Posts Tagged ‘Apocalypse’

Major William Bishop stormed into the city hall with Lieutenant Mason close on his heels. “What in the fuck was that?” Bishop scowled at Mason. “I told you no trouble before we had the place locked down.”

“Bastard pissed me off.” Mason protested.

“Fuck it. They would have gotten their shorts in a knot anyway soon enough.” Bishop settled in the mayor’s plush chair behind the desk. “Now they know we’re in charge.”

“The city council is locked in the holding cell in the basement.” Mason announced.

“Good. Close the windows so it warms up down there. No food or water until tomorrow night. That ought to soften them up. Meanwhile, get men on the gates. No one comes or go without my authorization.”

“What about the mid-day meal?” Mason asked.

“Go ahead and open the mess hall at one. Put up a sign announcing all residents are required to register with the military office in Utopia effective immediately. Set up something on the first floor to facilitate registration. I want name, age, where they’re living and any usable skills recorded. Get a couple men over to the office supply and pick up supplies to make ID cards. ”

Mason answered. “We can use locals to do the paperwork and a few of our men to enforce it. But why do you want to know who’s here?”

“The ID cards will control who consumes resources. It will also let me know who could be trouble and give us a chance to confiscate weapons.”

If they want to eat, they’ll have to sign up.” Mason laughed.

“Exactly.” Bishop answered. “Meanwhile, get a couple men out to the guard posts on both ends of town. Send that little prick, Carter in here. He’ll serve as my aid.”

“No problem. He’s downstairs.”

“When folks go to eat, find half a dozen office drones and set them up in the front office on the first floor. Make sure they have enough office skills to set up the ID system. I want registration to begin this afternoon.” Mason got up to leave and Bishop called out. “Tell Carter to bring me back some lunch.”

Three hours later six women stood in front of Bishop. “Who can use a computer and a spreadsheet?” Two of the women raised their hands. “The rest of you have office skills?”

All four nodded. Bishop pointed to an older woman. “Were did you work?”

“The medical clinic.” A middle aged woman answered.

“Good. You’ll go with one of my men and inventory the drug room in the clinic. I want the inventory by tomorrow morning. Get out.” Bishop tossed Mason a key ring. “Get someone to go with her.”

Mason pushed at the woman’s back and guided her toward the door. He disappeared for a few minutes then returned.

“All taken care of, sir.”

Bishop stared at the rest of the women for a full minute. “You have until tomorrow morning to develop a plan to register all residents and have the ability to issue ID cards within the next twenty-four hours. You will be expected to get the registration and issuance completed by the evening meal Wednesday. At that point in time, any resident without an ID cards, will not eat.” He paused then added. “Any questions?”

“What do you want on the ID card?” A woman with red hair asked.

“Where did you work?” Bishop asked.

“Downstairs. Permitting office.”

“Good. You know your way around here. You’re in charge until you screw it up, Red?” Bishop continued. “I want name, age, address of where they’re living and any usable skills. You have two hours to come up with samples registration form and IDs.”

Red gave a quick nod and turned to the door then stopped and turned back. “My name is Angie. I’ll help, but these girls are not to be harassed by your men. That dick-head and his men have been leering at them since we walked in the building.”

Bishop burst out laughing. “Fair enough. My staff,” He used his arm to indicate the small gathering of women. “are off limits. Mason, pass it along to the men.”

“Yes sir.” He made a sloppy salute.

Angie gave a quick nod. “Thank you.” She turned and left the room with the other women following behind.

Bishop stood up and walked to an overstuffed couch just as Carson walked into the door carrying a covered tray. He settled in front of the coffee table and motioned toward Carter.

Carter set the tray down and Bishop reached for to uncover the tray. He set the napkin aside and began to eat. Around a mouthful of pasta, he looked up at Carter.

“Clear my desk including the drawers. Throw all that shit into a box and get it outta here.” He dismissed Carter with a tilt of his head then and took another went back to his meal.

He turned to Mason. “Get rid of the shit on the south end of the school down by the gym showers and turn it into a barracks. Get half a dozen men and find furniture and twin mattresses in the empty houses. Use a truck. Get some of the women to do the laundry. I want clean cloth and this bunch of dipshits looking like soldiers again.”

Mason chuckled. “Some of the boys are getting a little ripe, that’s for damned sure.”

“There’s a two story house behind the court house and across the street from the school. You and I will be moving in this evening. If anyone is living there, move them out.”

“Yes Sir.”

An engine roared to a stop in front of the town hall and Mason stepped to the window. He watched Ollie Ford pulled his bulk from the vehicle.

“It’s the town clown,” Mason commented. “The fat sheriff from the gate.”

Bishop tilted his head toward the door. Tell Carter to stall the dick-head until I finish lunch. Make sure a couple men are outside the door to enforce it.”

Mason disappeared then stepped back into the room. Bishop took his time as he enjoyed the meal. When he was done, he got to his feet and walked to the window and looked down at the entrance to the school across the street.

A small gathering of civilians had arrived at the cafeteria for the noon meal. They stood around obviously discussing the sign now posted at the door. Angry glares were turned toward the town hall from time to time.

Bishop turned back to Mason. “Let him in.”

Mason opened the door and Ollie Ford charged into the room. “What the fuck is going on here? I’ve been told the city council is in the holding cell in the basement. There were shots fired. Townsfolks assaulted?”

“Sheriff Ford!” Bishop interrupted. Sheriff Ford fell silent and Bishop continued. “Now, if you are calm we can discuss the fact your city council attempted to assault one of my men. As a result there were shots fired.”

Brian led the group down the stairs to the exit and stopped at the door. “Billy and Paula go around to the passenger side. I’ll keep an eye on the driver’s side while Leon and Juan make sure Margo and Dale get in the back? Once you’re in the truck get to the roll bar and hang on. The minute I crank that engine every dead fuck within a ten blocks radius will be heading our way. We’ll just keep attracting attention so don’t lose that duffle bag. We’ll need that ammo.”

Brian passed the bag to Leon and he hiked it up on his well-muscled shoulder. “Got it covered, boss.”

Brian looked at each person in the party. “We’re crossing open ground so keep your eyes open. Move quickly and stay together.”

Billy, Juan, and Brian each hiked backpacks over their shoulders. Leon adjusted the gun bag and reached out to Margo. She reluctantly placed her hand in his. He gave a quick nod. “We got this, right.”

Margo tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace.

Juan leaned toward Dale with a wide grin. “Keep up, hombre. I ain’t letting no dead fuck bite me in the ass, because you can’t keep up.”

Dale hiked up his drooping pants and tightened his grip on the table leg. “Fuck you.”

The group made their way down the dark stairway to the bottom floor of the building. Brian peeked through the small glass window at the top of the door and saw a nearly empty parking lot. He pushed on the door and eased it open slowly. Looking around one last time, he stepped out into the sunlight squinting at the glare. Once everyone was out of the building, he moved from the sidewalk to the asphalt of the parking lot one step at a time. The others followed close behind.

“Slow and easy, folks.” Brian whispered. “Quiet.”

Brian hurried across the parking lot with Paula and Billy close on his heels. Following them was Leon clinging to Margo’s arm. Juan with Dale in tow began lagging further behind with each step.

Dale gasped for breath. Juan slowed and motioned at the insurance salesman to move more quickly.

When Dale caught up to him, Juan whispered with a voice tinged with irritation. “Want another cigarette? Hurry the fuck up!”

Brian and the group got over ten yards before the first infected noticed them. He unlocked the doors with a push of the button on the key fob. “Move it, people!”

The click of the button sounded loud with the deafening quiet of the city. Billy, still holding Paula’s hand, veered off to the left when he saw the blink of parking lights on the truck.

An infected woman stumbled from behind a mini-van and headed for the group. Three more infected took notice and turned to make a bee-line across the parking lot toward them.

“They’re coming! We have to go back.” Margo shrieked.

“The door locked behind us. Run faster, woman.” Leon ordered just as Margo stumbled and pulled from his grasp.

She fell to her knees dropping the chair leg with a loud thud on the asphalt. Leon reached down, and yelled. “Get up and run!”

He took three quick steps toward the infected woman and swung his metal chair leg. The heavy metal made contact with the side of the infected woman’s head. A patch of scalp peeled off her head as it jerked to the side but she didn’t go down. Leon back stepped to take another swing only to stumble into Dale.

Juan seeing what was happening, side-stepped avoiding the tangle of legs when both men went down. He raised his metal bar and slammed it down on the infected woman’s head and she collapsed on top Leon’s legs. Juan reached down and jerked the body off Leon and pulled him to his feet.

“Come on amigo.”

Leon turned to Margo still crumpled on the asphalt and swung out with an open hand. He slapped the side of her face. “Shut up and get up or we’re leaving you.”

The slap silenced her screeching. Leon turned and pulled Dale to his feet. “Move it man!” Both men headed for the truck.

Juan grabbed Margo’s arm and pulled her to her feet then released her. She picked up the improvised weapon and ran after Leon, Dale and Juan toward the truck.

“In the truck, now!” Brian called out as he watched another infected approach.

The gray-fleshed man dressed in a shredded white shirt covered in dark splotches of dried blood snarled. The monster growled and reached toward Brian.

“Not likely,” Brian roared back as he kicked out and caved in the man’s knee. When he went down, a quick thrust of Brian’s knife into the eye socket put the monster down.

Billy got to the passenger side of the pickup and opened the door. He jerked the door open and ordered. “Get in and get over.”

While she scrambled into the cab, Billy turned to slam his table leg into the head of a blood and gore covered child monster.

Leon got to the truck and threw the canvas bag over the edge of the bed. He glanced around then stepped on the extended hub of the back wheel and vaulted into the truck. He turned just in time to see Juan push at Dale’s wide butt as he reached for the top of the bed.

Dale grunted and hung there unable to pull his own weight into the bed. Leon grabbed the back of his pants and hauled him into the truck bed and dropped him in the bed unceremoniously leaving him lay in a heap.

Brian intercepted another monster as it made its way around the front bumper of the truck. He stepped out and swung a table leg into monster’s legs. When the infected woman went down, he slammed the table leg down hard on her skull.

Juan jumped to the top of the wheel and climbed into the bed of the pickup.

“Don’t leave me…Help!” Margo slammed her hands against the side of the truck then reached up while trying to step up on the wheel.

Brian turned around and frowned. “Guys?”

“We got it.” Leon called out.

Brian climbed into the cab and behind the wheel while Leon and Juan each grabbed an arm and jerked Margo into the bed of the truck just and three more infected slammed against the back fender.

Juan pushed Margo toward the roll bar, while Leon pulled Dale to the front of the truck to lean against the cab. Brian cranked the engine and the big truck roared to life.

Billy slid open the window at the back of the cab. “Good to go back there?” He called out.

Leon slammed a hand on the hood. “Get us out of here. We’re drawing a crowd.”

Brian stomped the gas and the truck bowled over three infected. The cluster of infected, pounding at the side of the truck bed, were quickly left behind. Margo yelped in surprised and Leon slid an arm around her waist while she grabbed the roll bar.

Juan laughed and swung a chair leg at the head of an infected man with dreadlock as they drove past. The impact crushed the side of the man’s head and sent him reeling away.

“Home run!” Juan laughed.

Brian and Billy found a military truck in the motor pool. The garage door was still open and a front tire lay next to the truck.  It explained why the vehicle was still in the motor pool. With Brian standing guard, Billy checked the tire’s pressure then bolted the tire on the front of the truck as fast and quietly as he could. Once they climbed in the big truck, they felt semi-safe for the first time since the attack.

They point the light truck away from the Army base and headed out of town only to be t-boned by an out of control panel truck. The panel truck sheared the front wheel and pinned the Army vehicle against a barricade. A horde of infected noticed the commotion and turned toward the sound of the accident. One and all started stumbling toward the trucks. Billy grabbed his rifle and ran around the front of the vehicle. Brian retrieved his own weapons and collected the duffle with extra ammo and a pack filled with water and food.

Brian led Billy past to the van where a quick glance verified the driver was beyond help. They escaped the slow moving horde only to be driven into hiding by another mob of infected. They hid long enough to catch their breath then ran again. They spent that first afternoon making their way west. Near dusk they broke into a small office building where they found the first three survivors.

Brian glanced over his shoulder at the trio gathered together watching him expectantly. The two women, Paula Mendoza and Margo Dixon, were both exhausted, but were in pretty good shape to be locked in the building for days with only bottled water, soda and snack machine fare to survive on. The fifty-plus year old insurance salesman, Dale Witman, was overweight and had the wheeze of a long-time smoker. Dale patted at his pockets every few minutes looking for that illusive pack of cigarettes he had long since smoked.

Brian was waiting for the return of the latest addition to his group of survivors. The two surviving members from a construction crew, they had encountered, were doing a little recon mission. The two men, Leon Jones, a short black guy with mad skills with a hammer and Juan Campo, who claimed to be one hundred percent American to anyone who dared to call him Mexican were tough men that Brian was glad to have around.

Billy sat on an office chair, a handgun lying on the desk in front of him, his eyes constantly drifting toward the door of the office as if expecting a monster to stumble in at any moment. He was a good kid, but a little overwhelmed at the moment.

When Brian wasn’t running, scavenging, or planning their next move, he worried about his family. He prayed when he got to his father-in-law’s place. He imagined when he got there he would see Liz and the girls standing on the wooden porch of the lodge. He had to believe they were waiting for him so he could keep going….

“Please, God, protect them.” Brian whispered as he turned to face the sound of Leon and Juan opening the office door.

Leon stuck his head into the office. “We’re good, bro.”

Juan nodded. “Sure thing, man. We took out a window on the second floor. We could click the locks on both vehicles. We saw the lights blink so batteries are good.”

Brian crossed the room and followed the two men into the hall. “Well?”

Juan announced. “One of the vehicles is at the back of the lot and looks like it’s a ten year old piece of shit. The other is a big GMC all decked out with roll bar and big tires. It’s parked three rows back and just left of the main drive, maybe ten yards from the door. Most of the people must have left early so there’re less than half a dozen vehicles scattered around the lot.

Leon nodded. “We can get to it, easy enough. The ladies should be alright but good old Dale is gimpy since he fell, coming up the stairs yesterday. Add that smoker’s wheeze, well, who knows?”

“Does the big truck have an extended cab?” Brian asked.

“Not so lucky. But it’s a big fuckin’ ride,” Leon answered. “Three people in the cab, rest of us can ride in bed. It has huge tires and a lift kit. Once we’re in the bed, nothing will be able to reach us as long as we stay away from the sides.”

Juan looked excited. “When I was looking for the keys on the big security guard, I found a gas receipt. It looks like he filled up the gas tank that morning, both the main and reserve tank.”

“Show me the truck.” Brian grinned with real optimism for the first time in days.

They walked across the hall to a window in another office and the two men pointed out the big blue truck with a confederate flag stencil on the back window.

Leon chuckled. “I always wanted to ride in a big-ass redneck truck like that.”

“Well, you get your wish, Leon. Let’s get our people and get the hell outta town.”

He led the two men back into the office. “Okay folks,” He looked at the anxious faces of the two women and Dale looking at him. “We’re ready to move.”

Billy jumped to his feet. “Yes sir. I have all the rations stowed in the four backpacks we found. The extra magazines are good-to-go. Extra firearms loaded and ammo stowed in the duffle. I pulled off the metal legs from a couple tables for weapons.”

Brian looked at the handguns on the table and nodded toward Juan and Leon. “Pick up your weapons and extra magazines, gentlemen. Billy’s got everything ready to go.” He turned back to Dale and the women. “Pick up the table legs, folks. We do this nice and quiet.”

“Where are we going?” Dale asked as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin.

“We’re not taking a chance on the car lot. Juan and Leon located a truck that belonged to one of the guards. Only problem is the truck is in the middle of the back parking lot and a few infected people are wandering around back there.”

Paula took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and picked up a table leg. “I’m good. We’ve changed into the running shoes you found.”

Billy glanced at Dale as he got to his feet and laughed. “Yeah, the pink looks good on you, man.”

“Fuck you, kid.” Dale groused.

“You can’t expect me to hit someone on the head with a table leg.” Margo glared at the others.

Brian took three steps toward Margo. “Look, lady. I’m trying to keep us all alive. That means we all work together.”

“They’re people.” Margot argued.

Billy stepped up and handed the woman the metal cylinder. “They’re dead. They will tear you apart if you don’t bash ‘em in the head. The LT has done everything he can to keep us all alive and being quiet is part of the deal. You can’t do it, fine. Stay here. We’re leaving.”

“Fine.” Margo mumbled as she accepted the weapon.

Brian nodded at Dale and he picked up a metal table leg with a scowl. “I’ll drive.” Juan tossed him the keys ring. “We’re taking one vehicle and it’s the big blue truck in the parking lot. We found receipts and we’re pretty sure it has a full tank of diesel. It will be a bitch getting everyone in, but with the big tires and lift kit, everyone will be safer in the long run. All we have to do is keep moving. Billy and Paula will ride in the cab with me. I want the rest of you getting in the back as quickly as you can. Any infected get close, swing at the head as hard as you can and put ‘em down.”

Billy nodded at Paula. “You’d better be quick crawling in the cab.”

Paula whispered. “agujero del culo.”

“I think she likes you.” Juan winked at Billy.

“I can tell. She called me an asshole.” He grinned.

When Randy had filled both truck gas tanks and the three had eaten a quick meal of fast food, Randy shuffled everyone back into the truck and headed out again.

They got to the Lodge late the next afternoon. It was a long grueling drive and they had fallen into bed at Randy’s cabin as soon as they got inside. They woke the next morning to see their boxes and bags sitting by the front door.

That was three days ago. They spent the first day at the cabin watching the news channels and worrying and watching it all fall apart and news channels disappear one after another. After only a few hours, too worried to just sit amid the squalor of Randy’s cabin, Wilma started cleaning. It took Wilma and Cassie two days just to get the cabin up to Wilma’s standards.

Now they were being asked to move into the lodge. She looked at the bags at her feet. Randy had dropped her at the front door and told her to find a room for her and Cassie and move in. He promised to bring the rest of their belongings that evening.

She hadn’t really gotten a chance to get acquainted with the General. Both men spent sun up to sun down working and the three times she had been in the man’s presence, he’d been gruff and bad-tempered. She wasn’t looking forward to living with a man with such a sour disposition.

She stood admiring the main hall. The massive log building was the inspiration for the rental cabins. A stone fireplace divided the public room into two areas. One side included seating areas with comfortable couches and chairs and the other, three large rustic tables with benches on both sides. On the far side of the dining room were two doors she imagined led to the kitchen.

At the far side of the room was an open wooden staircase leading up to the second level where an open balcony displayed a number of doors. All the wood looked hand-hewn including the steps of half-log and gnarled wood railings and banisters.

“Home sweet home, I guess.” She whispered.

She picked up her and Cassie’s bags and climbed the stairs to the second floor. She glanced from left to right and decided if General Will Edmonds used the bedroom on the right, she was going to the opposite end of the hall. She walked to the end of the hall and opened the door.

Inside were two double beds with a stripped wood bedframe, a couple easy chairs, a desk with an office chair, and a six drawer dresser with television and DVR player. On the outside of the door was a wood placard on a string with vacant painted on one side. When she turned it over she realized the room would be labeled occupied. She turned it over.

Wilma set a bag on the foot of each bed and turned to leave. She looked around one last time and imagined the property as a resort. With each room having an iron stove for warmth in cold weather, the resort would have been extremely popular with the hunters and outdoorsmen it was intended to accommodate.

Wilma shrugged. Those days were over. She wasn’t naïve, Texas, California, Georgia, and Maryland were lost and the rest of the country would follow. There was no chance of the borders being sealed tight enough to limit the spread of the infections. The country would fall and with the first reports of the infection appearing in Europe, Asia and the Middle East the world would follow.

Her eyes welled with tears at the thought of her eldest daughter out in a world where the dead rose up to consume the living. Wilma had been a child of the cold war, lived through the pain of 9/11. She had spent the last fifteen years watching young men fight a losing battle in a place with burning sand and extremists ready to kill anyone not willing to follow their version of religion. She sighed deeply. The world was a nightmare and all they could do was try to survive and pray family did as well.

Wilma squared her shoulders and walked out of the room and made her way to the downstairs kitchen. She walked through the door and was horrified at the mess. She was disgusted. Obviously, the General had been cooking and NOT cleaning for the past week. She walked to the refrigerators and looked inside. There were three units, two were empty and not turned on. The third had been filled with a variety of food stuff and not with any great care. She closed the door and turned to face the sink. It was filled with pots and pans, dirty dishes and a multitude of food crusted utensils. The stench of blood, raw meat, and rotting food was overpowering.

After a quick perusal of cleaning supplies, Wilma began the daunting task of scrubbing the room that had been used to process the deer she was supposed to cook. Wilma started with dishes. After soaking the crusted food loose, she slid glasses, into fresh soapy water and washed dozens of glass, pot, pans and stacks of dishes. She refilled the sink with more clean soapy water and cleaned the counters, the stove and refrigerator then found a bucket and mop, to scrub the floors.

Still working on scrubbing Wilma glanced at the large clock above the industrial sink. She struggled to her feet and pulled a pre-made lasagna and garlic bread from one of the overstocked freezers to prepare for lunch. Hard work required calories but she had too much cleaning to do to prepare the deer meat. If the General had a problem, he could cook his own meals.

At twelve-thirty, Will, Cassie and Randy arrived for the mid-day meal. Cassie was first to walk into the spotless kitchen.

“Something smells good.” Cassie commented.

When the foursome sat down to eat, Will scowled at the pan of lasagna. “Thought we still had deer meat left.”

Wilma glared at him. “You wanted me to cook in a kitchen that hasn’t been cleaned in God knows how long? There wasn’t a pan or pot without food burnt in the bottom. If you want me to prepare meals for you, fine. But I’ll be doing it my way. And that means no more processing meat in this kitchen. You left this kitchen looking and smelling like a slaughter house. You left blood and scraps of meat splattered all over. You both have been living like pigs.”

“Ain’t my fault. Elaina and her husband, Juan, left to visit family in Mexico the week before all this shit happened. Until you and Cassie got here it was just me and Randy.” Will scowled. “We had more important things to worry about than doing dishes.”

“I appreciate your thinking about us in Houston, but you can’t treat us or anyone else as if we are hired help. I’ll contribute to the well-being of this group, but you will not be shooting out orders when it comes to meals as long as I’m cooking.”

“Okay, already. You made your point.” Will answered sounding a little more contrite than he really wanted. He reached for a piece of bread to go with his serving of pasta.

Wilma added. “I need Cassie to help me inventory all the food stock this afternoon. We need to start rationing fuel so we can continue to run the generator to maintain the freezers.”

“We won’t be using the generators much longer. I’m going to finish hooking up the solar panels tomorrow.”

“Fine then I won’t worry about the fuel issue but there is more to be thinking about. Is there a garden? Frozen food will run out, eventually. We need to think about sustainability.”

Will answered. “There’s a chef’s garden out back.”

Wilma threw up her hands. “We need to plant as much garden as we have useable space. You keep telling me there is going to be a lot more people coming. If that’s the case, we have to create a self-sustaining environment.”

Will scowled. “We don’t have the man-power.”

Will Edmonds sipped from a cup of steaming coffee as he looked over the pine and oak forested valley stretching out before him.  “How’s your family settling in, Randy?”

Randy shrugged.  “Cassie hasn’t moved the boxes of books from the door. Aunt Wilma is worried sick about my cousin.  The last time she talked to Tate she was in San Antonio waiting for a load.”

“She’s in the middle of the shit storm, right along with my daughter and her family.” He sighed then continued.  “All we can do is pray they got out in time and are now headed this way.”

“Tate’s tough.”  Randy chuckled.  “She used to kick my ass, when I was a kid.  Last time I saw her, I told her if the shit-hits-the-fan, head this way. I tried to tell her what happen on that last mission, but I just couldn’t talk about it back then.  I was pretty messed up and those quacks at the VA didn’t help by telling me I was crazy and throwing pills at me.”

Will laid his hand on Randy’s shoulder.  “I know.  No one would believe anyone would want to reanimate the dead a few days ago, much less three years ago.”

“Well, they fucking believe me now.”  Randy railed. “I told ‘em.  My team ended up like those walking dead fuckers. I had to put five men down.” His breath caught and his hands began to shake.

“Let it go Randy. Being angry now won’t make a difference and we got family to protect.  My daughter and her family and your cousin will get here and we have to be ready.  With a little luck more of our friends will arrive soon. We need to be ready.”

“Yeah.  You’re right.  Gotta let it go.”  Randy closed his eyes then took a deep cleansing breath. When he opened his eyes, his hands had grown steady again and face relaxed.

“Will your cousin know to come here?” Will asked.

Randy shrugged. “I think so, but really I don’t know.  She would want to find her mother and sister. I think she would come if she knew about Houston. What about your daughter. It would be a hard trek for a woman and two kids.”

“I know, but I’m hoping Brian is with them or maybe even other soldiers from the base to help protect them coming west.” Will sighed.  “Let’s get the day started.  You want some coffee.”

“I’m good, thanks. Aunt Wilma made me breakfast, this morning. Said a man ain’t worth much without a good breakfast.” Randy laughed.  “Cassie offered to help me work on the drawbridge. Sure could use Juan’s help. When do you expect him and Elaina to roll in?”

Will shrugged.  “Who knows? I’m going to use the small front end loader to extend the last hundred yards of the gully back to the south wall of the canyon.  With that done, the cattle guard will be the only access across the gap. I figure we can start unrolling the barbed wire on this side of the ravine then.”

“With the cattle guard rigged as a drawbridge it’ll limit access to this side of the canyon.  I need to get back to it this morning.  I’m going to take the welder down to the crossing and finish assembling the counter-weight system.”  Randy laughed.  “A ten year old will be able to raise and lower the gate when I get done.”

“I’m lucky to have you here Randy.  We’ll have to worry about looters when supplies run low for the folks leaving the cities.” Will stated.

“Hopefully, won’t be many people come up this way.  Not many people even know about this place.  It was abandoned for years before you came out here.”

Will shrugged.  “True, but when people start looking for a safe place to hide out, a few hunter types is bound to remember an isolated hunting lodge like this.  We can support a small community but I would like to have a say in who that includes.  With all the Juniper and Ponderosa Pine on the high ridges we could eventually build even more than the twelve cabins to house families.”

“Creating those watering holes up in the hills a few years back sure has increased the wild life around here.  I even saw a few wild horses the other day.” Randy commented.

“Yeah.  Maybe we’ll run across some stray cattle if we get a chance to search some of the open range. For now, our focus is security and that means digging the trench and getting the bridge operational.”

Randy shrugged.  “Well, I’m going to get another cup of coffee then Cassie and I’ll head out.  I did ask Aunt Wilma if she’d go to the lodge and fix our dinner and she said she would.  We still have some venison from the deer we killed yesterday.”

“I’ve been thinking.  I know the cabin you’re living in is big enough, but I’d like to have you move up to the lodge.  It doesn’t have to be today, but in the next couple days.  It’ll be safer for everyone.”

“You’ll want your family to live there when they get here.” Randy protested.

“Yeah, but when they do show up there’ll still be plenty of room and I don’t fancy strangers in the lodge with me and mine.  Besides, I’d like the guns in one place.”

“I guess you’re right.” Randy answered.  “I’ll talk to them, but I don’t see a problem.”

“Well, for now we got a lot to do to protect this place.”  Will mumbled as he walked away. “Be sure to pick up the two-way radio on the front desk.”

Wilma Hamilton stepped into the Lodge and glanced around.  So now the lodge was going to be their home.  They were safe, because of Randy and this strange man but she wasn’t sure she liked the new living arrangements.

That night both she and her daughter, Cassie, had watched the horror of the attacks at the military base unfold on the television.  The news programs grew more and more frightening.  She and Cassie discussed loading up the car and leaving, but after spending hours trapped in traffic before Hurricane Rita, they were afraid it would more of the same. People died trying to escape a hurricane that didn’t even show up. Wilma was afraid they would get trapped and overtaken in Cassie’s little Prius.

Randy had arrived like a storm at midnight.  He told them they had twenty minutes to pack whatever they wanted to take because they wouldn’t be coming back.  He backed up his big truck and loaded whatever Wilma or Cassie could carry out of the house.

Wilma insisted on her portable sewing machine, trunks of fabric and sewing supplies.  When Randy announced enough, she packed two bags of clothes.  With the time left, she emptied canned goods from the kitchen into a laundry basket and grabbed a large blue enamel pot with all her canning supplies.  She hurried to the garage and retrieved six boxes of assorted sizes of canning jars.

Cassie spent her time packing up her laptop, printer and paper supplies.  She pulled quilts from the beds and linens from the hall closet.  It took a bit of convincing to get Randy to load the massive cedar chest from Cassie’s room, but with it headed for the truck she packed her own clothes then cleared the bathrooms and cabinets of shampoos and OTC medications.

When Randy ushered them out of the small house in West Houston, it looked like a storm had hit the inside.  They got in the truck and Randy cranked the diesel engine.  He headed west on the back streets and ended on the narrow two-lane blacktop roads that wound through country roads through southwest Texas.  Randy drove finally stopped in Dryden at a fast food place that still had Internet access.

Cassie sent an email to her sister then used the computer to pull up news programs and social media to see accounts of attacks that began on the southeast side of Houston and rolled over the city like a wave.  She tried calling and texting her sister but cell service was sketchy at best this far from the big city.

Della tapped on the door of Steve’s motel room still dressed in an oversized t-shirt and boxers.

“Military is here.”  Della announced from outside the door. “You have to see this.”

“Calm down, give me a minute.”  Steve slid into the wheel chair and rolled to the door and opened it. He tried to ignore her shapely dark legs and tried to concentrate on what she was saying.   He looked toward the sound of heavy trucks and roaring engines.

“I think we need to be careful.” Announced.

“What do you mean?  It’s soldiers.”  Della argued.

“Why here?”  He pulled her inside and called over his shoulder at Zack.  “Up and at ‘em, Zack.”

Steve pulled the curtains closed and he turned to Della.  “This is out in the middle of nowhere.  Why would the military send troops here?”

Della looked puzzled.  “Well, I don’t know.”

“Exactly.  This small community is not strategic in any way at all.  Following that train of thought, I’m worried they’re not under orders.  If that’s the case, they’re not here for the benefit of this community.”

Zack sat up and looked around.  His eyes found Steve and Della and chuckled.  “Got some good looking legs there, Ms Della.”

Della rolled her eyes.  “So, what are you saying?”

“I think we need to be careful until we know what’s going on with the military.”  Steve advised as he let Della out the door.

They all dressed and made their way to the school for breakfast.  After a scowl from Della, Steve opted not using his prosthetics.  The wheelchair caused a few interested glances from the new arrivals in uniform.  The community was a buzz of activity and rife with speculation about the arrival of the military.

From gossip outside the cafeteria, they learned the officer leading the unit had insisted on a meeting with the city council at the city hall.  The impromptu meeting was organized and now the town civilian authorities were behind doors with the officer in charge. The rest of the soldiers looked around as if expecting trouble. Steve noticed the military vehicles were parked in a defensive formation around the town hall intensifying his unease.

Della, Steve, and Zack entered the cafeteria and got trays.  Once settled at a table and eating, they noticed soldiers take up posts at each of the exits.  They ate quickly keeping watch around the room.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”  Della announced.

“You’re right.  Let’s get outta here.” Steve backed his chair from table and headed for the door with both Della and Zack in tow.

As they walked past the table where Sandy was sitting with the two young women she had been staying with, Della stopped.  “We’re meeting at the motel,”  She glanced around pointedly.  “to discuss the latest development.”

“No thanks.  It doesn’t matter what you have going on.  I’m staying here.  I have friends now.  It’s safe.  No way would I even consider leaving here.”  Sandy answered.

Della cringed at the tirade.  “Please keep your voice down.”

“Fine.”  Sandy looked annoyed.  “I have no intentions of going anywhere until the soldiers say I can go home.  End of story.  I’m not your responsibility and you can’t make me do anything I don’t want to.”

Della squared her shoulders.  “That’s fine, Sandy.  If you change your mind, just come see us, sooner rather than later.”  She hurried after Steve and Zack standing at the door.

As she approached she caught the ongoing conversation.

Steve glared at the soldier stationed at the door.  “Excuse me?  What do you mean we have to stay here?”

“The Major’s request.”  The soldier answered. “He’d like everyone to stick around and be available when he finishes his meeting with the powers that be.  He plans on a formal announcement at eleven this morning.”

Steve looked annoyed.  “I’ll tell you what.  I need to rest.  We had a bad time getting here.  Della is my nurse and Zack, my man Friday.  Are you holding a disabled veteran prisoner?”

“Of course not, sir.” The soldier looked uncomfortable.

“We’ll come back shortly before eleven.”

The soldier looked uncomfortable but finally agreed. “Be back before eleven or it will be my ass.”

Della started to speak as they walk out of the building, but Steve held up his hand.

At the motel, they heard harried voices through the open window.

“Why?”  Millie asked.

“We have to get outta here.  They came into the clinic and gathered everyone’s keys for the pharmacy. I was in the back room doing inventory when they came in.  They were talking about going from house to house to confiscate all medications and taking control of ALL resources, food, gas, everything.  I emptied all of the heart meds you need in my pocket then snuck out.” Darlene answered.

“Oh my.”  Millie responded. “You’re going to get in trouble.”

“No.  We’re leaving.”  Ordered Darlene from the bathroom. “Penny put all your clothes in the plastic bag.”

Steve rolled through the door and raised his voice.  “Darlene? Could we talk for a minute?”

“Just a minute.”  She called out.

He whispered to Della.  “Start packing.”

He turned to Zack. “Where is the truck?”

“Out back.  I put it there to get it out of the afternoon sun since we still have some of our supplies in it.”

“Good.  Get out there and load supplies when Della passes our stuff out the back window. I’ll gather our clothes and do the same.” Steve reached for his prosthetics in the bag at the back of the chair.  He slid the right prosthetic on the stump of his lower leg.

Darlene walked up to Steve and glanced over his should out to the courtyard.  She looked even more worried when she saw the soldiers crossing the road outside the town hall.

“I’ve only got a minute.”

“We’re leaving too.  Do you have gas?”  Steve asked.

“Only a quarter of a tank, but we can’t stay.” She dipped her hand into her pocket and spilled hundreds of small white pills into a large brown plastic bottle.

“I heard what you said.”  Steve responded.  “I think you have a good grasp of what’s going to happen.  We’re leaving too. The truck is diesel and an extended cab so we have room your family.”

“I’m not leaving Millie.”  Darlene protested.

“I wouldn’t think of it.”  Steve answered.

Pack up and drop your things through the back window.  Zack is in back and will load it into the pickup.  As soon as we’re ready, we’re loading up and leaving.  Leave a few odd pieces of clothing around so if someone comes along and looks in the room it doesn’t look like your planning on leaving.”

“We have to hurry.  They plan on confiscating all the guns at this big meeting.”  When Steve nodded, she disappeared back into her and Millie’s room.

He stood up from the chair and walked into the motel room and loaded up all the weapons in a canvas bag and passed it through the window.  Just as he turned to reach for a pair of pants to add to bag on his lap a voice called out.

“Sir? It’s almost eleven and you folks need to get to the square for the meeting.”

Steve turned.  “No problem, soldier.  I’m just finishing up a little housekeeping. Living in a motel room is not ideal for sure.” He grinned.

“Not my problem.  Get the two women and fat kid and get moving.”

“Got it.  We’ll be right there.”

The soldier moved from door to door and made the same speech then moved to the back of the building to ensure the residents move out.

All the able bodied residents moved more quickly and when the soldier saw Steve, again in the wheel chair and old black woman were headed in the right direction with their caregivers, he walked away.  Darlene held Penny’s hand and joined Steve’s group.  Steve let Millie set the pace leaving them falling farther and farther behind the hundreds of folks gathering at the town hall.  He stopped everyone at the edge of the square as far from the gathering as possible.

Two strutting military men stood on the top steps of the town hall along with Tony and half a dozen civilian.  Tony looked shell shocked.  He stole glances at the Major as if he were looking at a rattlesnake ready to strike.  The other civilians looked no easier at being in the company of the military.

Della leaned down to whisper to Steve. “This doesn’t look good.”

Steve got out of the chair and gentle guided Millie into the wheelchair.  Together the group of six began to ease back from the gathering into the shadow of a big spreading oak.  The soldiers had gravitated toward the front of the gather of nearly three hundred people gathered.

The Major stepped up to a portable public address system. “The President of the United States has imposed congressionally authorized martial law for the duration of this crisis. The authorizing act allows the President to suspend habeas corpus throughout the entire United States.

There have been instances of the use of the military law within the borders of the United States, such as during the civil rights crises in the 50’s. As of this enactment, there will be no distinction between martial law and military justice administered by the military and as such takes precedence and all civil courts will cease to function for the duration of this crisis.

Guards will be posted throughout the community, and all assets will be consolidated for appropriate redistribution by the military and to discourage hoarding. The assets to be collected by this order will include all fuel, food stock, liquors, medications, weapons and ammunition to ensure proper distribution.  Military personnel and/or military authorized individuals will take any and all actions to ensure infected individuals do not enter the secure perimeters.

Work details will be established and everyone, I repeat, everyone will be assigned to a work detail.  There will be no exceptions if you don’t work folks, you will not be eating.”

Tony jumped up leaned over and said something at the Major and his Captain.  The big black man’s arm shot out and he slammed a handgun against the side of Tony’s head.

Pandemonium erupted on the front steps of the town hall.  Other members of the city council rushed to Tony’s side.  Soldiers swarmed around the crowd and shots were fired.

“Go now.”  Steve whispered.

The audience either pulled back from the altercation or surged forward to protest.

Della grabbed the handles of the wheel chair where Millie had settled and Darlene picked up Penny.  They quickly made a beeline for the corner of the motel building.  Two more shots were fired, but Steve’s band of escapees kept moving away from the fighting that suddenly erupted.

They got to the side of the building and all were out of breath except Millie and Penny.

“Run away! Run away!” Penny giggled.

Steve turned to Zack.  “Get them in the truck.”

Zack grabbed the handles of the wheel chair from Della.  “Go. I got this.”

Steve watched as the twenty or so soldiers herded the city council toward the door to the City Hall.  Half a dozen burly townsmen raced toward the commotion and more shots rang out.  Two men fell and the crowd panicked and scattered in all directions.

Steve hurried around the building to the truck and struggled into the seat.  “Go! Now!”

Zack slammed the truck into gear and stomped on the gas.  He made the first left and headed back down the street toward the bridge.

When the truck got to the metal barrier at the bridge, Ollie stepped out of the nearby tent and waved.  “What’s going on?  Where are you folks headed?”  He asked with a worried look.  “What are the shots in town?”

Steve answered.  “The soldiers just caused a riot in front of city hall.  Two people went down.  They’re claiming martial law gives them the right to confiscate food, meds and weapons.  We have no intentions of staying and giving up our guns.”

“What’ve you got in back?”  Ollie asked.

Just what we came with.”

“Son-of-a-bitch!”  Ollie swore as he looked at the people around him.  “How bad is it?”

Steve shrugged.  “They could have already killed two people.”  He answered then asked.  “Will you open the gate and let us go?”

“No reason not to.”  He waved at the men standing look out.  “Open the gate.”

Ollie looked into the back seat.  Looks like you picked up a few folks.  What about that young girl that came in with you?”

“She found some friends and was determined to stay.”  Steve shrugged. “Will you watch out for her?  She’s just a kid.”

The gate swung open. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”  Ollie stepped back and waved them toward the gate. “Thanks for the head’s up. You folks be safe.”

Steve hesitated then added. “If this falls apart, head for Pine Canyon in the Guadalupe National Park.”

Ollie gave a quick nod and waved the truck on.  Zack stepped on the accelerator and Steve looked in the side mirror as they drove through the gate to see Ollie heading toward his truck as the gates closed.

Tate gave Matt thirty minutes from dawn’s first light.  When he didn’t show up she cranked the engine of the white rig and headed across the highway to the overgrown cattle guard and the road.  Once across the guard the road quickly disappeared. She drove for ten minutes around massive stands of mesquite, rocks and dry gulleys.   Amid the weeds and scrub grass she saw the first signs of blood and gore. The scattering of blood and remains made her breath catch. Tate downshifted and stopped. She grabbed a small pair of binoculars from her bag and studied the scattering of blood and bones.  When she scanned the area she saw several infected surrounding a cluster of mesquite.

At the edge of the cluster greenery, she studied a length of bone.  She saw a split hoof at the end of the leg bone being devoured by an infected.  As she looked more closely, she saw more and more remains of a massive feral hog. Several more infected followed running piglets.  As Tate examined the area, she noticed movement amid the cluster of mesquite where the infected continued to press closer.  She studied movement and thought she saw the pink flesh of a human arm.  She looked again and saw it was a hand lying on something amid the brush.  A finger twitched.

She saw a glint of light.  A ray of sunlight flickered off of glass.  It was a bottle, a liquor bottle.  With a grunt of disgust, she snarled.  “Ought to leave his drunk-ass to be eaten.”

He must have crawled under the mesquite and the dead-heads were distracted by the feral hog and piglets.  She realized there were at least a dozen infected pressing closer to the brush pile.  The rest of the pack of infected were gathered to one side of the mesquite focused on the buffet of pork.  From her vantage point Tate looked as if there was a trail through the brush to the back side of the stand.

She took a deep breath and turned off the engine.  “Come on, dick-head.  Talk me out of this.” She whispered to herself.  “He could be lying in the brush dead.”  She gathered her handgun and machete.  She stuffed an extra magazine in her hip pocket.  “Tell me I’m not doing this.”  She mumbled before she opened the door to the cab.  “Fuck!”

She slid to the ground and quietly closed the truck door.  She bent over and duck-walked toward the back side of the cluster of mesquite away from the infected cluster around a squealing piglet.  She moved slowly between rocks and brush with huge thorns across the rough terrain.

Tate rounded a clump of mesquite and stood face to face with an infected man in a plaid shirt and jeans.  He reached out and opened his mouth just as she slammed the machete into the top of his skull.  He fell like a sack of potatoes and remained still.  Tate jerked the machete free then stepped over him and moved around the next stand of brush.

With the death of the last piglet, the infected were losing interest in the scattered remains.  She picked up the pace and crossed the last fifty feet to the back of the mesquite warren where she had seen the bottle glistening in the morning sun.  She bent down and looked into the narrow passage way.  “Hey, dumbass!  Get your drunk ass out here!”

Matt groaned.  He thought he heard a voice but he couldn’t be sure.  His head ached.  He looked down and remembered d he’d crawled in the mesquite labyrinth and was trapped.  He couldn’t fight dozens of the infected alone.

“Dumbass!  Get the fuck up and crawl this way. We don’t have much time before the lunch crowd come looking for us.”

He knew that voice; the Orange Bitch.  “Hey!  I’m here!”  He yelled.

“Shut the fuck up, you asshole.”  Tate whispered.

Matt looked from side to side then asked.  “Where are you?”

Tate was so frustrated for a heartbeat she considered raising her gun and shooting Matt. “Behind you.  Slink around the back of that brush and make it quick.  The deadheads out in front of you are getting restless.”

Matt grabbed his pack and rifle, turned around and crawled to a thinning curtain of vegetation he realized Tate stood behind it.  He got to his knees and crawled under the upper branches and thorny brush.  “Ouch.  Fuck.  Damn it.”

Tate used the machete to clear branches and moved toward Matt.  The blade came down just as Matt stuck his head out from behind a clump of thorny green.  The brush fell against his face and shoulder.

“Whoa!”  Matt startled. “You almost took off my ear.”

“Come on dumbass.  You’re lucky it wasn’t your head.”  Tate grumbled.

Tate turned on her heels and headed back through the brush and briars.  She didn’t bother to see if Matt followed just expected him to.

“I need a drink.”  Matt mumbled.

Tate stopped and turned around to face him.  “You have all those people counting on you and the first time no one is looking, you get drunk.  I don’t know what kind of dumbass you are, but it’s time for you, man up.” She slammed her fist into his chest.  “If you get me bit, I will shoot you.  Now, shut up and keep up!”

Matt follow as guilt silenced his protest.  She was right.  He was drunk when he led those infected to that road block.  If he hadn’t been tipping the bottle he would have noticed long before he drove up on it.  If any of those people died it was on him.  They had a right to go after him.

By the time Tate worked her way back to the edge of the maze of mesquite two infected were heading their way.  The first was an old man in boxer shorts with the remains of a bathrobe still clinging to his emaciated body.  His belly was distended and a brown sludge trickled down his legs.  Even behind Tate, Matt could smell the stench wafting up from the walking corpse.

“Oh fuck.” He whispered and tried to breathe through his mouth.

Tate walked up to the old man and used the gun to blow a small hole in his forehead.  He went down and a farmer in bib overalls stumbled closer.  Tate fired, took him down and turned to Matt.  “Keep up.”

She started jogging straight for the white truck in the distance.  Matt refused to let the dehydration and pounding inside his head slow his steps.  He felt pretty sure, as mad as the woman was, she would probably leave him.

When they got to the truck, it was all Matt could do to keep from puking.  He stumbled around the front of the truck while Tate climbed in the driver’s side of the big rig and cranked the engine.  Matt opened the door and pulled himself into the seat and slammed the door.  He let his head fall back against the headrest.

Tate reached behind the seat and dropped two bottles of water in his lap.  She picked up another, opened it and took a long drink. She ignored the infected that had started following them and now surrounded the truck and slapping hands on the doors and hood.

Tate glanced at Matt.

“You man, are a grade-A, fuck-up. You have forty people looking to you to lead and protect them and you’re a fuckin’ drunk.  God knows why. You saved my life and now we’re even.  Clean slate.”

“You don’t understa….”

“Can it!  I don’t give a shit what your drama is.  The people at the camp are looking to you to lead them.  Either step up and lead or get the hell out of my truck.”  She looked totally disgusted.

Matt sat there for a long time without saying a word.  Finally he spoke. His voice was strong and succinct.  “You’re right.  Everything you said is true and my shit has cost us the Humvee. I owe you.”

“No. We’re even with who saved who, but you do owe those people better than you’ve been giving.”

“You’re right. I’ll do better when we get back.” Matt answered.

“First you’re going to help me.  And if you’re real good and don’t fuck this up, I know where you can get another Humvee.  A really nice one.”  Tate answered with a grin.

“Okay.  I’m in. What do I have to do?”

Tate grinned.  “First, you call the camp and tell them you’re safe.” She tossed a radio in Matt’s lap.  “Next, tell them we’re going on a supply run. And as for you, the entire fucking state is now considered dry and you better remember it.  I’ll shoot you in the ass if I catch even a beer in your hand.”

Matt called the camp. When Lawson answered he stated he’d lost the vehicle and was going to try to replace it.  Larry got on the radio and asked questions, but Matt shut him down.

“Hamilton and I will be back tomorrow.  Don’t take chances and keep the camp safe.”  Matt instructed. When he was finished, Tate laughed at the hang dog look on his face.  “Can we go now?” He finally asked.

Tate cranked the engine of the white truck. She slammed the beast in gear and rolled forward.  Three bodies slid under the front tires of the rig.  She made a wide circle around a small cluster of mesquite and headed back to the road leaving the remaining infected in the dust.

Liz stared at the two men standing in front of her.  “He would want me to find our girls!”

Harry moved his head from left to right.  He would want you and the baby safe.  “Your girls are with capable men.  God willing, they will survive and bring them to you.”  He swung a leg over his bike and held out his hand.

Liz stood staring at his hand for a full minute before she slid on the bike with a final protest. “I can’t just give up.”

Harry cranked the engine and slipped it in gear.  “No one is giving up.  We’re protecting this child.”

They left the farm to market road and headed northwest.  The roads were clear of traffic and road blocks.  Few infected seemed to be in the area.  Four hours later, they stopped so Harry could consult a map.  They were getting close to Kerrville, an area rife with back roads, hills and canyons.  It was beautiful country with lakes, rivers and wooded expanses that shut out the ugliness of the past few weeks.

They stood next to the rail road tracks and sipped on water bottle.  Ahead in the distance was a big rig and trailer at the side of the blacktop. The truck was lying on its side as if kicked out of the way like a petulant child.  Liz wondered to the side of the road where vines of dewberries grew.  She stood picking at the lush fruit and eating berry after berry.

“We need to head up to 16 to Ranchero Road to North Valley View Dr. to Rim Rock to Lehmann to Cully Drive. We’ll work our way around Peterson Regional Medical Center then end up on 98 North.”  Harry announced.

They got back on the bikes and slowly accelerated toward the wrecked trailer ahead.  Liz glanced to the left as they rode by and she saw spray painted graffiti.  Suddenly she slammed her hand on Harry’s shoulder and screamed “Stop!”

Harry and John both slammed on the breaks and came to a skidding halt.  Harry turned around to see Liz jumping from the bike.  He studied the massive red heart painted on the smooth metal skin of the top of the trailer.  A red heart with Amy and Claire’s names painted inside.  To the side was three smiley faces, the first with bangs, second with hair on either side of the head and the last bald.

Harry started laughing.  “Well, well, well.  I guess there is a message.”

Liz reached out to touch the dried paint.  She caressed the swirls of red paint as if by touching it she could feel the soft cheek of her daughters.  Tears streamed down her face.

Finally John spoke.  “Would someone tell me what the hell this is all about?”

Liz looked up and smiled.  “My girls’ names are Amy and Claire.”  She took a deep breath.  “It’s meant for me.  They’re safe.”

Harry nodded.  “I think you’re right.”

Suddenly a moan interrupted the conversation.  The trio looked toward the road ahead and were shocked to see an army of infected stumbling toward them.  Harry cranked his bike and Liz slid onto the seat.

“Head out, John.  We’ve got to head back the way we come.”  Harry ordered.  “They’re coming out of the small communities around Kerrville.”

A infected were drawn toward the sounds of the motorcycles.  They stumbled down streets and from buildings and nearby houses.

“I guess we know what happened to all the creeps from back at that last little cluster of houses.  Bastards follow sound.”  John commented.

“Turn right at the next intersection, John.  If I remember right, it should by-pass the housing section and end up behind what looked like an industrial park.”  Harry ordered over the intercom.

“Got it!”  John answered as he pulled his handgun and fired at the closest monster.  A middle-aged woman in a housedress fell to the ground.

Liz pulled her own gun and fired twice as they pulled away from the moving horde of infected.  As she stowed her hand gun she heard John’s startled yelp.

John’s bike jerked to the side and his handlebars pulled from his hands and he sailed over the front doing a loose limbed summersault then landing on the pavement spread-eagle.

Harry slammed on the breaks just as his bike jerked to the side.  Liz clutched at Harry but in the end both him and Liz were thrown from the machine and off to the side in a tumbling roll.   The world became a blur of flying arms, asphalt shredding denim and driving gravel into her knees and elbows.  She felt Harry bounce against her then slip away.  Suddenly, she slammed against a wall and all momentum stopped.  She lay still gasping for breath.  She heard a distant curse.  John?

“Fuck!”  Harry yelled. “Lizzy?”

Liz reached for the snap on her helmet. “Here.”

“Get up…we gotta get to cover!”  Harry yelled.

Bits of asphalt and gravel ricocheted from the ground as Liz realized they were under attack.  She rolled over and saw she was close to the bike.  She grabbed the strap of both their go-bags then followed Harry as he crawled to the side of a building.

John grabbed his pack from his bike and crawled behind a concrete barrier.  “Hey, you two okay?” He called out.

Liz looked at her scrapped knees and elbows where blood was soaking through the denim.  “I’m fine.”  She turned to Harry and examined a knot on his head.  He nodded slowly.  “Harry’s a little banged up, but we’re good.”

John answered.  “Fuckers killed my bike.  Front end is trashed.”

Shots pinged off the concrete again.  “They’re up high, at least half a dozen shooters.”  Harry pulled his handgun and pointed to the corner.  “We have to get the ammo bags and my rifle. It’s still tied to the back of my bike.”

When Harry made a move to reach across the open area between the wall and the bike, Liz pulled him back.  “I can do it.  You and John make sure no one has a chance to look up.” Harry started to protest. but she interrupted.  “I’m a smaller target and you two are better shots.”

Liz pulled off her helmet.  Harry grabbed her arm and handed her a knife with thick heavy blade.  He stood and took her helmet.  “When I toss this, they’ll fire. John and I lay down some cover fire.  Get out there and cut the gun and bag from the bike then get back here.  You’ll have maybe ten seconds before they figure out what’s happening so you have to get back by then.”

“I got this.”  Liz whispered.

Harry stepped back, and tossed the helmet underhanded across the street to clatter against a dumpster where is hit the lid and fell inside to clatter against the bottom with a loud crash and thud.

At the first shot, Liz ran to the back of the motorcycle.  She squatted down behind the rolled bike and began sawing at the rifle strapping.  While she worried through the leather she could hear both Harry and John returning fire.  The bag and rifle dropped. She grabbed the strap of the bag, hunched over and hurried back to Harry’s side.  When she glanced over her shoulder she saw dozens of infected converging on the street leading to the bikes.

The group attacking noticed Liz just as she slipped behind the corner of the building and two shots pinged against brick sending shards into the back of her leg.  Harry peeked around the wall and fired two quick shots then fell back to release a magazine and slam a fresh one into place.

“You okay?”  Harry asked.  When she nodded, he spoke into his helmet one last time.  Head north, John.  We’ll be right behind you as soon as you’re clear.”

Harry peeked around the building, fired and jerked back before answering fire could find its target.  Liz pulled the rifle from the case and handed it to Harry.  He pulled off his helmet and whispered.  “Get low. Take two quick shots then get back and take the bag and run after John.  I’ll be right behind you after I send a couple rounds at the guy on the roof.”

“Got it.”  Liz took the shots, backed clear then grabbed the bag and ran.

Harry stepped away from the corner with the rifle pressed against his shoulder.  He fired.  A shooter across the street toppled from the top of a two story building to the pavement with a blood chilling shriek.  He fell to the street.  One of the attacker on the ground rushed to pick up the injured man but was attacked by two infected.

Harry retreated and the shooter concentrated their fire on the infected attacking their comrade.  Screams from both attackers ended quickly when a single shot rang out.  Another shot silenced the second voice screaming in terror and pain.

Harry limped to where John and Liz waited.  John slid Harry’s arm over his shoulder and the trio hurried around the corner of the first building with the sound of gunfire still echoing in the distance.

Liz struggled to carry two backpacks and the gun bag but kept her feet moving.  At the first break between buildings, they made a left turn, went half a block then right.

The distant gunfire grew less intense then was reduced to single shots as if the shooters were singling out deliberate targets.  The harried voices had long since faded away.  Finally, Harry pulled away from John’s grasp and rocked back against a building wall.

“We have to find a place to hide out until they give up looking for us.”  John announced.

They each scanned the surrounding buildings looking for a place to call sanctuary.  Harry walked to the end of the building and looked down the row of offices and store fronts.  Wandering infected stumbled into view at the far end of the complex.

“We gotta move.” Harry whispered.

“You can’t, Harry.  We have to stop and clean John up and tape your ankle.”

“Has to wait.”  Harry picked up his pack and limped to the opposite end of the building and took a quick look.  “Come on.”

Liz picked up her own pack and the gun bag and began walking.  John slipped up and grabbed the other strap to take some of the load.  Liz gave a quick nod and followed Harry.

He led them down the alley, around a building then through a maze of single story buildings until they left the business park and entered a wooded area.  After nearly a mile Harry stopped, gasping for air.  “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Brian looked up. “How far?”

“Eight miles, maybe.”  Juan answered.

“Like I said, in the morning.”

Another twelve hours, Brian figured the construction workers would be recovered enough to make the trip after their drinking binge and resulting hangovers.  The food prepared by the women did a lot to aid in their recovery.  Brian decided the trio was decent men, just overwhelmed by the situation.

As the sun set and the bar darkened, everyone migrated to booths and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep.  Soon the women were out and Dale curled up on the floor on a pile of cardboard.

For Brian, it was a losing proposition with all the noise from the dead in the street.  He and Billy repacked backpacks and readied supplies before Billy settled on a vinyl bench near the door.  At one, he changed places with Brian when spent the early part of the evening watching the street.

Eugene and Juan were the first to stir.  Juan put on coffee and threw dozens of sausage links on the grill.  He made flour tortilla and as folks got to moving arund, passed out the impromptu breakfast.

They were out the door by full light.  The group spent the day of slipping from doorway to doorway, dodging infected and stumbling past horrible scene of mayhem.  By the time they got to the office building, Brian was ready to shoot at least two of the party.

Getting inside was easy, since Eugene had a key to the back door.  He explained, the crew working on the rehab of the third floor offices were only allowed to work at night.  The night security didn’t want to be bothered every time they needed to open the back door or loading dock to bring supplies in the building.

Brian and his group slipped inside the building without a problem.  Eugene ushered everyone into the back hall, then pulled the door closed.  They stood in the dark listening and sniffing at the stagnant air.

Billy turned to Brian.  “What do you think?”

“We check it out.” Brian answered. “Billy, stay here.  Eugene and I will check out the lobby and security.”

Brian left Billy and the others at the back door then followed Eugene to the lobby.  The reception desk was empty and windowed front of the building was intact.  The reflective glass hid any movement inside. They rounded the reception desk and opened a door to a back hallway.  They walked past the security office.  They found no sign of infected or victims alike.

“Good sign.”  Eugene grinned.  They made their way back to the others and led the group down a hall to a security office.  When he called out a name, everyone shushed him.

“We do this quiet.”  Brian ordered.

Eugene nodded sheepishly.

The place was clean and quiet.  Despite no obvious signs of danger, Brian pointed to the office.

“Dale, you, Juan and the women stay here.  We’ll come back for you.”

“But?” Juan started to protest.

“We’re clearing each floor before we settle down.”  Brian ordered.  He pointed to Eugene and Leon, “You two take the second floor, Billy and I will clear the rest of this floor then move on to the third floor.  When you’re done, head up to the fourth floor.  Don’t take chances.”

Eugene grinned.  “Got it.”  He turned to Leon and slapped him on the shoulder good naturedly. “Come on, buddy.”

Brian and Billy cleared the rest of the first floor while the construction workers cleared the second floor where they had been working.

Brian and Billy, working as a team, made quick work of the open floor with a dozen offices. They began clearing the third floor when the construction workers appear at the exit door.

“Second floor is good, boss.”  Eugene announced.  “We’re going to the top floor.”

“Be careful.” Brian ordered as Eugene disappeared back through the stair door.

It all would have worked out just fine if one of the security guards hadn’t come to work sick or bit.  Somehow both guards ended up trapped in an office at the end of the hall on the top floor.

Working together, Eugene and Leon cleared each office. Eugene jerked open each door, moving to the right while making room for Leon to follow close behind him.  Together, they cleared the office then Eugene moved to the next door leaving Leon to close the door behind them.  Until they got to the executive suite at the end of the hall.

Eugene was sure it was more of the same so he jerked open the mahogany door and charged into the well-appointed office.  Leon was still admiring the sun dancing off the crystal canisters on the glass shelves behind the bar when he heard a loud curse.  Leon turned just in time to see Eugene disappear into the office.

Inside the office, the steel-toe of Eugene’s boot caught on the fleshless leg of the mutilated body of one of the guards.  Eugene tumbled across the body ending up face to face with a torn and shredded face.  Horrified, he jerked away from the gnashing teeth and picked up his hammer to stove in the man’s head.  Blood, bones and brains splatter across the expensive carpet with the first crack of the skull.  Still angered at the sudden terror of the gnashing teeth so close to his face.

“Fucker!”  Eugene yelled as he drove the weapon into the skull again and again.

So intent in destroying the monster, Eugene failed to notice a shadow step from behind the opened door until he felt a stab of pain on his shoulder. He yelped as he dropped the hammer. He rolled over to kick at the monster as he tried to crab-crawl away.

Leon burst into the room and swung his hammer into the head of the second guard that had bitten Eugene.  When the body lay still on the floor Leon looked up to see Eugene getting to his feet.

Eugene stumbled across the room to the massive ornate desk and collapsed onto the executive chair.  Leon stood over the monster he had killed with his hammer still dripping blood and brains when Brian and Billy walked in a few minutes later.

Brian sent Billy for the rest of the party and gave orders to put them in the office across the hall.  He put the women and Dale inside and closed the door.

Brian took in the blood and gore of the room and crossed the blood soaked carpet to the desk.

“Well this sucks.” Eugene announced with a crooked grin.

Brian nodded. “Sorry, man.”

Eugene reached in his pocket and laid a keyring on the table.  “Only works the back door where we came in.” He sighed. “I’d appreciate you not letting me turn.”

Brian nodded.  “No problem. I can do that for you.”

When Billy, Leon and Juan returned, they covered the bodies of the guards. Leon went back to the second floor to retrieve a large roll of construction plastic.  They rolled the two guards in plastic then moved each of the bodies to the second floor and left them behind a pile of construction debris.

The next morning when Eugene died, Brian picked up a letter opener from the desk and ensured he wouldn’t become one of the walking dead. They wrapped his body and moved to the second floor as well.

When Leon protested, Brian answered. “It’s not up for discussion. We’re going to be here until tomorrow or the next day and I, for one, do not want to smell dead bodies and shit the entire time.”

After getting everyone fed, Brian announced he and Billy would be looking through the building for supplies.  When they returned mid-afternoon, everyone had managed to clean up and Leo and Juan volunteered to stand first and second watch so Brian and Billy could rest.

Brian took the early morning watch.  He stood in the dark facing the street below from the darkened office window and thought about the last few days.

He had been dealing with a domestic squabble when the attack happened.  By the time he got his prisoner into the holding cell at the office and to the parade grounds the bio teams were in place and directing emergency services.  He was given gloves and a mask and put to assist transporting the sick and dying to a hospital half way across town.

Without anyone noticing the colorless mist had drifted away to a nearby residential area.  Of course, no one knew or understood the implications at the time, they were too busy trying to save the lives.

Brian warned Liz when he saw the number of people writhing on the grass.  He saw the situation was worse than anything ever imagined so he broke protocol and warned his wife to leave.  As the day wore on he prayed his family had escaped San Antonio and were safely tucked away at her father’s hunting lodge. The image of his wife and girls safe kept him moving.

Brian still hated to close his eyes. Images of the mid-town hospital still haunted his slumber.  That was where he saw the first of the infected attack the living.

Dozens of bodies lying on gurneys had been pushed into a side hall not far from the emergency room.  Without anyone noticing the dead stumbled to their feet and walked the halls attacking anyone they stumbled across.  After half a dozen staff members went missing, the infected managed to escape the hall and enter the emergency room where Brian waited with two paramedics.

It was chaos.  The dead appeared, covered in the blood of those they attacked.  They pounced on doctors and nurses alike.  Brian was unsure of what to do like everyone else. No one wanted to shoot infected soldiers or civilians.  Orderlies, medics and emergency staff raced into the mayhem to pull the infected from the doctors and nurses only to be attacked themselves.  Each and every one fell attempting to save staff.  Brian pulled his handgun but hesitated.

Then a shot rang out.  After the first blast there was an explosion of gunfire echoing throughout the building.  A female voice screamed “head-shots”.

Brian fired at one infected, then another.  With head shots, they dropped.  An officer with three enlisted men ran past him toward the door.  Brian fired again and again putting down more infected dressed in scrubs.

The last man, leaving the building, grabbed his arm.  “Gotta go, sir!”

The last man grabbed Brian’s arm and pulled him back through the opening.

“Close the fuckin’ doors.  Get ‘em secured!”  A commanding voice called out as the soldiers ran back toward Brian.

“Help us get this door sealed or we’re dead!”  One of the soldiers called out.

Stunned Brian helped slam the two sliders closed then secured them.  The officer stood at the side of the building with a hand covering his bleeding arm.

The soldiers who pulled him from the hospital had saved Brian’s life, but all he could think about was the people left trapped in the emergency room with the infected screaming as they were being torn apart.  With another barked order, the men ran to a nearby ambulance, hopped in and drove away.  Brian decided he could do nothing by staying so he jumped in the ambulance as well.

After a brief discussion, Brian directed the young PFC driving the vehicle to the MP office.  He figured it was the closest place to get more ammo and guns.

When they got to the single story green building, they walked in to the sounds of a man screaming to be released.

Brian walked back to the cell. “Shut the fuck up!” He ordered in a voice that left no room for argument.

“What’s going on? Everyone ran outta here and no one’s been back.” The soldier asked.

“I’m letting you out of here. Get your ass home and protect his family.” Brian threw him the keys to a military sedan parked at the side of the building.  “Don’t stop for anyone. Infected people are attacking anyone they get their hands on. Don’t get bit.”

The soldier ran out of the office.  A moment later and engine cranked and the sound slowly disappeared moments later.  Brian locked up the building and went back to the briefing room where he had left the injured soldiers.  He bandaged each of the injuries on three of the four men then watched as they sickened. One by one they succumbed to illness.

Six hours later, Brian put a bullet in Major Winston’s head then two of his men an hour after that.  The only soldier to survive was the kid that had pulled Brian from the hospital.  PFC Billy Walker was still with Brian, expecting him to tell him what to do next.  Brian laughed.  The kid was green as grass, but he knew how to take orders.  That was a good thing.

Lieutenant Brian Jameson looked through the blood smeared fourth-floor window of the office building to the streets below.  A lot of the infected had followed the last of the army vehicles as they thundered from the base the day before.  He and PFC Walker watched the vehicles pull out unable to do a thing about it.

He had known there were more soldiers on the base, but when he had lost his radio he had no way of contacting them without drawing attention to their hiding place.  Land lines were down and cell service was overloaded and none of the calls connected.  The one time he had gotten his wife’s cell phone to ring, it went to voicemail.  She hadn’t answered. Were Liz and his daughters still alive?

He forced his thoughts from his family.  He could do nothing to help them.  He had people to help here and now. The four story office building was the third structure Brian and the PFC had used to hide from the infected since leaving the Army base.

The day the surviving military left the base had been bad and nearly sent PFC Billy Walker into a panic.

“Son of a bitch!”  Billy gasped.  “We’re so fucked!”

Brian reached out and shoved the kid behind a vehicle then fired a silenced round into the head of an infected woman who had taken notice of his outburst.  “Quiet.”

“If we cut across the base we can head northwest.  Maybe we can catch up.”

They spent the next few hours working their way past the enlisted men’s barracks and office buildings and around groups of infected.  By late in the afternoon they realized most traffic was at a standstill and any vehicles that were still moving were being quickly brought to a stop and surrounded by the infected.  No noise was the key so they were traveling on foot, at least, until the edge of the city.

Even if they found the surviving soldiers, they would be surrounded by the dead.  The loud military vehicles were rolling dinner bells.

As the afternoon sun began to fade they were left at the edge of a strip center.  Only one door seemed intact so Brian used a crowbar to pop the door from the frame and slipped into a building.  He sniffed and signaled Billy inside.

They wedged the door closed and moved through the darkened building.  When they got to the back of a long hall to a small breakroom they found three people huddled in the corner too afraid to even turn on a light.  They had had few supplies to start with and nothing but water since the day before.

The two women and an overweight insurance salesman were so terrified they could barely speak.  Brian and Billy calmed the hysteria caused by their arrival and got enough information to know they needed food.  They shared a few supplies then left the trio to scavenge supplies from other offices in the building.

“What are we going to do with them?”  Billy asked.

Brian used the toe of his boot to ease the door open as he held the silenced handgun in front of him.  The room was a call center filled with thirty-plus waist-high cubicles, arranged in four rows of cubes extending the length of the room. One row was positioned against the wall on either side and the two middle rows were separated by a five-foot soft wall.

“Perfect.  Pay attention, Billy.  It doesn’t look like anyone is here, but stay alert.  We need shoes for the women. Go through drawers and cabinets.  Look for anything we might be able to use, shoes for the women, food, pants, or t-shirts. Even jackets if you can find a couple.”

“Yes sir.” Billy grinned.

Brian moved to the pathway to the right while Billy approached the corridor on the left.  Brian moved past the first cube with an assortment of posted notes bottom of the computer screen and a photo of a dark haired little girl.  Brian laid the picture flat and opened each of the drawers.  He scored two Slim Jims and a Candy bar. He dropped them in a plastic bag and turned to the cubical to the right.

Brian could hear Billy moved down the opposite corridor opening drawers, rattling bags and checking out every cubical.  It took nearly five minutes to search all the cubicles.  At the end, Billy looked around the corner and grinned.  Over his shoulder hung two pair of jogging shoes tied together by the strings, He held a jacket and a sweater and some kind of a shawl.

“Only scored a couple Ramen noodle cups, but not much in the way of food. They had a butt load of rotten salads.”   Billy grinned.  “But I got shoes.”

Brian nodded. “I got food, and a pair of shoes, small though.  Most of my side was used by men. They worried more about food then clothes.”

They cleared the manager’s office and found a bowl of candy but little else of value.  They got back to the trio and settled down for the night.

The two women, Paula and Margo, worked in an office across the street.  When the office was attacked, then ran to the next office door and slipped inside and locked the door.  Dale Witman was a three pack a day smoker and showed it.  He had watched the mayhem from his office and the three of them had decided to hunker down and wait for help.  Help that never came.

Brian tossed the three pairs of shoes on the floor in front of the two women and Dale.  The women tried on shoes and settled on the two smaller pair leaving Dale wear the pink jogging shoes. When he started to protest Brian turned and glared at him.

“Wear ‘em or not.  I don’t care. But I’m telling you right now, you keep up or I will leave you behind.”

Dale slid his feet out of the expensive loafers and jammed his feet into the pink running shoes

They spent the night and moved on at dawn.  They moved down alleys, around building and through parking garaging until they got caught between two drifting herds of infected  in the middle of the afternoon.

“Do something.”  Dale clutched at Brian’s arm.  “We’re going to die!”

Brian jerked his arm away.  “Shut up!”

He glanced up and down the block then turned to a scared door at his side.  He jammed the crowbar between the door and wood facing.  With a crack of wood the door swung open. Billy stepped inside, fanning the light from side to side and sniffing at the stagnant air.

He stopped at the sight of three bodies slumped in a corner booth.  The table was littered with dozens of beer bottles.  The stench of stale beer made him take a step back but Brian pushed him further into the room.   Brian led the others into the bar and eased the door closed then jammed a chair under the doorknob. The three men snorted and groaned then returned to slumbering.

Brian gave them a quick onceover and realized the three bodies were live men, just dead drunk.  They each wore tool belts of construction workers and had obviously been drinking for quite a few days.

Paula with Margo in tow went behind the bar.  She used a rubber band to pull back her long dark hair and dug around behind the polished bar until she found coffee and filters.  Once the smell of coffee filled the air, she began searching for food.  At the smell of food cooking and coffee the drunks began to stir.

Two hours later, most of the group sat together at a large table discussing how they ended up at the bar.  After one last look outside, Brian settled down to eat.  Billy took his place watching through the small peephole in the door.

After brief introductions, Brian asked.  “So Eugene, Juan and Leon, what’s your story?”  He slathered mustard on his burger and stale bun and took a big bite of sandwich.

Eugene, the foreman on the construction project the trio had been working on announced. “We were working on this building on the outskirts of town before the attack.  We took outta there together.  I got hit by a sedan a few blocks from here.  We barely escaped a bunch of those crazy people. Got this far, and couldn’t decide to what to do next.”  He chuckled.  “Besides, I was outta beer at home.

Juan interrupted.  “I knew the bartender that worked here.  We got to the back door it was open.  No one was here when we come in.”

Eugene laughed.  “Been here ever since.”  He belched. “Couldn’t decide what to do and we could lock the place up, so we just had a drink or two to think about what to do next.”

Leon, a muscular black man with a big smile, chuckled. “We weren’t thinking on it too hard.”

“We’re leaving in the morning.  You can come or not.  Up to you.”  Brian answered.

Juan leaned closer.  “Where are you going?”

“Southwest until we can find a place to get a ride then head out of town.”

“We know a place.  It should be empty and we can find a vehicle since there’s a used car lot nearby.”