Archive for June, 2016

Now what?

Posted: June 27, 2016 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS

Yes, this is the end of book 2.

I’m working diligently on book 3. I will be continuing the series in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, check out the 1st book published on Amazon.

Terror In Texas:

http://bit.ly/TerrorInTexas

Short Story in the “Torn Apart” series. Hard Choice.

http://bit.ly/HardChoice-Hoaks

 

The roar of the running water grew louder. The flood escaping around the dam created by the tree had grown rougher and more dangerous by the minute. Brian waved everyone onward when he saw Leon sit up and take control of the Jon boat again.

Leon looked over his shoulder and pointed toward the blocked water. He shouted something, but it was lost amid the pelting rain and rushing water. When he drew closer to Brian, he yelled. “When it breaks loose, we need to be outta the water, man!”

Brian waved his understanding and gunned the engine as much as he could. He carefully worked his way to the center of the stream and let the flood water drive them from the danger of the military base.

The light of the burning base faded while the rain swallowed the shores. The further away from the base they got the more muted the sound of the remaining gunfire and the raging water escaping the willow tree and pile up of debris.

Leon guided his boat next to Brian and called over. “It’s gonna bust loose soon. There’s too much water coming through!”

Brain answered. “It won’t be just debris, there’ll be dead bodies and those bastards will still be moving. We sure don’t want to be in the water with ‘em.”

“There’re a couple places a mile down the creek.” Leon answered. “A contractor supply company I know of has a supply yard that backs up to the creek.”

Brian gave a thumb’s up. “Lead the way.”

The tropical storm finally began to wane leaving the trio of boats motoring down the creek shrouded in the darkness. The only sound was the rushing water surrounding them. They moved further and further downstream through residential areas into a commercial section of the city. The water jostled the boats, slamming chunks of debris into the boats. Each slam against the aluminum boats jolted the occupants and causing yelps of surprise and terror.

Leon guided the Jon boat closer to the western shore watching every feature. “Stay close!” He yelled over his shoulder as he looked off into the dark beyond the shoreline. A roar could be heard in the distance.

“Make it quick, Leon. I think we’re running out of time.” Brian called back.

Juan guided his boat closer to Brian. “Is Dale okay? He ain’t moved since we left the truck.”

Suddenly, Leon turned his boat toward the shore and waved excitedly for the others to follow. All they could see was hurricane fencing at the edge of the water.

Leon grabbed the fence, held the boat in place and retrieved a small flashlight from his pocket. He pointed the narrow beam of light into the dark beyond. “Hang on! I think this is it.”

“Well is it or not?” Brian yelled.

A log slammed into the side of Brian’s boat as he held the craft against the fence a few feet down from Leon. “Damned it, Dale. Help me hold this boat.”

Dale shuddered then slowly got to his feet. The boat tilted and swung out with the sudden shift in weight.

“Sit down and grab the fucking fence, Dale!” Brian yelled.

Dale turned and the tarp covering him fell from his shoulders. Leon turned and the beam of his flashlight whipped around to pan across Dale’s face. Brian saw the gray pallor and vacant gaze of his eyes.

“He’s infected!” Paula screamed and released the fence she had been holding.

Dale moved his right leg toward Brian. His foot caught under the front seat. He fell toward the back of the boat, his chest landing on the center seat, his arms still reaching for Brian.

Brian kicked out, lost his grip on the fence and the boat spun out into the torrent. He glanced at the others but could do nothing. He faced a monster. Brian kicked out and struck Dale in the face. The impact barely registered. Dale pulled himself toward Brian all the while his jaws gnashing and his teeth snapping.

The rolling water spun the boat, while debris slammed against the aluminum. Brian pulled a Ka-bar knife from his belt and jabbed at Dale’s face.

The first swipe was deflected when Dale flung his arm out to grab at Brian’s leg. The monster, that had been Dale, opened his mouth and leaned toward Brian’s flesh.

Brian kicked with his free leg into Dale’s forehead. The momentum threw the massive body off balance and it fell to the side of the boat. The boat tipped into the roiling water drawing gallons into the bottom.

Brian stabbed the knife into Dale’s head and gave the massive body one last shove. Throwing his weight against the opposite side of the boat, Brian shoved into the thick body one last time. The massive girth rolled over the side of the boat and disappeared but not before scooping up even more water into the boat.

When the body slipped from the boat, the craft popped back to the opposite side and Brian was almost thrown head over heels into the water on the opposite side. He righted himself, and straightened the boat with into the current. Suddenly Leon and Juan appeared on either side of his boat.

“You okay, man?” Juan asked as both he and Billy steadied Brian’s boat.

“Yeah. Asshole died and turned.” Brian answered. He pulled his camo tarp back into the boat and stuffed it under the seat.

“We have to get outta the creek. It’s higher than I’ve ever seen it.” Leon announced. “All the pumps have shut down and all that shit in the creeks is going to be real trouble.”

Brian waved to Billy. “Step over here.”

Billy clutched at the Jon boat and pulled the two crafts closer. He stepped into Brian’s boat.

“Stay close and the first place we can get the boats out of the water. Stay close to the west bank!” Brian led out, the other staying close behind. He yelled at Billy. “Use that spotlight to find a place to land.”

Leon yelped. “There!” He pointed toward a sandstone mission tower silhouetted against the sky in the distance. “Around the bend! I know that place.”

Brian slipped in behind Leon’s boat and motioned Juan to follow. The roar of the water grew louder while the swirling torrent climbed higher and higher up the bank. Large chunks of debris floated by at a terrifying speed.

The three boats made it around the bend and what had once been a tranquil garden came into view. Now ornamental trees and shrubs had been uprooted and ripped from the shoreline leaving long angry gouges in the landscaping.

Leon ran his boat into the ragged slopping bank. Margo jumped out of the boat and pulled at the aluminum craft until it scraped at the gravel underfoot. Leon joined her and began pulling and tugging the aluminum over the ragged ground.

Brian drove the bow of his boat a few feet further downstream into gravel and sand. Billy jumped out and tugged the boat up the grassy slope. Brian jumped out and together the two men wrestled to move the water laddered craft.  Leon rushed to help.

The roar of the flowing water suddenly grew louder. Amid the sound of the rushing water was the noise of breaking branches and collapsing structures.

Juan drove his boat into the grass another twenty feet further down the bank.  The craft began to drift back into the water before anyone could get out and begin pulling it onto the bank. The trolling motor was losing the battle against the current that now raced past the shore.

Billy dropped the front of the Brian’s boat and ran to Juan’s boat. He jerked at the bow of the boat. He pulled Margo from the boat and screamed. “Help me!”

He grabbed her hand and slammed it onto the side of the boat. Juan jumped at the bank and slipped under the rushing water. His head bobbed back up and Brian arrived just in time to pull Juan to the shore alongside the boat.

Juan climbed up the bank and joined Billy and Margo pulling the boat into the grass.

Brian led the two men back to retrieve his boat. They quickly off loaded the supplies and tipped the boat to be rid on the water, once and for all.

“Pick up the boats!” Get them as far up from shore as we can!” Brian yelled.

With two bodies on each boat they stumbled, tripped and man-handled the boats across the garden to a rock faced terrace. They hauled the boats up the rise then flopped down on the wet grass. Everyone sat there for a full minute exhausted.

They watched as a massive floating trash pile rolled and churned amid the wall of water. The torrent rose up the bank spreading toward terrace where they rested.

Brian stood and reached for the boat, but Leon raised his hand.

“No need.” Leon said. “Look, the water is going down already.”

Still a little unsure, Brian watched through the darkness as more trash and bodies floated by amid the rolling water. “Let’s find some shelter.”

He looked toward the structure behind the garden. It was dark. No sights shown through the windows. The grounds appeared to be surrounded by a stone wall about eight feet tall. Brian turned to Billy. “Come with me.” He glanced toward Leon, Juan and the women. “Stay put. We’re going to check the place out. Watch for trouble. If you hear anything, get two of the boats back in the water and get the hell outta here. We’ll follow if we can.”

Leon and Juan nodded grimly. The two women looked near drowned and shell shocked. Both shivered uncontrollably.

“Get a couple of Mylar blankets out for the women.” Brain added as he walked away.

Ten minutes later after gathering packs, Brian led the foursome into the structure. They were safe….

 

The End

Jack smiled and whispered. “Thank you.”

Liz patted his arm. “I’m going to fix you and the kids some soup. I want you to try to eat a bit more, okay?”

Jack slid against the wall and Trace crawled into the bed with her father. Liz looked to Cody. His face still mirrored his distrust.

“Cody? You want to come help me pick out some soup?” Liz asked the youth.

“Doesn’t matter.” Cody snarled.

Liz gave him a sad smile and opened a cabinet door. “Probably doesn’t to you, but maybe to your dad and sister.”

Cody shrugged and walked to the cabinet where the microwavable soup was stored. “Shit!” He pulled one after another out of the cabinet. When he noticed the fruit cups sitting next to the soup, he fell to his knees sobbing.

Liz wrapped her arm around his thin frame and whispered. “It’s alright. You and Trace will survive this. You have to be brave for your sister, now. This is terrible, but I promise you your dad will be at peace knowing you will be safe.”

Cody took a deep breath and pulled free. “It will never be alright.” He got to his feet and he picked out two cups of soup and a couple mixed fruit cups.”

Without a word, Cody heated the soup while Liz opened a fruit cup and pulled a plastic spoon from a drawer. Together, they carried the meals to large bed where Trace sat cross-legged with her father. She was talking about her favorite doll back home then drifted into how it was so good to be clean even if she didn’t have clean clothes. She was a typical preteen drifting from one topic to the next.

“Here.” Cody shoved chicken noodle soup in her hands.

“Oh, my favorite.” She dug the spoon in and took a big bite. She licked at the spoon then dug it in the thick sodium loaded sludge in utter rapture.

Liz laughed. “Do you like fruit salad?” She held out the small can.

“OMG! Two things?” Trace looked to her father. “Can I have two things to eat?”

Jack nodded. “If Ms. Liz tells you its okay, then it’s alright, sweetie.”

Trace leaned over and kissed her father’s damp check. “Thank you, daddy.”

“You need to go eat at the table, baby.”

“Yes sir.”

Jack looked toward his son. “Cody, you go eat with your sister. I need to speak to Ms. Liz.” Cody twisted his face to argue, but his father frowned slightly and added softly. “Do as I say, please.”

When the kids were out of earshot, Jack sighed. “It won’t be long.” Liz nodded and he continued. “Please, make sure I don’t turn.” He took a labored breath. “Give me peace.”

Liz tried to swallow her revulsion. “We will.”

“We left their mom.” A sob caught in his throat. “We didn’t know. We saw her walk out of the building where she died.” Jack whispered. “They know what will happen now.”

Liz, John and Harry took turns driving. It was slow going with the huge camper. What had been a decent place to hide, but turned into an albatross driving through the arid countryside of west Texas. The camper got terrible mileage and they had to stop once already. They had been lucky, there was no one around and they could syphon gas from a delivery access port. It wasn’t easy using the hand pump because the fuel level was low but they finally filled the tank.

Meanwhile, Jack grew steadily worse. Cody and Tracy huddled close to their father until he finally sent them to rest in the bed over the front seats.

It was the first time Liz witnessed a person succumbing to the infection. She watched Jack as he worsened, drifting in and out of consciousness by mid-afternoon. His complexion had turned an ashy gray. Beads of moisture had disappeared and now his skin was dry and looked as if it was aging by the minute. He had taken to holding a towel over his lower faced since each cough spewed drops of spittle and blood across the blanket covering him. Each breath came in a ragged gasp.

“Not long.” Jack whispered. “I hurt too much. Please…stop and help me out.”

“Harry, we need to stop.” Liz called out from the back of the camper.

Harry eased up on the accelerator and the camper began to slow. “There a small farm house ahead.” He turned in the drive and the camper rolled over the culvert and through a gate. “John, we need to make sure there isn’t any infected around before we get anyone out.”

Harry pulled into the drive of an old rundown shack. The house was faded gray wood with only hints of paint remaining. It was built with two sections and a dog trot between. They could see through the breezeway. The yard was overgrown and littered with run-down remnants of antiquated farm equipment. Under a spreading massive oak was a forty year old green Oldsmobile pitted and marred by massive patches of rust.

Harry pulled into the yard and stopped the camper. He glanced back and saw the two children standing in the bedroom doorway protecting their father. The boy looked angry while the little girl had big tears sliding down her face. She chewed at her fingernails.

“Let’s do this.” Harry said.

John gave a quick nod then turned to Liz. “Stay with them.” He nodded toward the kids.

“I will.” Liz answered.

Harry and John stepped out of the camper and with machetes in hand headed toward the house. They disappeared into the left part of the house only to return a few minutes later and enter the right side of the breezeway. A few minutes later Harry crossed the dirt yard to the camper.

“It’s clear. John found a mattress. He’s pulling it out into the breezeway.”

Liz reached out and gently moved the two children to the aside.

Harry entered the camper and walked up to Jack. “Sorry about this, man.”

Jack struggled to get his right leg off the bed. Finally, Harry reached down and gently pulled his legs over the edge of the bed.

“You can’t just leave him!” Cody protested.

“Hush.” Jack whispered. “My decision.”

Liz reached out to wrap her arm around the two children. “We’re not leaving him. We’ll stay as long as your dad needs us.”

Cody jerked away, but Trace turned into Liz and buried her face against Liz’s chest.

Harry half carried, half drug Jack to the door where John waited. When they got him down the three steps, John and Harry carried Jack to the house. They laid him on a frayed blanket covering an old mattress.

Liz followed with the children in tow. Without the sound of the massive engine of the camper, the silence was heavy and only disturbed by Trace’s whimpering.

Jack sighed and smiled at the gathering.

“I’m fine now. You can leave me.” Jack whispered. “It won’t be long. I can feel myself slipping away.

“No. We won’t leave you.” Liz answered.

John disappeared into the rooms on the right and brought two kitchen chairs out into the breezeway. H settled on one and nodded for Liz to take the other. She sat down and pulled Trace into her lap. Cody sat down at the edge of the mattress. Harry walked from the breezeway and reappeared a few minutes later with several bottles of water.

It was a hot afternoon and the hint of a breeze did little to dissipate the heat of from the Texas sun on the tin roof of the breezeway. Before long everyone was glistening with moisture. Everyone, but Jack. His breathing had grown more shallow and his skin dry and cold. He struggled for each breath.

Suddenly, Jack’s eyes opened and he looked at his son. Cody clutched at hand. Trace slipped from Liz’s lap and fell to her knees next to her father. “I love you, both so much.” He coughed and blood tricked from his mouth. “They’ll take care of you.”

Cody knelt next to his father. “I don’t want them. I want you.”

Jack smiled. “Don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you get what you need. I love you son.”

Trace kissed her father’s hand. “Please, Daddy?”

“Love you, baby girl.” Jack’s eyes drifted closed, his chest rose one last time then lay still.

Liz watched as tears slid down her cheeks. After several minutes, Harry laid a hand on Liz’s shoulder.

Liz rose and reached down to pull Trace to her feet and led the little girl out into the afternoon sun. Trace hid her face against Liz’s side as they walked toward the camper. John led Cody out into the sun to follow. Harry followed a few minutes later.

By the time they got to the edge of the yard a spiral of gray smoke crept from the eaves of the breezeway.

Outside the camper, Cody stood stone still, while Trace whimpered. “My daddy….”

Liz pulled Trace into the camper with the rest of the ensemble following behind. Harry climbed behind the wheel as bright orange flames broke through the windows at the left of the breezeway.

“Be at peace, man. We got this covered.” Harry whispered.

The kids and Liz settled at the table while John fell into the passenger seat.

Harry made a U-turn and began to head toward the gate when two vehicles stopped in front of the driveway. The deep ditch on either side of the culvert ensured they stayed where they were.

“What is it?” Liz asked.

“Not sure. Two vehicles.” Harry answered. He grabbed his shotgun and laid it across his lap. “Get the kids to the back of the camper and on the floor. This goes south, get out that back window and into the woods.” Liz hustled the kids away. “John, you ready for this?”

“Fuck no, but I don’t see any way around it.” John said and he checked his load.

“Try to stay cool, man.” Harry stood up and walked back to the door and turned the handle. “Give me a few seconds so they can’t mow us both down at the same time.”

John sighed. “Optimistic, aren’t we?”

Harry stepped out into the late afternoon heat. The setting sun silhouetted four men stepping from two vehicles.

“You light that fire?” A deep voice called out.

“Yep.” Harry answered. “Didn’t have shovels to bury a dead man and didn’t want to leave him for the buzzards.”

The tallest of the four stepped forward. “Family?”

“You might say.” Harry took a step closer and lowered the barrel of his shotgun. “You folks aren’t heading back toward Sierra Blanca, are you? We passed by there and it’s overrun. Really bad there.”

Liz could hear voices but couldn’t hear what was being said. “Stay here, both of you. You hear shots, get out the back window and run. I’ll be right behind you.”

Cody nodded as Liz walked toward the front of the camper. She could see the men facing Harry. They wore western hats, rough work clothes and boots. They looked Hispanic. Liz’s jaw clinched. If they came from Mexico….

“Thanks for the warning.” The tall man answered. “Where you folks headed? There ain’t much out here.”

Harry hesitated a moment then answered. “Looking for a safe place to hide.”

Liz slammed the camper door open and raced toward the tall stranger. “Randy!”

“Liz?” Randy answered as she flew into his arms.

Harry and Liz changed places. He settled behind the wheel and kept watch for pursuers using the side mirror. Liz gathered her medical supplies and made her way to the man and his children.

“The minute I see him, I’m getting this rig cranked and we’re out of here.” Harry announced. “Get that guy fixed up.”

Liz studied the man sitting at the table. His sandy blond hair was matted and greasy. His thin face was drawn and haggard looking.

Finally, she spoke. “Hi. My name is Liz. You have an injury?”

“My name is Jack Green.” The man answered. “Needn’t bother.”

“Well, let me try to patch you up for now.” Liz answered as she passed him a compression bandage. “How old are your children?”

“Cody is thirteen. Trace is only nine.” Jack answered.

Liz smiled at the kids. “Hi. Are you two hungry?” Both kids nodded emphatically. “We have some food in the cabinet in the kitchen behind you. Get something to eat and drinks. Bring something for your dad.”

When the kids had stepped away, Liz pulled the cloth from the wound and cringed at the site of a human bite.

“I know what this means. Your friends should have left me behind.” Jack protested.

“Well, they didn’t, so now I’m going to try to help.” Liz responded.

“It’s a waste of resources. I’m going to die.” Jack answered.

“Look, I’m doing this for the kids. They need to learn to trust us. You’ll be gone and we’re their only hope of survival. I don’t want to have to worry they’ll sneak out in the middle of the night.”

Jack looked down. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m grateful you took us in.”

The engine of the camper roared to life and the side door jerked open. John climbed into the camper and slammed the door. “Go!” Still gasping for air he slumped into the passenger seat. “Those fuckers are crazy.” He spun the seat around and glared at Jack. “What in the hell did you bring down on us?”

“Sorry.” Jack whispered. “We were….”

“Enough!” Liz interrupted. “It’s not their fault. They could be the same people that attacked us and have been looking for us all along. They might have driven by and seen the padlock broken. These people could be caught up in our problems not the other way around.”

John sighed. “I suppose you could have a point there.”

“It doesn’t matter how they found us. I hope your little stunt slows them down enough to get us out of this.” Harry laughed.

“I thought it worked out pretty well.” John rubbed at his side. “It didn’t help that cracked rib, though. I’m getting too old for this shit.”

“Hey, at least, we’re driving in style.” Harry answered. “Get your rifle and be ready in case that crew follows us.”

“Got it.” He grabbed a bottle of water and a package of trail mix. He went to the back of the vehicle and opened the window.

Liz poured peroxide over the wound and finished bandaging Jack’s shoulder. The children came back from the kitchen, their arms filled with packages and bottles. They squeezed in next to their father and began gulping at the food.

Liz returned the supplies to the cabinet then settled at the table across from the family. “Been a while since you had something to eat?”

Jack sipped at a bottle of water. “Three days, I think. A dozen of us were in a small “mom-n-pop” store. We’d been there nearly a week. It was amazing. It had a wood stove, a creek in the back and plenty of canned and packaged foods. I guess they supplied hunters and back packers. We ate packaged foods, cleaned up in the creek, and had plenty of water. They even had some clothes.  We found clean shirts and cargo pants, boots and socks. Shit, we thought we were in heaven.”

“I’ll bet.” Liz answered.

Jack sighed as he wiped at the moisture that had collected on his face. “Can the kids get cleaned up?”

“Sure.” Liz smiled at the kids. “Just use a sink full of water. We’re trying to save what’s in the tank since we don’t know if we can get it filled up again on our way.”

The kids headed to the back of the camper.

“You sound like you have a destination in mind. Where are you heading?” Jack asked.

My dad has property in the mountains. We’re headed there.”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I won’t be around much longer and my kids will be left alone. Will you take them with you?”

“Dad, we don’t need them!” Cody called from the back of the camper. “I’ll take care of us.”

Jack sighed. “Cody, you know what’s gonna happen. You saw what happened to your mom.”

“Dad?” Cody’s voice broke. “You can’t leave us. I won’t let you just give us away.” He ran to his father and collapsed into the seat next to him.

Liz got up and moved to the passenger seat. Tears threatened as she listened to Jack talking to his son.

“Cody, it’s time for you to grow up. I got bit, you know it and you know what it means. I want you to stay with these folks. They didn’t have to save us, but they did. You need help protecting your sister. You know what they did to those women in the store.”

“Dad?” Cody cried.

“Enough. I mean it. You promise to do what these folks say and help them protect your sister. She’s going to need you. Now, more than ever. Promise me.”

Cody remained quiet. The only sound was him sniffling. Finally he whispered. “Yes sir.”

Jack leaned back and took a long deep quivering breath. Trace came out of the bathroom and settled on the bench across from her father and brother.

For the first time Liz could see the younger child was a girl. She had dark hair that had been cut short with heavy bangs across her forehead. She had combed her hair.

When she gave her father a hint of a smile, her dimples reminded Liz of her own daughter. She quickly turned back to the road ahead. Two stray children would not replace the daughters she lost.

From the narrow gravel road, Harry found a blacktop the GPS identified was State Road 54. They turned on the highway and Harry kept the speedometer hovering around sixty miles after mile.

“This is dangerous. What if we come over a hill and run into something?” Liz protested.

“Is it any more dangerous than those assholes finding us?” Harry answered.

Liz shrugged. “You may have a point. “ She walked back to the father and children.

One look at the father and she announced.

“You need to lie down.”

Jack rose then slipped back into the seat. “You need to stop and leave me.” He sighed. “You can’t let me hurt my children.”

Liz reached out to gently pull Jack to his feet. “You come lay down. Right now, we need to let you rest.” When Jack lay down, she whispered. “We won’t let you hurt anyone, but for now, we need the kids to see they can trust us and you can help with that by letting us take care of you.”

They rode in silence for nearly thirty minutes before Randy pulled his foot from the accelerator and elbowed a dozing Miguel.

“Sí.” Miguel said then cleared his throat when he realized he’d nodded off. “What is it Señor Randy?”

“Ahead.” He answered.

They both looked toward half a dozen cars scattered across the road. Doors had been left open. The vehicles had been abandoned, no people living or infect seemed to be around. As they rolled closer, Randy pulled his handgun from the holster at his waist and slid it at the side of his right leg, next to the center console.

Miguel rolled down the window and laid his rifle on the window ledge. Randy glanced in his side mirror and noticed another rifle extend out the window of Pablo and Hugo’s truck. Randy drew closer to the vehicles.

“See anything?” Randy asked.

“No. I no see anyone.” Miguel answered.

Randy slowed as they rolled past the first car, an SUV. The white vehicle showed signs of abuse. They saw splotches of dark brown on the shattered head lights and along the front side panels and hood. The doors were thrown open. Inside, bags were torn open and the contents scattered. The back door gaped open with clothes hanging out.

Randy whispered. “There’re keys in the ignition.”

“Out of gas, maybe?” Miguel answered.

The trucks eased past the SUV and they drew near the next stalled car. It was an older sedan with a shattered grill and front end damaged. The doors were closed and again, no sign of the driver or occupants.

“What do you think?” Miguel asked.

Randy made a quick shrug. “No idea.”

He eased the truck around three more vehicles then a massive pileup came into view. At least a dozen vehicles blocked the road. The two vehicle at the front had crashed head on with several other vehicles slamming into the first car. The crashes were so violent none of those involved remained intact; all were reduced to massive piles of twisted and destroyed metal. Many had burned.

The road was completely blocked. The debris stretched from fence row to fence row. Among the crumpled metal was moving and thrashing bodies. The road was impassable. One side of the road was a wooded briar tangled wall. The opposite side had once been a pasture but now was tangled with massive stands of mesquite and clusters of cactus.

“What we do now?” Miguel asked.

“Get wire cutters out of the tool box behind the seat.” Randy answered. “Let’s get Pablo to come up and drive this truck. We’ll open the fence over there.” He pointed to an expanse between two fence posts with a shallowing of the ditch.

Miguel leaned out the window and waved at Pablo. “Vienen aquí Pablo!”

Pablo jumped from the truck and jogged toward the pickup.

Randy stepped out of the truck. “Tu disco.”

“Sí, I drive.” Pablo answered as he slid behind the wheel.

After putting on a pair of leather gloves, Randy pulled two machetes from behind the seat. He passed one to Miguel then turned to Pablo.

“Follow, but not too close. Let us pick a way through the mesquite. Don’t run over any of that shit. I don’t want to be changing a tire out there. We don’t have a clue where all those people went.”

“Sí, Señor Randy.”

Miguel and Randy walked to the barbed-wire fence.  Miguel cut the top strand next to a cedar post. Randy grabbed the end and pulled it back to the nearest post and tied it off. They repeated the procedure two more times. Randy waved for the trucks to follow.

Randy and Miguel walked to the south and led the trucks around a massive stand of mesquite. The trucks rumbled after the men barely out of idle. Past the mesquite stand was open grass for nearly a quarter mile then they faced with a massive rock formation.

Randy called out to Miguel. “Check to the north, I’ll go south.” He held up his had to stop the truck. “Wait.”

The truck stopped and Pablo threw a wave from the window and called out. “Be careful amigo.”

Randy called out.“Miguel, don’t take any chances. We don’t know what happened to the people from the accident and stalled cars.” Randy called out.

“Sí.” Miguel answered as he disappeared around the outcropping.

Randy walked a hundred feet before he noticed the first few drops of dark brown in the sand. He walked another thirty feet before he squatted and picked up a pencil of mesquite and poked at a dark puddle. The pool broke into pieces leaving chunks of white chips and a few unidentifiable chunks.

He stood and began following a trail of brown droplets. A stand of mesquite had long ago sprouted at the base of the rocks. Randy walked toward the edge of the mesquite. He walked to the edge and headed around and suddenly stopped in his tracks.

Ahead, Randy saw the remains of several bodies lying in the sand and rocks where Behind them was a solid wall of stone. The bodies were covered in wounds. Flesh was torn from the bodies, limbs separated from torsos, leaving the remains barely be identified as human. The stench rolled over him in a blanketing cloud of disgusting smells.

Randy gulped and the remnants of breakfast spewed from his lips. He leaned over propping himself up with his hands on his knees. He stood for several minute, struggling to control the dry heaves tearing at his stomach. When he finally got himself under control he pulled his elbow over his lower face and stared at the remains.

The survivors of the car crash had escaped through the fence and out into the brush and mesquite. They were being chased by infected. They ran and were slaughtered when they reached the wall. Even in the sorry state of the bodies as Randy stood there, heads turned his way, mouths opened, and teeth gnashed.

Randy looked around, suddenly frightened. Sand, desert, the infected. Where were they? He turned and began retracing his path. He could feel eyes bearing down on him and quickened his step. A few minutes later he was jogging then, running. He felt as if he could feel hot breath on his neck. He met the trucks and jumped into the passenger seat of his truck.

“Drive….” He called out as the first of the infected appeared in the distance. “Follow Miguel.”

The truck tires spun into action at Randy’s harried command. “Go!” He ordered. “They’re coming!”

Both trucks roared past the rock formation. They accelerated until they saw a man jogging toward them in the distance. The familiar shape of Miguel walking toward them made Pablo slow the truck.

Randy opened the door and Miguel slid in next to Pablo.

“It’s open ahead. Straight shot back to the highway.” Miguel announced.

Randy and Miguel dropped two men to work on the cattle guard cover. The trucks rolled over the cattle guard and out across the meadow.

“We’re going to have to clear more pine from this side of the arroyo. Attackers could use the trees and brush to hide.  We won’t know it before they’re at our doorstep.” Randy commented.

“Sí” Miguel tipped his straw hat back from his forehead. “Do you really think it will come to that, Señor Randy?”

“The world is going to shit, if you haven’t noticed. It’s not bad enough with the infected. When resources get scarce, if we’re not ready for it, we’ll be sitting ducks for any asshole deciding to take what we have.” He steered the pickup across a dry low water crossing then continued. “At some point we’ll have to start trading with other groups. No matter how careful we are people will figure out where we are and some of them will be willing to kill to get what we have.”

“Corregir. If the drug cartels survive and hear of a safe place to the north, there will be mucho trouble. We don’t have enough hombes to hold off attack like that.”

“I know, believe me, I know.” Randy whispered. “We need time to be ready.”

Trees quickly closed in as they left the canyon behind. The road was little more than a dirt trail wandering through the forest. They crossed McKittrick Creek, twice with low water crossings. The creek was the only major surface water in the area. After a twenty miles trek through the high country, the woods and rolling hills gave way to the rock strewn flat arid grassland of pinyon pines and juniper.

Few people knew about Pine Springs Canyon. It wasn’t nearly as big as McKittrick Canyon and had not been considered a camping attraction since the early 1900s because of its proximity to the highest and driest peaks located across the state line from New Mexico.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was located on the Texas side of the Guadalupe Mountains and Pine Springs Canyon was protected by the high peaks. They only had to worry about a frontal attack from the east or southeast.

Pine Springs Canyon had some of Texas most varied weather, hot in the summer, calm and mild autumn weather, and cool to cold weather in the winter and early spring. Higher up in the Guadalupe Mountains there would be snow storms, freezing rain, or fog in the winter and sometimes found its way to the canyon. Early spring included high winds during winter through spring while late summer monsoons produced thunderstorms with cool nights even in summer.

“We’re going west. How far will we go?” Miguel asked after nearly an hour of driving.

“Not as far as Juarez, at least not this time. There’s a couple dozen ranches out this way and some small towns. We’ll check ‘em out. If they’re deserted, we take what we can use.”

“If people still there?”

“Try to get a feel for the kind of people they are. Maybe even establish some way of contacting them.  We’ve got the short wave radio.”

“Señorita Cassie wants the medicamentos.”

“I know. She was animate about getting the meds. We can go into Dell City. There’s a pharmacy and a few small stores. The town is small but maybe we can find some of the things we need. There’s a veterinary office that might have some of what she wants. Until we know a little more about what’s going on, I don’t want to go into Juarez. It’ll be too dangerous.”

The road widened and the first ranch came into view. Randy slowed the pickup and the truck behind him slowed enough to drop back at least fifty yards.

“What do you think?” Randy asked as he studied the buildings in the distance.

“The gate is closed. I think the people is still there. Look at the windmill in back. Someone has hung clothes on the line.”

“I think you’re right.” Randy answered. “Well leave a note on the gate and move on.”

They approached another ranch with a herd of goats wandering a front pasture. A cattle guard kept the animals from the roadway. An old man gave a careless wave from the corner of the fence. A rifle rested in the crook of his arm. Miguel pointed out two more men hidden a dozen feet away.

Randy stopped the truck. He opened the door and stepped out on the running board. He leaned over the cab of the truck.

“Hi there.” Randy called over the hood of the truck. “Name’s Randy Matherson, Mr. Goodman.”

“I ‘member you, young fella.” The old man called out.

“How’re you doing, Mr. Goodman?”

“Good ‘nough.” The man answered. “You folks going far?”

Randy shrugged. “Maybe as far as Juarez, I don’t know. We’re just scouting around to see how folks are faring. Maybe pick up supplies if we can.”

“Best stay outta that cesspool, young fella.” The old man stepped a booted foot to the bottom rail of the fencing. His companions approached from their hiding places.

“Did the infection spread that far already?” Randy’s faced mirrored his shocked.

“Is that what you’re calling it?” One of the younger men asked. “An infection? That shit’s bad. Made people bat-shit crazy. Fucker’s from the city are eating people.”

“Ain’t like no infection I ever seen before.” The second man added.

“My boys barely made it out Juarez with their families.” Mr. Goodman added. “We’re building a gate for the cattle guard, here. From what I hear, those fucks attacked a ranch on the other side of Dell. Folks killed ‘em, but it was ugly. They had to take down men, women, children, young and old alike.”

“We ain’t got much here, but we plan on protecting all sixteen acres.” The older of the two young men announced. Got no choice. This is all we got.”

“It’s going to be hard to protect you’re livestock when the infected come down this road.” Randy paused for a moment then continued. “Mr. Goodman, if I offered an alternative, would you consider leaving the ranch?”

“Don’t know why you’d do that.” Mr. Goodman responded and spit a glob of tobacco to the ground.

Randy grinned. “For one thing, we’re looking for livestock. You’ve got livestock. We need good people. I know you’re a good man, figure you’re sons learned to be the same.”

Mr. Goodman laughed. “Well, can’t fault your logic. I know you and that Army General been fixin’ up that big place in Pine Springs Canyon. You got room for a dozen people?”

Randy laughed. “We got plenty of room for you folks and your livestock. There’s plenty of work and we have kids so we’re planning on having a school.”

Mr. Goodman looked at each of the young men standing at his sides. Finally, he turned back to Randy. “You boys do your lookin’ around then head back this way and we’ll have an answer for you. We gotta talk about it with the family. If we take you up on this offer, we got trucks and a trailer for the livestock.”

“Well, I hope you decide to join us.” Randy answered. “It might be a day or two.”

“No problem.” One of the young men answered.

“If you decide to go and we don’t make it back in two day take off and head up there without us.  Stop at the cattle guard and blow your horn.”

The old man waved as Randy settled back on the driver’s seat of the truck and cranked the pickup engine. He slipped the truck in gear and steered the truck back onto the blacktop.

“You think they’ll come, Señor Randy?” Miguel asked.

Randy shrugged. “Who knows? The place is almost sitting on the road. No cover, no natural protection. They’re an easy target for the infected and criminals that comes along. Not good the way I see it.”

“Sí.” Miguel answered.