Fires in the Night

Posted: January 19, 2017 in Book I Terror in Texas

“His fever broke last night,” Della announced when Millie appeared for breakfast.

“Been three days.  I was getting a little worried.”  The old black woman made her way to the stove and opened the door on the metal door.  She slipped three or four pieces of kindling on the smoldering coals.  “That’s good to hear. We may have to leave soon.”

“What do you mean?  We have plenty of food.  Almost every day Zack brings back meat.”  Della asked.

“My arthritis was botherin’ me, so I came down an’ stood watch for Darlene.  I saw fires in the valley.”  Millie announced.

“What does it matter?  That’s miles away.”  Della asked.

“No way of knowing for sure, but if its people burning bodies, it means a lot more people are out here.  If it’s their campfires, the people are a bunch of fools and will be drawing the infected with fire at night.”

“What are we going to do?”

“That place Steve was talking about.  I think as soon as he’s fit to travel, we should head out.”  Millie answered.

“Is that coffee?”  A weak voice called from the bunk bed in the shadows.

Della ran to the bed and fell to her knees.  “Oh, my God.  You’re awake. How are you feeling?” She asked as she laid her hand against is forehead.

“Like shit,”  Steve answered.  “Coffee?”

“No, but you can have some willow bark tea,” Della answered.  “If that stays down, you can have so broth in an hour or so.”

Zack walked into the cabin.  “Hey, did I hear Steve?”

“I told you to take it easy.”  Della scolded Steve as he slid from his bed to the wheelchair.

Zack leaned the rifle against the door jam.  “Is that coffee I smell?”

“I’m fine,”  Steve answered weakly.  “We need to start thinking of getting on the move.”

“Why?”  Darlene asked as she climbed down from the loft with Penny following close behind.  “We’ve had plenty to eat. With Millie, we probably are eating a lot better than most people.”

Steve answered. “Millie is right.  Fire means people.”

Zack poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Steve when he rolled up to the table.  “I heard engines this morning; motorcycles, maybe.”

Millie stirred at a bowl with dough.  She poured the contents out on a floured breadboard.  She folded the dough three or four times then flattened it to a circle about an inch thick.  She picked up a metal can and began cutting biscuits.   “Steve is right.  I heard something big and angry two nights ago.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”  Steve asked.

“What would we have done?  You were sick.”  Millie answered as she slid the pan of biscuits into the oven.  “You are the only one knowing where we’re going.”

“Shit!”  Steve cursed.  “We fix that right now.  He pulled out a map and a brown paper bag then listed the roads he had intended to take to Pine Creek Canyon.  He listed landmarks as he remembered them.  When he was done, he added. “I’ve only been there once so when we get close, we’ll need to be careful.”

“How far are we from the park and Pine Creek Canyon?”   Della asked.

“Less than a hundred miles, if we can stay on the route I’ve outlined,” Steve answered.

Zack grinned.  “So we can be there in one day.”

Steve shrugged.  “We can hope.”

Della interrupted. “We can’t leave until your legs are better. If something happens to the truck and you can’t walk….”

Zack looked at the others.  “What about the horses?”

Della shrugged.  “I’ve been thinking about that. I think we need to make a trip back to horse ranch.  I want to get saddles and all the tack required to ride the horses. They have a trailer that would hold everything we need plus the horses. Millie can tell us what we need.”

“Horses?”  Steve asked.  “What are you talking about?”

Della chimed in.  “They followed me back when I went to the ranch for antibiotics.  We put them in the corral behind the shed.”

“I’ve been feeding them hay from the shed,”  Zack said proudly.  “They like me.”

“We can’t drag a bunch of horses behind the truck.” Steve protested.

“There’s a trailer in the shed,”  Zack added. “We could load them up and take them with us.

“No! Absolutely not.” Steve protested.  “It’s not worth the risk. It will slow us down.”

Millie placed her hand on Steve’s shoulder.  “Young man, the horses will die if they’re left here. The infected will get them, or they’ll starve. Besides, you might find they’re better than walking if anything happens to that fancy truck.”

Steve looked at each of the women, then Zack for some hint of support.  When he saw none, he grunted, grabbed his cup of coffee, and rolled the chair to the porch.

Millie, Della, Zack and Darlene all laughed.

“Now, you two sit down so I can tell you what to look for,”  Millie announced. “Everyone get a turn at saddling and riding a horse when you come back.”

Della climbed on the ATV behind Zack.  The kid that once weighed more than two hundred fifty pounds had lost at least fifty pounds.  His body had hardened and muscled had replaced the softness.  All the walking had made big changes.

“You sure about this?”  Della asked.

“Sure as you are,”  Zack answered as he cranked the engine.  He stepped on the clutch and kicked the four-wheeler in gear.  He pulled away from the shed.  The roar of the engine seemed terribly loud after the quiet of the hunting cabin.

While Zack drove the ATV, Della constantly looked over her shoulder afraid the sound of the engine would cover the sound of someone else approaching.  Noise made her nervous.  After thirty minutes, she directed Zack off road along a white fence.  He dodged around two tree stumps and a fallen branch or two.  They got to the back of the paddock where she had taken the board from the top of the fence.  Zack stopped the machine.

Della looked around.  The infected that had roamed the property seemed to have wandered away. The silence was suddenly overpowering.

“Where to?”  Zack asked.

“The barn.  There’s a tack room.”  Della walked to the fence and began prying at the second cross board.

“You want to drive there?”

“Yes, we get as close as we can, stack saddles, blankets and bridles on back of the machine.  Tie ‘em down, then get the heck outta here.”

Zack walked to the remaining board at the fence, grabbed the pry bar in Della’s hand and gave a quick snap of his thick arms.  With a second shove, the board was loose.  He moved to the other end, did the same then repeated the process to remove the last board.  He tossed it away then pointed at the ATV.

“You drive. I’ll walk ahead.”  Zack announced.

“The long red barn, head down the center. It’s the first room on the right.”  Della said.

Zack headed across the barnyard at a jog.  Della followed a dozen feet behind on the ATV.  He moved his head from left to right and back again.  There was no sign of living or dead.

As Zack neared the opened door of the horse barn, he slowed his steps to a brisk walk.  He held the pry bar in his right hand ready to face attack.  Moisture glistened on his face and arms.  He got to the door and stopped.  He looked into the gloom.  He saw no movement amid the dark shadows.

Della drew closer and he raised his hand and made a circle in the air.  After a moment she understood.  He meant for her to back up to the tack room.  She clutched, slowed and made a wide circle.  When she faced the way they had come, she clutched again and slipped the machine into reverse.  She gave the handle a twist and backed toward the gloom.

“Close enough.  Turn it off so we can hear.”

Della slid off the ATV.  She walked up to the Zack where he stood at the entrance of the barn.   “I can’t imagine all the infected are gone from here.  Let’s be careful.”

Zack held up his pry bar.  “Let me go first.”

Della held out her machete.  “Together.”

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