Silent Night

Posted: July 4, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
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Steve debated about removing his prosthetics, but in the end didn’t trust the safety of the barn enough to make himself that vulnerable. The barn was sweltering despite the sun setting. Della and the girls pulled bedding from the camper to take advantage of a hint of a breeze.

Jimmy and Zack arranged bales of hay at the back of the camper as makeshift beds. Della and the girls cleaned up from their meal then spread bedding on the bales. They sat around the dim glow of the lamp speaking softly.

Martha glanced over her shoulder at Steve and Zack working on the van. “Why do we have to stay here? There’re people over there. They have lights and probably running water and a bathroom.”

Della sighed. “We don’t know who they are.”

“Why does it matter? People are people.” Martha argued.

Della stood up and looked down at Martha. “You need to understand the world is different than it was. There’s no one left from the military base to contain the infection. Not everyone will be out here helping each other. We can’t take a chance.”

Martha eyes filled with unshed tears. “Mathew was on the base.”

“I’m sorry,” Della whispered.

Martha jumped to her feet and ran to the ladder leading up to the hayloft. She scrambled up and when Jimmy started to follow, she turned a screamed. “All of you! Just leave me alone.”

They could all hear her crying in the dark. Finally, Della asked. “Who is Mathew?”

Sandy answered. “Her fiancé. They just got engaged last week.”

Martha refused to come down from the loft despite attempts at talking to her by both Jimmy and Della. Cloaked in the gloom of the barn and with only the sound of Martha’s muffled sobs overhead. Steve and Zack went back to the van and began the task of removing the wheelchair ramp.

“Damned thing is just too slow. Besides, using a wheelchair is a death warrant now.” Steve commented.

Zack opened the toolbox and found wrenches. After looking around, he pulled out two pins that anchored the aluminum ramp extension to the lift mechanism. Once the extension section was out of the way, Zack held up his hand. He used a flashlight to look under the van, around the floor by the door and then back under the van again.

Finally, he stood grinning at Steve. “This won’t be bad as I thought. The unit is designed to fit in the van without modifying the vehicle. I think we can remove the rest of the unit by taking off two plates on the undercarriage and then the assembly at the door.”

Steve and Zack worked late into the night disassembling the hydraulic system from the van. It was a tough job with the limited tools available. After a brief discussion, they left the electronic close mechanism on the side door but disconnecting the safety that would cause the door to reopen if obstructed.

“A punch of the button and it’ll close, no matter what,” Steve warned as he glanced toward the hay loft. “I hope she’s alright.”

Zack gave a thumbs-up then glanced toward the loft. “I guess she hadn’t figured it out.”

“It may be a while before any of us know about families if ever.” Steve wiped moisture from his face with a rag and shrugged. “Time to get some rest. We need to get outta here first thing in the morning.” He glanced toward the back of the barn. “I think I heard screams a few minutes ago from the buildings back there.”

Zack shrugged. “I’ll wake Jimmy and he can keep an eye on them.”

Steve nodded and went to lie down on a couple bales of hay. “Tell him to wake us if any lights head this way. Otherwise, stay in the barn.”

The first rays of sunlight turned the darkened interior of the barn into a gray gloom. Della and Steve were the first to wake. When Jimmy heard the conversation near the camper, he came down from the back of the loft to speak to Steve.

Jimmy whispered. “It’s quiet now, but people were screaming and crying over there last night. I told Della and she found binoculars and I saw they have guards posted that don’t look real friendly. Something isn’t right over there.”

Steve nodded. “Then we need to get out of here. Go wake up Martha then get down here. We leave in fifteen minutes.”

Della rousted Sandy and Zack with a gentle nudge. “Get up and pack up as quickly as possible. Be very quiet.”

Suddenly Jimmy scurried down the ladder gasping for breath. “There!” He pointed up to the open door at the apex of the roof. With the fading of night and the glow of dawn dawning, they all could see the silhouette of a body hanging from a rope. The rays of the rising sun glistened off Martha’s copper hair. Her body moved with the slight breeze of morning.

Della yelped then slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh my God…oh my God.” She whispered under her breath.

Sandy looked up and screamed. The sound shattered the quiet of dawn with a long piercing shriek. She kept up the screech until Zack slapped his hand over her mouth and pulled her into his arms. There was no way the sound could be mistaken for an animal.

“Shit!” Steve cursed.

“You have to be quiet,” Zack whispered. “Please, Sandy. You have to be quiet.”

“Do you think they heard?” Della whispered.

“We can’t wait to see. Throw what you can in the van.” Steve ordered. “Zack, get Sandy in then help Jimmy, open the door!”

Della balled up bedding and threw it in the back of the van. Steve threw camp supplies on a blanket and gathered up the corners into a knot. He pulled the bundle toward the van while Zack pushed Sandy inside and into a seat. Once Zack had belted her in, he pulled the bundle from Steve and then went back to the camper to pick up the last box of supplies.

Zack shoved the blanket full of supplies inside the van and called out as he lumbered off toward the door. “I got it. Come on Della!”

Della jumped into the passenger seat.

Zack and Jimmy raised the board from the door and Zack tossed it aside. Jimmy pushed against the right door and Zack took on the left. Jimmy’s door pushed open easily enough until it caught on a clump of weeds. Jimmy struggled a moment, then a splinter of wood whizzed past his face. The rifle report echoed as the sound of the van engine roared to life.  Light streamed in the open barn from the back of the structure as a door was opened.

Zack charged against the left side door and slammed it back against the wall. Steve accelerated toward the door as Zack ran across the entrance to help Jimmy. The doo lodged open and they turned toward approaching van.

The front of the vehicle reached the entrance and Steve slowed enough for Zack to dive into the van with Jimmy was close on his heels.

Zack turned to pull Jimmy into the van. With a determined grimace, Jimmy reached out and raised his right foot to leap. Zack grabbed his out-stretched hand just as Jimmy stumbled. His left foot was anchored to the ground, caught on something. He stumbled and yelped and looked back to see a beaten and bludgeoned infected woman clutching his leg.

Zack called out. “I got ya’” Zack wrapped his massive hand around Jimmy’s right wrist and pulled. “I won’t let go.”

Jimmy fell to the ground with Zack still clinging to his wrist. He kicked at the claw-like hand still clinging to his pants while being drug along.

“Stop!” Della screamed. “Oh God!”

The ping of a bullet hitting metal and report of a rifle echoed from the back of the barn. Three men clambered over the pile of hay bales with raised rifles.

Steve slammed on the breaks and stuck his handgun out the side window. He squeezed off three quick shots at the men.

“Get in here now! We gotta to go!” Steve yelled as he slammed on the breaks.

Another shot rang out. The bullet clanged off the back bumper of the van. Steve returned fire again.

Zack jumped from the van with a stainless steel rod clutched in his hand. He slammed the knee joint down on the head of the woman then pulled Jimmy to his feet. Zack pushed Jimmy toward the open door.

“Go, Jimmy!” Zack yelled.

Jimmy jumped into the van. He stepped aside and Zack lunged for the door. He rolled to the side and pulled his feet inside just as Jimmy slammed the red button.

“Go!” Yelled Jimmy.

Steve slammed his hand on the accelerator as he fired three more shots toward the barn. The door slid closed and they lost sight of the barn as they turned the first curve. Steve battled the van to keep it on the narrow path as they raced away from the barn.

Della turned to the trio in the back seat. “Are you three, okay? Are you hurt Jimmy?”

Jimmy laughed nervously. “That was intense. I’m fine, though.” He got to his feet and pushed the bundle of supplies toward the back of the van. He finally settled on an upturned crate.

“Intense. Are you fucking crazy?” Zack asked. “That infected bitch tried to eat you.” He got to his feet and duck walked backed to settle in the seat next to Sandy where she sat whimpering.

Steve sighed. “We have to be a lot more careful from now on.” He sent the van through the weeds and overgrown fencerows.

“Why were they shooting at us?” Della asked.

Steve sighed. “My guess is the dead girl had something to do with it? They were doing some things that they didn’t want anyone else to see.”

“But we didn’t see anything.” Della protested.

“Do you want to go back and tell them that?” Steve asked with a sigh of frustration. “Things are different now. We have to be careful even with people that are not infected.”

The van grew quiet as everyone contemplated Steve’s words. He guided the van onto the blacktop and headed north.

Sandy whispered. “What happens if they follow us?”

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