Alone Again

Posted: May 30, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
Tags: , , , ,

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.”

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