Posted: December 1, 2015 in Book I 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.

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