Finding Shelter

Posted: May 10, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
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“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.

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