Archive for July, 2015

They wrapped the body of the infected child in a garment bag and laid it in the back of the Humvee. Matt looked at Jenkins then back at Pierce.

“You have to let me come with you. I don’t want the kids to see me turn like the others.” Piece demanded. “You know that’s what’s going to happen.”

Finally, Matt gave a quick nod. “I know.” He whispered. The implication was not lost on anyone.

He turned to Larry and the soldiers to be left behind. “No more accidents. Work in pairs or small groups, one person with a gun out and ready at all times. Double check all the buildings including the out building down by the lake. Set up the recreation center to bed down the kids. Close off the outside entrances to the restrooms. They can stay open during the day, but I want the camp buttoned down by dark. Two men on the gate.”

Larry made a careless salute. “Got it. No worries.”

He turned to Jake and Jenkins. “Let’s go.”

When he looked at Pierce, he saw she was sweating profusely. He had not seen early signs or symptoms so he had no idea how quickly the changes were occurring. Her complexion had grown synodic. Her lips were dusky and dark circles under her eyes had developed. The whites of her eyes turned blood red and the color of the iris had started to fade.

Pierce nodded. “I don’t think I have much time.”

As she walked toward the Humvee, she began removing items from her pocket and passing them to the soldiers walking beside her. She removed her gun belt and pulled off her vest then stripped down to her t-shirt. By the time she got to the Humvee, she no longer wore the trappings of a soldier. She wore only camouflage cargo pants and a t-shirt.

She pulled a necklace with a cross over her head and held it out to Jenkins. “It’s my mother’s. I want you to have it.”

“I can’t take that.” He protested.

“Then give it to Lawson when she gets over this shit about blaming herself. This was my fault. You have to make her see that.” Pierce responded.

Jenkins nodded then stuck the jewelry in a pocket and sealed the Velcro tab.

Matt, Jake, Jenkins, Pierce, and another soldier by the name of Ramirez got in the Humvee. Pierce settled in the middle of the back seat and began unlacing her boots.

“What are you doing?” Ramirez asked.

“That pregnant woman can use them. I saw she had on sandals.” She sighed. “Can you beat that?” Pierce gave a rasping chuckle. “It’s the end of the world and she’s wearing designer sandals.” She handed the boots to Ramirez.

No one answered and she poked at Jenkins. “Lighten up guys. We saved those kids. I figured we were all dead three days ago when Bishop rammed the Stryker into the ditch. I got a reprieve. Reprieve is over.”

Pierce leaned over to wave at the gathering of soldiers. They quickly came to attention and saluted. Matt guided the Humvee through the gate and saw Pierce wave through the open window at the two soldiers standing guard. He slowed.

“You boys, take care.” She called out.

“God speed, Pierce.” One of the men whispered.

“Bye, Pierce.” The other choked out.

The faces of both men tightened around the mouth as they raised their hands to salute. Their eyes followed the Humvee as they secured the gate and the vehicle drove away.

Pierce groaned. “This hurts like hell.” She pressed both hands to her head. “We need to get this show on the road, guys.”

Matt accelerated around the corner and onto the highway. Trees flew past, as they raced toward Martinsville. Minutes ticked by while Pierce’s breath grew ragged and she groaned.

“Stop!” She moaned. “I can’t stand it anymore. My insides are on fire and my head feels like it’s going to explode.”

Matt slowed and eased the Humvee off the road under a huge live oak. All four men jumped out, Jenkins reaching back to help Pierce slide across the seat. She struggled to stand, but her legs could barely support her weight.

Jenkins and Ramirez draped Pierce’s arms over their shoulders and wrapped their arms around her waist. They carried her across the grass and spring bluebonnets on the roadside to the edge of a deep ravine overlooking a small winding creek.

The forested hill country lay ahead of them in all its rugged and vibrant beauty. Longhorn cattle wandered a meadow bright with wild flowers on the far side of the creek. Houses in the distance gleamed white and pristine as if they could not be touched by the ugliness of the world when the dead rose up to devour the living.

Matt walked up to the trio and looked at the glory of Lady Bird’s beautification project. Lady Bird Johnson would always be remembered for seeding Texas roadways with native wildflowers. Those same wildflowers spread to meadows and pastures resulting in collages of colors for all to enjoy.

Jenkins fell to his knees in front of Pierce. “God, I’m sorry. If I could….”

She laid her hand on the side of his face. “I know.” She smiled at him. “I guess I shouldn’t have held out so long.” She sighed deeply. “You need to go now.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but Pierce shook her head. “No. You go. I won’t have this on your conscience.” She turned to Matt. “I just want to enjoy the view a few minutes longer.”

Jake and Ramirez grabbed at Jenkins’ arms but he shook them off. He slowly raised his hand in salute as tears glistened in the afternoon sun. Jake and Ramirez followed suit. With a nod from Pierce, they turned and walked to the Humvee.

Matt stepped behind Piece and quietly pulled his handgun. “I don’t even know your first name.”

Pierce stared out over the river and shrugged. “Sallie. Can you believe it? I was named after a grandmother I never had a chance to even meet.” She struggled to take a breath then continued. “I hope she’s there when I cross over.”

“I’m sure she will be.” Matt answered. He fired and Sallie Pierce slumped to the ground. “Sorry, Sallie.”

Jake walked past Matt with the child wrapped in the garment bag. He laid the small body next to Sally Pierce. Together they stood looking at the bodies.

Finally, Jake asked. “Should we try to bury them?”

“We can’t. We don’t have time. It’s nearly three and we have to get supplies for thirty people and get back to make sure we’re buttoned down for the night. Matt turned and headed back to the Humvee.” Matt walked to Pierce and straightened her limbs and slid his hand over her eyes closing them. He covered the bodies with a tarp then turned and headed for the Humvee.

Jake followed. When he caught up with Matt and spoke softly. “That was bad.”

“It’ll be with me for a while.” Matt answered. When they got in the vehicle he continued. “A long while.”

Jenkins was quiet for the remainder of the ride to Martinsville. When they got to the edge of town, he finally spoke. “She was as good a soldier as any of them.”

Matt nodded. “She died like a soldier.”

“Dead is dead.” Jenkins’ face mirrored his distress. “She should have been home having babies or some shit like that.”

“She had a better chance of surviving this as a soldier than as Suzie-homemaker.” Jake responded. “It was just bad luck that infected kid got in the luggage compartment. Not the kid’s and definitely not Pierce’s fault.”

Jenkins shrugged. “It still sucks.”

Everyone fell silent until they saw a sign announcing a discount store in town.

Matt announced. “First thing we need to find is a truck or oversized van. It needs to be big enough to stock up for more than a couple days at a time.”

“What about a rental lot like U-Haul? Keys would be on-site and we’d have a pretty good choice of sizes.” Jenkins answered.

“That sounds like a plan,” Matt answered. “Probably sooner rather than later.”

The Humvee got to the edge of town and the first retail business park included a small storefront advertising: veterinary services, a dry cleaner, a tax office and sports supply center. Matt slowed to examine the businesses then suddenly stopped in front of the sports store when he saw the advertisement for school soccer supplies.

“What are you stopping here for?” Jenkins asked.

Matt jerked a thumb toward the business and grinned. “Kid’s clothes. There wasn’t much in the luggage for the kids. This is single stop shopping, should be a lot of shorts and t-shirts, warm-up sweatshirts and pants.”

Jake laughed. “Sounds like a plan. All we’ll need later is underclothes, shoes, and socks.”

Matt backed up to the door. The four men stepped from the vehicle. The others watched the street and area around the strip center while Matt tapped on the glass. When he heard nothing, he turned to Ramirez.

“Ramirez, watch our backs. Anything at all looks bad, give us a holler.”

When he found the door locked, Jake slid a crowbar between the door lock plate and jam. He leaned his weight into the bar and pushed the door from the jam and facing. The door popped open. Matt, Jake, and Jenkins stepped into the gloom.

Matt made his way toward the back of the store and found the office. Inside, he picked up the local yellow pages. He found pages for a city map, and located a listing for truck rentals. He folded the phone book and stuck it into his back pocket.

Jake and Jenkins found garbage bags under a counter and began sweeping clothes off shelves into the bags.

Matt walked to the back of the store to a door that sported a sign identifying it as a stockroom. He knocked on the door. When there was no sound from within, he opened the door a crack and peeked inside. The store room wasn’t as full as he had hoped, but he found several boxes of children’s sweat pants and shirts.

With his arms full of clothes, he stepped back into the storefront and found both Jenkins and Jake stuffing bags with clothes. Matt opened a bag and dropped his armful of clothes into the plastic then carried two more bags into the storeroom and filled them with sweatshirts and sweatpants.

He stepped into the front room and cross the room to drop his bags by the front door. “Lets’ get moving.” He looked out the window.

Ramirez was looking off into the distance, his face reflecting the concern. Obviously not getting a clear enough view, he stepped on the bumper of the Humvee. A moment later, he dropped to the ground and bolted toward the door.

Matt stepped out to meet him. “What is it?”

“It’s a military convoy with three Strykers. If it’s Bishop, he’ll try to take us out!” Ramirez declared.

Matt stuck his head back in the store. “We gotta leave now guys. Trouble headed our way!”

They tossed bags into the back of the Humvee and Matt guided the vehicle out onto the street. A few minutes later he turned down an alley then circled around a paint store and pulled behind a garage. He killed the engine and watched the alley entrance. Three infected on the street turned and headed toward the alley.

“Fuck!” Matt cursed.

“I got this.” Ramirez chuckled. “These fucks are really stupid.”

Ramirez eased the back door open and stepped out on the pavement. As he walked to the alley entrance, he pulled a slingshot from his pocket and slid a metal ball into the leather patch. He pulled back on the sling, aimed and released. A glass window nearly half a block away shattered. The trio of infected turned in mass and stumbled back toward the distant storefront.

“Long as they don’t catch a whiff of us, we’re good.” Ramirez hustled back to the Humvee as the roar of the convoy grew louder.

Matt pointed toward the corner of the building and they watched the convoy’s approach. The convoy was moving fast, crushing any of the infected that stumbled into their way. They barreled through town and past the garage without slowing.

“Where in the fuck are they heading at that speed?” Jake asked.

Matt picked up the radio and began scanning channels. After nearly a minute, garbled voices demanded. “Stop! Return…base…charges…Bishop! Court….” Then the reception dissolved into static.

“Well, that answers a couple questions,” Matt stated. “Bishop has gone rogue. He’s going to shoot anything in uniform.”

“Can we hook up with regular military?” Jenkins asked.

Matt shrugged. “I don’t know how. The reception is sketchy at best. We don’t dare transmit. Bishop can hear any channel the military is using. They could be anywhere up to twenty miles away. We can’t load up the kids and start driving around the country looking for an FOB. Not with Bishop going out there shooting at anything military.”

Jenkins nodded. “We have a pretty good setup at the campgrounds. It’s a lot more secure than that damned park Bishop stopped at. Our asses were left hanging out for anything that came down the highway.”

“Let’s move out.” Matt pulled the phone book from his pocket. After a quick perusal of the pages, he pointed to a small map of the town at the front of the yellow pages.

“There’s a rental store on the east side of town and a discount store down the street from there judging by the address.”

Matt tossed the phone book on the dash and shifted the Humvee into drive. He pulled out of the alley after a quick glance in the direction Bishop had taken.

Jenkins hooked a thumb toward the back of the vehicle. “We need a cargo van or small moving truck to haul the supplies we need to take care of all those kids. We can only carry enough for a meal or two.”

“Yeah,” Matt answered. “We’ve got a job to do that’s for damned sure.” He slowed the Humvee as he neared the rental store.

The yard was fenced and the only access blocked by a wrought iron fence with a padlock on a chain. The storefront next to the gate advertised specials on short-term rentals and accepting all major credit cards.

“There’re three private vehicles in the parking lot.”

“That’s a bad sign,” Matt muttered. “There’s probably one or two for employees and a customer or two. Most likely the customer will have someone with him.”

“So we have at least four infected to deal with,” Jenkins answered.

“Yep. Ain’t no choice.” Jake shrugged. “Keys will be in the office. Dis brotha’ don’t have a clue how to hotwire a truck.” He laughed at his attempt at ghetto humor.

“Let’s do this as quiet as we can,” Matt ordered. “Don’t use a gun unless you have to. I don’t want to advertise we’re here.”

Matt backed up to the office and all four men exited the vehicle. Jake and Matt pulled machetes free of scabbards. Jenkins held up a tire iron, and Ramirez- a three-foot piece of rebar.

“Same drill Ramirez. You watch our six.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jenkins and Jake waited by the vehicle while Matt walked to the building. He stood at the side of the door and peeked around to look into the gloom of the office. Shadows moved around in the open reception area. Matt ducked below the sill and made his way to the side of the glass door. There he pressed his back against the brick wall and motioned Jenkins and Jake to his side.

Matt whispered. “There’re at least three on this side of the counter. I’ll open the door and take out whatever gets to me first, Jenkins, you go left, Jake right. Take ‘em out quick and quiet.”

Matt raised a hand to quickly count off three fingers one at a time. He jerked the door open and the three men exploded into the room. Matt first, then Jake darted through the doorway with Jenkins on his heels.

Jake used his machete to cleave the top of an infected man’s head. He fell like a stone knocking over an end table and one of the two chrome and plastic chairs in front of a window. Matt took out a fat man in a white shirt and turned just in time to see Jenkins bash in the side of a woman’s face. The infected woman slowed for only a heartbeat and Jenkins swung again. The second swing embedded the crowbar into the temple of the woman. She fell to the floor behind the counter taking the crowbar with her.

Jenkins pushed open a side gate and leaned down to retrieve his crowbar. His wrist was captured by a hand covered in blood and gore. He yelped in alarm and fell back on his backside kicking at the head of the infected man pulling himself up his body. Jenkins jerked his wrist free and kicked at the body covering his left leg. The body rolled aside and Jenkins crab-crawled back until his hand met a previously downed infected body.

Jake stepped on the offending appendage and used the machete on the infected man’s head. “That bastard is really in bad shape.”

Matt leaned over the counter. “Fuck. They did a real number on the counter guy.” Matt swung the gate open and stepped around the body. “Let’s get busy.”

Jenkins jumped to his feet and shivered. “That was nasty. Fuck!” He snorted nervously.

Jake slapped Jenkins on the back. “You move pretty good for a white guy.”

“Fuck you.” Jenkins snorted. “You move pretty slow for a black guy.”

Jake chuckled and punched him lightly on the arm. “I’ll try to do better next time.”

Suddenly Ramirez stuck his head in the door. “I don’t want to interrupt this bonding moment, but we got company stumbling this way.”

Matt grabbed a key on a long stick with a tag identifying it as the gate key. He tossed it to Ramirez. “Get the gate open then be ready to drive the Humvee. Jake, cover him.”

Jenkins looked out the window. “There’s a fifteen foot moving van near the gate. Only one out there.”

Matt opened a metal wall cabinet and studied the array of labeled keys. Each one bore a unit identification number.

“What’s the unit number?” Jenkins called out.

Jake called back the number. Matt picked up the keys and sorted through the tags one by one. Finally, he jerked up a key and headed for the door. He tossed the key to Jake and raced toward the Humvee.

Jenkins stood between the Humvee and the truck looking from one to the other. Finally, Matt pointed at the van. “Ride shotgun.”

Jake cranked the engine and it roared to life. Jenkins jumped in and Jake slammed the vehicle into gear. When Jake gave Matt a thumbs-up, the Humvee took off.

In the panel van, Jenkins shifted through the glove box and found a map and a couple random pieces of paper. He looked behind the seat into the back of the vehicle. It was dark and empty. “We can carry a lot of supplies in here.”

Jake laughed. “It’s got a full tank of gas, too. You gotta love an efficient business model.”

Matt directed the Humvee to the large box store with the truck following close behind. They parked at the edge of the parking lot and Matt rolled down his window just as Jake pulled up next to the Humvee.

“Single entrance. Could be good. Could be bad.” Matt commented.

Jake shrugged. “Your call.”

“Jake and I go inside. Jenkins, you and Ramirez stay at the front door when we get it open. Jake and I’ll bring supplies in carts, one of you cover the other while they load supplies into the vehicles.”

Jenkins made a curt nod and grinned at Ramirez. “If you see any beef jerky, can you grab it? Oh, and some clean underwear.” He laughed.

“As opposed to dirty underwear?” Matt remarked. “Okay, let’s do this.”

With a nod from Matt, Ramirez released the break and made a wide circle across the parking lot to stop with the back of the truck and Humvee facing the front of the store. All four men got out of the vehicles.

Four doors opened and the men walked to the front of the store. Jenkins and Ramirez opened the back of the vehicles then stepped to the outside to protect Matt and Jake.

Matt turned to Jake. “When we get inside you’re on clothing and bedding detail. Pick up shoes, underclothes and whatever else you think we need. Get a variety of sizes for the kids but don’t get too picky. Clear a shelf or two then get bedding, sleeping bags preferably but blankets will do. I’ll get as much food as I can. We’ll fill baskets then drop what we find at the front door for Jenkins and Ramirez to load in the vehicles. I’ll hit the drug department, pick up shampoo and soap and shit like that last.”

“With the cots in the attic of the rec center, I know exactly what we need.” Jake answered.

Matt nodded at Jake. “Let’s clear the place then get busy. I don’t want to be here more than twenty minutes.”

Matt and Jake peered into the gloom.

“I see someone in there,” Jake whispered. “Maybe more.”

“Half a dozen vehicles. Two were parked at the side of the parking lot. Probably employees. The rest are right up front. That blue Fiesta has the door open and no one around.”

Jake nodded. “I can see blood on the door and if they let an infected person inside.” His voice trailed off.

Matt pushed on the door and it opened easily. “Not locked. Not a good sign.”

They peered into the dark for a moment and heard the first moan of an infected.

Jake sighed. “Shit.” He whispered. “Can’t any of this shit be easy?”

Matt shrugged and answered. “You two watch the door. We’re going inside. We’ll take out the infected before we start bringing up supplies. Just in case, don’t get sloppy. Watch the fucking door too.”

Jenkins nodded then helped slid the door back. “Got it.”

Matt strode toward the sound of shuffling feet with Jake at his side. They faced two infected customers. Both had been working men in life, one with a thick body in blue coveralls while the other dressed like a construction worker. Coverall man had a bandaged arm while the construction worker had limbs horribly damaged with gaping holes and open wounds. They each began shambling and reaching toward their intended prey.

Jake and Matt unsheathed machetes and stepped several feet away from each other. It seemed to confuse the infected men. They froze, undecided which man to attack first. Finally, both seemed to forget about Matt and faced Jake.

“I know dark meat is sweeter than white, but boys this doesn’t work for me.” He swung the machete and took the head from the closest monster. The body fell with a hollow thud.

At the same time, Matt stepped up and brought his machete down at the second infected man’s head. The blade glanced off the skull and drove into the collar bone of the man. The infected man remained focused on Jake and took a step closer pulling the blade from Matt’s hand.

“Ah, shit!” Jake stabbed out and drove his blade into the right eye socket and the monster fell with Matt’s blade still wedged in the head.

Reaching for the weapon, Matt suddenly felt a brush of a hand on his sleeve. He jerked his arm free, spun around and kicked out with his left boot. An infected teen went down in a heap.

Jake pulled his machete from the man’s head and made a wide arc with the blade. It connected with the teen’s neck. Her head flew from her shoulders, hit a register and rolled away.

The head stopped with the face looking at them. The clouded eyes blinked and the mouth snapped and gnashed teeth at them.

“That’s just nasty,” Jake commented with a grimace.

Matt stepped over and slammed his booted foot down on the head just as a nasally voice called out from the store speaker system. “They’re coming!” A voice warned through the store’s public address system. “You have to block the warehouse door on the right side of the back wall or they’ll just keep coming!”

Both men were retrieving their weapons as Jake asked. “Who in the hell was that? And why ain’t he blocking the door if he knows about it?”

They headed toward the back of the store when Matt answered. “Don’t know. Come on. Let’s do it.”

As they jogged toward the back of the building, they heard a tortured moan. It began low and anguished, slowly rising in volume. It was answered by an angry keening of another infected. The pair of infected women saw the men and each changed directions to head straight for them.

Matt watched as a monster that had once been a small woman with delicate of features snarl as she limp toward them. The second monster was nearly as tall as Jake. She was massively overweight and her face was masked by a thatch of orange-red hair, a color that could only come out of a bottle. Her throat hung in shreds around her ample chest. Blood covered her house dress while the wound at her neck still leaked thick drops of blackened sludge with each step. Both women looked ravenous as they stumbled toward Matt and Jake.

“I think the big one likes you, Jake,” Matt called out.

Jake chuckled. “Thanks, asshole.”

They rounded a display case and saw the double doors to the warehouse entrance being held open by a jack with a loaded pallet left half way through the swinging doors. Any time an infected leaned against either panel, they fell into the store. As if to verify the evaluation, one of the panels opened and a monster in a blue uniform fell into the store. It slowly got to its feet and zeroed in on Jake and Matt.

Matt ordered. “Let’s take out Big Bertha and Twiggy then you can dispose of the blue man.”

Matt headed toward the mammoth woman, but she seemed to only have eyes for Jake. He laughed and called out. “See, I told you, she likes you better than me.”

When the massive woman reached for Jake, Matt used his machete to remove lower arms and hands. She ignored the loss while she still focused on Jake. Matt kicked out and drove his boot into her kneecap. She fell to her knees giving Matt time to glance at Jake.

He had taken out the petite woman with a blow to the side of her head and without looking back, stepped around the body and headed toward the blue man.

Big Bertha was still struggling to get to her feet when Matt’s next swing connected with the gargantuan woman’s head. Her scalp peeled off with a pin-wheeling flight of crimson tresses. The impact sent her to her knees, but she still didn’t stay down long. She pulled her feet under her and stumbled back to her feet. She turned to face Matt with teeth gnashing.

“Fuck!” He cursed as he jabbed at her face. He missed her eye. She swiped it away with the remains of her arm.  He took another swing at her head, but her flailing arm knocked the blade aside again. Matt backed away from the woman in frustration.

Meanwhile, Jake took out the blue man.

Bertha focused on Matt while he swung the machete again and took her left arm off at the shoulder. Still the woman came after him. Matt swung the machete at her face but she turned and he hit her meaty shoulder slicing off a slab of flesh. She moaned and reached out with her stump. All the while, her mouth opened and closed, her teeth clicking against each other.

Matt took two steps back and glanced over to see Jake move the pallet jack against the warehouse door. With the breaks locked, no matter how much weight pushed against the doors from the warehouse, the doors wouldn’t open.

As he walked back toward Matt, Jake called out. “I know it’s been a long dry spell man, but I don’t think she’s your type. Kill her already.”

“Fuck you!” Matt cursed. “I can’t get close enough to take her out.”

With a grunt, Jake raised his machete and cleaved the back of the woman’s head open. The top of her skull shattered and black goo and gray matter spilled from the opening. She fell to the floor, the flimsy housedress riding up to expose a bare butt cheek and dimpled thigh jiggling with fat and the hint of a thong at her butt crack.

“Damn. That’s just wrong.” Jake scrunched up his face and muttered.

Matt and Jake both turned with raised weapons and peered into the dark as hurried footsteps approached.

“I told you, the military would come for us. All we had to do was wait.” The nasal voice announced as a thin disheveled man approached.”

He approached Jake and Matt with his hand held out. “Boy, are we glad to see the Army.” When he saw the blood and gore still covering both Jake and Matt hands and weapons, he quickly dropped his hand to his side.

“My name’s Jasper Kovak. I’m the store manager.” He stepped aside to introduce the three others with him. He introduced a fiftyish woman as Joan, a girl in her teens as Lisa and the third person, a young man who was obviously Down’s Syndrome he called Carl.

Matt stepped to a shelf and grabbed a beach towel. He wiped at the gore on his hands and pants leg. Finally, he cleaned his blade and answered. “We were in the military, but the Army is out of commission right now. At least, as far as we know. We have a group of survivors at a campsite about several miles from here. We came for supplies.”

“You can’t just take merchandise without paying for it.” Kovak protested.

Matt sighed. “We can and we will. Your corporate bosses are either hiding or dead and part of the problem.” He threw the towel to Jake and turned back to Kovak. “Here’s where ya’ll have to decide. You can come with us or go out and fend for yourselves.”

Matt picked up stacks of terry cloth towels and threw them in a cart. He collected a stack of wash clothes and tossed them in as well. He pushed the cart toward Jake and headed toward the front of the store. “Let’s finish filling it up.”

Kovak and Joan huddled together for a moment then called after Matt. “I think we’ll come with you, gentlemen.”

Matt stopped and turned back around. “Good. See if you can find the keys to that big extended cab in the parking lot.”

“No problem,” Kovak grinned as he pulled keys from his pocket.

“Get carts and fill them with canned food. One of you women find Jake, we got a couple dozen kids. We need shoes, socks, underclothes, and shit like that.”

The teen grabbed a cart and headed across the store. “I’ll pick up health and beauty.” When Matt looked back and scowled, she added as if he were a child. “We’re going to need OTC and pharmacy items since there won’t be doctors then I’ll pick up soap, shampoo, tampons….”

Matt held up his hand palm toward her. “I don’t want to know. Just be careful.”

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?”

Days End

Posted: July 1, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
Tags: , , , , ,

Liz woke to the muffled noise of someone passing gas. She listened to a bombardment of hurled curses and insults at the perpetrator. Slowly the growls and groans quietened and a semblance of quiet returned to their corner of the dining room. Liz finally decided she was awake and wouldn’t be going back to sleep and began moving.

She sat up rubbing at her neck. She looked across the table at John. Harry sat next to him. John slid a box of packaged breakfast rolls across the table to Liz. The lights had been turned back on in the kitchen area and the smell of coffee wafted through the air. John held a steaming cup of black liquid.

“Need a trip to the bathroom?” Harry asked.

Liz nodded. She stood and glanced around the room. Most of the bikers were still snoring. It looked as if they had just collapsed to the floor when they’d had enough to drink. Three men milled around the coffee machine, one of them was Ryder. All except Ryder looked hung over and worse for the night of drinking. From the looks of it, they had finished off the store’s beer supply.

Harry led the way to the restrooms. Once inside the family facility, Liz used a wet paper towel to scrub at her teeth. She gargled with handfuls of water, drank deeply and then used the toilet. Washing her hands one last time, she waited at the door until she heard the gentle knock. She stepped out just in time to see Ryder walk up to Harry.

“You boys sleep okay last night?” Ryder asked as he tried to blink the sleep from his eyes.

Harry answered. “As good as you’d expect.”

“We’ll be leaving in ten minutes so be ready.” He scrubbed at the stubble on his chin. “No excuses.”

Ryder walked away and Liz followed Harry back to the table. They gulped hot coffee and ate sweet rolls and beef jerky for breakfast. Liz stuffed several packages of dried jerky and crackers in her jacket’s zippered pockets when the bikers were not looking.

When Harry, John, and Liz walked out to the bikes and saw their supplies that had been on the back of their bikes were gone. Their bikes had been stripped of anything useful and their clothes left in a pile at the side of the bikes. Liz grabbed the backpacks and stuffed what was left back in the bags. She was glad she had not picked up bras at the resale shop.

John’s face flared red and he turned to confront Ryder, but Harry caught his arm. “Let it go. I expected as much.”

“Fucking assholes.” John cursed under his breath.

Ryder strode over to John and Harry just as they started to mount up. “You ride in front. Lead the way or else.” He placed his hand on the handgun on his belt. “The first one I shoot will be the kid if you try anything.”

Without responding, Harry and John got on their bikes and cranked the motors. Without looking back, Harry and John pulled out. One by one, the gang followed. Soon the group roared down the highway in a rough semblance of order.

Once underway, John’s voice came over the mike. “What if the horde is still hanging around the trailer? We’ll be riding right into a clusterfuck.”

Harry answered. “I’m hoping they are. They can give Ryder and his boys something to worry about besides us. With a little luck, we blast through and by the time Ryder and his boys roll into the mix every dead fuck within fifty feet will be on ‘em.”

“But. . . .” Liz interrupted.

Harry continued. “We got no choice, Liz. John, we kick it when we get to the overpass.”

Liz clung to Harry and watched the landscape race by. They got closer and closer to tiny town of Boseman, a typical wide spot along Texas highways.

After two hours, Ryder raced forward to call a halt.

Harry and John stopped and took off their helmets. Harry asked. “What is it?”

“How much farther?” Ryder snarled. “If you’re dicking us around, you’re all three dead.”

Harry raised his hand. “It’s not far now. Maybe ten or twelve miles. There’s a railroad overpass right before the town. The trailer was knocked off the tractor and sitting alongside the road on the backside of overpass.”

“It better be,” Ryder growled.

Harry shifted the bike into gear and he accelerated.

Ryder tossed a beer bottle at them as they pulled away. The glass shattered only a few feet from Harry and Liz as the bike roared by. The assemblage of bikers took their time. Beers were passed around as the riders moved out.

Ryder dropped back to carouse with his cronies. They had started drinking around ten that morning and even forgone lunch for more beer and a couple bottles of JD. Ryder yelled something in their direction that Liz didn’t catch but felt the hair on the back of her neck raise.

Harry cranked the bike and eased further ahead with John close on his heels. “All those loud mufflers are drawing all kinds of attention,” Harry commented.

They passed houses and monsters appeared in the yards. It was easy to see they were being drawn by the sound of the motorcycles. More and more appeared from around buildings and out of doorways. Those trapped in stalled vehicles turned toward the sound reaching out and gnashing teeth.

The gang’s interest in John and Harry faded as they consumed more and more beer. Ryder was handed another bottle after tossing an empty bottle. Bottles tossed against road signs sound like shots from handguns. Laughter boomed above the sound of the motorcycles. More bottles sailed from drunken riders.

Liz glanced over her shoulder just in time to see Ryder hurl a bottle at a monster amid a cluster of his brethren. The bottle hit the monster in the side of the head and the gang exploded in celebration. They were less a mile from the overpass, when Harry accelerated.

Liz yelled into the mic. “No one is paying attention to us. Keep going!”

The gang was drunk and Liz ducked lower against Harry as she waited for the impact of a bullet from Ryder’s gun when he noticed they were pulling ahead of the pack.

“Now!” Harry yelled at John then gunned the engine.

The bikes vaulted forward and raced toward the overpass leaving the gang behind still tossing bottles at random targets. Harry and John didn’t wait to see how soon the gang noticed. Liz watched the roadside flash by. John matched the pace without giving a hint of easing up on the throttle.

A sudden clank of metal and the report of gunfire made Liz duck. She looked back to see guns pointed at them. Another shot whizzed by and she screamed.

“They’re shooting at us!”

“Hang on!” Harry yelled back and opened the bike up with a deafening roar of the oversized motor. John matched the action. Together they pulled away quickly and began the gradual turn toward the overpass.

Liz felt the back wheel on the left rise from the ground and she clutched Harry tighter. He made a guttural sound that was a cross between a laugh and grunt of strain.

Shots echoed in the distance while the closest bikes accelerated to a crazy pace considering how drunken most of the men were. Liz watched as they barreled after them, all the while firing wild shots. More of the infected were drawn toward them as the cacophony of roaring engines and gunfire grew.

Harry dodged a Wandering infected and screamed into the mic in his helmet. “John! First cross street! Take a right!”

John’s bike raced through the underpass with Harry at his back fender. Both men braked. Liz was thrown into Harry’s back then momentum pitched her to the left. If not for Harry grabbing a handful of the leather, she would have fallen from her perch on the back of the bike. Harry pushed her back onto the seat then accelerated again. They raced away from the overpass and the trailer.

Liz looked back at the cross street and saw what could only be described as a cluster-fuck of epic proportion. The first bikes flew through the underpass into dozens of the undead that had appeared around the disabled trailer and overpass at the trio’s passing. Unable to see what lay ahead, the rear bikes slammed into the riders being attacked by the infected. More and more of the monsters stumbled toward the twenty or so bikers fighting for their lives. Motorcycles were knocked over riders were drug from the bikes as the infected overwhelmed the gang.

Harry turned around the corner of a large building and eased up on the accelerator. He and John slowed the bikes. They rode to the end of the business complex, turned a corner and then headed back to the west away from the road. They moved the bikes into the parking lot of a lumber yard and eased around the back of a storage area. Harry killed the motor and John followed suit.

The quiet around them was deafening. They could still hear shots and screams in the distance. Both men pulled off their helmets.

“That was bad,” Liz commented as she pulled the helmet from her head. She took a minute to describe what she had seen. “We’ll never get back through the underpass. Riders were pulled from their bikes and the ones behind them ran into the bikes and bodies.”

Harry shrugged. “They deserved what they got.”

“We gotta find a way to get outta this town and away from Ryder. That is if any of them survived. They were drinking pretty heavy.” John chuckled. “Fucking assholes.”

Harry pulled a map from his pocket. He opened it and studied the colored lines. “We can go north on this farm-to-market road for about forty miles then head back west. I think we need to wait until tomorrow.” He ignored Liz’s look of frustration. “I doubt we have much left in supplies and we need to locate some weapons.”

John searched the saddle bags on either side of his bike then opened the storage unit behind the seat. “Empty. I got nothing.”

Harry stepped off his bike and flipped open his bike’s saddlebags. He grunted then opened his own storage compartment. “Sons-a-bitches didn’t leave us anything. We have to find weapons and supplies before we leave this Podunk town.”

“They were going to kill us,” Liz asked in a hesitant voice.

“Probably,” Harry answered flatly. “They just wanted to make sure we were telling the truth about the trailer. It was the only reason we were still riding.”

The two men pushed the bikes into the shadow of a storage rack and listened to the sound of gunfire in the distance. Gradually the shooting became more sporadic. Then they heard a dozen single shots then silence.

“Do you think any of them survived?” Liz asked.

Harry shrugged. “It’s hard to say, but I imagine so. I think someone was putting down the injured.”

They stood in the shade and listened. The firing stopped and then the sound of motorcycles rumbled to life and faded into silence.

John stepped closer. “We need to find some weapons.”

Liz looked toward the lumberyard. “Maybe we can find something in there.”

Harry led them toward the darkened building. They found an open, door used by employees to access the storage area. As they got closer, they found a stack of construction scraps. Harry and John both picked up pieces of two by fours and Liz picked up a piece of rebar.

Liz noticed only the emergency lights were on in the building when the trio crossed the garden area and stepped into the main building. It was not a chain store so merchandise cluttered the isles. Liz considered a display that she was passing and stopped. She studied the four inch cylindrical tubes in a display then picked one up and pushed a soft rubber switch at the bottom. A light flicked on. Both men stopped and she tossed each of them flashlights and stuffed the remaining three in her back pocket.

John stepped closer to the garden tools and came back with three machetes. He tore open the plastic and pulled the first one free. He used the sharpened edge to quickly open the second two. With everyone armed with clubbing weapons and blades, they made their way deeper into the gloom.

Harry picked up a canvas utility bag and walked over to a drink machine. He pulled water bottles from the shelves.

“Do you think they have a break room?” Liz asked as she stuffed bags of peanuts from a countertop display into her pockets. “Could be food there, if they have a break room.”

Harry shrugged. “John, find some crowbars or hatchets.” He hesitated a moment then added. “Liz, we’ll look for a break room in the back.”

John headed off into the dark and Harry whispered. “Watch your ass!”

Harry and Liz headed toward a hardware display. They froze in place when they heard the first moan. It was distant and a pitiful sound. Liz imagined it a keening of loss and pain. The companion sound that followed was angry and dangerous.

“John!” Harry called out. “Out of here, now!”

Steps could be heard running toward them. John called out. “We got company and he looks pissed. Time to move. Fast.”

Harry grabbed Liz’s arm and turned her toward the garden center. He started running and nearly pushed Liz into an infected man covered in blood from the neck down. Harry elbowed Liz out of the way and swung the canvas bag of water bottles knocking the monster off his feet.

He swung the machete with one hand connecting with the side of the infected man’s head peeling an ear and a connected flap of skin from his skull. The monster righted itself and reached for Harry, still struggling to recover his own footing.

Liz grabbed the machete from the scabbard at her waist and raised the blade in a two handed swing and chopped off both of the man’s arms just below the elbows. The arms fell to the floor with a wet splat. The monster, ignoring the loss, raised his stumps and focused hungry eyes on Liz.

Before Liz could act, Harry cleaved the man’s head open. Harry caught her by her arm and held her still for a moment. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I could have finished the job.” Liz responded. “It’s just…well.” Finally, she shrugged and fell silent.

John caught up just as they jogged through the garden center. “That was ugly. I had to take out the cashier in the break room.” John caught up and continued. “Her legs below the knees were eaten clear to the bone. The rest of her was big as a brood sow carrying a litter.”

Harry glanced over his shoulder at John and commented. “Better pick up the pace, old man. Customer service is heading our way.”

Harry hopped on his bike and pulled Liz up behind him then cranked the engine. He eased forward while John got his bike started and began moving. They put helmets on and led a following of infected as they pulled away. After the first two blocks, they lost sight of their pursuers when they turned around a corner and made their way back out on a main street heading back through town.

“Keep an eye out for a place to pick up some guns,” Harry ordered.