Use the front door!” He made a move to stop them when a commotion at the front of the club halted his steps. He turned and hurried toward the front door and a fight breaking out.

The trio hit the back door just as the front door burst open and several blood-splattered people stumbled into the bar. The horribly injured people staggered into the darkened recesses of the bar. They stood swaying in place until they noticed two women closest to the door. Together, the bloodied abominations fell on one of the women. Screams and curses erupted as the bartender jumped into the fray. Pandemonium ensued.

Curtis pushed open the store room door with a grunt. He pulled Matt through as Larry glanced over his shoulder to see the infected spilling into the bar in mass. People with blood splattered clothes were stumbling into the bar intent on following the trio.

Larry pushed Matt through the back door then closed it. He leaned against the egress with his backside and dropped a hand to turn a small lock in the doorknob. Across the room, a red sign announced the exit. Jake started pulling Matt toward the metal door.

“Wait! That lock is not going to hold long.” Larry whispered. “We don’t know what’s outside yet.”

He dropped Matt’s arm then slid a full case of liquor in front of the door. Without a word, Jake eased Matt to the floor and slid stacks boxes toward the door where Larry stacked them into an impressive barricade of liquor cases.

With only empty cases left, they retrieved Matt’s arms and carried him to the metal door below the exit sign. Again, Larry stopped and let Jake bear Matt’s full weight.

Larry eased the door open a few inches and looked toward the back of the alley. When he saw no one, he opened the door a bit wider and stuck his head out.

“Good for now.” He commented over his shoulder.

They stepped into the darkened alley with Matt held between them and began heard moans at the back fence.

“We’re fucked,” Jake whispered as he jerked his head toward the front of the alley. Shadows stumbled into the alley entrance.

Both men looked from the front of the alley to the back.  Escape was blocked by a fence with dozens of the dead staring back at them. When they saw the trio, they began pounding on the fence and moaning even louder. The undead at the front of the alley turned and began shambling toward them. More and more joined the crowd at the alley entrance.

“Fuck! Back inside!” Larry whispered.

“No! We’d be trapped.” Jake answered. “We climb to the roof.”

“What about Matt? He’s been a dumb-ass lately, but we can’t leave him.” Larry argued.

“No! Hell no! We put him in the dumpster. We can’t get him up the ladder and the bar is full of those bastards. If we go back inside, we’re trapped.” Jake pulled Matt toward the dumpster. “We’ll seal it and then head up the fire escape. We’ll draw those fucks out of here, and then find a way to get back for him.”

In the waning light and hidden from the front of the alley by the dumpster Jake held the lid open while he helped ease Matt over the edge of the rim. Larry pushed on his backside while Jake guided him over into a pile of cardboard. With a thud and groan, all went quiet. Jake dropped the lid and secured it with heavy zip ties.

“Time to go!” Jake jumped to the ground and tossed the stack of boxes at the side of the dumpster to the opposite side of the alley. “Fuck! Let’s move!”

Larry tossed two more boxes aside. “I’ll give you a leg up!” He bent over and laced his fingers together in front of him.

Jake tapped on the dumpster. “Man, I’m sorry about this, but we have to get outta here.”

Without saying more, Jake stepped into Larry’s laced fingers and vaulted to the lid of the dumpster. He turned on his heels and reached down to Larry’s outstretched hand. Jake pulled Larry up in a single smooth movement while he slipped from the dead fingers reaching for him.

Larry kicked out and his boot heel jerked from the grasp of a bloodied hand.

“That was close,” Larry commented with a wry chuckle as he walked across the dumpster. “You sure Matt will be okay?”

Jake looked concerned. “No, but I don’t know what else we could have done.” The sounds of the dead made speaking almost impossible with their cacophony of moans. The stench was near overpowering.

Jake followed Larry toward the fire escape. “We have to lead them away from here and make sure he survives his own stupidity tonight.”

The two men scampered up the fire escape. “Hey! Assholes! Lunch is this way.” Larry shouted at the crowd below as they made their way toward the front of the building.

Slowly, the crowd looked up and watched Larry and Jake make their way back across the roof toward the lights of the distant street all the while waving their arms and shouting at them. The infected turned to follow the two toward the street reaching toward the men unable to comprehend their prey was out of reach.

As they walked toward the front of the building, Larry glanced over his shoulder. “You know if we don’t make it back he is really going to be pissed.” He leaned over and yelled at the dead stumbling after them. “Hey! Dinner bell is ringing.” Larry yelled as he vaulted up the wall to the next building.

“At least he’ll be alive to be pissed,” Jake answered. “Besides, I slid a multi-tool in his back pocket. He can get out if we don’t make it back.”

Matt’s thoughts drifted to how dead kids were his fault and nothing could change it. He could still hear their moans of pain. The nightmares never went away. He saw their broken and torn bodies even when he closed his eyes. He was lost in their shrieks of terror and moan of anguish when he heard a baby whimper.

Somewhere in the darkness, a small voice whispered. “Shuuuuush. It’ll be alright. Go back to sleep, baby girl. Mommy and Daddy will find us.”

The voice calmed his troubled mind and blackness followed. Matt turned to his side, pulled his arms close and curled his legs in the cramped confines. He fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Hours later, despite the fact the darkness of night had not yet faded completely, Matt drifted on the edge of wakefulness. An acute hangover pounded inside his skull, he thought he could hear the sound of a baby whimpering and the shushing of a voice trying to quiet the child.

He could smell a thick heavy aroma, not adult stench, but the mix of baby formula and a dirty diaper. It was a baby smell, heavy, warm, laced with talcum powder and it filled his nostrils.

Matt pushed himself up and his thumb broke through a thin film of plastic. He felt something cold and squishy. When he used his hand to extract his thumb, he felt a round bundle of a balled up diaper. No wonder he smelled shit.

He struggled to sit up and looked around in the dark but saw nothing in the blackness. He reached out his arms and realized he was in a metal box. His elbow rammed into the side and the sound echoed inside his skull. As the fog cleared, he remembered his buddies, Jake Curtis and Larry Benson dragging him off the bar stool. It had to have been them. His head throbbed and ached as if he had a metal drum over his head and someone was beating on the sides. Slowly he realized his buddies had thrown him in a dumpster.

“Fucking jerks!” Matt cursed as he reached up to open the lid.

“Sh sh sh.” A voice whispered. “Please. We have to be quiet.” The small voice begged.

“Who’s there?” Matt growled. The only answer was a timid whimper. “Damn it! Answer me!” He barked.

“Just me and my sister.” The voice answered. “Please be quiet. The bad people will hear you.”

“Where are we?” Matt asked a little less gruffly.

“In a dumpster. You fell in last night.” Amy answered. “We’re hiding from the sick people.”

“They threw me in a dumpster?” Matt asked.

He reached above his head to test his theory when he heard the snap of wire-cutters cutting zip ties. Before he could respond, the lid of the dumpster swung open and sunlight invaded the dark recesses.

Matt blinked at the glaring light and saw a small brown-haired girl sitting in the dumpster with him less than six feet away. She couldn’t be older than ten and held a squirming tow-head, that he assumed was a sibling. She stared at him, more than a little frightened.

Matt looked down and saw three neatly bundled diapers inches from where he sat.

A deep voice called over the edge. “Okay, buddy. We gotta go. The world has gone to shit and if we don’t hurry up we’re getting flushed.”

Jake’s black face peeked over the edge with a big grin. “Fuck! He’s got company.”

Amy had had just enough time to see a black man wearing military clothes peak over the edge of the dumpster. Tears welled up in her eyes as she imagined being alone in the dumpster again.

“Ah, Jake. Don’t tell me they got him?” A second voice that Matt recognized as Larry answered. “Oh, fuck.”

“No!” Jake answered. “A couple kids. Just sitting there with him.”

Matt struggled to make sense of being in a dumpster with shit on his hand. He tossed the offending diaper across the ally as he looked from the two men to the little girl holding a fidgeting baby in pink.

“What the fuck is going on?” Matt demanded as he glared at his friends.

“We ain’t got time to explain,” Jake said. “Come on sweetie. We need to get out of here.” He turned to Matt. “Get your ass outta there or you’ll end up like those dead fucks we came across during the last mission.”

That got Matt moving. He stumbled to his feet and reached out to the girl. “Come on, kid. When Jake says we gotta go, it’s time to go.”

“But my mommy?” Amy protested as she slowly got to her feet still clutching Claire to her chest.

“We’ll try to find her, but right now we have to go. Give me the bag.” Matt wiped the brown goo from his hand to his pants leg and passed the bag to Larry. He motioned for the girl to stand up. When she got to her feet, he grabbed her under the arms still clutching her sister and lifted her over the edge of the dumpster.

Jake caught the child and set her on her feet, careful not to disturb the squirming bundle in her arms. “Go with him, sweetie.” He whispered as he pointed toward Larry as he hurried toward them. Jake turned back to help Matt stumble over the edge to the ground.

Matt stood staring at the alley entrance, his face mirrored his horror. “Thought it was a dream….”

“In the Humvee now!” Jake called out as several shambling forms had taken notice of the activity and turned into the entrance of the alleyway. The infected shambled steadily closer as they headed for the Humvee in front of the dumpster.

Larry grabbed the bag and the child’s hand to hurry her to the vehicle, but she dug in her heels and balked.

“My mom will be coming for us. We can’t leave. She won’t know where to find us.”

Larry grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the vehicle. “Kid, you don’t have a choice.”

He opened the door, set her inside and pulled a seat belt over her lap, careful to avoid the baby in her arms. He dropped the bag at her feet. “Don’t move kid.”

Amy gave a quick nod then looked around searching for a glimpse of her mother. She didn’t want to leave. “My mommy is coming. She’ll be worried.”

She knew the soldiers would protect her and Claire but how would her mother find them? How would they find her daddy? Tears filled her eyes and quietly slid down her cheeks as she resigned herself to staying with the soldiers.

Larry jumped behind the wheel of the Humvee and the machine roared to life. Matt stumbled into the back seat next to Amy scarcely able to control the bile at the back of his throat. Jake slammed the door then jerked the passenger door opened.

Jake slid into the front seat and pulled at the door, but an infected had wrapped its fingers over the top of the door and was pulling at the door. The blood-covered soldier’s vice-like grip forced the door back open. The barrier became the prize in a tug of war with Jake wrestled against the infected soldier’s steely grip.

“Drive, damn it!” Jake yelled.

Larry jammed the vehicle in gear and stomped the gas despite the open door. A blossom of black appeared on the infected soldier’s forehead. The soldier’s grip relaxed, his body pressed against the door leaving his fingers still hooked over the door. A black hole appeared in the infected soldier’s head. He was shot.

“What the fuck?” Jake looked at Larry and saw he had both hands wrapped around the steering wheel, no gun in hand. He glanced over his shoulder at Matt who was barely sitting upright. “Who fired?”

“Fuck if I know!” Larry answered. “Close the fucking door!”

Jake pulled the door shut severing of two fingers of the soldier still clinging to the door. The infected fell down the side of the vehicle just as another shot echoed in the distance.

Larry slammed his foot into the accelerator and raced over a fallen infected toward the entrance of the alley. They rolled over three more newly felled bodies as they spilled into the morning glare.

“We had help but beats me who in the hell they are.” Matt looked out the window just in time to see a rifle barrel disappear from a nearby roof top.

5 Hiding

Posted: April 18, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
Tags: , , , ,

The big blue dumpster sat at the side of the building her mother had pointed toward. With the boxes of empty bottles and lack of food garbage, Amy was pretty sure it was a bar where people spent their time drinking beer.

When she saw the metal lid on the dumpster, she wondered if they would be safer in the building with the people or in a big metal box. She knew drinking men were not always nice so she decided on the box.

“We’re going to hide in the box, Claire Bear,” Amy whispered. “I have to put you down for a few minutes. Don’t cry. We have to stay quiet.” She handed the baby a toy from her pocket.

Amy dropped the diaper bag at the side of the metal box and sat her sister on a clean piece of cardboard. She slid cases of empty bottles to the side of the blue dumpster and made steps with the boxes. She propped open the lid with an empty cardboard box. It left her just enough room to ease a single case of empty bottles over the side and slide it inside the dumpster. She worked two more cases over the edge of the dumpster. When she was satisfied with her steps up and down, she made her way back down to the alley. She could still hear moans from beyond the fence when she picked up Claire and the bag.

The baby whimpered and Amy pulled her close and whispered. “It’s okay Claire Bear. Mommy will come for us soon. We’re just going to play hide and seek, okay?”

Amy held Claire close while she made her way up the stacked boxes. She eased the bag over the edge and dropped it. She stepped over the side and climbed down the steps of stacked boxes inside.

She flattened a piece of clean cardboard on the bottom of the dumpster and set Claire down. She stood up and pushed the lid high enough to pull the cardboard free. She tossed it away and lowered the lid.

The enclosure was dark inside and smelled of wet cardboard, but Amy felt safe for the first time since her mother had pulled them from the car. Tears slid down her face as she hugged her sister.

Even with a heavy quilt wrapped around the baby, Amy was worried Claire would get cold in the metal box if mommy didn’t come before night. But this was the safest place she could find.

Inside the dumpster, Amy looked around. In the gloom of the closed up dumpster, she saw cardboard boxes and a couple bags of trash. She turned on the fairy light toy Claire had been playing with and shined the pin light around the container. She decided she could make it better. She let Claire play with the flashlight and moved across the container where she flattened boxes across the floor. She slid a larger box to the corner and turned it on its side.

She picked up one of the bags of trash and stood up. She pushed the lid up an inch, peaked out and saw no one in the dimming afternoon light. She tossed the bag out then closed the lid. She listened for a moment then tossed out the second bag.

When she was finished cleaning, she picked up Claire and slid back into the open box with the diaper bag at her side and the small flashlight turned on. She settled into the corner and laid Claire between her legs. She changed the baby’s diaper and tossed it to the far corner.

Amy whispered. “Stinky. Pew! Mommy must have fed you peas for lunch.” She tickled Claire’s bare tummy when she was finished taping on the clean diaper. Claire smiled and giggled. Amy drew her hand away with a start and whispered. “Shush…baby girl. Bad people might be out there.”

The ten-year-old poured water into a bottle liner and added two scoops of formula powder just like Mommy had taught her. She covered the top with a clean nipple and shook the bottle to mix the formula. She settled Claire on her lap and nudged her lips with the nipple. The baby sucked greedily at the bottle and Amy turned off the fairy light.

The sounds of the monsters grew louder and closer. Amy listened to the sucking noises Claire was making and hoped the monsters couldn’t hear her.

Amy sighed as she hoped her mother would come soon. When Claire was done with her bottle, Amy set it aside and raised the baby to her shoulder. Claire squirmed and pulled at Amy’s hair playfully.

After a soft explosion of air, Amy settled Claire on her lap. Within minutes, the baby was sound asleep in her sister’s arms. Outside the dark haven, she had created, Amy could hear distant screams. As time passed the screams grew louder. Then they would fade away and shrieks from another direction would take their place.

Amy felt tears fill her eyes, but she blinked them away. She had Claire to protect and care for. When she was sure Claire was asleep she slid a box lid close and covered the bottom with the quilt her grandma had made. She settled the baby in the makeshift crib and pulled a granola bar from the bag.

While she ate the bar and sipped at the opened bottle of water, she worried the sound of distant screams and moans of the sick people would wake Claire, but the baby slept on. Amy leaned her head against the side of cardboard and her eyes drifted close only to pop open again when the moans of the sick people grew a lot louder.

She ignored the tears trailing down her cheeks as she listened to the screams of terror and pain filling the night. They were so close. In the gloom of the dumpster, Amy was terrified and felt so alone in the big metal box. How would her mother ever get to them.

Still hearing the sick in the night, Amy pulled her sister’s make-shift cradle deeper into the corner of their cardboard sanctuary. She leaned her head against the side of the box, closed her eyes and prayed. “Please God,” Amy whispered. “I don’t want to be alone.” She hoped the night would pass quickly and her mom would find them soon.

Just as Amy dozed off, the dumpster lid quietly opened and something heavy dropped into the metal container. Whatever was thrown in the dumpster landed with a heavy thud when it hit the bottom on the box. The lid eased back into place and then a funny, zipper sound came from outside. Amy waited and the zipper sound came two more times. There were whispers then a heavy knock on the metal.

Harried words called out, but Amy couldn’t understand the words with the cacophony of the moaning outside. Footsteps landed on the lid then danced across the metal. The moaning surrounded the dumpster. After a minute, angry voices taunted the bad people from far away then disappeared and the moans fade got further and further away.

A moan inside the dumpster made Amy’s breath catch. For a heartbeat she was sure someone had dropped one of the bad people inside the dumpster with them. She sat there with the darkness surrounding her and pulled Claire into her arms. She was almost too frightened to breath.

When she did take a breath, Amy could smell liquor and hear the sound of the heavy breathing. He mumbled and whispered harshly. “Fuck! Where the fuck, am I?”

Did the sick people speak? She was sure they didn’t. She had not heard them speak, so he was just a drunk.

“Shuuuuush,” Amy whispered. “Be quiet. Go to sleep.” She waited for an answer, but there was only the return of snoring. She finally decided the man must have passed out. At least he was quiet. She slowly pulled boxes in front of her to hide herself and Claire from the drunk.

Escape

Posted: April 14, 2015 in 03 Escape
Tags: , , ,

Della watched the mob approach the San Antonio Veterans Clinic. She decided the mass of bodies moved like a single cell organism. The fringes of the crowd ebbed and flowed, swallowing up slow-moving running people unable to escape.

Individuals who tried and failed to outrun the horde were torn apart and lurched over by the mob with them barely breaking stride. The bodies disappeared amid the stumbling feet. Even from a block away, Della could see grievous wounds on each and every one of the people in the horde.

Few cars moved on nearby streets. The afternoon was void of normal office sounds and the usual hum of conversation in the building. The only thing she could hear now was the steady moan of the infected and random screams of the dying.

In the last hour, only a couple vehicles had ventured out. One of those had slammed into a stalled civilian Humvee and the second stopped by the sheer volume of bodies surrounding it. In both cases, screams had ensued then fell silent. The horde moved on and the vehicles remained.

As the crowd got closer to the center, Della could see individuals and their horrible injuries-the flesh of limbs and faces torn and clothes soaked in carnage.

She watched as a man struggled to keep up with the others. He wore a white wife-beater t-shirt and boxer shorts. Raw torn flesh hung in strips from his limbs exposing tendons and bone. Remnants of the t-shirt bared his eviscerate abdomen. Loops of intestines hung from the gaping wound.

The man’s horrendous injuries, even as bad as they were, were not the worst in the crowd. She saw arms torn from bodies, faces shredded to ribbons and throats torn open. As the crowd drew closer each of the horribly battered individuals became a stark reality.

They staggered and stumbled, walking as if their legs had lost the memory of the function. Despite the ungainly and uncoordinated movements, they were able to take down anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path by sheer numbers. From time to time there was gun shots, but from what Della could see, body shots made little impact.

“It’s just like the news reports said. There’s something wrong with those people.” Della whispered. “We have to get out of here, Steve. They’re heading this way.”

She looked over her shoulder at the soldier sitting on the bench. Steve adjusted the new carbon-fiber running prosthetics she had fitted to his healed stumps. He had been a runner before serving in Afghanistan and losing both legs below the knees. Della spent the afternoon making adjustments to the cuffs that held the fiberglass blades to his lower limbs and letting him get comfortable using them. They had spent most of the morning oblivious to the chaos taking place around San Antonio until Steve noticed warnings scrolling across the muted television screen in the therapy room.

They turned up the volume and watched news reports of attacks around the city and even saw a video feed of victims attacked by the infected. The news was horror-filled and graphic. Some of the reporters speculated the attacks were caused by an airborne virus, while others insisted it was a terror attack. Of course, there were those who claimed it was end of days and the wrath of God.

“We’re running out of time.” Della placed her slender ebony hand on Steve’s elbow to help him stand. With a crash and scream from the lower floor, she added. “They’re in the building!”

Steve answered. “I’m ready! I can do this.” He shifted his stance on the blades and looked out the window one last time. “They kept raising their noses as if scenting like a dog? Do you think they can smell live people?”

Della gathered a canvas satchel. “I don’t know and I don’t intend to stick around long enough to ask them.” Her dark face blanched as the whites of her eyes betrayed her terror. “I hear running in the hallway. We’re trapped!”

Steve took a step toward the back of the room. He wobbled then steadied himself and pointed toward the back of the room. “Supply closet. Now!” He ordered.

Steve grabbed Della’s arm and pushed her forward. Together, they hurried across the room to a closed door. Della pulled a key from her I.D. badge and inserted it into the lock. She opened the door and Steve pushed her inside.

He pulled the door closed and pushed the button in the knob. It was a cheap, hollow core door and five dollar door lock that wouldn’t hold for long. Della pulled the string of the overhead light. The room filled with pale yellow light.

Steve glanced around the small room looking from floor to ceiling. He noticed an attic access, but his attention settled on the shelves of cleaning supplies at the back of the room next to a deep mop sink. He stepped closer, turning a number of the plastic bottles around to read the labels until he finally selected one.

“We’re testing my theory.” Steve commented. “If they can smell live people this should cover our scent.”

He grabbed the bottle and twisted off the cap. The air filled with the harsh odor of ammonia based cleaner. He held the bottle close to the floor and poured a trickle of the liquid under the door. After a moment of hesitation, he poured even more across the door frame at the edge where the door met the framing. When he was done he closed the lid, set down the bottle and reached out to cover Della’s hand with his own while he raised the other to turn off the light. The closet went dark, the smell of ammonia hung heavy in the air.

Steve leaned toward Della and whispered. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault you’re still here. If you hadn’t been adjusting the blades, you wouldn’t be here now.”

Della shrugged then answered softly. “I would have been out there. I should be thanking you for keeping me late.” That’s when a scream startled them to silence.

Della whispered in the dark. “I thought we were alone. Everyone should have left by three.”

“Sh-h-h-h. We don’t know who it is.” Steve whispered.

They heard hurried footsteps enter the therapy room. A door slammed and the grating sound of a metal desk and therapy tables being slid across the room could be heard. They heard heavy benches being stacked at the door. Someone whimpered. Angry voices tried to quiet the person crying.

“There went any chances of this room going unnoticed,” Steve whispered.

Della and Steve waited as the voices whispered, frantically. Broken bits of conversation filtered through the closet door.

“. . . in here. Only room open. . . .”

“. . . the door isn’t going to hold long.” A deeper voice whispered.

“Shut the fuck up and cover the window!” An angry voice answered.

Pounding fists on the hall door drowned out the rest of the conversation.

Hurried steps approached the closet door and the doorknob rattled. A voice from outside whispered just loud enough for Steve and Della to hear.

“Oh God! They’re coming!”

“Get the fuckin’ door open!” A distant voice called out. “We have to hide.”

“Smells like ammonia.”

“Get the door open! They know we’re here.”

More footsteps rushed toward the closet. The door handle rattled and turned frantically. A female voice outside the door lamented. “Oh God! Oh God! We’re gonna die!”

Splintering wood and sliding furniture sounded beyond the closet door.

Della took a breath then whispered. “We have to do something.”

Steve turned the doorknob and swung the door outward. It stopped suddenly when it hit something solid. It was someone’s face. Steve looked out and saw a thin young man crumpled to the floor with his cupped hand clutching at his nose. Bright red  blood spilled between his fingers. A large black kid dressed in scrubs pulled the fallen kid to his feet. They both stared wide-eyed at Steve. They noticed his legs and the blades and their mouths fell open.

Della’s breath caught when she saw the two young men and three women standing outside the door, unmoving. She grabbed one of the girls and pulled her into the closet.

“Hurry! Get your butts in here!”

“My fuckin’ nose. You broke my nose!” The skinny kid lamented.

“Get in here and be quiet,” Steve ordered as he pushed the younger two women into the closet.

Della pulled the receptionist and the boys deeper into the closet to allow Steve to step inside as well. He pulled the door closed, depressed the lock and turned the light back on.

“This isn’t going to hold for long,” Steve whispered.

Della examined the five new arrivals huddled together. “What are ya’ll still doing here?”

One of the girls whispered back. “We were in the HR office completing paperwork for the intern program. The director left and didn’t come back.” Tears slid down her face as she stared back at Della. “Why does it smell like ammonia in here?”

“Doesn’t matter, now,” Steve answered. “We need to figure out how to get outta here.”

Without being told, the entire group pushed even further from the door. Steve glanced at the framed opening in the ceiling above the utility sink again.

Outside the closet, the sound of the hall door being pushed open and heavy furniture sliding across the wood floor could be heard. The moans and groans of the infected grew in volume to be heard above the whimpering of one of the girls. She sniffed and her breath catching as a terrified sob escaped her lips.

Della whispered forcefully. “Quiet.”

The room grew silent. Everyone froze.

Shuffling steps grew louder. The sound stopped outside the closet then sniffs and snorts announced the infected’s interest in the closet. Slowly the sound grew louder as more bodies brushed against the door snuffling at the floor and door frame. A sudden crash against the door rattled the door knob.

The group inside the closet held their breath and each face reflected the terror they felt. The first slam of flesh against the door sounded like an explosion. One pounding hand turned to two, then three then more. Then a lot more.

Steve whispered. “Jigs up. We have to move, Della!”

Della nodded. “Where?”

Steve pointed to the ceiling. “The attic access door in the ceiling. We have to get up there.”

Another slam against the door sent the boy with smears of blood on his face to the top of the sink in a single fluid leap. He quickly pushed the access door aside then pulled himself into the dark recesses above the utility closet.

He leaned down and whispered. “There’s plenty of room. Even some decking.”

He reached down and one by one the girls in the group ascended into the darkness overhead. When only three were left, Steve pointed at Della. “You next.”

She picked up a flashlight from the utility shelf then passed it to an outstretched hand from above. She climbed to the sink edge and reached overhead, then hesitated. She turned back to Steve and Zack.

“What about you?”

Steve shrugged. He kicked out a leg with the curved blade attached. “I’ll never make it up on the sink.”

The sound of the hand pummeling the door grew louder. Frustrated at not reaching their prey, several of the infected outside the door slammed their bodies against the wood. The door rattled and the frame creaked with the abuse. Zack jumped.

“You folks can stick around if you want, but I’m outta here.” Zack reached out to pull himself into the sink.

Della stepped out of the sink and pushed against Zack’s chest. “Not so fast, bone head. Okay, Steve, don’t be stupid. Get in the sink. We’ll hold your legs and you can pull yourself up. We’ll be crawling anyway. You can do that.”

“Alright, we gotta hurry. That door’s not going to hold long.” Steve stepped toward the porcelain sink. Bodies slammed against the entrance splintering wood on the outside of the door. Steve reached up to pull himself into the sink.

Zack gasped as he reached out to steady Steve. “Hurry, man!”

Steve raised his right leg and placed a blade to the rounded edge of the sink and Zack glommed on to the curved fiberglass. The foot pad slipped and Zack tightened his grip.

“Get up there,” He ordered. Another slam against the door and more wood splintered leaving an opening for the infected to peer at the trio inside.

Della reached for Steve’s blade when he raised his left leg. “Hurry, Steve. We don’t have much time.”

Steve disappeared into the gaping maw of the attic. Bodies slammed against the door and the frame began to tear away from the wall.

Della slammed her hand against Zack’s back. He jumped into the sink just as the assault crashed against the door again. He reached up and kicked off from the sink. The sink yawned away from the wall with a loud groan. It hung at an angle supported only by the drain and pipes.

The big kid hung from the opening, his massive legs pumping midair struggling to pull his body into the attic.

Della grabbed a leg and pushed up. “Damn it, kid! Get up there!”

Zack disappeared into the gaping maw of the attic access.

Another slam against the door and the top half of the wood panel in the door caved into the closet. Della scrambling into the sink just as a final assault tore the door from the final hinge.

The infected fell into the opening of the shattered door amid a haze of noxious smells that overpowered even the smell of ammonia. The odor of feces, urine and the copper smell of blood filled the small closet. The stumbling attackers struggled to their feet only to be trampled by more of the infected anxious to get to the prey.

Della jumped up to grab at the rafters above the opening. The sink wobbled and shifted away from below her as Della clasped the bare wood. The infected reached out and Della screamed.

Strong hands closed around Della’s wrists and jerked them free of the two-by-eight. She was hauled into the dark. Dead hands clawed at her scrubs as she was spirited into the attic. Her terrified gasp filled the darkened void. When she was released at the edge of the opening she fell to her knees trembling.

“You’re safe, now,” Steve whispered.

A whining voice whispered. “But we’re trapped in an attic.”

The Warning

Posted: April 11, 2015 in 02 The Warning
Tags: , , , , ,

“Don’t stop, no matter what you see, just keep driving.” Brian Jameson’s voice cracked with emotion. “Get as far from the city as you can, as fast as you can. When you get to your dad’s place, tell the General, they used drones with arousals to attack the bases. It’s worse than anything we ever imagined.”

“But Brian, I don’t have. . . .” Liz interrupted.

Brian interrupted. “It doesn’t matter what you don’t have, Liz. You and the girls have to leave NOW if you’re going to survive! Remember, I love yo. . . .” The line went dead.

Liz called back twice, but each attempt went straight to voice mail. She tried a third time and got a busy circuit message. She tried texting but the just hung up and produced an error message. Too much cell traffic was not a good sign. She remembered the same issue with the cell phones during the last big storm on the coast.

She pulled her nine-month-old, Claire, from the half full shopping cart and walked out of Walmart without looking back. She drove to Fort Sam Houston Elementary School on Nursery Road.

When she looked in the rearview mirror, she saw her face and hoped no one noticed the paleness of her complexion or the panicked look of her eyes. Her shoulder length blonde hair could use a brush but she didn’t want to take the time. She kept hearing her husband’s voice repeating, NOW, NOW, NOW, over and over again.

When she got to the school she made her way down the white tile hall to the front desk.

The receptionist looked up from her computer screen. “Hi Mrs. Jameson, what can I do for you today?”

“I need to pick up Amy. We’ve had a family emergency.” Liz answered as she glanced down at her watch. “She’s in Miss Helen’s class.”

“Sure.” The receptionist answered. “Just give me a few minutes to contact her teacher and have her brought to the office.” The woman turned to the phone, spoke to the teacher then smiled back at Liz. “She’ll be here shortly.” She turned back to her computer.

Liz stepped back into the hall. Claire pulled at Liz’s hair and giggled. Liz rocked from left to right and back again. “Ready for a car ride, Claire Bear?” Liz asked as she patted the baby’s back. While she waited, she did a mental inventory of the diaper bag contents: a can of dry formula and a box of plastic baby bottle liners, at least half a dozen diapers, four bottles of water, wafers, two changes of clothes, an extra blanket and half a dozen protein bars. If she drove straight through, she could make the ten-hour drive with only stopping for gas and maybe take out from a Micky-D or a gas station.

“Mommy?” Amy smiled questioningly. “Where are we going?”

Liz jumped at the touch of her daughter’s hand against her bare arm. She wrapped her fingers around Amy’s hand.

“Thank you.” Liz made a quick nod at the receptionist and turned toward the door. She glanced down at Amy and answered. “We have to go see grandpa. We have to hurry.”

Liz got the baby settled with a bottle and pulled out of the parking lot. She stopped at the first Shell station she saw after leaving the school. She filled up the gas tank, grabbed a handful of snack bars and half a dozen bottles of water.

She drove the surface streets to the closest on-ramp and got on the freeway. She turned north out of San Antonio at the interchange. Over the next twenty minutes, traffic slowed and grew more congested as emergency vehicles joined the overcrowding.

Liz studied the traffic. It seemed rush hour was beginning early. They neared the military base and traffic slowed to a standstill. Liz looked around and saw they were stuck behind a row of old retail buildings.

The brick structures probably included half a dozen businesses. The back parking lot was surrounded by an eight-foot hurricane fence. It all looked just a little run down and tired with the dumpsters and trash blowing around the alley and rear parking lot. From what she could see, the buildings included a bar at the end, a nail salon, a couple retail stores and two buildings that were so non-descript, they could be anything.

“Mommy, aren’t we going to Grandpa’s house?” Her daughter asked.

“Yes, honey…as fast as we can,” Liz answered. With her foot on the break, Liz looked over her shoulder and studied her daughter. “What are you drawing, Amy?”

Amy held up a sheet of paper. Inside a red heart was written C & A. Amy beamed. “See, Claire and Amy love Mommy.” She passed it over the seat to Liz. “I made it for you.”

“Thank you, sweetie. I love it.” Liz smiled and passed it back to her daughter. “Put it in the diaper bag so I can keep it.”

She passed the sheet of paper to her daughter and turned back at the stalled traffic ahead. The city streets she could see below the freeway had grown even more congested right along with the freeway traffic. Now they were at a standstill. She couldn’t get off the freeway and even if she could, it was no better.

She turned on the radio. The station was reporting a terrorist attack, then unusual assaults and groups of soldiers attacking other soldiers on the base. Liz waffled between wanting to know what was happening and not wanting to alarm or frighten Amy. Liz finally turned off the radio.

She realized the terrorist attack had somehow caused people to become crazed and to violently attack anyone they came in contact with. The base was overrun and the violence was spilling into the civilian communities surrounding the base. They were barely a mile from Ft. Houston. They were in trouble. Nothing could change the fact they were in deep trouble.

Frustrated drivers honked and jockeyed for small gaps in the traffic. Liz looked at her phone.  The charge was nearly depleted.  She pulled a charger from the glove box and plugged in the phone.

Traffic had not moved for the last thirty minutes. She glanced over her shoulder at her daughters while she drummed her fingers against the steering wheel. The baby was sleeping in her car seat and Amy was reading since Liz had turned off the radio.

Liz watched the fuel gage slip below three-quarters tank and turned off the air conditioner. She began to worry if they would even make it to the edge of town before she would need to stop for gas again. When the air in the ten-year-old silver Buick began to grow hot she began to worry the girls would get too warm. She lowered both front windows to let in the fresh spring air hoping it would cool the car. After a moment, she realized the air smelled wrong.

Liz sniffed and wrinkled her nose. There was a scent in the air. Something unpleasant mingled with the odor of exhaust, fresh mowed grass and cooking meat at a nearby Bar-B-Que restaurant. The invading stench was a mixture of slaughter house and an open sewer.

Still considering the unpleasant odor, she glanced through the windshield when she heard shouting and a distant scream. She leaned toward the window to listen but a massive four-wheel drive truck roared to life a few vehicles ahead. The driver held his foot on the break and raced the truck engine. He leaned out an open window and yelled at a Fiat driver directly in front of him.

“Move it!” He waved in frustration. “Get that piece of shit out of my way.”

The truck driver eased the truck with its off-road tires forward to tap the back of the Fiat with the front brush guard. He cursed at the Fiat driver again then jammed the truck into reverse and slammed toward the mini-van behind the truck. The truck driver raced his engine and yelled at the mini-van driver. Both the mini-van and the Fiat made tentative efforts to move, but they were trapped by the vehicles in front and behind them.

The truck driver jockeyed the truck back and forward again and again. He worked on maneuvering the truck toward the grassy decline at the side of the highway, but the vehicles in front and behind had him wedged in tight. He yelled and cursed but neither vehicle could move enough to free him despite the damage he was doing to the vehicles. Screams of frustration and anger from all three drivers filled the air.

Liz watched the cars ahead but could only see beyond a couple dozen vehicles because of a gradual curve of the highway. There seemed to be a commotion taking place around a UPS truck at the beginning of the turn among the furthest vehicles.

Liz watched two men in khaki uniforms appear from the front of the brown panel truck and stumble toward a car directly behind the truck. Both men walked in an uncoordinated jerky stagger that made them appear drunk. Their khaki uniforms sported blotches of dark red stains.

The massive pickup continued pulling forward and backing up while the driver doubled his verbal abuse of the two offending drivers. Each time he shifted from drive to reverse he rammed into the offending vehicles more violently. Terrified by the vehicular assault, the Fiat driver escaped his automobile and stood at the side of the roadway screaming abuse.

The pair of khaki-clad men made their way to the first vehicle behind the truck and slammed their hands against the sedan’s side window. Liz could hear yells from the female driver and the thuds of the assault against the glass when the truck driver stopped his frantic efforts to escape the traffic jam for the moment.

Liz’s heart rate began to quicken. What she was seeing was crazy. The sedan’s male passenger jumped out of the car and raced around the back of the vehicle to confront the two men beating on the driver’s window. He was a muscled man with bulging arms stretching the fabric of the white t-shirt. Liz could see he imagined his physique would be enough to intimidate the two men.

One of the khaki clad men turned on the passenger and pulled him into an awkward, bear hug. The second delivery driver turned from the car and leaned his head toward a flailing arm of the protesting passenger and grabbed it with both hands. He buried his faced against the bare flesh. When he straightened up, his face was covered in blood and his jaws moved up and down chewing the hunk of flesh hanging from his mouth.

The victim, screaming in pain and rage, thrashed about trying to free himself from his captors. The second attacker leaned into the man’s neck and shook his head back and forth like a dog. When he pulled his face away, blood sprayed across both attackers from the ripped flesh of the man’s neck. The passenger’s screams stopped, he quit flailing and slumped against the attacker. The captor dropped the man to the ground and the terrified screams of the sedan’s driver intensified when the USP men redirected their attention at the vehicle’s window.

Liz stared ahead unable to believe what she was seeing. Her breath came in quick shallow gasps. Under her breath she whispered. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

“Mommy?” Amy whimpered.

Unable to even respond to her daughter, Liz watched as more people appeared behind the delivery drivers. All were covered in splotches of blood and looked horribly injured. They moved in the same halting, jerky gate as the USP men. They stumbled toward the pair that had renewed their assault of the sedan’s window.

Several of the new arrivals began their own assault at the windshield. The window glass suddenly shattered and arms reached into the car to pull the woman from the vehicle. The driver screamed and slammed her fists against her attackers then disappeared into the cluster of bloodied bodies.

Liz starred on as more and more bloodied and injured people stumbled around the vehicles and made their way toward her car. The wave of horribly wounded people stumbled past the sedan to the next vehicle. A young male driver threw open his door to run, but one of the monsters had gotten too close and grabbed him from behind. The attacker fell on the youth’s back to bury his face in his neck. The attacker pulled his face away with a red, dripping hunk of flesh hanging from his mouth.

More of the attackers turned their attention on the dying kid, each tearing flesh from his writhing body. Blood spurted from his neck and within seconds he quit struggling. The captors released the body and it disappeared under the cluster of attackers assaulting the next vehicle. Several attackers got to their feet and stumbled over the bodies toward the next vehicle.

More attackers pulled the driver of a small pickup from his vehicle and a man in a blood-drenched white shirt grabbed an arm and raised it to his mouth. His teeth dug into the flesh and pulled away with a glob of bloodied flesh. More of the monsters joined in the assault.

One by one they buried their faces into flesh and tore mouthfuls of bloodied meat from live people.

Those that couldn’t reach live prey spilled around the victim being consumed to make their way to the next car where a woman had thrown the car door open and was struggling to free a child from a car seat in the back seat. Within seconds, they both disappeared into the mass of bloodied bodies.

The driver of the large truck doubled his efforts to free his truck of the two vehicles that wedged him into the traffic jam. The massive truck slammed into the small Fiat, jammed the truck into reverse and stomped on the gas. The truck hit the mini-van and the bumper jumped up the low-slung hood leaving the vehicle with one wheel off the concrete.

The driver turned the wheel and jammed the truck into drive. The rear wheel on pavement burned rubber and caught enough traction to flip the truck to the side crashing down against the guard rail shattering the window and windshield. The driver escaped the truck and vaulted over the guard rail and disappeared down the incline.

Liz watched in the waning afternoon light as two more women were pulled through shattered windows. Their screams filled the afternoon. More of the infected headed for the next car and the man struggling to release his seatbelt to escape, was surrounded and disappeared under the assault.

People threw vehicle doors open and ran from the wave of blood-covered aggressors working their way from car to car toward Liz. They would be at her car in a matter of minutes. They would come for Liz and her daughters.

They were trapped. There was no way to pull off the highway with the guardrail at her right and vehicles blocking her in front, back and to her left. There was a tide of murder and mayhem rolling toward them and she was powerless to drive away. She looked at her ten-year-old. Amy’s faced mirrored her own horror at the sounds coming closer by the minute.

“Mommy?” Amy whimpered.

“We’re getting out of here!” Liz answered urgently.

“I’m scared,” Amy asked. “What’s happening?”

“Unbuckle the baby, now. Hurry honey. Then get the diaper bag.”

Amy unsnapped the car seat harness then pulled her sister to her lap. Meanwhile, Liz crawled over the console to the passenger seat. She jerked open the door and crawled out of the vehicle. She opened the back door just as Amy reached for the strap of the diaper bag. Liz took the baby while Amy scrambled out of the car dragging the bag behind her.

Looking over her shoulder at the advancing attackers, Liz grabbed Amy’s hand and pulled her between two cars. At the edge of the highway, they climbed over the metal guard rail.

Clutching Claire to her chest, and still holding Amy’s hand, Liz faltered down the steep incline toward the distant fence that stretched across the back parking lot of a row of businesses. When she glanced up behind her, she saw some of the infected had noticed their escape and were beginning to follow.

The infected weaved between vehicles and headed toward the barrier. Liz glanced over her shoulder and was relieved when the monsters seemed baffled by the thigh-high barrier. They stood at the guard rail reaching out but were stymied by the metal barrier. Suddenly, their outstretched arms and leaning bodies overbalanced and they began falling over the barrier.

They lined up at the guard rail and one by one the infected face-planted into the gravel on the other side. The first creature with a shaved head and biker jacket tumbled over the barrier skinning the flesh from half his face. He stumbled to his feet, got overbalanced and hit the ground again. He tumbled halfway down the incline where he got caught on a cluster of oleanders.

One after another, the infected leaned over the guard rail until they fell. More and more of the tattered and torn people pressed against those leaning into the barrier until none could move.

Three of the monsters were half way down the incline when a massive overweight woman in a bloodied housedress fell over the barrier and began to roll. She hit the trio. The four ended in a massive pile with limbs trapped under the woman lying on her back. Having landed with her head downhill and with bodies on either side, she was having little luck with rolling over.

More and more of the monsters fell over the guard rail, got up and began making their way toward those trying to escape. Dozens of people passed Liz and the girls. Not on offered to assist. They were quickly being left behind to suffer a horrible fate.

Liz grabbed Amy’s hand. “Run! Honey, we have to hide!”

As they ran from the roadway toward the eight-foot hurricane fence, Liz looked up and down the fence line for an opening. They had to get away. She had to find a place her children would be safe. She turned toward the corner of the distant corner of the fencing looking for an opening and saw nothing.

Near panic, she saw a dip in the grass under the metal fence behind what appeared to be a bar or eatery. She could see a neon sign at the front of the alley. Boxes surrounded the massive dumpster midway from the front of the building.

Liz dragged Amy toward the divot in the ground. Shoving the baby into her daughter’s arms, she fell to her knees and tore at the weeds in the hole. When the grass was cleared she dug into the soft, wet earth with her bare hands.

After a few minutes, she pulled at the bottom of the woven fencing testing the size of the opening. The wire gave way several inches, but the opening wasn’t big enough for her to get through yet. She dug frantically ignoring the pain of breaking and tearing nails. She glanced over her shoulder. The infected were less than a hundred yards away.

“They’re coming!” Amy whispered frantically.

As the first of the street light blinked on, Liz realized she was out of time. She jumped to her feet and pulled at the fencing with all her strength. It was now or never. She ignored the guttural moans growing louder and closer by the minute.

“Put Claire down and crawl through the opening,” Liz ordered.

“Mom?” Amy looked at Liz with a puzzled look on her face.

“Now! Hurry, Amy. Do as I say.”

Amy laid her sister on the grass and the baby started crying.

“Lay down. Slide through head first. Quick, baby.” Liz whispered.

Amy began to cry but did as she was told. Liz pulled up on the fencing with all her strength creating an opening just big enough for Amy.

“Now! Slide through.” Liz whispered frantically. “Get through as quick as you can.”

Amy lay down on the grass with her head at the opening. She kicked her heels into the ground while she pulled at the grass on the other side of the opening. When Amy was through, Liz released the fence and fell to her knees.

“I’m sorry, sweetie.” Liz cooed as she picked up Claire. She pushed the bag toward the opening. “Pull the bag through, Amy. Hurry!”

Amy gave a tug and the bag caught in the middle of the opening under the fence. Liz pushed and Amy pulled on the long strap. Her eyes grew large. “Mommy, they’re coming. Please hurry.” Liz scooted around on her butt then placed her foot against the bag and shoved. The bag burst through and Amy fell to her bottom.

While Amy got to her feet, Liz pulled the baby to her chest and kissed her forehead. She clutched her close as she covered her daughter with the blanket then guided the infant through the hole.

“Sh…shush now Amy, take your sister. Put the bag over your shoulder. Run and hide.” She could hear the dead getting closer.

“Hurry Mommy! You have to get under the fence?!” Amy wailed near panic.

“I can’t. I’m going to run now. Head for the building and find a place to hide. Stay safe and I’ll find you.”

Liz turned and ran. Dozens of the dead followed her while still others leaned against the fence reaching out toward the Amy and her sister.

“Mommy!” Amy screamed.

Tears ran down her face as Amy backed from the fence clutching Claire close. She stepped away from the reaching arms and watched her mother run around a distant corner of fencing and disappear behind a brick building. When she could no longer see her mother, Amy adjusted the strap on her shoulder, turned, and ran toward a blinking neon sign.

Torn Apart

Posted: April 9, 2015 in 01 Introduction
Tags: , , ,

Introduction

April 17,2015

This is how it all began….

By nine in the morning local news started reporting attacks on American soil by drones with biological agents.  They listed half a dozen states, each with multiple attacks.

Houston, Dallas and San Antonio military bases were each targeted.  The attacks were directed at military bases located in populated areas to increase losses.

The attack in San Antonio was timed to coincide with formations on the parade grounds.   The drones flew over military personnel dispersing the contagion.  Within minutes of exposure, soldiers were writhing on the ground in pain and spewing droplets of contagions with each wracking cough.  Death was not easy.

Brian Jameson a military police officer on base, called his wife, Liz, as he ran toward the parade grounds.  He wasn’t sure what was going on, but dead and dying soldiers were scattered across the grassy field.  He wasn’t sure if he’d ever see his family again, but he knew if she and his girls were with her father in West Texas they would be safe.

Emergency personnel arrived, loaded up the dead and dying and rushed them to hospitals all over the city.  The first of the dead began to rise within a few hours to attack medical staff.  Mass casualties were reported around the city within hours.

Della Marshall spent the afternoon focusing on ensuring Steve Benton return to running marathons.  They were both so focused on getting the fit of the prosthetic cuff connected to the fiberglass blades fit just right that they missed the talking heads announcing the attack.  Only when they noticed the unusual quiet in the building did either of them look up and see the scrolling warnings of the attack on the flat screen.

Matt Monroe had spent multiple tours in the middle-east and saw more than any one should have.  His squad tried to protect and help people but instead had to protect themselves from children carrying grenades, woman strapped with C-4, and allies trying to shoot them.  Since being home, he had been drinking to forget the frightened faces of those children.  The day of the attack was no different.

Tate Hamilton, a woman truck driver, wakes up in the cab of her truck in a parking lot full of the infected…

Tate Hamilton had not slept in nearly twenty-four hours. Between drive time, a three-hour wait to offload the trailer then getting the rig back across town, it had been a hell of a day, but added to a profitable month.

She thought about renting a motel room, but when it came down to parting with the money, she always reconsidered. The hefty truck payment due at the beginning of each month seemed daunting at times but then she’d slide into the black leather seat of her rig and well, it was worth it. The orange rig with red and gold flames stenciled on the side of the hood, she referred to as the Orange Bitch, was hers. Well, hers and the bank.

Besides she knew when the sheets in her rig’s sleeper had been washed last and who had been sleeping on them. She parked at the Rios Truck Stop where she could park the rig overnight, use the showers and get a good meal.

She’d have a few hours to kill the next day before picking up the next load, but no matter, it would give her time to visit with the owners. Pablo and Maria Rios had become friends when she was still driving with her dad before his fatal heart attack.

She would enjoy the time catching up on family news. There was always news since Pablo ran the gift shop/fueling station while the adjoining restaurant was his wife’s domain. Tate glanced across the street and shrugged. She could even pick up a bottle of shampoo at Walgreens, so it was a no-brainer.

Tate pulled the Orange Bitch into the parking lot alongside one of several fueling islands next to a red truck, killed the engine and jumped to the ground. She slid her bank card into the slot on the pump and entered the pin number before picking up the diesel nozzle. She pulled the cap off the main tank, shoved the nozzle in, locked the flow open and stood waiting for the tank to fill while considering what she would order for dinner. Shouting drew her attention back to voices on the other side of her rig.

“I ain’t hanging around, man. This shit’s crazy. I heard the base is fucked.” A gravelly voice announced.

A male answered. “¿Qué pasa con la carga?”

“The load? To hell with it! I’m going to my sister’s in Colorado.” A truck door slammed and a motor roared to life. “If you’re smart, you’ll get the hell out of town, too.”

The Hispanic man answered. “Mi familia aquí. I cannot leave without mi familia.”

“Suit yourself.” Another door slammed and another motor cranked.

Tate looked up as a bright red truck pulled away from the fueling island. A moment later, a sun-faded green truck followed the first out of the parking lot and turned into the street heading the opposite direction.

Tate wondered about the conversation while she finished filling the reserve tank before hanging up the nozzle. She quickly forgot the exchange when she saw the hit her checking account was taking and made a mental note to transfer money tomorrow.

She patted the side of the tank. “Well, Bitch, you’re fueled up and now it’s my turn.” Tate pulled herself back into the driver’s seat, cranked the engine and shifted into gear. Tate crept across parking lot and parked the rig under one of the back security lights, climbed out, locked the door and headed to the drugstore.

An hour later, standing in front of the mirror in a private shower at the Rios, Tate examined the tips of her spiked hair. The color matched her truck and that made her smile. She studied the reflection in a mirror and decided she liked her dark brown hair bleached and colored at the ends.

She stepped away from the sink and noticed her reflection in the full-length mirror on the door and smiled at seeing a feline face creeping over her shoulder. She turned to the side and could see the brightly colored tattoo that began on her left hip with the black curl of a panther’s tail and wound around her back to end on her right shoulder with a black head with green eyes peeking through leaves, vines and blossoms over her shoulder.

Mario, the tattoo artist, called her his masterpiece. She had to admit it was a beautiful tattoo even if few people would ever see it in its entirety. The vines and blossoms had started out as a cover-up of an old boyfriend’s name on her shoulder and evolved into a panther surrounded by the jungle in all its glory.

She slipped into underwear, jeans, pencil-strapped tank top and a plaid shirt tied at the waist. She gathered her toiletries in a bag, unlocked the door and stepped out into the hall. She heard voices from the front of the gift shops.

“Hey, Pablo,” Tate called out. “Thanks for the shower. Something smells really good.”

“Ah, Señorita Tate, Maria is making your favorite. Enchiladas with tasajo beef.”

Pablo rang up a customer at the register then waved toward a young girl stocking candy. She set the box back on the cart and walked to the counter.

“Papa, I still have homework.” The girl chided with a grin.

Pablo stepped out from behind the register and winked at the girl took his place. He walked up to Tate and wrapped a thick arm around her shoulder. Together they walked through the store into the restaurant.

“Maria will be glad to see you. It has been a long while. Sí?”

“Yes. It has been.” Tate answered. “How’s the kids? Sofia is all grown up now, I see.”

“Sofia graduate high school next month.” He answered. “Juan is come home from Iraq in June. All is good. Fuel prices down so more customers. Business is good.”

Tate leaned over to kiss Pablo’s cheek. “Good to hear. I’ve missed seeing you and Maria.”

“You been busy?” Pablo asked in his accented English.

“I spent two weeks on the west coast a couple months ago then had a run to Chicago, from there to Boston, then up and down the east coast a couple times. From Atlanta, I ended back in Chicago. Now I’m here. Lots of driving time.”

“You work too hard.”

“Got big truck payments.” Tate laughed.

“Come, have your dinner. You eat then you rest.”

Pablo led Tate to a table and waved at a short thick-bodied woman with a glistening crown of platted black hair. She hurried across the dining room with tray in hand. She placed a glass of tea, napkin wrapped flatware, chips and sauces on the table.

“Niña. So nice to see you.” Maria gave Tate a big smile. “I bring dinner. You watch TV.” She turned to her husband. “Viejo, back to your job. Your daughter got studies.” She patted his cheek and he headed back to the gift shop. Maria disappeared back into the kitchen.

“You’re daughter, Sophia, tell me already.”  He answered and walked back to the store.

Tate laughed as she emptied two packets of sugar in the glass of tea. She looked to the flat-screen television across the room but only caught bits and pieces of the news reports when several emergency vehicles raced past the station heading in the direction of the military base a couple miles away.

She glanced back at the flat screen and tried to put the collage of images in some context with what the talking head was saying. The reporter talked about a terrorist attack by two drones over a parade ground full of military personnel at the base. There were injured and dying soldiers all over the parade ground. First responders were flocking to the site. It was a confusing collection of reports and images for a sleep deprived mind.

Tate struggled to stay focused on the newscast until Maria brought a plate of enchiladas, beans and rice, then she turned her full attention to the meal. Even with the jalapeno burning her lips she was having a hard time staying awake long enough to eat. Finishing her meal quickly, she barely tasted the spices and tender beef. She laid cash on the table and waved at Maria as she picked up her bag and walked out of the eatery.

After a quick stop at the toilet, Tate stumbled across the parking lot to the truck. She climbed into the driver seat, locked the doors and dropped her shower bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

Pulling her legs up into the seat, she turned and climbed into the sleeper. She settled in the middle of the mattress and opened a green duffle bag. She pulled out a Mossberg, checked the load then laid it to the back of the mattress. With the shotgun stowed, she pulled a Ruger from the bag. She checked the load then slid the weapon into the back pocket of the driver’s seat.

She stowed the bag, turned on the air conditioning then stretched out on the mattress. Tate sighed when the unit began rattling softly. The air conditioner needed servicing but at that particular moment, she was thankful it muted the noise of blaring traffic and screams of sirens. She laid her head on the lavender scented pillow and closed her eyes. She fell asleep almost instantly.

“Back! Jackson, damn it! You get away from me!” A voice called out. “Come on son, don’t do this.”

Tate scrunched her eyes closed trying to recapture the untroubled slumber, but the panicked voice outside called out again.

“Don’t do this. I’ll split your skull!”

Bodies slammed against the side of the sleeper. Tate groaned. “Damn it.” She cursed. “You’ve done it now you dick-heads.”

She glanced at the clock and realized it was nine and the sun was shining. She had slept for more than eighteen hours. Her bladder screamed for relief as she ran her finger through her hair. The styling gel in her hair had turned style into a severe case of bed-head overnight. She imagined she looked pretty scary, but as pissed as she was at the commotion outside, she didn’t care.

She ignored the cotton feel in her mouth and climbed into the driver seat, stepped into boots and jerked open the door just as the combatants slammed into her sleeper again.

“Hey you dip-shits, some of us are trying to sleep.”

Tate jumped to the ground ready to enter the fray but froze in place when she saw the two men. They were locked in a grappling struggle, but the fight itself was not what drew her up short.

The younger of the men was covered in blood and gore. The back of his pants were stained dark brown and the stench wafting from his direction left little doubt as to what the stain was. He had remnants of a dressing on an open wound on his arm. His neck had a patch of ragged torn flesh. A strip of tape hung from his neck where a bandage had fallen away. His eyes were glazed over with a whitish film. The undamaged flesh appeared gray and cyanotic. He kept leaning his bared, gnashing teeth toward the older man.

Tate was dumbfounded when she realized he was trying to bite the man’s face. The older man grappled with a bat, pressing the length of wood against the aggressor’s chest trying to keep him away. The assailant just pushed closer.

The attacker swung an arm at the bat and knocked it from the old man’s grasp. It fell to the ground and the attacker lunged. The man grabbed at the attacker shoving his hands into the blood splattered throat wound pushing the snapping teeth from his face.

The defender backed away while the attacker followed never giving him a chance to turn and run or grab the bat. He looked over his shoulder and yelled at Tate.

“Get the bat. Hit him over the head!”

Tate glanced from the battle to the bat on the asphalt and back again. She glanced around the lot for any sign of assistance, but there was no one else to help.

Realizing she was the only hope the man had, she rushed to the bat and picked it up ignoring the end covered with blood and gore. With a clinched jaw, she ran to the fight and took a swing at the younger man.

She slammed the bat down on the man’s shoulder. The impact barely registered despite the sound of his collar bone snapping. He acted as if he hadn’t even noticed the blow. He just leaned his open mouth closer to the older man’s throat as the man’s arm weakened.

“Hit him in the head!” The defender huffed. “Do it now!”

Tate took a step back with the wood over her left shoulder then swung with all her might. The bat made a wide arc connecting with the side of his skull with a hollow, bone shattering thud. The man collapsed in a heap of blood and gore. He remained still, not moving again.

Tate was horrified to see the side of his skull had split open with the momentum of the swing. Blood, so dark it was nearly black, and gray matter oozed from the gaping wound.

The man fell to his knees at the side of the body. He pulled the younger man into his arms and cradled the body as he wept and mumbled. “Son, I am so sorry. Oh, God, son, how am I going to tell you mother?”

Tate looked on in horror. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I…I didn’t mean to.”

He turned to face Tate. “You did what you had to do.” He got to his feet and glanced around the near-empty parking lot. “What are you still doing here?”

“What do you mean? I spent the night here. I’ve got a load to pick up down the street at two this afternoon. What in the fuck is going on? Why is all the lights out? Where is everyone?”

“You don’t know?” The man took off his jacket and laid it over the face of the young man at his feet. “You don’t know about the infection on the base?”

“I saw something last night on the television about an attack.”

She got an uneasy feeling and noticed for the first time how really quiet it was. There were no cars or trucks moving on the streets around the truck stop. Traffic lights were out. She looked back at the building just as Pablo, Maria, and half a dozen others stumbled through the shattered glass storefront of the truck stop. Each was covered in blood and bore terrible wounds.

“Fuck girl. You just woke up to a new world and it ain’t pretty.” The old man declared. “We gotta get outta here!”