Hidden Away

Posted: June 14, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
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Steve had made random turns until they found themselves in a rural wooded area and had not seen a moving vehicle or an infected in nearly twenty miles. The afternoon light faded as the sun disappeared below the tree line. The road felt claustrophobic as Steve steered between the overgrown brush and trees encroaching from the fence line on either side of the crumbling asphalt.

“It’s going to be dark soon. We can’t just keep driving.” Steve announced. “Look for a place to spend the night, a vacant building, a barn or something.”

Steve guided the van around potholes and decaying asphalt while Della and the kids peered down each of the side roads and infrequent clearings.

Ten minutes later, Della pointed to a weathered barn in the distance. “There! A barn.” Della announced. “We should check it out. We’re all exhausted and I don’t see how we can all spend the night in the van.”

Steve nodded. “I know. Let’s check it out.”

Steve turned the van down a narrow trail barely more than two dirt paths overgrown with grass on either side and in between. Trees and brush on both sides of the path scratched against the sides of the van as they followed the pot hole riddled path of bare dirt.

Driving on the rutted path tossed the occupants of the van back and forth. As they drew closer, they saw a weathered gray two-story building with a double door at the front. When they pulled up to the barnyard they saw the doors met at the center of the opening with only a few inches separation. The knee high grass in front of the barrier gave no hint of recent uses.

“Doors look closed,” Zack noted. “That’s good, right?”

“Yep, buddy.” Steve stopped the van, turned off the engine, opened the van door and stepped outside. “I’m going to have a look inside.”

“One of us should be doing this.” Della protested.

He reached across Della to the glove box and pulled out a flashlight. “No. I can run faster with the blades than anyone else in the van. Besides, my ass is killing me.” He added with a wink.

The aged wood of the barn had not been painted in years and only a hint of the original barn red remained. It looked to be an abandoned structure. The double door at the entrance had been patched from time to time and not with any great amount of care.

After an easy jog to the structure, Steve pushed open the door and disappeared inside. He turned on the flash light and swept it over the inside of the structure. Shafts of the afternoon light filtered through gaping holes of damaged and broken boards. It was far from an air tight structure and that was a good thing as warm as the weather had gotten. Most of the slats of wood in the two cupolas were missing. He ended the perusal with a quick examination of the ground at the doorway.

A single set of tire prints entered the aged barn. No footprints of the driver closing the door were evident so it had been a while since human activity. Steve took the time to walk the interior and decided no one had been back in quite a while with the dust and dirt on the hood of a truck parked in the structure. The barn was being used to store hay but looked as if it were not a recent cutting.

A few minutes later, he reappeared from the barn with a relieved smile on his face. He pushed the second door open and headed for the van.

When he got to the van, he struggled back into the driver seat and closed the door. He fired up the engine and made a K-turn and backed into the barn next to the old pickup truck with a camper on the back.

Once inside, Zack slammed the button to open the side door and ramp. He caught up with Steve at the doors and stepped outside to pull one of the doors closed while Jimmy did the same with the other. Steve picked up an eight-foot board and hauled it to the door. With both boys help, they slid the length down on to the open topped wooden door handles to secure the ends in similar wood projections on the door frame. When they finished, the doors were secure.

Della saw the camper and tentatively approached the back door. She turned the knob to find the door unlocked. She took a breath then knocked on the window of the door. When she heard nothing, she knocked a little harder. With only silence in answer, she cautiously turned the door handle. She accepted the light from Steve while he raised a weapon. She pointed the beam inside the dark interior of the camper. She gasped, delighted at the contents.

Martha and Sandy came back from looking around the stalls and the hay mount overhead.

Martha complained. “This place stinks. I’m hungry and want to go home.”

“Me too.” Sandy echoed.

Della called out softly. “Get over here, girls and help me. We’ll get food together that much quicker.”

The girls walked to the camper and Della began handing supplies out of the camper. She pulled out a camp stove, camp chairs, two camping lanterns and a stack of bedding.

Steve, Zack, and Jimmy stumbled through the gloom to where the girls were busy sorting through supplies. Della stuck her head out of the camper and pointed at the lamps. “Can you use this stove and lamp?”

“As long as we’re careful. There’s plenty of ventilation.” Steve grabbed the Coleman and gave it a shake then asked. “Is there any fuel in there?”

After a minute or two, she leaned back out of the camper with a bottle in her hand. “Is this it? There’re three more bottles under the sink. Do you need the light a minute?”

“Yes, to both,” Steve answered.

He had Jimmy hold the flashlight while he poured liquid fuel into lamp reservoir. When it was full, he lit the mantle and adjusted the light to a dim glow.

Jimmy took the light back to Della and then wandered off into the gloom.

Zack carried a case of water from the van then went back to retrieve a case of the canned food. With that done, he set up two camp chair and a couple stools.

Jimmy brushed loose hay from the circle with a ratty barn broom he found leaning against the wall. When he was done he wandered off to check out the barn himself.

Seeing there was not enough seating for the group, Zack disappeared into the back of the barn and came back with two square bales of hay. He made three more trips and they ended with bales in a semi-circle around the dim light. He returned to stand by Steve.

“Can’t it be any lighter in here?” Martha whined.

Steve answered with a sigh. “No. We don’t want anyone or anything to know we’re here.” He began going through the supplies, setting out half a dozen spoons and an aluminum pot.

Jimmy reappeared. “That might not be so easy. I saw a house across the field in back. There’re lots of lights over there.” Jimmy announced when he stepped out of the shadows. “Maybe we should go check it out.”

“No!” Answered both Della and Steve.

Steve turned down the lamp to a dim glow. “We need to stack up bales of hay on that back wall. You girls can help.” The tone in his voice brooked no argument.

Fifteen minutes later, bales were stacked against the back wall of the barn over head-high. Zack and Steve walked outside and around to the back of the barn to examine their work.

“Well?” Zack asked.

“It’ll do, but we’ll keep the lights turned down.”

They walked back inside the barn to hear an ongoing conversation.

“I don’t understand why we don’t go over there. It’s people.” Martha commented.

“Because, we don’t know who they are,” Della answered.

“But they probably have running water and we could get cleaned up,” Sandy added. “Even if it’s a bucket of water it’s better than nothing. I feel gross.”

Della sighed. “We do what Steve says. End of discussion.”

Steve leaned over the camp stove and lit one of the two burners while Della dumped containers of canned pasta into an aluminum pot.

“Isn’t this a fire hazard?” Della asked.

Steve turned to her and answered. “Not if we’re careful since we cleaned the floor.”

“Oh. Makes sense.”

Steve looked toward Sandy. “As for why we can’t go over to that house, we can’t be sure everyone will be friendly and not take advantage of the chaos. The government won’t be able to control this situation. Most of the soldiers on the bases are dead and those in charge will pull back any personnel they have to create a buffer zone. We’ll end up being on our own. When resources get scarce, survivors will be in danger from thieves and bandits as well as the infected dead.”

“Look what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. People shot each other, stole food, killed and raped.” Della added. “Society breaks down and people once controlled by the fear of law enforcement will be free to do whatever they want. It won’t be easy for any of us.”

Martha began to cry. “But my family? Brad?”

“All you can do is hope that they survive. In time, people will come together and when they do, maybe you can find them again.” Della advised. “Right now all we can do is survive.”

Della began spooning content to each of the individual containers and passing them out to the waiting hands. When she got to Martha she refused the offering.

The air was heavy and still in the massive structure. The smell of animals that had once been bedded there still lingered, amid the aroma of dry hay. Steve settled on a bale of hay and wiped beads of moisture from his face.

“I sure am hot,” Zack commented around a mouthful of warmed pasta. “Too bad this barn doesn’t have windows.”

“Maybe we can do something about it.” Steve glanced up to the hay mount above the double wooden door they had come through. “There’s an access door up there that one of you boys might be able to open. It might allow a draft with the vents on the other side of the hay loft. That’ll be the best we can hope for.”

With bellies full, the kids Wandered off to find their own comfort while Della and Steve settled next to each other on bales of hay to talk. “So you picked up my legs?” Steve asked.

“The blades were new. Figured you might need your old ones. They’re in the bag. You want me to get them?” Della answered. “You need to give your legs a break.”

“I know.” Steve pulled his leg up and eased the blade’s prosthetic cuff from the stump on his right leg. With a sigh, he pulled the silicone sock from the stump and began massaging the reddened flesh.

Della leaned forward. “Is it getting sore?”

Steve raised his hand. “A little. It’s alright. I’m just tired.”

“You have to be extra careful to avoid pressure points. We can’t afford to have you unable to walk.”

“Believe me, I know.” Steve grinned. “I can’t afford to be a cripple. If something happens to one of the blades, well….”

“No worries on that account. Remember I made them and I can fix them.” Della smiled.

Jimmy climbed to the loft and opened the access door above the double door. He came back down and they could see the remnants of a rope dangling from the roof. As they sat in the dim light of a single lamp, the barn fell quiet. Jimmy and Zack settled down to rest. The group huddled around the lamp each lost in their own thoughts when a distant shriek shattered the silence.

“Was that a scream?” Della whispered.

The group tensed and waited. Steve turned the lamp off.

“What the hell? Zack began, but Della shushed him.

When they heard nothing more, Steve commented. “We need to keep an eye on that bunch across the field.”

“There’re some slatted windows at the corner. I can climb the bales in the hay loft and keep watch from there.” Jimmy volunteered.

Steve nodded. “Take turns. If you see any lights head this way, let me know immediately.”

Jimmy and Sandy climbed into the hayloft and made their way to the back wall facing the distant lights. They broke two slats from a vent to watch the house and outbuilding in the distance. Zack stretched out on a bed of hay. Martha disappeared into the shadows where they could hear her sniffle from time to time.

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