Archive for March, 2016

Zack pulled into the small yard in front of the cabin. He turned off the engine and the six travelers sat quietly in the waning light. The hunting cabin was a throwback from a hundred years ago.  The siding was weather cedar that had grayed years ago.  The tin roof was rusted but look to be in good shape.

Millie leaned forward. “Don’t y’all suppose we’d better get settled before it gets dark?”

Steve nodded and answered. Let’s check it out, Zack.”

The two men got out of the truck. Zack carried a crowbar and Steve a handgun. They crossed the bare packed earth to the front porch. Oak leaves danced across the faded planks of the covered porch. Windows at the front of the cabin were dusty but were crack free. The weathered wood door had a gate latch with a padlock for security. Uncovered windows on either side of the door allowed the waning light to expose the minimalistic furnishings inside.

“Someone’s hunting camp. If we’re lucky, there’s a cistern or water well.” Steve whispered as they stepped on the porch.

He pointed to his eyes with two fingers then to the window closest to Zack. He sidestepped to the window to the right and pressed his back against the rough wood logs of the wall. He leaned over the edge of the window and peeked inside.

Zack watched the procedure and repeated it at the window on the left side of the door. “Nothing here.” He whispered.

“Stay here.” Steve mouthed.

Steve stepped off the porch and stumbled around the side of the building. He followed the solid wall to the back of the structure. Looking through the back windows, he realized the structure was a single room with a ladder access to a loft overhead. The back of the cabin included barn doors on an overhead track. He made his way around the corner and a massive stack of firewood at the side of the house. He stepped back up to the porch with Zack.

“Anything?” Zack asked.

“Looks good. Let’s get inside. It’s almost dark.”

Zack picked up the padlock and shoved the crowbar through the hasp. With a snap of his wrist the lock snapped open. He pulled the lock off the door and laid it on a window sill.

Steve opened the door leading with his gun hand. He fanned his barrel from left to right and then back again as he studied the shadows inside. The building was set up with a sink, and few cabinets and a table at one end. The rest seemed devoted to providing sleeping quarters. Bunk beds and from what he could see, a couple more twin beds overhead.

“Let’s move ‘em in.” Steve commented.

Zack went to the truck, while Steve lit a kerosene lamp on the table. He limped to the sink and examined a hand pump. He pumped the handle a few time and rusty water spilled from the spout. After a few more pumps of the handle, the water flowed clear and clean. He dipped his hand in the stream and brought it to his nose. It smelled fresh.

Zack and the women walked into the cabin. Millie still holding Penny’s hand crossed to the sink when she saw what Steve was doing. “Young man, you need to sit done.”

“I’m fi….” Steve drug his arm across his forehead.

Millie interrupted. “Young man? I’m not suggesting, I’m telling.” She walked to the sink and found a pan. She filled it with water then looked in drawers until she found a dishtowel. When she turned back she glanced at Penny. “Child, tell that boy, Zack, to bring us that chair on wheels.”

With another glare from Millie, Steve settled on the chair at the table. She nodded toward the prosthetics and Steve removed the right leg then the left. Both silicone cuffs were smeared with blood when he pulled them from his legs.

Della came in carrying an armful of supplies. She saw Steve’s ulcerated legs and gasped. “I told you. How could you let it get this bad? You’re running a fever.”

Steve shrugged. “I didn’t see I had much choice.”

“Well we do now. We stay until you’re healed.” Della announced.

Millie sat the pan of water on the table and another pan on the floor at the front of the chair. She soaked the rag and dribbled water over the red angry flesh. After the first couple passes of cold water over the flesh, the shock lessened and began to numb the pain. Steve sighed in relief.

Millie looked up when Della walked in the cabin with another armful of supplies. “You got medicine for this?” She asked Della.

“Yes, mam.”

Penny came in with Zack carrying the wheel chair. He looked at Steve’s legs and cringed. “Man that looks painful.”

“A day or two and it’ll be fine.” Steve began, but Della interrupted.

“NO! You need to rest at least a week.”

“Mommy? I really gotta go to the bathroom.” Penny announced.

Darlene looked around the room, then to Steve.

He grinned. “Out house in back. We got running water though.”

“Praise the Lord for that but, an outhouse?” Darlene groaned. “Gross.”

Zack laughed. “I saw it out back. It’s close to the shed. I thought I’d check it out so I’ll show you.”

They walked to the barn doors and unlatched one door and opened it. Zack pulled a LED light from his pocket. He led Darlene and Penny through the back door.

“Let’s cover the front windows and close the door when we get everything inside. I don’t want to advertise we’re here.” Steve announced.

Della placed a tube of ointment on the table with two rolls of gauze. “We have what we need inside. I’ll cover the windows.”

Two hours later, Millie had schooled Zack on starting a fire in the wood stove in the kitchen. They had found kindling in a bucket by the stove and wood at the side of the house. She pulled a pot from a cabinet and dumped an assortment of cans in it and added a can of diced chicken.

All remains of the day slipped into night as the small gathering sat around the cabin eating bowls of Millie’s concoction.

“Do you think we’re safe here?”  Darlene asked.

“Safer than we’ve been since we left Utopia.” Steve answered. “Everyone needs to get some rest.  I’m beat.”

He rolled the chair to one of the windows. “I’ll wake you at midnight, Zack.”

“No problem.”

Della helped Millie to the other lower bunk beds. Zack decided he wasn’t trying the top bunk and pulled the mattress from the top bunk on one of the bed to a place near a window.  Della took the bunk above Millie while Darlene and Penny made their way to the loft. Within a short time Steve could hear both Millie and Zack snoring.

The warmth of the cabin was unbearable. Finally, Steve opened the front door and rolled the wheelchair outside. The handgun rested in his lap. He looked out over the valley beyond and realized how high on the bluff they had driven. He could see a few lights and wondered if what he saw was fires or people running generators.

At midnight Zack stumbled through the opened door wiping sleep from his eyes. “All quiet?”

Steve nodded then answered. “Not much to see out there. I saw a few fires in the distance. There must be a blacktop about six miles north. I saw a few headlights heading west.”

“Get some rest, I got this? Use the bottom bunk. I opened the back windows and with this door open it’s not so hot. I’ll be out here.”

“Thanks.” Steve handed Zack the handgun. “Wake me or aim for the head and pull the trigger.”

“Got it.” Zack laid the gun next to him on the top step of the porch. “I’ll get you if I hear or see anything.”

Steve rolled inside and pulled himself into the bunk. He closed his eyes.

The sound of whispered voices woke Steve. Dust motes danced across the first rays of the sun shining through the opened back doors. The smell and sound of something cooking filled the little cabin. Steve threw his arm over his eyes and listened to the voices coming from the kitchen. His stomach rolled.

“Now, this canned meat is poor folk’s best friend. That garden out back looks to have been cared for last fall. Got volunteer vines up on the side of the shed. Might be something we could use.” Millie commented.

“Penny and I can look around and check it out.” Darlene volunteered.

“I figure to take the young man with me and show him how to set a few snares. I don’t know if we’ll catch much, but I know we don’t have food for more than three days.”

Zack chuckled. “Me? Trapping? Just call me Daniel Boone.”

Despite the warmth radiating from him, Steve slid out of the bed and onto the wheelchair. He rolled toward the back door. “Zack, can I roll this to the outhouse and shed?”

“I’ll go with you. You’ll need a little help.” Zack answered.

“Let’s see what’s in the shed while were out there.”

A few minutes later, Zack rolled the wheel chair at the door of the shed. The owner of the property had put up a shed and used another padlock to secure the door. Zack pulled the crowbar from his belt and performed the same procedure as before to pop open the lock. When he was done, he threw the door open. He gave a low whistle.

Inside the shed was ATV parked against one wall. Zack flicked on the LED light. He looked from one side of the shed to the other. He saw garden tools propped in the corner, some fishing gear, and a variety of hunting equipment. In the back corner was something covered by a tarp.

“We need to see what’s under there.” Steve commented. “But first, I think I need to go inside and lay down for a bit. I’m not feeling real well.”

Zack stepped behind the wheel chair and pushed it toward the cabin. “You don’t look so good man.”

“If we had enough supplies it would be a good place to rest up but we don’t. We can’t sit around and wait for my legs to heal.”

“I’ll check out the shed in a while.” Zack answered.

Cassie looked up.  “That makes sense. When people got sick they went to the hospitals and clinics. Those places got overrun pretty quickly. That’s actually a pretty good idea. They use the same equipment more or less.”

“Maybe GPS’s will still work a while longer. I think data comes from satellites.  When the orbits begin to decay though, they’ll become less reliable.”

“We need maps of the area, Texas, New Mexico, maybe even Oklahoma.”  Cassie announced.

“We’ll need other ways to communicate with our people and the outside world.” Daniel commented.

“What about radios and CB and shortwave radio?” Cassie answered.

“I’ll start looking around for options.”

Adding to Daniel’s computer skills was his curiosity about the alternate forms of communications and shortwave radio. He downloaded directions for using CB and shortwave radios and all the list of jargon and codes. He turned to Cassie.

“When the Internet fails, and it will, we’ll need a way to communicate with the outside world.”

Cassie shrugged.  “You think there will be anyone left to talk to?

“Of course.  There will be people like us all over the country.  This will pass…if you believe in God, you know this will pass. The world will rebuild.” Wilma answered from the door. “All things in His time.  Now, come to dinner.”  She led them to the dinning room.

Two days after the attacks, Israel and the US announced Iran was behind the attack and bombed the country into oblivion. It didn’t save anyone but it showed the world what would happen if harm was done if the US was ever truly pissed off.  Israel fell to the dead despite closing their borders. The virus had mutated and became airborne after forty-eight hours, so ultimately, everyone was infected.

A week later social media was blasted with accounts of the infection crossing quarantine lines and into Mexico. It proved Will was right when he told them early on that quarantining the infection would be impossible. Social media became the front row seat to the end of the world as they knew it.

By the end of the second week, all forty-nine states and Canada had cases and the infection was spreading fast. South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East were overrun with reported cases.

At the lodge, Will and Randy agreed they would need a way to communicate with the outside world and other survivors when the Internet was no longer viable. Until then, Daniel would work on the shortwave radio when the computer was tied up downloading files or he had spare time.

While Cassie and Daniel watched the world dissolve into chaos, Will setup one of the men enlarging the garden using a small tractor while three others worked at enlarging a corral for the livestock they anticipated finding.

The women discussed options and in the end, decided what to plant and how much to plant. While Elaina and Wilma concentrated on meals, Maria supervised the work in the garden and breathing new life into the vegetables already growing. They would be planting the Heirloom seeds Will had carefully accumulated.  He had planted only Heirloom seeds since any hybrids and GMO modified seeds would be useless for replanting from harvested seeds.

Maria turned out to be an avid gardener and made suggestions how to utilize the garden space as much as possible and avoid unwanted cross pollination. They planted, corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, greens, lettuce and half a dozen other plants to can and preserve.

All of the adults worried no matter how much they planted, they would not have enough food for so many people.  In addition to saving food, they would also need to save seeds for the next year’s planting. Despite all the fruit trees Will had planted when he bought the property, food would be a problem without livestock.

Will, Randy, Miguel, and Pablo decided they needed to scout the area and collect any domesticated animals they found. Miguel and his family shared information about towns, farms and ranches along the way north. Will pulled out a state map and began making note. He was hoping to eventually make contact and establish trade with the other folks, but for now searching for supplies was priority.

“There’s a good chance we can gather a few horses and tack needed to ride them. Add cattle and well, it would improve our chances of survival.” Randy commented. “Sure wish we would have had another year.”

Will turned to him over morning coffee. “I’ve been thinking if we find livestock, we can’t drive them across cattle guard as it is. I’m gonna put a couple men to cutting some expanded metal on a welded hinge to lay over the cattle guard when we need to cross with animals. We can leave the guard down during the day for coming and going, as long as we have a guard on duty. We need to build a guard hut, too. It’s gonna get pretty hot come summer and shade’ll make it a little more bearable.”

“Wilma and Cassie gave me a list of supplies to scavenge.” Randy complained. “I don’t know how we can get everything they think we need even taking two trucks.”

“You probably won’t find most of it. We’ll have to make do.” Will answered. “People and livestock are critical. Medical supplies if you can find them. Everything else we’ll look for after that.” Both Wilma and Cassie opened their mouths to protest, but fell silent when Will raised his hand and continued. “We get what we can, but there will be a point when it gets too dangerous to be out there. If we find strangers we get to know them a little bit before we make an offer of a place to stay. Our families will be coming, but we still have picked up enough folks to build a community to survive.”

Randy stood. “I’m taking Miguel, Pablo and his son, Hugo out, today. We’re taking my truck and Pablo’s because both have trailer hitches so if we find a trailer, we can fill ‘em up.”

“When are you leaving?” Cassie asked.

“Now.” Randy answered then got up from the table and gathered his plate and cutlery to stack in a plastic pan on a cart at the side of the dining room. Three Hispanic men followed suite.

“Be safe.” Wilma called out.

“Vaya con Dios mi amor.” Elaina whispered.

Miguel slammed a hat on his head. “No te preocupes, mujer.”

Randy threw a careless wave at the room and stepped out into the morning sunshine. Ten minutes later motors roared to life and two vehicles headed for the cattle guard half a mile away.

Wilma , Cassie and Elaina stood and gathered her own dishes. Will and the remaining men deposited their plates and left the dining room. The four women spoke briefly with Elaina then followed the men out of the room.

“How is your mother?” Cassie asked Elaina. “I noticed she didn’t come for breakfast.”

Elaina shrugged. “Not good. She has pain, from the cancer.”

Cassie’s jaw clinched. “Do you want me to come and check on her?”

“Sí.” Elaina whispered. “It would be a kindness if you could help.”

Wilma instantly liked Elaina. The woman brought her mother into the lodge the first morning after their arrival, ready to work. The three women sat at a small table at the side of the massive kitchen with cups of coffee.

Elaina smiled approvingly at the kitchen. “I am surprised. I did not expect the kitchen to be in this condition. Those two hombres are not the cleanest. Señor Will is a big lío. Mess.” She clarified.

“You’re telling me.” Wilma laughed. “You can’t even imagine how bad it was a week ago.”

Cassie walked into the room and retrieved a cup of coffee. “Hi ladies.” She yawned. “Coffee sure smells good.”

“Didn’t you sleep last night?” Wilma asked.

“I was checking out the library and trying to get a handle on what’s available in print. There’s a pretty good selection of books including lots of history, how-to books, and geography books. Will has an eclectic taste in fiction. It has a little bit of everything. Then I spent hours downloading textbooks while I could still access the internet. I feel we have limited time to get all the information we can.  The virus is appearing all over the country. Cases have already appeared in Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis and even Vegas. Europe is in chaos.” Cassie announced.

Wilma nodded.  “I was afraid of that.”

“I’ve been watching the news feeds.  Anyone that dies will turn now.  The virus has mutated according to the CDC.”  Cassie sat down. “Whatever they let loose, they have destroyed the world.”  She clutched at the cup frowning.

“No niña.”  Maria reached out to take Cassie’s hand. “God will protect us. Others will come and we will live on.”

Elaina agreed.  “Life goes on.  We work, teach our children and protect ourselves.”

“I guess we still do have kids to educate. With a little luck we’ll have a lot more.” Cassie agreed.

“Oh my. I guess none of us have been thinking that far ahead.” Wilma said.

“Do you know if any of your family can use a computer, Elaina?” Cassie asked.

“Sí, Daniel.” Elaina laughed. “He is always on the computer at home.”

“Will has a computer center behind the office and I set my stuff up in there. We need to download as much information as we can get our hands on.”

“I’ll talk to Daniel about letting him help you if Mr. Will says it okay.”

Cassie laughed. “I’ll mention it to Will. We need this.”

“Education is very importante.” Elaina’s mother answered softly.

“I wish I had a lot more education.” Cassie added. “We’re going to need a doctor and I have only six months practical experience as a nurse practitioner. It doesn’t make me much of a doctor.”

“We’re lucky to have you.” Wilma answered. “If you had been at the hospital.…” Her voice trailed off and eyes filled with tears.

“I would have been if not for the immunization clinic at the community center.” Cassie sighed. “I lucked out when the van broke down and I had to catch a bus home.” Her voice trailed off.

“I’m grateful.” Wilma answered softly.

Elaina echoed. “We are all lucky to be here.”

It only took a couple days for the fifteen adults and five children to settle in the cabins and establish a semblance of routine. The three older women decided three meals a day would be cooked and served in the main lodge to control supplies and avoid duplicating efforts.

Will’s communication office was appropriated by Cassie and Daniel. While Daniel accessed the Internet, Cassie inventoried the meager medical supplies in the closet-sized first aid station next to a small conference room. She began to make a list of supplies she thought critical then spent hours adding to it.

The third morning after Pablo and his family arrived, Will, Wilma, Randy, Cassie, Miguel and Elaina sat together making plans. They spent a couple hours listing content to be accessed on the Internet while they still could. No one wanted to admit it, but they all knew at some point the resource would disappear. Links had begun failing already.

Daniel turned out to be methodical and a patient researcher. He set up spreadsheets, a filing systems and priority list. He and Cassie worked almost none-stop. They spent hours downloading files on natural medicines, gardening, animal husbandry and dozens of other subjects they thought might be of value. Will had stockpiled printer and paper supplies that allowed them to print content when they felt it was necessary while other times they saved to a hard drive with a nightly backup.

As Cass added another item to her list of medical supplies, Daniel remarked. “You know we could get a lot of those supplies at a veterinary office or animal hospital with a lot less danger from the infected.”

Harry and Liz stacked the supplies inside the kitchen then Harry stepped back out of the camper.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He gave a careless wave as he got back in the truck and drove the pickup back to the sales office.

Liz closed the door and stepped back inside to look at John. Her face mirrored her concern. “I can’t see much.”

“Close the curtains then you can turn on a light.” John answered.

She moved around the camper and pulled the curtains closed on the windows.  When she was done, she turned on a small light and then announced.

“I’m going to make sure the light can’t be seen from outside.” She slipped from the camper and stepped back out into the night. She walked around the camper then walked back inside.

When she got back inside, she walked helped John out of his denim jacket then his shirt. She turned on a second light to get a better look. Half of his chest was splotched with deep purple and abrasions.

“Oh God, John.”

He moaned softly. “I think I hit the concrete divider. I’ll be okay.  Just needs taped up.”

He breathing was reduced to shallow gasps.

After a light double tap at the door, Harry’s harsh whisper announced his return. “Just me.”

He slipped inside the camper and pulled the door closed and locked it.  Harry turned back to straighten the curtain over the window.   “Well, is he going to make it, doc?”

“I’m as far from a doctor as you could get.  The only things I’ve ever treated has been scrapes and skins of a ten-year old but I think he might have a broken rib.”

Liz slid her fingers down John’s ribs and as they grew closer to the purple flesh John cringed. She clinched her jaw and continued the exploration.

John gasped. “You found it.”

“I think it’s only one broken rib.” Liz announced. “I can feel the bone move.”

Harry looked over Liz’s shoulder. “I’ll find something to wrap his ribs.” He disappeared into the back of the camper returning with a sheet in hand. After a few swipes of a knife he began tearing six inch strips of fabric.

“I’ll be fine.” John commented through clinched teeth.”

“When we get that rib stabilized, I think you’ll feel better.” Liz agreed.  “We have Tylenols.”

Harry brought soap and a bowl of water. Liz carefully cleaned the abraded flesh then dried the area and gently smeared on antibiotic ointment.  When she was finished, she pressed the flattened end of a fabric strip against his chest and wrapped it around his chest and the damaged rib again and again. When she reached the end, she grabbed a second strip and began wrapping again. After the third strip was added to the binding she glanced around for a way to secure the wrap.

When she heard a ripping sound behind her she turned to Harry and accepted a strip of duct tape with a tilt of her head.

“What?” Harry pulled a second strip of silver tape from a roll and handed it to Liz. Harry grinned. “I picked it up in the shop when I was in there. See you never know. Duct tape has a million uses.”

Liz smiled and anchored the binding then pressed several more strips over the damaged rib to add more support.

“Well?”  She asked.  “Is it any better?”

“I think so.” John huffed.

After binding John’s ribs he felt good enough to stop at the bathroom to clean up before he went back into the bedroom at the back of the camper to lie down.  He cracked windows on either side of the bed and the heat that had built up began to dissipate.

Harry and Liz gathered the supplies and went to work on fixing an evening meal. Harry stacked the water out of the way by the door while Liz sorted through the boxes.  She found beef jerky, pasta and soup cups, dried fruits, crackers and cheese, and boxes of candies and chips.

Liz opened a cup of dried soup added bottled water to hydrate it then used the microwave to warm it.  She used a box lid as a tray and carried the soup with crackers, and a bottle of water back to John.  She gave him two aspirins and left the bottle of aspirins and a second water bottle next to the bed before leaving.


Harry stood at the front of the camper studying the parking lot through at the side of a window blind. “Looks quiet.” He commented over his shoulder.

“Do you think they’ll find us?” Liz whispered as she handed Harry a cup of soup.

Harry let the privacy curtain slip back into place. They had opened the windows a few inches, and the top vent to let some of the heat escape.  The privacy blinds hid any hint of light from the outside.

Harry shrugged. “Hopefully, they’ll give up. They wanted what we had. They have it now. No reason to keep chasing us. At least, I hope.”

“I’m not tired. Why don’t you try to sleep? I’ll keep watch and wake you around two.”

“That works. John needs to stay as still as possible for a few days to give his ribs a chance to heal.”

“What about you?” Liz asked. “Your ankle?”

Harry stripped off his jacket, and sat down to take off his boots.  He groaned in relief as he pulled off his boot. “It’ll be fine if we can stay put for a few days.” He finished his soup then reached into a bag of dried fruit Liz had opened.  He tossed a handful in his mouth and chewed. After a full minute of chewing he took a gulp of water and scowled. “This stuff tastes like shit. I wish we had some beer.”

“It’s good for you.” Liz chuckled. “Enjoy it while I get cleaned up.” She walked back to the bathroom and filled the sink with a couple inches of warm water. She used a wash cloth and cleaned up as much as the limited water would allow.

When she reappeared Harry grinned. “You smell better.”

Liz laughed. “You don’t. Get cleaned up and try to rest. I’ll wake you up later.”

The next morning Liz woke when a shaft of sunlight invaded the camper at the edge of a lowered blind. She looked around the narrow bed and sighed. She hadn’t slept in a bed since leaving Benny and Hazel’s farm. She curled under the sheet and tried to recapture the dream of her husband and children, but it was lost. All that was left was the stifling heat of the sun beating down on the trailer.

“May as well get up.” Harry called from the front of the camper. He limped to the small table and sat down. “I think John looks a little better.”

Liz found a package of animal cookies and bottle of juice from the supplies and began eating. “How’s your ankle?”

“Not great, but if I can stay off it a couple more days, I’ll be fine.” Harry answered.

“Hmmm. Well, let’s hope we don’t have to run again any time soon.” Liz answered as she handed Harry a bottle of juice.

He took a long drink then flexed his ankle. He winced and frowned. “I was looking at the navigation on the dash. The parking lot backs up to a country road that heads west. I think we could take it to state road 54 then to 180 and head north. That should take us to the Guadalupe National Park area. Then it’s up to you.”

“We can’t just leave my daughters.” Liz protested.

“And where do you think we should look for them?”

“I ….” Liz looked at her clutched hands on the table.

“The girls are in God’s hands. Your son is ours. We’re continuing to Pine Canyon.”

The third morning they woke to the sound of breaking glass in the distance. Harry had nodded off near dawn while John and Liz were sleeping.

John lumbered from the back bedroom rubbing at the stubble on his chin. “Did I hear something?”

“Fucking getting old. I fell asleep.” Harry groused as he peeked out the window.

Liz slipped her feet in her boots. “What is it?” She pulled the laces and made a quick bow in each.

“What are we doing here?” John asked. “What’s happening?”

“Wait.” Harry answered. “Maybe it’s just a lone scavenger looking in the office. That’s why I wanted to make it look as normal as possible. Didn’t want anyone to think there was anything worth breaking in for.”

John answered. “It might have back-fired. Most offices have at least a vending machine or two and a kitchen.” He moved the edge of the curtain aside then let it drop. “I’m going to get a better look. Be ready to take off.”

John adjusted the handgun at his side and grabbed his knife. He opened the camper door and stepped outside, then turned and gently closed the door. He jogged to the back of the row of campers and disappeared.

Harry nodded at the back fence. “I’m going to cut the fence. Get the blinds up so you can see to drive, but wait to get behind the wheel. For now, try to stay out of sight.”

Liz nodded and quickly stowed supplied in the cabinets and behind rails along the shelves. She slowly raised the blinds around the front of the camper and watched as Harry slipped out of the camper.

Harry made his way around the back of the camper and crossed the twenty feet of asphalt to the fence. He made his way to the center of the fencing between two posts and took out the wire cutter. He began at the bottom, cutting each of the wire loops. Each snap of the wire snapping seemed to echo across the yard like a gunshot.  He cut two or three wires then glanced over his shoulder. When no one appeared to investigate he resumed cutting.

When John glanced toward the camper he could see Liz slowly open the screens and ready the camper to leave. He clipped half a dozen more wire loops and heard more glass break, then a terrified scream. John finished cutting the fence then ran back to the camper and reached inside to grab his machete.

“Stay put. Get behind the wheel and duck down. If you see us running, crank this bitch and get ready to get the hell out of here.”

John hurried to the back of the row of camper to follow Harry’s trail. He realized his ribs felt pretty good. He jogged after Harry, looking at each camper for his friend. He rounded a camper parked thirty feet from the office just in time to see Harry enter the building.

John glanced back at the camper and Liz then followed.

At the evening meal the four adults at the Lodge ate without much conversation, each lost in thoughts of family and friends and the struggles they must be facing. Most picked at the food despite Wilma’s abilities in the kitchen.

Finally, Randy announced. “I’ve been monitoring CB radio transmissions. There’re a lot of people moving west and north from San Antonio since the FEMA camp was overrun. That means they’re bringing the infection with them. We have to be careful who we let in.”

“We have room for over a hundred people here.” Wilma protested. “You said so yourself.”

“Shush!” Cassie jerked her head to the side. “Hey, I hear something?”

After a minute the distant rumble of motors fell silent and a distinctive truck horn blared twice. After a brief silence, it blared again one last time.

Will and Randy jumped to their feet and ran to the front porch with the two women close behind. They each picked up rifles, stepped out into the night air and looked toward the raised cattle guard in the distance. Three sets of headlights approached the gully in the distance.

“Who in the hell?” Will whispered.

“I wish it was family, but I think it’s Juan? You asked him to bring help to work at the Lodge.” Randy chuckled.  “I think it’s that sick-assed horn of his on that old beater he drives.”

“Or it could be some asshole who decided this would be a good hidey-hole.” Will growled. “Let’s get on the ATVs and check it out.”

Randy called over his shoulder at Wilma and Cassie. “Get armed, but stay out of sight.”

“We’re fine. Do whatever you need to.” Cassie answered.

Randy and Will climbed on ATVs and disappeared into the dark. Five minutes later, they rolled up to the wide ravine to shine a spotlight toward the trio of vehicles. The first was a rattle trap truck packed with boxes, bags and supplies. Three men stood at the front rack of the second truck shading their eyes from the glare of the light. The driver of the front truck stepped out of the driver’s door and approached the edge of the ditch in front of the cattle guard.

“Hey, Señor Will.” The man called out. “I come to help.”

“Miguel?” Will called out.

“Sí.” Miguel called out. “I bring Elaina and others. You make a few changes.”

“Yeah.” Give us a minute to lower the guard. “Come on across then follow us to the Lodge and park the vehicles in front. We all go inside so we can talk.”

“Señor Will, is something wrong?” Miguel asked.

“Nothing at all. We have to check for the infection before we get everyone settled.” Will responded.

“I understand, but we have women and children.” Miguel answered.

“No problem. We got a couple women to check them.” Will answered. “We do the exam or you can turn around and head back south.”

No, Señor Will, it is little to ask. Is no problema.” Miguel answered.

Will nodded to Randy and he began turning the wheel to lower the cattle guard. A minute later all three trucks were led to the Lodge and parked at the front door. Randy followed after raising the cattle guard again. When the vehicles were parked, Will led seven men, eight women and five children into the Lodge.

When the vehicles were parked and Will led the new arrivals into the lodge, Randy stood at the door still holding his rifle at the ready.

“What is this?” Why are you carrying a gun inside?” Wilma berated the Randy.

“We’re going to do a quick health check.” Will ignored Wilma and announced.

“Ladies, if you will escort the women and children into the kitchen and give them in a once over, Randy and I will check the men. Everyone we bring through the gate will be doing this. No matter who they’re kin to.”

Wilma scowled. “Hmmmm. I suppose it’s necessary.”

When Cassie followed the assemblage of women and children Randy stopped her at the door and stuck a handgun in her hand. She pulled her hand back but Randy leaned close.

“You will always carry when new folks come in to the camp.”  He nodded toward the others.  “One infected and we all pay the price.”

Cassie slid the revolver into the back of her pants and followed the other into the conference room at the front of the hall.

Ten minutes later the women reappeared to see the men sitting around the main room, holding a drink. They were laughing and drinking like long lost friend.

“Señor Will, it is bad in Larado. The muertos came from San Antonio the first day with familia. It’s busy at the check points, but this was loco. They just opened the gate and let people go. The first night the muertos sat up and killed familia and amigos.” Miguel explained.

“We had already begun packing to come up for the job when it happened.  We gathered family and left before dawn.” A short thick man by the name of Pablo added. “The first day was realmente terrible.”

“This is all very interesting, but you men have families to get settled.” Wilma announced.  She turned to Will.  “I’m assuming you have places for these people set up since they were expected.  I would suggest you get the women and children settled then if you men want to sit around swapping lies, you can do it without the children passing out from exhaustion.”

Will looked startled. “Oh. Yes. I guess we should.”

Miguel chuckled. “If I might suggest, my family will return to the staff housing with my brother and his family. There is plenty of room for both and my mother. That leaves two families to provide housing for.”

“Sounds good.” Will answered. “Take them to the cabins closest to the staff housing. You know which ones. Anything they need, make a list. We’ll try to find it. For now, get everyone settled. Don’t forget to turn on the water at the side of the house.  The batteries should be charged enough from the solar panels so lights won’t be a problem.  Give us an hour and we’ll bring a big pot of venison stew to staff housing.”

Miguel and Pablo hustled the crowd back into vehicles and drove around the Lodge to the first of the designated cabins. After leading a family of four inside and turning on a few lights, Miguel went to the side of the cabin to turn the water on.  He reappeared to lead the next vehicle to the second cabin twenty yards away. Again, he took the time to walk the family inside and turn on the water.

He pointed to a larger cabin of similar design closer to the lodge and advised. “We will be there. Clean up and come in an hour for an evening meal.”

The second vehicle was left at the front of the cabin and the family disappeared inside. Miguel and Pablo moved the truck to the front of the staff cabin.

“Wish we hadn’t loss my truck.” Pablo sighed.

“You are here, hermano and the familia is seguro.”

“Safe?  Are you sure? Pablo asked.

Once she turned back on the blacktop, she slowed and pulled out a map and tossed it into Matt’s lap. “Figure out where we are and the best way to get to Hondo.”

“Hondo is back toward San Antonio.” Matt protested.

“No shit, Sherlock.” Tate snapped. “I told you I need a new ride.”

“How do you know you can find a truck there?” Matt asked.

“There’s a Mack dealer there. Saw the trucks with my dad a few years back. Dozens of rigs lined up out in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the biggest dealerships in Texas.”

“It’s at least sixty miles.” Matt protested as he examined the map.

“I imagine that’s about right.” Tate answered.

“I don’t suppose I can talk you out of it.” Matt argued.


“Alright, then I suggest we weave through the back road until we get to FM 426 then catch that into Hondo.” He took the time to designate the route he had picked out then finished by adding. “If that works for you, take the next right.”

Tate downshifted, as they approached the turn off. “Sounds good.”

Matt asked. “Where is the dealership?”

“South side of town.”

Tate downshifted then turned on a narrow blacktop. She accelerated, clutched and shifted until she was rolling along at forty miles per hours. The white truck rumbled down the highway all alone passing stalled and abandoned vehicles.

Tate glanced at Matt. “I figured we’d hold up tonight then head into town in the morning. By the time we get there, the light will be going and I don’t want to go into a populated area in the dark. I’ve done that before and it’s ugly. I got a place in mind that is remote enough to be safe.”

Matt looked around the truck and at the woman sitting next to him. “Why did you come after me?”

“Simple. Those people need you.” Tate answered.

“I don’t know about that.” Matt whispered morosely as he stared out the side window.

She nudged Matt’s arm and nodded toward the road ahead. “What do we have here?”

Matt studied the line of vehicles moving at a slow even pace toward them. Tate reached into her duffle bag and handed him binoculars. He brought the glasses to his eyes and studied half a dozen vehicles heading their way.

The lead vehicle, a pickup with big tires and a roll bare had two men in the cab and two rifle-toting, rough-looking men in the back. Another truck, a lot older and in really bad shape followed the first.

Behind the second truck was a flatbed with a cage up the sides and over the top. Canvas had been stretched across the top. Inside the truck stood women and a few children while on either side of the vehicle walked men. Platforms had been welded onto the back and side of the vehicle for the men to ride on if they picked up speed. Behind the open bed truck was a SUV, an old style Oldsmobile with a glistening paint job splattered with smears of dark brown. The last vehicle was another pickup with two people in back clinging to the hood of the cab.

“What do you think?” Tate asked.

“Pull in to that drive near the shed up ahead.” Matt said.

“Do you think they’ll attack us?”

“They aren’t making any moves, but I don’t like the looks of those women in the cage. Guns out, we need to look ready for trouble.” Matt opened the passenger door and draped his elbow over the door with the military weapon and his garb in plain sight. He threw his hat at Tate. “Put that on and don’t let ‘em get a good look at your face. We don’t want them to know you’re a woman.”

Tate scowled, but put the hat on and pulled it down to hide her face. She held the steering wheel with her knee while she slid her arms into a camouflaged shirt to cover her arms. She picked up the Mossberg rifle and propped it against her leg with the barrel sticking out the window.

Tate down-shifted and let the truck slow. The caravan of vehicles continued to approach. She glanced at Matt. He looked mean and dangerous as he hung over the opened door with the automatic weapon in hand. He relaxed his angle and the barrel of the weapon drifted toward the lead driver.

“ Pull over and stop. Let the lead truck come to us.” Matt ordered. “Pick up the radio when they can see and act like you having a conversation.”

“Got it.” She answered as she down-shifted again and slowed to a stop letting the truck idle.

The convoy of vehicles stopped about twenty feet from the big rig. The driver opened the door and stepped out. He wore forest camo and carried a hunting rifle. He pushed the brim of his hunting had up to expose a faced lined and darkened by lots of time in the sun and outdoors. After examining Matt for a full minute, he called out.

“Is that what the Army is driving these days?”

“You folks doing okay?” Matt asked as he watched the men walking along side of the cage jump to the platforms and start speaking to the women and children. The women in mass stepped back from the men and clustered toward the opposite side of the truck.

The driver scowled. “As good as we can be with every dead fuck in the area trying to eat us.”

“Where you folks headed?” Matt asked.

“Got kin up in the National Forest. We’re headed up that way if we can make it through.” The man answered. “Where are the rest of your Army boys?” He looked around as if worried.

Matt laughed. “Closer than you think. We’re looking for a place to hold up tonight.” He nodded at the truck. “Who you got in the cage?”

“Wives and kids. We’re keeping ‘em safe.” The man answered. “Got miles to go. Maybe we’ll be seeing you around soldier.”

“A good chance.” Matt growled. “A damned good chance.”

The man got back in the truck and put the truck in gear. They headed out with the other vehicles following close behind. One by one the vehicles passed. Tate and Matt watched the procession. As the cage passed a red headed woman in back mouthed the same words over and over again.

“Your shopping trip is going to have to wait.” Matt muttered as he flopped down into the seat.

“I didn’t like the looks of that bunch.” Tate announced. “And it sure didn’t look like those women were happy being in that fucking cage.”

“I saw a padlock on the door of it.” Matt answered. “It’ll take ‘em less than a mile for them to figure out we’re not part of a unit. They’ll send someone back to take care of us and maybe grab the rig and our guns.”

“It’ll be dark by then.”

Matt made a quick survey of the area then grinned at Tate. “Perfect. Let’s park the truck over there.” He pointed at the nearby shed.

They parked the rig outside the small shed. Tate shared a meal with Matt while he outlined plan. The shed was three sided shelter with an opening at each end of on the front wall. It included three stalls with several hay bales stacked in the first two stalls while the last was empty.

Matt walked into the stall in the darkest corner of the building. They used hay stuffed in a jacket and shirt from the truck to create the illusion of men sitting on bales of hay around a small lantern. Tate adjusted the hat Matt had given her on the top of one of the hay figures to complete the illusion. They turned down the small LED lantern and slipped out of the shed.

Matt led Tate to row of massive round hay bale thirty feet from the back of the shed and beyond a wooden fence. He gave her a leg up. “Lie down and don’t give them a silhouette to shoot at. Don’t come down, we’re not alone out here.”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

Matt ignored her question. “Use that silencer if you can get a clean shot. Just don’t shoot me.”

“Fuck you.” Tate whispered as she settled between the two bales and stretched out on the rounded hay.

“You may be here all night. Whatever happens, stay there until morning or I come get you.” Matt ordered.

Tate whispered. “There! Look. I see lights, a couple miles down the road.”

They watched the lights for a minute. The lights slowed to a crawl. “This is it.”

Matt slipped into the trees and ran toward the lights. He jogged until he was half a mile from the shed. He watched as the vehicle in the distance stop and raised his binoculars. He watched six men climb out of the vehicle and gather for a short conference.

Matt glanced over his shoulder and could see the dim glow of the lantern through the back opening in the shed. He squatted down into the tall grass at the side of the road. He watched one of the men direct two men one way, another two in yet another direction and the last man followed him when he moved out.

Two of the men crossed the road and disappeared into the brush to work their way to the far side of the shed. The second pair climbed over the fence and headed into the woods to circle around the back of the shed. The last two men stepped into the ditch along-side the fence and crept toward the shed.

The leader, anxious to get to the task soon outpaced his companion. Just as the man lagging behind passed, Matt rose from the grass, grabbed the man’s head under the chin and shoved the blade of his K-Bar under his chin into his brain. Matt eased him into the grass. He picked up the rifle and his handgun behind a fence post.

Matt turned and disappeared into the brush. He ran back into woods and made a mad dash to outdistance the leader.

The leader walked forward with an arrogance that belayed confidence in numbers. He didn’t bother to check on the man supposedly following.

Matt got to the tree he had staked out earlier and peaked around the trunk of the spreading oak. The limbs reaching toward the road made long deep shadows in the waning light.

Suddenly the leader’s steps slowed as he noticed he could no longer hear his companion behind him.

Ten feet from the tree he turned and whispered into the dark. “Arnold? Where in the fuck are you, you idiot. I told you to stay close.” He turned to retrace his footsteps.

Matt lean around the tree and hissed. “Psssst.”

The leader turned back and stopped mid-step when Matt’s knife appeared in his chest. The leader fell to his knees, looking down at the blade sticking from his body. Matt walked to the man and grabbed his knife. He pulled it from the man’s chest and drove it into his eye. The body collapsed into the grass. Matt turned back to the woods and disappeared back into the shadows.

“There may be a few places that we’ll have to portage, but that’s the best option right now. Between the blown bridges and infected blocking roads, we have no choice.” Brian argued. “Besides, the city has been widening the creek for storm drainage the last couple years. We have to chance it.”

Bill grinned. “We could paddle board out. I always wanted to try that.”

Brian frowned. “I’m hoping for a ten or twelve-foot inflatable boat. Maybe two, if we’re lucky. We’ll float down the creek and right past the infected.”

Leon stepped closer to Brian and whispered. “You think it’s going to be that easy, boss?”

Brian shrugged as he pulled a crowbar from behind the seat. “Let’s get in and get the show on the road. Billy, Leon you’re with me. We get the boat. The rest of you, get food, clothes, weapons and whatever you can find useful. Dale, stay by the truck and warn us if anything comes up.”

Everyone, but Dale headed for the door. Brian popped a side door open and turned to the others. “Wait.”

He stepped inside the building and listened. He heard nothing. He studied the shadows of the warehouse lit by battery powered emergency lighting. Finally, he flicked on a LED light and fanned the beam across the room for a better look. He saw nothing. He sniffed. The only smell was dust, rubber and plastics. It was the smell of trade goods, not the smell of the dead. After one more pass of the light across the interior he walked to the overhead door and examined the system. He pulled the release cord hanging overhead. The lock released and Brian used the handle to roll up the door.

Light spilled into the room. Immediately, he saw four twelve foot flat-bottom Jon Boats on a rack, and two different inflatable rafts, two canoes and kayaks of multiple sizes. There were pallets of goods spread around the back room organized by departments.

Everyone stood staring. “Where do we start?” Paula asked.

Billy pointed to the boats. “Which one sir?”

Brian drug his hand across the top of his head cringing at the dirt and grim imbedded in in the stubble. He took a deep breath and frowned at his own body odor. He wondered if any of them would ever have a bath and feel clean again.

“Juan and Leon, check out the storefront. If it’s empty, take the ladies and gather, food, clothes, camping shit and anything you think will be useful. Billy and I’ll take care of getting three boats, trolling motors and GPS.”

“Three boats?” Juan asked. “Do we need three?”

“These flat-bottom boats have a shallow draft. Only problem is they also have a maximum weight limit of four to five hundred pounds. We’ll divide the weight between the three boats. We’ll only be able to carry an extra sixty to seventy pounds in supplies so be selective.”

“What’s priority?” Leon asked.

“Get emergency food, back packer’s meals in pouches, batteries, a few clothes and water. If you have time find and fill up camel backs for each of us.” Brian answered. “You have twenty minutes.” He turned to Billy. “Let’s get busy.”

Billy walked to the boat rack. “How are we doing this?”

“Fuck if I know.” Brian answered as walked to the opened overhead door. He looked at the back bumper of the truck and sighed when he didn’t see an adjustable trailer hitch. “Well, fuck. That limits our options. Come on.”

Brian grabbed the end of the first fiberglass boat. “We stacked them in the back of the truck, one on top of the other. Then we find trolling motors, half a dozen batteries and tarps.”

“Tarps?” Billy asked.

“Hopefully, if the infected can’t see us, maybe we can slip by unnoticed.”

“What happens if we do make it to the river?”

“Who in the hell knows.” Brian answered. “Stay on the water or walk until we get wheels.”

Brian and Billie loaded three Jon boats by the time the others came back from deeper in the store. Juan threw both men wet towels.

“There was a water dispenser in the break room. Thought you might like to cool off. This shit’s supposed to stay cool.”

Brian recognized the blue cloth. “It can’t hurt. Have we got everything?” He ran the cloth over his face and draped it around his neck.

Leon stepped up. “We found backpacks and filled one for each of us, trail food, extra water, batteries, and first aid supplies.” He nodded toward the women who now wore cargo pants and t-shirts. “We got extra socks for everyone, ammo, knives, camp supplies, and water purification.”

Billy stacked two more cases of water next to three cases of bagged meals in the truck bed. “That’s it, sir.”

“Let’s get moving.” Brian announced. “Everyone in the truck.”