Posts Tagged ‘Harry’

“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.

John poked at the dying fire. “They blocked off some streets, kinda random like.  We didn’t suspect a thing.  They strung cable across the street low down.  I think it was supposed to catch up in the wheels of a regular vehicle and stop it. Instead, it threw us for a loop.  We managed to pick up a couple guns and packs off the bikes and limp off. We made it to the edge of town and hung out at the camper lot until Jack and his kids broke in. I think they were running from the same people that attacked us.”

John continued. “There was a dead fuck in the cashier’s booth with a case of water and a couple candy bars.  The kids hadn’t eaten in a couple days and were hungry. The kid’s father broke in and got bit.”

“That’s tough.” Randy answered as he rose. “Well folks, let’s get some rest, we got a big day tomorrow.”

Randy led the caravan of three vehicles to the hill overlooking Dell City. It wasn’t much of a town. Main Street was barely half a dozen blocks long. At one end of town sat the school, a small drug store and Quick Stop while at the other was t veterinary clinic, a single island gas station and Rosita’s Cafe advertising fry bread and taquitos, in between a dozen or so houses and empty store fronts and a couple metal buildings.

Vehicles were stopped haphazardly up and down the streets.  In the distance they could see, a heavy duty truck had been driven straight into the side of the school.  There were neither people or infected on the streets. The small town was eerily quiet.

Randy, Harry and Miguel met in front of Randy’s truck.  “Where is everyone?” Harry asked in a hushed whisper.

“I don’t see a soul. This can’t be good.” John added.

“I don’t know if we’re lucky or not with the vet and gas station across from each other.” Harry commented.

“We’ll go to the veterinary office while you gas up that gas guzzler first. You roll into the station and with your crew. Pablo and his son will keep watch.” Randy announced.

“Sounds good. After we fill up, we’ll get inside the store and see what we can salvage.” Harry added.

Liz clung to Randy. “You don’t know how glad I am to see you.” Liz whispered. “My father? Is he alive?”

Randy laughed. “That old goat is just fine.” He stepped back to get a better look. “You’re skinny as hell, but at least you’re alive! So glad to see you and the girls got off the base. Where are they?”

Liz leaned into his arms. “They’re gone.” She sobbed against his chest. “I couldn’t save them.” Her knees buckled and she collapsed.

Randy held her limp body and reached under Liz’s legs and pulled her into his arms. She hung there, limp as a dishrag. Randy looked to Harry and John for an explanation.

“What in the hell is she talking about? What’s wrong with her?” Randy demanded.

“It’s a long story. I think she exhausted and then add worry about the kids. We’ve been on the road since the day this shit happened.” Harry answered. “Let’s take her into the camper to lie down then we can talk.”

Randy made a curt nod then followed the two strangers toward the camper. On the way, he nodded at Miguel. “Take the trucks back to that stand of Pin Oaks down the road and set up camp.  Leave room for the camper to pull alongside. Be sure to use a Dakota Fire.  I don’t want the fire being seen after dark.  We don’t know who’s out there looking to pinpoint survivors.”

“Sí, Senor Randy.” Miguel answered then jogged back to the other three men standing at the vehicles.

John stepped into the camper and called out. “It’s okay kids. Come on out.”

Cody and Trace appeared in the back bedroom doorway looking a little like deer in headlights.

“These are friends of Ms. Lizzy’s. Come sit down so we can put her in the bed.”

“Is she dead?”  Trace asked.

“Harry laughed. “No. Of course not. She’s just not feeling well and really tired.”

John added. “She’ll be right as rain, soon enough.”

Randy deposited Liz in the bed and after taking the time to lay a damp cloth on her forehead, walked to the sitting area at the front of the camper.

“My names Harry Walters, this is John Tilman. Lizzy has had a tough time of it.” Harry began. “She told us about her dad’s place up in the mountains. I take it you know each other.”

Randy nodded.  “Couple years now. What happened to the girls?  Are they really dead?”  Randy asked.

Harry sighed. “We got no way of knowing, for sure. Lizzy had to put them through a fence to protect them and led the infected away. By the time we met and made our way back they were being picked up by three soldiers. It was pretty fucked up with the infected, men yelling and gun fire. We tried to follow, but we lost ‘em. We’ve been trying to find them but they seem to have disappeared around Kerrville.”

“In other words, they’re probably dead.” Randy answered.

“No. We don’t think so. We saw a message on a trailer. It was something Lizzy recognized.” Harry continued. “Before we could check out the area we got ambushed and had to spend some time in the camper yard recuperating. Then the kids and their father showed up. Things got complicated and we ended up here.  She can’t keep going on like this. I put an end to it for the baby’s sake.”


“Yeah. She’s pregnant.” Harry nodded.

“What about her husband?” Randy asked.

John folded his arms across his chest. “No idea. He warned her. Who knows what happened to him after that. I know from everything we saw on television early on, the base was overrun early on. We have no idea if he survived.”

“All I know now is we need to get someplace safe.  We got an exhausted pregnant woman and two malnourished kids that just lost their dad.” Harry lamented.

Randy nodded. “We’re only sixty miles from canyon. We’ve been out searching for supplies. Tomorrow we’re making a quick trip into Dell City then we’ll be heading back to Pine Springs Canyon.”

Harry glanced through the windshield toward collapsed house and dying fire. “Sounds good to me.”

John added. “We got less than a quarter tank of gas we could maybe find enough to get to Pine Springs.”

Harry chuckled. “Yeah. This is a gas guzzling bitch for sure.”

Randy directed Harry toward a stand of Pin Oak clustered together about half a mile from the highway.  They parked the camper and John opened the side door to expose the waning light. A cooling breeze was a welcome relieve from the stuffy camper.

Randy slapped his hands on his knees.  “It’s settled then. Let’s get busy. My guys will set up some traps. If you two don’t mind, we’ll split the watch three shifts, two each for four hours.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “Sounds like a plan. We can take care of that while Lizzy and the kids get a good night’s sleep. When we hit that town tomorrow we’ll get filled up while you get your supplies then we’ll be ready to head out.”

Liz stood in the doorway watching the two men frowning. “So, I guess you have it all worked out?” She said crossly.

Both men turned toward her looking a little guilty.

“Now, Lizzy. We’re just….”

“I know what you’re doing. You’ve decided I don’t get a say in what happens to me and the kids.” She railed. “This is not circling the wagons protecting the women and children time.”

“Now Lizzy. You’re in the family way and all.”  Harry began then grew quiet when he saw the scowl on her face.

“I think it’s time I see to making the camp safe.” Randy pulled himself to his feet and headed across the camp with Harry and John on his heels.

When they were gone, Liz dropped to the seat next to the table. She felt tears threatening and bit at her bottom lip. The ache in her side was crushing.

“Ms. Liz.  What’s wrong?”  Trace asked sadly.

Liz took a shallow breath and squared her shoulders.  “Nothing.  Let’s see if I can get you two clean shirts. You can get cleaned up and I’ll get your clothes washed. They’ll be dry by morning, but in the meantime Trace, you can wear an oversized t-shirt and Cody can borrow a pair of pants to wear around camp tonight.”

An hour later the kids were clean, the camp was set up with two men on watch and the rest sitting around a small campfire getting to know each other.

“Spyders?”  Randy asked. “You got that far on tricycles?”

“Fuck you, asshole.” Harry laughed. “We did alright until some assholes waylaid us on the outskirts of Odessa.”

Jack smiled and whispered. “Thank you.”

Liz patted his arm. “I’m going to fix you and the kids some soup. I want you to try to eat a bit more, okay?”

Jack slid against the wall and Trace crawled into the bed with her father. Liz looked to Cody. His face still mirrored his distrust.

“Cody? You want to come help me pick out some soup?” Liz asked the youth.

“Doesn’t matter.” Cody snarled.

Liz gave him a sad smile and opened a cabinet door. “Probably doesn’t to you, but maybe to your dad and sister.”

Cody shrugged and walked to the cabinet where the microwavable soup was stored. “Shit!” He pulled one after another out of the cabinet. When he noticed the fruit cups sitting next to the soup, he fell to his knees sobbing.

Liz wrapped her arm around his thin frame and whispered. “It’s alright. You and Trace will survive this. You have to be brave for your sister, now. This is terrible, but I promise you your dad will be at peace knowing you will be safe.”

Cody took a deep breath and pulled free. “It will never be alright.” He got to his feet and he picked out two cups of soup and a couple mixed fruit cups.”

Without a word, Cody heated the soup while Liz opened a fruit cup and pulled a plastic spoon from a drawer. Together, they carried the meals to large bed where Trace sat cross-legged with her father. She was talking about her favorite doll back home then drifted into how it was so good to be clean even if she didn’t have clean clothes. She was a typical preteen drifting from one topic to the next.

“Here.” Cody shoved chicken noodle soup in her hands.

“Oh, my favorite.” She dug the spoon in and took a big bite. She licked at the spoon then dug it in the thick sodium loaded sludge in utter rapture.

Liz laughed. “Do you like fruit salad?” She held out the small can.

“OMG! Two things?” Trace looked to her father. “Can I have two things to eat?”

Jack nodded. “If Ms. Liz tells you its okay, then it’s alright, sweetie.”

Trace leaned over and kissed her father’s damp check. “Thank you, daddy.”

“You need to go eat at the table, baby.”

“Yes sir.”

Jack looked toward his son. “Cody, you go eat with your sister. I need to speak to Ms. Liz.” Cody twisted his face to argue, but his father frowned slightly and added softly. “Do as I say, please.”

When the kids were out of earshot, Jack sighed. “It won’t be long.” Liz nodded and he continued. “Please, make sure I don’t turn.” He took a labored breath. “Give me peace.”

Liz tried to swallow her revulsion. “We will.”

“We left their mom.” A sob caught in his throat. “We didn’t know. We saw her walk out of the building where she died.” Jack whispered. “They know what will happen now.”

Liz, John and Harry took turns driving. It was slow going with the huge camper. What had been a decent place to hide, but turned into an albatross driving through the arid countryside of west Texas. The camper got terrible mileage and they had to stop once already. They had been lucky, there was no one around and they could syphon gas from a delivery access port. It wasn’t easy using the hand pump because the fuel level was low but they finally filled the tank.

Meanwhile, Jack grew steadily worse. Cody and Tracy huddled close to their father until he finally sent them to rest in the bed over the front seats.

It was the first time Liz witnessed a person succumbing to the infection. She watched Jack as he worsened, drifting in and out of consciousness by mid-afternoon. His complexion had turned an ashy gray. Beads of moisture had disappeared and now his skin was dry and looked as if it was aging by the minute. He had taken to holding a towel over his lower faced since each cough spewed drops of spittle and blood across the blanket covering him. Each breath came in a ragged gasp.

“Not long.” Jack whispered. “I hurt too much. Please…stop and help me out.”

“Harry, we need to stop.” Liz called out from the back of the camper.

Harry eased up on the accelerator and the camper began to slow. “There a small farm house ahead.” He turned in the drive and the camper rolled over the culvert and through a gate. “John, we need to make sure there isn’t any infected around before we get anyone out.”

Harry pulled into the drive of an old rundown shack. The house was faded gray wood with only hints of paint remaining. It was built with two sections and a dog trot between. They could see through the breezeway. The yard was overgrown and littered with run-down remnants of antiquated farm equipment. Under a spreading massive oak was a forty year old green Oldsmobile pitted and marred by massive patches of rust.

Harry pulled into the yard and stopped the camper. He glanced back and saw the two children standing in the bedroom doorway protecting their father. The boy looked angry while the little girl had big tears sliding down her face. She chewed at her fingernails.

“Let’s do this.” Harry said.

John gave a quick nod then turned to Liz. “Stay with them.” He nodded toward the kids.

“I will.” Liz answered.

Harry and John stepped out of the camper and with machetes in hand headed toward the house. They disappeared into the left part of the house only to return a few minutes later and enter the right side of the breezeway. A few minutes later Harry crossed the dirt yard to the camper.

“It’s clear. John found a mattress. He’s pulling it out into the breezeway.”

Liz reached out and gently moved the two children to the aside.

Harry entered the camper and walked up to Jack. “Sorry about this, man.”

Jack struggled to get his right leg off the bed. Finally, Harry reached down and gently pulled his legs over the edge of the bed.

“You can’t just leave him!” Cody protested.

“Hush.” Jack whispered. “My decision.”

Liz reached out to wrap her arm around the two children. “We’re not leaving him. We’ll stay as long as your dad needs us.”

Cody jerked away, but Trace turned into Liz and buried her face against Liz’s chest.

Harry half carried, half drug Jack to the door where John waited. When they got him down the three steps, John and Harry carried Jack to the house. They laid him on a frayed blanket covering an old mattress.

Liz followed with the children in tow. Without the sound of the massive engine of the camper, the silence was heavy and only disturbed by Trace’s whimpering.

Jack sighed and smiled at the gathering.

“I’m fine now. You can leave me.” Jack whispered. “It won’t be long. I can feel myself slipping away.

“No. We won’t leave you.” Liz answered.

John disappeared into the rooms on the right and brought two kitchen chairs out into the breezeway. H settled on one and nodded for Liz to take the other. She sat down and pulled Trace into her lap. Cody sat down at the edge of the mattress. Harry walked from the breezeway and reappeared a few minutes later with several bottles of water.

It was a hot afternoon and the hint of a breeze did little to dissipate the heat of from the Texas sun on the tin roof of the breezeway. Before long everyone was glistening with moisture. Everyone, but Jack. His breathing had grown more shallow and his skin dry and cold. He struggled for each breath.

Suddenly, Jack’s eyes opened and he looked at his son. Cody clutched at hand. Trace slipped from Liz’s lap and fell to her knees next to her father. “I love you, both so much.” He coughed and blood tricked from his mouth. “They’ll take care of you.”

Cody knelt next to his father. “I don’t want them. I want you.”

Jack smiled. “Don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you get what you need. I love you son.”

Trace kissed her father’s hand. “Please, Daddy?”

“Love you, baby girl.” Jack’s eyes drifted closed, his chest rose one last time then lay still.

Liz watched as tears slid down her cheeks. After several minutes, Harry laid a hand on Liz’s shoulder.

Liz rose and reached down to pull Trace to her feet and led the little girl out into the afternoon sun. Trace hid her face against Liz’s side as they walked toward the camper. John led Cody out into the sun to follow. Harry followed a few minutes later.

By the time they got to the edge of the yard a spiral of gray smoke crept from the eaves of the breezeway.

Outside the camper, Cody stood stone still, while Trace whimpered. “My daddy….”

Liz pulled Trace into the camper with the rest of the ensemble following behind. Harry climbed behind the wheel as bright orange flames broke through the windows at the left of the breezeway.

“Be at peace, man. We got this covered.” Harry whispered.

The kids and Liz settled at the table while John fell into the passenger seat.

Harry made a U-turn and began to head toward the gate when two vehicles stopped in front of the driveway. The deep ditch on either side of the culvert ensured they stayed where they were.

“What is it?” Liz asked.

“Not sure. Two vehicles.” Harry answered. He grabbed his shotgun and laid it across his lap. “Get the kids to the back of the camper and on the floor. This goes south, get out that back window and into the woods.” Liz hustled the kids away. “John, you ready for this?”

“Fuck no, but I don’t see any way around it.” John said and he checked his load.

“Try to stay cool, man.” Harry stood up and walked back to the door and turned the handle. “Give me a few seconds so they can’t mow us both down at the same time.”

John sighed. “Optimistic, aren’t we?”

Harry stepped out into the late afternoon heat. The setting sun silhouetted four men stepping from two vehicles.

“You light that fire?” A deep voice called out.

“Yep.” Harry answered. “Didn’t have shovels to bury a dead man and didn’t want to leave him for the buzzards.”

The tallest of the four stepped forward. “Family?”

“You might say.” Harry took a step closer and lowered the barrel of his shotgun. “You folks aren’t heading back toward Sierra Blanca, are you? We passed by there and it’s overrun. Really bad there.”

Liz could hear voices but couldn’t hear what was being said. “Stay here, both of you. You hear shots, get out the back window and run. I’ll be right behind you.”

Cody nodded as Liz walked toward the front of the camper. She could see the men facing Harry. They wore western hats, rough work clothes and boots. They looked Hispanic. Liz’s jaw clinched. If they came from Mexico….

“Thanks for the warning.” The tall man answered. “Where you folks headed? There ain’t much out here.”

Harry hesitated a moment then answered. “Looking for a safe place to hide.”

Liz slammed the camper door open and raced toward the tall stranger. “Randy!”

“Liz?” Randy answered as she flew into his arms.

Harry and Liz changed places. He settled behind the wheel and kept watch for pursuers using the side mirror. Liz gathered her medical supplies and made her way to the man and his children.

“The minute I see him, I’m getting this rig cranked and we’re out of here.” Harry announced. “Get that guy fixed up.”

Liz studied the man sitting at the table. His sandy blond hair was matted and greasy. His thin face was drawn and haggard looking.

Finally, she spoke. “Hi. My name is Liz. You have an injury?”

“My name is Jack Green.” The man answered. “Needn’t bother.”

“Well, let me try to patch you up for now.” Liz answered as she passed him a compression bandage. “How old are your children?”

“Cody is thirteen. Trace is only nine.” Jack answered.

Liz smiled at the kids. “Hi. Are you two hungry?” Both kids nodded emphatically. “We have some food in the cabinet in the kitchen behind you. Get something to eat and drinks. Bring something for your dad.”

When the kids had stepped away, Liz pulled the cloth from the wound and cringed at the site of a human bite.

“I know what this means. Your friends should have left me behind.” Jack protested.

“Well, they didn’t, so now I’m going to try to help.” Liz responded.

“It’s a waste of resources. I’m going to die.” Jack answered.

“Look, I’m doing this for the kids. They need to learn to trust us. You’ll be gone and we’re their only hope of survival. I don’t want to have to worry they’ll sneak out in the middle of the night.”

Jack looked down. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m grateful you took us in.”

The engine of the camper roared to life and the side door jerked open. John climbed into the camper and slammed the door. “Go!” Still gasping for air he slumped into the passenger seat. “Those fuckers are crazy.” He spun the seat around and glared at Jack. “What in the hell did you bring down on us?”

“Sorry.” Jack whispered. “We were….”

“Enough!” Liz interrupted. “It’s not their fault. They could be the same people that attacked us and have been looking for us all along. They might have driven by and seen the padlock broken. These people could be caught up in our problems not the other way around.”

John sighed. “I suppose you could have a point there.”

“It doesn’t matter how they found us. I hope your little stunt slows them down enough to get us out of this.” Harry laughed.

“I thought it worked out pretty well.” John rubbed at his side. “It didn’t help that cracked rib, though. I’m getting too old for this shit.”

“Hey, at least, we’re driving in style.” Harry answered. “Get your rifle and be ready in case that crew follows us.”

“Got it.” He grabbed a bottle of water and a package of trail mix. He went to the back of the vehicle and opened the window.

Liz poured peroxide over the wound and finished bandaging Jack’s shoulder. The children came back from the kitchen, their arms filled with packages and bottles. They squeezed in next to their father and began gulping at the food.

Liz returned the supplies to the cabinet then settled at the table across from the family. “Been a while since you had something to eat?”

Jack sipped at a bottle of water. “Three days, I think. A dozen of us were in a small “mom-n-pop” store. We’d been there nearly a week. It was amazing. It had a wood stove, a creek in the back and plenty of canned and packaged foods. I guess they supplied hunters and back packers. We ate packaged foods, cleaned up in the creek, and had plenty of water. They even had some clothes.  We found clean shirts and cargo pants, boots and socks. Shit, we thought we were in heaven.”

“I’ll bet.” Liz answered.

Jack sighed as he wiped at the moisture that had collected on his face. “Can the kids get cleaned up?”

“Sure.” Liz smiled at the kids. “Just use a sink full of water. We’re trying to save what’s in the tank since we don’t know if we can get it filled up again on our way.”

The kids headed to the back of the camper.

“You sound like you have a destination in mind. Where are you heading?” Jack asked.

My dad has property in the mountains. We’re headed there.”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I won’t be around much longer and my kids will be left alone. Will you take them with you?”

“Dad, we don’t need them!” Cody called from the back of the camper. “I’ll take care of us.”

Jack sighed. “Cody, you know what’s gonna happen. You saw what happened to your mom.”

“Dad?” Cody’s voice broke. “You can’t leave us. I won’t let you just give us away.” He ran to his father and collapsed into the seat next to him.

Liz got up and moved to the passenger seat. Tears threatened as she listened to Jack talking to his son.

“Cody, it’s time for you to grow up. I got bit, you know it and you know what it means. I want you to stay with these folks. They didn’t have to save us, but they did. You need help protecting your sister. You know what they did to those women in the store.”

“Dad?” Cody cried.

“Enough. I mean it. You promise to do what these folks say and help them protect your sister. She’s going to need you. Now, more than ever. Promise me.”

Cody remained quiet. The only sound was him sniffling. Finally he whispered. “Yes sir.”

Jack leaned back and took a long deep quivering breath. Trace came out of the bathroom and settled on the bench across from her father and brother.

For the first time Liz could see the younger child was a girl. She had dark hair that had been cut short with heavy bangs across her forehead. She had combed her hair.

When she gave her father a hint of a smile, her dimples reminded Liz of her own daughter. She quickly turned back to the road ahead. Two stray children would not replace the daughters she lost.

From the narrow gravel road, Harry found a blacktop the GPS identified was State Road 54. They turned on the highway and Harry kept the speedometer hovering around sixty miles after mile.

“This is dangerous. What if we come over a hill and run into something?” Liz protested.

“Is it any more dangerous than those assholes finding us?” Harry answered.

Liz shrugged. “You may have a point. “ She walked back to the father and children.

One look at the father and she announced.

“You need to lie down.”

Jack rose then slipped back into the seat. “You need to stop and leave me.” He sighed. “You can’t let me hurt my children.”

Liz reached out to gently pull Jack to his feet. “You come lay down. Right now, we need to let you rest.” When Jack lay down, she whispered. “We won’t let you hurt anyone, but for now, we need the kids to see they can trust us and you can help with that by letting us take care of you.”

Harry stepped through the front window of the sales offices. Glass crunched underfoot. He could hear excited whispers toward the back hall of the sales office part of the building. He glanced at the teller’s window and immediately saw the infected man was no longer trapped behind the glass.

“Shit!” Harry whispered. “John?”

“Back here. We got a problem. Come on back.” John answered.

Harry followed the sound of John’s voice into the dark recesses of the dealership building. When he got to the breakroom, he saw John standing over two bodies. One was the decaying man from the teller’s booth. The other was a stranger still moaning and writhing in pain. Squatting next to the dying man were two children. The man and both kids were malnourished and covered in grime. The taller of the two soon-to-be orphans looked to be a boy around fifteen while the younger was definitely preteen but too dirty to tell if it was a girl or boy.

“What the fuck is going on, here?” Harry demanded.

“They came in looking for food. When they didn’t find anything they tried to get the stuff in the booth. I got here in time to kill the infected, but not before he took a chunk outta the guy laying there.” John answered.

“Fuck!” Harry cursed.

The man on the floor waved his arm to move the children from his side. He pushed himself up and looked at both John and Harry. “Please, don’t hurt my kids.”

“No intentions of hurting your kids. What are you folks doing here?” Harry asked.

“Looking for food. What do you think, asshole?” The boy answered with a snarl.

The man grabbed his son’s leg. “Hush boy. Ain’t these men’s fault I got bit. It was mine.” He looked to Harry. “I’m Ben Green, this is by kids, Cody and Grace.”

“I’m Harry Walters, and this ugly old coot is John Tilman. I wish I could say it was nice meeting you, but like this. Well….”

“I know what’s gonna happen.” Jack answered. “Please. You gotta take the kids and get outta here. We’ve been running from a gang that found us two days ago. If they come here, they’ll kill you all.”

“Then we move out.” Harry responded.

“Take my kids.” Ben pleaded. “Please. Just leave me and take my kids. You’ve gotta hurry.”

“We’ll go, but we’re taking all of you. Come on John.” Harry stepped to Ben’s side and grabbed under Ben’s arm. John followed suite. “Let’s move out.

Ben tried to pull away, but Harry and John only pulled him forward.

“I’m gonna turn.”  Ben protested.

Harry whispered at him. “Might be, but I won’t have your kids fighting us to stay with you.  We need to move out and be quiet about it.”

Ben relented and allowed himself to be carried through the hall toward the broken window. They stepped out into the dawning light to the sound of motors in the distance.

Harry turned around and called back when the kids hesitated. “Let’s go, you two. We have to get outta here.”

Ben called back. “Listen to what they say, from now on.”

Both Cody and Trace picked up the pace and followed close behind. The sound of the vehicles approaching grew louder.

“They’re coming!” Ben warned. “Leave me. Run!”

Harry waved an arm and suddenly the camper at the back of the lot roared to life. “Keep moving!”

Liz cranked the engine and slammed the camper in gear at the sight of Harry’s wave. He and John were carrying a man while two children were following close behind. She pulled out of the parking spaced turning toward the fence, slammed on the breaks then slipped the gear shift into reverse. She stepped on the gas and the camper began rolling backwards toward the Harry and John. She accelerated until the camper began weaving, she slowed enough to guide the vehicle toward the men.

The two men pulled Ben to the side of the drive and called the kids to them. Liz stopped in front of the group, slammed the shift into park. John jerked open the door. He let Harry step inside then pushed Ben and the kids in behind him.

“Hit the gas and go through the fence. Take the ditch at an angle. Wait ten minute down the road half a mile. If I don’t make it by then, leave without me.”

Liz opened her mouth to protest, but John scowled. “Got it. Don’t be late old man!”

John ran to a blue camper, used a key to open a door and climb inside. He cranked the engine and revved the engine, waiting.

Liz stepped on the gas and aimed the camper between the posts where the fence sagged. Harry dropped Ben at the table and pointed the kids toward the opposite side. He threw a towel at Ben. “Stop the bleeding, sit down, and shut up until we get outa this mess you brought to our door step.” He growled.

Harry flopped into the passenger seat and belted in. He pointed toward the back of the property. “Ease up on the gas right before you hit the fence. It’ll knock the support off the top of the post. Angle to the left crossing the easement and hopefully, there won’t be water in the ditch and we get stuck. When you get up on the road, go left.”

Liz hit the fence with the front bumper and the zip ties split.  The front windshield frame hit the pipe at the top was thrown to the side while a crack raced across the glass. The front end of the camper dipped then bounced up the incline to the asphalt. The back tilted and bucked then bounced on the roadway. Liz pushed her foot down on the accelerator and looked back toward the parking lot just in time to see the blue camper pull out and accelerate toward the fence.

John opened both side windows and pulled the seat belt tight. He jammed his foot into the accelerator. The engine revved and the machine accelerated as it raced toward the open fence. He waited until the very last moment and then spun the steering wheel hard to the left just as he got twenty feet from the open fence.

The blue camper skidded and tilted while John held the wheel. The top heavy vehicle hung at a forty-five degree angle for a heartbeat then faltered and tumbled to its side. The vehicle slid the last ten feet into the gaping hole in the fence.

John struggled to fight the blackness that threatened to envelope him.  Finally it faded and he opened his eyes.  Still was held in the seat.  He groaned at the pain the seat belt was causing to his damaged ribs. He turned off the engine and released the seatbelt.  He slid off the seat and fell to the side window. He pocketed the key and stood up. He grunted in pain as he twisted his body to reach toward the open window overhead.

“That wasn’t such a good idea. John mumbled to himself.

He stepped on the console between the front seats and pulled himself up toward the window. When he got his hands on the window sill, he pulled himself up and through the opening. He looked back to the gate at the opposite end of the lot and saw the first vehicle, a massive truck with cobbled together grill across the front, slamming through the chained gate.

John climbed down the underside of the camper and fell into the dry ditch with a gasp of pain. He clutched at his ribs and crawled to the road. He got to his feet and hurried away from the camper.

John heard the first gunshot and turned to see two men standing at the side of the fence with guns pointed in his direction.  They fired two more shots.  Both danced off the asphalt at his feet.  He cursed and pushed himself into an ungainly lope.

He rounded the bend in the road to the sound of cursing and screams of frustration.

Harry and Liz stacked the supplies inside the kitchen then Harry stepped back out of the camper.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He gave a careless wave as he got back in the truck and drove the pickup back to the sales office.

Liz closed the door and stepped back inside to look at John. Her face mirrored her concern. “I can’t see much.”

“Close the curtains then you can turn on a light.” John answered.

She moved around the camper and pulled the curtains closed on the windows.  When she was done, she turned on a small light and then announced.

“I’m going to make sure the light can’t be seen from outside.” She slipped from the camper and stepped back out into the night. She walked around the camper then walked back inside.

When she got back inside, she walked helped John out of his denim jacket then his shirt. She turned on a second light to get a better look. Half of his chest was splotched with deep purple and abrasions.

“Oh God, John.”

He moaned softly. “I think I hit the concrete divider. I’ll be okay.  Just needs taped up.”

He breathing was reduced to shallow gasps.

After a light double tap at the door, Harry’s harsh whisper announced his return. “Just me.”

He slipped inside the camper and pulled the door closed and locked it.  Harry turned back to straighten the curtain over the window.   “Well, is he going to make it, doc?”

“I’m as far from a doctor as you could get.  The only things I’ve ever treated has been scrapes and skins of a ten-year old but I think he might have a broken rib.”

Liz slid her fingers down John’s ribs and as they grew closer to the purple flesh John cringed. She clinched her jaw and continued the exploration.

John gasped. “You found it.”

“I think it’s only one broken rib.” Liz announced. “I can feel the bone move.”

Harry looked over Liz’s shoulder. “I’ll find something to wrap his ribs.” He disappeared into the back of the camper returning with a sheet in hand. After a few swipes of a knife he began tearing six inch strips of fabric.

“I’ll be fine.” John commented through clinched teeth.”

“When we get that rib stabilized, I think you’ll feel better.” Liz agreed.  “We have Tylenols.”

Harry brought soap and a bowl of water. Liz carefully cleaned the abraded flesh then dried the area and gently smeared on antibiotic ointment.  When she was finished, she pressed the flattened end of a fabric strip against his chest and wrapped it around his chest and the damaged rib again and again. When she reached the end, she grabbed a second strip and began wrapping again. After the third strip was added to the binding she glanced around for a way to secure the wrap.

When she heard a ripping sound behind her she turned to Harry and accepted a strip of duct tape with a tilt of her head.

“What?” Harry pulled a second strip of silver tape from a roll and handed it to Liz. Harry grinned. “I picked it up in the shop when I was in there. See you never know. Duct tape has a million uses.”

Liz smiled and anchored the binding then pressed several more strips over the damaged rib to add more support.

“Well?”  She asked.  “Is it any better?”

“I think so.” John huffed.

After binding John’s ribs he felt good enough to stop at the bathroom to clean up before he went back into the bedroom at the back of the camper to lie down.  He cracked windows on either side of the bed and the heat that had built up began to dissipate.

Harry and Liz gathered the supplies and went to work on fixing an evening meal. Harry stacked the water out of the way by the door while Liz sorted through the boxes.  She found beef jerky, pasta and soup cups, dried fruits, crackers and cheese, and boxes of candies and chips.

Liz opened a cup of dried soup added bottled water to hydrate it then used the microwave to warm it.  She used a box lid as a tray and carried the soup with crackers, and a bottle of water back to John.  She gave him two aspirins and left the bottle of aspirins and a second water bottle next to the bed before leaving.


Harry stood at the front of the camper studying the parking lot through at the side of a window blind. “Looks quiet.” He commented over his shoulder.

“Do you think they’ll find us?” Liz whispered as she handed Harry a cup of soup.

Harry let the privacy curtain slip back into place. They had opened the windows a few inches, and the top vent to let some of the heat escape.  The privacy blinds hid any hint of light from the outside.

Harry shrugged. “Hopefully, they’ll give up. They wanted what we had. They have it now. No reason to keep chasing us. At least, I hope.”

“I’m not tired. Why don’t you try to sleep? I’ll keep watch and wake you around two.”

“That works. John needs to stay as still as possible for a few days to give his ribs a chance to heal.”

“What about you?” Liz asked. “Your ankle?”

Harry stripped off his jacket, and sat down to take off his boots.  He groaned in relief as he pulled off his boot. “It’ll be fine if we can stay put for a few days.” He finished his soup then reached into a bag of dried fruit Liz had opened.  He tossed a handful in his mouth and chewed. After a full minute of chewing he took a gulp of water and scowled. “This stuff tastes like shit. I wish we had some beer.”

“It’s good for you.” Liz chuckled. “Enjoy it while I get cleaned up.” She walked back to the bathroom and filled the sink with a couple inches of warm water. She used a wash cloth and cleaned up as much as the limited water would allow.

When she reappeared Harry grinned. “You smell better.”

Liz laughed. “You don’t. Get cleaned up and try to rest. I’ll wake you up later.”

The next morning Liz woke when a shaft of sunlight invaded the camper at the edge of a lowered blind. She looked around the narrow bed and sighed. She hadn’t slept in a bed since leaving Benny and Hazel’s farm. She curled under the sheet and tried to recapture the dream of her husband and children, but it was lost. All that was left was the stifling heat of the sun beating down on the trailer.

“May as well get up.” Harry called from the front of the camper. He limped to the small table and sat down. “I think John looks a little better.”

Liz found a package of animal cookies and bottle of juice from the supplies and began eating. “How’s your ankle?”

“Not great, but if I can stay off it a couple more days, I’ll be fine.” Harry answered.

“Hmmm. Well, let’s hope we don’t have to run again any time soon.” Liz answered as she handed Harry a bottle of juice.

He took a long drink then flexed his ankle. He winced and frowned. “I was looking at the navigation on the dash. The parking lot backs up to a country road that heads west. I think we could take it to state road 54 then to 180 and head north. That should take us to the Guadalupe National Park area. Then it’s up to you.”

“We can’t just leave my daughters.” Liz protested.

“And where do you think we should look for them?”

“I ….” Liz looked at her clutched hands on the table.

“The girls are in God’s hands. Your son is ours. We’re continuing to Pine Canyon.”

The third morning they woke to the sound of breaking glass in the distance. Harry had nodded off near dawn while John and Liz were sleeping.

John lumbered from the back bedroom rubbing at the stubble on his chin. “Did I hear something?”

“Fucking getting old. I fell asleep.” Harry groused as he peeked out the window.

Liz slipped her feet in her boots. “What is it?” She pulled the laces and made a quick bow in each.

“What are we doing here?” John asked. “What’s happening?”

“Wait.” Harry answered. “Maybe it’s just a lone scavenger looking in the office. That’s why I wanted to make it look as normal as possible. Didn’t want anyone to think there was anything worth breaking in for.”

John answered. “It might have back-fired. Most offices have at least a vending machine or two and a kitchen.” He moved the edge of the curtain aside then let it drop. “I’m going to get a better look. Be ready to take off.”

John adjusted the handgun at his side and grabbed his knife. He opened the camper door and stepped outside, then turned and gently closed the door. He jogged to the back of the row of campers and disappeared.

Harry nodded at the back fence. “I’m going to cut the fence. Get the blinds up so you can see to drive, but wait to get behind the wheel. For now, try to stay out of sight.”

Liz nodded and quickly stowed supplied in the cabinets and behind rails along the shelves. She slowly raised the blinds around the front of the camper and watched as Harry slipped out of the camper.

Harry made his way around the back of the camper and crossed the twenty feet of asphalt to the fence. He made his way to the center of the fencing between two posts and took out the wire cutter. He began at the bottom, cutting each of the wire loops. Each snap of the wire snapping seemed to echo across the yard like a gunshot.  He cut two or three wires then glanced over his shoulder. When no one appeared to investigate he resumed cutting.

When John glanced toward the camper he could see Liz slowly open the screens and ready the camper to leave. He clipped half a dozen more wire loops and heard more glass break, then a terrified scream. John finished cutting the fence then ran back to the camper and reached inside to grab his machete.

“Stay put. Get behind the wheel and duck down. If you see us running, crank this bitch and get ready to get the hell out of here.”

John hurried to the back of the row of camper to follow Harry’s trail. He realized his ribs felt pretty good. He jogged after Harry, looking at each camper for his friend. He rounded a camper parked thirty feet from the office just in time to see Harry enter the building.

John glanced back at the camper and Liz then followed.

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.”

After filling gas tanks, Harry led Liz to the bike and pulled her onto the seat behind him. She clung to his black leather jack, too lost in her own misery to speak during the next three hours of riding. She laid her head against his back and let the world slip away.

Dusk was quickly settling around them when John finally slowed enough to allow Harry to pull his bike alongside side. They stopped in the middle of the blacktop.  He kicked the engine out of gear and he turned to speak to Harry.

“We need to find a place to stop. We’re not gonna make it to the Thompson Highway before dark and I don’t want to chance going through a pack of infected in the dark.”

“I know. Look for a place away from the road.” Harry answered then turned around to speak to Liz. “We’ll be stopping soon. Just hang on, Lizzy.”

Lost in the pain of seeing the infected family at the gas station, Liz closed her eyes to the outside world. She trembled uncontrollably as she imagined her own children’s bodies torn and bloodied like the younger reanimated children. Tears ran down her face. She had to find her daughters and protect them.

Harry pointed at a wood-frame house on a nearby hill. The property was surrounded by a pasture fenced in with several strand of barbed wire. A wooden fence separated the yard and buildings and back half of the property from the open pasture.

“That looks good.”

John kicked the bike in gear and eased over a culvert and faced the crossing the cattle guard.  “Let’s do this.”  He gunned the throttle and rolled over the cattle guard with Harry close behind.


They followed the narrow dirt lane toward the house, all the while looking across the open yard. John pointed to a fenced area at the back of the house. A horse and colt roamed the paddock munching on grass.

“What the fuck?” John cursed into the mic in the helmet.  “See the livestock. You think anyone is here?”

The men stopped the bikes at the gate of the fenced barnyard. John walked to the gate and unhooked the chain. He pushed the gate open until it caught on a clump of scrub grass. John rolled his bike through and allowed Harry to follow. Together they rode to the front of the house. Harry stepped off the bike and looked around. Finally, he cupped his hand around his mouth and called out.

“Hello, the house!”

They waited quietly as John looked toward the outbuildings. Chickens roamed the barnyard. An open barn door allowed the birds and animals sanctuary from night-time predators. He turned back to Harry.

“I don’t think anyone is here.”  John commented.

The two men stared at the graying boards.  The house had needed repainting years ago.  The lace window curtain at the side window danced on the light even breeze.  The place felt empty.  It felt deserted without any hint of the people who once lived there.

“I’m gonna check out the house, but I don’t think anyone is here,” Harry announced.

He walked up the concrete steps to the weathered porch and cupped his hand against the screen to look through the glass at the top half of the door.  “Hello?  Anyone home?”

When he heard nothing inside, he stepped back and opened the ram shackled screen door.   He knock on the glass with the barrel of his handgun. The sound filled the small house then faded away to silence again. After a second rap on the wooden door resulted in no response from inside, he turned back to John.

“We’re going inside. Lizzy, you gotta get your shit together. If anything happens, we need you.” Harry announced.

Liz looked up and swiped at the wet streaks on her face with the back of her hand. “I’m good.” She stepped off the bike and pulled the handgun from the back of her pants.

John stepped away from the silent bikes. He slipped his handgun out of the holster on his hip. He nodded at Liz to step behind Harry’s bike.

“If this goes sideways, you get on that bike and get the hell out of here,” John advised.

“That’s not going to happen.” She headed toward the house with a hard look on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Harry placed his hand on the doorknob just as Liz stepped on the porch. He turned the knob and pushed.  The door opened. Warm air escaped the closed up house with the smell of dried rose petals with a hint of dust. Harry stepped inside with Liz close on his heels.

The old fashion parlor had heavy burgundy drapes partially obscuring the late afternoon light. Harry flicked on a flashlight. He moved the circle of stark white beam from one side of the room to the other.

“Doesn’t look like anyone is here and hasn’t been for some time,” Harry commented. “Let’s make sure then settle down for the night.”

Liz nodded. I’m ready.”

Harry turned to John. “Watch the road.”

Together, Liz and Harry approached each room with weapons drawn. Once the downstairs was cleared, they walked up to the second story to do the same. They entered the first room and saw a guest bedroom and empty closet. The second door was a bedroom still in use. Nothing was out of place. A worn cotton nightgown of flannel lay across the pillow on a sagging double bed. A man’s plaid pajamas lay folded at the foot of the same bed.

Liz looked down and smiled. She could imagine the old couple who lived in the house before the world turned crazy. Then the image shifted to them stumbling through the streets together as one of the monsters, searching for warm human flesh to consume. She frowned.

“It’s clear. Let’s settle in.” Harry whispered softly.

Liz turned and left the room. She followed Harry until he turned to step outside. She headed into the kitchen while Harry went out to the yard where John waited. Liz watched John walk to the front gate and latch it then the two men brought their bike closer to the house.

The kitchen was sparsely appointed, but clean. There was a gas stove, an ancient refrigerator, and sink. The cabinets were filled with carnival glass dishes behind the glass doors. At the side of the sink, a coffee pot rested upside down in a wire drain rack with two coffee cups. A paper had been taped to the refrigerator door. Liz looked closer and realized it was a schedule.

That day, the day the world ended, was circled in red. In ink was written “last chemo”.

Liz picked up a stack of envelopes from the table and fanned through the return addresses. There were nearly half a dozen statements from a cancer treatment center in downtown San Antonio. The owners of the house would not be coming back. She turned away and dropped the stack of paper back to the table.

A sudden noise made Liz jump. She spun around with her gun drawn to face the sound. She stood staring at the kitchen window above the sink when saw a single drop of water fall from the kitchen faucet to ping on a metal pan in the sink.

She walked to the sink and turned a handle, not expecting water to flow, and jumped back when water streamed from the faucet. She turned the water off and looked toward the stove. It was a gas stove. She held her breath when she turned one of the knobs. It clicked twice then lit. She quickly turned off the gas and ran to the back door.

“There’s a gas stove and water!” She called to the two men parking their bikes at the back of the house.

“Fucking A….,” John answered.  “I saw some chickens so I’m going to look for eggs, maybe even catch one for supper.”

Harry laughed. “We’ll eat tonight.”

Liz asked. “Why is there water?”

Harry pointed to several solar panels on the roof of a metal shed at the back of the house. A black cable ran from the panels to a metal pump shed.

“It’s why the animals still have water. That and the infected haven’t found the place.”

Liz kept glancing out windows as she made her way around the house. The house was a time capsule of life before the attacks. In the kitchen, she opened drawers and cabinets. The woman of the house was an orderly housekeeper even down to the junk drawer. Liz pocketed two lighters and a book of matches before closing the drawer.

She opened a side door and stepped out on an enclosed sun porch and saw a freezer near the door. She reached out, her hand shaking as she raised the lid. She gasped at the cold white mist billowing from the depths.

When the air cleared, she smiled at the site of the treasure of food inside. She reached for one of the loaves of home bread. Liz took a loaf out, closed the door and walked back into the kitchen. John grinned as he held out a straw lined wire bucket with a dozen eggs inside.

“Bread!” John laughed. “Thought I’d never have bread again. “

Liz grinned. “It was in the freezer on the sun porch…It has all kinds of food inside.”

Harry walked to the sink and turned the faucet on. “Fucking unbelievable. This place is fucking unbelievable.”

He stuck his hands under the stream of water and sighed deeply when it grew warm. He splashed water on his face and scrubbed at the grime on his hand and face. He stuck his head under the faucet and let water run over it.

Liz glanced around the kitchen and found a hand towel hanging on the back of a chair. She handed it to Harry as he turned off the water.

“I can’t believe water and lights are still on.” She commented.

“It’s a real find.” Harry sighed. “I need a real shower, but we’ve got to do a few things.”

John laughed. “I saw a barrel of cans out back. I’m gonna set up rock cans between the out buildings out back. You find any string? If I don’t find any wire out back I can use it.”

“There’s some in the third drawer left of the sink,” Liz answered.

“Did you figure out anything out about the owners?” Harry answered.

Liz nodded at the table. “They were in San Antonio that day.” She walked to the stove and turned on the front burner. “Give me a couple minutes to fry some eggs then you can get busy.”

A few minutes later, they each gulped down an egg sandwich smeared with mayonnaise. They had run out of food the day before and they all three needed a quick meal that would fill stomachs. The two men were far from satisfied, but it was enough to get them through the next few hours. Liz picked at the egg, gagged then ate only the bread.

“If you catch a chicken we can have it for dinner,” Liz commented.

“Sounds good.” Harry grinned as the trio stepped out of the house.

They crossed the yard to a tool shed. After clearing the small building, Harry riffled through tools and gardening supplies and found a roll of thin wire intended for electrical fencing. He stuck a pair of wire cutter in his back pocket and headed back outside. He began stringing wire at the corner of the shed and headed toward the small barn. He walked about six feet, twisted the wire around the lid of the can, dropped three or four rocks inside and pushed the lid closed.

With a flick of his hand, the rocks rattled against the side of the can. John held the wire taught while Harry repeated the process half a dozen more times. He wrapped the wire around a post twice then secured the end with a twist of his wrist.  He looked back at the knee high red-neck alarms and grinned.

Liz asked. “How can I help?”

“Put rocks in cans and use that string to balance them between the wooden posts out front,” Harry stated. “You only need to put a couple on each section of fencing should do.”

“Try to get done before dark,” John added.

“Got it,” Liz answered.

Liz picked up a plastic bag from the kitchen, walked back to the can pile and filled it with at least a couple soda cans then headed toward the fence.

Liz got to the fence and picked up a handful of rocks. She dropped a few in the can and shook it. She stood up, looped the string around a post, then the can tab of two cans. She pulled the string taught and slipped another loop on the next post. She brushed it with her finger against the string and the stones and cans rattled. Not loud, but in the quiet of night without traffic it should be enough. She finished the “alarm” cans and headed for the house.

She walked past the guys crouched at the side of John’s bike. “I’m going inside and get cleaned up. Don’t be too long.”

Harry threw a wave and answered. “No problem. It’s getting dark so we’ll be in pretty quick. Don’t turn on lights if you can help it. Try to find candles and cover the windows.”

“Got it,” Liz answered.

An hour later, Liz wore a fresh pair of jeans that were too big and a man’s plaid shirt while her own clothes hung on a clothesline at the side of the house. John, good to his word, had spent ten minutes chasing chickens around the barnyard until he finally caught a scrawny looking gimpy hen. He cut the head off then delivered it to Liz with a big grin.

“That’s a pretty sad looking excuse for a hen.”  Liz commented.

“Lucky I caught it. Do you want me to gut it?”

“No, I can take care of it.  Just finish what you’ve been doing and come on inside.  This place makes me nervous.”

“We’re fine.  It’s quiet here.” John walked away glancing around at the deepening shadows.

Liz walked back inside to retrieve a pot of boiling water.  Having anticipating cleaning the chicken, she had filled a huge pot with water and placed it on the gas stove over a bright blue flame as soon as she came in the house.

She had filled a smaller pot with water and set it over the flame when she removed the first pot.  She carried the boiling water outside where the chicken lay on the back steps.

She grabbed the chicken and dunked it in the water, swished it around for a minute then pulled it from the water to tug at a couple feathers. The aroma of wet feathers wafted up from the scalding water.  When the feathers didn’t pull free easily, she jammed the bird back in the pot and sloshed it around for another minute.

When she pulled at the feathers a second time and they came out easily. A few minutes later, the bird lay nude at her feet. She threw out the water, picked up a knife and cut open the back end of the chicken. With a quick flick of the knife, she opened up the cavity and clawed out the organs. She dumped the offal into a bucket holding the feathers, saving the gizzard, liver, and heart. She dropped the chicken into the empty pan with the kitchen knife.

John walked just as she was finishing.  “I wondered if you knew how to do that.”

“You’re a day late…” Liz answered. “Do you mind taking the bucket to the garden and bury the guts.”

“I got it.” John retrieved the pale. “Since you’re cooking and I’m such a nice guy.”

“Well, nice guy, if you hurry up there’s time for both of you to shower while I fix dinner.”

Liz picked up the pot ready to head inside.

Harry opened the door to let Liz enter the back porch and turned to John. “Keep an eye on things while I shower. When I’m done, I’ll relieve you. I know the animals are still around and it’s been safe until now, but I think we need to keep watch.”

Harry followed Liz inside as she asked. “You don’t think it’s safe.”

He answered. “If the place doesn’t get noticed by roaming infected it should be. The flood lights had been turned off. That’s why no one has noticed this place. This house is off the beaten path and probably anyone who noticed it figured it was abandoned, just like us. We need to keep it that way. No lights after dark.”

“Got it. I’m boiling the chicken. There was a package of noodles in the freezer and potatoes in the frig.” Liz answered. “I found a whole box of dinner candles anda  package of emergency candles in the pantry.”

Harry accepted a short candle anchored to a saucer with melted wax. He disappeared into the gloom down the hall.

Meanwhile, Liz cut up the chicken and dropped the pieces in the boiling water. She added onions, salt, and pepper. She retrieved the potatoes from the frig, walked to the sink to peel potatoes. She watched as John appeared from around the corner of the shed with the bucket in hand.

When he stepped inside the kitchen, he set it down on the edge of the sink. Inside were lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers.

“I noticed these in the garden. I thought it would make a decent salad.” He grinned.

Harry walked into the kitchen wearing a pair of overalls at least a full size too small. He could only hook a single strap over the shoulder.

John laughed. “Farmer Harry. Never thought I’d ever see you in a pair of overalls.”

“Fuck you.” Harry raised his hand with a single finger extended upwards. “I take it, all’s quiet.”

“I walked the perimeter. The place is fenced. If anything show’s up the fencing in back of the property will slow them down. Only vehicle access is the drive we came in on.”

Harry nodded then ordered. “Get your sorry ass upstairs and cleaned up. I hadn’t noticed how bad you smell until now.”

Liz smiled as she stuck a fork into the boiling chicken. “Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready as soon as I put the salad together.”

She opened the bag of homemade noodles and dumped them into the pot with the chicken and turned up the heat.

John grinned as he walked away. “Ten minutes top.”

She put two scoops of flour in a bowl, added a couple tablespoons of shortening, salt and added water with powdered milk. Liz spooned dumplings into the boiling chicken and noodles and replaced the lid.

Harry with a little help from Liz put the salad together. He set it on the table just as John appeared in an identical pair of overalls. Unlike Harry who barely fit into the faded denim, John buttoned both straps and even wore a borrowed white t-shirt under it.

Liz scooped up the dirty clothes, walked them to the porch and started the washer.

Liz sat the pot of chicken and noodles on the table beside a big bowl of mashed potatoes.

“I think I died and gone to heaven,” John commented as he scooped a pile of potatoes on his plate. He ladled noodles and dumpling on top and let a skinless chicken thigh slide to the plate.

“Looks mighty good, Lizzy,” Harry commented.

Liz sat picking at a slice of bread until she finally pushed the plate away.

“Harry watched her as he brought spoonful after spoonful of food to his mouth. “Lizzy?”

Liz looked up. “Sorry. I guess I tasted too much.”

She rose and walked to the window and looked out. The room had grown dark with only a single candle on the table. She pulled the blind in the window down making sure it touched the windowsill.

“I’ll check out front and make sure the door is closed.” She disappeared into the gloom of the front of the house. As she walked from window to window, she marveled at the darkness outside. With the stand of trees around the remote farmhouse, they wouldn’t see anyone until they were nearly at the door.  She stared out into the gloom.

“What’s the matter, Lizzy?” Harry asked from the dark doorway behind her.

“Nothing. I need to find my family.” She answered in a whisper.

“That’s not it.” Harry answered.

“You know as well as I do what the world is like out there. How could three men take care of them? Babies cry. If Claire cried, it could be death for all of them. A ten-year old can’t keep up with grown men if they have to run. How can we find them?”

“Lizzy, it’s turned into a really a dangerous world.” Harry shrugged. “But that’s not the problem, is it? We need to get you to your old man’s place. You can’t keep riding around on that damned bike. Not now.”

Liz placed her hands on her lower abdomen. “I have my girls to find before I can worry about this child.”

Harry blew out a breath. “No. We’re done. You’re girls are in God’s hands. We’ve been chasing around the country roads looking for military vehicles that we can’t even be sure passed this way.”

“But….” Liz protested.

“We can’t keep taking chances now. If you don’t survive, neither will this child. The girls will have no one to come home to.”  Harry turned to walk away then turned back and added. “What would your husband want you to do?”

Harry looked toward John. “Okay, this is what we do. We stop on the edge of the parking lot…rev engines and it should bring ‘em out or around the building. Then we’ll know if this is more than we can handle. If it doesn’t look too bad, we pick them off one at a time.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Both men slipped their bikes in gear and made their way down to the remote café. They watched the infected cock their heads then turn toward the sounds of the bikes. They rode toward the infected focusing on the pair of machines approaching the parking lot.

As soon as Harry stopped Liz raised her gun and fired. The bullet peeled back the side of the face of a man stumbling toward them. He fell to his knees then got to his feet and continued toward them.

Harry pulled his helmet off and put his hand on Liz’s leg. “Easy, Lizzy. Take your time.”

She took a deep breath then let it out slowly while she pulled the trigger again. The infected man’s head exploding with a spray of red gore that fanned out to shower across two infected following a few feet behind.

Swallowing back the bile, Liz sited on another monster and fired. The woman fell, just as a shot from Harry’s gun took out another man. John took three quick shots and two more bloody corpses fell to the asphalt. A small female with half her face ripped away and two small children with horrific wounds to their arms and legs joined the pack.

Liz stared at the dead children stumbling toward her. Her muscles refused to respond despite the terror that screamed at her to fire. The children had been near her daughter’s age when they died so horribly. She stared as tears filled her eyes. Racking sobs stole her breath. Her hand with the gun still clutched in it hung limply at her side.

John took a shot at another infected adult with gaping abdominal injury. His insides spilled out tripping him from time to time. A bullet hit him in the middle of the face. It tore out the back of his head it sending bone and gore fanning out in a fine mist to paint the vehicle behind him.

Harry fired his handgun and took out a waitress. She slipped to the ground as if a marionette with the strings cut. The children stumbled past the body and headed for Liz and Harry.

Harry yelled. “Fire that damned gun, Lizzy!” He fired at yet another late comer that appeared from the back of an F-150. “Damn-it Lizzy, fire that gun or we’re going to be dead.”

Liz aimed at the young boy and a crimson bloom appeared in the middle of his forehead a split second before he fell. Hesitating only a second, she moved the muzzle to the left and fired again. The young girl collapsed in a heap of legs and arms. Her blonde hair falling over her face hiding the damage done by the bullet.

Silence filled the parking lot. Harry and John surveyed the damage done in less than three minutes.  The bodies of ten adults and two children lay in the parking lot.

Liz stepped from the bike and walked to the bodies of the children. “I can’t do this anymore.” She whispered as she squatted next to the small bodies.

“We don’t have a choice,” Harry whispered. “If we’re going to find your girls, we have to keep on doing what we just done.”

Liz gently wiped the blonde hair from the face of the girl. “She was someone’s daughter. She should be smiling and laughing, not lying in the dirt.”

John rolled his bike to the pump at the end of the island, removed the gas cap, and poked the nozzle in the gas tank. He jammed a credit card in the machine and after completing the required information, he selected unleaded and pressed the handle to start pumping gas.

Harry pulled Liz to her feet. “You’re right, but that isn’t the way the world is now.”

She followed him as he rolled the bike to the second pump and repeated John’s actions. She stood staring blankly as he filled his gas tank.

“Lizzy, the world we live in now sucks…no doubt about it, but that don’t mean we quit. You got your girls to find and protect.” Harry took a deep breath. “John and I are old men. One of these days, we might not be there to protect you. You don’t have the luxury of checking out, again.” He pulled her face up to look at him. “Do you understand me?”

Liz squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “I got it.” She pulled away. “I’m going to the bathroom.”

Liz walked away feeling both John and Harry’s eyes following her. Harry was right. She had checked out. She walked toward the sign with an arrow pointing toward the restrooms. She stepped to the door and knocked on the barrier.

She listened for a full minute then repeated the knocking only louder. When she heard nothing, she raised her gun and eased the door open to find an open room barely five foot square with a toilet and sink. She did her business and flushed. She stood staring at the paper swirling around the bowl. She hadn’t realized how much she missed using a simple convenience like a toilet.

At the sink, she turned the handle and water spilled from the faucet. She pulled her t-shirt over her head and used paper towels to wash as much exposed skin as possible. She dunked her head under the running water and then squirted hand-soap into her palm. She soaped her hair and then rinsed the suds from her short hair. Her hair would be dry as straw, but it would be clean she decided.

She finger combed her shorn hair and then looked into the mirror. Her face bore fine lines that had not been there a few weeks ago. She looked terrible she decided as she pulled the t-shirt back over her head. Would her husband even recognize her? She refused to think about Brian or his fate. If she thought about Brian, she would give up. She had to concentrate on the girls. They needed her and she needed to find them. With that, she clinched her jaw and jerked the door open with the handgun held up and pointed to the outside.

Harry pushed the barrel of the gun aside. “Damn, Lizzy, you scared the shit out of me. I was about to come in after you, you been in there a long time.”

“Sorry,” Liz answered.

“You look better. Do you feel better?” Harry asked.

“I won’t freeze again,” Liz answered.

The three bike riders looked at the road sign verifying they were fifty miles to Kerrville Texas.

John nodded at the sign and spoke into the helmet mike. “It’s going to be bad going into Kerrville. We need to find a way around it.”

“I think we should just head west on some of the farm-to-market roads,” Harry answered.

Liz interrupted. “We can’t do that.” Harry raised a brow and Liz continued. “We don’t know the roads and if we go that way, there’s a good chance we won’t be able to find more fuel. I’ve flown over it and you can drive hundreds of miles and see no sign of people.” Liz sighed. “When I say nothing, I mean nothing. It’s dry, desolate terrain, with scrub brush and dead end roads. If we break down out there, we die. Between dehydration and the heat, we wouldn’t have a chance of walking out.”

John joined the conversation. “The maps we have won’t include the private roads and trails we could end up on by just heading west. As much as I hate to say it, we could end up running out of gas in a box canyon and be buzzard bait.”

“The alternative is not much better. We’ll be going through the small burgs and suburbs around Kerrville. There’s a good chance it will be crawling with the dead.” Harry advised. “But I don’t see any way around it.”

“Alright, then we take sixteen to the Bandera Highway then skirt around Kerrville on the south side of the Guadalupe River on highway ninety-eight,” John answered.