Finders Keepers – Part 2

Posted: June 18, 2016 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
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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.

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