Archive for March, 2018

He glared at Brian, ready to rail at the intruder when he realized he was looking at a stranger. Dixon reached for his handgun in the holster on the floor, but Brian held up his own gun and pointed it at Dixon. He pulled his hand back and straightened on the couch.

“If you reach for the gun again, you’re a dead man,” Brian advised calmly.

“Who are you? What is the military doing in my camp?”

“Who I am, isn’t important. What you have to say in the next few minutes will be critical to your future.”

Billy stepped into view with his own gun drawn. Brian gave him a quick nod toward the front door, and the kid took up a guard position there.

“What in the hell do you mean?”

“You’re holding people hostage. Marshall Law is in effect in Texas which means I get to be judge, jury, and executioner. That’s not good news for you if I decide you’re acting adversely to the common good.”

Dixon leaned back on the couch. “I’m not doing….”

“Shut up!” Brian holstered his handgun and Billy raised his. “I see this is not going to go well for you. Standup asshole!” Brian pulled two zip-ties from his pocket and stepped closer. A loud thud just as Brian pulled Dixon to his feet but he jerked free. Dixon ducked and kicked out with his right foot. The impact knocked Brian against the wall just as the front door swung open kocking Billy to his ass while the new arrival gasped in surprise.

Billy rolled and bounced to his feet pointing the gun at the intruder. The older black woman stood paralyzed half inside the door. She gasped as Billy grabbed her arm and pulled her inside and demanded. “Quiet! Don’t move!”

Brian spun around and laid a round-house on the side of Dixon’s head. The man stumbled, and swung out, failing to connect, causing him to lose his balance. Brian made a quick jab and brought Dixon to his knees. While he was down, Brian stepped around his back and grabbed his left arm. He brought it up to the middle of his back and closed a zip-tie around his wrist. Before Dixon could fight back, Brian pushed his wrists together and secured the second tie. The woman gasped, but Brian turned and ordered. “Don’t start!”

After a moment she found her voice. “What are you doing here?” She looked at Billy still holding the handgun. “You’re the military. Are you going to arrest us?”

Brian turned to face her. “No.”

Dixon tried to stand. “What are you gonna to do with me?”

Brian picked up Dixon’s gun and set it out of reach on the table then walked back to Dixon and searched his pockets. He found a set of keys. “Is the key to the armory on here?” He tossed them to Billy. When Dixon remained silent, Brian continued. “If the key isn’t on there, break the lock. When the men get armed, send a couple men to stand guard down here.”

When Billy disappeared back down the hall, Brian turned back to the woman. “Who are you? Are you going to be a problem for us?”

The thick-bodied, black woman chuckled. “Only, if you leave that piece of crap in charge around here,” She answered then turned to the door. “Now, we have to get those kids outta that shed.”

Brian chuckled. “Soon as I have someone to keep an eye on Dixon.”

“Give me a gun, I’ll do it.” The woman offered.

Dixon interrupted. “Shut up, bitch.” He glared at the woman.

Before anyone could stop her, the woman crossed the room and slapped Dixon. The lightning-fast smack connected with his left cheek. The sound exploded with the crack of a gunshot. She got in Dixon’s reddening face and scolded, “You a disrespectful little shit, and I’m tired of your mouth.”

“Well, maybe you CAN take care of the problem.” Brian laughed. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Bessie Brown. Everyone just calls me, Miss Bessie.”

Well, Miss Bessie, I’ll hog-tie this disrespectful little shit and then I need to go take care of getting some kids outta that shed. Can you tell me about the guard?”

Brian pushed Dixon face down on the floor, pulled a paracord from his pocket and secured Dixon’s legs then pulled the zip-ties down to bind his ankles to his hands. He jerked a sock from Dixon’s bootless foot and stuffed it in his mouth.

“Now, that ought to keep him quiet until I get back, Miss Bessie.” Brian stood and gave her a wink. He passed her Dixon’s weapon. “There will be men coming through the house pretty soon. Billy is back there to let them out and arm them. Just stay here.”

She accepted the revolver, checked the load and snapped the barrel back in place. “Young man, you go take care of business and don’t worry about this bag of dog crap going anywhere.” She walked to the table and picked up a cast iron skillet sitting among the remains of meals. “He moves, and I’ll knock him out.” She hung the holster over her shoulder. “You go on now. We’ll be here waiting.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Brian headed for the door. “Billy will send a couple men to help you watch him in a few minutes but if you need anything just call him.”

Brian stepped outside and looked at a crowd of people circling the front of a building on the opposite side of the camp. He glanced over his shoulder one last time then jogged toward the group. An angry voice rose up protesting the situation.

“I ain’t letting ‘em out. Dixon will have my ass.” A bearded man standing in front of the door yelled at the gathering. “I can’t,” He said less convincingly.

Brian got to the back of the gathering of older men and women paused. He placed his hands on two shoulders and gently pushed them aside. He eased through the crowd until he got to the front and faced two men. Both looked angry, confused and a little terrified.

“I’m in charge now. Dixon has been replaced,” Brian announced facing three men.

“You can’t be. Wilson left Dixon in charge.” Another man protested. “Besides, you’re military. You can’t come in here and order us around. We’re civilians.”

“Wilson won’t be coming back, and Texas is under Marshall Law.” He pulled his handgun and pointed the barrel at the angry man. “That makes me in charge, so either open the door and let the women and kids out, or I’ll end this.”

“It’s bad, I won’t lie. But those bodies are decaying. Eventually, there won’t be the herds of infected. The world will have to learn to deal with the dead and dying in a new way, but I think we can survive. Maybe, even thrive.”

“How can that be? More people are infected every day. We see new turns every time we stopped.”

“Like I said. People will hunker down and survive while the bodies of the infected decay. Once they’re gone, communities will learn to trade and co-operate.”

“Or not,” Zack added.

“Good people will step up and work together. It will be different than it was before, but life will go on.” Steve yawned. “Come on big guy, get some rest. We stay close to the girls. I’ll wake you around two.”

*****

At first light, Zack retied his shoes and yawned as he got to his feet. He walked past Steve as he added several sticks into the Dakota pit.

“I’m gonna check the snares I put out. Maybe we can have something besides oatmeal.” He checked the skinning knife at his belt as he walked away.

“I’ll put on the water for oatmeal,” Steve called after him.

Zack raised his hand with his middle finger extended.

Steve chuckled as he picked up his prosthetics. When both were in place, he made his way to the stream where h found a large rock at the edge and settled on top. Steve retrieved a bar of soap then pulled off his t-shirt and used it as a makeshift washcloth. When Steve was satisfied he was as clean as he could get, he splashed the shirt around a few more times before fumbling to his feet with the wet shirt in hand.

He made his way back to the camp where he took a long stick and draped his shirt over the end and propped it over the fire to dry. Just as he finished adjusting the angle of his shirt, he heard a branch snap nearby and stepped back against the thick trunk of the Pin Oak tree. He took a calming breath the eased around to look toward the sound with his handgun drawn. A heartbeat later he stepped out just in time to intercept Zack. “Well?”

Zack held up two squirrels that had been skinned and gutted. “Breakfast of champions.” He whispered softly. “You think Della can make some fresh biscuits?”

“I wouldn’t plan on it.” Steve laughed. “I’ll break the backs and lay them out on the grate. While I do that, can you get the girls up then get the horses watered. We’ll let them graze a bit more before we saddle up and head out. Penny can come help me.”

Zack sighed dejectedly, “I was hoping for three.”

“You did just fine. We’ll make due,” Steve answered as he pulled his shirt off the stick and pulled it over his head. It smelled of smoke and was still damp but at this point, felt cleaner than it had been.

After a quick breakfast, the tarp was taken down, the horses were saddled, and the duffle bags loaded. When everyone was mounted, and Penny sat in front of her mother, she kicked her heels then called out. “Gitty up.”

Steve obliged by touching his stirrups to the horse. The day got hotter and hotter as they shadowed the highway. His t-shirt clung to his back while dark rings of sweat circled his armpits. Trees grew fewer and farther between. As he rode, he hoped the place he was leading the other to was not this arid and unforgiving. For the first time, he began to question his destination. The horses plodded along without complaint but the riders not so much. Hours became long and grueling.

“Steve we have to stop. Everyone is exhausted.” Della called out.

The light faded as the party of five sat watching the sun settle behind distant hills is a display of gold, oranges, and shades a red. Finally, Steve spoke. “We should get to the outskirts of Van Horn in two days.” The Dakota Fire still smoldered below ground.

“How big of a place is it?”

Steve shrugged. “Maybe two thousand people so I’m hoping to find some supplies. We could use clothes, food, and footwear.”

Darlene brushed Penny’s damp hair from her face. “It’s hot now, but winter this far north can be brutal.”

“I don’t want to show up at Randy’s with nothing to offer,” Steve commented.

Della turned to Steve. “What do you mean? Do you think they would turn us away?”

“No. Not at all,” Steve answered.

“Then why do you seem worried?” Della asked.

“I just want to have more to offer than a gimp and three women,” He laughed.

“You’re baiting me,” Della smiled.

Steve nodded. “We have five horses, but I don’t plan on handing them over to anyone if I don’t have to. They’re our trading future down the road.”

“What do you mean?” Darlene asked.

Steve took a deep breath. “We’re joining a community. As such, we either live off their charity, or we become a critical component. We have five horses two males, and three mares and two of those are pregnant. That gives us leverage.”

Zack cocked his head to the side. “You’re thinking long term?”

“Yes. But this only works if the camp doesn’t have many horses. That’s why, if we get a chance, we need to gather supplies or items that are light, easy to transport and will be in high demand. Drugs or seeds are at the top of the list. A good alternative would be ammo. But ammo is heavy, and that would limit the amount we could carry.”

“What about fishing gear?” Zack asked. “Line, hooks, that kinda thing.”

Steve laughed. “Anything that will help a community survive would be good. We’ll just have to keep our eyes open.”

Della picked up her bedroll on the patch of grass near where she had been sitting. “I’m going to turn in, folks. I’m exhausted.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Steve agreed.

Darlene chuckled. “Penny has been out for the last ten minutes. Della, will you spread out that extra blanket for her?”

“Sure.” Della laid the blanket out for Penny near Darlene’s bedroll under the tarp.

After a few minutes, both women had settled down under the tarp. Zack and Steve still sat by the dim glow of the fire.

Zack swatted at a dark spec on his arm. “Damned bugs.”

“Yeah. Nothing compared to the mosquitos around South Houston.” Steve laughed. “Half a dozen of those suckers are big enough to suck you dry in twenty minutes.”

“Never been there,” Zack answered. “Fact is, I was never outta San Antonio before now much less the state.” His voice trailed off.

“You doing alright?” Steve asked.

“I guess. I don’t know. I keep thinking I’ll never see my mom again.” His voice was soft with emotion.

“There’s a good chance none of us will know what happened to our families. My dad still lives in Galveston. I don’t imagine it was spared since Houston was overrun.”

“The world is pretty screwed,” Zack whispered.

“We don’t have infected with us. We got some people that could use some doctoring. There’s only about forty of us left after we ran into trouble about a hundred miles south of here.”

“Sorry to hear that. Give me a few minutes to talk it over with folks over here, and we’ll see what we can do to help you.”

He turned to Randy. “Do you know someone from Eagle Pass?”

Randy shrugged. “Not me. Pablo had family from a native tribe south of the border. Maybe they knew folks from Eagle Pass.”

“That’s a stretch.” Will scowled.

“Well, what are we going to do with this bunch?” Randy said. “We could use the help.”

“They say they’re all clean with no bites, but I’m not willing to let that many people in the compound without knowing a lot more about them.”

Will approached to the gulch and called out. “The person that might vouch for Y’all is not here right now, and I’m not willing to let you over here without getting to know you a little better. If you’re agreeable, you can camp in that grove of trees to the east. We’ll come with medical supplies and fresh water. Everyone has to be examined for bites. No discussion on that point.”

Ben gave a thumbs up then struggled to raise his injured arm and cupped his hands together in front of his mouth. He placed his lips against his thumbs and blew. The pitch of the whistle changed with the rise of his fingers.

After some noticeable hustle and bustle, the vehicles headed for the designated camp site. Ben called out. “We’ll be settled in an hour. Come by then, and we’ll have a drink.”

Will waved. “I’ll bring our doctor and a couple folks to clear your people for bites.” After a brief consultation with Randy, Will turned and climbed back into his truck. Two more trucks fired up leaving only four guards at the drawbridge.

When Will got to the lodge, Liz and Cassie waited at the door.

“Well?” Liz asked as she replaced the binoculars on the small table near the window. “Who are they? Do they have kids? Soldiers?”

“I talked to an Indian by the name of Ben Nascha. At least some of them are from Eagle Pass. Kids, I have no idea. Soldiers, don’t think so but only saw Ben close enough to tell.”

“Why did you leave the bridge up? When are they coming inside?”

“They’ll be staying outside until I know who they are. You and Cassie get some medical supplies together. Put enough of that cured venison for about forty people. Add some flour and canned good. Whatever you think they can use for a meal or two.” Will spoke to Randy. “Fill half a dozen five-gallon plastic water bottles. Seal ‘em up, so they stay clean.”

“I’m going with Cassie,” Liz announced.

Will started to protest but thought better of it. “Fine. Randy, when you go, take an extra man with you and pick up two of the guards for backup when you go into the camp.”

Thirty minutes later, Randy loaded up his pickup with the designated supplies, Cassie, Liz, and Harry.

“Well, Lizzy, you’re looking a lot better lately,” Harry commented.

“It’s a miracle what a few nights of sleep without listening to you and John snoring will do for a person.” Liz laughed. “How are the kids doing?”

“Doing good. The kids have settled in at the cabin pretty well. We got everything we need since we got that last bunch of clothes.” He laughed. “Little Mexican girl gave her a couple of those hair clips thingies. She doesn’t look like an orphan anymore. Cody is still quiet. I don’t think he’s ever going to be the life of the party.”

“Losing their parents has to be hard on both of them. I’ll stop by tomorrow. Maybe Trace would like to work with me in the garden for a change.”

“Sounds good.” Harry

When they got to the bridge, one of the guards turned the large wheel and lowered the cattle guard.

Randy rolled down the window and motioned two of the men into the truck bed. “Raise the bridge after we’re over it. Unless I ask about your daughter feeling better, don’t lower the bridge.” The man nodded.

“What was that all about?” Cassie asked.

“Insurance.” He answered.