Archive for May, 2015

Tate sat up, flung her feet over the edge of the thin mattress of the sleeper, and slid into the driver’s seat. She’d fallen asleep listening to the radio. She leaned her head out the window.

She heard the distant pop again. It was gunfire. She reached behind the seat to grab her handgun and laid it on the passenger seat. She studied the shadows in the woods behind the house. More shots rang out and this time they sounded closer.

Charlie said the edge of town was only a quarter mile from the roadblock. She decided the second set of shots came from the roadblock itself. He was right, parking behind the house hid the light of a truck doors opening from the roadblock, but it also blocked her view of them. If she wanted to see what was going on, she had to get inside the house. She reached for her canvas bag, pulled out a holster on a canvas belt and buckled it on her waist. She picked up the handgun and jammed it in the holster. She picked up the rifle and opened the truck door.

Standing on the top step, she took one last look through the windshield and side windows before she jumped to the ground. She scanned the yard toward the out-buildings, the woods and small cemetery at the back of the property. Seeing nothing, she ran to the house and stepped through the kitchen door into the darkening house.

She heard two gunshots, then another three. Those shots were much closer. Once inside the house, she took the stairs two at a time. At the head of the stairs, she went into the front bedroom facing the roadway. She tore back the curtain from the window and scanned the yard and beyond.

She could see the lights around the roadblock had been turned on. She opened the window and leaned out to listen. She could hear excited shouts, but the words were lost with the distance. Then she heard more gunfire and a long, pained scream of terror.

Being less than half a mile from the roadblock than she realized an open field separated her from the blacktop road where she had left Charlie. Tate stepped onto the sloping roof of the front porch. She tested her footing on the brittle wooden shingles before side-stepping to the corner of the roof. Each step solicited creaks and groans of protest. She prayed she wouldn’t break through.

Once she got to the corner of the roof and could feel rafters underfoot, she squatted down to study the people hurrying around the road block under the bright utility lights. The grader had been pulled to the side leaving the access open. Tate knew that couldn’t be a good.

Tate could see several vehicles coming across the bridge. The lead vehicle slowed, and the driver spoke briefly to one of the guards then sped away. The guard waved to the other guards then shouting and everyone seem to take up a defensive stance. The men patted pockets, checked loads and aimed rifles toward the town.

Gunfire began again. It was slow and deliberate. Bang…bang…Bang. Tate realized two of the guards were firing. Then it ended and there was only silence.

Just as Tate thought the excitement was over, another pair of headlights raced through the breach. In the glare of another pair of headlight, Tate could see silhouettes of people shambling across the bridge ahead of the vehicle. Tate realized the people were infected and stumbling toward the road block. The guards climbed the heavy equipment then focused gunfire toward the bridge as more and more infected stumbled toward them.

Tate stood up to watch the mass of bodies stumble across the dark bridge and mass amid the glaring floodlights. They clustered around the grader with arms reaching up toward the men on top of the cab. The guards were firing into the crowd. Bodies piled up at the side of the grader while more and more of the infected climbed toward the guards.

Suddenly the vehicle roared through the horde of attackers. It struck two bodies tossing them head over heels. The sound of the engine changed dramatically after the impact. The engine began knocking so loud Tate could hear it from where she stood.

“What the?” Tate whispered.

She looked back toward the window, debating about jumping into her truck and leaving but decided to wait. Charlie expected to find her at the house and if something went wrong, she might be able to help him by being at the house when he came.

Tate watched a work light teeter then make a slow arc to the ground exploding in a light show of sparks. The vehicle raced away from the road block with the engine sputtering and coughing. One of the headlights blinked out as the vehicle disappeared over the hill.

Tate followed the vehicle’s journey by the growl of the engine and the roar of the missing muffler. The truck slowed and turned at the crossroad, accelerated then made the second turn toward the farm house. The remaining headlight blinked once when it turned on the lane leading to the house.

Tate hurried to the window, climbed back inside the house and made her way down the stairs. She ran out the back door and around the house just as the vehicle skidded to a stop a few feet from the orange rig.

She walked out of the shadows as Charlie opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. He waved Tate to his truck.

“The town is overrun! The dead came in from the freeway a few miles south of town.” He walked to the back of the truck and pulled out several bags. “We got things to do.”

“What do you mean?”

Charlie handed Tate two bags of supplies.

“I gathered a few things. There’s a map in that first bag. I marked back roads that will get you out of here.” Tate stowed the bags and Charlie continued. “My wife was fixing fried chicken when I came. I told her about Jackson but she just kept cooking that damned fried chicken just like the boy was gonna walk through the door any minute. I finally gave up and sat down at the table. She just kept talking about when Jackson was a boy. I guess I nodded off and didn’t hear when she went to the door.” He took a deep breath. “I woke up to her screaming.”

Tate accepted two more bags. “I’m sorry.” She set the bags in the storage compartment in the sleeper.

Charlie handed her another bag. “Bastard ripped out her throat before I could get outta my chair. I pulled him off her and drove a knife in the side of his head. She died on the kitchen floor while I threw the bastard out the back door. I gave her peace, cleaned her up and put her in the truck.” Charlie set a basket to the side of the pickup. “I could hear them out in the street.”

“You can’t stay here. You can come with me. I have a cousin out west and we’ll go there.” Tate announced.

Charlie answered. “Afraid not.”

He rolled up his sleeve to expose a white bandage on his forearm. “The bastard got me before I put him down.”

My folks are buried out back. I plan on laying Emma to rest with my folks.” Charlie shrugged and picked up the basket covered by a checkered cloth and passed it to Tate.

She glanced in the truck bed and saw tarp wrapped body. “I’ll help you.”

“You can’t stay.” Charlie answered. “It’s too dangerous.”

“And you can’t stop me,” Tate answered. “Let’s take care of your wife. Where can we find shovels?”

An hour later, Tate and Charlie stood at the side of a shallow grave, just wide enough for two bodies. They had dug a single hole big enough to hold both Charlie and his wife.

“I feel bad leaving you to finish this.” Charlie chuckled as he dragged his arm across his moist forehead. He drove the end of the shovel into the pile of dirt.

Tate shrugged. “No problem. I owe you.”

After carrying a bucket of water in from the pump, and washing up they sat at the kitchen table with a single candle between them. Tate watched Charlie slump in a chair.

He had grown pale, his lips cyanotic and eyes bloodshot. His breathing came in short gasps. “Sorry, I think it’s getting pretty bad. My head feels like its exploding. I don’t think I’m going to be able to eat. He pointed at the basket of chicken on the table. “Eat while I show you this map.”

“It smells really good.”

Charlie forced a laugh. “My Emma was a good cook, that’s for damn sure.” He leaned over the map and pointed at a red line he had drawn on the back roads. “It’s no more than three miles. If you go past the church you’ve gone too far.”

“I got it.” Tate answered as she grabbed a chicken leg and took a big bite while Charlie looked on with a sad smile on his face.

“You’re an interesting woman, Tate Hamilton.” He commented.

“How so?” Tate asked around a mouthful of chicken. She swallowed and took a bite of biscuit. She reached for the second chicken leg.

“The orange hair and the tattoo. You drive a truck that matches your hair.” He chuckled as he massaged his temple.

“Actually, it’s the other way around. The hair matches the truck.” Tate answered. You’re right Charlie. Your wife was a hell of a good cook.”

Charlie announced. “She was. You know, without her and our son I don’t regret leaving this life. I’m just sorry you’ll be alone in such a fucked up world.”

“I’ll manage,” Tate answered.

Charlie pushed back from the table. “Don’t stay. Get in your truck and get the hell outta here. Where ever you stop, sleep in your truck and remember when you get out in the morning, there could be an infected at the door.” He rose and walked to the kitchen door and turned back to Tate. “Sorry. I need some air.” He stepped outside into the dark.

After a full minute of concentration on her meal and Charlie didn’t return, Tate put down the chicken leg. She turned toward the open door and called out. “Charlie? Are you alright?”

A shot shattered the silence. She jumped to her feet, raced through the door, and stood on the edge of the back porch. She studied the shadows in the fading light and saw no movement then her eyes were drawn toward the small family cemetery and she saw a dim glow.

“Charlie? Come on Charlie, don’t do this to me.” Tate called out as she ran toward the light.

When she got to the edge of the cemetery, she stopped running and made her way with halting steps to the hole in the ground. She looked into the grave and gasped.

Charlie had opened the tarp and pointed a small light toward Emma’s face. Her round, pleasant features looked as if she were merely sleeping. Charlie had lain down next to her body then put the small caliber gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.

“Ah, Charlie.” Tate squatted down and stared into the hole.

She didn’t know how long she spent squatting there staring at Charlie and Emma before she stood up with aching knees. She stepped into the hole and retrieved the flashlight and laid it at the head of the grave. She pulled the end of the tarp over both their faces and climbed out of the grave. She grabbed a shovel and began shoveling dirt into the grave.

“Damn it, Charlie. You didn’t have to do it like this.” She shoveled spade-full after spade-full of dirt into the hole. It took nearly an hour before the excavated earth was piled into a mound over the grave.

When she finished, Tate walked back to the house, washed up and repacked the basket with the chicken and rolls. She used the toilet one last time, grabbed the map and the basket then walked back to the truck.  She climbed inside, cranked the engine and put the truck in gear.

She drove for three hours down back roads barely wide enough to accommodate the rig. It was well past midnight when she pulled out onto a two-lane blacktop. She was exhausted and she could barely keep her eyes open. She saw a break in the fencing alongside the road and after slowing realized it was a gravel lane. In the distance she could see the remains of a burned out structure. Only remnants of three walls could be seen in the moon light. She pulled into the barn yard, deciding the scrub grass down the middle of the rutted road should ensure the property being deserted.

She parked the rig and rolled down the windows. The light evening breeze filled the cab with the aroma of fresh mowed hay. She crawled into the sleeper and pulled the handmade quilt close. Her head barely hit the pillow and she was fast asleep.

The sleeper was stifling when the morning sun glared through the windshield and down on the metal roof overhead. Tate was covered in a glistening mist of perspiration. The quilt was kicked to the foot of her bed.

When the sun rose the next morning she raised her head then flopped back on the pillow. She was exhausted and despite the bright blue sky she could see through the glass at the top of the sleeper she didn’t want to face the day. Slowly the events of the evening before came back to her and she covered her head with the quilt. As she lay there, she slowly realized she was hearing moans. Or maybe sobs of people in pain. She sniffed at the air and realized a terrible smell had begun invading the cab.

She threw the quilt back as the fog of sleep cleared. Slowly, she realized the groans and moans were not her imagination but coming from the open window along with the overpowering stench of decay and shit.

Tate sat up with a start and peeked through the curtain at the side of the metal compartment. She gasped at the sight of dozens of infected roaming the yard and around the burned out structure. She also saw a major highway behind the destroyed building with dozens of vehicles parked one behind the next.

Dozens of bloodied and gore-covered dead people were focused on the Orange Bitch. Each looked expectantly at the windows of the cab. Their noses raised and sniffed as if they could smell her. She could even hear snorting above the moans from time to time.

“Fuck!” Tate cursed. “Damn it. Shit.”

She took a deep breath to calm her terror and almost gagged. She geared up the courage to slide from behind the curtain into the driver’s seat. The infected outside grew more agitated when she appeared. The monsters slammed open hands against the doors and drug bloodied fingernails across the paint.

All the commotion made by the infected pounding on the door drew the attention of others further away. One by one, the infected still on the road turned and stumbled toward the big rig. The truck was being surrounded by monsters smelling like an open sewer.

Tate turned the key and pushed the starter. The engine ground and sputtered then died.

“Come on you frigid bitch…start.”

She adjusted the choke then pushed the starter again. The motor sputtered once then roared to life. She let the engine warm while the new noise drew even more infected toward her. The stench filled the cab and she swallowed the rising bile as she closed the windows.

She slammed in the clutch and shifted the truck into first gear and blew the horn hoping the noise would drive the infected away. Instead, the sound drew even more of the infected to the rig. They stumbled closer, arms reaching and mouths opening and closing.

Tate slowly released the clutch and pushed her foot down on the accelerator. The infected pushed closer to the moving vehicle. The truck rolled forward and she watched as the faces in front of the bumper disappeared under the brush guard.

The sound of bones and skulls crunching under the wheels filled the cab. With her jaw clenched, Tate shifted to second, then third. The truck accelerated. She steered the Bitch out onto the blacktop and faced dozens of the monsters, all stumbling toward the truck. She stepped on the gas and rolled over bodies. She shifted again and drove to the end of the lane where she turned right and drove away.

“So this is the new world,” Tate whispered. “It’s really fucked up.”

Matt punched in the code of the security gate of the storage units. It slowly slid open and the Humvee eased through the gate onto the property. Larry stopped to wait for the gate to close behind them. Once it latched, Matt directed Larry between rows of units to the farthest end of the complex. They rounded a corner and Matt slapped Larry on his shoulder.

“Here,” Matt ordered. He passed Claire to Amy and unbuckled his seat belt. “I didn’t see anything that stood out but let’s look around Jake.” Standing in the afternoon gloom, he eased the door closed. The catch of the locking mechanism echoed in the silence.

“Got your six, man.” Jake jumped out and eased the door closed every bit as gently as Matt had done.

Together they moved quietly to the next row of units, looked toward the front of the row of units then crossed to the last driveway. The only other vehicle in the lot was a dented dark blue Escape. The Ford seemed to be abandoned since it was parked in front of a unit with the doors locked. The unit in front of the SUV was padlocked and secure, but there was no sign of the driver.

After finding no one on the grounds, Matt went back to the unit located on the back row of the complex behind the Humvee. He reached into the vehicle and retrieved the key ring he had handed Larry earlier. After fumbling with the ring for a few moments, he selected the right key and opened a side door next to the orange rolling door of a unit. He stepped inside and flipped a switch.

Jake peeked around Matt’s shoulder. “Man! Nice setup. Is this where you’ve been staying off base?”

Matt nodded, slightly embarrassed. “Sometimes I just need to get away. Besides, I had shit to store. There’s a restroom at the end of the next building and a dumpster.” Matt grinned. “Almost all the comforts of home.”

Inside, the unit was a couch, a recliner, three industrial shelves stacked with boxes, a flat screen television on a wooded create and in the center of the space a military footlocker serving as a coffee table. An apartment size refrigerator with a microwave on top sat next to the television where both were plugged into a surge protector snaking down from an adapter between the fixture and a bare light bulb overhead.

On the back wall, a stool sat in front of a workbench. On the bench lay a gun cleaning kit and a bullet re-loader, a bag of brass, and a variety of other related items. The cord of a light bar above the table stretched back to the power strip.

Matt walked back to the door and waved at Larry. Within minutes, carrying baby Claire, he ushered Amy into the unit. She turned to take Claire from Larry. She crossed to the couch and sat down. She looked from one man to the next. “I need to change her or she’ll get diaper rash.” Claire squirmed in Amy’s arms and began to whimper.

Matt looked from Larry to Jake and then took a deep breath. “I know, sweetie. We’ll get what you need. Then we’ll get organized and eat something. Tomorrow we head out to your grandfather’s place.”

Amy began to tear up as Matt continued. “When we know you’re safe, we’ll come back and look for your mom.”

Jake shrugged. “Sounds like a plan to me.” He winked at Amy and grinned. “I’ll get diapers and such for your sister, okay?” He stepped back outside.

Amy settled on the couch with Claire in her arms.

Matt turned to Larry and whispered. “It looks like we might be on our own.”

“You got that right. You would have thought at least a few brothers were out there.” Larry nodded in agreement then asked. “You got any food?”

“Right here.” Matt crossed the room and picked up a box to set it on the workbench. He pulled the clear tape from the top of the cardboard and tilted the box up to show Larry an array of microwaveable dinners. “Let’s get the kids settled then we’ll sort out the supplies and make some plans,” Matt answered.

Jake brought in supplies. Amy changed Claire’s diaper and fixed her bottle. He sat down a bottle of water and the diaper bag. Amy settled on the ragged couch with Claire in her lap. She tickled her sister’s chin and made a face by pursing her lips and crossing her eyes.

When the baby giggled, Amy pulled her close and kissed her head. “We’ll find mommy, Claire Bear, I promise.” Amy picked up the bottle and Claire reached for it. Amy hummed softly as Claire wrapped her chubby fingers around the plastic.

Matt looked at the older child. She was a cute little girl with dark hair, a button nose, and serious eyes. She was so grown up to be only ten years old. She cared for her sister and didn’t complain despite the uncertainty of not having a parent around. Now she sat quietly giving the baby a bottle when Matt was sure she had to be hungry herself.

When the baby fell asleep, Amy settled her on the end of the couch on a baby quilt, pulling the end over her bare legs. Amy accepted the microwave dinner Jake handed her and ate quietly. When she was finished, she stretched out on the couch next to her sister. Within minutes, the girls were cuddled together fast asleep.

Matt, Jake, and Larry stepped outside the unit and quickly pulled the supplies from the back of the Humvee. They carried packages and boxes of supplies into the unit then pulled items from packaging.

Stacks were sorted and “go bags” filled. The bags included fire starter, a small package of first-aid supplies, a handful of zip ties, bags of dried food, hygiene items, a small sewing kit, a metal cup and spoon, some camping supplies including a flashlight, compass and plastic poncho. Bottles of water were added to each bag and it was left open and set aside.

Baby clothes, bottle liners, and formula were put in the diaper bag along with a supply of diapers. The remaining supplies were sorted and boxed then carried back outside to stack in the back of the Humvee with a huge bag of diapers within easy reach of the back seat.

Jake then took a pink backpack and packed a bag for Amy. He included two changes of clothes consisting of shorts, t-shirts and small cotton panties from the discount store, a small hair brush, toothbrush, and small packages of food and two bottles of water.

When Matt and Jake agreed they had everything settled in the Humvee including the car seat with its detachable carrier, they locked up the vehicle and walked into the unit. Despite the quiet of the area around the storage unit, the men were kept on alert by the continuous sound of gunshots in the distance.

Matt turned to Larry. “You get first watch. Whatever you do, stay close and out of sight. We need to stay under the radar and head northwest first thing in the morning.”

Larry opened the door adjusting the machete on his hip. “Got it.” He answered. “See you around ten.”

“Keep an eye out, I got a few goodies to share.”

Jake and Matt walked back to the worktable and Matt retrieved a small battery operated lantern. He figured the dim glow would let the kids sleep while they worked. He handed Jake a scabbard for his machete.

Jake threaded the scabbard through his belt and settled it on his hip. “Wish we had something besides these.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Matt answered. He walked to the footlocker on the middle of the scrap of green carpet. He squatted down and opened the padlock on the lid. After he pulled the shank through the hasp, he eased the lid back to expose a cache of weapons.

“Holy shit, man. You been holding out.” Jake chuckled. “Nice. Even grenades. You do know that’s illegal, right?”

Matt grinned at the contents of the footlocker.  He had multiple handguns, three rifles, an AR-15, several tactical knives and boxes and boxes of ammunition. He pulled the Browning 9mm from its case and threw it to Jake along with a holster, and three filled magazines.

“Give the nine to Larry. We’ll be taking everything so he can get his rifle later.” Matt announced.

Jake walked out of the unit with the handgun. A few minutes later, he came back empty handed. “He was a happy camper.” Jake laughed.

“I’ll bet.” Matt pulled another handgun from the footlocker. “You can have the Berretta or the Ruger, I don’t care. I’ve got another Ruger I’ll be keeping for myself. Same deal with the rifles. I figure Larry will want the AR. Same ammo, so either or….”

Jake laughed. “I’ll take them both.”

Matt chuckled as he reached into the box and pulled out both gun cases. He slid them toward Jake. While Jake examined the firearms, Matt quietly filled half a dozen magazines with nine-millimeter bullets.

When Matt was finished he reached for the Ruger and inserted a magazine. He tossed a filled magazine to Jake. He caught it midair and slid it into the Barretta with a slap of his palm. After holstering each weapon, Jake rose to his feet and anchored one holster on the back of his belt and the other on his hip.

“I’m not much good with a rifle, so how about I carry the shotgun,” Jake said.

Matt chuckled softly as he pulled out the Barrett 98B. “All yours, buddy.” He pulled three mesh vests with multiple pockets from the box and threw one at Jake. He stuffed his own vest pockets with boxes of nine-millimeter rounds and 338 Lapua for the Barrett. He filled the third pocket similarly and draped it over the back of a chair.

“We’ll give Larry his then let’s get some shut eye. I’ll take last watch so you can relieve Larry at ten.”

When Matt stepped back inside the unit, he pulled two sleeping bags from a box on a shelf and tossed one to Jake. When he reached in the box again, he brought out two quilts. He draped the smaller quilt over Amy before he pulled the footlocker out of the way and made a bed on the rug next to the couch.

Jake found an open spot near the shelving. He laid his head on the rolled sleeping bag, folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was sound asleep and snoring softly.

Matt drifted off to the sound of Jake’s snoring. The nagging headache spawned by too much alcohol and not enough sleep disappeared and he relaxed into slumber until images of monsters feeding on screaming children invaded his dreams. He was running to save them, but his body moved in slow motion. Still mired in the terror of dying children, the sound of a whimpering baby woke him.

With his heart still racing, he got to his feet and found the lamp. He turned on the light and picked up the sniffing baby.

“It’s alright, baby girl.” Matt held her close and rubbed at her back.

He shuffled through the bag of baby supplies and found a diaper. After fumbling through the changing, he made a bottle just as Amy had. He settled in the armchair with the infant in his arms. After a few minutes of squirming they both got settled and both her eyes drifted closed. Just as he was dozing off, Claire squirmed in his arms and made little sounds that reminded Matt of a mouse.

Matt raised the squirming little girl to his shoulder and patted her back until a healthy burp escaped in a blast of warm air. Once relieved, Claire nestled her small face against Matt’s neck. He chuckled as he slid down in the chair and settled the baby on his chest. Claire wrapped her tiny fingers into the softness of his worn t-shirt and together they slept.

Jake entered the unit at two o’clock, ready to kick Matt out into the night. In the soft glow of the lantern on the work bench, he could see him reclined in the armchair still holding the baby. He patted Matt’s shoulder, careful not to disturb the sleeping infant.

“It’s two. Can you manage watch?” Jake asked.

“No problem.” Matt looked down then carefully shifted in the chair.

He got to his feet, still holding the baby close. He settled Claire in the seat of the recliner and pushed the chair against the couch to form a makeshift crib. He pulled the thin quilt around the baby then patted her small bottom. When he was done, he stretched, grabbed his belt with a machete, his handgun and vest. He stepped around Larry sleeping near the wall of shelving.

“She should be good for a couple hours.” After a moment, he asked. “Anything out there?” He jammed his hands in his pockets to hide the trembling in his hands. He really needed a drink.

“All’s quiet now. I haven’t heard anything at all in more than an hour.” Jake answered.

“Get some shut eye,” Matt answered. “We’ll head out, come daylight.

Matt stepped out into the dark of night and pushed the door closed. He walked to one side of the units, looked down the row of units and over the fence. He saw nothing moving so he walked to the opposite side of the complex and did it all over again. He wished he had picked up the bottle of Jack Daniel in the unit. His stomach knotted and his hands trembled. Maybe in an hour he could sneak back in the unit to get the bottle.

He walked around the units twice an hour until he heard the sound of gunfire from multiple firearms in the distance. The gunfire continued for all the while growing louder. Terror-filled screams joined the cacophony.

Matt knew the only real danger would come from the front of the complex, so jogged toward the entrance. The outermost storage units had been built to form a U with the back of the units forming a solid barrier to the outside. Inside were two additional back-to-back rows of units. His unit was at the back of the U and out of sight. Half of the front was more storage units and a brick building that included a business office and an eight-foot high wrought iron fence with the electronic gate. Soon the electricity would be out and the gate would be a problem.

They were safe for now but come daybreak they would certainly be less secure. They were soldiers. How were they going to take care of kids? He mulled it over. Chain of command made life easy. Surely, this is a localized situation. They needed to get out of the hot zone. That was it. Get out of the area. Locate FOB (Forward Operating Base) and see that the girls got to their grandfather.

The roar of a gunned engine on a street nearby tore Matt from his thoughts. He looked at his watch, keeping the glow of the face behind his hand. It was nearly six and the skies had begun to lighten. The sound of the racing engine grew close enough he could make out the sound of a Mazda engine straining against the abuse it was obviously taking.

The squeal of tires and a loud crash sent Matt running toward the front of the units. He stayed in the shadow as he made his way toward the entrance. Terrified screams sent chills down Matt’s spine as he slipped from the shadows to the back of the office building.

He peeked around the building and immediately saw the crumpled gate. A small low-slung sports car had slammed into the side of the wrought iron toppling it from its tracks. The car blocked the entrance. Its engine still roared as it pushed against a heavy-duty support post.

Two monsters that had once been people leaned over the driver’s side of the vehicle pulling at a young woman still trapped behind the steering wheel. While one monster chewed at her arm, the other leaned into her neck. They both jerked at her flailing arms as they tore at her flesh. Her screams pierced the night. With a final gurgle, the woman slumped against the steering wheel. The monsters pulled her free of the car and the roar of the engine settled into a placid idle.

Matt stepped back into the shadows. He was too late. He watched more infected stumble toward the sound of the racing engine. They joined the pair devouring the woman to pull at her as well.

He jogged from the office building to the corner of the storage units then between the parked SUV and the wall of storage units. When he got to the unit, he met by Jake at the door. Both he and Larry had armed and were ready for action. Amy sat up rubbing at her eyes. Matt hoped she had not heard the screaming.

“We gotta get moving,” Matt ordered. “Be quiet. Jake, watch the gate.”

Jake disappeared through the door with a belt of weapons and shotgun in hand. Matt walked to the baby, gently gathered her into the blanket and grabbed the diaper bag. He handed the baby to Larry.

“I’ll grab the packs, blankets and sleeping bags. You put the girls in the Humvee.”

Matt reached into the refrigerator and dumped all the water, sodas into a duffle bag then stepped to the shelf to do the same with the few remaining packaged dinners. He looked around then zipped and shouldered the bag.

“Ready,” Larry asked as he adjusted his weapons. He held out his hand. “Come on sweetie?”

Amy looked from one man to the next. “I need to go to the bathroom.” She whispered.

Larry looked to Matt.

Matt shrugged. “You get the baby in the car seat and I’ll take her. It’s close and as long as the crowd at the gate stays there, no problem.”

When they left the unit, Matt snapped the padlock back on the door. “Never can tell if we might need some of the stuff we’re leaving behind.” He shrugged.

Matt held out his hand to Amy while Larry quietly opened the Humvee doors. Larry eased the baby into the car seat and buckled her in. Larry slid his bag behind the seat. He closed the door quietly then walked around to the back of the vehicle.

“Jake?” Matt whispered. “How’s it look?”

“No change. They’re all outside the gate.” He answered.

Matt led Amy toward the restrooms. “Let’s try to be real quiet.” He took a breath and added. “No flushing.” Amy looked up and Matt answered. “It might be noisy.”

“Oh, okay,” Amy answered.

When Matt got to the restroom, he peered into gloom of morning light through the open door. “Wait here while I check it out.”

Matt pulled his machete from the scabbard and reached inside to flip on the light. The bathroom was small and had two stalls and a single wall sink. Both stalls were on the right side of the cinderblock room and the sink on the opposite wall. He eased into the bathroom, past the open stall doors to an open utility room door. He flipped the light switch but the room remained dark. He tapped his blade against the door and listened. He heard nothing. He stared into the gloom and saw nothing move. He kicked a door stop from under the door and turned around and walked back to the entrance. The room smelled really bad, but it was a public restroom. More often than not, they smelled like piss.

He pointed at the first stall. “Use that one.”

Amy went into the stall and Matt heard the gentle click of the lock. He watched under the stall and saw Amy’s feet raised and dangled at the front of the porcelain. He turned away and waited. Nothing.

“We have to hurry,” Matt whispered.

“I can’t go with you standing there.” She answered. “Close the door.”

“Damn it!” Matt whispered. Against his better judgment, he pulled the door half closed.

Immediately a gentle trickle echoed from the concrete grotto. Matt smiled. They would be out of the storage units and on their way within minutes. The dribble stopped and then huffing breaths and a whimper echoed from the bathroom.

“Amy?” Matt whispered. “Time to go, sweetie.”

Amy screamed.

Matt jerked the door open and heard a moan. He suddenly realized the smell was more than typical bathroom aroma. He rushed into the gloom to see a prone figure sprawling on the floor in front of the stall where Amy was trapped behind the locked door.

Matt grabbed the corpse by the leg and pulled the dead woman from under the door. He stepped over the body and seized a handful of hair and slammed the face against the cinderblock wall. The bloodied woman jerked her head around to latch on to Matt’s arm, but he raised her head again to slam it into the concrete floor.

He threw the body toward the back of the room and slammed the machete into the head. When the walking corpse didn’t move he wiped the blade on her clothes then walked back to the stall.

“Amy? Honey, it’s alright. Unlock the door, sweetie.” His voice hitched with concern.

The door remained locked and Amy whimpered. “I’m scared.”

“The monster is gone. You can come out.” Matt implored.

The door lock clicked and the stall door opened a couple inches. Matt slowly pushed the door to see Amy standing on the toilet seat, her back pressed against the wall. Her eyes were wide with terror. When she recognized Matt, she launched herself into his arms.

He stumbled back wrapping his arms around the little girl. “I’ve got you.” He held her close as he walked out of the bathroom. “I am so sorry. I won’t let anything like that ever happen again.”

Della pointed the flashlight down between the rafters. “This is it,” she said. “We should come out right next to the fire exit door.”

Steve glanced back from the wall. “What’s that way?” He asked as he pointed about ten feet from the concrete wall. Will it get us behind a door?”

Della glanced back where Steve pointed then back at the concrete wall then answered. “I think so. It should be just inside the manager’s office.”

“Let’s go down there. That is if it’s empty.” Steve answered.

Steve pulled out a pair of fingerless gloves and his multi-tool knife. He settled on a rafter and began sawing at the sheetrock. When he got a hole outlined about the size of his fist, he stopped and punched through the sheetrock. He leaned close. After a full minute of moving his head from side to side to get a better view of the room below, he sat back up and began sawing again. After about three minutes, he was dripping sweat and breathing heavy.

Zack tapped him on the shoulder. “Let me get this man.”

“This shit is tough,” Steve remarked.

Steve relinquished the tool and Zack sawed at the sheetrock until he had made an opening large enough for even him to slide through. He carefully pulled the sheetrock up snapping the last six inches with sheer muscle power. He set it aside then leaned into the abyss. He looked one way then the other. Finally he looked up grinning.

“No, surprises.” Zack announced.

Steve scooted closer to the opening, but Della placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let me go first. Zack can lower me until I only have a foot or two to drop. If there’s a problem he can pull me back up.”

Steve opened his mouth to protest then gave a quick nod. “Sure.”

Della sat down at the edge of the opening with Zack straddling the hole above her. She reached up and let Zack wrap his huge hands around her thin wrists. She released her grip on the rafters and slid through the hole to hang above the carpeted flooring below. Slowly, Zack eased her down. When Zack got her as low as he could, Dell looked up and whispered.

“Let me go on three. One, two, three.”

Zack opened his fingers. Della landed with a gentle thud.

Zack grunted his way upright and grinned at Steve. “No problem.”

From below, Della whispered. “Send Jimmy down next. He can help push the desk across the room. It’ll make it easier for the rest of you to get down.”

Jimmy slid through the hole. His feet hit the carpet with a muffled bump. He hurried to the desk. Together, he and Della slid the desk to rest under the opening. One by one, each of the group dropped to the floor.

The two girls, Martha and Sandy, got through the hole and made it to the office below where they huddled together. Martha whimpered around a handful of tissues resulting in muffled sobs. Every couple minutes, Sandy tried to console her, but it did little to calm her anxiety.

When only Zack and Steve were left looking down in the office below, Steve pointed at the hole. “You next.”

“I can hold you if you have any problems.” Zack answered. “You should go next.”

Steve answered. “I can hold you steady until you get on your feet. We can’t catch you from below.”

“You might be right.” Zack chuckled then moved to the edge of the beam over the hole.

He pulled his legs into the opening and began easing himself through the hole. It was a tight fit between the rafters but he finally squeezed through.

Steve leaned over ready to reach for Zack if needed. Just as Zack eased down and his head disappeared into the room below, his left hand twisted around and slipped. Steve dove for his right hand and grabbed his hand as it slipped from the beam.

Zack teetered on his toes with Steve hanging half out of the hole still clutching his wrist. When Zack was standing on the desk, Steve released his arm and pulled himself back into the gloom. Zack slid off the desk.

“Thanks, man. That’s could have been ugly.” Zack whispered. “Come on down. I’ll catch ya.”

Steve eased through the hole and when his blades touched the desk, Zack grabbed him around the waist and pulled him from the desk. He allowed Steve to balance then released him with a pat on his back.

“You good?” Zack asked with a grin.

“I got it.”

Steve stepped back then made his way to the door. He eased the hall door open and looked toward the exit sign at the tee of the hallway. Walking was getting easier even if the blades were not meant for walking. It was a matter of finding a natural rhythm in his step he decided. He grinned to himself. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he suddenly realized he wasn’t going to be helpless.

“Looks good so far.” He whispered over his shoulder. “Let me look around the corner before anyone comes out. Zack, on my six.”

Zack grinned and gave a sloppy salute as he stepped to the door with Della close on his heels.

Steve stepped through the opening still resting his hand against the wall. He strode with solid sure steps to the end of the hall across from the fire escape door. He rested his hand against the wall and listened for a full minute. He could hear moaning in the distance, but nothing sounded close. He took a deep breath to prepare himself to peek around the corner.

He eased his face to the edge of the wall and slowly leaned forward for a quick glimpse then pulled his body back in a slit second. He paused a moment then repeated the maneuver taking more time to really look at the wandering infected down the hall. They were fifty feet away.

Finally, he turned back to the door and waved Zack and the others forward. Guided by Zack the group made their way to Steve’s side. Steve nodded toward the door.

“The bare tile is a problem. I can’t get any traction with the blades.”

Della stepped forward, but Zack raised his meaty hand to block her. “I got this.”

Steve ordered. “Get through the door and look over the rail. If it’s clear, hold open the door for everyone, otherwise, get back here quick and quiet as you can. Keep an eye open in case the infected at the end of the hall notice you.”

“Got it,” Zack answered as he stepped in front of Steve.

Steve laid his hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Be careful.”

Without a word, Zack tiptoed across the hall to the door. He eased the emergency exit door open then let it slip closed without a sound. A moment later, he reappeared in the opened door motioning the group toward him.

One by one, each of the survivors clutching their makeshift weapons crept to the door. The small landing behind Zack filled. Sandy and Martha refused to move from the landing while Jimmy pressed against Zack’s back to watch the remaining members of the group cross the tile expanse. Andy, clutching a stainless steel rod shuffled across the hall. She pushed through the doorway and tried to push into the already cramped landing.

Della hissed. “Sandy! You and Martha step back.”

Jimmy turned to add. “Make room.”

Della pulled Jimmy back. “You too.”

Steve, the last to cross the hall stepped from the corner of the hallway. He was half way to the door when there was a loud clatter. He looked toward the open door to see Jimmy righting himself.

Jimmy had stepped on Martha’s foot and stumbled. Martha had toppled against Sandy who in turn, stepped off the first step of the stairs and dropped the metal rod she had been holding.  It clattered down several steps leaving Steve the center of attention.

“Jig is up.” Steve hurried through the door, turned around and pushed against the metal barrier.

The door released from the inside and there was no way to keep it closed if the bodies on the other side leaned against the bar in the handle. Steve could see half a dozen blood-covered, infected had turned at the noise and were shambling toward the fire-door.

“Jimmy, get everyone moving down. Be quiet and stay below the window on the main floor. Stop at the bottom and wait for me.” Steve ordered as he pulled Zack toward the door. Zack pushed his toe against the door to hold it.

Martha stood with her hands covering her mouth. A piece of steel rod lay at her feet. “They’re going to get us!” She wailed ignoring Sandy’s efforts to pull her down the steps after the others.

Zack pushed Martha toward Sandy. “Shut up and get going, Martha.” He retrieved the steel rod she had picked up and passed it to Steve. “Can we wedge it under the door against the handrail?”

“Maybe,” Steve answered.

Zack stepped up to the door and jammed the rod under the bottom of the door. The blunt end made it hard to get it wedged in the crack so he jammed it into the corner and angled the opposite end against handrail. He pulled the roll of duct tape from his arm and wound the roll around the end of the rod against the handrail. In careful fluid movements he wound the tape around again and again. When he decided he had enough tape to anchor the rod, he peeled off length of tape to tape the door to the frame.

Steve grabbed Zack’s arm and ordered. “Time to go, man!”

The infected pressed their faces against the glass and began slamming their hands against the door.

“The door’s not going to hold long,” Steve announced.

“You need help getting down?” Zack asked.

“No, just go. It won’t be pretty, but I can manage it.” Steve answered. “Just get going. Get the others out of the way at the bottom.”

Zack raced down the stairs as fast as his bulk would permit. Steve clutched the handrail and leaned over using his weight to propel him downward on the leather-covered palms of his hands. He used his legs to control the speed then stagger around the mid-floor landing. He repeated the process to the bottom landing. All the while, the pounding from above grew louder and more violent.

When Steve landed at the bottom, he righted himself and made his way through the group to the door. He clutched the handle, ready to open it when he heard a crash from above. The door opened with a violent slamming against the wall.

“Fuck!” Steve cursed. “Can’t we get a break here?” He said to no one in particular. Taking a breath, he told the group. “I have a dark blue van big enough for all of us. It’s straight back from the building, half a dozen rows back. Just follow me.”

Andy interrupted. “I’m going home.”

Steve looked at her then shrugged. “It’s dangerous out there.”

Andy answered. “You do what you want, but I’m going to my car and going home.”

He pulled the keys from his pocket ready to push the button on the fob. “Use the side ramp to get inside and move to the back. Zack, bring up the rear. When you get inside, push the red button above the door. Della, ride shotgun.”

Suddenly three of the infected fell to the landing overhead in a heap of tangled arms and legs.

“Time to go!” Steve ordered. “Don’t fight unless you have to. Just run and get to the van. Jimmy, keep up with me, okay? Andy, stay close to us.”

Andy pulled her keys from her purse and slung the strap on the bag across her body. “I’m going home. You worry about them.”

Martha wailed. “I can’t! I’m scared!”

“Then get dead!” Jimmy shouted as Steve flung open the door and everyone bolted out into the afternoon sun. Zack grabbed the screwdriver from Sandy, pushed the door closed and jammed it under the exit door.

“Stay together,” Steve ordered as he moved toward the front of the building.

The first thing the group saw was a body pinned between two cars. It was a young girl about the same age as Sandy and Martha. She struggled against the vice-like grip of the small VW pinning her to an old mud-brownTaurus.

Martha pointed at the infected girl. “That’s Debbie! Oh, my God!”

“No matter now,” Steve answered as he ran from the building door. “Keep moving.”

He and Jimmy made their way to the end of the building with Della and the two girls on their heels. Steve looked around the corner of the building to see dozens of the infected milling around the front door of the building.

“Keep low. Do what I do and be quiet.”

One and two at a time, they crossed the short expanse from the corner of the building to the front of the Taurus. Keeping the Taurus and the VW between them and the infected, they made their way to the back of the front row of parked cars. With just six feet to the next vehicle, Steve again darted across the open space between the back of one car to the front of the next row of vehicles. The rest of the group followed.

Andy stopped, looked at the infected girl then took off toward the back of the parking lot.

“Andy!” Steve whispered.

She ignored him and disappeared around a row of vehicles.

Everyone looked on in horror as the infected girl noticed Andy running away from the group. The diseased girl jerked and swayed as she reached out toward Andy. Then she noticed all of them. Her moans became wails of frustration.

Even though the pinned girl had no way to free herself to get to them she was drawing attention their way. It was a moot point, but Steve swung the steel rod in his hand at the side of her head. It landed with a solid crack and he stumbled against the side of the car. The monster that had been Debbie collapsed to the hood of the VW.

The scattering of shambling infected focused on the group and suddenly they became their only focus.

“I always hated that bitch and now she’s killed us.” Sandy lamented.

“Run!” Steve ordered as he pushed himself upright and away from the car. He sprinted toward the van. He slipped into an easy gate that crossed the distance with little effort. The blades were for running. It felt good running.

Steve glanced over his shoulder and realized he was leaving the others behind so he slowed his pace and called over his shoulder. “Come on people. Get in the van!” He pressed the button to open the side door of the van.

Della darted around the back bumper of a Mini Cooper making her way toward the passenger front seat. Jimmy was four or five feet behind her. Zack herded the girls ten feet after Jimmy.

A man in scrubs with half his face in shreds and missing his right eye stumbled between two vehicles right behind Zack. Zack turned with the rod of stainless steel in his hand to face the blood spattered one eyed monster.

He back toward the girls where they stood whimpering. Zack glanced at the monster approaching then back at the girls. “Keep going!” He pushed them toward Jimmy then turned to face the infected.

The group drew more and more attention from the infected. Faces turned, shambling steps brought at least a dozen of the infected toward them.

“Run, damn it!” Zack yelled over his shoulder. As if suddenly released from paralysis, they darted toward Jimmy.

Jimmy neared the van and saw the ramp lowering. Jimmy grabbed Sandy’s arm and literally threw her through the opening. Martha was close behind. Jimmy pushed her toward the back seat then stood at the door with his makeshift weapon in hand waiting.

“Come on, Zack!”

Zack watched an approaching man. The infected was only five seven or eight with a wide body and a thick middle. He was dressed in blood covered scrubs and his bare pate flopped over his right ear. The flesh of his arms hung in bloody strips. His eyes were cloudy and appeared sightless yet he made his way straight at Zack. He raised his head, sniffed the air and kept moving forward.

“I ain’t got time for this shit, man,” Zack commented as he stepped toward the monster.

He raised the rod in a batter’s stance balancing his weight between his feet and waited the split second it took the man to get close enough then he swung.

The rod connected and the man’s head caved in at the side right above his ear. The body collapsed. Zack didn’t wait to see if the man moved again, he turned toward the van and hurried after the others still clutching the bloody rod.

Steve rounded the front of the van and caught himself against the front grill. An infected woman appeared at the back bumper of the vehicle. She sniffed and her steps quickened as she stumbled toward him.

Steve cringed at the terrible injuries the woman had suffered. Her arms and legs were covered in open wounds where the flesh had been torn out leaving ragged holes. Her face might have been pretty once, but it was impossible to tell now that it was flayed to the bone. Her nose had been torn off taking her upper lip and most of the left cheek with it. She raised her arms and moaned.

Della got to the van and opened the passenger door then noticed Steve standing still at the front of the van. “Steve?”

He raised his hand. “Get in the van and slam the door!”

Della caught movement through a back window and got a glimpse of an infected woman approaching Steve. She slid into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

The bloodied woman turned to face the sudden noise.

Steve took a step forward then swung the rod he had used on the girl a few minutes before. The power of the swing and sudden impact of connecting with her head left Steve off balance. He stumbled and caught himself on the side mirror. The infected woman fell to the pavement.

The jab in his side drove his breath from his lungs. Della grabbed the door handle ready to open it when he reappeared in the window. He righted himself and reached the door handle, opened it and climbed inside.

Jimmy stood guard at the side door until Zack got close, then slipped inside the van. Zack stepped through the open doorway and flopped on a middle seat. Jimmy leaned over and slammed his hand against the red button to close the door. They all watched as the ramp slowly rose while more of the infected converged on the slow closing barrier. The ramp was raised head-high and folded when the first fingers reached over the top edge.

Martha’s screams drowned out the moaning of the infected outside the van. Zack jumped to his feet and began beating at the clinging fingers. The ramp snapped into a locking position. Half a dozen fingers fell to the floor of the van behind Della’s seat.

The sliding door rolled forward swiping away reaching hands.

“Gross.” Jimmy laughed nervously.

Steve grinned over his shoulder. “There was a warning label about keeping fingers away from a closing ramp.”

Steve looked over his shoulder at the group settling in his van. The girls had settled on the single bench seat. The two boys settled on the middle seat.

He turned the key. “Buckle up, folks. This might get hairy!”

“And it hasn’t been so far?” Jimmy commented.

Steve fired up the van, put it in gear then released the hand break. Half a dozen infected made their way to the driver side of the van. Seeing Martha sitting next to the window, they began pounding on the glass smearing blood and gore on the glass.

Martha screamed and wailed. “We’ve got to get out of here! They’re going to get me!”

When she reached down to free herself from the seatbelt, Zack grabbed her hands. “We’re going now. Sit still and be quiet.”

Steve pressed the accelerator and the van rolled forward. He turned the wheel to the right and punched the gas. The van roared away from the nightmare of the V.A. Center.

No one spoke for nearly ten minutes then Jimmy asked. “Where are we going?”

“The Army base?” Zack suggested.

Steve sighed. “I don’t think so. If the military were viable, they would be on the street dealing with this shit. I think this is a lot bigger than just here.”

Martha leaned forward in the seat. “I want to go home. Can you take me home?”

They drove around a roadblock of crashed cars. Everyone in the van looked through the open doors and shattered windows to see blood and remnants of bodies.

From the back seat, Sandy whimpered. “Oh my God, people are being torn apart.”

Della responded. “I think you’re right, Sandy. We’re in real trouble here. Where can we go, Steve?”

“I’m not sure.” Steve answered. After a minute, he picked up his cell from the console and passed it to Della. “Don’t bother with 911, try calling family. We need to find a safe place to go. If you don’t have your phone, use mine.”

After a few minutes, they each came back with the same results. They passed the phones around the van as Steve drove toward the west.

Finally, Della stated. “Same as before; everyone is getting busy circuits. What are we going to do, Steve?”

Following

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

“Where did they go?” Liz screamed at Harry’s back. Her words were lost amid the roar of the motorcycle engines and moans of the infected.

John pulled ahead on his Harley with Harry following close behind. He weaved between vehicles and clusters of monsters. When one of the dead stood in his way, he calmly raised a handgun and fired, then roared past with Harry in his wake.

Liz pressed her face against Harry’s jacket, horrified at the mayhem of crashed cars and cannibalistic monsters clustered over bodies in the street. She felt exposed and vulnerable despite the fact both motorcycles seemed to be heavy-duty and designed for the open road. Harry’s black bike sported full seats, armrests and saddlebags big enough to accommodate a small child in each. John’s bike was similarly decked-out, but a deep green in color. They barreled out of the alley only to be forced to a crawl when they turned on the main street.

The infected that heard the bikes bolted upright and stumbled after them. Liz clung to Harry while the bikes eased around two cars locked together by smashed and tangled fenders. Blood splattered the inside of the windows and windshield of both vehicles. Through an open door, she could see a bloodied child’s car seat in the back seat of one of the vehicles.

Liz’s breath caught in her throat. Her girls. Where were her daughters? Where was her husband? Was her family safe?

A dozen or so infected stumbled out into the street from an opened doorway across the street as they passed. Those drawn to the roar of the bikes were within arm’s reach. Liz slammed her hand against Harry’s shoulder.

“They’re coming!” Liz shouted.

When Harry saw the hands reaching toward Liz, he gunned the bike and swerved to the left. He hit the curb with a jolt then bounced to the sidewalk. John gave a puzzled look at Liz’s frantic pointing and yells. When he looked where she was pointing, he saw the approaching horde. He roared a curse then gunned his engine to follow Harry.

They sped down the sidewalk until Harry turned off into an alley that exited into a darkened industrial park. They stopped behind two big rigs backed up into a loading dock. Both men cut their engines. Liz climbed off the seat and the men backed the bikes down a ramp into the shadow of the big rig.

“What are we doing?” Liz asked.

“This is bad.  Worse than I thought it would be.”

John agreed. “We can’t keep doing this. The bikes draw the fuckers like a dinner bell to the mess hall.”

“Got that right, man,” Harry answered. “But I’ll be damned if I’m leaving my bike.”

John looked around. “We need something bigger if not quieter.”

Liz looked up at the cab of the truck behind them. “Maybe you won’t have to. Give me a minute.”

Harry looked at her. “What the….”

Liz ignored his question and climbed to the gas tank at the side of the truck cab. After taking a breath, she tapped her knuckles on the side of the sleeper behind the cab. She clung to the side mirror as she looked inside. She slapped her palm against the window a bit louder. No sound came from inside and no bloody face appeared.

Liz peeked inside and called over her shoulder. “No keys.” Her voice and face mirrored her disappointment. “And no driver inside either. Let’s take it.”

“Good idea.” John chuckled. “One step at a time, Lizzy.” He kicked the stand under his bike and walked to the cab. He reached up to help Liz to the pavement. By the time she stood on terra firma, Harry had kicked his bike stand to the concrete and stepped off his bike.

John reached up and pulled at the door handle of the truck. It was locked. He shrugged and went to his bike, opened a saddlebag to pull a thin length of metal from the inside. He stepped up to the door and slid the metal down the glass to the inside of the door. A moment later, there was a soft click from inside the door and John opened it. He slid into the driver’s seat only to reappear a few minutes later shaking his head.

“I looked in all the usual places. No spare keys.” John announced.

Harry shrugged. “Let’s see if we can get inside the warehouse. Most likely the driver is still here. It’s the only way we’ll get the bikes into the back of the truck anyway.” He turned to Liz. “Stay here until I make sure there’re no infected inside on the loading dock.”

Liz frowned. “It’s too dangerous for you to do it alone. I need to help.” She walked toward the ramp and metal side door three bays down.

Harry shrugged. “If you’re sure.”

“If I don’t start defending myself, I’m dead. I won’t do my girls any good dead.” She answered.

When she got near a massive dumpster, she saw a three-foot piece of rebar. She pulled one free and nodded at Harry.

“This will be quieter,” Liz announced.

Liz pulled two more metal bars free and leaned them against the dumpster. Close on her heels, each man picked up a length of rebar themselves. When they got to the door, Liz raised the rebar and tapped on the metal door then pressed her ear against the metal. She listened. No sounds came inside. After a couple minutes, she tapped on the metal again.

“I can’t hear anything inside. I don’t know if it’s because the door is too thick or if the loading dock is empty.” Liz announced with a shrug.

She pulled down on the metal handle and pulled. The door was unlocked. She peeked inside, but it was dark as midnight on a moonless night. Liz took a deep breath and started to open the door, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.

John grinned and passed her a flashlight. “Thought we might need these.” He stepped to Liz’s side. “Let’s do it, Lizzy. You open, I go first. Okay? Harry, watch the bikes and cover our six until we get the doors open.”

Harry nodded and stood his ground.

Liz gave a quick nod then pulled at the door. The metal barrier opened silently.

Together they sent beams of light into the darkness. The warehouse was not empty. Two men shambled from between pallets, both covered in blood. Their eyes looked nearly opaque in the glare of the flashlight beams. The younger of the two was a skinny teen wearing a shirt with his name on the breast pocket.

“Fuck!” John whispered. “Get back Lizzy!”

“I’ll take care of the kid. You get the fat guy,” Liz answered as she side-stepped toward the kid.

“If you need help, holler!” John answered.

John swung the rebar at the big guy’s head, then stepped clear of the reaching arms. He caught the dead man low on the neck and his head tilted at an odd angle. The infected barely slowed despite the fact his head bobbed from side to side, as he stumbled forward.

Blood covered hands reached for John again, but John swung the rebar into the man’s knees and the guy toppled to the concrete floor. With both knees shattered. John stepped back and swung the rebar one last time. The monster’s body lay still.

Meanwhile, Liz, filled with pity, looked at the thin body of the monster approaching her. He was young and she doubted he had ever really needed to shave. The sadness threatened to overwhelm her.

While she mourned the life lost, the infected made his way closer and closer. Liz suddenly realized her danger when he moaned. The kid reached for her and she swung the rebar in a wide arc. The metal met the side of his head with the dull thud of shattered bone. The kid dropped like a stone.

Liz dropped the rebar and stood looking down at the body as tears slid down her face.

John picked up Liz’s rebar and handed it back to her. “We need to make sure that’s all of ‘em.”

The warehouse was quiet except for the sound of Liz’s breath catching in her throat.

Finally, John spoke. “He was long gone, Lizzy. That was only dead meat.” He whispered. “You did him a favor.”

“I know,” Liz answered with a sniff. “What do you want me to do?” She squared her shoulders and looked at John as she wiped away the tears on her cheeks.

“Okay, then. I’ll see if this is the driver and you can look into getting the overhead doors opened.”

With flashlight in hand, Liz walked toward the rolling overhead doors.

John patted down the pockets of the fat man. He ignored the blood and gore touching the front of the denim with the top of his fingers. A moment later, he slipped his fingers into a pocket and pulled out a set of keys with a GMC fob on the key ring.

“Bingo.” He dropped them in his pocket and followed Liz to the roll up the door behind the big rig outside the warehouse. He pulled the chain. The door moved a few inches then stopped. “What the hell?”

Liz shone her light on the chain wheel overhead and followed it down to a padlock near the bottom. The loop of the padlock was threaded through the chain and a hole in the track. John cursed under his breath then jammed the rebar between the shackle and the body of the lock. With a grunt and quick snap, the lock popped open.

After jerking the metal loop free, he pulled the chain again and afternoon light spilled into the warehouse around the back of the trailer. Once opened, Harry vaulted up into the warehouse.

“You took a while. I was getting worried.” Harry complained then he noticed the bodies near the door. “Well, fuck. Why didn’t you call me?”

Liz answered. “We had it covered.”

“Let’s get busy.” When John looked puzzled and Harry continued. “Before we load the bikes, let’s put on a few pallets of food and water. Won’t be any Micky-D’s and I don’t want to be scrounging for our next meal. All we’re going to need is a few camping supplies.”

Liz nodded. “We have to hurry. The soldiers are getting farther away all the time.”

John grabbed a pallet-jack and started loading pallets stacked with boxes on to the trailer. He didn’t seem to be too discriminating because Liz noticed he included a few pallets with the name Johnson and Johnson on the products. He even included a pallet of toilet paper. By the time he had quit, John had loaded three pallets of water, Dinty Moore Stew, Corn, Peas, Beans, Tuna, and case after case of Chief Boyardee canned pasta.

Within ten minutes, the floor of the trailer was filled with pallets creating a narrow alley to the front of the trailer. John took a final pallet and moved the product to the side and swathed it in shrink-wrap plastic. He did it with a second pallet and Liz realized he didn’t really care what product he was loading since it was all paper goods. He was planning to use it to protect the motorcycles when they were loaded.

When both men were satisfied with the loading, they jumped down and walked to their bikes. They walked them around to the ramp leading up to the side door and brought the bikes into the warehouse.

Liz called out. “I need a bathroom before we go.”

“Be careful,” Harry called out. “You see anything hinky, holler.”

She picked up her rebar and headed deeper into the gloom. She found a door, eased through and looked for the bathroom. She walked slowly deliberately placing one foot in front of the other. She strained to hear any sounds from the offices beyond. She walked past the warehouse manager’s office and glanced inside. She stopped suddenly and stepped inside. She grabbed a plastic bag from the waste basket and dropped half a dozen cans of spray paint in it.

She stepped back into the hall and saw the restroom sign tacked to a door next to an open break room. She peeked into the half opened door and flipped on the light. Nothing jumped out at her. She stepped inside and leaned the rebar against the wall and used the toilet. When she was finished she turned toward the sink and washed her hands.

Liz didn’t recognize the person staring back at her from the mirror over the sink. She looked tired. When tears threatened, she hurled the paper toward the wastebasket and picked up the rebar. Out in the hall she stepped back into the break room and grabbed a plastic bag from the counter, kicked in the front of a snack machine and quickly pulled bags of cookies, candy and chips into the bag. When she was done, she made her way back into the warehouse.

The two men had finished loading the bikes on the trailer, secured them and then slid the trailer doors closed. They lowered the open door to the right.

“I’ll get the last one.” Liz opened one of the cans of spray paint. She used the spray paint to draw a huge heart on the back of the door and added C & A, Love Mommy. She stowed the can and pulled the chain to lower the door. When it neared the loading bay floor, she dropped to her knees and slid to the ground outside at the edge of the trailer.

The trio climbed into the truck with Liz slipping between the bucket seats to sit on the edge of the sleeper. Liz threw her bags aside.

“How are we going to find the soldiers?”

Harry cranked the engine and the truck roared to life. He pressed the clutch and shifted into the first gear. Harry cleared his throat as he shifted the big rig into first gear. “I’ve been thinking about that. They’re military and they need baby supplies. They’ll be stopping along the way. I think we head the direction we last saw them heading. North West.”

“And watch for signs,” John answered. “Sounds like a plan.” John opened the bag Liz had handed him and opened the top. He leaned toward Liz. “Snacks?”

Liz grinned and grabbed a Snickers bar. “I usually don’t eat candy but since the world has gone to shit I guess it won’t matter how I look in a swimsuit this summer.”

Harry stuck his hand into the bag. “That a girl.”

They pulled out of the business park and a few minutes later faced the congested streets. The big rig was a monster of trucking technology. It sported a metal frame in front of a grill that mowed down any infected that had the misfortune of being in its path. Metal screamed as the truck squeezed between vehicles or bounced metal off the steel wrapped around the headlights.

Despite the power and ramming capabilities that allowed them to make good time, they saw no hint of the Humvee as they moved through the streets. Even with the monster engine there was no way through some of the massive traffic jams. Time and again they had backtracked, but in the end, they always moved west.

After the first hour, Liz began exploring the sleeper behind the seat. Inside she found a small frig, loaded with cold drinks and several containers of food in plastic trays. They sat on the shelves of a storage cubby and would only require warming in a microwave. A quick look around and she saw the door above the open shelf. It was the smallest microwave she had ever seen.

“Okay, Matt, where to now?” Larry asked as he plowed over three infected at the entrance of the alley. Two of the bodies fell under the massive tires jerking the wheel and jostling the vehicle from left to right and back again. The Humvee roared from between the brick buildings and hit the front bumper of a Fiat sending it into the front of a glass storefront across the street.

“Sorry. I’ll try to dodge around the next one so you can settle things down back there.”

The baby in Matt’s arms screamed in terror. Matt had no experience with babies and the screaming made his head throb. He didn’t have a clue what to do so he just clung to the squirming bundle trying to keep her from slipping from his grasp.

“Larry, damn it, slow down and stop hitting shit! You’re scaring the shit outta the kids back here.” Matt ordered. “And I need a fucking drink.”

“Sorry,” Larry mumbled over the crying children.

“My mommy? We have to go back for my mommy.” Amy wailed.

Matt sighed as he looked at Amy, then down at the sobbing baby in his arms. He had to get his shit together. When he looked at the men in the front seat, he realized the three of them were the only hope for the two kids. It was time to man up.

Larry slowed the Humvee to a speed that allowed him to dodge around stopped or crashed vehicles but still outpace the roaming infected.

Matt slid closer to Amy and wrapped his arm around her trembling shoulders trying to calm her terror. “We’re going somewhere safe. Can you help me, Amy? Let’s get your sister a clean diaper and calmed down.”

Amy nodded and pulled a pacifier from the diaper bag. She popped it into the baby’s mouth. The baby began sucking the nipple and silence filled the vehicle.

Matt gave a big sigh of relief. Amy unlatched the seatbelt and slid out from under Matt’s arm to reach deeper into the diaper bag. She passed Matt a disposable diaper then settled back and reattached the seatbelt.

Matt accepted the diaper then laid the unhappy baby across his lap on her stomach.

“Not like that!” Amy protested. “On her back. Her head there.” She pointed to his knees. “My daddy can do it like that.”

He carefully laid the baby girl down as instructed and with a little help removed the wet diaper then opened the window and tossed it out. The wind caught the diaper and it flew into the face of an infected man as they passed. Amy giggled.

“Oh, you like that, huh?” Matt asked as he grinned at her. Amy shrugged and grew silent. He unfolded the new diaper. It can’t be that hard, right. He looked to Amy and asked. “Now what?”

“That end goes under her bottom,” Amy advised.

Matt followed the directions then pulled the front up and between the baby’s legs. He pulled down at the top as he wondered about the closures.

Amy leaned over and pulled the tabs up and over the front.

It was done. He sighed in relief. “That wasn’t so hard. You think she’s hungry?” Matt asked.

Amy nodded.

Matt leaned toward the front seat. “Hey Curtis, hold the baby for a minute.” He passed the infant to Jake immediately made faces and baby sounds. It was funny seeing a huge black man playing with the tiny baby girl. Her sudden smile caused her to drop the pacifier and the road sounds were drowned out by a giggle.

Amy helped Matt make a bottle of formula then passed the bottle to Jake. Within minutes, the vehicle was quiet except for an occasional slurp of the hungry baby.

Matt looked at the ten-year-old girl and asked. “What’s your name?”

“Amy.”

“Is this your sister?”

“Yes. Her name is Claire. My daddy is a soldier. How are we going to find my mommy?”

“We’re gonna work on that as soon as we can,” Matt answered as he rubbed at his temple.

When they got a few miles away from the alley, Larry pulled off on a side street with a good view of the surroundings and stopped. After looking around for the infected one last time, Larry leaned over and picked up a radio and depressed the button on the side.

“Three stooges outside the wire. Request FOB?”

Initially, Matt had hated when a smart-ass sergeant had referred to the trio during ranger training as the “three stooges”, now at thirty-two, the moniker never failed to bring a smile to his face. They became fast friends in boot camp and remained together ever since. When men in the unit began referring to them as The Three Stooges, Matt decided if he couldn’t escape it, he may as well embrace it.

He smiled thinking of his friends as young recruits and the strong capable soldiers they had become. If he was going to be caught in a shit-storm, he was glad it was with them.

Larry Benson was five-ten but sported broad shouldered with thick muscled arms. He was a bearish man that kept his wiry black hair cut short and his hazel eyes hidden behind a pair of aviator glasses.

Jake Curtis had put on almost fifty pounds of muscle since basic training and grown into a huge man with a quick smile. When he started losing his hair, he shaved what was left and never looked back. The bald head and massive build made him look fierce and dangerous until he smiled.

Matt was almost as tall as Jake, but didn’t have the bulk of his friend despite the weight lifting and training. He kept his sandy blonde hair short and his face with its square jaw, clean shaven at least until he had started drinking. Over the last year in the Sand Box, a name used by some of the troops to identify Iraq, deep furrows had appeared on his sun-browned face.

Since back stateside, he had become brooding and silent. He spent hours replaying missions over and over again blaming himself for the missions that failed. Only alcohol dampened the need to constantly examine his decisions.

Larry released the button on the mic and waited. Static and distant gunfire was the only answer. After three minutes, he repeated the message and waited again. No response.

Finally, Larry sighed and turned down the volume. “Maybe it’s the range on this radio.”

Jake answered pointedly. “You saw the same things I did last night. We’re on our own.” He bounced Claire on his shoulder.

Matt’s head pounded as if Van Halen’s drummer was doing a solo. He leaned forward to be part of the conversation. “What in the fuck is going on? What is wrong with all those people?”

Jake turned around and looked at Amy pointedly.

Matt grunted and mumbled. “Sorry, kid. I’m a little under the weather.” Matt ignored Jake clearing his throat and continued. “What’s going on?”

Larry spent several minutes outlining the attack and the resulting masses of roaming infected dead.

Matt just kept moving his head from side to side all the while his face growing paler by the minute. “I…I can’t…I don’t…believe this.” He leaned against the window and closed his eyes. He gripped his knees to keep his hands from shaking. He really needed a drink.

Finally, Larry turned to Jake and asked. “What are we going to do?” He jerked a thumb toward Matt. “Shit for brains there, is so hung over he can barely sit up. We’re so fucked now.”

Jake frowned. “Watch your mouth, Larry. We got kids in the vehicle.”

Matt looked at Amy. Her pale and tears streaked face tore at his heart. Ignoring the bickering conversation in the front seat, Matt swallowed the bile at the back of his throat and cleared his throat.

“Turn left here and head to Smith Street. We’re going to the orange storage units just north of West Commerce. I got a unit at the back of the facility. It’ll be a quiet place to regroup.” After a pause, he continued. “I got weapons.”

Larry snorted. “And you got a well-stocked frig in this storage unit?”

The baby began to whimper and Jake turned his dark face around to look over his shoulder and smiled at Amy. “Don’t worry little one. We’ll figure this out. Poor Larry here is a little anxious. Just ignore him.”

“Yes, sir.” Amy answered then continued. “A hmmmm. Mister? That was the last diaper and Claire makes a dirty diaper after she eats.” She shrugged.

“Diapers.” Larry lamented. “Where in the fuck are we going to get diapers?”

Matt raised his hand. “Enough!” He swallowed hard. “There’s both a CVS and a Walgreens about a mile from the units. If we’re lucky we can find what we need, then have a quiet place to hunker down and evaluate our options. Hopefully, the area is quiet.”

“Yeah. That sounds good.” Jake chimed in. “And after that? You know we can’t stay in the city for long. Electricity will be going out.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Matt answered as he picked up the diaper bag and riffled through the contents.

Amy was right. No more diapers. He put everything back except a woman’s wallet he’d found in a side pocket. He ignored the credit cards and cash and looked at the driver’s license. Elizabeth Jameson. She was a nice looking woman judging from her picture. He replaced the license and found a slip of paper with a rural address postmarked through a small town three hundred or so from the city.

Matt turned to Amy. “Your last name is Jameson?” Amy nodded. “Who lives in Pine Springs Canyon, Texas?”

“My grandpa. He used to be in the Army, but now he lives out in the woods.”

Matt nodded. Jameson? He groaned. He knew the kid’s father. He was a good man and had kept him out of a jail cell more than once in the last few months. He was an M.P. on the base. That meant whatever went down he would have been in the middle of it. Captain Brian Jameson was probably dead.

“Is your dad, Brian Jameson?” Matt asked.

Amy smiled. “Yes, sir.”

Matt replaced everything in the wallet except the slip of paper and returned the wallet to the bag. At least it would be a destination that satisfied two requirements; family for the girls and out of the city. Maybe grandpa would be remote enough to protect the kids.

Matt buckled Amy into the seat belt next to him while Larry put the Humvee in gear and pulled from the gloom of the side street onto a boulevard that led to a thoroughfare. He guided the vehicle around a small fender bender and eased down the street toward the warehouse district. They passed gatherings of the undead. Each time the vehicle grew close the faces turned and arms reached out toward them. The infected would begin to follow and Larry would accelerate and leave them behind.

Matt was appalled.  There were hundreds of the mangled and torn dead stumbling around the city. The bodies were walking nightmares.

Matt leaned toward Amy. “Hey, don’t look out the window okay?”

Amy turned to face him. “Claire is supposed to ride in a car seat.”

Matt chuckled. “I guess you’ll have to tell us what we need for your sister.”

Larry used the medium to drive around a roadblock as they got closer to the base. Clusters of the infected dressed in military garb stumbled through the streets aimlessly until they spotted the moving vehicle. As they neared a group of stumbling monsters in the middle of the road, Matt saw they were feasting on two bodies. The world has gone to hell.

Twenty minutes later, the Humvee approached an intersection where three infected dressed in tattered and torn business suits leaned over a body still trapped in a car. The car had been involved in a minor accident crumpling the front fender. Now the windows were broken and the infected were feasting on the remnants of the occupants. They pulled entrails from the trapped corpse and clutching organs against their gnashing mouths. Dozens of infected had been drawn to the accident.

Larry slammed on the breaks. “Ain’t getting through this ways.”

Matt stared at the sight through the windshield then turned back to Amy. “Lay your head down, Amy.” He reached out and pulled her against his chest.

He sobered as he realized the terrible state of the world. He could see when the infected noticed the vehicle. They focused on the sound then sniffed the air like dogs smelling a bitch in heat. Finally, they seemed to comprehend the faces through the windshield and turned toward the passing vehicle.

“Uh oh. I think they’ve noticed us.” Jake commented as he passed the baby over the seat back.

Matt accepted the infant and pulled her close as he ordered. “Back up! Get us out of here, Larry.”

Larry slammed the Humvee into reverse and turned the wheel to the right. He performed a K-turn and headed back the way they had come. At the next intersection, he turned right and stepped on the gas. At the first cross street, he looked toward the right and saw a repeat of the same scene of the previous intersection.

“We’re fucked!” Larry pointed to the intersection ahead. He braked then quickly looked left and right. “Which way? Where do we go from here?”

Matt pointed toward a yard and deteriorating picket fence. “That way! Go right through the yard to the next block.” Matt ordered. He pulled Amy and the baby closer. They jostled around the back seat. “Amy, hang on. This is going to be bumpy.”

Amy grabbed at the handhold of the seat in front of her, her face mirroring her terror. She turned toward Matt and commented. “Claire should be in a car seat.”

Matt cuddled the baby close with both arms and answered. “We know sweetie, but for now, we have to get outta here. Now hang on as tight as you can.”

“Fucking hope there ain’t any pools!” Jake shouted as he braced himself between the door and the array of equipment in the console between the seats.

Larry turned toward the fence and gunned the engine. The vehicle jumped the curb and slammed into the fence. Pickets flew to either side in arcing white missiles. The Humvee plowed through the yard and into the adjoining yard. Larry stirred the vehicle between cemented posts, sending splinters of cedar left and right.

The Humvee burst through the last fence but by the time the debris cleared, Larry realized they were racing toward the side of a Cadillac parked near the house. He jerked the wheel to the left and sped between two small trees, before bouncing down the curb and clipping the passenger side tail light with the front bumper. He jerked the wheel to the right and ended up face to face with a horde of the infected.

“Oh, hell, no!” Larry cursed as he slammed on the breaks.

Jake clutched at the handle above his head. “Turn around. One-eighty man!”

“No, shit!” Larry answered as he executed a U-turn in the middle of the street and headed in the opposite direction.

“I know where we are.” Matt leaned over to look around Jake’s head. “Take the next right.”

“We gotta find some weapons. We’re rolling around with all these freaks and we don’t have a gun between us.” Jake commented.

“I got that covered,” Matt answered. He looked down and groaned. A wet spot appeared under the baby and began growing across his pant legs.

“Before we do that, we stop to find some fucking diapers!” Matt groused. The baby in his arms began to cry and he instantly felt like a jerk. “Sorry, sweetie. I know, you’re wet and we’re going to deal with it as quick as we can.” After a soft rumble against his leg, a whiff of dirty diapers filled the confines of the vehicle. Matt laughed. “I deserved that baby girl.”

The residential area gave way to a sparsely occupied commercial zone with blocks of overgrown vacant lots. They drove nearly a mile before they saw occupied buildings in the distance. As they drew closer, the trio realized it was a small strip center with half a dozen stores. Only two storefronts were occupied; one with a Dollar General store and the other a florist.

An infected woman paced back and forth inside the small flower shop. She clutched a wilted rose in one hand while the other hung limp at her side still covered in gore from the shoulder to fingertips. The dead woman just stood at the window staring through the glass. The retail center gave way to several office buildings then the open parking lot of a large discount store.

“Hey, look there!” Jake pointed at the Walmart.

Larry slowed and turned into the parking lot. He headed toward the front door driving slowly through the vacant parking lot. He parked the Humvee about twenty feet from the door and studied a sign on the door. The store was closed the night before for inventory.

“Could be people in there,” Jake commented.

“Yeah, could be,” Matt commented. “Jake, with me. Larry, stay with the girls. If anything happens, get to my storage locker then take the girls to their grandfather’s place.” He scribbled an address on a scrap of paper and passed it to Larry. “If anything goes wrong, head to the storage unit at this address. It has everything you’ll need. These keys will get you in the unit.” He laid a keyring on the center console. I wrote the code to open the gate on the paper.”

He turned back to Amy and passed the baby to her. “Hold your sister while I’m gone.”

He opened the door, got out and reclosed it. He walked around the back of the Humvee, opened the back door and pulled a tire iron from inside the back then reclosed the door.

Jake eased his massive frame from the front seat of the vehicle. He put a hand to his back and stretched. “I guess there ain’t two of those?” When Matt offered him the tire iron, he moved his head from left to right. “I’ll pick up something inside. Let’s do this.”

Amy called out. “Don’t forget a car seat!”

Jake laughed and gave Amy a thumbs-up. “I got it covered, little girl.”

He walked to the front door and pushed on the closed door. When it didn’t budge, he reared back to drive his foot through the glass panel. The glass shattered and fell to the concrete in a waterfall of sparkling shards.

Matt and Jake eased through the opening and disappeared into the dimly lit store. Matt stopped to study the overhead signage. A moment later, he nodded toward the baby aisle. “Get what you think we need for the girls over there. I’ll get water and food. Don’t forget diapers. Pick up something to use as a weapon on the way. There might be infected in here.”

“No worries,” Jake answered as he grabbed a shopping cart and hurried away toward the garden center.

Matt grabbed a cart and headed into the store. Suddenly, he stopped as he neared the end of an aisle. Shuffling feet and a low moan made Matt stop and release the cart handle. He sidestepped toward the shelving of the endcap. He raised the tire iron then slid his foot forward. Peeking around the cases of canned corn he saw the infected making his way toward him. He also noticed a hanging display of the small packages of notepads. He pulled a package from the rack and tossed it to the middle of the aisle.

The infected, dressed in a white shirt and black apron moaned as he leaned toward the packet. Matt slammed the tire iron down on the back of a young man’s skull. Bone crunched and scalp split. The body fell to the floor, black goo spilling from the wound. The monster still clutched the note paper in his hand when he twitched one last time.

“Sorry, buddy.” Matt pulled the kid’s legs out of the way and rolled the cart into the hardware department. He grabbed a number of items from the shelves, all in threes. He found multi-tools, large knives and machetes then headed toward the grocery department.

He stacked cases of water on the bottom of the cart then swept the shelves of pre-packaged ready to eat meals and bags of nutrition bars. As an after-thought, he tossed in boxes of Pop Tarts, cereal in bags, boxes of crackers and powdered milk.

He heard Jake on the baby aisle tossing things into the cart. When he arrived, he found Jake’s cart filled with an array of items: cans of dry formula, three huge bags of diapers, baby wipes, cases of baby food, packages of baby clothes, blankets and in his hand he carried a car seat box.

Matt grabbed a rattle from the shelf and tossed it into Jake’s cart. “Let’s move.”

They both turned and headed toward the front of the store door. Matt walked past paper goods and grabbed three boxes of plastic spoons. As they made their way down the aisle, they passed a display of Tylenol. Matt grabbed two bottles and tossed them into the cart. He kept a third box and tore the top off, dumped the bottle out and then twisted at the cap.

When he looked back up, he cursed again. “Fucking headache!”

Jake nudged Matt with his elbow, but Matt ignored him.

“Child proof.” Matt complained.

“Ain’t got time for that,” Jake answered and pointed toward the back of the store.

Two infected appeared from the auto department and began shambling toward them while Matt struggled with the packaging. Jake looked up and reached for the tire iron, but Matt raised his hand.

“I got this.”

He threw the plastic bottle at Jake then dug through his cart and pulled two machetes from the shopping cart he had filled. He tossed one to Jake and ripped the second from the scabbard. He walked away to meet the pair of infected. He jabbed the blade into the left eye of the first, withdrew it then swung the blade in a wide arc at the second monster. The head separated from the body of a young woman in a white jacket. Her hair fanned out as her head spun away.

Matt finished off two more store employees and wiped the blade on the white coat of the pharmacy technician before he slid the machete back in the scabbard. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Jake rolled his cart to the shattered window, stepped outside then picked up the front wheels and eased it over the window frame. He pulled the cart forward then Matt raised the back wheels over the window frame. When Jake’s cart was clear, Matt moved his cart in position and they repeated the process.

Jake pushed the cart to the back of the truck and began tossing his haul into the back of the Humvee. He tore the car seat box open and tossed the box aside. He pushed the seat into the middle of the back seat of the Humvee. He stepped aside to give Matt access to the open tailgate.

Matt pushed the cases of water toward the back seat, then picked up the cart and upturned the content into the back of the vehicle. He slammed the back door and grinned at Jake.

“Good work, buddy.”

Larry called out. “Better get a move on guy, we got company.”

Matt looked over his shoulder. “Oh, fuck.”

Jake turned just in time to see an infected redneck ready to take a chunk out of his shoulder. He jumped back swinging the shopping cart at the monster. The cart knocked the infected man down and Jake drew his machete. He slammed the blade into the top of the man’s head. The man fell back pulling the blade from Jake’s hand and landed with a crack of his skull against the asphalt. Jake ran to the body, stepped on the redneck’s face and pulled the machete free. He hurried back to the front of the Humvee and climbed in the front seat.

Matt took off half of the second infected man’s head then followed Jake to the passenger side of the vehicle. With the second door slamming, Larry jammed the vehicle into gear and spun out of the parking lot.

“Pablo! Maria! Oh my God….” Tate called out as she turned toward the couple, ready to run to them.

How could her friends from the truck stop still be walking when covered in such terrible wounds? Strips of flesh were torn from their arms and faces. Maria’s peasant blouse hung off one shoulder exposing the remnants of a tattered and blood-soaked bra and the raw open wound where her ample breast had been. Her throat had been torn out leaving another gaping injury. Pablo had a yawning hole in his belly big enough to spill loops of intestines from the opening. The others, following Maria and Pablo, each with terrible injuries and covered in blood and gore.

The old man grabbed her arm nearly pulling her shoulder from the socket. She spun around stumbling to her knees, her arm still in his grasp and held over her head. He released her and stepped back. She jumped to her feet, turned on him with a clenched fist, ready to deck the old man. When she saw his face, her rage dissolved. His eyes glistened with tears.

He covered her fist with his hand and pushed it down. “You can’t do anything for them.” He whispered. “Get in the truck or you’re dead, too.” He gave her a gentle shove toward the truck door.

Tate looked over her shoulder one last time then opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat. Through the open door, she stared across the parking lot at Pablo and Maria as they stumbled toward the truck.

Tate stared at the assemblage until the old man slammed an open palm against the passenger door of the cab. Tate pushed the automatic lock release and he climbed inside, slamming his door.

“Close the damn door!” He ordered.

Tate pulled the door closed then turned to her passenger. “What happened to them?”

“Infected got them. They’re dead.” He answered.

“How in the hell can they be dead and still walking around?” She demanded.

“Bio-terrorism…or so the news reports said.” The old man took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you all about it, but right now, we need to get outta here.”

He pointed toward the drug store where a gathering of the bloodied populace had noticed the commotion earlier and were making a bee-line toward them.

“Are they really coming after us?” Tate asked in disbelief.

The old man sighed. “What does it look like? If you want to live, crank this rig and get us outta here!”

Tate scowled and turned the key. “You don’t have to be such an asshole. I just woke up and I gotta pee like a racehorse.”

“Drive now. Pee later.” He groused back.

Tate maneuvered out of the parking lot onto the street heading away from the truck stop. She weaved through stalled vehicles, scraping the brush guard and trailer more often than not.

She used the bumper to push a vehicle out of the way since gatherings of infected stopped them from even considering getting out of the truck and drive the vehicles out of the way. The shiny chrome bumper was taking a beating and Tate cringed at each scratch and scrape.

The old man introduced himself as Charlie Duffy. He directed her down side-street after side-street until Tate thought she would either pee right in the seat or her eyes would pop out of her head from the pressure. It was a toss-up as to which would come first.

“You know how much my payments are for this truck?” Tate complained. “We have to stop. I’m not pissing in my fucking seat. We’re gonna stop sooner rather than later.”

The old man shrugged. “Take a piss with the streets swarming with infected and one of those bastards will be on your ass before you can pull down your pants. As for truck payments, I doubt it matters now. In another week, you can use cash to wipe your ass when you take a shit.”

Trying to ignore her bladder screaming for relief, she asked. “What do you mean?”

“It won’t be long before there won’t be anyone left to stop the infection. When the bastards hit the military bases they took out the only hope of controlling it. Nowadays, without the military there isn’t enough people that know how to use the guns it’ll take to put down all the dead.” Charlie answered. “If the brain isn’t destroyed, the bastards just get back up and come after you again.

They drove through silent streets where the only people they saw were bloodied and now were monsters. Men, women and children alike had become fiends ready to tear the flesh from the living. As the truck passed, the infected reached out and turned their faces with gnashing teeth toward the sound.

Tate struggled to ignore the stench wafting up from the groups of infected. The smell was worse than an open sewer line. She closed the vents in the cab, but the disgusting odor invaded the confines of the vehicle.

“Smells like shit.” Tate groused.

“It is. Bowels and bladders release when they die. Most of the dead are stumbling around with a full load in their pants.”

“Great. Not bad enough they want to eat us, they smell like shit.”

Charlie shrugged. “Sums it up pretty much.”

The rig finally cleared the suburbs and escaped into the country. Tate had not seen an infected person in over a mile when she noticed an abandoned road side park a few hundred feet ahead. After checking the mirrors, she decided there was no one around. She downshifted, jolted to a stop, and slammed the truck into park. She pulled the key from the ignition, jerked open the door and slid from the leather seat to the bare dirt of the neglected driveway.

After pulling down the zipper on her jeans, she squatted where she’d landed. Her bladder released and she almost wept with relief. The puddle grew in the dry packed earth, spreading out to trail away from her booted feet. She sighed as the minutes trickled away. She heard the passenger door open and close then she could hear a similar sound on the opposite side of the truck.

When finished, she pulled up her pants and walked away from the cab. She turned at the sound of booted steps near the front of the truck and saw Charlie standing with his back to her looking toward the city.

“It’s gone. It’ll never be the same.” Charlie announced. “Those assholes think they’re destroying this country but in the end, it’ll come back to bite ‘em in the ass. This time, there won’t be an army of do-gooders from this country left to save them. Because this will get out, trust me. It’s too deadly not to go beyond our borders.”

“They can go to hell,” Tate answered. “After what I’ve seen today, I hope they all end up in hell.”

“They will,” Charlie answered. “Along with the rest of the world, they will reap what they’ve sown. It was at the base forty-eight hours ago, now it’s spilling out into the country. Half a dozen states were attacked; half of those are out of control already.”

“How did you end up at the truck stop?” Tate asked as she reached in the truck for a hair brush. She attacked the gelled spikes of hair.

“My son…well, we were making a delivery at the back door when the mob came through about seven last night. We heard bits of the reports on the radio before they swarmed the place but didn’t pay much attention. It was our last stop. We were worried about all the craziness but just tried to get done so we could head home.

I was in the truck sorting the stock and Jackson carried the first load inside. He saw the infected soldiers come through the front and attack people. He escaped out the back door closing it behind him. He pulled the truck’s overhead door closed with us inside.

I wanted to go help, but he convinced me to stay in the truck. We listened to the screams of people being attacked for about an hour then it got really quiet. I wanted to leave then, but Jackson talked me into waiting until around seven this morning.

We thought they were all gone so we raised the door real slow and got out. I got down on the driver’s side and Jackson headed around to get in the passenger door and walked right into a teen in a football jersey with half his face missing. The bastard had Jackson down on the ground before I even realized something was happening.

When I heard him yelling, I grabbed the bat from the cab and ran around the front of the truck. I beat the bastard’s head in, but it was too late.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie.” Tate responded.

“I pulled Jackson into the cab of the truck. There was so much blood and I just didn’t know what to do other than try to bandage the wounds then get him to the hospital. I tried cranking the truck, but the battery was dead. We’d left the damned lights on. So we just sat there.

I must have dozed off because I woke up when I heard growling. It sounded like a rabid dog or something. I opened my eyes to see Jackson crawling toward me. I grabbed the bat and used it to keep him back, but I…just couldn’t….” His voice cracked with emotion.

Tate put her hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry this happened to you and your son.”

Charlie shrugged. “Nothing to be done, now.”

“You mentioned your wife.”

“I need to get home.”

“Can I take you there?” Tate asked.

Charlie turned to look at Tate. “It’s about thirty miles west of here. If we can find a vehicle, I can make it.”

“No. I want to take you.” Tate answered. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Sure wish I had a few of the honey buns from the back of my delivery truck,” Charlie commented. “I could eat a fucking horse.”

“Have you noticed a theme here?” Tate responded, but Charlie only looked confused. “Let’s find some food then get you home.”

“Unhitch the trailer before we pull out,” Charlie answered. “It’s just costing you gas and I think that’ll be a problem sooner rather than later.”

After jacking up the trailer, Tate pulled away with one last look in the side mirror. She felt as if she were leaving her life behind. She wondered if the habits of the road were lost forever. Normal driving laws would probably be a thing of the past.

When she looked at the road ahead she noticed vehicles in the distance and Wandered about the people who just stopped in the road and left them at the side of the road. As the rig drew closer she could see open doors, shattered windows and bodies alongside some of the vehicles. With each mile and cluster of abandoned vehicles, what she saw grew more horrifying.

When she glanced into the blood splattered cars, she saw the remains of adults and children alike still held in place by seat belts. Their bodies bore horrible wounds and showed evidence of the carnage they had suffered. When the truck neared heads of the monsters inside the vehicles turned and their teeth gnashed.

“We are so fucked,” Tate whispered. “Some of those men wore military uniforms.”

“The National Guard was called out to stop the spread of the infection, but they ended up in the middle of it and overwhelmed. Now they’re part of the problem.” Charlie remarked. “I hope some of the smaller rural towns organize and figure out how to protect the community. It’s the only hope.”

Tate turned on the radio and they listened to news reports. General emergency instructions filled the airways no matter the channel. Evacuation information and refugee camp locations were broadcasted at regular intervals. Those unable to get to designated secure sites were being advised to board up windows and shelter in place.

According to the reports, all transportation was at a standstill in the affected cities. Outside the cities, train schedules were limited or stopped altogether. Air traffic was restricted and expected to be grounded altogether within hours.

The president, already well-known for his executive orders, threatened multiple executive orders to deal with the crisis if the affected states didn’t get it under control. Of course, it was being threatened from the security of his secure bunker.

Most of Europe, Asia, and South America had shut down US flights altogether. Outbreaks had already been reported in Canada, Mexico and of all places, Iran. The Iranian outbreak had started in a small remote area out in the middle of nowhere and been sweeping through village after village until it was now moving into all the major cities. Estimated death toll to date in Iran was thirty percent and the infected were Wandering into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq.

The talking heads speculated as to the reason for such an isolated outbreak in Iran. Some speculated about an accident at a secret lab that the government was trying to hide with a massive explosion at the site. The Iranian government claimed the explosion was the result of an unprovoked US attack on a small farming community.

Despite all the posturing, tweets verified more and more cases in the Middle Eastern countries. Twitter accounts were burning up with cries for help. The only country that seemed to have locked down quickly enough was Israel. A national edit stated no one in or out, no exceptions. Most of the adult populace was protecting the borders to ensure its isolation.

Tate switched off the radio. “I can’t listen to it anymore. Nothing but bad news.”

Charlie turned down the radio. “Ain’t gonna get any better. Utilities will shut down pretty soon. Fuel and food will get scarce as the infected spread out. When that happens, not everyone will be out there helping. People will take advantage of the situation or kill to get what they want. Without law enforcement to stop some, murder and anarchy will become a way of life. Being a woman is not gonna be easy, Tate.”

“I figured as much when they started talking about law enforcement being overwhelmed. Prison has been the only deterrent and that hasn’t worked very well for years.” Tate commented. “I know after this there won’t be anyone to stop them.”

“You know how to use those guns?” Charlie asked.

“Yeah, I can use both my guns. Better than most, to be honest. My daddy started taking me with him driving cross country when I was fourteen and wanted me to be able to take care of myself.” She chuckled. “I got my high school diploma and an associate’s degree riding in a big rig on the open road. When I got old enough I got my CDL and began doing most of the driving. By then he had no business driving and we had to keep the money coming in to pay the truck note and support the family.”

Tate pulled the rig into the parking lot of a small mom and pop bait store with a single fueling island. Charlie and Tate walked into the small store and began talking to the elderly couple behind the counter.

The pair seemed to consider the state of emergency a minor inconvenience. Tate used her credit card at the pump to top off the gas tank then picked up breakfast rolls, jerky, packages of chips and candy bars.

As she pulled away, she wondered how long before they would be overrun by the infected wandering the roadways. She had tried warning them, but they waved her away and said they would be fine. The old man pulled a .357 from under the counter and grinned a toothy farewell.

Traveling was slow. It took nearly an hour to go ten miles with the number of stalled and abandoned vehicles left on the road and along the roadside. Charlie directed Tate from one small road to yet another.

Finally, he pointed at a sign for the town of Gardener.

“This road bypasses downtown. We’ll turn off the main road up ahead. Take the next right.”

Tate downshifted and turned the rig on to the narrow blacktop. When they crested a hill they were met by a roadblock in front of a narrow bridge. A massive road grader was parked across the road at an angle.

All traffic was forced to stop without any chance of going around since both sides of the road dropped off into a creek. Four men, with handguns and rifles, stepped out from behind the massive machine to face them.

One of the men stepped forward. “Shut ‘er down, there.” The road is closed and we don’t want outsiders. Turn around and go back the way you came.”

Charlie stuck his head out of the side window and called out. “Cool your jets, Henry Smith. I got as much right as anyone to be on this road.”

“Charlie?” Henry called back. “Charlie Duffy, is that you?”

“Yeah. It’s me. Now open up. I’m tired and I want to go home.” Charlie called out.

“Can’t do that. That ain’t Jackson with you and City Council voted to close the town to ALL strangers.”

Charlie growled. “She saved my life in San Antonio. Jackson is gone and I owe her. This is her rig.”

“Sorry, Charlie. Council was very clear about it. No strangers.” The heavy set man answered with a shrug.

“Look, I lost my son this morning and I’m going home to tell my wife, so either; move that grader or I’ll move it for you.” He pulled the handgun from behind Tate’s seat and reached for the door handle.

Tate grabbed his arm. “Don’t do this. I was going to head out in the morning anyway.”

Charlie settled back in the seat and passed the handgun back to Tate. “I owe you. At least let me get you food and water for traveling.”

Tate shrugged. “I’ll figure something out.”

Charlie continued. “No. Let me do this. Go back to the last cross road then take a left. Go half a mile then turn left again and follow the first driveway to the old farm house on the right. Park in the backyard, but don’t run over the hand pump, it’s the only way to get water now that there’s no electricity out there. The key is hidden in the pump shed at the side of the house, on the wall to the right. Use it on the back door to go inside. The propane tank still has gas so you can use the kitchen stove to heat water if you want to clean up. I’ll bring food and whatever I can lay my hands at dusk. ”

“I don’t want to cause you any problems.” Tate responded.

“See you this evening. Be there.” Charlie stepped down from the rig then turned back. “By the way, you can see the roadblock from the northeast corner of the house. I’ll blink the headlights twice when I head up the driveway so you’ll know it’s me.” He turned away and walked toward the road block.

“Alright. I’ll see you later,” Tate answered.

She cranked the engine and maneuvered the rig to turn around. As she pulled away, she hoped Charlie could make it back home.

Following the directions he gave her, she found the farm house. She pulled around the back of the house and parked between the house and two outbuildings. After gathering a clean set of clothes and her handgun, she walked toward the house hoping it was as empty as Charlie claimed it would be.

Tate found the key and used it to open the door. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She walked from the kitchen to the front hall to look through a doorway at the furniture in the parlor. The inside of the house looked as if the occupants had just walked out the front door. A framed cross-stitched picture hanging on the entry way wall included the Duffy name and a pre-World War II date. She realized she was probably in Charlie’s parent’s home.

After looking around, she walked back into the kitchen and turned a knob on the stove. When she heard the hiss of gas, she turned it back off and glanced around for matches. She pulled open drawers until she found a box. She picked it up and shook it, grinning to herself at the rattle of wooden matches inside.

Tate opened cabinet doors until she found a large aluminum canning pot. She walked out the door to the pump and set it on the wooden platform surrounding the rusted pump. She grabbed the handle and pumped up and down several times before a trickle of rust colored water spilled from the spout. She shrugged and pumped the handle several more times.

Water flowed from the spout growing clearer with each rise and fall of the handle. The faint smell of iron wafted up, but the water looked clear and clean.

She leaned over and slid her hand under the flow. Tate brought it to her mouth and slurped at the puddle in her palm. The water tasted a little funny with the hint of iron and no chlorine, but it was cold and refreshing in the eighty plus degree temperatures. She gulped at handful after handful of the cool refreshing liquid. Finally sated, she filled the pot and headed back inside the house.

Back at the stove, she struck the tip of a wooden stick against the side of the box and held it to the burner then turned the knob again. Flames flared to life.

She put the pot on the stove, found three additional pots of varying sizes and one by one, filled and carried each inside. Once Tate had water on to boil, she spent a few minutes looking around and found an empty plastic scrub bucket.

She carried it to the old-fashioned pump, pumped the handle to draw enough water to rinse it out then carried the bucket of cold water to the bathroom. She rinsed the dust from the claw-footed tub, then plugged it and poured in the remainder of the water.

While the water came to a boil, she carried several buckets of cold water to the bathroom and added three to the tub then another to fill the toilet tank. She carried a final bucket to the bathroom to use in the toilet later. When the water on the stove came to a boil she carried each pot to the bathroom and added them to the cold water in the tub all the while hoping she wouldn’t be sitting in tepid water.

Tate stripped her clothes off and stepped in the shallow warm water. She leaned back and slid her hair under the surface. After using soap and shampoo, she sat in the tub with her face pressed against her drawn up knees.

She imagined her friends and family facing the monsters she saw in San Antonio. If Ellington had been hit by the terrorists, was Houston as devastated as San Antonio? She fought the tears threatening as she realized how much the world had changed in just twenty-four hours. Finally, she pushed the terror back down and climbed from the tub, dried off and dressed.

She decided on a plan. She would leave in the morning and find family. Meanwhile, she had some time to kill. She walked down the stairs and glanced from room to room.

Tate hesitated only a moment before she started going through the pantry where she found a box with half a dozen empty quart mason jars with lids. She walked out to the water pump, filled the jars, resealed them and returned them to the cardboard box. She carried them to the Orange Bitch figuring water might be an issue when she left the farm.

She needed information and the house had no power.  So after stowing the jars in a cubby under the sleeper, she crawled inside the cab, rolled down the windows and turned on the radio. She scanned through channels until she found a news channel discussing the attacks. The newscaster listed over a dozen bases around the country that had been hit.

In Texas, the governor ordered the National Guard to evacuate San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, the cities of the initial attacks. The evacuation of Houston was an even worse disaster than when Hurricane Rita threatened the Gulf Coast and the powers-that-be ordered all emergency services suspended.

When Hurricane Rita bore down on the cities of Galveston and Houston the order was given to evacuate flood-prone areas. With the news stations threatening a category five storm everyone from the coast all the way to North Houston ended up on the roads. With no counter-flow lanes, vehicles lined the freeways in perpetual gridlock for over a hundred miles. Supply trucks were diverted from the city and gas stations ran out of gas leaving fuel in short supply. Accidents happened and tempers flared. People died.

This time was no different and now hordes of infected overtook the people stuck in vehicles on the congested roadways. The countryside was ordered to arm and be prepared to defend themselves and their family against the infected. After all, this was Texas. Thirty-five percent of households had firearms. There was gunfire all around the city and the infected were not the only ones being shot.

According to the newscaster, the army base in San Antonio was the hardest hit because the attack took place during parade formation. Hundreds of soldiers were out in the open and fell to the air-born toxin. They succumbed almost immediately, convulsing, blood leaking from their mouths and noses. Then the coughing began. Within minutes, it was so intense the bloodied mist hung in the air contaminating the first of the emergency personnel to arrive. Of course, at that point only a few people even realized there had been an attack. They in turn fell to the agent or its bloodied byproduct.

The initial contagion only remained active in its airborne state about fifteen minutes but that was plenty of time to drift across the parade field and cause the symptoms to develop in hundreds of soldiers and large number of emergency workers.

Though symptoms began within minutes, it took anywhere from an hour to twelve hours to become fatal. The infected were scattered around the city in hospitals or around hospitals in makeshift triage facilities. By then, they figured out the infection could be transmitted by body fluids so workers used masks and protective clothing but it was too little, too late.

The agent was designed to enable emergency personnel to load up the sick and dying to transport them around the city. When people started dying within the first six hours, dozens of bodies were covered with sheets and pushed into morgues and then nearby hallways. With so many patients, personnel ignored the dead and focused on those they thought they still had a chance of saving.

While doctors and nurses treated patients in the overcrowded emergency rooms amid worried families and soldiers, the hidden away dead began rising. With the staff focused on the incoming patients, the dead moved through the halls attacking patients and families alike. Shortly after leaving their victims, the victims of the vicious attacks began to rise. Chaos ensued. The dead took over the hospitals, killing patients, staff and families alike then spread out into the city. The sick and injured still able to run raced from the buildings only to die later and attack families caring for them.

Tate tried calling her mother and was not surprised when cell service was unavailable. She crawled into the sleeper to rest while the news droned on and on. All of the news coming from the three Texas cities told of mayhem and chaos. Her eyes drifted closed to the sound of the reports of evacuations, road closures and a collage of emergency information.

The sun was beginning to set when the sound of gunfire in the distance startled Tate awake.

It was near dawn when the street finally grew quiet. Harry had been on watch since three. When he saw less activity at six, he made his way around the room looking from window to window. The back alley was empty, but there were still a few infected stumbling around the front of the building. The only real threat in the last hour was when half a dozen infected congregated at a window across the street and started pounding against a glass. The glass broke and the infected spilled into the opening. Screams followed, then silence.

Harry raised the window as quietly as he could and leaned out the second story window. He looked toward the Irish Pub at the end of the block. The infected seemed to have Wandered away from the end of the block.

Harry crossed the room to where John rested in a tattered recliner and touched him on the shoulder. “Time to find those little girls.” He turned to wake Liz, but she was already sitting up. “Morning, Lizzy.” He stepped to the bedroom and knocked on the door jam. “Up and at’em Dave. Time to get to work.”

“Why are you doing this?” Liz asked.

Harry shrugged. “Needs done.” He answered as John and Dave came into the room.

“Well, Harry what’s the plan?” John asked with a grin.

“I’ve been thinking.” Harry began.

Dave snorted and John interrupted. “We’re in trouble already. Really think you ought to start thinking at this late date?”

Harry scowled. “And you’re the comedian that always points it out.” He continued. “We can get to the roof from the resale shop, cross the building roofs and then go down the fire escape at the side of the dry cleaners across the alley from the bar. It’s a no-brainer. We get there, find the kids, and then bring the kids back the same way.”

“Sounds easy enough but what about the crazies in the street?” John commented.

“Hopefully, we won’t draw much attention,” Harry answered. “We’ll be back here and having breakfast before they figure out we’ve even been out there.”

Liz pulled on her new shoes and walked to the bathroom. She slipped inside, did what she needed to do then splashed water on her face. She finger combed her hair and pulled a hair band from her wrist to secure her hair back from her face. When she came out, she waited for each of the men to take a turn in the cramped bathroom.

While she was using the bathroom, Harry had retrieved a canvas bag and set it in the middle of living room. When they were all in the room again Harry opened the bag. One by one, each of the men pulled long hunting knives in scabbards and put them on their belts. Rifles were pulled from the bag and each man slung one across his back. Since each man had already been carrying handguns, they were all geared up. Harry reached back into the bag and brought out a holster, hand gun, and knife. He reached around Liz’s waist and after drilling a new hole in the leather belt, it hung at her hip with a knife on the opposite side.

“It’s a Ruger nine mil. Can you use it?” Harry asked.

Liz nodded. “My dad taught me so I’m good.” She released the magazine, glanced at it then slammed it back in place. She looked up with a determined glint in her eyes. “My husband is in the military.  He insisted I practice regularly.”

Harry turned to the small group. “It’s time to do this. We’re going to be quiet until we have no other choice.” He looked at each of them waiting for a nod of understanding.

Harry led the foursome through the courtyard and into the resale shop. At each door, he locked the deadbolt once they moved through them. Once inside the resale shop, they ignored the store front and went to a door at the side of the back room and entered a narrow stairway. They reached a landing, ignored the door at the side and made their way to the roof of the building. Again, Harry opened the roof access door with the set of keys in his hand. John, Harry, and Liz stepped out into the open air of the roof top.

Dave remained at the door. “Man, I can’t.”

Harry looked over his shoulder. “Just watch our six.” When Liz looked questioningly at Harry, he just shrugged. “Long story.”

Liz looked toward the next building and realized they would be climbing up to get to the next roof. John nodded at her to follow Harry. They crossed the roof to the side of the next building. A set of iron rungs had been imbedded into the brick facade.

“One at a time,” Harry ordered. “John, you’re point.”

With a half-grin, John nodded his head and went to the rebar ladder. Liz studied the man as John made his assent. John was the smaller of the two men. Well-muscled arms grabbed at a rung half way up the wall and with the aid of his legs, climbed higher and higher until he got to the top. He pulled the camouflage baseball cap from his head and tucked it into his back pocket. He eased his eyes over the rim of the building. He moved his head from left to right then turned to offer Harry a thumbs-up. He scampered over the short wall and stood next to the ladder still facing toward the opposite side of the building.

Harry pointed at Liz to go next then scrambled up the ladder behind her. With a final look over his shoulder at the opened roof door, Harry followed John and Liz across the roof to the opposite wall.

Liz worried about Dave. While waiting for Harry, she had studied Dave from a distance. Dave seemed twitchy at best. His eyes darted from side to side as if just being in the open was really bothering him. She also saw his hands tremble holding the rifle. Once he stepped back into the shadows he seemed to calm.

Together the trio crossed to the second rooftop then a third building roof. When they got to the last roof on the span of buildings they descended to the roof of the two-story building and crossed to the edge of the roof overlooking the alley. They crept to the edge of the roof to look down at the alley below.

Three men in green T-shirts and cargo pants were piling into a military Humvee. Liz saw one of the men pull a baby quilt from his shoulder and toss it into the back seat before slamming the door. He slid in the open driver’s door and cranked the engine.

A large black man was getting into the passenger side. He disappeared into the vehicle and reached out to close the door just as an infected man in a blood stained suit grabbed the door and pulled it back open. While the Humvee motor roared to life, the black man fought to close the passenger door.

The driver stepped on the gas and without waiting to see what the passenger was going to do John raised his rifle and fired. The infected man fell to the ground. The door slammed. Hard.

Before anyone could yell or act; the vehicle sped toward the alley entrance. Seconds later, it disappeared around the distant corner with a dozen or more infected following the roar of the massive engine noise.

“My girls!” Liz cried.

Harry pulled a pair of binoculars from his pocket. He studied the ally below. “They have your children. It’s my guess your girls were in the dumpster. I don’t know how the soldiers found them, but they have them now.” He pointed to a white bundle on the ground. “It looks like they were there long enough to change a diaper.”

Liz fell to her knees in relief. Then she looked up in horror. “How will we find them?”

Harry pulled her to her feet and urged her back the way they had come. “Come on John get moving. We have to try to catch that Humvee.”

John laughed and gave him a thumb’s up sign. “Head’em up, move ‘em out, asshole.” He took off at a jog with Liz and Harry following close behind.

Together, the trio raced across rooftops and down the rungs to the roof of the resale shop. They made it to where Dave held the steel door open. All three were more than a little out of breath. Together, they hurried down the stairs only to be stopped by Harry at the bottom access door leading into the shop. He raised his hand and everyone stopped.

He leaned close to the door and placed his ear against the wood. Finally, he turned back to the others. “We got a problem.”

Liz’s breath caught in her throat. Every minute they stood here, the soldiers and her daughters got further away. “We don’t have time to just stand here.”

Harry leaned back to whisper. “I hear footsteps on broken glass out there. I think they broke the front window and now they’re inside the store.” Harry whispered.

“We have to get out of here.” Liz lamented.

John ignored Liz and asked. “How many do you think?”

“Can’t tell’, but I hear shuffling steps from more than one or two. Survivors wouldn’t be moving around that much.” Harry answered.

Dave descended the steps to stand by Harry. John joined them. “Liz, take the keys.” He handed her a key ring by a brass Sledge key and continued. “Dave goes first, then John. They’ll be between you and the rest of the room. Quick as you can unlock the door, let John through then follow him. Take the key with you so we can lock the door from the outside. I’ll come through last, slam the door hard then you can lock it.”

Dave opened the roof door and slid through the opening with his handgun drawn. John followed and stepped deeper into the gloom of the store room. The curtain in front of the back room lay on the floor. The two men stepped closer to the door. Liz peeked around John and her breath caught in her throat. The front window and glass door at the front of the store had been shattered and half a dozen infected were silhouetted against the morning light. The silhouettes of the infected milled around at the front of the store.

Liz stepped around the men and crept toward the side door that opened into the atrium between the thrift store and the bar. When she was half way to the side door, Harry pushed the door open a few more inches to accommodate his bulk. A hinge squeaked. Liz and the three men froze.

The infected stopped. In unison, they raised their faces and sniffed at the air. After a heartbeat, they turned toward the back of the store. Limp arms rose as they turned toward the sound and began walking toward them.

Dave planted an open palm on Liz’s back and pushed her toward the door. “Move!” He ordered. He was so close on her heels his ragged breath ruffled the hair at the back of her neck.

The infected honed in on the movement and each began stumbling toward the back of the store. A low moan came from the few infected at the front of the store. More of the infected from outside tumbled through the half wall into the store and stumbled through the door.

“Hurry!” Harry ordered. “The jig’s up.”

Liz rushed to the door and jammed the key into the brass lock. With a twist of her wrist, the lock clicked free and the door opened. Dave pushed her through, tearing her hand from the key. She stumbled into the courtyard. Dave, John, and Harry darted through the opening without firing at the approaching infected. They pushed the door closed with a slam.

Harry pushed his foot against the door and turned back to Liz. “Keys!”

Liz’s breath caught. “They’re on the other side of the door.”

“Fuck me!” Dave murmured. “I pushed her through before she could pull the key out.” He stepped back to the door where John and Harry held the barrier against the infected pushing on the other side.

Dave handed his rifle to Liz and reached for his handgun. “I got this.”

Harry slipped his rifle to his back and pulled his own handgun from the holster on his hip. John nodded at each man in understanding.

“We can only open the door wide enough to slip your hand through,” Harry stated. “Give us time to clear the door before you reach for the key. Lizzy, keep hold of his belt and don’t let him get pulled in.”

“Let’s do this,” Dave answered.

Without hesitating, John slid his foot back from the door. The infected on the inside pushed and the door lurched open wider then John and Harry intended. Dave stepped closer and reached out.

Harry yelled. “Not yet, man!”

John threw his weight against the door while both Harry and Dave fired into the darkened room beyond. John struggled against the mass of bodies’ unrelenting press against the barrier. Despite the hands still reaching through the opening, Dave grabbed the keys in the lock.

Suddenly his body slammed against the narrow opening between the door and door jam and he dropped his gun. Liz was jerked into his back. She pulled back while Dave yelled and pushed back from the door. Harry fired into the mass of bodies inside the building.

John pulled at Dave trying to free his arm while Liz pulled at his belt with all her weight. Harry grabbed Dave’s shoulder and fired his handgun into the dark. Suddenly Dave was free. He tumbled to the ground with Liz under him. The keys fell from his hand as he rolled off Liz. The keys slid across the flagstone walkway.

John slammed the door shut and kicked the toe of his boot against wood. Bodies slammed against the door and it bounced open a few inches. Harry pushed his bulk against the metal and it slammed closed again. John threw his weight into the barrier.

Liz scrambled to her feet grabbing the keys as she rushed to the door. She added her weight while she fumbled through the jangling ring for the correct key.

She found the key and aimed it toward the lock. The door bounced open. Harry and John grunted against the strain as they pushed it closed again. She jammed the key into the lock and gave it a turn to the right. The pounding from the other side continued, but the lock held.

“Well, fuck me. That was scary.” John commented from behind Harry.

Harry reached down to pull Dave to his feet and saw him clutching his left arm to his chest as a rivulet of blood trailed down his hand. Two of his fingers were gone. Dave gave Harry a crooked smile.

“Well, this kinda sucks.” Dave sighed. “I guess we know what this means.”

Liz reached for the bottom of her t-shirt to pull it off, but Harry stopped her. She looked from Dave to Harry. “What? We have to stop the bleeding!”

“I’m infected.” Dave answered quietly. “It doesn’t matter.” He wrapped a red bandana around the stump of missing fingers and hand then held it out to Harry.

Without a word, Harry tied a knot at the top of his hand. When he was done, he nodded toward the club door and hurried John and Liz across the patio.

“Come on, we have to keep moving.”

The infected continued to slam against the resale shop door. The door-frame groaned under the strain.

John looked toward the door. “It ain’t gonna last long.”

Harry grabbed the keys from Liz and hurried to the bar door without another word. Dave picked up his handgun with his right hand and jammed it into his belt. When the door was open and Liz, Harry and John were inside, Dave put his hands on the key.

Dave pushed the door closed and spoke through the door. “You know I couldn’t have gone anyway.”

Inside, Liz heard the key turn in the lock. She peeked through the small window at the top of the door. Through the glass she watched Dave walk to a patio table and sit down facing the resale shop. He pulled the spent magazine from his handgun and replaced it with one from his pocket. He pulled a cigarette from a pack in his pocket and lit it. He inhaled deeply then aimed the gun at the resale shop door.

Liz slammed her hand on the window and called out to Dave. Harry pulled her away from the window and pushed her toward John. When she tried to protest, he just moved his head from left to right and nudged her into following as John moved toward the rear of the bar.

They rounded the corner of the bar and walked into the back room. As they passed by the bar, the men each grabbed backpacks. Liz followed suit with a final look toward the patio door.

“If we’re going to catch that Humvee, we have to get out of here, now,” Harry commented.

John opened the door to the back room. When they hurried in, Liz saw a makeshift motorcycle repair shop. A huge tool box with sat to one side with a drawer still open while a work bench was built against the back wall.  An assortment of lifts, and apparatuses were mounted in front of the farthest wall.

At the front of the room was an overhead garage door. Three decked out motorcycles faced the garage door. Harry dropped his backpack into the saddlebag on one of the bikes and held out his hand for Liz. She handed over her backpack and dropped it into the opposite side.

“You’ll ride with me. John will ride point.” He grabbed a remote from a table and turned to John who stored his own supplies. “You about ready?”

“Good to go.” John answered.

Harry swung his leg over the massive Harley then held out his arm to guide Liz to the seat behind him on the bike. “Let’s ride.”

They were mounted and ready to go when they heard the first of the shots. They froze. Liz counted; the first five were quick and then six, seven, eight. Each one made her jump. After a brief pause a single shot sounded, then nothing. A hot tear slid down Liz’s face.

The bikes roared to life. Harry held up the remote and the garage door rolled open. John led out then Harry gunned the motor to follow. Liz wrapped her arms around Harry’s waist.

“Hang on Lizzy! This may be a little hairy.”

The group of seven sat or squatted on the small area of decking around the attic access door unsure what to do next. Steve dropped the square of plywood back in place. After covering the opening, the sound of the infected decreased but a tell-tale stench still wafted up from below. Della flicked on the larger flashlight she had retrieved from the closet shelf.

Steve looked from one terrified face to the next realizing he knew only one of the new arrivals. The woman was the receptionist from the first floor. Her hair, usually neat and styled in a sculptured bob, clung to her face in damp ringlets. Her face was pale and streaked with makeup after the terror of their escape from the ground floor. Her clothes were twisted and in disarray. She looked ready to cry.

Steve searched his memory for her name. Audrey, Annie, no…Andy. That was it. “Andy, I’m glad to see you.” Andy nodded and he continued. “You know both Della and me but who did you bring along?”

Andy introduced the others. She nodded toward each and whispered a name. “Sandy, Martha, Jimmy, and Zack, they’re students checking out the internship program. I found them in a classroom a few minutes ago when I ran in there to hide. When we heard the crazy people break through the security door, we ran up the stairs and they followed. I thought we could barricade the therapy room door and we’d be safe. I was wrong.”

“You made it. That’s the important thing.” Steve responded.

He studied each of the kids and realized how really young they were. Both girls stared at Steve with eyes wide with terror. Sandy was thin and fine boned with an oval face framed by thick dark hair. She looked as if she were ready to cry. Steve tried to give her a reassuring smile.

Steve nodded a hello to Martha. She was a little taller and bigger than Sandy with curly blonde hair trimmed short to frame her round frightened face. She kept glancing toward the square of plywood between them.

The kid with blood smeared across his face was Jimmy. He was thin and sported a shock of curly, red hair. He used a handful of tissues Della had shoved at him earlier to stanch the flow of blood. Steve could hear him struggle to breath around the wad of tissue pressed to his face.

The fourth member of the group was a thick-bodied, black kid with a hesitant smile. He probably out-weighed Steve by fifty pounds, so he weighed over two hundred-twenty pounds. He was well muscled with a roundness suggesting a kid in a man’s body. Steve imagined him as a linebacker on a high school football team and hoped he would be able to help if things got dicey.

“We have to figure a way out of here. Where is Della?”

Della leaned around one of the kids and answered. “I’m here.”

Steve nodded. “Okay, we’re at the front of the building. We need to use the back stairway.”

“You mean the one at the southwest corner of the building, near the main parking lot?” Della asked.

“The front stairs is crawling with those dead people. They followed us when we ran up here.” Jimmy commented.

“We know that.” Della pointed into the dark. “That’s why we’re heading to the other end of the building. The back stairs should be that way.”

“Okay, we have to get down from here, and that looks like our best option.” Steve answered. “But before we do, we need to get some weapons and I have an idea where to get them. When we get outside, I have a van that has room for all of us.” Steve began. “We just have to get to it.”

Della moved closer. “Can you manage stairs?” She glanced down pointedly.

Steve shrugged. “Since the elevator isn’t an option, I guess I’ll have to manage them.” Steve asked. “Where is the fabricating room from here?”

Della pointed toward the back wall. “That way, but we can’t get to the door.”

Steve grinned. “We don’t need to. We can go through the ceiling. We have at least a couple strong arms to help make an opening.” He looked to Zack.

“Sure, Man. Just point me in the right direction. I can punch through sheet rock, no problem.”

“I was hoping we could be a little quieter than that.” Steve answered. “Let’s go folks.”

Della stood as did Andy and the teens. Zack leaned over and grabbed Steve under one arm and pulled him upright. He held his arm until Steve was balanced on a rafter and clutching a cross-beam.

“Thanks, Zack. I’m good. Sorry, guys, the blades are new, still getting used to them.” Steve commented as he stepped out and reached for the next rafters for support. “Della, lead out. People, stay on the wood rafters. Don’t step on the sheetrock. You’ll go through.”

Della adjusted the bag on her shoulder and reached out for the flashlight from the utility room. Jimmy handed it to her and she passed the smaller light back to Jimmy.  She pointed the wide cone of light toward a distant wall.

Steve followed with the new arrival close behind. He sighed as he realized he would have his hands full watching out for half a dozen people. Except for Zack, maybe, Steve thought of him as a survivor built like a brick shit-house.

After a couple minutes of everyone stumbling from rafter to rafter, Della stopped. “Here I think. We’re above the fabricating room.”

Steve grabbed a knife from his pocket, eased himself into a sitting position on a rafter and shoved insulation aside. He worried a three inch hole into the sheetrock then sat up and slid his arm across his damp forehead. He looked around and realized everyone else was getting overheated too. They wouldn’t last long in the sweltering heat of the attic.

He nodded at Jimmy. “Sorry I clipped you with the door. How’s your nose?”

Jimmy shrugged. He no longer held the tissues to his face. “It’s good. Little tender, but considering where we are…no problem at all.”

“Glad to hear it. Do you think you can check it out?” Steve pointed at the hole in the sheetrock.

“Sure.”

Jimmy stretched out across the rafters and pressed his eye to the opening. After a full minute of moving his head from side to side, he looked up and grinned.

“Nothing moving. Just the work bench and lots of metal, plastic, and tools. No one in the room at all that I can see.”

Della spoke up. “It’s controlled access so it should be fine. No one can get in without a card. The techs leave by noon on Friday. It does have a clear glass door though.”

Andy interrupted. “We can’t go in there. They pounded on the glass downstairs until they broke through in the lobby.” She sniffled. “We haven’t got time for this. I need to get out of here so I can go home to my family.”

“Hush, Andy. We’ll get out of here as soon as we can.” Della hunkered down and studied the inside of the room below. “If we make the opening eight feet back that way, it will be behind the work bench. There’ll be less chance of ME being seen through the glass.” She added.

“Della?” Steve began. “You can’t….”

“Stuff it, Steve. I’m not sending one of the kids, Andy wouldn’t have a clue, and you…well. I won’t even begin to tell you why you can’t do it. Besides if anything happened, who would drive your van?”

Steve shrugged. “Okay, but the first hint of trouble….”

Della sighed. “Let’s get this hole started.”

The team crept down the rafter toward the place Della indicated. “This should be over the work bench but on the back side.”

Steve leaned down and began to saw at the sheetrock with his knife. He quickly grew heated, but kept sawing at the opening despite the perspiration dripping from his face.

Suddenly, a large dark hand covered his and retrieved the red handled multi-tool. “Sir, I got this.” Zack said.

Steve leaned back and wiped his sleeve across his forehead. “You’re a handy kid to have around, Zack.”

Within minutes an opening large enough for Della to slip through provided a panoramic view of the room below. Della stuck her head into the hole and studied the fabricating room.

It’s clear.”

Della sat up and dangled her legs over the edge of the rafter into the hole. Without another word she used her arms to ease herself onto a work bench below. She stood on the bench and peaked over the top edge of the center tool panel at the glass door.

The infected milled around in the hall. They moved in a counter clockwise direction. Each of the monsters seemed to follow the one in front of them creating a swirling mass of bodies. Periodically, one or two of the monsters would stop, cock their heads and appear to be sniffing the air. After a few seconds, they resumed their aimless Wandering.

Della lowered her head and settled her butt on the work bench then eased her feet to the floor. She made a quick survey of the tools and supplies in front of her on the bench. She retrieved two huge screw drivers and hammers and laid them on the bench together.

Next, she examined the supplies on hand. She sighed as she recognized the names on the bins with bits and pieces of prosthetics being fabricated. She grabbed three thirty-inch long stainless steel rods from a side bin. They would never become part of prosthetic limbs now.

All the veterans she had worked with and grown fond of were probably dead or infected. Her heart ached when she thought of them trapped in wheel chairs or hospital beds with no way to escape or protect themselves and their families.

She fought back tears and clinched her jaw. She had a job. She would help Steve get the kids out of this mess. She knew he was a man they could depend on.

Della laid the makeshift weapons on the workbench and pulled a small ladder to the side of the bench. She climbed to the work area. Squatting behind the panel, she looked up to see Zack grinning down at her. She handed up the weapons.

Zack retrieved each piece and passed them to waiting hands. When all seven items were passed around he pointed at a shelf and whispered. “There’s another flashlight on the wall. Can you get it and the roll of duct tape on the counter?”

Della grinned up at the kid and made a circle with her index finger and thumb. She picked up the duct tape and tossed the roll to Zack then slid to the edge of the bench. Still squatting out of sight of the infected, she peeked around the edge of the panel mounted to the middle of the double-sided work bench. For a moment she watched the infected shuffle in a fluid ebb and flow beyond the door.

She studied the movement and decided she would have to time it just right. Most of the infected just followed the monster in front of them, but a few would pause and look through the glass door as they passed. She had to be careful when she reached for the flashlight or one of the more alert monsters would see her. A quick grab at the right time and she would have the extra flashlight. It was worth the risk.

She took a deep breath then leaned toward the wall, her arm reaching for the flashlight. Her foot slid on the slick counter and knee slammed against the bench brushing against a short stainless rod lying on the counter top. The metal rolled across the work bench, under the center panel to the facing work station. Della reached out, lost her balance and tumbled to the floor just as the metal hit the floor in front of the door.

Della landed on the vinyl flooring knocking the air from her lungs. While she lay there gasping to draw breath, she heard a distant voice.

“Get up! Della. Don’t just lay there.” Zack called out. “NOW!”

She glanced toward the door to see faces of the infected pressed against the glass. They looked at her, then slammed hands and arms against the glass door. The infected jockeyed for position at the door, each pounded and pushed against the glass. A cacophony of frustrated moans rose up at seeing prey and being unable to reach it.

“Move your ass, Della.” Steve shouted.

The hammering grew in volume and the first crack raced across the window. Glass began shattering. At first, small pieces rained to the floor.

Della pulled a ragged breath into her lungs as a large piece of glass shattered on the floor. She scrambled to her feet, grabbed the flashlight from the wall and vaulted to the work bench just as the remaining glass shattered and fell to the floor. She raised the Maglite through the opening.

“Get up here now!” Steve yelled.

She reached for the rafters as she stared at the door. Torn and mutilated bodies rushed through the disintegrating barrier. The infected pushed past the remaining shards tearing and ripping flesh in their rush to reach her.

Della pushed up from the table. She kicked up and drew her body into the darkness overhead. She pulled her legs through the opening. Her muscles trembled with strain. When she looked down she saw hands reaching toward her legs still dangling through the hole.

Suddenly, thick hands slid under her arm pits and spirited into the dark gaping maw above. Zack set her on her feet and Della sagged to the rafter at the side of the hole.

After several ragged breaths, she got to her feet. “Oh my God.” She turned on Zack and threw herself at him.

The big black kid’s breath caught in his throat. “I’m sorry. I din’t mean to hurt ya.”

He tried to back away but Della held him for a moment. Finally, she leaned back and planted a kiss on his rounded cheek.

“You’ve saved me twice now. You didn’t hurt me. Thank you, Zack.”

Moans from below grew louder. A foul smell wafted up from the room below. The small group of survivors looked toward the opening and the giddiness quickly faded.

“They smell like an open sewer?” Jimmy complained.

“The news says they’re dead. When a person dies, their bladder and bowel releases.” Della answered. “Stands to reason, they would smell.”

“Ah, shit.” Jimmy responded.

“Yep. That’s what it is.” Zack commented with a grin.

Steve nodded at Della. “Let’s get out of here.”

Della turned from the hole and took a steadying breath before heading across the rafters. The small group followed Della single file across beam after beam to a concrete wall nearly fifty feet away.

“The concrete is the outside fireproof wall of the stairs.” Della announced.

“We’re not getting through the concrete. How are we getting into the stair well?” Andy asked.

Della whispered. “Same as before, through the ceiling. We should be at a side hall at the end of the main hallway in the accounting department. It’s limited access and usually no one is in this area after noon as well. The controlled access door between this area and the public areas should limit entrance. Hopefully, there’s no infected back here.