Archive for the ‘Book 2 DEAD TEXAS ROADS’ Category

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.

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.”

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.

“Nope.”

“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.

Thank you for reading the first three chapters of “DEAD TEXAS ROADS”, Book 2 in the “Torn Apart Series”.
I hope you have enjoyed it.  The book RELEASE DATE IS APRIL 17, 2017.  Available in ebook and paperback.
Check out Amazon:

Dead Tex Rds frt cover

Thanks again for your interest.
Leave a review if you’ve enjoyed my efforts.
Regards,

C. A. Hoaks

Larry Benson, one of the soldiers protecting the Kerrville camp of survivors, heard someone screaming his name above the chaos of children racing toward the main buildings, as they had been trained to do during a time of danger. All available defenders sprinted toward Carl.

“Help! Mr. Larry!” Carl, the eighteen-year-old with Downs Syndrome, loped toward Larry as he called out, “Soldiers!” He waved his arms over his head, desperate to attract attention. “Soldiers in trouble.”

Larry was first to get to Carl with three soldiers from the on-grounds protection team close behind. “What is it?” he held Carl by his shoulders, “Calm down, Carl. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Carl pulled free and grabbed Larry’s sleeve to pull him back the way he had come, “Soldiers down under, and the monsters gonna get ‘em!”

Still confused, Larry answered. “Show us.”

Carl stumbled around to run back to the campgrounds toward the barn and livestock pens. Larry and the soldiers followed Carl past the main building and food truck, down a narrow path past the garden to the wooden fence at the edge of the barnyard. Beyond the fence was a steep drop-off overlooking a narrow country road. Larry climbed over the rough-hewn rails. Still gasping for breath, he looked down at the scene below. A rope tied to the nearby fence post hung half way down the face of the bluff.

Below, six individuals in military gear were perched on a cluster of boulders about forty feet below. The soldiers were barely balanced on the dome-shaped rocks and struggled to maintain their perch while a dozen monsters reached for them. The soldiers were trapped with no place to go. When a reaching hand got too close, a soldier slammed the butt of his rifle on fingers.

Mark, one of the teens rescued by Larry and two friends, explained breathlessly, “They heard us and started calling for help. Carl heard ‘em, and we tried, but the rope wasn’t long enough.”

Larry answered. “You did fine. Now let’s see what we can do to help them.” He leaned over and called out. “Yo, soldiers!”

The yelling suddenly stopped, and faces looked up. “We need help.” A female voice answered. “We’re outta ammunition.”

Larry called back. “Stay frosty for another five. We’re gonna help.”

“Yes, sir,” answered a female voice.

Larry gave his men instructions. Two headed to the barn, one loosened the rope tied to the post while he jogged to the pasture. At the fence, he whistled once. Bessie, a large-boned, chestnut mare with a gentle temperament, strolled across the paddock to stand by the fence. Larry pulled a bridle from a fence post and slid it on Bessie’s head. He led the horse to the barn just in time to see one of the soldiers step out with a harness in hand.

The soldier slipped the harness over Bessie’s neck and buckled the leather traces in place. A second soldier brought another coil of rope from the tack room and hurried to the fence where Mark had pulled up his twenty foot of line. Larry backed Bessie close to the rail fencing, then tied the rope to the harness. He used a square knot to add the second length to the first and tied a loop at the bottom.

Stepping over the fence, Larry walked to the edge of the overhang and tossed the coil of the rope toward the soldiers below. The first attempt fell short. One of the men reached out and would have slipped from the boulder if not for his fellow soldiers. Larry yelled. “Wait for it!”

A female voice below echoed. “You heard the man! Bailey, do the catching. We’ve come too far to screw up now.”

Larry pulled the rope back up and coiled the end again. He made another toss, but again, it fell short. Larry cursed under his breath, coiled the rope, and the rope arched away from the cliff and dropped toward the soldiers. He held his breath as the line fell and one of the soldiers reached up and caught the loop.

Larry called down, “One at a time. Put the loop under your arms, and when the loop gets tight, I’ll give the word, and we’ll pull fast, so you swing clear. Use your legs to catch yourself to walk up the rock-face, or it’s going to be a rough trip.”

Larry watched as a female soldier slipped the loop over her head and settled it under her arms. She slung her rifle and pack over her back and grasped the rope in one hand and gave Larry a quick thumbs-up.

“Remember what we talked about, Carl. Fast, then slow.”

Carl nodded then graced Larry with a broad smile and grabbed the bridle. “Bessie and Carl gonna do a good job!”

“Now!” Larry waved Carl into action.

Carl jerked the bridle and pulled Bessie into action as he ordered. “Run, Bessie!”

The rope grew taut, and the female soldier was jerked off of the rock and swung toward the rock face of the cliff. She hit the dirt and rock and bounced hard, but well above the infected’s reach.

Larry called out, “Easy now, Carl.”

“Woh, Bessie.” Carl pulled back on the bridle, and the mares slowed to a walk.

The soldier swung out, and her’s boots hit the loose caliche and scrub grass. She walked her way up the bluff, crested the rim, and Larry reached out to pull her to solid ground. He called back over his shoulder, “ Got it, Carl. Back up now.”

Carl pulled the bridle, and Bessie stopped. He pushed against the big mare and ordered with a big smile. “Back Bessie. Good Bessie. Gotta go back now.”

One by one, the next three soldiers made their way up the bluff. When Larry tossed the rope again, the two remaining soldiers began passing the line back and forth. A discussion ensued that none of those on the bluff could hear.

The infected stumbled and reached up while the last two soldiers continued their heated discussion. The female soldier used the butt of her rifle to smash in the head of an infected that got too close then pushed the rope at the male soldier again. The infected had grown more and more agitated as they watched their prey escape. The monsters clambered and climbed over each other trying to get at the remaining soldiers.

Suddenly a shot rang out when one of the infected grabbed the leg of the female soldier.

Larry glared down at the pair and yelled, “Leader, get your soldier on the rope, or I’ll leave you both down there for the night.”

“Yes, sir,” Answered the female soldier.

“Bailey, now. That’s an order!”

Bailey stepped into the circle, and the rope jerked from the boulder. He slammed against the rock face and was pulled upward, scrapping his way up the rocks, against the dirt and scrub grass. When Bailey was half way up the bluff, another shot rang out Baily looked down.

Karen Hill was kicking against a rotted hand clutching her ankle.

“Down!” Bailey called out, “Put me down!” He continued to rise, despite yelling at the men saving him. He got to the rim and pulled himself over the edge and freed his foot from the rope loop. “Give me ammo!”

Larry ordered, “Someone kill that shitbag!”

A shot rang out but missed the infected clinging to Hill’s boot. She was pulled off her feet.

Larry snarled,” Kill that fuck!”

The man fired again, and the infected fell to the ground.

“Watch it, Hill,” Bailey called out.

Hill got to her knees and yelled, “Toss the rope! Time to get the hell outta here!” She kicked at another monster trying to reach up to her foot.

Larry tossed the rope and Hill caught it. She slid the loop over her head and settled it under her arms when suddenly another shot rang out. The infected woman’s head exploded sending a spray of blood and brains out in an arch of gore. Hill jumped back and a second infected climbed over the bodies of the dead and grabbed Hill’s leg.

The sudden shift of weight threw Hill off balance. She stumbled over the edge of the boulder. The rope scraped against her face as she grabbed for it with both hands.

Bailey pulled his rifle from his shoulder and yelled, “Ammo, I need ammo!”

A magazine sailed in his direction, and he caught it mid-air. He pulled the empty magazine from the weapon and slapped the load in place. He took aim and fired. The hand clinging to Hill’s ankle fell away, and she slammed against the wall of rocks and clay.

Larry called out to Carl, “Forward, Carl. Fast!” Then he turned back to see the last soldier clinging to the face of the bluff, within easy reach of the monsters. “Hang on, don’t let go.”

Carl panicked at the yelling and jerked at the bridle, spurring Bessie into a quick trot forgetting to slow after the initial rush.

Hill faceplanted into the dirt and scraped against the rock as she rose toward the overhang at a harried rate. She bounced against gravel and dirt, unable to get her feet in front of her as she rose toward the rim of the bluff.

“Easy, Carl. Slow down,” Larry called over his shoulder.

When Hill got to the rim, Larry grabbed the shoulder strap of her pack and pulled her to safety, then turned back to the others. “Kill the rest of them, then burn the bodies.”

Hill pulled the rope over her head and pulled herself into a solute. “Squad Leader Karen Hill, sir.”

No Honor

Posted: October 6, 2015 in 02 No Honor
Tags: , , ,

“You’re a disgusting pig!” The female soldier snarled as she struggled against the zip ties being put on her wrists.

“You made a big mistake, Hill.” Major William Bishop jammed his sidearm back in the holster at his side. He clutched at the secured cuffs and slammed his fist into the young woman’s face.

Karen Hill fell to the canvas floor of the tent, her lip split, and nose gushing blood. Bright red spilled down her face when she looked up with a defiant set to her jaw. She glared at the officer and snarled “Fuck you!”

Wiping the streak of blood from the side of his face where Hill had scratched him, Bishop cursed. “You fucking bitch! It’s a new world, and as far as you and everyone else under my command is concerned, my word is law.”

Bishop grabbed the zip ties holding Hill’s hands together and pulled her to her feet. He pushed open the door flap and threw her from the tent to the trampled grass at the feet of Captain Marcus Griggs. He kicked her clothes through the open flap of the tent into the ditch as he growled an order.

“Tie her to the back of the supply truck. Anyone wants a piece of ass can have it since she thinks she’s too good to fuck an officer.”

Griggs, a big, angry, black man, grabbed her by the hair and led her to the tailgate of the canvas-covered truck. He hooked the cuffs with a third zip tie to the bumper, then turned to walk away. He stopped and turned back. “I’ll be back, girlie. Keep it warm for me,” Griggs pulled his knife from its scabbard and slit the sides of Hill’s underwear, then walked away laughing.

Twenty feet away, two young privates stepped back from the front of the truck pushing three companions deeper into the brush at the side of the road. When Griggs disappeared back into the Major’s tent at the center of the camp, one of the young men turned to the others.

“We have to get out of here.” Corporal Bailey whispered to the four soldiers behind him.

“Not without Hill!” A voice answered from the shadows.

“We get Hill first,” Baily whispered. “Jones, get her clothes from the ditch. Be back here in three minutes. The rest of you get weapons and packs for the six of us. And for Christ sake, don’t get caught.”

“Bailey, we can’t do this. It’s desertion.”

“You want to be in this kind of army? Hill’s our squad leader.”

“Hell, no! You’re right. Bishop and Griggs are crazy.” He turned to the others. “I can get extra ammo. What about the rest of the squad?”

“You want to bring those two meat-heads with us. They were the reason Hill ended up in the major’s tent. Fuck ém,” the soldier snarled.

Bailey added, “Watch out for the guards.”

Seven minutes later, four men and one woman met at the front of the truck. Bailey walked deeper into the brush to make his way to the back of the truck with a multi-tool in his hand. He stopped at the back wheel well and listened for a minute before stepping around the tailgate.

Only able to see the shadow of a man coming toward her, Hill jumped to her feet and kicked out. “Get out of here, you asshole!” she cursed.

“Shush…Hill. It’s me, Bailey. We’re getting you out of here.” He cut the zip ties at her wrists. He set her boots on the ground. He held out cotton underwear, cargo pants, and a t-shirt. Hill jerked the shirt from his hands and pulled it over her head. She stepped into the underwear and reached out for the pants. Once she was covered, he held out socks. When she stepped into her boots, Baily dropped to one knee to tighten the laces on her boots and tied knots.

“Gotta move. Griggs is planning on coming back. We have to be long gone.” Baily whispered.

“I’m good,” Hill announced.

They moved into the shadows, and a pale, slender hand gave Hill a damp towel. She wiped at her face. “Thanks.”

Bailey looked up. “I should have come with you.”

Through the towel, she whispered, “It wasn’t your fault, and if you’d come along you’d be dead. You did the right thing by not getting involved.” Hill dropped the towel, squared her shoulders, and reached for the extra pack on Bailey’s shoulder, “Let’s move out.”

Bailey nodded and smiled. “Glad to have you back, ma’am.”

“Wait,” another voice whispered. “I got these. Thought they might come in handy.” He passed each person a pair of night vision goggles and held up a bag of batteries. “What I left won’t do much good without these.”

Hill adjusted her pack and reached for a gun belt from another soldier. She buckled the sidearm on her hip. Grinning around her swollen lip, she put on the night vision goggles and headed toward the gloom of the woods. “Move out.”

Stay or Go

Posted: July 25, 2015 in 01 Stay or Go
Tags: , , , , ,

Phil Baker made a compelling argument for Tate and Doyle to remain at his high bluff compound in the Hill Country of central Texas. When he had finished his speech, he let the subject drop. Tate Hamilton, once a long haul truck driver, was left to mull over her options, stay at the protected refuge or leave and find her family? Phil’s retreat was a safe place to stay, but if she stayed, she would never learn the fate of her family.

Phil spun the wheels of his chair and rolled toward his wife sorting bedding for the latest arrivals. There were a lot of people to feed at Phil’s compound and sleeping arrangements to make. Phil’s family included six adults, his two girls, John and Mary’s two kids, Ben, Gina and her baby. The couples and Gina each ended up in bedrooms while the kids were left to sleep on pallets on a second story sleeping porch.

Doyle turned to Tate. “Well, what are your thoughts?”

Tate shrugged as she picked up her own quilt and walked toward the leather couch. “Guess I’ll think about it.”

Doyle and Tate, as outsiders were offered the large L-shaped couch in the den. She threw her quilt over the seat and back to retrieve later if she got cold. Doyle threw a pillow on a pallet on the floor and within minutes was snoring softly.

Ben, Phil’s nephew Tate had rescued, complained he was too big to bunk with the little boys, and he didn’t want to hear the young girls chatter all night, so he opted to sleep in the den with Doyle and Tate. He curled up with an Army blanket and pillow on the short section of the sofa opposite Tate.

Tate and John offered to be part of the guard rotation, but Phil declined. He announced they deserved at least one night’s sleep. John and the other guards walked outside leaving the occupants of the house to settle down for the evening. Phil disappeared to his third story look-out in a cubical on the roof, and the room grew quiet.

Tate shifted her position for the third time in as many minutes trying to get comfortable. She slid the cushion, under her butt, back in place then folded her hands behind her head while she listened to John’s heavy steps on the boards outside the window, as he strolled the wrap around porch. She lay awake thinking about Phil’s offer of a place to stay.

“Psst,” Ben whispered. “Tate, you awake?”

With the moonlight through the windows, Tate studied him. “Yeah. I’m awake.”

“You know, I played a lot of games on my X-box. One was killing monsters. This is like that in real life.”

“Yeah. I supposed that could sum things up pretty well,” Tate answered, wondering where the conversation was going.

“I’m not sure I can do it,” he whispered; his voice catching. “They‘re people.”

Tate swung her feet around to rest on the floor. In the moonlight, she could see Ben huddled against the arm of the couch, with tears glistening in his eyes.

“You can’t think like that. The walking-shit-bags aren’t people now. They’re just dead bodies moving because they were infected by an engineered virus.”

“But…” he whispered.

“But nothing. If you hesitate, you’ll be a danger to yourself and everyone around you. I know this sucks Ben, but you have to forget they were people and see only monsters ready to tear you and your family apart.”

“Are we going to make it?” he whispered. “I mean people. Can we recover from this?”

“All we can do is try to survive.” Tate sighed. “You need to get some rest, now.”

Ben slid down on his end of the couch. “I guess you’re right. Good night.”

Tate closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but instead mulled over her and Ben’s conversation until exhaustion took over.

Tate woke to the smell of coffee when dawn barely peeked through the trees. Phil’s wife, Emma, was busy in the kitchen making biscuits and white gravy with ham. By the time Phil appeared, Doyle and Tate were already moving around. When they had both gotten a cup of coffee, he asked them to follow him outside. He rolled out on the porch in his wheelchair and pointed Tate and Doyle to two woven-willow chairs.

“Have you thought about our conversation?” Phil asked.

Doyle slapped his leg and snorted. “I’ll be damned. You really want us to stay?”

“This is a big decision you’re making, considering you have known us for less than twenty-four hours,” Tate answered.

Phil nodded. “I got a chance to see you both in action. With me being in this damned chair, we’ve only got four able-bodied men, and that’s counting Ben as one of them. That’s not enough. If these people are going to survive, I have to have good people to help.”

Doyle nodded. “I ain’t got anyone expecting me; I was just looking for a place to hunker down. I’ll take you up on the offer.” He turned to Tate. “What about you, girlie?”

Tate looked at Phil, unsure of what to say. “Since I left San Antonio, I’ve been heading to my cousin’s place. It’s remote, and I’m hoping my mom and sister made it there.”

“The roads are pretty bad right now; lots of cars and dead out there. Maybe it would be safer to wait a week or two before you head out, again,” Doyle advised.

Phil added. “I don’t want to pressure you, but Doyle might be right. The roads have all the city folks trying to get somewhere safe and ending up being part of the problem. That’s exactly what happened in Bandera and Bandera Falls. Out-of-towners brought infected with them. Only took one or two to take down both towns.”

“You might be right,” Tate mumbled.

“You could stay here and wait it out.” Phil offered.

“I appreciate the offer, but you have too many people already for a four bedroom house,” Tate answered.

Phil chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about that, too. If you help us with the housing situation, and you still want to go, I’ll add two full fifty-five-gallon drums to my previous offer. That would be an extra hundred gallons of diesel, plus supplies to get you to your family.”

“All that for a day of hauling?” Tate asked.

Phil shrugged. “Yep. That’s the deal. But if you change your mind along the way, you’re still welcome to stay.”

“What did you have in mind to solve the housing problem?” Tate asked.

“There’s FEMA trailers at Boerne about twenty miles south on Hwy 46. If we could get three or four of those brought back here, it would alleviate the housing issue. We’re going to have to upgrade the septic system, but water is no problem. I have two wells. We’ll have to do some plumbing work and lay some piping, but otherwise, we should be alright.”

Tate laughed. “It sounds like it’s more than a couple days of work.”

“Yeah. But, if we can add a couple trailers full of provisions, we’d be set for months,” Phil answered.

“It looks like you’ll need a few more than that,” Doyle pointed toward the gate. “Look outside the gate.”

Tate and Phil turned toward the gate and saw three vehicles sitting outside the wrought iron barrier. John and Bill with rifles in hand rushed out of the house and up to where Phil sat staring at the vehicles.

John asked, “What are we going to do about them?”

Phil reached for the wheels on his chair and rolled toward the gate. “John, you and Bill cover us.” Both Tate and Doyle followed Phil.

A man with a bat in his hand stepped out of the front vehicle. His eyes darted from left to right as if expecting an attack at any moment.

Phil rolled up to within a dozen feet of the gate and looked out at the three vehicles. Doyle and Tate stood on either side.

Outside the gate sat a relatively new Ford F-150, a minivan, and an old Chevy Impala. Tate stepped away about ten feet from Phil to get a better look at the occupants. There were two men still sitting in the truck the leader had been driving. In a light green minivan smeared with blood sat a young couple with the heads of two small children peeking over the seats. The Impala sat behind the van with an old man wearing a baseball cap and a gray-haired woman at his side. The back seat seemed to be filled with boxes and stacks of supplies.

Phil scowled at the man outside the gate. “George, what do you want?”

“Your little escapade at the ball field yesterday burned down the Electric Co-op. A bunch of us were staying there. We need a place to stay.”

“Who’s in this WE, you’re talking about?” Phil asked.

Tate turned at the sound of running steps behind them. Ben raced to Phil followed by John and Bill. Ben cupped his hand and whispered something at Phil.

George opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted when Phil demanded. “What are you trying to pull? You have more vehicles at the edge of my property.”

The driver of the Impala stepped out of the car and walked up to the gate. “Shut up, George. Phil, twenty of us, got out of the co-op. We got women and children and have nowhere else to go.”

Phil nodded at Ben, John, and Bill. “Call them up here. Pull up to the gate, one at a time. The vehicles will sit outside until we bring ‘em in one at a time. Everyone gets checked for bites before they step through the gate.”

George started to protest, but Phil held up his hand. “My place, my rules.”

“I’m the mayor of Bandera –” George protested.

“And this ain’t Bandera! Anyone don’t like my terms, turn around and go back down the bluff.”

The portly, old man looked at George, one last time before calling out. “The wife and I agree to your terms, Phil. I’m sure the rest will.” He turned to George and added, “If you got a problem with it, George, pull aside, and let us start lining up at the gate.”

George got in his truck and pulled to the turn-around at the side of the wrought iron fence. He parked the F-150 but stayed behind the wheel.

The old man headed back to his vehicle, stopping to speak to the couple in the mini-van on his way. The green van rolled up to the gate, both front doors opened, and the man herded his wife and two children to the gate. Quietly, without a word, the couple stripped to underclothes and turned around slowly, then dressed and undressed the kids. Phil nodded to Ben, and the gate rolled open.

The woman picked up the kid’s clothes and hurried to the passenger door with the kids in tow. They jumped inside and the man drove through the gate and Ben closed it behind the van.

“Stop!” Emma Nolan stormed through the front door of the house. “Phillip Nolan! You will not do what I just saw, again!” She yelled at the open windows of the van, “I’m sorry!”

Standing at the opening with his rifle in hand, John waved the van to the side the compound. The Impala moved to the closed gate and stopped. Three more vehicles rolled up behind the Impala.

Emma rushed to Tate and pushed a handful of sheets into her arms. “We’re civilized human beings and will not be traumatizing women and children. No more strip searches for women in front of all these men. We’ll do the inspection behind these sheets.” She turned to Phil with a pointed glare.

Phil held up his hand in surrender and called out for two pieces of rebar. A minute later, Ben ran across the yard with two six foot lengths of metal.

Emma crossed her arms and John rolled back the gate wide enough to walk through. Tate joined him with the stack of sheets in hand. She tied a piece from one spiked length of wrought iron fencing to another about five feet away. She tied two more sheets, at either corner. By then, John had pushed both pieces of rebar into the ground. Tate tied the ends of the second and third sheets to the stake. She used the fourth sheet to finish off the enclosure.

The older couple got out of the car, and the woman grinned at Emma. “Bless you, dear. I appreciate this.” The woman stepped into the sheeted enclosure and a few minutes later called out, “I’m ready.”

Emma tapped Tate’s shoulder. “That’s you, dear.”

Cringing, Tate stepped to the sheet and pulled back the edge of the sheet that allowed her to peek inside.

The old woman smiled. “It’s alright, honey. I ain’t got nothing you haven’t seen in the mirror.” She made a slow turn and at Tate’s quick nod, began redressing.

Tate turned back to Phil and gave him a thumbs-up. The Impala entered the compound and parked next to the mini-van. The elderly woman joined the young family on a nearby picnic table in the shade of a large oak.

The occupants of three more vehicles went through inspection, then came through the gate. Only the F-150 sat outside. The old man walked up to Phil. “Don’t know if you remember me, Phil, I’m Bradley Wilson. I’m not much for telling tales, but you better be careful with George. He’s losing it.”

“Who’s with him?” Phil asked.

“His two boys,” Bradley answered.

“You can’t leave us out here,” George called out from the window of the F-150.

Phil called out, “You know what it takes to come in.”

“I got my boys. I’m in charge of this group,” George protested. “I need to be in there to take care of them.”

“Do what I ask then,” Phil demanded.

Finally, George spoke to his sons, then slowly stepped out of the truck. Both younger men followed. They stepped up to the gate and began removing clothes. Following their father’s instructions, they unbuttoned their shirts and removed their shirts then loosened their belts and pants and pulled them to their knees. Meanwhile, George stepped out of his loafers, then pulled off his shirt, and his pants down. He scowled as he turned around.

Phil nodded, then rolled over to the boys.

The older of the two young men appeared to be in his late teens or early twenty’s while the other looked no more than fifteen. The older young man stripped off his shirt and pulled down his pants to hang around his knees. The younger man stepped out of his boots, then slipped off his pants. He did a quick turn, and when he saw Phil scowl, he turned again more slowly.

After looking over George, Phil gave the man a quick nod then turned back to the older brother and sighed, “Boots off. I want to see your legs and feet.”

The young man turned to his father, and George protested, “Damn-it! This is bullshit! Open the fucking gate!”