Archive for the ‘Book 3 Survive Texas Dead’ Category

Steve reined his mount around and led out, with Della on the black mare first to follow. Darlene followed Della with Zack bringing up the rear leading the pack horse. Steve led the group across the rugged terrain until it suddenly they were back at the edge of the blacktop. He studied a sign in the distance, then pulled a map from his pocket. They were approaching Miller Ranch Road. If they continued on, they should be back on State Road 90 and could head back north. They rode for another hour, near a water treatment plant, then they were back on 90 with fewer signs of the tornado damage. They saw a small white square white building in the distance.

“Is that Marfa again?” Darlene asked.

Della answered in her best Obi Wan Kenobi voice. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

“Party pooper,” Darlene answered amid peals of laughter.

The five horses plodded away from the distant remnants of Marfa. They followed the roadway a short distance away while dodging around scrub trees and mesquite.

“Why aren’t we riding up on the road?” Della asked.

“We need to be able to hide quickly. We don’t want to take a chance someone on these back roads sees us.”

As the afternoon wore on, Penny began to whimper. Steve glanced to the raised train tracks in the distance and wondered if they would find a train sitting on them at some point. His gaze followed the tracks to a green belt perpendicular to the track and road ahead about a mile away. It could mean water and a place to camp for the night.

He tapped the stirrups against the horse’s belly. Water would let them clean up, have a meal and provide a place to rest the horses for the night. He turned to Della and called out. “We’ll stop up ahead, let’s get there.”

With a new enthusiasm for the last leg of the day’s journey, the trio following Steve picked up their pace. When they neared the small draw, they found a trickling stream surrounded by lush grasses and a variety of trees including a few sprawling-branched oak trees. Steve led the others farther away from the highway into a dense grove of trees. Steve got down from the dark brown mare and handed the reins to Della. He carefully picked his way to the stream and looked back at the overpass crossing the highway. They would be hidden from any passing traffic. He looks from right to left and found a level area under the thick limb of an oak about twenty feet from the stream. A little further downstream was a less brushy area with plenty of grass and close to the water.

He walked back up the bank and waved at the waiting group. “This’ll do. After we unsaddle the horses, we’ll take them down there.” He pointed to the grassy area a short distance away.

It took nearly two hours to sort through supplies and decide what they required instead of what they wanted. Steve, Della, and Zack made three stacks: one of the absolute essentials, another one of items at least one of the trio thought was needed, then the last pile of expendable. A second pass reduced the items to what they could get in three huge duffle bags. When they were finished, they sat down and stared at the remaining supplies.

“I hate leaving so much behind,” Zack commented after a long pull at a bottle of water.

“I feel the same way, but we can only take so much,” Steve answered. “Come on, big guy, time to move out.”

The two men saddled the horses as a sense of uncertainty settled over the small group. On each saddle, they tied saddle bags with extra water and supplies and bed rolls. When they were finished, Steve still worried about the supplies being left behind. He passed around more bottles of water, jerky and energy bars. Everyone ate quietly lost in the realization of the sudden changes. Since none were more than casual riders, they were hesitant at best.

“Let’s mount up. Darlene, do you want Penny in front or back?” Steve asked.

“Front. I think.” She answered.

Darlene mounted, got settled with her feet in the stirrups, then Zack passed Penny up to sit in front of her mother. Della mounted by herself and pulled on a baseball cap. Steve reached up to the saddle-horn and pulled himself into the saddle. He pushed his prosthetics into the stirrups and rose up to adjust his seat.

“Well, Zack. Are you coming?”

“I got this,” Zack answered.

He grabbed his own saddle and stuck his left foot into the stirrup. He bounced on his right foot, but the horse shied and pranced away leaving Zack hopping after him.

Steve used his prosthetics to bump against his mount’s side and turned the reins to guide his mount to Zack’s horse’s side. He grabbed the bridle and held the skittish mount still.

Zack stepped back into the stirrup and with a quick jump swung his leg over the back of the saddle. He pulled himself up and settled on the seat. “Good to go,” Zack announced with a broad grin as Steve released the bridle and handed him the rope attached to the pack horse’s bridle.

“Follow single file and stay about ten feet apart,” Steve ordered. “Zack, bring up the rear and hang onto the pack horse. You can wrap the rope around the saddle horn a couple times but don’t tie it. Just in case.”

“Yeah, before most of the country went dark, there was hope. Now, there’s no place left without the dead rising up to prey on the living. All of the US is probably affected now. Before the Internet went down so was China, Russia, Europe, Africa, Canada, and South America. We have been monitoring a ham radio since day one.” Randy responded. “Believe me, I’d like to be able to say it’s different, but now our only hope is to learn to live with this hanging over our heads.”

Liz heard a woman sitting next to the second Goodman son, Abe, begin to cry.

“It’s hopeless.” The woman whimpered. “What about my baby?”

Cassie stood up. “Honestly, we don’t know. We have three pregnant women in the compound right now. All we can do is watch and wait. We have no reason to believe it has any adverse effects on a healthy pregnancy and delivery.”

Will interrupted. “We’re not here to discuss things we can’t change. Life is as it is. We make this a safe place with what we need to survive then learn to live with the infection. If you’re not willing to be part of that, pack up and move on.”

“But….” Abe began.

“No buts!” Will answered. “Everyone commits to long days working for the community or leave. I’m not arguing or excusing anyone. You’re here as part of the community or not. It’s up to you. I won’t beg anyone to stay.” He slammed his hand down on the table. “Talk to Randy, he’s setting up work crews and prioritizing what needs to be done. Be part of it, or leave.”

With that, Will turned and walked toward the door where he caught sight of Liz. He hurried to her side and squatted in front of her. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“I’m tired of being up there alone,” Liz answered at she wiped at the moisture on her top lip.

“Come on. Let’s get outta here.” Will grabbed her hands and escorted her from the room.

“Dad, please.”

“Liz, you’re exhausted, you have malnutrition, and you’re pregnant. Cassie says you’ve worried yourself sick for weeks.” Will’s expression fail to mask his frustration. “I understand you’re worried about the girls, but Harry told me what happened. The girls are alive. God willing, they will return to us.”

Liz swiped at the tears on her face. “I…I’m scared I’ll never see them again.”

Will smiled sadly. “So am I, honey. So am I.” He led her to a quiet alcove and sat down pulling Liz to the cushion beside him. “I have faith. I choose to believe the soldiers caring for the girls are brave men who will do everything they can to protect them. Harry told me about the car seat box they found. No one stops to get a car seat for a baby then abandons the child.”

Liz whispered. “We did.” She fell against her father’s chest. “I hope you’re right.”

“Liz, you did what you had to do. There was no way Amy could have kept up with you. All three of you would have died. Now, quit second guessing everything you’ve done. “ He wiped at her face with a white handkerchief then handed it to her. “You’re sick because you’re underweight and pregnant. Your job is to take care of yourself and my grandson. And that’s order.” He smiled. “I want a healthy mom and baby boy when Brian and the girls show up.”

“Yes, sir,” Liz answered.

Maria appeared and reached out to Liz. “You are up? I have been so worried. Come, señora. I fix you a nice snack. You too skinny. Niño needs a healthy madre. I make taquitos.”

While Will nodded at Sam Goodman to follow him to his office, Maria led Liz to the kitchen. Maria sat Liz on a chair in front of a wooden table. She quickly pulled a pan from and overhead the rack and put it on a burner. Maria opened a refrigerator and retrieved a handful of items. She moved to a cutting board made quick work of chopping onions, potatoes, and peppers. “I make them just how you like them,” Maria added as stepped to the stove and turned on the burner.

“There you are,” Cassie announced as she walked into the kitchen. “It’s time for your medication.”

“What is it? I still feel like shit.”

“An antibiotic. I’m increasing the dosage. I have to wing it a bit, here.” Cassie answered. “Since I don’t have much testing available, I’m using a broad spectrum antibiotic. I think you’re fighting a kidney infection. But that’s just based on the back pain and my comparing a slide to pictures.” Cassie sat a couple pills in a small plastic cup on the table. “Don’t throw away the cup.” She laughed. “Keep drinking lots of water, too.”

“Are you sure that’s all it is?” Liz asked as she examined the dark haired woman face.

“As sure as I can be. You’ve complicated the issue by not eating worth a shit for the last few months and being pregnant but other than that, I’m pretty sure.”

Maria sat a plate with three taquitos in front of her. “You eat it all. Sí?”

“I’ll try.” Liz chuckled.

“And take the antibiotics as soon as you’re done,” Cassie ordered.

“Yes, accident,” She said firmly. “Time to isolate the sick, no matter who they are. If someone fails to get up and you don’t get a vocal response, take precautions. That’s all we’re asking. The man involved in this incident had a snake bit. He didn’t tell anyone, and neither did his wife. He died and attacked his family.”

“You mean that could happen to any of us?” One of the Goodman women asked.

Will answered. “As terrible as that sounds, yes. It’s important to take care of each other, so come to the clinic, so illnesses and injured are treated.”

Liz realized why her bedroom door had been closed when anyone left and why they always knocked and waited for her to respond before entering. She covered her bulging middle. What would happen to her baby? Was she sick because she was pregnant and was it because of the virus? With a wave of dizziness, Liz slipped into a chair at the side of the room. After a couple deep breaths, she calmed and looked around the room. She realized she didn’t know most of the people. There were two distinct groups. Each crowd clustered together acting more than a little suspicious of the other. She recognized Pablo, Miguel and their extended family and gave the women a quick nod and smile of recognition. Elaina and her mother, Maria whispered at Pablo and Miguel. Both men turned toward Liz and smiled. They turned back to the assembly, their faces still looked.

The goat rancher, dressed in overalls, sat next to a graying woman with the two younger men, and women approximately that appeared to be the younger generation. Two teenagers sat on the other side of the gray-haired lady. Randy stood next to Liz’s father. Not far from him, sat John and Harry.

Will raised his hands to quiet the assembly then continued. “Now that we’ve settled that, let’s work on setting some priorities. I realize we still don’t have enough folks to do everything we need to get done yet, but for now, we’ll do the best we can. Safety and becoming self-sufficient is the two most important tasks at hand. Planting the new gardens need to be done by the end of the week to take advantage of the remaining growing season. At the same time, we need to finish fencing the goat pen back at the Goodman cabins.”

Mr. Goodman stood up. “Me and mine can work on it. I ‘magine two days and we’ll be finished. The wife and girls are milking twice a day. We’ll keep what we need and bring the rest up here. You can pass it along with who you want. I got a spot picked out to put in our own garden…”

Will interrupted. “Sam, this is a community effort, I think you seem to be missing that point, here. You and I obviously need to discuss individual efforts, but for now, let’s move on.” He turned to Randy and nodded.

Randy began. “We still have to try to gather livestock and supplies while we can. We’re not the only people trying to create a secure stronghold to live. As time goes along, more and more infected will leave the cities and make it more dangerous out there. As people get more desperate out there, some groups will be raiding others to survive.”

“What makes you think the government won’t get this under control. Early on, there were reports of the CDC working on a cure.” Glenn Goodman interrupted.

“Have you heard something I don’t know about? We’ve had a couple people monitoring communication channels and the Internet. Unless you know some other means of communications, we don’t.” Will asked.

“Well….” Glenn mumbled.

Liz descended the stairs to the great room to a cacophony of voices from the dining room. Some voices were raised and sounded angry. She made her way to the front desk to hear voices of a meeting taking place in the dining room. From the size of the gathering, she imagined all the adults in the canyon compound were present. Liz leaned against the check-in desk to catch her breath. She grimaced at her own weakness but refused to let it deter her. Liz made her way to the door and stopped.

Will Edmonds voice rose above the din. “Everyone has to contribute, and that’s the bottom line. Your herd of goats produces milk, and that means we all benefit from it. But that can’t be your only contribution. At some point, the goats will need to become part of the food supply chain in a more meaningful way.”

An unfamiliar voice countered. “When we agreed to come, we didn’t know it was going to mean moving into a socialist state. You can’t just take our livestock to feed a bunch of Mexicans.”

“Young man, you have been given a safe haven, homes for your family, your brother’s family, your parents, and younger siblings. Did you expect to show up and contribute nothing?”

“Our livestock is not community property.” The young man protested.

“Shut up, Glenn!” A gravelly voice interrupted. “Son, you’re making an ass outta yourself.” After a brief grumble, the older man continued. “What you have outlined sounds reasonable as long as the herd size maintains numbers for healthy breeding stock. We’re grateful for the offer of a safe place to raise our families. As for the suggestion concerning closing all bedroom doors at night, I can see the wisdom in such an action.”

Cassie added. “From what we’ve found on the Internet we know the virus has mutated since the initial attack and become an airborne pollutant that spread far beyond the initial attacks. There are now reports of people dying of natural causes and reanimating well away from the initial attacks. Considering that, if we each follow this simple rule, we can stop accidents like we had a few days ago.”

“Accident? You call that an accident?” Another voice protested. “Three people died.”

Matt threw a wave over his shoulder and kept walking. “Fine by me.”

Matt walked into the house to find a home life of sorts. Amy was sitting in the middle of the small den playing with Claire. Jake and Amanda were sitting on the couch and hovering over the new baby while Larry sat in the kitchen cleaning a handgun. Matt settled on a kitchen chair.

“You look like shit,” Larry commented as he slid an oiled rage through a gun barrel. “What’s with the look?”

“Do you realize two-thirds of the people here can’t defend themselves?” Matt answered. “We keep bringing in people that are damned near helpless.”

Larry nodded. “So what’ve you got in mind?”

“Not sure but I plan on figuring it out before tomorrow morning. I’ve been thinking. We need a fallback for the kids so the adults can protect the camp without them being in the middle of it.”

“We’re all doing what we can.”

“No. Most of the women have been too busy to learn much. None of them are carrying guns or knives. That has to change.”

“I’ve got the older kids training. The fact is they’re getting pretty good.” Larry answered. “I think they would be able to protect themselves from one of the infected. I’d like to start firearms training, but we’d have to use pellet guns or paint guns to keep the noise down.”

“We have a good setup here. We have the fence across the front and the west side of the grounds, the pond at the back and the bluff at the east. But if something happens and we get overrun, we’re trapped. We need a back way outta here; either across the pond or down the bluff.”

“There’s a trail back behind the barn that follows the lake and heads back into the thickets. I have no idea where it goes.”

“We need to explore all those options,” Matt answered as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Let’s get Jenkins and one of the men over here in about an hour and talk this through. If this is going to be our home, we all need to be able to fight for it.”

After a quick shower, Matt settled down in the recliner. Claire crawled across the carpet to reach up. Matt tickled her under the chin, and she grinned. She bounced on her toes and reached up.

“She wants you to pick her up,” Amy announced. “Claire Bear walked today.”

Matt grinned and reached down to pick up the toddler. Claire pulled at his damp hair, giggling and making faces. Matt turned to Amy.

“You doing okay princess?”

“Yes, sir.” She answered as her smile faded. “Claire misses mommy and daddy.” She looked at her feet. “I do too.”

Matt looked down at Claire then at Amy. “I’m sorry. I guess we’ve gotten sidetracked, haven’t we?” At her sad nod, he continued. “We’ve been helping a lot of people, but I promise, soon.”

“Okay,” Amy whispered.

Matt forced a cheerful smile. “What did you do today? Did you have fun?”

The camp was quiet for a time after the bus drove away. Without the dark cloud of Billings’ radical ravings hanging over everyone, life slowly began to be returned to the usual buzz of activities. Every once in a while even a bit of laughter and joy could be heard from the children on the playgrounds.

Maggie and the girls were given clothes and supplies. Both of the preacher’s campers were cleaned from top to bottom. Anything left behind that Maggie Sanders didn’t want was either trashed or cleaned and returned to the “trade” storage container for future distribution. Maggie and the girls moved into the larger of the two campers and settled in.

By six that afternoon, Jenkins and his men’s had returned. They parked the pick-ups then Jenkins walked up to Matt with a quiet smile.

“Billings’ wife never shut up. The whole way, she went on and on. God this…God that…judgment going to smite us all for letting that harlot kill God’s anointed. You get the picture.”

Matt grinned. “I’m glad to be rid of them. Where did you leave ‘em?

“We left them at a farm house in the middle of nowhere. I parked the bus, got out, and closed the door and flattened all the tires. Oh, a dozen dead bodies came stumbling out of the barn as we were driving away. I figured it would give them something to worry about besides us.

“You think they’ll make it?”

Jenkins shrugged. “Frankly, I hope not after what they did to Maggie’s family and the others.”

“Can’t say I feel much different,” Matt admitted. “But they got more of a chance than Billings gave the others. We sure didn’t need that crazy shit around here.”

Matt looked across the camp and realized how many people it now included. He glanced toward the playground where a dozen children from five to eleven played. The five teens brought in on the bus were in a corner with Larry learning how to defend themselves. Soon they would be ready for real firepower. As it was, they carried spears, and he would bet the kids could hold their own.

Even Carl, the young man with Downs Syndrome, was practicing. Despite his usual ungainliness, he was learning to defend himself. Matt smiled. They had kids who were becoming warriors. Larry ended his class and walked back toward the office while the kids went their separate ways, still carrying their spears.

“You got quite a gathering here,” Tate commented as she walked toward Matt.

“I guess about fifty or so adult.” Matt looked troubled. “Most could barely take care of themselves when they came.”

“What do you mean?

“Most of the women are pretty helpless. Only half a dozen or so had the skill to fight back if they got in trouble.”

“Larry is doing the training for the kids, why not the women?”

“We try, but the women are pretty busy between wiping noses, chores around camp, and all the damned laundry,” Matt observed as he walked away. “Not enough time, and not enough people to train ‘em.”

“Then do something about it,” Tate called after him. “I’m moving into the small camper. And you still owe me a trip to Hondo.”

Brian looked at Billy and pointed at Leon who had appeared at the far edge of the camp. He raised a hand and held up two fingers. Six down; where was Juan? Brian glanced toward the shadows where the last guard had been stationed. He didn’t see the guard, but Juan was still missing. Brian took two steps toward the next sleeper to the right. He moved closer and was hovering over the man when an angry yelp pierced the quiet. Brian pounced and quickly jammed the blade in the man’s head then jerked it free. He leaped to the next man while the man rolled to his knee trying to get to his feet. The man reached for a handgun, but Brian kicked out, knocking the weapon from his hand before he could bring it up and aim. A quick grab and Brian pulled the man’s arm behind his body and jabbed his knife into the man neck. The man’s free hand clutched at his neck while his knees gave way. Brian rode the body to the ground and made a second stab at his temple. He stepped free, just as a man a few feet away raised and fired his handgun. Brian fell on the man as the camp devolved into chaos. Brian captured the shooter’s wrist with his free hand. The momentum drove them both to the ground. Together they rolled and fought for control of the gun. Left, right, a fist slammed into Brian’s head. He fell back, taking the massive man with him. He pushed the guy to the side and pushed the barrel of the man’s handgun toward his chest and covered the finger on the trigger with his own. He squeezed. The explosion drove spikes in Brian’s eardrums, but the man grew still. The gun sent the bullet the man’s sternum through the top of the man’s head. Brian rolled free of the body gasping for breath. Time went from slow motion to double-time in a heartbeat. Gunfire exploded around him. The sounds of struggle invaded Brian’s world with a quick three-sixty and realized they had five men still standing. He jumped to his feet, grabbed the handgun from his last kill and fired twice. The first shot took off the head of a man raising a bat to swing at a limping Juan. The second bullet hit a man taking off half his face. The impact spun him around then he dropped to the ground. Juan limped across the camp to help Leon where he struggled with another man. Brian got to his feet and ran toward the outlaw left to guard the two women.

Brian stepped free, just as a man a few feet away raised and fired his handgun. Brian fell on the man as the camp devolved into chaos. Brian captured the shooter’s wrist with his free hand. The momentum drove them both to the ground. Together they rolled and fought for control of the gun. Left, right, a fist slammed into Brian’s head. He fell back, taking the massive man with him. He pushed the guy to the side and pushed the barrel of the man’s handgun toward his chest and covered the finger on the trigger with his own. He squeezed. The explosion drove spikes in Brian’s eardrums, but the man grew still. The gun sent the bullet the man’s sternum through the top of the man’s head. Brian rolled free of the body gasping for breath. Time went from slow motion to double-time in a heartbeat. Gunfire exploded around him. The sounds of struggle invaded Brian’s world with a quick three-sixty and realized they had five men still standing. He jumped to his feet, grabbed the handgun from his last kill and fired twice. The first shot took off the head of a man raising a bat to swing at a limping Juan. The second bullet hit a man taking off half his face. The impact spun him around then he dropped to the ground. Juan limped across the camp to help Leon where he struggled with another man. Brian got to his feet and ran toward the outlaw left to guard the two women.

The man had gotten to his feet during the chaos and rushed to hide behind the two women. He held a gun to the younger woman’s head and watched the last two of his friends killed, his eyes big as saucers. A quick glance and Brian knew the guard was the last man standing. When the man remained hunched behind the woman, Brian slowed his pace. “Stay back!” The man shouted. “I don’t want to have to shoot anyone.”

Brian stopped when he got ten feet from the man. He dropped the confiscated gun and raised his hand, palm out. “Look around. Your friends are all dead.”

“Friends? Hell, you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

“Please…don’t hurt my daughter.” Pleaded the middle-aged woman. “She’s all I have left.”

“All I want is outta here, lady.” The man whispered.

“See we can work this out. My name is Brian. What’s your name?”

“Henry Dodd. I have to go back. If I don’t go back, they’ll marry my girls off to one of those fake survivalist nut cases.” Henry answered.

Brian heard Leon and Billy approaching from behind. He raised a hand. “What are you talking about?”

“These assholes are not my friends. My neighbor was a big-time survivalist. He talked me into coming with him to their camp when this shit happened. I took my family. Hell, how was I to know it was a bunch of nut cases. When we got there, it was either join up and be part of it or die. If I die, they have my wife and four daughters.”

Leon stepped up behind Brian. “You believe ‘em?”

The older woman stood up and held up her cuffed hands. “I believe him. He tried to stop them when they killed my husband and son. He wouldn’t let them rape us.” She looked back over her shoulder. “I don’t think he meant us any harm and I don’t believe he would have hurt my daughter.”

She reached out, and Henry gave her the handgun, then he held up his hands while the woman held out the gun to Brian.

Brian rushed closer to take the gun. “Get away from the women.” He ordered.

Henry got to his feet as only a defeated man can. His shoulders slumped, and a resigned expectation of dying was evident with every step.

“Give me the key to free the women, then sit your ass down,” Brian ordered.

Henry handed over the key then sat down on the trampled grass. “What are you going to do with me?”

Brian walked up behind him and quickly used zip ties to secure his hands. “That’ll depend on what you tell us.”

Brian crept toward the guard practicing the stealth skills his father-in-law had taught him while they hunted. The sentry stood in the shadow of the truck smoking a cigarette. Brian chose to take out that guard since it required the longest approach and he decided he had the skill to accomplish the task. At least, he hoped so.

When the moon slipped from behind a cloud bank, Brian could see the man wore a plaid shirt and sported scruffy hair poking around the bottom of a baseball hat. As Brian drew closer, he caught a whiff of the man’s unwashed body. The amber glow of his cigarette provided a beacon to track his movements as he strolled back and forth, never more than twenty feet from the camp. The scruffy man yawned and rolled his head from side to side, then turned from the dark shadows of the nearby trees and back toward the light of the dying fire. Brian smiled, knowing any chance of retaining night vision disappeared each time he looked into the flame of a lighter. He dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and used his boot to grind it into the dirt. Brian moved forward with the crinkle of cellophane from another cigarette pack being opened. The man still stared at the dying campfire. Brian moved closer. Close enough. He rose up like a dark wraith and drove his military blade into the guard’s kidney. The man gasped. While his hands reached for the cause of such sudden pain, Brian grabbed the man’s forehead, pulled the blade free then slid it from left to the right across his throat, then into the brain. When the body slumped, Brian eased it to the ground without a sound. He looked to his right and saw Billy completing the same maneuver on his assigned guard then gave a thumbs up.

Brion gave a quick prayer that Leon and Juan were taking care of the guards on the opposite side of the camp. He retrieved the guard’s rifle and hat, put the hat on his head, and walked slowly toward the camp full of sleeping men, hoping if anyone noticed his approach they would think he was the guard coming in. Billie disappeared into the shadows of one of the truck.

A minute later, Brian stopped at a second truck and stopped to look inside, no keys in the ignition. He looked at Billy and held out his hand with a thumb pointed down. For a split second, Brian worried about Juan and Leon eliminating their targets but dismissed it. It boiled down to trust. They would do their job. He could do nothing to help them. All he could do was eliminate as many enemies as possible before the shit hit the fan. The more men he and Billy took out, the fewer they would have to deal with when the operation went sideways. Brian stepped around the truck and walked toward a sleeping man. As he drew closer, he heard a deep rattle with each breath. Suddenly the man rolled from his back to his side and coughed. Brian froze. The sleeper took a rattling breath and groaned, then lay still and began snoring softly again. Brian stepped closer and squatted over the prone figure. He tightened the grip on the handle of the blade then drove the steel into the head of the man lying on the musty smelling sleeping bag. He gave the knife a twist then pulled it free from the skull.

Billy appeared out of the shadows and squatted over a prone figure, made a similar move, then rose slowly. He moved toward the next sleeping outlaw ready to take another life.

“Hey, about time you woke up.” Harry chided Liz as he rushed toward the bed with Cody and Emma close on his heels.

“Miss Lizzy, we’ve been waiting for you to wake up. We got a house to live in. It has running water and a toilet and everything.” Emma announced.

Liz looked at her father.

“The kids wanted to stay with Harry and John. We put them in the cabin south of the barn. It’s the one with two bedrooms downstairs. We put twin beds in the loft.” Will added.

Liz looked at Harry and John. Both men were cleaner than she had ever seen them. Harry had trimmed his beard but still wore a do-rag on his head with gray hair neatly bound with a band at the nape of his neck. John was clean shaven and looked relaxed for the first time since she had met him.

“I got a full belly.” Cod patted her rounded middle then asked in all seriousness, “Are you getting better?”

“I can see that.” Liz smiled at the brother and sister. “I’m doing the best I can. Are you two doing alright now?”

“We’re good.” Answered Cody with a hesitant smile. “We have lights at the house. We get to eat a lot.”

“They got horses. Did you know they have horses?” Emma said excitedly.

“No.” Liz smiled. “I guess that is a new addition.” She looked to Will.

“Lots of things have changed.” Will chuckled.

Cassie interrupted. “All right. Everyone move along. My patient needs her rest.”

When the room cleared out, Cassie started to walk away, but Liz called her name. “A minute, please.”

Cassie turned. “Sure.” She forced a smile.

“Now, I want to know what you’re trying not to tell me.”

Cassie squared her shoulders. “Best case scenario is appendicitis; worse case, a tubal pregnancy.” She whispered. “Either way, I’m not a surgeon.”

“But you have medical training.”

“Sure, I can perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat the common cold, set bones, and monitor patients, but that’s a far cry from being qualified for doing surgeries,” Cassie protested.

Liz sighed, “I guess you’re continuing education will have a steep learning curve.”

“Try to rest. The antibiotics you’re receiving seems to be resolving the current issue. Let’s pray it’s not something that needs surgery.” Cassie closed the door to the hall then added. “Someone will be in the next room. Just ring the bell if you need something.” She stepped into the next room and came back with a cup. “If you keep the ice chips down, I’ll bring some clear broth in an hour or so.”

Liz spent another day in the ward then talked Cassie into removing the IV and letting her move to her two-room suite on the second floor. The main room included a queen-sized bed and a small sitting room. The second room was once used by the Amy and Claire. It still held Claire’s baby bed and two twin beds and small chest f toys. When she saw Liz look longingly at the reminder of her lost children, Cassie closed the door to the second room.

The terrible abdominal pain had disappeared, and everyone including Liz crossed their fingers and prayed the antibiotics had resolved the problem. She spent two days staring at the wall, then on the third day she got up bright and early and put on clothes that she had left at the Lodge. She cinched the belt at her waist and decided it was enough to keep her pants up. She pulled on a t-shirt that had belonged to Brian. They had always been an oversized, but now they really seemed big. She walked out of the bedroom and crossed the balcony to the curving stairs where she met Cassie.

“Well, I guess this means you’re feeling better,” Cassie said.