Act of Kindness

Posted: July 20, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
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Harry eased his bike around another traffic pile up using the torn and trampled medium between strips of asphalt.

The sound of the bikes brought more and more of the infected out of the shadows. By the time the monsters reached the street they rode on leaving them behind.  Harry and John moved far enough away for any new arriving infected to join the herd following the rumbling motors of the motorcycles.

Harry raised his hand to point toward a side street at the next intersection. They eased down an incline and across a paved parking lot. He pulled ahead and guided his bike down the street to another intersection. They turned at the back of a big brick building and suddenly they were leaving the small town and its cluttered streets behind.

Liz looked ahead at the endless line of vehicles stopped on the highway. She could imagine the terrified people trying to escape the infected when they ended up in a traffic jams that went on for miles and miles. She could see a distant rise void of vehicles on the roadway. A disabled vehicle or an accident had caused the massive backup. Everyone behind the blockage had been trapped.

She imagined after hours of sitting waiting for someone to clear the blockage they began running out of gas, the infected arrived and people left their vehicles in a headlong rush to escape. They would take what they could carry and it wouldn’t take long for the infected to catch up. Those attacked soon became part of the wave of monsters on the roadways that followed them.

Evidence showed those too terrified to leave their vehicles fared no better. They ended up trapped. The infected swarmed around vehicles and shattered glass and attacked those hiding inside. In the end, they were devoured or turned. It was an ugly death.

Liz turned away from the long line of cars with a troubled sigh. The blacktop heading away from the interstate was rough and in poor condition. Both men had to go slow enough to avoid rough careless patches on the asphalt.

“We’re getting nowhere fast and it’s almost dark,” John commented through the helmet mic. “Besides, that herd of fuck-heads following us is just getting bigger.”

“We need a distraction,” Harry added. “Something for them to focus on that’s not us.”

When the pavement evened out they stopped at a two-car accident. The front fenders were locked together in a twisted joining of metal. The road ahead looked clear for several miles.

“I got an idea,” John announced. “Harry, can you get a radio or horn going.”

John took a t-shirt from his pack and dipped the end in his gas tank. Harry watched as John stuffed the rag in a gas tank, when he gave a nod, Harry turned the key in the ignition of one of the cars and pushed a couple buttons and a heavy metal band blasted from the custom speakers. He stepped back on the bike and kicked the machine into gear. He raced ahead while John held a lighter to the rag. A heartbeat later, John caught up with Harry and they gunned the engines laughing like a pair of bad kids.

Liz clung to Harry waiting for the explosion. After a full minute, it came. She looked over her shoulder and saw a mushroom of crimson blossom up from the vehicles. Dozens of infected came investigate the noise were hurled into the air from the explosion.

After the first mile, Liz could no longer hear the roar of the fire but she could still see the billowing black smoke. She had no illusions the infected were no longer out there, but there was a morsel of peace in not being able to see them following. The countryside opened up and knee-high cornfields on either side of the road waved in the breeze.

As dusk settled, a gray behemoth of a farmhouse came into view. It was set back from the road on a slight hill. The fenced property was a graveyard of abandoned farm equipment. Outbuildings included a metal shed and tumbled down barn. Harry guided his bike toward the narrow lane.

“Do you think there’s anyone here?” John asked.

“No lights through the windows,” Harry answered. “But the gate is closed.”

After a moment of hesitation, Harry opened the gate and rode through with John following. He refastened the chains used to secure the gate and headed toward the house.

As they got closer, Liz leaned forward. “Windows are boarded up. Are you sure we want to do this?”

They stopped in front of the porch and turned off the bikes. Harry called out. “Hello, inside the house.”

A gravelly voice answered. “What you want?”

“Sorry to trouble you folks but we need a safe place to stop for the night,” Harry answered. “We mean you no harm. If we can just pull into the barn and close the door, that’s all we need. Just a place to be safe for a few hours to sleep.”

Liz called out. “I promise we’re not here to hurt anyone or steal anything.”

A flashlight beam appeared and pointed at each of them in turn.

Finally, a female voice nearly as raspy as the man’s responded. “You don’t need to stay in the barn. Park those motorbikes at the side of the house under the shed. Then you come in and have a cup of coffee.”

“Hazel, you don’t know, they might be infected.” The old man protested.

“Oh, poop.” A frail hand brushed at the old man then turned to the three and asked. “You folks ain’t sick, are you?”

“No mam.” Harry answered.

John turned to Harry and pulled off his helmet. “You think it’s safe?”

Harry shrugged. “From the sounds of them, they can’t be much of a threat.”

They did as told then made their way back to the front porch just as the front door creaked opened. The trio stood in the afternoon gloom and waited to see who would come out.

A diminutive woman well in her eighties with a pleasant face pushed the stooped grandfatherly man aside opening the door out and grabbed at Liz’s hand.

Ignoring Liz’s startled gasp, she announced. “You folks come on in.” She eased the old man aside. “It’s the Christian thing to do to give you a safe place to lay your head for the night.”

John stepped through the door grinning. “It sure is nice to see a friendly face. Last encounter we had nearly got us killed.”

“Both you boys come on in, too. You’re safe here.” She pulled Harry and John into the front room. “Benny, be a dear and lock up the house while I make a fresh pot of coffee.”

She led the trio into a dimly lit kitchen. A single kerosene lamp rested on the kitchen table at the back of the house. She turned up the wick and the room brightened. “Did you folks close the gate? It keeps most of those sick people out of here.” She moved her face from left to right. “Poor folks. Don’t know they’re walking around without a soul.”

Liz looked around and realized no one would be jumping out from the shadows. She took a deep breath asked. “It’s just you two?”

“Yes dear.” Hazel busied herself making coffee in an old fashion percolator. She turned on the gas stove and the flame danced under the metal coffee pot.

“Thank you for taking us in,” Liz said. “It’s a scary world out there.”

“I’ll bet it is, dear. My name is Hazel and that is my husband, Benny Hilton. We’ve lived here for near sixty five years.” Hazel explained as she readied four cups for coffee.

Benny nodded then left the kitchen to settle in a rocking chair in the next room. He picked up a Bible from the nearby table. He turned up a small lamp and opened to a marked page.

Hazel set cups on the table and settled on a chair to wait for the coffee. “Just ignore Benny. He decided when this happened he needed to get right with God. Not that he’s ever been on the wrong side of God. We’re just both closer to meeting our maker than we were a few weeks ago.” She shrugged then smiled at Harry. “Now what about you folks? Where have you come from?”

“San Antonio. Close to the military base.” Harry answered. “We met Lizzy when it first happened and have been trying to find her two girls ever since. We’ve been following three soldiers who found her kids and rescued them.”

Liz asked. “You haven’t seen three soldiers with a ten-year-old and a baby, have you?”

Hazel shook her head and answered. “No, dear, I sorry. But I’m sure those children are in the safest of hands they can be in with those soldiers.”

Harry nodded. “We think so too, but we still need to find them.”

John interrupted when he saw tears welling up in Liz’s eyes. “How have you folks been managing? It’s pretty ugly out there.”

“The property is fenced and we lock up the animals at night. During the day, they stay behind the buildings in a small pen. Only a few of the sick have wandered down the road. If they linger, Benny goes out and gives them peace.”

“You know you have to be careful. A scratch or bite will transmit the illness.” Harry advised.

Hazel nodded at Harry. “Oh, we know. We had television the first few days. The news services had helicopters filming the roadways and the infected. It was terrible. We had some plywood out in the shed. We used it to board up the windows and reinforce the doors. Being out here so far from town, we always kept a lot of canned goods and supplies on hand. Add that to my canning and well, I think we’re fine for now.”

“What about water?” Harry asked.

Hazel shrugged. “We got a windmill. Benny did a bit of hillbilly plumbing and now it pumps into the cistern.” She gave them a gap-toothed grin. “I turn on the faucet and I got water and we can flush the toilet.” A chuckled erupted.

Liz looked excited. “Hot water?”

“Easy enough. You poor dear. I’ll bet you could use a nice bath.” She stood up and started filling pots with water. She placed one on each of the four gas burners of the stove. She turned back to the trio. “Are you hungry?” Before they could answer, she continued. “Of course you are. I’ll get you something to eat while the water is heating.”

Hazel pulled a loaf of home-made bread from a plastic bag and began slicing it. She peeked around the corner into the next room. “Benny, be a dear and go downstairs and get a quart jar of peaches, please.”

Benny crossed the room to a door. He picked up a flashlight then disappeared through a door at the side of the kitchen. The narrow beam disappeared into the black hole. A couple minutes later, he reappeared clutching a jar against his chest. “Anything else?”

“Bring some smoked ham from the pantry and slice some for our guests, please.”

Again, Benny disappeared only to return with a cloth-covered bundle with a string tied on the end. He went to the counter and pulled the cloth from the bundle to expose a ham. He drew a knife from a drawer and began slicing meat. When he was finished, he made a long suffering sigh then disappeared back into the sitting room.

Hazel chuckled. “Poor man. So put upon.”

She set a small bowl of coarse yellow paste on the table. “That’s homemade mustard, but if you’d rather I can whip up some fresh mayonnaise.” She sat a plate of bread, smoked ham, and sliced cheese on the table.

“That won’t be necessary,” Liz answered. “This is a feast. We lost our supplies so anything you set in front of us is great. We’re not picky.”

Both John and Harry grinned in agreement as they began building sandwiches.

Finally, Harry stilled his hands from his sandwich making and looked up. “Hazel, do you know there are some real bad people out there?”

“Of course I do, young man.” Hazel retorted. “I’m eighty-seven years old. Benny and I have seen a lot over the years. We’ve done what we can to protect ourselves but at our age, we’re not changing who we are. Helping good folks is the right thing to do.”

She passed out bowls of peaches and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers to eat with their sandwiches.

Liz laid a slice of bread on the plate, slathered it with mustard then added slices of ham and cheese. She spread condiment on a second slice of bread then closed the sandwich. She groaned with pleasure at the first bite. Once she swallowed, she mumbled a compliment around another bite.

Harry and John wolfed their first sandwich without a word then began building a second. At Hazel’s smile, Harry finally spoke. “Been twenty-four hours since we ate last and it was a three-day-old sweet roll.”

He slurped at the coffee until Hazel poured three glasses of water and placed one in front of each of them.

Liz savored the last crust of bread then smiled at Hazel. “I wish I could make bread like that. That was just about the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted.” She spooned a mouthful of peaches between her lips and sighed at the sweetness.

Steam wafted from the pots on the stove and Hazel called out again. “Benny, dear. Would you carry the hot water to the bathroom, please?”

Liz grinned. She imagined when Hazel requested something of Benny there was no room for argument.

Benny arrived to make four trips back and forth carrying water. By the time he was done, Hazel grabbed Liz’s hand to lead her down the hall.

“Come dear. Now, that’s all hot water in that tub, so turn on the faucet and cool it down a little. Towels are in the cabinet at the end of the tub. I’ll lay a nightgown outside the door for you and you can wash your unmentionables and hang them up. They should be dry by morning. I’ll put more water on for your companions.”

“You can use the bedroom at the top of the stairs, so I put a candle on the table in the bathroom you.” She smiled then added. “Oh, there’s some proper hair scissors in the medicine cabinet.”

Liz had forgotten about her hair. She blinked away the tears that threatened to spill again. “Thank you.” She whispered as she disappeared into the bathroom.

The scent of lavender wafted up from the steam when Liz stepped inside the bathroom. She reached down and turned on the old style water spigot. In another time, she would have been enchanted by the claw foot tub and handwoven rag rug. She pulled off the leather jacket, shoes, her t-shirt, and jeans. When she was out of her underwear, she used a plastic container to add water from the tub to the plugged sink. She dipped her underwear in and scrubbed them against a bar of soap then dropped them in the water to soak.

She turned off the cold water and stepped into the tub full of hot water. She eased her aching body down into the liquid and let thoughts of the girls wash over her. Sobs of despair racked her body. She imagined her girls in a place without hot water and clean clothes. She prayed the men were protecting them and keeping her girls safe. She slipped under the water; holding her breath while she lay in the tub listening to the silence.

When her chest was near exploding she sat up and took a deep breath. With water dripping down her face, she spilled a small amount of shampoo into the palm of her hand. She lathered her hair and hurriedly completed her bath then stepped from the bath. She was clean for the first time in nearly a week.

Liz looked into the mirror. Her hair was a chaotic mess.  She had a hurried job cutting it and it showed.  She grabbed the scissors and began trimming. When she was done, she had a shaggy cut that resembled the female lead in a popular television show. Her version was far from professional but a lot better than before. She left the front a little longer just in case she needed to impersonate a boy again, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. When she was done she ran her fingers through the blonde strands and turned from the mirror.

She peeked out the door and found the neatly folded floral print nightgown with smocking at the oval neckline. She picked it up and stepped back inside.  After slipping into the gown, she folded the towel over the rack and gathered her panties and damp t-shirt. She opened the door and faced a smiling Hazel.

“Benny and I will be going up to bed, now. There’s water on the stove for the men. You can use the bedroom at the top of the stairs. I offered Harry and John beds, but they are determined to sleep downstairs in the sitting room. I got them a couple quilts and pillows.” She shrugged.

“I can understand it. We barely got away from some really bad people.” Liz answered. “I think they’re still a little wary.”

Liz retrieved the rest of her clothes and gun from the bathroom and went up the stairs. Once inside the bedroom she draped her damp clothes on the foot of the bed and closed the door. She told herself she was being paranoid, but still propped a straight backed chair under the door knob.

In the darkened room, she walked to the window and looked out over the pitch-black landscape. She was exhausted, her body was sore from riding the bike and sitting in the booth the night before. Sleep seemed so far away despite her aching muscles.

She stood at the window until she could pick out the international space station in the darkened skies. She wondered if the current crew would ever come home. Would the Russians bring them home without the United States paying for it? Would the men in the station even want to return home? And if they were brought back would they be forced to stay in Russia or Europe. How long would it be before those countries were infected? How could even a terrorist not see it would not be contained? The whole world would be lost.

With a deep sigh, Liz made her way to the bed and pulled back the hand-made quilt. She slid between the sheets. The mattress was old and lumpy but for Liz it was heaven. Her muscles relaxed and her eyes grew heavy.

Morning came with the sound of a rooster crowing then the echo of a distant gunshot.

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