Posts Tagged ‘Amy Claire’

They wrapped the body of the infected child in a garment bag and laid it in the back of the Humvee. Matt looked at Jenkins then back at Pierce.

“You have to let me come with you. I don’t want the kids to see me turn like the others.” Piece demanded. “You know that’s what’s going to happen.”

Finally, Matt gave a quick nod. “I know.” He whispered. The implication was not lost on anyone.

He turned to Larry and the soldiers to be left behind. “No more accidents. Work in pairs or small groups, one person with a gun out and ready at all times. Double check all the buildings including the out building down by the lake. Set up the recreation center to bed down the kids. Close off the outside entrances to the restrooms. They can stay open during the day, but I want the camp buttoned down by dark. Two men on the gate.”

Larry made a careless salute. “Got it. No worries.”

He turned to Jake and Jenkins. “Let’s go.”

When he looked at Pierce, he saw she was sweating profusely. He had not seen early signs or symptoms so he had no idea how quickly the changes were occurring. Her complexion had grown synodic. Her lips were dusky and dark circles under her eyes had developed. The whites of her eyes turned blood red and the color of the iris had started to fade.

Pierce nodded. “I don’t think I have much time.”

As she walked toward the Humvee, she began removing items from her pocket and passing them to the soldiers walking beside her. She removed her gun belt and pulled off her vest then stripped down to her t-shirt. By the time she got to the Humvee, she no longer wore the trappings of a soldier. She wore only camouflage cargo pants and a t-shirt.

She pulled a necklace with a cross over her head and held it out to Jenkins. “It’s my mother’s. I want you to have it.”

“I can’t take that.” He protested.

“Then give it to Lawson when she gets over this shit about blaming herself. This was my fault. You have to make her see that.” Pierce responded.

Jenkins nodded then stuck the jewelry in a pocket and sealed the Velcro tab.

Matt, Jake, Jenkins, Pierce, and another soldier by the name of Ramirez got in the Humvee. Pierce settled in the middle of the back seat and began unlacing her boots.

“What are you doing?” Ramirez asked.

“That pregnant woman can use them. I saw she had on sandals.” She sighed. “Can you beat that?” Pierce gave a rasping chuckle. “It’s the end of the world and she’s wearing designer sandals.” She handed the boots to Ramirez.

No one answered and she poked at Jenkins. “Lighten up guys. We saved those kids. I figured we were all dead three days ago when Bishop rammed the Stryker into the ditch. I got a reprieve. Reprieve is over.”

Pierce leaned over to wave at the gathering of soldiers. They quickly came to attention and saluted. Matt guided the Humvee through the gate and saw Pierce wave through the open window at the two soldiers standing guard. He slowed.

“You boys, take care.” She called out.

“God speed, Pierce.” One of the men whispered.

“Bye, Pierce.” The other choked out.

The faces of both men tightened around the mouth as they raised their hands to salute. Their eyes followed the Humvee as they secured the gate and the vehicle drove away.

Pierce groaned. “This hurts like hell.” She pressed both hands to her head. “We need to get this show on the road, guys.”

Matt accelerated around the corner and onto the highway. Trees flew past, as they raced toward Martinsville. Minutes ticked by while Pierce’s breath grew ragged and she groaned.

“Stop!” She moaned. “I can’t stand it anymore. My insides are on fire and my head feels like it’s going to explode.”

Matt slowed and eased the Humvee off the road under a huge live oak. All four men jumped out, Jenkins reaching back to help Pierce slide across the seat. She struggled to stand, but her legs could barely support her weight.

Jenkins and Ramirez draped Pierce’s arms over their shoulders and wrapped their arms around her waist. They carried her across the grass and spring bluebonnets on the roadside to the edge of a deep ravine overlooking a small winding creek.

The forested hill country lay ahead of them in all its rugged and vibrant beauty. Longhorn cattle wandered a meadow bright with wild flowers on the far side of the creek. Houses in the distance gleamed white and pristine as if they could not be touched by the ugliness of the world when the dead rose up to devour the living.

Matt walked up to the trio and looked at the glory of Lady Bird’s beautification project. Lady Bird Johnson would always be remembered for seeding Texas roadways with native wildflowers. Those same wildflowers spread to meadows and pastures resulting in collages of colors for all to enjoy.

Jenkins fell to his knees in front of Pierce. “God, I’m sorry. If I could….”

She laid her hand on the side of his face. “I know.” She smiled at him. “I guess I shouldn’t have held out so long.” She sighed deeply. “You need to go now.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but Pierce shook her head. “No. You go. I won’t have this on your conscience.” She turned to Matt. “I just want to enjoy the view a few minutes longer.”

Jake and Ramirez grabbed at Jenkins’ arms but he shook them off. He slowly raised his hand in salute as tears glistened in the afternoon sun. Jake and Ramirez followed suit. With a nod from Pierce, they turned and walked to the Humvee.

Matt stepped behind Piece and quietly pulled his handgun. “I don’t even know your first name.”

Pierce stared out over the river and shrugged. “Sallie. Can you believe it? I was named after a grandmother I never had a chance to even meet.” She struggled to take a breath then continued. “I hope she’s there when I cross over.”

“I’m sure she will be.” Matt answered. He fired and Sallie Pierce slumped to the ground. “Sorry, Sallie.”

Jake walked past Matt with the child wrapped in the garment bag. He laid the small body next to Sally Pierce. Together they stood looking at the bodies.

Finally, Jake asked. “Should we try to bury them?”

“We can’t. We don’t have time. It’s nearly three and we have to get supplies for thirty people and get back to make sure we’re buttoned down for the night. Matt turned and headed back to the Humvee.” Matt walked to Pierce and straightened her limbs and slid his hand over her eyes closing them. He covered the bodies with a tarp then turned and headed for the Humvee.

Jake followed. When he caught up with Matt and spoke softly. “That was bad.”

“It’ll be with me for a while.” Matt answered. When they got in the vehicle he continued. “A long while.”

Jenkins was quiet for the remainder of the ride to Martinsville. When they got to the edge of town, he finally spoke. “She was as good a soldier as any of them.”

Matt nodded. “She died like a soldier.”

“Dead is dead.” Jenkins’ face mirrored his distress. “She should have been home having babies or some shit like that.”

“She had a better chance of surviving this as a soldier than as Suzie-homemaker.” Jake responded. “It was just bad luck that infected kid got in the luggage compartment. Not the kid’s and definitely not Pierce’s fault.”

Jenkins shrugged. “It still sucks.”

Everyone fell silent until they saw a sign announcing a discount store in town.

Matt announced. “First thing we need to find is a truck or oversized van. It needs to be big enough to stock up for more than a couple days at a time.”

“What about a rental lot like U-Haul? Keys would be on-site and we’d have a pretty good choice of sizes.” Jenkins answered.

“That sounds like a plan,” Matt answered. “Probably sooner rather than later.”

The Humvee got to the edge of town and the first retail business park included a small storefront advertising: veterinary services, a dry cleaner, a tax office and sports supply center. Matt slowed to examine the businesses then suddenly stopped in front of the sports store when he saw the advertisement for school soccer supplies.

“What are you stopping here for?” Jenkins asked.

Matt jerked a thumb toward the business and grinned. “Kid’s clothes. There wasn’t much in the luggage for the kids. This is single stop shopping, should be a lot of shorts and t-shirts, warm-up sweatshirts and pants.”

Jake laughed. “Sounds like a plan. All we’ll need later is underclothes, shoes, and socks.”

Matt backed up to the door. The four men stepped from the vehicle. The others watched the street and area around the strip center while Matt tapped on the glass. When he heard nothing, he turned to Ramirez.

“Ramirez, watch our backs. Anything at all looks bad, give us a holler.”

When he found the door locked, Jake slid a crowbar between the door lock plate and jam. He leaned his weight into the bar and pushed the door from the jam and facing. The door popped open. Matt, Jake, and Jenkins stepped into the gloom.

Matt made his way toward the back of the store and found the office. Inside, he picked up the local yellow pages. He found pages for a city map, and located a listing for truck rentals. He folded the phone book and stuck it into his back pocket.

Jake and Jenkins found garbage bags under a counter and began sweeping clothes off shelves into the bags.

Matt walked to the back of the store to a door that sported a sign identifying it as a stockroom. He knocked on the door. When there was no sound from within, he opened the door a crack and peeked inside. The store room wasn’t as full as he had hoped, but he found several boxes of children’s sweat pants and shirts.

With his arms full of clothes, he stepped back into the storefront and found both Jenkins and Jake stuffing bags with clothes. Matt opened a bag and dropped his armful of clothes into the plastic then carried two more bags into the storeroom and filled them with sweatshirts and sweatpants.

He stepped into the front room and cross the room to drop his bags by the front door. “Lets’ get moving.” He looked out the window.

Ramirez was looking off into the distance, his face reflecting the concern. Obviously not getting a clear enough view, he stepped on the bumper of the Humvee. A moment later, he dropped to the ground and bolted toward the door.

Matt stepped out to meet him. “What is it?”

“It’s a military convoy with three Strykers. If it’s Bishop, he’ll try to take us out!” Ramirez declared.

Matt stuck his head back in the store. “We gotta leave now guys. Trouble headed our way!”

They tossed bags into the back of the Humvee and Matt guided the vehicle out onto the street. A few minutes later he turned down an alley then circled around a paint store and pulled behind a garage. He killed the engine and watched the alley entrance. Three infected on the street turned and headed toward the alley.

“Fuck!” Matt cursed.

“I got this.” Ramirez chuckled. “These fucks are really stupid.”

Ramirez eased the back door open and stepped out on the pavement. As he walked to the alley entrance, he pulled a slingshot from his pocket and slid a metal ball into the leather patch. He pulled back on the sling, aimed and released. A glass window nearly half a block away shattered. The trio of infected turned in mass and stumbled back toward the distant storefront.

“Long as they don’t catch a whiff of us, we’re good.” Ramirez hustled back to the Humvee as the roar of the convoy grew louder.

Matt pointed toward the corner of the building and they watched the convoy’s approach. The convoy was moving fast, crushing any of the infected that stumbled into their way. They barreled through town and past the garage without slowing.

“Where in the fuck are they heading at that speed?” Jake asked.

Matt picked up the radio and began scanning channels. After nearly a minute, garbled voices demanded. “Stop! Return…base…charges…Bishop! Court….” Then the reception dissolved into static.

“Well, that answers a couple questions,” Matt stated. “Bishop has gone rogue. He’s going to shoot anything in uniform.”

“Can we hook up with regular military?” Jenkins asked.

Matt shrugged. “I don’t know how. The reception is sketchy at best. We don’t dare transmit. Bishop can hear any channel the military is using. They could be anywhere up to twenty miles away. We can’t load up the kids and start driving around the country looking for an FOB. Not with Bishop going out there shooting at anything military.”

Jenkins nodded. “We have a pretty good setup at the campgrounds. It’s a lot more secure than that damned park Bishop stopped at. Our asses were left hanging out for anything that came down the highway.”

“Let’s move out.” Matt pulled the phone book from his pocket. After a quick perusal of the pages, he pointed to a small map of the town at the front of the yellow pages.

“There’s a rental store on the east side of town and a discount store down the street from there judging by the address.”

Matt tossed the phone book on the dash and shifted the Humvee into drive. He pulled out of the alley after a quick glance in the direction Bishop had taken.

Jenkins hooked a thumb toward the back of the vehicle. “We need a cargo van or small moving truck to haul the supplies we need to take care of all those kids. We can only carry enough for a meal or two.”

“Yeah,” Matt answered. “We’ve got a job to do that’s for damned sure.” He slowed the Humvee as he neared the rental store.

The yard was fenced and the only access blocked by a wrought iron fence with a padlock on a chain. The storefront next to the gate advertised specials on short-term rentals and accepting all major credit cards.

“There’re three private vehicles in the parking lot.”

“That’s a bad sign,” Matt muttered. “There’s probably one or two for employees and a customer or two. Most likely the customer will have someone with him.”

“So we have at least four infected to deal with,” Jenkins answered.

“Yep. Ain’t no choice.” Jake shrugged. “Keys will be in the office. Dis brotha’ don’t have a clue how to hotwire a truck.” He laughed at his attempt at ghetto humor.

“Let’s do this as quiet as we can,” Matt ordered. “Don’t use a gun unless you have to. I don’t want to advertise we’re here.”

Matt backed up to the office and all four men exited the vehicle. Jake and Matt pulled machetes free of scabbards. Jenkins held up a tire iron, and Ramirez- a three-foot piece of rebar.

“Same drill Ramirez. You watch our six.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jenkins and Jake waited by the vehicle while Matt walked to the building. He stood at the side of the door and peeked around to look into the gloom of the office. Shadows moved around in the open reception area. Matt ducked below the sill and made his way to the side of the glass door. There he pressed his back against the brick wall and motioned Jenkins and Jake to his side.

Matt whispered. “There’re at least three on this side of the counter. I’ll open the door and take out whatever gets to me first, Jenkins, you go left, Jake right. Take ‘em out quick and quiet.”

Matt raised a hand to quickly count off three fingers one at a time. He jerked the door open and the three men exploded into the room. Matt first, then Jake darted through the doorway with Jenkins on his heels.

Jake used his machete to cleave the top of an infected man’s head. He fell like a stone knocking over an end table and one of the two chrome and plastic chairs in front of a window. Matt took out a fat man in a white shirt and turned just in time to see Jenkins bash in the side of a woman’s face. The infected woman slowed for only a heartbeat and Jenkins swung again. The second swing embedded the crowbar into the temple of the woman. She fell to the floor behind the counter taking the crowbar with her.

Jenkins pushed open a side gate and leaned down to retrieve his crowbar. His wrist was captured by a hand covered in blood and gore. He yelped in alarm and fell back on his backside kicking at the head of the infected man pulling himself up his body. Jenkins jerked his wrist free and kicked at the body covering his left leg. The body rolled aside and Jenkins crab-crawled back until his hand met a previously downed infected body.

Jake stepped on the offending appendage and used the machete on the infected man’s head. “That bastard is really in bad shape.”

Matt leaned over the counter. “Fuck. They did a real number on the counter guy.” Matt swung the gate open and stepped around the body. “Let’s get busy.”

Jenkins jumped to his feet and shivered. “That was nasty. Fuck!” He snorted nervously.

Jake slapped Jenkins on the back. “You move pretty good for a white guy.”

“Fuck you.” Jenkins snorted. “You move pretty slow for a black guy.”

Jake chuckled and punched him lightly on the arm. “I’ll try to do better next time.”

Suddenly Ramirez stuck his head in the door. “I don’t want to interrupt this bonding moment, but we got company stumbling this way.”

Matt grabbed a key on a long stick with a tag identifying it as the gate key. He tossed it to Ramirez. “Get the gate open then be ready to drive the Humvee. Jake, cover him.”

Jenkins looked out the window. “There’s a fifteen foot moving van near the gate. Only one out there.”

Matt opened a metal wall cabinet and studied the array of labeled keys. Each one bore a unit identification number.

“What’s the unit number?” Jenkins called out.

Jake called back the number. Matt picked up the keys and sorted through the tags one by one. Finally, he jerked up a key and headed for the door. He tossed the key to Jake and raced toward the Humvee.

Jenkins stood between the Humvee and the truck looking from one to the other. Finally, Matt pointed at the van. “Ride shotgun.”

Jake cranked the engine and it roared to life. Jenkins jumped in and Jake slammed the vehicle into gear. When Jake gave Matt a thumbs-up, the Humvee took off.

In the panel van, Jenkins shifted through the glove box and found a map and a couple random pieces of paper. He looked behind the seat into the back of the vehicle. It was dark and empty. “We can carry a lot of supplies in here.”

Jake laughed. “It’s got a full tank of gas, too. You gotta love an efficient business model.”

Matt directed the Humvee to the large box store with the truck following close behind. They parked at the edge of the parking lot and Matt rolled down his window just as Jake pulled up next to the Humvee.

“Single entrance. Could be good. Could be bad.” Matt commented.

Jake shrugged. “Your call.”

“Jake and I go inside. Jenkins, you and Ramirez stay at the front door when we get it open. Jake and I’ll bring supplies in carts, one of you cover the other while they load supplies into the vehicles.”

Jenkins made a curt nod and grinned at Ramirez. “If you see any beef jerky, can you grab it? Oh, and some clean underwear.” He laughed.

“As opposed to dirty underwear?” Matt remarked. “Okay, let’s do this.”

With a nod from Matt, Ramirez released the break and made a wide circle across the parking lot to stop with the back of the truck and Humvee facing the front of the store. All four men got out of the vehicles.

Four doors opened and the men walked to the front of the store. Jenkins and Ramirez opened the back of the vehicles then stepped to the outside to protect Matt and Jake.

Matt turned to Jake. “When we get inside you’re on clothing and bedding detail. Pick up shoes, underclothes and whatever else you think we need. Get a variety of sizes for the kids but don’t get too picky. Clear a shelf or two then get bedding, sleeping bags preferably but blankets will do. I’ll get as much food as I can. We’ll fill baskets then drop what we find at the front door for Jenkins and Ramirez to load in the vehicles. I’ll hit the drug department, pick up shampoo and soap and shit like that last.”

“With the cots in the attic of the rec center, I know exactly what we need.” Jake answered.

Matt nodded at Jake. “Let’s clear the place then get busy. I don’t want to be here more than twenty minutes.”

Matt and Jake peered into the gloom.

“I see someone in there,” Jake whispered. “Maybe more.”

“Half a dozen vehicles. Two were parked at the side of the parking lot. Probably employees. The rest are right up front. That blue Fiesta has the door open and no one around.”

Jake nodded. “I can see blood on the door and if they let an infected person inside.” His voice trailed off.

Matt pushed on the door and it opened easily. “Not locked. Not a good sign.”

They peered into the dark for a moment and heard the first moan of an infected.

Jake sighed. “Shit.” He whispered. “Can’t any of this shit be easy?”

Matt shrugged and answered. “You two watch the door. We’re going inside. We’ll take out the infected before we start bringing up supplies. Just in case, don’t get sloppy. Watch the fucking door too.”

Jenkins nodded then helped slid the door back. “Got it.”

Matt strode toward the sound of shuffling feet with Jake at his side. They faced two infected customers. Both had been working men in life, one with a thick body in blue coveralls while the other dressed like a construction worker. Coverall man had a bandaged arm while the construction worker had limbs horribly damaged with gaping holes and open wounds. They each began shambling and reaching toward their intended prey.

Jake and Matt unsheathed machetes and stepped several feet away from each other. It seemed to confuse the infected men. They froze, undecided which man to attack first. Finally, both seemed to forget about Matt and faced Jake.

“I know dark meat is sweeter than white, but boys this doesn’t work for me.” He swung the machete and took the head from the closest monster. The body fell with a hollow thud.

At the same time, Matt stepped up and brought his machete down at the second infected man’s head. The blade glanced off the skull and drove into the collar bone of the man. The infected man remained focused on Jake and took a step closer pulling the blade from Matt’s hand.

“Ah, shit!” Jake stabbed out and drove his blade into the right eye socket and the monster fell with Matt’s blade still wedged in the head.

Reaching for the weapon, Matt suddenly felt a brush of a hand on his sleeve. He jerked his arm free, spun around and kicked out with his left boot. An infected teen went down in a heap.

Jake pulled his machete from the man’s head and made a wide arc with the blade. It connected with the teen’s neck. Her head flew from her shoulders, hit a register and rolled away.

The head stopped with the face looking at them. The clouded eyes blinked and the mouth snapped and gnashed teeth at them.

“That’s just nasty,” Jake commented with a grimace.

Matt stepped over and slammed his booted foot down on the head just as a nasally voice called out from the store speaker system. “They’re coming!” A voice warned through the store’s public address system. “You have to block the warehouse door on the right side of the back wall or they’ll just keep coming!”

Both men were retrieving their weapons as Jake asked. “Who in the hell was that? And why ain’t he blocking the door if he knows about it?”

They headed toward the back of the store when Matt answered. “Don’t know. Come on. Let’s do it.”

As they jogged toward the back of the building, they heard a tortured moan. It began low and anguished, slowly rising in volume. It was answered by an angry keening of another infected. The pair of infected women saw the men and each changed directions to head straight for them.

Matt watched as a monster that had once been a small woman with delicate of features snarl as she limp toward them. The second monster was nearly as tall as Jake. She was massively overweight and her face was masked by a thatch of orange-red hair, a color that could only come out of a bottle. Her throat hung in shreds around her ample chest. Blood covered her house dress while the wound at her neck still leaked thick drops of blackened sludge with each step. Both women looked ravenous as they stumbled toward Matt and Jake.

“I think the big one likes you, Jake,” Matt called out.

Jake chuckled. “Thanks, asshole.”

They rounded a display case and saw the double doors to the warehouse entrance being held open by a jack with a loaded pallet left half way through the swinging doors. Any time an infected leaned against either panel, they fell into the store. As if to verify the evaluation, one of the panels opened and a monster in a blue uniform fell into the store. It slowly got to its feet and zeroed in on Jake and Matt.

Matt ordered. “Let’s take out Big Bertha and Twiggy then you can dispose of the blue man.”

Matt headed toward the mammoth woman, but she seemed to only have eyes for Jake. He laughed and called out. “See, I told you, she likes you better than me.”

When the massive woman reached for Jake, Matt used his machete to remove lower arms and hands. She ignored the loss while she still focused on Jake. Matt kicked out and drove his boot into her kneecap. She fell to her knees giving Matt time to glance at Jake.

He had taken out the petite woman with a blow to the side of her head and without looking back, stepped around the body and headed toward the blue man.

Big Bertha was still struggling to get to her feet when Matt’s next swing connected with the gargantuan woman’s head. Her scalp peeled off with a pin-wheeling flight of crimson tresses. The impact sent her to her knees, but she still didn’t stay down long. She pulled her feet under her and stumbled back to her feet. She turned to face Matt with teeth gnashing.

“Fuck!” He cursed as he jabbed at her face. He missed her eye. She swiped it away with the remains of her arm.  He took another swing at her head, but her flailing arm knocked the blade aside again. Matt backed away from the woman in frustration.

Meanwhile, Jake took out the blue man.

Bertha focused on Matt while he swung the machete again and took her left arm off at the shoulder. Still the woman came after him. Matt swung the machete at her face but she turned and he hit her meaty shoulder slicing off a slab of flesh. She moaned and reached out with her stump. All the while, her mouth opened and closed, her teeth clicking against each other.

Matt took two steps back and glanced over to see Jake move the pallet jack against the warehouse door. With the breaks locked, no matter how much weight pushed against the doors from the warehouse, the doors wouldn’t open.

As he walked back toward Matt, Jake called out. “I know it’s been a long dry spell man, but I don’t think she’s your type. Kill her already.”

“Fuck you!” Matt cursed. “I can’t get close enough to take her out.”

With a grunt, Jake raised his machete and cleaved the back of the woman’s head open. The top of her skull shattered and black goo and gray matter spilled from the opening. She fell to the floor, the flimsy housedress riding up to expose a bare butt cheek and dimpled thigh jiggling with fat and the hint of a thong at her butt crack.

“Damn. That’s just wrong.” Jake scrunched up his face and muttered.

Matt and Jake both turned with raised weapons and peered into the dark as hurried footsteps approached.

“I told you, the military would come for us. All we had to do was wait.” The nasal voice announced as a thin disheveled man approached.”

He approached Jake and Matt with his hand held out. “Boy, are we glad to see the Army.” When he saw the blood and gore still covering both Jake and Matt hands and weapons, he quickly dropped his hand to his side.

“My name’s Jasper Kovak. I’m the store manager.” He stepped aside to introduce the three others with him. He introduced a fiftyish woman as Joan, a girl in her teens as Lisa and the third person, a young man who was obviously Down’s Syndrome he called Carl.

Matt stepped to a shelf and grabbed a beach towel. He wiped at the gore on his hands and pants leg. Finally, he cleaned his blade and answered. “We were in the military, but the Army is out of commission right now. At least, as far as we know. We have a group of survivors at a campsite about several miles from here. We came for supplies.”

“You can’t just take merchandise without paying for it.” Kovak protested.

Matt sighed. “We can and we will. Your corporate bosses are either hiding or dead and part of the problem.” He threw the towel to Jake and turned back to Kovak. “Here’s where ya’ll have to decide. You can come with us or go out and fend for yourselves.”

Matt picked up stacks of terry cloth towels and threw them in a cart. He collected a stack of wash clothes and tossed them in as well. He pushed the cart toward Jake and headed toward the front of the store. “Let’s finish filling it up.”

Kovak and Joan huddled together for a moment then called after Matt. “I think we’ll come with you, gentlemen.”

Matt stopped and turned back around. “Good. See if you can find the keys to that big extended cab in the parking lot.”

“No problem,” Kovak grinned as he pulled keys from his pocket.

“Get carts and fill them with canned food. One of you women find Jake, we got a couple dozen kids. We need shoes, socks, underclothes, and shit like that.”

The teen grabbed a cart and headed across the store. “I’ll pick up health and beauty.” When Matt looked back and scowled, she added as if he were a child. “We’re going to need OTC and pharmacy items since there won’t be doctors then I’ll pick up soap, shampoo, tampons….”

Matt held up his hand palm toward her. “I don’t want to know. Just be careful.”

“Don’t stop, no matter what you see, just keep driving.” Brian Jameson’s voice cracked with emotion. “Get as far from the city as you can, as fast as you can. When you get to your dad’s place, tell the General, they used drones with arousals to attack the bases. It’s worse than anything we ever imagined.”

“But Brian, I don’t have. . . .” Liz interrupted.

Brian interrupted. “It doesn’t matter what you don’t have, Liz. You and the girls have to leave NOW if you’re going to survive! Remember, I love yo. . . .” The line went dead.

Liz called back twice, but each attempt went straight to voice mail. She tried a third time and got a busy circuit message. She tried texting but the just hung up and produced an error message. Too much cell traffic was not a good sign. She remembered the same issue with the cell phones during the last big storm on the coast.

She pulled her nine-month-old, Claire, from the half full shopping cart and walked out of Walmart without looking back. She drove to Fort Sam Houston Elementary School on Nursery Road.

When she looked in the rearview mirror, she saw her face and hoped no one noticed the paleness of her complexion or the panicked look of her eyes. Her shoulder length blonde hair could use a brush but she didn’t want to take the time. She kept hearing her husband’s voice repeating, NOW, NOW, NOW, over and over again.

When she got to the school she made her way down the white tile hall to the front desk.

The receptionist looked up from her computer screen. “Hi Mrs. Jameson, what can I do for you today?”

“I need to pick up Amy. We’ve had a family emergency.” Liz answered as she glanced down at her watch. “She’s in Miss Helen’s class.”

“Sure.” The receptionist answered. “Just give me a few minutes to contact her teacher and have her brought to the office.” The woman turned to the phone, spoke to the teacher then smiled back at Liz. “She’ll be here shortly.” She turned back to her computer.

Liz stepped back into the hall. Claire pulled at Liz’s hair and giggled. Liz rocked from left to right and back again. “Ready for a car ride, Claire Bear?” Liz asked as she patted the baby’s back. While she waited, she did a mental inventory of the diaper bag contents: a can of dry formula and a box of plastic baby bottle liners, at least half a dozen diapers, four bottles of water, wafers, two changes of clothes, an extra blanket and half a dozen protein bars. If she drove straight through, she could make the ten-hour drive with only stopping for gas and maybe take out from a Micky-D or a gas station.

“Mommy?” Amy smiled questioningly. “Where are we going?”

Liz jumped at the touch of her daughter’s hand against her bare arm. She wrapped her fingers around Amy’s hand.

“Thank you.” Liz made a quick nod at the receptionist and turned toward the door. She glanced down at Amy and answered. “We have to go see grandpa. We have to hurry.”

Liz got the baby settled with a bottle and pulled out of the parking lot. She stopped at the first Shell station she saw after leaving the school. She filled up the gas tank, grabbed a handful of snack bars and half a dozen bottles of water.

She drove the surface streets to the closest on-ramp and got on the freeway. She turned north out of San Antonio at the interchange. Over the next twenty minutes, traffic slowed and grew more congested as emergency vehicles joined the overcrowding.

Liz studied the traffic. It seemed rush hour was beginning early. They neared the military base and traffic slowed to a standstill. Liz looked around and saw they were stuck behind a row of old retail buildings.

The brick structures probably included half a dozen businesses. The back parking lot was surrounded by an eight-foot hurricane fence. It all looked just a little run down and tired with the dumpsters and trash blowing around the alley and rear parking lot. From what she could see, the buildings included a bar at the end, a nail salon, a couple retail stores and two buildings that were so non-descript, they could be anything.

“Mommy, aren’t we going to Grandpa’s house?” Her daughter asked.

“Yes, honey…as fast as we can,” Liz answered. With her foot on the break, Liz looked over her shoulder and studied her daughter. “What are you drawing, Amy?”

Amy held up a sheet of paper. Inside a red heart was written C & A. Amy beamed. “See, Claire and Amy love Mommy.” She passed it over the seat to Liz. “I made it for you.”

“Thank you, sweetie. I love it.” Liz smiled and passed it back to her daughter. “Put it in the diaper bag so I can keep it.”

She passed the sheet of paper to her daughter and turned back at the stalled traffic ahead. The city streets she could see below the freeway had grown even more congested right along with the freeway traffic. Now they were at a standstill. She couldn’t get off the freeway and even if she could, it was no better.

She turned on the radio. The station was reporting a terrorist attack, then unusual assaults and groups of soldiers attacking other soldiers on the base. Liz waffled between wanting to know what was happening and not wanting to alarm or frighten Amy. Liz finally turned off the radio.

She realized the terrorist attack had somehow caused people to become crazed and to violently attack anyone they came in contact with. The base was overrun and the violence was spilling into the civilian communities surrounding the base. They were barely a mile from Ft. Houston. They were in trouble. Nothing could change the fact they were in deep trouble.

Frustrated drivers honked and jockeyed for small gaps in the traffic. Liz looked at her phone.  The charge was nearly depleted.  She pulled a charger from the glove box and plugged in the phone.

Traffic had not moved for the last thirty minutes. She glanced over her shoulder at her daughters while she drummed her fingers against the steering wheel. The baby was sleeping in her car seat and Amy was reading since Liz had turned off the radio.

Liz watched the fuel gage slip below three-quarters tank and turned off the air conditioner. She began to worry if they would even make it to the edge of town before she would need to stop for gas again. When the air in the ten-year-old silver Buick began to grow hot she began to worry the girls would get too warm. She lowered both front windows to let in the fresh spring air hoping it would cool the car. After a moment, she realized the air smelled wrong.

Liz sniffed and wrinkled her nose. There was a scent in the air. Something unpleasant mingled with the odor of exhaust, fresh mowed grass and cooking meat at a nearby Bar-B-Que restaurant. The invading stench was a mixture of slaughter house and an open sewer.

Still considering the unpleasant odor, she glanced through the windshield when she heard shouting and a distant scream. She leaned toward the window to listen but a massive four-wheel drive truck roared to life a few vehicles ahead. The driver held his foot on the break and raced the truck engine. He leaned out an open window and yelled at a Fiat driver directly in front of him.

“Move it!” He waved in frustration. “Get that piece of shit out of my way.”

The truck driver eased the truck with its off-road tires forward to tap the back of the Fiat with the front brush guard. He cursed at the Fiat driver again then jammed the truck into reverse and slammed toward the mini-van behind the truck. The truck driver raced his engine and yelled at the mini-van driver. Both the mini-van and the Fiat made tentative efforts to move, but they were trapped by the vehicles in front and behind them.

The truck driver jockeyed the truck back and forward again and again. He worked on maneuvering the truck toward the grassy decline at the side of the highway, but the vehicles in front and behind had him wedged in tight. He yelled and cursed but neither vehicle could move enough to free him despite the damage he was doing to the vehicles. Screams of frustration and anger from all three drivers filled the air.

Liz watched the cars ahead but could only see beyond a couple dozen vehicles because of a gradual curve of the highway. There seemed to be a commotion taking place around a UPS truck at the beginning of the turn among the furthest vehicles.

Liz watched two men in khaki uniforms appear from the front of the brown panel truck and stumble toward a car directly behind the truck. Both men walked in an uncoordinated jerky stagger that made them appear drunk. Their khaki uniforms sported blotches of dark red stains.

The massive pickup continued pulling forward and backing up while the driver doubled his verbal abuse of the two offending drivers. Each time he shifted from drive to reverse he rammed into the offending vehicles more violently. Terrified by the vehicular assault, the Fiat driver escaped his automobile and stood at the side of the roadway screaming abuse.

The pair of khaki-clad men made their way to the first vehicle behind the truck and slammed their hands against the sedan’s side window. Liz could hear yells from the female driver and the thuds of the assault against the glass when the truck driver stopped his frantic efforts to escape the traffic jam for the moment.

Liz’s heart rate began to quicken. What she was seeing was crazy. The sedan’s male passenger jumped out of the car and raced around the back of the vehicle to confront the two men beating on the driver’s window. He was a muscled man with bulging arms stretching the fabric of the white t-shirt. Liz could see he imagined his physique would be enough to intimidate the two men.

One of the khaki clad men turned on the passenger and pulled him into an awkward, bear hug. The second delivery driver turned from the car and leaned his head toward a flailing arm of the protesting passenger and grabbed it with both hands. He buried his faced against the bare flesh. When he straightened up, his face was covered in blood and his jaws moved up and down chewing the hunk of flesh hanging from his mouth.

The victim, screaming in pain and rage, thrashed about trying to free himself from his captors. The second attacker leaned into the man’s neck and shook his head back and forth like a dog. When he pulled his face away, blood sprayed across both attackers from the ripped flesh of the man’s neck. The passenger’s screams stopped, he quit flailing and slumped against the attacker. The captor dropped the man to the ground and the terrified screams of the sedan’s driver intensified when the USP men redirected their attention at the vehicle’s window.

Liz stared ahead unable to believe what she was seeing. Her breath came in quick shallow gasps. Under her breath she whispered. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

“Mommy?” Amy whimpered.

Unable to even respond to her daughter, Liz watched as more people appeared behind the delivery drivers. All were covered in splotches of blood and looked horribly injured. They moved in the same halting, jerky gate as the USP men. They stumbled toward the pair that had renewed their assault of the sedan’s window.

Several of the new arrivals began their own assault at the windshield. The window glass suddenly shattered and arms reached into the car to pull the woman from the vehicle. The driver screamed and slammed her fists against her attackers then disappeared into the cluster of bloodied bodies.

Liz starred on as more and more bloodied and injured people stumbled around the vehicles and made their way toward her car. The wave of horribly wounded people stumbled past the sedan to the next vehicle. A young male driver threw open his door to run, but one of the monsters had gotten too close and grabbed him from behind. The attacker fell on the youth’s back to bury his face in his neck. The attacker pulled his face away with a red, dripping hunk of flesh hanging from his mouth.

More of the attackers turned their attention on the dying kid, each tearing flesh from his writhing body. Blood spurted from his neck and within seconds he quit struggling. The captors released the body and it disappeared under the cluster of attackers assaulting the next vehicle. Several attackers got to their feet and stumbled over the bodies toward the next vehicle.

More attackers pulled the driver of a small pickup from his vehicle and a man in a blood-drenched white shirt grabbed an arm and raised it to his mouth. His teeth dug into the flesh and pulled away with a glob of bloodied flesh. More of the monsters joined in the assault.

One by one they buried their faces into flesh and tore mouthfuls of bloodied meat from live people.

Those that couldn’t reach live prey spilled around the victim being consumed to make their way to the next car where a woman had thrown the car door open and was struggling to free a child from a car seat in the back seat. Within seconds, they both disappeared into the mass of bloodied bodies.

The driver of the large truck doubled his efforts to free his truck of the two vehicles that wedged him into the traffic jam. The massive truck slammed into the small Fiat, jammed the truck into reverse and stomped on the gas. The truck hit the mini-van and the bumper jumped up the low-slung hood leaving the vehicle with one wheel off the concrete.

The driver turned the wheel and jammed the truck into drive. The rear wheel on pavement burned rubber and caught enough traction to flip the truck to the side crashing down against the guard rail shattering the window and windshield. The driver escaped the truck and vaulted over the guard rail and disappeared down the incline.

Liz watched in the waning afternoon light as two more women were pulled through shattered windows. Their screams filled the afternoon. More of the infected headed for the next car and the man struggling to release his seatbelt to escape, was surrounded and disappeared under the assault.

People threw vehicle doors open and ran from the wave of blood-covered aggressors working their way from car to car toward Liz. They would be at her car in a matter of minutes. They would come for Liz and her daughters.

They were trapped. There was no way to pull off the highway with the guardrail at her right and vehicles blocking her in front, back and to her left. There was a tide of murder and mayhem rolling toward them and she was powerless to drive away. She looked at her ten-year-old. Amy’s faced mirrored her own horror at the sounds coming closer by the minute.

“Mommy?” Amy whimpered.

“We’re getting out of here!” Liz answered urgently.

“I’m scared,” Amy asked. “What’s happening?”

“Unbuckle the baby, now. Hurry honey. Then get the diaper bag.”

Amy unsnapped the car seat harness then pulled her sister to her lap. Meanwhile, Liz crawled over the console to the passenger seat. She jerked open the door and crawled out of the vehicle. She opened the back door just as Amy reached for the strap of the diaper bag. Liz took the baby while Amy scrambled out of the car dragging the bag behind her.

Looking over her shoulder at the advancing attackers, Liz grabbed Amy’s hand and pulled her between two cars. At the edge of the highway, they climbed over the metal guard rail.

Clutching Claire to her chest, and still holding Amy’s hand, Liz faltered down the steep incline toward the distant fence that stretched across the back parking lot of a row of businesses. When she glanced up behind her, she saw some of the infected had noticed their escape and were beginning to follow.

The infected weaved between vehicles and headed toward the barrier. Liz glanced over her shoulder and was relieved when the monsters seemed baffled by the thigh-high barrier. They stood at the guard rail reaching out but were stymied by the metal barrier. Suddenly, their outstretched arms and leaning bodies overbalanced and they began falling over the barrier.

They lined up at the guard rail and one by one the infected face-planted into the gravel on the other side. The first creature with a shaved head and biker jacket tumbled over the barrier skinning the flesh from half his face. He stumbled to his feet, got overbalanced and hit the ground again. He tumbled halfway down the incline where he got caught on a cluster of oleanders.

One after another, the infected leaned over the guard rail until they fell. More and more of the tattered and torn people pressed against those leaning into the barrier until none could move.

Three of the monsters were half way down the incline when a massive overweight woman in a bloodied housedress fell over the barrier and began to roll. She hit the trio. The four ended in a massive pile with limbs trapped under the woman lying on her back. Having landed with her head downhill and with bodies on either side, she was having little luck with rolling over.

More and more of the monsters fell over the guard rail, got up and began making their way toward those trying to escape. Dozens of people passed Liz and the girls. Not on offered to assist. They were quickly being left behind to suffer a horrible fate.

Liz grabbed Amy’s hand. “Run! Honey, we have to hide!”

As they ran from the roadway toward the eight-foot hurricane fence, Liz looked up and down the fence line for an opening. They had to get away. She had to find a place her children would be safe. She turned toward the corner of the distant corner of the fencing looking for an opening and saw nothing.

Near panic, she saw a dip in the grass under the metal fence behind what appeared to be a bar or eatery. She could see a neon sign at the front of the alley. Boxes surrounded the massive dumpster midway from the front of the building.

Liz dragged Amy toward the divot in the ground. Shoving the baby into her daughter’s arms, she fell to her knees and tore at the weeds in the hole. When the grass was cleared she dug into the soft, wet earth with her bare hands.

After a few minutes, she pulled at the bottom of the woven fencing testing the size of the opening. The wire gave way several inches, but the opening wasn’t big enough for her to get through yet. She dug frantically ignoring the pain of breaking and tearing nails. She glanced over her shoulder. The infected were less than a hundred yards away.

“They’re coming!” Amy whispered frantically.

As the first of the street light blinked on, Liz realized she was out of time. She jumped to her feet and pulled at the fencing with all her strength. It was now or never. She ignored the guttural moans growing louder and closer by the minute.

“Put Claire down and crawl through the opening,” Liz ordered.

“Mom?” Amy looked at Liz with a puzzled look on her face.

“Now! Hurry, Amy. Do as I say.”

Amy laid her sister on the grass and the baby started crying.

“Lay down. Slide through head first. Quick, baby.” Liz whispered.

Amy began to cry but did as she was told. Liz pulled up on the fencing with all her strength creating an opening just big enough for Amy.

“Now! Slide through.” Liz whispered frantically. “Get through as quick as you can.”

Amy lay down on the grass with her head at the opening. She kicked her heels into the ground while she pulled at the grass on the other side of the opening. When Amy was through, Liz released the fence and fell to her knees.

“I’m sorry, sweetie.” Liz cooed as she picked up Claire. She pushed the bag toward the opening. “Pull the bag through, Amy. Hurry!”

Amy gave a tug and the bag caught in the middle of the opening under the fence. Liz pushed and Amy pulled on the long strap. Her eyes grew large. “Mommy, they’re coming. Please hurry.” Liz scooted around on her butt then placed her foot against the bag and shoved. The bag burst through and Amy fell to her bottom.

While Amy got to her feet, Liz pulled the baby to her chest and kissed her forehead. She clutched her close as she covered her daughter with the blanket then guided the infant through the hole.

“Sh…shush now Amy, take your sister. Put the bag over your shoulder. Run and hide.” She could hear the dead getting closer.

“Hurry Mommy! You have to get under the fence?!” Amy wailed near panic.

“I can’t. I’m going to run now. Head for the building and find a place to hide. Stay safe and I’ll find you.”

Liz turned and ran. Dozens of the dead followed her while still others leaned against the fence reaching out toward the Amy and her sister.

“Mommy!” Amy screamed.

Tears ran down her face as Amy backed from the fence clutching Claire close. She stepped away from the reaching arms and watched her mother run around a distant corner of fencing and disappear behind a brick building. When she could no longer see her mother, Amy adjusted the strap on her shoulder, turned, and ran toward a blinking neon sign.