Posts Tagged ‘Apocalypse’

“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.”

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.

Penny bounced on the back seat while she called out to Zack. “We go? We take horsy?”

Steve laughed. “We go.” He slapped Zack on the back and chuckled at the uncomfortable look on the kid’s face. “Remember, slow and easy taking off, and it will take longer to stop with the extra weight.”

Zack shifted in the seat with a bit of discomfort. “Got it.”

The drive down the access road was a bit hairy, but once they pulled on the blacktop the morning wore on pretty uneventful as they drove down State Road 505 toward US 90 West. The rough hill country terrain had disappeared shortly after they left the cabin and trees grew more stunted, and patches of bare earth turned into even more arid land. The straight arrow road disappeared into the distance. Mountains gradually appeared through the haze in the distance.

Zack pressed his foot on the gas, but Steve interrupted. “Keep it around forty. Remember about stopping.”

“Valentine Texas? I saw a special on television about that town. It’s famous. The post office receives thousands of cards every year so they can be sent from Valentines all over the country.” Darlene announced.

Della laughed. There was a movie called “Dancer, Texas” filmed there in the nineties.”

“And that’s important why?” Steve turned and asked.

Della poked him with the tip of a slender finger. “It was a cute movie. I wonder if the eighty or ninety people who lived here are alive.”

Steve sighed. “I guess we’ll know soon enough. It’s not much more than five miles ahead. Then we pass Lobo. Then hopefully, a clear shot to the mountains.”

“There’s a Prada store there.” Della laughed. “I saw it on a Sunday morning program, Prada Marfa was erected as a work of art. It has shoes and stuff from a Prada collection.”

“For sale?” Darlene asked. “Can we stop?”

Della shrugged. “No. It never opened. Supposedly, it’s an earth-friendly building that will decay and fall into ruin along with the shoes and purses. I doubt anything there will be worth our time.”

Steve chuckled. “Not many places to wear high heels now.”

Darlene sighed. I could have tried on a pair of Prada shoes.”

Zack interrupted the conversation when he stepped on the breaks. “There’s your Prada store, but where’s the rest of the town?”

Zack slipped the truck into gear and stepped on the accelerator. The truck pulled away from the cabin as his eyes filled. “We could make her come.” He whispered.

“It was her decision. She only has a few days of medication left.” Steve answered.

“What if someone comes?” Darlene argued.

“She has a gun,” Steve answered.

“She can barely see. How can she protect herself?”

“Not why I gave it to her,” Steve answered with a catch in his voice. “Enough. Drop it.”

Darlene flopped back in the seat more than a little angry while Della remained quiet. Her words had failed to dissuade her when Millie announced her intent of staying behind when they left. Despite Della cussing and discussing the decision over and over again for the last two days, Della knew she could say nothing that would change Millie’s mind. In the end, Millie turned away and refuse to even discuss it.

Zack followed the narrow trail back to the shed and corral. The horses milled around the gate, anticipating their daily allotment of hay. Zack stopped the truck, and Della jumped out of the back seat door anxious to be out of the cab and the sadness of sniffles and tears. She hurried to the trailer and stood next to the hitch on the trailer with her arm above the connection.

“Can you do this?” Steve asked with a raised brow.

“Hope so,” Zack answered.

He slipped the truck into reverse, and it moved toward the trailer. Della began to point to the right. When Zack seem to ignore her guidance, she made a more frantic pointing motion and yelling, “Right! Go to the right!”

Steve turned and could see he was missing the hitch. “Hold up a minute.” Zack kept moving, and Steve shouted. “Stop!” Zack stopped, jerking everyone against the seat belts. Steve leaned forward. “Let’s try this again, but this time, you do what I say. Let’s do this slow and easy, okay?”

“Alright.” Zack pulled the truck forward, stopped and put the truck in reverse.

“Straighten the wheel before you start moving, then just do as I say,” Steve spoke calmly.

After three long minutes of left then right and back again, the trailer was connected, and Zack pulled the trailer from the barn. “Damn. That’ a lot longer than I thought it would be.” He stopped when he got well past the gate and again slipped the truck into reverse.

“This is a little different,” Steve instructed. “You turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go. It seems crazy, but that’s how you do it backing up a trailer. Now, straighten the wheel and get a clean start.”

Zack took his foot off the break and with a few adjustments, the trailer rolled toward the gate.

“Wheel to the right,” Steve instructed. “Ease off the gas. Slightly to the left.” A moment later he announced. “That’s it. Stop.”

Zack jerked stepped on the break with a sigh of relief. “Shit. I would have never gotten that done by myself.”

Darlene and Penny climbed out of the cab to watch all the activity fro the side of the corral. Della and Zack walked inside the pen closing the gate behind them and bridled each of the horses. Once they were each tied to the fence, Zack led them, one by one, into the trailer and tied them in place. The whole process took nearly an hour. When Zack was done, he got back in the cab with a sigh of relief while Darlene, Penny, and Della climbed into the back seat.

Harry watched Randy slow as they crested a hill. “Guess this is the place. He mentioned stopping and picking up a few more people.”

“Looking like more than just a few. Four vehicles included two large extended-cab pickups with trailers, a suburban and SUV.” John shrugged.

Harry glanced up at Cody in the rearview mirror. “Has she moved?”

Cody moved his head from left to right. “No, sir. She’s still sleeping. My sister is sitting with her, sir.”

John turned to Harry. “I told you, I checked her. Looks like she’s sleeping.”

“She ain’t been right since the ambush. I’ve seen her favoring her side when she thought no one was looking. I hope her ol’ man’s place isn’t far.” Harry answered.

“Randy’s motioning the trucks to move out. Hold back. Looks like we’ve got four more vehicles coming with us.”

Harry pulled to the side to allow Pablo to pull up next to the camper. Harry gave a careless wave. “Picking up a few friends.”

Pablo laughed. “Sí. Y cabras, goats.”

John chuckled. “Makes sense. Goats can live on limited forage and can provide meat and milk. Smart.”

“What we’re attacked or someone tries to follow us?” Hugo asked.

Pablo shrugged. “Señor Randy say we shot them.”

Hugo shrugged. “Sí.”

Pablo nodded toward the last vehicle as it pulled onto the highway. “Señor?”

“Yeah. Got it.” Harry slid the camper into gear and pulled the camper out to follow the last vehicle.

Harry followed the trailer for another ten miles then saw Randy lead the caravan into a turn. When Harry got to the turnoff, he guided the camper across a cattle guard onto what looked like a fire road. It was a gravel trail that was little more than a cattle path. He glanced at the side mirror and saw Pablo pull across the ground gate and stopped.Hugo stepped out of the truck and stepped into the brush and pulled several dried branches from the roadside. He shoved several tree-looking pieces of the brush into the cattle guard. Once that was done, he used two more lengths of the brush to obscure the tracks of the vehicles that had just passed. He tied a rope on each limb and tied the end of the line to the back of the truck. He hurried back to the cab and the truck followed.

The caravan spent another two hours winding through scrub oaks, rock formations and a terrain that got steadily more rugged. Canyon walls gradually grew up from the rough landscape in the distance. Soon, the vehicles were swallowed by the wilds of Guadalupe National Park.

Harry growled as the camper bucked and rolled at yet another dry gully crossing. “Damned road sucks. I wonder how much longer.”

John pointed at a building in the distance.  It was not what he had expected. As they drew closer, he could see a large log structure on a distant hill. The lodge was a two story log structures with a metal roof of forest green. Additional buildings could be seen through the stands of trees. On either side of the trees in the distance could be seen the towering faces of the canyon.

“So this is it. Pine Springs.” John whispered.

Doc opened the door and saw the large black man sitting on the top step with a worried look distorting his face.

“Well.” Doc turned back to Amanda. “It seems we have a changing of the guard, young lady. Jake is outside, and the Lieutenant has disappeared.

Amanda smiled at Jake from the bed and held out her hand. “He’s my coach.” She announced.

Jake’s face bloomed with surprise and joy. “Me? Are you sure?” He rose and stepped inside the bedroom to kneel at the side of the bed. “I…I….” He stuttered.

Despite the grip of another contraction she reached out her hand and whispered. “I couldn’t think of a better person. You know I love you.”

Jake grinned. “Really? Really?” He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. “I was…I just couldn’t. Really?”

Amanda laughed. “It’s alright. Now, do what you do.”

She turned to her side, and Jake immediately began to massage the small of her back. Amanda relaxed and focused on her breathing. When the contraction eased, Doc cleared his throat. “Well, it’ll be a while, and I think you two have things handled for now. Helen and I will be downstairs for a few minutes. Someone mentioned coffee?”  They disappeared from the room.

Jake sat back, and Amanda turned toward him with a questioning look on her face.  He whispered. “I know you loved your husband and I’m sorry he didn’t make it. I know I can’t take his place, but I love you and want to be this baby’s daddy.”

“I love you, too.” She smiled. “Now let’s get this baby born.”

Jake grinned back until he saw her face melt into a grimace. “Right.” He grinned. “I’m gonna be a daddy.”

Doc and Helen came down the stairs whispering and chuckling. They appeared at the kitchen door, and Doc asked. “Did I smell coffee?” He asked as he walked into the kitchen where Matt, Larry, and the girls now sat.

“We’re having a baby now?” Amy asked.

“We sure are, little one.” Doc settled at the table, and Helen poured two cups of coffee, crossed to the table and settled on a chair.

Doc took a sip of coffee then spoke. “Well, Matt, quite the merry little band you have here. I take it, the illustrious Reverend Jacob Billings is a new arrival.”

Matt bounced Clair as she pulled at his collar giggling. “It does seem to be getting a little out of control. And yeah, we got Larry to thank for Billings.” He frowned.

Larry looked up from the cup of coffee in his hands. “I think I should have turned around and left the bastard there. But they were starving. They had those little girls.” His voice trailed off.

“Who exactly did they have?” Matt asked.

Larry shrugged. “Five men plus Billings, two are young men, maybe early twenties. There’s eight women, four middle age, four real young and then three little girls, preteen I’d say.”

“No little boys?” Helen commented. “That’s strange, and all the women are dress in long dresses. They remind me of those Amish or Mennonite folks except the look on the younger women’s faces.” Her voice trailed off.

Larry continued. “The preacher insisted all the women stay in the big camper and the men are in the smaller one next to it. They turned the campers, so the doors face each other. Something weird about them, for sure.”

Doc stood up and nodded toward Helen. “You gentlemen seem to have things to discuss, and we have a baby to deliver.” The old couple ascended the stairs without more comment.

“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” Matt chuckled and turned to Amy. “Time for you two to get back in bed. One of us will be in to tuck you in in a little bit.”

Amy yawned. “Yes, sir. I’ll fix Claire’s bottle then we’ll go.”

Matt smiled and nodded. “Thanks, sweety.”

He let Claire’s hand slide across his face to his lips. He caught her fingertips between his lips and blew out. The baby giggled as she collapsed against him and hugged his neck.

“Da Da.” She giggled. She pulled at his hair, then sat up and grinned.

Amy appeared and reached out for her sister. “Good night, Mr. Matt and Mr. Larry. Tell Mr. Jake good night for us, please.” She disappeared down the dimly lit hall without a backward glance. The small lantern flicked on and a hint of light spilled from the back bedroom.

“Da da?” Larry grinned.

“Drop it,” Matt growled. “Now, about the preacher.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, but I do know, all those women and girls can’t stay in a one-bedroom camper.”

“What?” Matt jumped to his feet. “How many units did you bring back?”

“Six,” Larry answered.

“I put Doc and Helen and the girls in one, Red and Theresa with a couple kids in another, then the rest of their group in the third. We can go back for two more units tomorrow.”

Matt ran his hand through his hair. “Aren’t any of them families? What in the hell is going on with them?”

Brian, Billy, Leon, and Juan walked back into the fueling station gift shop. Margo and Paula had pushed racks and remnants of merchandises into a pile at the back of the store while sorting through the remains of useable supplies. Most of what remained was souvenirs for the traveler; hats, t-shirts, and plethora of knickknacks including a large velvet painting of Elvis that had been leaned against a wall on top of one of the piles as if in a place of honor.

Juan walked to the last standing rack with half a dozen ball caps still clinging to the hooks and pulled one from the stand. He pulled the dirty cap from his head and tossed it to the floor before retrieving a new one and settling it on his skull. He sniffed at his sweat-soaked armpit then moved to a pile of shirts and found a sand colored camouflage pattern T-shirt and headed toward the bathroom. “Gonna get cleaned up.”

Leon followed suit. He sifted through the pile and laid out three or four shirts and began checking sizes.

Margo looked up from a small stack of supplies she was sorting through. “Not a lot left in the larger sizes. Most of the food stores we found were in the office where the manager died.”

Paula appeared from the back office holding up a bottle of Jack Daniel and box of candy bars. “This is the last of it.”

“I’ll take that.” Juan appeared from the bathroom and reached out for the bottle.

Brian pulled Juan’s arm back. “Not so fast. Better keep it for medicinal purposes.”

“It would be. I haven’t had a drink since the bar back in San Antonio.” Juan answered.

“But we’re not wasting it.”

“Señor Brian, you are a hard man,” Juan answered as he walked back toward the front of the store.

Brian laughed. “Everyone, get cleaned up and let’s get something to eat before it’s too dark to see what we’re doing. Between the windows and this place sitting on a hill, the light will be visible for miles. So we will be sitting in the dark.”

After a meal of shortbread cookies, canned vegetables, and Raman noodles the group settled down for the evening. Juan stood at the front door watching the parking lot and black ribbon of asphalt beyond. The rest of the group spread out a few shirts and blankets to make beds. Leon lay on his side using an armful of T-shirts as a pillow. Brian had pulled the office chair from the back room. He leaned back in the chair with his feet propped up on the windowsill.

“It doesn’t seem as dark now,” Margo commented to no one in particular.

“Full moon.” Brain answered before taking a sip of the steaming coffee.

He smiled at the thought of the six bags of coffee they had found in a cabinet. Even if they had to throw a handful in a pot of water, they had coffee for the foreseeable future. He wished there was a way to get the big natural gas tank to his father-in-law’s place. Natural gas would be at a premium soon enough.

Brian folded his arms across his chest and let his chin fall to his chest and mumbled. “Wake me at midnight.” He felt himself drift away to the sound of Leon snoring and Margo sniffling.

“Sir? Sir?” Billy shook Brian’s shoulder. “You need to see this.”

She looked at the double doors and saw multiple pairs of feet outside the sliding doors. She took a deep breath and ran for the stall door. She grabbed the door and swung it across the opening. The infected man saw the movement and changed focus and stumbled toward the opening. She slammed the door and drove the latch home and a clank just as the infected man slammed against the wood.

Releasing the door, she reached for the saddle and grabbed the saddle horn and pulled it from the stall rail. She stumbled back, landing on her butt when the saddled fell against her.  She scrambled to her feet as the sliding door parted and the first of several infected fell into the barn.

Della picked up the saddle and turned toward the distant entrance and the ATV. She was shocked at how heavy the saddle was, but she half drug, half carried the saddle away from the sliding door as two more infected stumbled through.

With her breath echoing in her ears she pulled and hurried as the monsters drew closer. Suddenly the weight disappeared and saw a dark shadow at her side. She raised the machete, and a deep voice called out.

“Run, I got this,” Zack ordered. “Get on the ATV and crank it.”

She turned and ran. Zack stayed at her side with the saddle now slung over his shoulder. They got to the ATV, and while she started the engine, Zack threw the saddle of the pile on the rack and used a bungee to secure the cargo of saddles and bridles.

Zack climbed on the machine, kicked down the clutch and shifted into gear. He gunned the engine just hands reached for them. She swung with the machete. Blood a dark, ugly color spirted toward them as she screamed.

“Faster!” Della screamed.

Zack accelerated, and the front end jumped several inches off the ground, he leaned forward and gave the engine more gas and the pulled away leaving the monsters behind. By the time they got to the road, both were laughing.

The next morning Zack used the ATV to carry Millie down to the corral to orchestrate lessons in saddling, bridling and caring for the horses. Each of the adults took turns saddling and riding. With Darlene, it wasn’t pretty, but she did stay on the horse. When they got back to the cabin, a conversation that had started earlier began again.

“We’re safe here. I don’t know why we have to leave.” Darlene protested again.

“I definitely think we’ve outstayed our welcome,” Steve argued.

“Why would you think that?” Darlene protested. “We have everything we need here.”

“The military boys that rolled into Utopia are probably not the only ones out there scooping up everything they can get their hands on. We’re less than fifty miles from Utopia and half a dozen other communities. Any one of them could be building a power base. ”

“What if we run into them?” Darlene asked.

“I’m hoping we don’t. That’s why we’re taking back roads.” Steve answered. “We avoid populated areas as much as possible. Less chance of groups of infected too.”

“Enough of all this gloom and doom talk. It’s time for us to have our biscuits and gravy.” Millie announced. She set a pan of golden brown biscuits on the table with a skillet of light brown gravy mixed with chunks of raccoon meat from the previous night’s meal.

Three days later, Steve watched as Zack finished loading the few supplies they had come with in the back of the truck. He threw a mesh net over the supplies at the front and tied them down. He waved at Steve.

“Good to go.” Zack grinned. “Are you ready?”

Steve looked down at the prosthetics in his lap. The stumps were still tender and slightly swollen, but the open sores had healed. He extended his right leg and held out the prosthetic cuff to slide in the stump.

“No,” Della ordered. “You can keep them in the front seat with you. Something happens you can put them on in the truck.” She nodded toward Zack and held out her hand for the prosthetics.

“Hey, man, she’s really mean.” Zack climbed the steps and picked up Steve with a wide grin.

Steve frowned and leaned into Zack’s wide arms.

He settled in the front seat and accepted his running legs. He lay them on the floor while Della, Darlene, Penny climbed in the back seat. Both Della and Darlene struggled to keep tears at bay.

Millie stood next to the truck and watched the travelers get settled. “This is a good place to spend my last days.”

Penny leaned out the window. “Come on Granny. We can make room for you.”

“No child, I’m too old for this life. My bones ache, and I’m tired. I got what I need right here.”

“But….” Darlene interrupted. “We’ll find more pills.”

“And in another month down the road, you’ll be lookin’ again, and it’ll be that way until there isn’t any more. Same end.”

“But you’ll be with us,” Darlene argued.

“That’s the point. I won’t have the child see it.” Millie answered.

Steve raised his hand. “Goodbye, Millie.”

He patted Zack’s shoulder, and Millie stepped away to wave with a sad smile on her dark face.