Archive for December, 2015

  • The trucks driven by Jake, Jenkins and Dreschel arrived with Tate in tow.  It had only taken an hour after leaving Matt at the intersection.  The camp residents had all turned out to watch as the vehicles rolled through the gate. Two women hurried to the gathering of children and hustled them to the playground and out of the way of all the activity.  The soldiers and civilians alike grinned and waved at the drivers of the caravan of vehicles.

    Once all the vehicles were inside the gate and the barrier was secure again.  Two soldiers resumed guard duty.  Tate put the white rig in park and waited while Jake, Dreschel and Jenkins jumped from the cabs and conferenced with a small bookish looking man with thick glasses.

    Tate pulled a cigarette from her pocket and lit up and watched.

    Jenkin pointed to the rigs.  “Alright Novack.  Figure it out.  We’re tired and we need to get these trailers off loaded.”

    Novack pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose.  “Well, Mr. Monroe didn’t tell me where to place the containers.”

    “We’re placing the two containers on the east side of the gate.  We’ll be putting them end to end for now.  We’ll park the trailer at the far end.”  Jenkins advised.

    An older women with gray hair and glasses walked up. “Canned goods need to be closer to the food truck.”  She brushed her hands across the front of a white butcher’s apron.  “I can’t carry cases of canned good across this camp ground.”

    Novack moved his head from left to right.  “Now Joan, we don’t have room to pup a container there.  If you need supplies, one of us will assist you.”

    The woman turned to the military dressed man.  “I won’t have time to chase someone down in the middle of cooking, Mr. Larry.”  Joan argued.

    The man she called Larry stepped up and placed an arm around the woman’s shoulder.  “Now, Joan, I promise me or one of my men will carry cases of goods when you need them. All you have to do is ask.”

    “Well, if you promise.”  Joan answered.

    “You got my word.”  Larry winked.

    Tate chuckled when she saw the woman’s face redden.  “Well, that’s a smooth talker.  I’ll have to remember that.” She mumbled to herself.

    Larry turned to the four men. “Where’s Matt?”

    “Turned off to give a bunch of infected another direction to head besides back here. He shouldn’t be more than an hour or so behind us.” Jake answered.

    Larry shrugged. “Okay, I’m heading back to the barn. I got a couple of the boys mucking out the stalls and promised to teach them to ride if they did a good enough job.” Larry walked off with a wave. “You got this covered?”

    “Sure.  We’ll get the shipping containers up front by the gate and our new friend’s trailer along the back fence.” Jake answered. “We’ll introduce you later.”

    “Look forward to it.”

    The scavenging crew had been back at the camp nearly three hours and in that length of time they moved the shipping containers and the trailers to the edge of the fence.  They parked the trailers and trucks at the back edge of the recreation center and food truck.

    The trailer with the cases scavenged from the train was close enough to keep an eye on yet, far enough away to be out of the way of normal camp traffic. The doors of the containers stood open exposing a plethora of goods for all to see. Tate disconnected the trailer and drove the white rig to a small maintenance shed near the trailer used by the soldiers to listen to radio traffic.  Tate had glanced inside when the female soldier had called out a greeting.

    “New arrival?”  The soldier called out from inside a small camper.  “My name’s Lawson.” She stepped out into the afternoon sun.

    Tate nodded.  “Yep.  Name’s Tate Hamilton.”

    “You came in with Jenkins and his crew?”  Lawson asked as she wiped at the moisture on her face.

    “They pulled me out of my wrecked rig.”  Tate answered.

    “You should go to the manager’s office and let Amanda take care of it.”  Lawson answered.

    “This place has a manager?”  Tate asked.

    “Hell no.  She’s our resident prego.  Baby due in a couple weeks.  She was a nurse.  Closest thing we got to a doctor.  Don’t know who’s gonna deliver her baby…that’s a whole ‘nother complication.  Anyway, it has living quarters and the Sergeant and his men sleep up there.” Tate raised a brow and she continued. “Not like that.  Amanda takes care of the Sargeant’s kids when him, Jake or Larry aren’t around.”

    “He has kids?”

    “No. Not really.  Two little girls he found when this shit storm hit.”

    “Oh. What you doing?” Tate asked.

    “Communications, sorta.”  Lawson answered.  “Mostly, I just listen.  The Sergeant thinks we should just listen for now.  I monitor our hand radios on channel 19 and a CB.  It’s a decent unit, but we don’t get shit for reception.  We need a taller antenna.  We’re in a bit of a valley here.”  Lawson reached inside the camper and handed Tate a bottle of water.

    “Thanks.”  Tate answered.  “Sounds boring.”

    Lawson laughed.  “Better than out there.”

    “Yeah.  You think I can use a few tools.  This is a new rig to me and I’d like to look it over before I need to go out again.”

    “No problem.  I’ll call one of the kids to take you to see Amanda.  She can check your head.”

    A few minutes later she was led off to meet Amanda.  After a brief doctoring and told she would probably have a scare she returned to cleaning the white truck’s engine.

    Tate finished her work and even worked in a shower and a change of clothes.  She stood close to the communication’s trailer and watched the festivities. The soldiers and civilians alike were celebrating the haul with soft drinks and cans of lake-chilled beer.

    Having spent the afternoon at the barn, Larry walked up to the cluster of soldiers and accepted a beer. “Well, looks like we made a good haul. I have a couple things to discuss with Matt. Is he up at the house?”

    “He hasn’t made it back.” Jake answered before glancing over his shoulder toward the gate at the edge of the camp grounds. “I figured he’d be back by now.”

    “Do you think we should go out and look for him?” Dreschel asked.

    Before anyone could answer, Lawson called out from inside the communications trailer called out. “Shut up!”

    Larry put two fingers to his mouth and whistled. The shrill shriek silenced the buzz of voices. The crowd stood frozen in quiet.

    “I heard something. I think it was the Matt.” Lawson, yelled. “Shut up!”

    Tate closed the pen knife she was using to clean oil and grime from under her fingernails. She stepped to the corner of the trail under the open windows.

    A voice broke through the static.  “Monroe to … ly… head… to … Or… Bitch…. Ov… n Out.

    “What did he say?” Larry asked.

    The woman soldier answered. “I couldn’t tell. There was a lot of static. I couldn’t get anything else except “bitch” something.”

    Tate turned and walked back to the white truck. During the few hour she had tossed out the personal items from the previous owner and taken inventory of what was left in the tool box and stored in the multitude of cubbies. She had cleaned the unit, got the sheets washed and with the help of a couple of the women, found all she needed to make a new home.

    She climbed inside the truck cab and turned the key.  She checked the gages and lights, then cranked the engine.

    She put the truck in reverse and made a k-turn. When she cleared the campers and maintenance shed, she headed for the entrance. When the guard made no move to open the gate, she called out the window.

    “Open the fucking gate or I’ll go over it!”

    The soldier hustled to the chain securing the gate and removed it. After a minute, he swung the heavy gateway open.

    Tate eased off the clutch and the rig began to roll forward. She glanced into the side mirror one last time to see Jake and several soldiers running toward her. She gunned the engine and left the camp grounds behind.

    They could catch her with a Humvee, but she didn’t think they would bother. She figured she owed the damned soldier. She was going to repay the debt. She wasn’t one to owe anyone anything.

    She knew where Matt had turned off to lead the infected fuckers away, so she figured she could back track. She could find him. Save his drunk-ass and then…well. She wouldn’t owe him for the truck.

    She turned the CB on channel 19 and then spent the next hour back tracking the roads to the turn off Matt had taken. She headed toward the orange truck they had moved to the side of the road. When she got there, she was disappointed to see half a dozen infected standing around.  At the sound of the truck they turned and stumbled toward her.  She took out three with the truck but the last three had to be taken out with her handgun.  When Matt still didn’t appear, she called out.

    “Monroe! Hey, you around here?”

    The only reply was another three infected stumbling between the two trucks to reach toward the open window. Tate sighed. “Come on ass-hole. If you’re around here give me a sign.”

    Again the only response was the pitiful moans of the infected.  Tate reached behind the seat to retrieve a machete. She put the truck in park and then got onto her knees in the seat. She leaned out the open window and raised her blade and brought it down on the closest head. When the body slipped down to the asphalt, the remaining two monsters stumbled closer. Tate finished both and then pulled herself onto the side of the tuck. She slid over the bench seat and climbed out the passenger window to the top of the door of the Orange Bitch.

    She squatted on the door looking down into the small compartment than had been her home. It hadn’t been disturbed since she had left. She used the steering wheel to ease herself inside. She spent a couple minutes to grab her pillow, and then stuffed clothes into a second pillowcase. She took one last look around and was satisfied she had found everything salvageable from the cab. She tied the bundle and then made her way out of the truck and back into the cab of the white truck.

    Tate slipped the SD disk from her truck’s into the navigation slot of the white truck. She scanned the area for a few minutes and then zoomed in at the intersection nearly ten miles down the side road where Matt had turned. Half a mile beyond was a grid of streets.  Since she was sure it was the road Matt had taken, she thought she could imagine what happened.

    It would be the place to set up a road block if they were protecting a community.  They could turn traffic away.  She could imagine Matt’s surprise when he realized what he had delivered to their doorstep.  He was caught in the line of fire and couldn’t make it to the cross roads so he would have headed out cross country.  She decided, there was only one way to head, back to the highway across open scrub grass and mesquite to the Bitch.

    If he was headed for the highway, then she had a pretty good idea which direction to head to find him but it was nearly dark.  She decided to wait until morning.  She picked up the mic and clicked the button.  She listened but there was no reply. If he was out there he wasn’t listening or unable to respond.

    She backed up the white rig and rolled over the cattle guard heading south and parked a quarter mile from the road.  If he came toward the Orange Bitch, he would stumble right into the white truck.  If not, she’d head out to look for him at dawn.

Thirty minutes later, Matt glanced over his shoulder at the growl of engines in the distance. He figured he was at least four miles from the Humvee and the booze was oozing from his pores. He had guzzled three bottles of water and was fighting the nausea that had crept up with a belly full of water.

With his hands on his knees and his head hanging water and booze exploded from mouth and nose.  He gasped to catch his breath then his stomach clinched and hurled another stream of the fowl mixture across the scrub grass and sand. When his stomach had nothing left to spew across the landscape, dry heaves set in and he fell to his knees.

Still gasping for breath Matt could hear the sound of the engines grow steadily louder.  He recognized the sound of the two ATVs.  The guards were coming after him.

Matt looked up and saw a small rise with a rock formation at the apex in the distance. He climbed to his feet and kicked sand over the evidence of his sickness and stumbled toward the outcropping.  He brushed the blanket in the sand as he walked obscuring his trail.  When he got up the hill, he climbed over a few scattered rocks and worked his way up the sun-bleached stone formation.  He climbed for several minutes and found a turret of limestone to hunker down behind.  He dropped his pack and pulled another bottle of water from his pack.  He threw two white pills back and took a sip of the water to get them down.

The sound of the engines grew louder.  Matt stretched out across a massive flat rock and crawled to a raised ridge. He eased up on his hands and peeked over the edge and saw two dust trails billowing up in the distance. He was right. The defenders were coming after him and were less than a quarter mile away.

He slid down the back face of the rocks and grabbed his pack and lumbered away from the formation.  He began jogging over the rough ground. He felt like shit but still lasted nearly ten minutes before he was forced to stop.  The sound of the engines had begun to fade.  He hoped it meant they had lost the trail.

He took a long drink of water and peeled open an energy bar and bit off a third. It tasted like sawdust and dried crap but he finished it off as quickly as he could chew and wash it down.  He needed the protein and energy after puking up his guts.  He stuffed the wrapper in his pocket and headed north at a brisk walk.

As light faded, Matt thought he heard the engines in the distance then the world faded into night sounds.  Matt watched where he placed his feet while pausing from time to time to listen for the ATVs.  Matt glanced toward the setting sun.

After a few minutes, the engines roared to life. They sound as if they had made it as far as the stone outcropping. Matt worried they might pick up his trail when he heard two shots.  After a minute, three more weapons discharged.  The sound of the engines grew more and more distant.  After a full minute, the sound disappeared entirely.

Matt turned north and began walking.  He walked through the pain and sickness for another hour before changing to a more eastly direction. He imagined the map on the GPS and felt sure he had been about fifteen miles south of the railroad track and blacktop where they had picked up the shipping crates but at least four miles west of the site. He mentally calculated the distance he should be from the Tate’s Orange Bitch.  All he could do was hope Larry and Jake got his message.

The night grew cooler as evening settled over the Texas Hill Country. The cooling temperature was a relief, but the dark left Matt feeling exposed and jumping at every snap of dry twig. The dark could hide all forms a danger: a hole or gully to fall into where he could break a leg, stumble into a nest of monsters, or the men from the roadblock. He saw a cluster of shadows in the distance.

As he drew closer, he realized it was the remnants of a stone house. Only a corner of the structure betrayed the original form. There was a pile of trash at the side of the wall that included cans, a child’s tricycle, a few boards and a piece of plywood. After a couple minutes of considering his options, Matt decided to make a shelter for the night.

He dropped his pack and walked to a nearby mesquite where he broke off a branch. He used the end to brush into the corner to clear any critters that might be lurking and then picked up the plywood from the trash and dropped it in the corner. While he was digging in the trash, he pulled a dozen cans with half-open lids from the pile and set them aside.

He turned back to his pack and pulled out a ball of string from one of the pockets. He walked out into the dark about thirty feet and tied the end of the string to a mesquite about waist high and walked about twenty feet to another mesquite, made a loop to anchor it and walked to another stand of brush, tied it off and did the same thing again and again, until he was back at the original mesquite.

He squatted down and picked up a dozen cans with open lids then walked back out to the string. He stopped at the string and folded the lid over the string. He picked up three pebbles and slid them down the side of the can then walked down the string to repeat the process until he’d hung about a dozen cans.

With the can alarm complete, he used the remaining light to gather five and six inch rocks and tossed them in a random arc about twelve to fifteen feet out form his small corner of the house. He figured any infected approaching would never make it over the rocks without stumbling a few times.

When he was finished, he settled on the scrap of plywood and pulled his pack onto his crossed legs. He pulled another energy bar from the back and his last bottle of water. He stared into the dark as night sounds surrounded him. Each bite of the bar hid the night sounds only as long as it took to swallow the mouthful. He made the protein bar last as long as possible. Eventually he finished it and washed it down with the last of the water. He stuffed the trash back in his pack.  His hand brushed against the glass bottle.  He twisted off the cap and took another pull at the bottle, enjoying the burn as it slid down his throat.  One more swallow, then Matt tucked the bottle back into his bag.

Despite his determination not to fall asleep, Matt jerked awake with a start at the sound of a slight rattle of a tin can. He sat perfectly still and waited. A snort and a snuffle followed by a squeal made Matt reach for a two by four he had found in the trash pile and laid next to him. Matt decided it was a good thing he had made the line waist high.

The sound of the feral hogs behind the wall at his back grew louder. The wild pigs made their way under the string snorting and snuffling. The first of the baby pigs walked around the corner of the structure. The piglets had walked under the string so it was still intact and now the piglet rooted around behind the wall. Suddenly, a terrified squeal shattered the morning quiet. Before the sounded faded pained screeches filled night.

In the dawning light, Matt watched the piglets bolt and run away from the sounds in the distance. All hell broke loose and suddenly the string alarm rattled in multiple directions. Matt jumped to his feet and peaked over the top of the wall. Three infected stumbled after the piglets. Just as he thought he could wait for them to pass, a can in front of him rattled.

“This just gets better and better.” Matt mumbled under his breath.

He grabbed the strap of his backpack with one hand and rifle with the other. He ducked down and hustled past the trash heap into a stand of mesquite. He winced at a jab from a thorn and pushed deeper into the stand. He watched as the number of infected grew.

When day broke, Matt knew he would be visible to the herd that was amassing. He turned from the dozens of infected and studied the tangle of branches. He saw a semblance of a trail through the brush. He knew it would be painful but he had no choice. He dropped to his knees and entered the warren of mesquite.

Matt crawled under a thick branch only to find he had a choice of going left or right. He studied each pathway in the dim light and ended up heading to the left since it seemed to head deeper into the warren. As more light filtered through the leaves and branches overhead he noticed clumps of hair clinging to some of the branches. He was following a wild life trail, probably coyote or badger. Matt figured if he met either it would be bad news.

He flattened himself on the bare dirt and used his elbows and toes to crawl forward. Deeper and deeper he made his way into the maze of tangle of branches and jabbing thorns.  The infected surrounded the grove of mesquite chasing the hogs.  He lay in the dirt smelling animal and listening to the screams of terror and pain when another piglet ran into the arms of an infected.  He was out of water and would probably die in the maze of mesquite.  He spun the cap off the glass bottle.

Matt slowed the Humvee and revved the engine to ensure the infected focused on his vehicle while the big rig trucks with trailers loaded with the shipping containers picked up speed and rumbled ahead. Nearly a mile ahead, they turned off the blacktop and disappeared from sight behind a stand of trees. Before he got to the intersection, Matt turned on a farm-to-market road and stopped about a hundred yards from the intersection.  He pulled the bottle from between the seats and took a long pull at the fiery liquid.  He relished the familiar burn and sighed.  He replaced the cap and stared at his hands until the trembling began to lesson.

He debated about another drink but decided against it, he had to get going.  He laid on the horn and the ghouls quickened their steps.  He let his mind wander to imagine a reunion with Amy and Claire.  He knew they waited and the camp and wanted to get his act together.  They depended on him. He had no kids of his own so he was a little surprised that his attachment to the children had grown so quickly.

Without even thinking about it, he grabbed the bottle, unscrewed the cap and gulped down a double shot’s worth.  He took a second pull before replacing the bottle to its place between the seats.

Amid the warm developing haze of the alcohol flowing through him, Matt wondered about the mother who sacrificed herself for those kids. He imagined Amy must be a lot like her. She had found a place to hide her sister and herself. Then the kid had known enough to silence his drunken rambling to protect the three of them until Larry and Jake had come for him. If not for the little voice calming his drunken mumbling, they would have all died that first night.

He smiled as he realized he wanted and needed to get back to the girls and his camp full of kids. It was his job to protect and provide for the entire lot of them. He decided life had gotten complicated for a man who had once prided himself on staying unattached. He smiled to himself as he thought of Claire in his arms and snuggled against his collar.

A slap on the back window of the Humvee startled Matt from his drunken musing. He looked in the rearview mirror and was stunned. The group of a few dozen infected had grown into a hoard of over a hundred. More slaps against the vehicle sent him into action. He stepped on the break, slipped the vehicle in gear and stepped on the gas.  The Humvee fishtail when he stepped on the accelerator with more force than he intended. He eased his foot off and righted the vehicle.

The Humvee lurched forward and an infected man alongside of the Humvee fell under the back tire. Through the side mirror, Matt watched another infected in a flannel shirt and jeans disappear under the mass of bodies as the vehicle lurched.

Still annoyed he had let himself get distracted, he eased up on the gas and steered the Humvee down the single lane road. The narrow blacktop wound through acres of fallow ground covered in scrub grass and brush. He maintained a speed slow enough to ensure the infected followed. According to the GPS there should be a side road heading north in another mile right after a tight curve.

When he got to the turn off, he figured he could speed up leaving the infected in the brush and scrub grass to cook in the Texas sun where they could do no harm.

As he mused about the possibility of baking brains, he rounded the curve in the road and slammed on the breaks. There was a road block. Before he could decide what to do, men manning the roadblock began firing. The windshield shattered on the passenger side as bullets pinged off the metal of the hood and grill.

Matt jerked the wheel to the right and the Humvee shot over a shallow ditch and into a dilapidated fence at the side of the road. The barbed wire stretched then snapped and he stomped the accelerator. The Humvee barreled through scrub grass and onto the rocky ground beyond. He kept his foot pressed down and maneuvered around mesquite bushes. The shooting behind him continued but seemed to have redirected their attention to the hoard of the infected he had delivered on their door step.

“Fuck!” He cursed as he white-knuckled the steering wheel in frustration. He had led the infected right to someone’s front door. The road block protected access to a community. Matt sobered somewhat as he hoped the guards had enough ammunition to take care of the horde of infected but knew he couldn’t go back. Judging by the initial reception, no amount of talking would convince them he had not led the horde to their doorstep intentionally.

He eased up on the gas and slowed the Humvee to twenty miles an hour. He expanded the map screen on the GPS. The arrow, symbolizing his vehicle, moved across open terrain. He was further from the main roads than he had ever intended to be.

He studied the expanded mapping for a moment and realized his only option was to drive through the scrub grass and mesquite toward an asphalt road several miles away. He contracted  the screen and saw a road number he recognized and aimed the Humvee in the general direction.

He made his ways around gullies and dry streambeds. He fought against the rough terrain all the while with his speed becoming less and less.  With the first wafting cloud of steam he realized his truck was damage.  Matt glanced down at the Humvee’s gages.  He could see the needle climb. The hissing noise coming from under the hood grew louder and he knew repairing the Humvee out in the desolate wild was way beyond his expertise.

His only option was to drive as far as he could, then do whatever he needed to get back to Camp Verde even if it meant walking. Using the online GPS, he knew he was at least thirty miles from the camp. It was not going to be a good afternoon when the Humvee died and it would die.

He activated the mic on the radio. “Home Camp, Monroe here. Over.”

He released the talk button and waited. Static crackled from the speaker but didn’t include words of response. He used the mic a second time, but again the only sound was the crackle of static gradually being overpowered by the struggling engine.

While Matt aimed the Humvee toward the general direction of the railroad tracks, the needle of the temperature gauge pegged out. He estimated the distance at least five miles from his current location.  Steam hissed around the hood in billowing clouds of white. Matt eased up on the gas and the vehicle coasted to a stop. He slammed the shift into park and stepped from the vehicle.

He could still hear sporadic gunfire in the distance as he walked around to the front fender and opened the hood. As Matt looked at the damaged radiator, he pondered the fate of the guards at the roadblock.

He decided with the roadblock and fencing on either side of the road, the men facing the horde could hardly be missing their targets. As long as the ammo lasted, the guards should be able to handle the crisis. Matt shrugged. Nothing he could do about it.

After a few minutes of looking around he saw two bullets embedded in the radiator. Steam hissed around the metal projectiles. Matt dropped the hood. The best he could do was limp along hoping he could make it back to blacktop and find a working vehicle before the Humvee died. He walked back to the door and listened for a minute. The sporadic gunfire was now deliberate and spaced several minutes apart.

“Great. If they have enough ammo left, they’ll be coming after me.” He grumped.

He looked up at the afternoon skies as he cranked the engine. He eased the Humvee into gear pointing the arrow on the GPS toward the highway.

With a sigh, Matt picked up the bottle and emptied the last of the amber liquid and mumbled. “This day is just getting better and better.”

Six minutes later the Humvee died with a clattering of overheated moving parts. The engine locked up with the smell of burning oil and scorching metal wafting up from the front of the vehicle. Matt opened the door and reached into the back seat to grab a go-bag. He was glad they had removed Claire’s car seat from the Humvee before he had left camp.

Matt picked up the mic and spoke into the mic. “Camp, Monroe here. Larry, I’m on foot. Headed to the Orange Bitch. Over.” At the crackle of static he repeated the message. “Larry? Jake?  I’m headed to the Orange Bitch. Over and Out. Pick me up there.” He drove his foot into the dash then reached under the dash to pull wires from the electronics to ensure his sins didn’t follow him home.

He stepped out of the vehicle and settled a pair of sunglasses on his face and a boonie hat on his head. A stiff breeze pelted grains of sand across his bare skin.  He was glad he wore his boots, the black T-shirt and camo pants. It was going to be a miserable walk.

He looked into the vehicle and pulled a wool blanket from the back of the Humvee. He picked up a six pack of plastic bottles of water from behind the seat and dropped them into the pack along with half a dozen energy bars and his bottle of Jack Daniel. He slid the bag over his shoulders and grabbed two corners of the blanket. He had been driving east, so he headed off into the brush and scrub grass toward the north.

Della laid the heat gun on the table and handed the prosthetic back to Steve. “That should do it, but I would give that pressure sore a day or two to recover. It’s pretty tender looking.”

“I can’t afford to be out of commission.” Steve slipped the modified plastic of the prosthetic onto his right leg. He pulled himself up to stand and his weight settled on the prosthetics. He took a step and the tender flesh of his stump sent knifing pain up his leg.

Della pushed the chair up behind him and he collapsed into the seat.

“I’m useless in this chair.”

“Humor me.” Della retorted. “You have to give the nerves time to recover. I plan on going over to the clinic and see if they have a topical that will ease the pain.”

Steve slid both prosthetics from his legs and reached over his shoulder to drop them into bag hanging from the back of the chair.

“Maybe one or two days.” Steve conceded. “I’m still not sure this place is as good as it looks. I haven’t given up on heading up to the place where Randy is staying.”

Della brows furrowed. “I agree off the beaten path is a good idea, but I’m not sure I want to live around Randy. The last time I saw him he really wasn’t stable enough to even hold a conversation without going into a tirade about the Iranians and crazy theories.”

“Look, something scared the shit outta him on his last mission.  Who knows, maybe this was it.”

Steve ended the conversation by placing his hands at the side of the wheels and made a two-wheel one-eighty turn. The wheelchair headed across the cafeteria leaving Della to follow as he called over his shoulder. “Let’s get some breakfast before Zack leaves. I want him to go with me to look around without a guide.”

Della and Steve made their way through a small gathering of people to a serving line and picked up trays. The breakfast choices were limited to dry cereal, scrambled eggs and biscuits. To go along with the biscuits, they offered a steaming white sludge they called gravy without meat.

Steve winked at Della.  “It looks more like paste with fly droppings floating on top than gravy.”

Della chuckled. “My granny would have been beside herself to see white gravy without sausage.”  She suddenly grew silent.  “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this world.”

“I know.” Steve answered.  “My folks were killed a few years back.  I understand the feeling.”

They approached the steam table and a woman wearing a white bibbed apron looked up and smiled.  “What can I get you folks?”

Both Della and Steve settled for eggs and biscuits, no gravy. At the end of the line, a young girl handed each of them a single serving of butter and small dollop of jelly in a plastic container.

“Since you didn’t get gravy, you can have butter and jelly folks. Sorry, but we have a limited supply of both.” The girl smiled. “Rationing.”

Della laughed. “If you knew what we’ve been eating for the last week you’d realize what a luxury it is just to have a taste of butter or jelly.

Steve dropped the condiments on his tray sitting on his lap and grinned at another young woman handing him a cup of coffee.

“Plenty of coffee for now, so come on back for seconds.” The woman advised.

“Sounds great, appreciate it.” He gave her a wink and reached over the sides of the chair to roll toward a table where Zack sat eating his breakfast.

Zack looked up from his tray as Steve rolled across the floor to the edge of the table and placed his tray in front of him. He locked the wheels just as Della settled on a chair across from Zack.

“Well, you get the sticks fixed, man?” Zack asked before taking a bite of biscuit soaked in gravy.

“We’re good.” Steve answered as he began buttering his biscuit. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Not real good. I know they did right by Jimmy, burying him and all, but I keep thinking about his mom.” Zack shrugged. “Are we going to stay here for a while?”

Steve looked to Della. “I don’t know. At least for now it seems safer than the open road.”

“We can’t go back to San Antonio.” Della answered just as Sandy approached the table.

“I’m not leaving here.” Sandy commented as she sat down at the table

“It’s not our decision if we stay or go.” Steve answered.

Zack looked up. “You mean they might not want us to stay?”

“I don’t know.” Steve answered. “I want to check their defenses before we make any long term decisions. Everyone seems friendly and willing to welcome us, but for now let’s just look around and see how they’re set up.”

Sandy waved across the room at a pair of young woman settling at a table. “Well, I’m staying. Those two invited me to move in with them in a house. We have a wide-screen television and everything.” She picked up her tray and walked away.

Della started to follow Sandy, but Steve reached out. “No. Let her be. We have no right to tell her what to do.”

“But….” Della began then closed her mouth and sat back down.

“She wants some semblance of normal. I don’t blame her. If she’s found it here, well, let her be.” Steve commented.

Zack looked at Steve as he used his fork to scoot his last bit of biscuit through smears of gravy. “If you’re going to look around today, do you want me to push your chair?” He wiped at his mouth with a wide grin.

“You can go with…but I got the chair covered.” Steve answered as he buttered both halves of the biscuit. He turned to Della and asked. “Want to come with us?”

“No. I’m heading for the clinic. I might be able to help out. Besides, it might give us a better chance of staying if I offer my services.” Della answered.

Three hours later, Zack and Steve were heading back to the motel from their tour of the town. The entirety of the town was little more than ten acres, no more than a hundred buildings total. The downtown area consisted of twenty or so buildings around a block square park with a pavilion, park benches and a number of trees.  The middle school and library were located on a side street north of the city building while the motel was located on the south side of the park at the corner of a side street.

“Well? What do you think?” Zack asked.

“There isn’t as many people as I thought there would be.” Steve answered. “The older part of town is cut off from the newer upscale construction out by the Walmart. They blocked off the road and put up barricades and a gate. It looks like they moved everyone behind the gate and then cleaned out all the homes and the new box store then finished up by bringing the extra trailers full of canned goods and supplies into town.”

“So you think we should stay?” Zack asked.

“I’m not sure. I want to find some area maps. Let’s head to that library.” Steve answered. “I want to see how far we are from Randy’s.”

Zack shrugged and began walking toward the small red brick building that served as the town library. “I got nothing better to do.”

Once inside the library, Steve found maps of northwest Texas. He focused on an area that was well away from populated areas and at the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain National Park where Randy Matherson lived.

When no one was looking, he pulled a knife from his cargo shorts and slid the blade down the spine of several pages.  He pulled the pages from the book, folded the paper into quarters, and jammed them into the thigh pocket of his shorts.

Finally, he rolled through the shelves of books to find Zack. He was sitting near a collection of gaming magazines. He looked up and grinned at Steve when he rolled up.

“Ready to go?” Zack asked.

Steve nodded and spun the chair toward the door. They headed for the motel at an easy pace, but Zack slipped behind the chair and began to push. Steve relaxed his arms.

When Steve was quiet for most of the way back, Zack finally asked. “What’s going on?”

“I think we need to move on.” Steve answered softly. “This place is bottled up pretty tight. If an infected makes it inside, it’ll be a disaster. There must be almost two hundred people in town. The only firearms are on the two entrances and half a dozen around town. No one is carrying weapons in town.  Frankly, I’m surprised they managed to put down the first attack.”

“When are we leaving?” Zack asked.

Steve shrugged as Zack rolled his chair to the picnic table in front of the motel. “A couple days. I don’t think they have guns to spare, but maybe they can give us a few bullets. I think they’ll let us keep the truck and the provisions we came in with, but maybe they’ll give us a few supplies.”

“What happens if we can’t keep the truck?” Zack mused.

Steve answered with a shrug. “Walk or steal one of the street vehicles. But they don’t look the type to hold us if we want to go. How much help they’ll be is another matter.”

Lunch was a light affair that left both Steve and Zack wanting more, but they walked from the cafeteria thanking the staff anyway. Della caught up with them and followed to the motel. They settled around the picnic table to visit.

“Well?” Della asked.

Steve answered. “We’re fine for now, but when the supplies run low they’ll be in trouble with being so remote. They’re not even thinking about becoming self-sustaining. No gardens are being planted and there has been no effort made to gather livestock or store up firewood for winter.”

Della sighed. “Meaning, there is a finite amount of supplies and no one is planning ahead.”

Steve nodded. “I can try to talk to them, but I really don’t think it’ll matter. Everyone here thinks the government will resolve the problem and things will go back to normal in a month or two…they don’t want to even imagine differently.”

The next day Steve met with the sheriff and mayor and city council.  He spent nearly an hour talking to the gathering of men and women.  They listened politely then dismissed him.  At the door, Steve stopped to listen.

“I’m not tearing it up my yard.  The government will have this resolved and then what?”

“But Gladys, what if they don’t?” Ollie answered.

“Don’t be ridiculous!  We took care of our own infection in less than six hours.” Another voice answered.

Tony cleared his throat. “At a pretty high fucking cost, too.”

Ollie jumped in. “That young man makes a strong argument for preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  I think this is the case. We should be prepare….”

“We don’t have enough able bodied people to do what you’re asking.”

Steve sighed and spun the wheels of the chair and rolled away from the city council office.  He met Zack at the door.  With a shrug headed for the motel.

“Well, what did they say?”  Zack asked.

“Let’s start gathering supplies.”  Steve answered.

Two days later, the sound of heavy vehicles approaching the motel woke Steve from a sound sleep. He sat up in bed, slipped on his walking prosthetics and pants before crossing the room to the window.

After filling gas tanks, Harry led Liz to the bike and pulled her onto the seat behind him. She clung to his black leather jack, too lost in her own misery to speak during the next three hours of riding. She laid her head against his back and let the world slip away.

Dusk was quickly settling around them when John finally slowed enough to allow Harry to pull his bike alongside side. They stopped in the middle of the blacktop.  He kicked the engine out of gear and he turned to speak to Harry.

“We need to find a place to stop. We’re not gonna make it to the Thompson Highway before dark and I don’t want to chance going through a pack of infected in the dark.”

“I know. Look for a place away from the road.” Harry answered then turned around to speak to Liz. “We’ll be stopping soon. Just hang on, Lizzy.”

Lost in the pain of seeing the infected family at the gas station, Liz closed her eyes to the outside world. She trembled uncontrollably as she imagined her own children’s bodies torn and bloodied like the younger reanimated children. Tears ran down her face. She had to find her daughters and protect them.

Harry pointed at a wood-frame house on a nearby hill. The property was surrounded by a pasture fenced in with several strand of barbed wire. A wooden fence separated the yard and buildings and back half of the property from the open pasture.

“That looks good.”

John kicked the bike in gear and eased over a culvert and faced the crossing the cattle guard.  “Let’s do this.”  He gunned the throttle and rolled over the cattle guard with Harry close behind.

 

They followed the narrow dirt lane toward the house, all the while looking across the open yard. John pointed to a fenced area at the back of the house. A horse and colt roamed the paddock munching on grass.

“What the fuck?” John cursed into the mic in the helmet.  “See the livestock. You think anyone is here?”

The men stopped the bikes at the gate of the fenced barnyard. John walked to the gate and unhooked the chain. He pushed the gate open until it caught on a clump of scrub grass. John rolled his bike through and allowed Harry to follow. Together they rode to the front of the house. Harry stepped off the bike and looked around. Finally, he cupped his hand around his mouth and called out.

“Hello, the house!”

They waited quietly as John looked toward the outbuildings. Chickens roamed the barnyard. An open barn door allowed the birds and animals sanctuary from night-time predators. He turned back to Harry.

“I don’t think anyone is here.”  John commented.

The two men stared at the graying boards.  The house had needed repainting years ago.  The lace window curtain at the side window danced on the light even breeze.  The place felt empty.  It felt deserted without any hint of the people who once lived there.

“I’m gonna check out the house, but I don’t think anyone is here,” Harry announced.

He walked up the concrete steps to the weathered porch and cupped his hand against the screen to look through the glass at the top half of the door.  “Hello?  Anyone home?”

When he heard nothing inside, he stepped back and opened the ram shackled screen door.   He knock on the glass with the barrel of his handgun. The sound filled the small house then faded away to silence again. After a second rap on the wooden door resulted in no response from inside, he turned back to John.

“We’re going inside. Lizzy, you gotta get your shit together. If anything happens, we need you.” Harry announced.

Liz looked up and swiped at the wet streaks on her face with the back of her hand. “I’m good.” She stepped off the bike and pulled the handgun from the back of her pants.

John stepped away from the silent bikes. He slipped his handgun out of the holster on his hip. He nodded at Liz to step behind Harry’s bike.

“If this goes sideways, you get on that bike and get the hell out of here,” John advised.

“That’s not going to happen.” She headed toward the house with a hard look on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Harry placed his hand on the doorknob just as Liz stepped on the porch. He turned the knob and pushed.  The door opened. Warm air escaped the closed up house with the smell of dried rose petals with a hint of dust. Harry stepped inside with Liz close on his heels.

The old fashion parlor had heavy burgundy drapes partially obscuring the late afternoon light. Harry flicked on a flashlight. He moved the circle of stark white beam from one side of the room to the other.

“Doesn’t look like anyone is here and hasn’t been for some time,” Harry commented. “Let’s make sure then settle down for the night.”

Liz nodded. I’m ready.”

Harry turned to John. “Watch the road.”

Together, Liz and Harry approached each room with weapons drawn. Once the downstairs was cleared, they walked up to the second story to do the same. They entered the first room and saw a guest bedroom and empty closet. The second door was a bedroom still in use. Nothing was out of place. A worn cotton nightgown of flannel lay across the pillow on a sagging double bed. A man’s plaid pajamas lay folded at the foot of the same bed.

Liz looked down and smiled. She could imagine the old couple who lived in the house before the world turned crazy. Then the image shifted to them stumbling through the streets together as one of the monsters, searching for warm human flesh to consume. She frowned.

“It’s clear. Let’s settle in.” Harry whispered softly.

Liz turned and left the room. She followed Harry until he turned to step outside. She headed into the kitchen while Harry went out to the yard where John waited. Liz watched John walk to the front gate and latch it then the two men brought their bike closer to the house.

The kitchen was sparsely appointed, but clean. There was a gas stove, an ancient refrigerator, and sink. The cabinets were filled with carnival glass dishes behind the glass doors. At the side of the sink, a coffee pot rested upside down in a wire drain rack with two coffee cups. A paper had been taped to the refrigerator door. Liz looked closer and realized it was a schedule.

That day, the day the world ended, was circled in red. In ink was written “last chemo”.

Liz picked up a stack of envelopes from the table and fanned through the return addresses. There were nearly half a dozen statements from a cancer treatment center in downtown San Antonio. The owners of the house would not be coming back. She turned away and dropped the stack of paper back to the table.

A sudden noise made Liz jump. She spun around with her gun drawn to face the sound. She stood staring at the kitchen window above the sink when saw a single drop of water fall from the kitchen faucet to ping on a metal pan in the sink.

She walked to the sink and turned a handle, not expecting water to flow, and jumped back when water streamed from the faucet. She turned the water off and looked toward the stove. It was a gas stove. She held her breath when she turned one of the knobs. It clicked twice then lit. She quickly turned off the gas and ran to the back door.

“There’s a gas stove and water!” She called to the two men parking their bikes at the back of the house.

“Fucking A….,” John answered.  “I saw some chickens so I’m going to look for eggs, maybe even catch one for supper.”

Harry laughed. “We’ll eat tonight.”

Liz asked. “Why is there water?”

Harry pointed to several solar panels on the roof of a metal shed at the back of the house. A black cable ran from the panels to a metal pump shed.

“It’s why the animals still have water. That and the infected haven’t found the place.”

Liz kept glancing out windows as she made her way around the house. The house was a time capsule of life before the attacks. In the kitchen, she opened drawers and cabinets. The woman of the house was an orderly housekeeper even down to the junk drawer. Liz pocketed two lighters and a book of matches before closing the drawer.

She opened a side door and stepped out on an enclosed sun porch and saw a freezer near the door. She reached out, her hand shaking as she raised the lid. She gasped at the cold white mist billowing from the depths.

When the air cleared, she smiled at the site of the treasure of food inside. She reached for one of the loaves of home bread. Liz took a loaf out, closed the door and walked back into the kitchen. John grinned as he held out a straw lined wire bucket with a dozen eggs inside.

“Bread!” John laughed. “Thought I’d never have bread again. “

Liz grinned. “It was in the freezer on the sun porch…It has all kinds of food inside.”

Harry walked to the sink and turned the faucet on. “Fucking unbelievable. This place is fucking unbelievable.”

He stuck his hands under the stream of water and sighed deeply when it grew warm. He splashed water on his face and scrubbed at the grime on his hand and face. He stuck his head under the faucet and let water run over it.

Liz glanced around the kitchen and found a hand towel hanging on the back of a chair. She handed it to Harry as he turned off the water.

“I can’t believe water and lights are still on.” She commented.

“It’s a real find.” Harry sighed. “I need a real shower, but we’ve got to do a few things.”

John laughed. “I saw a barrel of cans out back. I’m gonna set up rock cans between the out buildings out back. You find any string? If I don’t find any wire out back I can use it.”

“There’s some in the third drawer left of the sink,” Liz answered.

“Did you figure out anything out about the owners?” Harry answered.

Liz nodded at the table. “They were in San Antonio that day.” She walked to the stove and turned on the front burner. “Give me a couple minutes to fry some eggs then you can get busy.”

A few minutes later, they each gulped down an egg sandwich smeared with mayonnaise. They had run out of food the day before and they all three needed a quick meal that would fill stomachs. The two men were far from satisfied, but it was enough to get them through the next few hours. Liz picked at the egg, gagged then ate only the bread.

“If you catch a chicken we can have it for dinner,” Liz commented.

“Sounds good.” Harry grinned as the trio stepped out of the house.

They crossed the yard to a tool shed. After clearing the small building, Harry riffled through tools and gardening supplies and found a roll of thin wire intended for electrical fencing. He stuck a pair of wire cutter in his back pocket and headed back outside. He began stringing wire at the corner of the shed and headed toward the small barn. He walked about six feet, twisted the wire around the lid of the can, dropped three or four rocks inside and pushed the lid closed.

With a flick of his hand, the rocks rattled against the side of the can. John held the wire taught while Harry repeated the process half a dozen more times. He wrapped the wire around a post twice then secured the end with a twist of his wrist.  He looked back at the knee high red-neck alarms and grinned.

Liz asked. “How can I help?”

“Put rocks in cans and use that string to balance them between the wooden posts out front,” Harry stated. “You only need to put a couple on each section of fencing should do.”

“Try to get done before dark,” John added.

“Got it,” Liz answered.

Liz picked up a plastic bag from the kitchen, walked back to the can pile and filled it with at least a couple soda cans then headed toward the fence.

Liz got to the fence and picked up a handful of rocks. She dropped a few in the can and shook it. She stood up, looped the string around a post, then the can tab of two cans. She pulled the string taught and slipped another loop on the next post. She brushed it with her finger against the string and the stones and cans rattled. Not loud, but in the quiet of night without traffic it should be enough. She finished the “alarm” cans and headed for the house.

She walked past the guys crouched at the side of John’s bike. “I’m going inside and get cleaned up. Don’t be too long.”

Harry threw a wave and answered. “No problem. It’s getting dark so we’ll be in pretty quick. Don’t turn on lights if you can help it. Try to find candles and cover the windows.”

“Got it,” Liz answered.

An hour later, Liz wore a fresh pair of jeans that were too big and a man’s plaid shirt while her own clothes hung on a clothesline at the side of the house. John, good to his word, had spent ten minutes chasing chickens around the barnyard until he finally caught a scrawny looking gimpy hen. He cut the head off then delivered it to Liz with a big grin.

“That’s a pretty sad looking excuse for a hen.”  Liz commented.

“Lucky I caught it. Do you want me to gut it?”

“No, I can take care of it.  Just finish what you’ve been doing and come on inside.  This place makes me nervous.”

“We’re fine.  It’s quiet here.” John walked away glancing around at the deepening shadows.

Liz walked back inside to retrieve a pot of boiling water.  Having anticipating cleaning the chicken, she had filled a huge pot with water and placed it on the gas stove over a bright blue flame as soon as she came in the house.

She had filled a smaller pot with water and set it over the flame when she removed the first pot.  She carried the boiling water outside where the chicken lay on the back steps.

She grabbed the chicken and dunked it in the water, swished it around for a minute then pulled it from the water to tug at a couple feathers. The aroma of wet feathers wafted up from the scalding water.  When the feathers didn’t pull free easily, she jammed the bird back in the pot and sloshed it around for another minute.

When she pulled at the feathers a second time and they came out easily. A few minutes later, the bird lay nude at her feet. She threw out the water, picked up a knife and cut open the back end of the chicken. With a quick flick of the knife, she opened up the cavity and clawed out the organs. She dumped the offal into a bucket holding the feathers, saving the gizzard, liver, and heart. She dropped the chicken into the empty pan with the kitchen knife.

John walked just as she was finishing.  “I wondered if you knew how to do that.”

“You’re a day late…” Liz answered. “Do you mind taking the bucket to the garden and bury the guts.”

“I got it.” John retrieved the pale. “Since you’re cooking and I’m such a nice guy.”

“Well, nice guy, if you hurry up there’s time for both of you to shower while I fix dinner.”

Liz picked up the pot ready to head inside.

Harry opened the door to let Liz enter the back porch and turned to John. “Keep an eye on things while I shower. When I’m done, I’ll relieve you. I know the animals are still around and it’s been safe until now, but I think we need to keep watch.”

Harry followed Liz inside as she asked. “You don’t think it’s safe.”

He answered. “If the place doesn’t get noticed by roaming infected it should be. The flood lights had been turned off. That’s why no one has noticed this place. This house is off the beaten path and probably anyone who noticed it figured it was abandoned, just like us. We need to keep it that way. No lights after dark.”

“Got it. I’m boiling the chicken. There was a package of noodles in the freezer and potatoes in the frig.” Liz answered. “I found a whole box of dinner candles anda  package of emergency candles in the pantry.”

Harry accepted a short candle anchored to a saucer with melted wax. He disappeared into the gloom down the hall.

Meanwhile, Liz cut up the chicken and dropped the pieces in the boiling water. She added onions, salt, and pepper. She retrieved the potatoes from the frig, walked to the sink to peel potatoes. She watched as John appeared from around the corner of the shed with the bucket in hand.

When he stepped inside the kitchen, he set it down on the edge of the sink. Inside were lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers.

“I noticed these in the garden. I thought it would make a decent salad.” He grinned.

Harry walked into the kitchen wearing a pair of overalls at least a full size too small. He could only hook a single strap over the shoulder.

John laughed. “Farmer Harry. Never thought I’d ever see you in a pair of overalls.”

“Fuck you.” Harry raised his hand with a single finger extended upwards. “I take it, all’s quiet.”

“I walked the perimeter. The place is fenced. If anything show’s up the fencing in back of the property will slow them down. Only vehicle access is the drive we came in on.”

Harry nodded then ordered. “Get your sorry ass upstairs and cleaned up. I hadn’t noticed how bad you smell until now.”

Liz smiled as she stuck a fork into the boiling chicken. “Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready as soon as I put the salad together.”

She opened the bag of homemade noodles and dumped them into the pot with the chicken and turned up the heat.

John grinned as he walked away. “Ten minutes top.”

She put two scoops of flour in a bowl, added a couple tablespoons of shortening, salt and added water with powdered milk. Liz spooned dumplings into the boiling chicken and noodles and replaced the lid.

Harry with a little help from Liz put the salad together. He set it on the table just as John appeared in an identical pair of overalls. Unlike Harry who barely fit into the faded denim, John buttoned both straps and even wore a borrowed white t-shirt under it.

Liz scooped up the dirty clothes, walked them to the porch and started the washer.

Liz sat the pot of chicken and noodles on the table beside a big bowl of mashed potatoes.

“I think I died and gone to heaven,” John commented as he scooped a pile of potatoes on his plate. He ladled noodles and dumpling on top and let a skinless chicken thigh slide to the plate.

“Looks mighty good, Lizzy,” Harry commented.

Liz sat picking at a slice of bread until she finally pushed the plate away.

“Harry watched her as he brought spoonful after spoonful of food to his mouth. “Lizzy?”

Liz looked up. “Sorry. I guess I tasted too much.”

She rose and walked to the window and looked out. The room had grown dark with only a single candle on the table. She pulled the blind in the window down making sure it touched the windowsill.

“I’ll check out front and make sure the door is closed.” She disappeared into the gloom of the front of the house. As she walked from window to window, she marveled at the darkness outside. With the stand of trees around the remote farmhouse, they wouldn’t see anyone until they were nearly at the door.  She stared out into the gloom.

“What’s the matter, Lizzy?” Harry asked from the dark doorway behind her.

“Nothing. I need to find my family.” She answered in a whisper.

“That’s not it.” Harry answered.

“You know as well as I do what the world is like out there. How could three men take care of them? Babies cry. If Claire cried, it could be death for all of them. A ten-year old can’t keep up with grown men if they have to run. How can we find them?”

“Lizzy, it’s turned into a really a dangerous world.” Harry shrugged. “But that’s not the problem, is it? We need to get you to your old man’s place. You can’t keep riding around on that damned bike. Not now.”

Liz placed her hands on her lower abdomen. “I have my girls to find before I can worry about this child.”

Harry blew out a breath. “No. We’re done. You’re girls are in God’s hands. We’ve been chasing around the country roads looking for military vehicles that we can’t even be sure passed this way.”

“But….” Liz protested.

“We can’t keep taking chances now. If you don’t survive, neither will this child. The girls will have no one to come home to.”  Harry turned to walk away then turned back and added. “What would your husband want you to do?”

“No shit. Sherlock.” Tate glared at Matt as she pulled a cigarette from her pocket, stuck it between her lips and lit the end with a Bic. She inhaled deeply then blew the smoke at Matt.

“Dumb shit. Why in the hell would the asshole pull the keys?” Tate asked.

Jenkins and Dreschel walked up to see what was going on. Hearing Tate’s rant, Jenkins laughed and called over his shoulder.

“Hey, Jake! Can you hot wire the truck?”

“Dickhead, just because I’m black don’t mean I know how to boost a car much less a fucking truck,” Jake answered.

Jake walked up to the closest body and gently tapped at the pockets. It was the youngest of the fresh turns. After a quick search, he looked up and moved his head from left to right.

Dreschel headed toward another body, dressed in office attire. The body had no shoes, torn flesh hanging from arms and legs. Most of the clothes had been torn and shredded.

Matt called out. “Just the fresh ones.” He pointed toward to other bodies.

“What if he ran?” Jenkins asked.

“Wouldn’t make any sense to run if he had keys in his pocket. It’s one of these fresh ones.” Matt pulled on a pair of gloves and answered. “I’m really getting tired of smelling these shit-bags.”

He began dragging bodies to the far side of the road while the two men and three women hunted for keys to the truck. He swallowed bile trying not to lose his breakfast. He dropped the leg of the body into the ditch and used his boot to roll it into the trench.  He walked away to retrieve two more and do the same. He struggled to hold his breath mentally listing the mixture of shit, piss, and rotten meat.

Jake walked up to Matt and began helping him move bodies. “There’s just nothing easy about the dead walking around killing people.” He commented.

Tate headed toward an older man’s body dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt. She leaned over and patted one pocket after another until she suddenly stopped and jammed her fingers into the front pocket of his jeans. She pulled her hand away with a finger inside a round key ring. She examined the bloodstained keys until she found one with a GMC logo.

“Got em!” Tate held the key ring out and poured a stream of water from a plastic bottle over them. She pulled a red handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the stains from the keys. She jammed the keys into her pocket then grabbed the legs of the dead man. With the cigarette dangling from her lips, she pulled the body across the asphalt to the ditch.

Once there, she dropped his leg then booted his backside and rolled him into the ditch. Tate crossed the road to the cab and climbed in the rig.  She settled on the worn seat and slid the key in the ignition. She turned the key and the motor roared to life. She turned it off, leaving the keys in the ignition and jumped to the asphalt and jogged over to joined the men.

“We’re in business, folks.” She grinned as she tossed the cigarette butt toward the ditch.

Matt and the others quickly moved the last few bodies then walked to the back of the truck to look inside the trailer. A clipboard lay on the side of the open door. He picked it up and glanced down the list.  He could see a hand written list with several items crossed off.  He shrugged and tossed it aside.  He eased the trailer door open and cautiously peered inside.

The back was filled with cases of canned good. They were stacked several deep, but it was obvious the transfer of goods had been hasty. As he stared at the helter-skelter of cardboard boxes, he wondered if the people they were trying to feed were still alive.  Would they survive without this load of food? He shrugged as he realized he would probably never know.

Matt took a deep breath and pointed toward the open freight car. “Let’s finish what they started. We’ll get this truck loaded, moved out then we’ll snag a couple containers and get back to the camp.”

“Sounds like a plan. But I’ll be taking this bitch. I’m claiming it as mine.” Tate said as she squared her shoulders and set her jaw as if expecting a fight.

Matt shrugged. “Its all yours…You more than earned it.”

“Then let’s get moving.” Tate locked the doors open then jumped up into the truck to disappear into the gloom. Matt could hear her moving cases to the front of the trailer.

“You want some help in there?” Jenkins called into the dark.

Tate answered. “Sure, we get this shit stacked decent and we can get a lot more in here. We can make this trip worthwhile. The rest of you hump up and get those cases over here.”

“Stand guard, Dreschel. Jenkins, inside with our new friend.” Matt ordered then looked to Jake. “Okay, big guy, let’s hustle this shit over here.”

They worked hard hefting cases of canned goods for thirty minutes then Matt called a break. The trailer was loaded and buttoned up. While the men sat at the side of the road, still glistening with sweat Tate walked around the rig and trailer clutching a bottle of water. Her brown hair stuck to her face in damp ringlets as she pulled at the break hoses, looked over the tires, and, in general, inspected her new ride. When she was finished, she walked back to the men grinning.

“We’re good to go. You trust me to move the truck out of the way?”

Matt hesitated only a moment then nodded. “Give us plenty of space to maneuver.” He pointed at two rail cars. “When you get done will you watch our six while we work on moving containers to the flat beds?”

Tate gave an imitation solute. “You got it.”

When she got in the cab and fired up the truck, Jenkins asked. “What if she just drives away?”

Matt shrugged. “Her bag is still in the Humvee. I don’t think she’ll leave it.”

Two minutes later, Tate stood in front of the men. “Well, you slobs going to sit on your asses all day? I can bring up the crane while you four lounge around.”

Dreschel jumped to his feet. “No way! Just stay out of the way.”

Tate grinned at Matt and lit a cigarette then opened the door of the Humvee and retrieved her rifle.

Dreschel jogged back to the crane truck’s cab, climbed in and fired up the big rig. After about a few minutes of back and forth, he had the vehicle parked on the road next to the tracks. After a few minutes, the telescoping arms extended the outriggers toward the solid rail bed. He shifted counterweights to the opposite side of the vehicle then announced he was ready.

Meanwhile, Jake had pulled the first big rig closer. Dreschel stood in the road directed Jake as he parked the trailer in front of the crane.

When Dreschel was satisfied with the placement of the vehicle, he went to the truck and pulled cables from a box and tossed them down to Matt and Jenkins then spent a few minutes explaining the procedure he anticipated.  He climbed into the crane cab and fired up the engine.

Matt frowned when he heard the engine roared to life, but they couldn’t change it. They needed the crane to move the containers to the trailer.  They would have to hurry.

The crane swiveled on the turntable to face the designated container. He extended the boom over the container then lowered the cables with hooks.

Jenkins climbed to the top of the container ready to grab the fishhooks.  One by one, he secured lines to each of the four corners. When he was done, Matt threw up two additional lines Jenkins anchored to the front and back of the container.

“Okay Jake, we use these to guide control the swing, so put some muscle on it,” Matt yelled out.

Tate walked back to the Humvee and retrieved a rifle from her canvas bag and headed back up the road to the crest of the hill.  She stopped and began her scan of the back road and distant buildings.

Her brows furrowed as the motor of the crane rumbled into action. It was loud and the motor billowed black smoke from the exhaust pipes. It wouldn’t take long for the dead to hone in on the sound. They would hear the motor, smell the exhaust and the monsters hanging around the small community she could see about a mile away would begin heading their way.

Her head throbbed and she dry swallowed two more OTC pain killers. She couldn’t take anything stronger for now. Her eyes never stopped moving as she surveyed the surrounding fields and roadways. She glanced toward the operations from time to time but for the most part, she studied the distant terrain.  As she watched distant figures began moving out of the shadows.

Jenkins climbed down from the container and grabbed the front guideline while Matt grabbed the back one.

At the controls, Dreschel powered up the hydraulics and raised the boom. The cables grew taught and the container began to move. When it cleared the rail car, Dreschel swung the boom toward the waiting trailer.

“Too high!” From the top of the container, Jenkins called out. “Lower the box now.”

Dreschel worried the controls into sending the container into a wide arc toward the cab of the truck with the waiting trailer.

“Easy! Take your time.” Matt yelled. “We got this. Slow and easy.”

Jake and Matt pulled at the ropes until they got the swinging container under control. Dreschel began moving the boom again, this time slower and with a bit more precision. He stopped the boom when the container hovered over the trailer.  With another control he slowly began lowering the cable. The container inched toward the trailer.

Dreschel eased forward on the controls and the boom slowly lowered the container. Matt and Jake pulled at the lines as the container turned and wavered. Finally, the container brushed against the edge of the flatbed causing the trailer to rock. As it got closer, Matt and Jake made small adjustments to ensure the container settled on the trailer mountings.

With a loud clank, the container slipped onto the mountings and the lines slackened. Jake rushed to the metal container and pulled himself up to free the fishhooks. And guide lines.

“Got it!” Matt called out as he matched Jake’s actions at the opposite end of the container.

With shaking hands, Dreschel lowered the boom to allow more slack in the cables. When everything was loose, Dreschel stepped from the cab. Matt gave him a thumbs-up in answer to his unspoken question. Jenkins climbed down to the ground.

“I’ll get this truck moved,” Matt called out. “Jenkins, get to the next container.”

“Fuck! That wasn’t pretty.” Dreschel commented with a tremble in his voice.

“You did fine, man.” Jake gave Dreschel a wave. “Let’s get this last one and get outta here.” He ran toward the second truck and empty trailer.

Matt jumped into the cab of the loaded trailer and fired up the engine. He ground gears as he shifted into first to get the truck moving. Several minutes later, he pulled up behind the white trailer of the wreck and turned off the engine.

Matt ran to the white trailer and retrieved a can of red paint from his pack.  He pressed the nozzle and made sweeping motions inches from the white trailer.  He ended with a giant symbol and initials.  As an after-thought he made three smiley faces as a signature.

By the time he walked back, Jake was looking around obviously nervous. “What in the fuck are you doing?  This is taking a long time and we’re making way too much noise.” He pointed toward Tate jogging toward them.

She got about twenty feet away and answered slightly out of breath. “We’ve got company coming. There’s a small cluster of houses about a mile and a half from here.” She glanced over her shoulder pointing off to the east. “They’ll be here in less than half an hour.”

“We got time for one more container.  We’ll be quicker this time.”

“That took us nearly half an hour,” Dreschel answered from the cab of the crane.

Matt stood silent for a minute then looked at Jake. “Get that last truck up here.” He turned to Dreschel. Get busy and pick up that last container. Jenkins, get back up there and do what you did but make it quick this time.”

When he turned back, Tate handed him her rifle and pointed into the distance.

He squinted into the scope and saw monsters being drawn toward them by the noise of the roaring motor of the crane.  He handed the rifle back to her.

“Keep an eye on ‘em and let me know when they come over the rise.”  Matt ordered then turned back to the task at hand.

Tate jogged back down the road to watch the herd of monsters stumbling toward them. It included men, women and children, all torn and injured beyond belief. She made a quick count and her breath caught in her chest. She realized there were between fifty and sixty of the infected shuffling toward them.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw the container dangling above the trailer. With a final growl of the crane motor, the container settled on the raised sections at either end of the trailer. The container hung over the end of the trailer by at least six feet but looked to be balanced on the back axel. The boom lowered and the cables collapsed to the top of the container.

She watched as Jenkins freed the cable hooks from the boom and the telescoping arm retracted back into place. Dreschel jumped from the crane and began retracted the out-riggings and restored the counterweights to their resting position.

Matt, Jake, and Jenkins struggled with tie-downs to anchor the container. She watched as they settled for retractable tie-downs across the container and tied together.

Tate shrugged. It was far from ideal, but would have to do. She heard a moan and the sound of shuffling feet and startled.

She’d been paying too much attention to the salvage operation and not enough to the approaching undead. She was shocked seeing the infected were less than a hundred yards from her and heading up the hill with dogged determination. She realized their shambling gate was coming much faster once prey was sighted.

She stuck her fingers between her lips and blew. A shrill whistle pierced the sudden silence. “Company coming!” She turned back to take three quick shots then turned back and continued. “They’re here! We gotta get going.” Tate backed down the hill toward the white truck still firing at the monsters.

Matt threw a wave toward the trucks. “Get to the trucks!”

Jake, Jenkins and Dreschel each headed toward a truck cab and climbed in. Jake got in the rig with the last container and fired up the motor. Jenkins started the first rig behind the white truck. Dreschel climbed in the crane rig cab and the engine roared to life.

The three trucks were ready to move, but trapped behind the white truck in the middle of the road. Tate began jogging toward the waiting trucks.

Matt raced to the Humvee and cranked the engine. He slammed the vehicle in reverse and planted his foot heavily into the floorboard. The vehicle swerved toward Tate as she backed downhill. She continued backing up and shooting at the leaders in the pack until the full force of monsters crested the hill.

Matt got within ten feet of Tate and slammed on the breaks.  With the Humvee still rocking, he threw open the passenger and yelled.

“Get in!”

Tate turned, ran to the open door and jumped in the Humvee.  Matt slammed the vehicle into drive. “I’ll be dropping you at your rig. Pull to the side and let the other three pass then fall in behind Jenkins and follow them to the camp.”

“But…” Tate interrupted.

“Just do it. I’ll fall back and lead the infected back the way they came to make sure they don’t follow us back to the camp.” Matt answered.

He pulled alongside the white truck cab. Tate grabbed her bag, jumped out of the Humvee and raced around the front. She threw the bag inside, climbed into the cab and settled behind the wheel.

She fired up the engine and steered the rig slowly toward the left to allow Jenkins to pass. He shifted gears and the blue tractor roared around her on the right to the lead position. She stepped on the clutch and slammed the rig into second and then through the gears as she accelerated. Jake and Dreschel fell in behind her truck. Now the four vehicles sped up. They got up to thirty miles an hour and she saw when the Humvee disappear behind a stand of trees.

“Shit,” Tate whispered. “Guess we got a problem.”

Tate reached for the bag Matt had taken from her truck and opened a side pocket. She stuck her hand inside and retrieved a white bottle with a red label. She spilled out two pills and tossed them in her mouth then washed them down with Matt’s bottle of water. She dropped the pill bottle back into the bag and opened a long zipper across the top. She pulled out a silenced handgun. When she saw Matt looking at her, she responded.

“I lost my blade the last time I got gas. It’s stuck in some dead fuck’s head.” She checked the load in the magazine then slid it home with the palm of her hand. “Quiet is better.”

“You don’t have to do this. We can handle it.” Matt answered.

“I’m fine.” Tate snarled. “Besides, I’m calling dibs on that truck. Figure I need to earn it if I’m planning on taking it.”

Matt spoke into the radio. “Got about a dozen infected ahead. We move close enough to draw them toward us then take them out. We’ll be using machetes. Keep it quiet. Jake, hang back and watch our six.”

When the hummer got to within ten feet of the closest infected, Matt stopped the Humvee and reached for the door handle. Meanwhile, Tate slid her door open and placed one foot on the ground before she took her first shot between the door and vehicle. A small black dot appeared in the front of the closest gray forehead and the back of the head exploded in a mist of red and gray matter. The sound was little more than a hand slap.

Matt looked over the hood of the Humvee and nodded at Tate. “Nice.”

She grinned then winched at the pain it caused. “Let’s get this done so I can use the sleeper in that truck. My head is killing me.”

Jenkins and Dreschel walked up with machetes in hand. Matt gave a nod then the three men and Tate approached the white truck. The infected furthest away didn’t seem to notice them until Matt stepped up to a man in overalls and took the top of his head off. The hair thatched disk sailed past the pair and suddenly they turned and they’re focused changed.

Tate laughed. “Hey, shitbags! Come on down. Let’s make a deal. I’ll trade lead for you…dead. Again!” She took another shot. Another infected fell to the ground as if strings holding them up had been cut.

Matt stepped up to a man in terrible shape. The stench was nearly overpowering when he cleaved in the head trying to avoid the viscera hanging from the massive damage to his midsection.

Jake took out two men both with strips of flesh torn from their arms and legs. Flesh on their faces had begun to sag and pull from the muscle and bone. It hung in raw open wounds. Flies swarmed around the bodies but seemed hesitant to land on the decaying flesh.

When Dreschel took out the last of the infected, he turned to Matt and commented. “Have you noticed even the old ones don’t have maggots where the flesh is decaying. You would think as bad as they smell they would have maggots all over them by now.”

Tate stepped closer and pointed at their feet. The soles of their feet were bare and the flesh shredded and torn down to the bone. “See what I mean. They probably had shoes when they died, but they’ve walked right out of them.” She pointed to another body with remnants of shoes clinging to his ankles. “Ain’t that just the damnedest thing you ever seen?”

Matt looked them over then walked toward the last four. “These are fresher than the rest of them.”

The group included four men of varying ages. One was young and probably in the early twenties when his throat was torn out. A handgun hung from a holster on his hip. Another man looked to be in his fifties or so. He was a rough looking man dressed in torn and tattered overalls and flesh torn from his arms and face. The side of the man’s neck was torn open, leaving a dark brown crust over the front of his clothes.

The last two men looked to have been around forty. Both wore of a mismatched collection of clothes that spoke of a hasty gathering of resources. Again they bore terrible injuries that spoke of a horrendous death.

The rest of the gathering of infected included office drones wearing the remains of business suits and workplace attire. Somewhere families had expected them that afternoon and they had never made it home. The only exception was a waiter wearing black pants and blood splattered white shirt with a name badge still pinned to the breast pocket.

Jake nodded toward the four men then back at a dozen more dead monsters walking from around the white truck. “It looks like this bunch stumbled down the road until they came across these fellas filling the truck.

“There’s only four of us. Tate, how many can you take out before we have to deal with them?

Tate grinned. “How many do you want me to take out?”

He laughed. “As many as you want.”

Tate tapped a pocket on her cargo pants then raised her handgun and took aim. She fired, again, and again. She took out six before they stumbled close enough for the men stepped into the fray.

Matt walked up to the nearest infected and slammed a machete into its head. The body fell at his feet. Tate stepped forward and fired at a woman in nursing scrubs. She stumbled but didn’t go down when the bullet it the side of the head. Tate fired again. This time the nurse went down in a heap.

Jake sidesteps over the nurse behind an overweight infected woman. He planted his foot in the back of one knee and she fell to the asphalt her face slapping with a crunch when her nose broke. Before she could even push herself up on her thick arms, he slammed his blade into the back of her head.

Jenkins used a tire iron to crush the head of a teen girl then turned to face a second youth. The girl had been athletic build and wore the remnants of a t-shirt that exposed the injuries she had suffered. Strips of flesh had been torn from her face and shoulders. Jenkins struck out and she fell to the ground.

In less than three minutes, all the infected were put down.

Matt glanced around then leaned down to swipe his blade against the clothing of the closest infected. “Everyone okay?” With a chorus of affirmative responses, he continued. “Let’s check out the truck.”

“I’m checking out the rig!” Tate called out as she gave a careless wave over her shoulder and headed toward the cab of the white truck. As she neared the truck, she picked up the pace and jogged to the front door of the white cab. With the gun in her hand, she climbed up the gas tank at the side to peer through the driver’s side window.

She slapped her hand against the window, but nothing appeared inside. She tucked the gun in the back of her pants then jerked open the door and climbed inside the cab. After a full minute, she reappeared. Her face announced her disappointment.

Tate walked around to the back of the truck. “No fucking keys.” Tate lamented.

Matt walked up to her. “That could be a problem.”

Utopia

Posted: December 1, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS

Della, Steve, and Sandy settled at the picnic table waiting for the promised meal to arrive. They studied their surroundings and quietly admired the small park in front of the building they would call home for the time being. The motel itself was a two story, “keep-the-lights-on” model that someone had turned into temporary housing for new arrivals to Utopia. The inside of the units, once probably generic and predictable now included an eclectic array of antique and box store furniture and an assortment of bedding including homemade quilts. The fact it was homey did not escape any of them. Zack suddenly appeared looking clean, but barely dry.

A rotund man with a wide middle and infectious smile approached them pushing a cart with four containers, an assortment of bottled and canned drinks and stacked place settings. “Hey, folks. I heard you could use a good home cooked meal. My name’s Tony Baker.”

“Nice to meet you, Tony. We sure could use something to eat.” Zack answered.

“I see you folks got all cleaned up. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” He passed napkins and eating utensils around the table while he continued talking. “I hear you have an interesting tales to tell.” He set a food-filled plate in front of each in the group then collapsed on one end of a bench.

“Go on folks…eat up.” He opened a bottle of water and took a long swig.

Zack’s eyes opened wide at the sight of the fried chicken on his plate and quickly held the leg to his mouth and took a big bit. His eyes slid closed as he let the spicy crusted chicken fill his mouth. He sighed and began chewing as a smile creased his face. When he realized everyone else had grown quiet, he opened his eyes and saw them looking at him.

“What?” Zack asked a little confused.

Everyone laughed. Steve answered with a grin on his face. “We didn’t want to interrupt you’re having a moment.”

Speaking around the meat, Zack answered. “I really like fried chicken. You know, it’s a black thing. Now I’d be in heaven, if you had watermelon.”

Everyone burst out laughing then passed around plates and began eating chicken, potatoes, home-made bread and corn on the cob.

Steve forked a big bite of mashed potatoes and looked across the table at Tony. “So what’s the story here? It looks like the town is in pretty good shape. Fried chicken?”

Tony laughed. “Now, we’re in pretty good shape supply wise. We’re trying to make sure we stay safe, so we check people out then let folks come in. There’re only two ways in or out of town. You saw the bridge. The other end of town bottlenecks at the canyon entrance.

We didn’t pay much attention when it first started happening. Sinced we’re so off the beaten path we’ve really only had a couple dozen people even show up and it was family of locals. Of course, it got to be a problem, but we’ll discuss that later. Anyway, the mayor and city council are running things. You met our sheriff, Ollie. We have local cops and volunteers manning the road blocks.” Tony shrugged and grinned. “Oh, by the way. I’m the mayor so if you need anything just let me know. Now, what’s your story?”

Steve looked at the clean plate in front of him and laid down his fork. “We escaped San Antonio the day it all happened. We’ve been driving and hiding and done pretty good until we lost two of our party, one thanks to Willie Baker and his buddies.”

Tony looked stern. “But it’s my understanding they’re not a problem now.”

Steve nodded as he began to realize just how fast news traveled in the small town. “It was their choice to come after us. We were spending the night in a barn. We had no idea we were close to other people until we settled down for the night and saw the lights and heard screams.

Around dawn, they realized we were there and came after us. We got away, but they followed us to a store where they killed those three people. Long story short, I set up a trap and killed them. One bunch is at the store and the others are at the pile up down the road near the intersection.”

“I heard back from Ollie right before I came down here. He sent a couple men to check out the Baker place.  That bunch of assholes had ambushed folks driving a couple trucks. They killed the drivers and were holding the women out on the farm. Ollie’s men said one is in bad shape and may not make it. The other will survive, but probably won’t ever be the same. You did the world a favor when you killed that bunch. Ollie may have a few questions, but no worries. Times have changed. They did bad and paid the price. Not much loss.”

Della nodded in agreement. “We lost a nice young man because of those bastards.”

“I’m sorry, Mam. We knew they were bad news, but didn’t know what was happening out there until you folks showed up.” Tony nodded then cleared his throat. “Ollie says there was another body. It was hanging in the old barn where you folks stayed.”

Della sighed. “That was Millie.” She covered her mouth and turned from the table. “She couldn’t face the loss of her family and fiancé and hung herself during the night. We didn’t realize how hard this had been on her until morning and then those men came after us…” Her voice trailed off.

“No need to say more. Glad it verifies what the sheriff’s men figured. They buried the dead out at the farm along with the men Baker killed.”

“Thank you,” Della answered.

“Look, I know you folks have had a hard time and if you’re done eating, I’ll pick up here and you can get some rest or look around.” He began stacking dishes on the cart. “Is there anything you need that I can get you?”

Everyone answered to negative until it came to Della. “I need a heat gun.”

Tony looked confused. “Heat gun?”

“Yes. I need to heat up the thermoplastic on Steve’s prosthetic and make some adjustments.”

“Oh, okay. Ollie told me our friend here had a problem and why he scrounged up the chair. Let me do some checking.” Tony finished clearing the table. “If we find a heat gun, I’ll see you get it.”

Tony walked away leaving Della, Steve, Zack and Sandy sitting at the table. Sandy started to stand, but Steve reached out to stop her. “We need to talk for a few minutes.”

Sandy sat back down. “Fine, but make it quick.  I have a headache.”

“So what’s up, man?” Zack asked.

“I think we need to look around. It looks good here, but even a rotten egg looks good on the outside.”  Steve answered.

Della nodded. “Looking for a heat gun gives me lots of reason to talk to people and while I’m at it I’ll look around.”

“Zack, if you don’t mind a bit of a walk, I want to see how they’re set up,” Steve announced.

Sandy smiled. “I need some shoes. Maybe I can go to the school and ask around for some help. If there’s someone there my age, I can talk to them.”

Steve smiled. “Sounds good. Be careful, though. I think we’re fine here, but before we give the place a thumbs-up, I want a clear picture of where we stand.”

Steve pulled on fingerless gloves and rested his handgun under his leg out of sight. He used his hands to grab the big wheels at the side of the wheelchair and performed a perfect about-face. He eased the chair to the parking lot then gave the wheels a spin. Zack hustled to catch up.

Steve laughed. “Sorry. I won’t make you run to keep up.”

Zack settled into an easy gate alongside the wheelchair while Steve guided the chair to the side of the street. He kept the pace brisk, but Zack didn’t complain.

They made the full length of the first block and looked down the side street just as Tony exited a nearby building.

“Well, fellas, I guess you decided to tour our quiet little town.” He fell into step with the pair. “How about I give you the fifty cent tour?”

Without waiting for an answer, he began. “As you see, there’s the school. The street goes back about three blocks in both directions. Down here, we’re really on the back side of the town. We have a total of seventy-eighty buildings altogether sandwiched between the bridge you came across and the opening of the canyon down Main Street about a mile down.

We had a few issues when it first happened and we shut down the road. We let survivors came through the roadblock. We’d ask if any of them were sick, but we didn’t know shit about what was happening. Someone got in that shouldn’t have. We lost about a hundred people before we got it under control.”

Steve nodded as he calculated a third of the population was gone. “You’re folks must be pretty resourceful. That kind of infection rate could have decimated the entire town.”

“Sheriff had a cousin in the PD in San Antonio. He gave the sheriff a call when it started.” Tony continued. “We just didn’t understand about people hiding bites…” He grimaced. “It got pretty brutal until we got it under control. I lost a brother and most of his family.”

Steve rolled along with Zack at his side. “No one wants to admit they’re dying.”

Tony continued. “Anyway, we set up so we could check everyone coming in. Since then it’s been pretty good. Eventually, we’ll have to start looking for supplies. We got lucky since a new Walmart had been scheduled to open that week on the other side of town. It would have drawn in traffic from a fifty-mile radius. It was all set up for the grand opening. It was so overstocked…and three trucks sat in the back parking lot.” Tony chuckled. “The sheriff locked it down immediately and since then we’ve let people “buy” non-food stuff, but limited food to a single point of access.”

As they toured the town, Steve noticed multiple vehicles along the street. The majority had a big X painted on the doors and had keys dangling in the ignitions. When he mentioned it, Tony laughed.

“Sheriff’s idea. Cars belong to people that aren’t here anymore. If we get in trouble, we have exit vehicles handy no matter where we are in town.”

Steve laughed. “Damn. I don’t think I would have thought of that. Good temporary shelter too.”

Tony nodded. “Sheriff said that too.”

“What about joyriders?” Zack asked.

Tony shrugged. “Everybody was required to show up at a town hall meetings after, well after issue with the infected, and the sheriff explained the logic of leaving cars around. No one feels too much joy after what happened to half the town. There won’t be anyone messin’ with the cars.”

The trio completed the sojourn and headed back to the motel. When they arrived, Tony shook both Zack and Steve’s hands. “You boys might want to park the truck at the side or back of the building. That way, you got a clear line of sight from your rooms.” He threw off a casual wave. “See ya’ll at breakfast. Meals are served in the school cafeteria. Breakfast is between six and eight, lunch, eleven until one, dinner five to seven.”

“That’s fine. Thanks.” Steve answered.

An hour later both Della and Sandy had returned. Della had a heat gun in her hand. She walked in grinning from ear to ear. Sandy was smiling herself. They went into the end room and settle on the two double beds.

Della laid the heat gun on the table. “We have to wait until tomorrow then go to the school. They said I can use a plug-in in the kitchen. It’s the only building with a gas generator.”

Sandy stuck up her foot and everyone saw a new pairs of jogging shoes, and fresh white socks. In her hands, she clutched two pair of jeans, two shirts and a sweatshirt. “I made a haul…”

Steve spent the next hour discussing what he had seen in the town. He took a long time to point out the advantages of staying in Utopia for the time being. He also explained the disadvantages.