Brief Respite

Posted: May 26, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.”

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