Posts Tagged ‘Harry’

The riders had been on the narrow country road for four hours before they stopped on a rise overlooking a small rural community. They stepped off the bikes to walk to a trio of roadside tables under a massive live oak tree. The small park overlooked a narrow creek behind developed neighborhood. The water spilling over the rocks in the creek bed was clear and fast moving.

The tranquil scene was a brief respite from the horrors of the open road while they looked across the water toward back yards with swing sets and sandboxes until the infected appeared. One by one men, women, and children, all horribly maimed and injured focused on the trio and stumbled toward the small park.

“I guess we wore out our welcome.” John sighed as they got back on the bikes.

Harry moaned. “My ass is too old to be riding this hard.” His machine roared to life and he motioned for Liz to climb back on the bike.

Liz climbed up behind Harry. “I don’t know how much longer I can sit on this bike. I’m so tired.”

They tried to stay relatively close to the Interstate, but they were continuously being forced to detour down narrow blacktop roads to avoid large groups of the infected. It was nearly one in the afternoon when they stopped to rest and hydrate under an overpass.

The silence of a world without speeding cars and SUVs or the roar of massive eighteen wheelers climbing the hills of the Hill Country was eerie.  Even the buzz of a mosquito seemed lurid so when they heard the rumbling of engines, it seemed an assault on the hearing.

The trio stood still listening for a moment until John pointed toward a dilapidated shed in the distance. “Let’s get off the road.”

They mounted the bikes and John led the way as they turned off the road and followed a narrow trail to the building. They pushed the bikes through the tall grass to the gloom of the shed.

“You think it’s Ryder?” Liz asked.

Harry answered with a shrug. “It’s hard to know for sure, so for now we avoid contact. Maybe there are friendly survivors, but after Ryder’s gang we’re playing it safe.

While they waited in the shadows of the crumbling shed, John opened a cloth bag and pulled dried beef strips from inside. Liz bit off a piece with a great deal of trepidation. She was never a fan of jerky and the thought of chewing on beef until it was moist enough to swallow was not something she looked forward to eating.

Hazel and Benny had given them dried beef, dry deer sausage, dried apples, bottles of water and a bag of hard flat bread that looked a little like fat tortillas.

John opened a second bag and pulled flat bread from inside. He looked at it somewhat dubiously as he passed one to both Harry and Liz. He settled on a bale of hay with his own.

John spoke around a huge bite of the dried beef. “We ain’t making much headway.”

Harry bit off the end of the bread. “No, but nothing we can do about it.”

“Why haven’t we seen survivors?” Liz asked.

“Cause most of the dumb shits did the same thing they did when that hurricane was predicted to hit the Gulf Coast. In Houston, everyone lined up on the freeways and Interstates…” Harry took a deep breath then continued. “They probably did the same and were overrun by the infected. Now they’re all part of the problem. They wonder off the highway and overrun community after community. Now the countryside is full of dead fucks. All because stupid people headed out of town and when they ran outa gas just sat there waiting for someone to help them.”

John added. “Most of them couldn’t even read a road map much less plan a trip without GPS.” John continued. “All we can do is head northwest and eventually we’ll end up where we want to be.”

Liz complained. “We’re a long ways from Pine Creek.”

Harry shrugged. “We’re thirty miles closer than we were yesterday.”

When the angry growl of the engines disappeared, they left their sanctuary and continued their journey. An hour later, they looked out in the distance at lettering on a roof. It advertised the Hill Top Café. They stopped to watch the parking lot and saw half a dozen infected men and women stumbled around a dozen vehicles in the parking lot and in front of the building.

“I’m getting low on gas,” John announced.

“Same here.” Harry responded.

“The lights are on. Does that mean the pumps are still working?” Liz asked.

“Should be,” John answered. “But the walking corpses are going to be a problem. I doubt they’ll stand back and let us do what we need to do.”

“We have to take ‘em out,” Harry answered.

“Look how many vehicles,” John commented. “Could be more behind the building.”

“Look, we don’t have a choice. We’re almost out of gas. It’s either doing it, or we walk.”

Liz studied the scene below. “We could take one of the vehicles.”

“No way!” John answered. “I’m not leaving my bike.”

Liz chuckled. “Just a thought.” She pulled the handgun from the back of her jeans. “Well, we’re not getting any younger.”

Liz dressed quickly, descended the stairs carrying her shoes and the drawn handgun. She saw Harry and John standing at the window looking through the narrow openings between the wood slats on the outside of the glass. She made her way to the parlor and to a worn armchair. There, she sat down and stepped into her shoes.

“What’s going on?” Liz asked as she tied her laces.

Another two shots echoed in the distance. They seemed farther away than the first. John continued to watch the front gate while Harry turned to look in her direction.

“You look better than you did yesterday?” Harry commented then asked. “Are you feeling better?

“Yeah. I felt as bad as I looked.” Liz smoothed her fingers across her shortened hair at the side of her face. “Do you know who’s shooting?”

“Shots came from the other side of that stand of trees across the road.”

“Do we need to go see what it is?” Liz answered.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know.” He turned back for another look. “I don’t see anything.”

Hazel and Benny came into the room with cups of coffee for each of them. Hazel handed Liz a cup. “You don’t need to worry ‘bout that shootin’. That’s just ol’ Clyde down the road.”

Benny spoke up. “He’s giving peace to those soulless folks coming from the highway down south. That’s why we don’t get many coming up this way. They have to go past Clyde’s and he sits at the window shootin’ anything that walks past his place.” Benny chuckled. “Long as you drive you’re fine. I wouldn’t want to be on foot and walking to slow, though.”

Hazel slapped Benny’s arm. “Now, don’t be scarin’ folks. You know Clyde don’t shoot no one running.”

John chuckled. “In other words, run don’t walk.” He and Harry accepted cups of coffee and settled on two straight-backed chairs.

Benny swigged a mouthful of coffee then settled into his recliner. “You got time for breakfast?”

John answered. “Sure. We don’t have many supplies. Breakfast would be appreciated.”

An hour later, Hazel and Benny stood on the porch waving as the trio pulled away and headed down the driveway.

Liz asked. “Why did you accept all that food? They’ll need it soon enough.”

Harry answered. “No. I doubt it. Benny’s pacemaker battery was scheduled to be changed last week and Hazel is almost out of insulin. It’ll be a toss-up who checks out first.”

“Maybe….” Liz began,

Harry interrupted. “Maybe what? We can’t do anything for either of them. Even if we found insulin, electricity has been off for days. It would be bad. As for Benny, nothing can be done.”

“Liz, we’ll help people that we can, but in this case, we can’t. We leave them in peace. All we can do is hope they’ll die quietly without any help from the rest of the world.” John commented.

Liz sighed as she blinked away tears. They closed the gate and headed down the road toward Clyde’s place.

They rode a mile then saw a well-kept ranch with the house situated a hundred feet from the road. The property was surrounded by a white board fence. A wrought iron gate stood open allowing an old man to drag a body from under a natural rock arched entrance. The man looked up and waved.

“Hello, young fellas.” Clyde dropped the legs in his hands. “My name’s Clyde. Nice day for a ride.”

Harry pulled off his helmet. His gray hair was pulled back from his face with a red bandana around his forehead. He smiled around his grizzled beard. “Not as young as my boyish good looks imply.” He chuckled.

“Well, guess you’re not.” The old man commented. “Excuse me for not shaking hands but got my hands full. World has gone to shit with these dead fucks wandering around.”

John stepped off his bike and kicked the stand in place. He reached down with a gloved hand to grab a handful of pant leg. “I got this ol’ timer.”

He pulled the body off the road and across the asphalt to lie next to two more bodies in the middle of a charred circle. One body was dressed in khakis and a Best Buy shirt and the other in a tattered housedress. All three had grievous wounds beside the holes in their heads.

“Thanks, young fella. Where you boys headed?” Clyde asked.

Liz pulled off her helmet and answered. “We’re looking for my children. They’re with three soldiers in an Army Humvee. Have you seen a military vehicle?”

Clyde looked at Liz. “Guess you ain’t a boy.” He chuckled. “As for your question, only soldiers I seen, blew through here in half a dozen vehicles. Was about three days ago. Had Humvees but they didn’t stop so I couldn’t say nothing ‘bout no kids. Course, I didn’t flag ‘em down, but from what I saw they didn’t look to be the babysittin’ type.”

Harry turned to Liz. “I doubt they would be racing around like that with the kids. I’m sure there’re more military vehicles in this neck of the woods than the Rangers. We’re less than a hundred miles from Sa Antonio.”

Clyde interrupted. “Maybe the military is setting up refugee camps for the people they evacuated from the city.”

“Would they go there? I mean to someplace like that.” Liz asked to no one in particular in a near panic. Her stomach felt queasy at just the thought of her children Wandering around an overcrowded camp without someone to care for them.

Harry answered. “Who knows? But it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

“With communications down now, how would anyone even know where to go?” John answered. “I think our best chance is still our original plan.”

“Those boys are Rangers. They would take it personal and make it their mission to get those kids to family not drop them off in an overcrowded camp. Your older girl knew where you were headed and why, right?” Harry responded.

“Yes,” Liz answered. “She loved visiting my father.”

“They would know as well as we do those camps are a bad idea for a lot of reasons. I still think they’ll head to the Guadalupe Mountains. It makes sense. There’s a place to set up defenses and with the wildlife it includes a way to stay alive.”

Liz nodded. “You may be right, but we still have to keep looking.”

“Well, ol’timer. I guess that means we’re on our way. You take care.” Harry advised.

Clyde laughed. “Hell, you folks are the ones that need to take care. This shit beats all.”

John laughed without much humor. “You’re right about that.” He stepped onto his bike. “You take care.”

Clyde pulled a single shot twenty-two from his belt. “Savin’ one to make sure I don’t end up like these poor bastards.”

Liz frowned. “I hope it never comes to that.”

Clyde shrugged. “I landed on Normandy and survived when a lot better men than me didn’t make it. I spent two years in Korea and a year in Viet Nam with the French. Hell, I’ve been skating on thin ice since I was seventeen. Most likely, I’ll be here when all those poor bastards have rotted to dust.”

Harry laughed. “I wouldn’t be surprised.” He stepped over the seat of the bike and nodded at Liz.

“Goodbye, Clyde. God speed.” Liz called out as she crawled on the seat behind Harry.

“You too, young lady…you too.” Clyde answered.

He picked up a red gas can and walked across the road to the bodies in the blackened circle. He began splashing liquid on the bodies of the dead as they rode away.

Harry called over his shoulder. “Let’s get back to looking for those girls.”

Harry eased his bike around another traffic pile up using the torn and trampled medium between strips of asphalt.

The sound of the bikes brought more and more of the infected out of the shadows. By the time the monsters reached the street they rode on leaving them behind.  Harry and John moved far enough away for any new arriving infected to join the herd following the rumbling motors of the motorcycles.

Harry raised his hand to point toward a side street at the next intersection. They eased down an incline and across a paved parking lot. He pulled ahead and guided his bike down the street to another intersection. They turned at the back of a big brick building and suddenly they were leaving the small town and its cluttered streets behind.

Liz looked ahead at the endless line of vehicles stopped on the highway. She could imagine the terrified people trying to escape the infected when they ended up in a traffic jams that went on for miles and miles. She could see a distant rise void of vehicles on the roadway. A disabled vehicle or an accident had caused the massive backup. Everyone behind the blockage had been trapped.

She imagined after hours of sitting waiting for someone to clear the blockage they began running out of gas, the infected arrived and people left their vehicles in a headlong rush to escape. They would take what they could carry and it wouldn’t take long for the infected to catch up. Those attacked soon became part of the wave of monsters on the roadways that followed them.

Evidence showed those too terrified to leave their vehicles fared no better. They ended up trapped. The infected swarmed around vehicles and shattered glass and attacked those hiding inside. In the end, they were devoured or turned. It was an ugly death.

Liz turned away from the long line of cars with a troubled sigh. The blacktop heading away from the interstate was rough and in poor condition. Both men had to go slow enough to avoid rough careless patches on the asphalt.

“We’re getting nowhere fast and it’s almost dark,” John commented through the helmet mic. “Besides, that herd of fuck-heads following us is just getting bigger.”

“We need a distraction,” Harry added. “Something for them to focus on that’s not us.”

When the pavement evened out they stopped at a two-car accident. The front fenders were locked together in a twisted joining of metal. The road ahead looked clear for several miles.

“I got an idea,” John announced. “Harry, can you get a radio or horn going.”

John took a t-shirt from his pack and dipped the end in his gas tank. Harry watched as John stuffed the rag in a gas tank, when he gave a nod, Harry turned the key in the ignition of one of the cars and pushed a couple buttons and a heavy metal band blasted from the custom speakers. He stepped back on the bike and kicked the machine into gear. He raced ahead while John held a lighter to the rag. A heartbeat later, John caught up with Harry and they gunned the engines laughing like a pair of bad kids.

Liz clung to Harry waiting for the explosion. After a full minute, it came. She looked over her shoulder and saw a mushroom of crimson blossom up from the vehicles. Dozens of infected came investigate the noise were hurled into the air from the explosion.

After the first mile, Liz could no longer hear the roar of the fire but she could still see the billowing black smoke. She had no illusions the infected were no longer out there, but there was a morsel of peace in not being able to see them following. The countryside opened up and knee-high cornfields on either side of the road waved in the breeze.

As dusk settled, a gray behemoth of a farmhouse came into view. It was set back from the road on a slight hill. The fenced property was a graveyard of abandoned farm equipment. Outbuildings included a metal shed and tumbled down barn. Harry guided his bike toward the narrow lane.

“Do you think there’s anyone here?” John asked.

“No lights through the windows,” Harry answered. “But the gate is closed.”

After a moment of hesitation, Harry opened the gate and rode through with John following. He refastened the chains used to secure the gate and headed toward the house.

As they got closer, Liz leaned forward. “Windows are boarded up. Are you sure we want to do this?”

They stopped in front of the porch and turned off the bikes. Harry called out. “Hello, inside the house.”

A gravelly voice answered. “What you want?”

“Sorry to trouble you folks but we need a safe place to stop for the night,” Harry answered. “We mean you no harm. If we can just pull into the barn and close the door, that’s all we need. Just a place to be safe for a few hours to sleep.”

Liz called out. “I promise we’re not here to hurt anyone or steal anything.”

A flashlight beam appeared and pointed at each of them in turn.

Finally, a female voice nearly as raspy as the man’s responded. “You don’t need to stay in the barn. Park those motorbikes at the side of the house under the shed. Then you come in and have a cup of coffee.”

“Hazel, you don’t know, they might be infected.” The old man protested.

“Oh, poop.” A frail hand brushed at the old man then turned to the three and asked. “You folks ain’t sick, are you?”

“No mam.” Harry answered.

John turned to Harry and pulled off his helmet. “You think it’s safe?”

Harry shrugged. “From the sounds of them, they can’t be much of a threat.”

They did as told then made their way back to the front porch just as the front door creaked opened. The trio stood in the afternoon gloom and waited to see who would come out.

A diminutive woman well in her eighties with a pleasant face pushed the stooped grandfatherly man aside opening the door out and grabbed at Liz’s hand.

Ignoring Liz’s startled gasp, she announced. “You folks come on in.” She eased the old man aside. “It’s the Christian thing to do to give you a safe place to lay your head for the night.”

John stepped through the door grinning. “It sure is nice to see a friendly face. Last encounter we had nearly got us killed.”

“Both you boys come on in, too. You’re safe here.” She pulled Harry and John into the front room. “Benny, be a dear and lock up the house while I make a fresh pot of coffee.”

She led the trio into a dimly lit kitchen. A single kerosene lamp rested on the kitchen table at the back of the house. She turned up the wick and the room brightened. “Did you folks close the gate? It keeps most of those sick people out of here.” She moved her face from left to right. “Poor folks. Don’t know they’re walking around without a soul.”

Liz looked around and realized no one would be jumping out from the shadows. She took a deep breath asked. “It’s just you two?”

“Yes dear.” Hazel busied herself making coffee in an old fashion percolator. She turned on the gas stove and the flame danced under the metal coffee pot.

“Thank you for taking us in,” Liz said. “It’s a scary world out there.”

“I’ll bet it is, dear. My name is Hazel and that is my husband, Benny Hilton. We’ve lived here for near sixty five years.” Hazel explained as she readied four cups for coffee.

Benny nodded then left the kitchen to settle in a rocking chair in the next room. He picked up a Bible from the nearby table. He turned up a small lamp and opened to a marked page.

Hazel set cups on the table and settled on a chair to wait for the coffee. “Just ignore Benny. He decided when this happened he needed to get right with God. Not that he’s ever been on the wrong side of God. We’re just both closer to meeting our maker than we were a few weeks ago.” She shrugged then smiled at Harry. “Now what about you folks? Where have you come from?”

“San Antonio. Close to the military base.” Harry answered. “We met Lizzy when it first happened and have been trying to find her two girls ever since. We’ve been following three soldiers who found her kids and rescued them.”

Liz asked. “You haven’t seen three soldiers with a ten-year-old and a baby, have you?”

Hazel shook her head and answered. “No, dear, I sorry. But I’m sure those children are in the safest of hands they can be in with those soldiers.”

Harry nodded. “We think so too, but we still need to find them.”

John interrupted when he saw tears welling up in Liz’s eyes. “How have you folks been managing? It’s pretty ugly out there.”

“The property is fenced and we lock up the animals at night. During the day, they stay behind the buildings in a small pen. Only a few of the sick have wandered down the road. If they linger, Benny goes out and gives them peace.”

“You know you have to be careful. A scratch or bite will transmit the illness.” Harry advised.

Hazel nodded at Harry. “Oh, we know. We had television the first few days. The news services had helicopters filming the roadways and the infected. It was terrible. We had some plywood out in the shed. We used it to board up the windows and reinforce the doors. Being out here so far from town, we always kept a lot of canned goods and supplies on hand. Add that to my canning and well, I think we’re fine for now.”

“What about water?” Harry asked.

Hazel shrugged. “We got a windmill. Benny did a bit of hillbilly plumbing and now it pumps into the cistern.” She gave them a gap-toothed grin. “I turn on the faucet and I got water and we can flush the toilet.” A chuckled erupted.

Liz looked excited. “Hot water?”

“Easy enough. You poor dear. I’ll bet you could use a nice bath.” She stood up and started filling pots with water. She placed one on each of the four gas burners of the stove. She turned back to the trio. “Are you hungry?” Before they could answer, she continued. “Of course you are. I’ll get you something to eat while the water is heating.”

Hazel pulled a loaf of home-made bread from a plastic bag and began slicing it. She peeked around the corner into the next room. “Benny, be a dear and go downstairs and get a quart jar of peaches, please.”

Benny crossed the room to a door. He picked up a flashlight then disappeared through a door at the side of the kitchen. The narrow beam disappeared into the black hole. A couple minutes later, he reappeared clutching a jar against his chest. “Anything else?”

“Bring some smoked ham from the pantry and slice some for our guests, please.”

Again, Benny disappeared only to return with a cloth-covered bundle with a string tied on the end. He went to the counter and pulled the cloth from the bundle to expose a ham. He drew a knife from a drawer and began slicing meat. When he was finished, he made a long suffering sigh then disappeared back into the sitting room.

Hazel chuckled. “Poor man. So put upon.”

She set a small bowl of coarse yellow paste on the table. “That’s homemade mustard, but if you’d rather I can whip up some fresh mayonnaise.” She sat a plate of bread, smoked ham, and sliced cheese on the table.

“That won’t be necessary,” Liz answered. “This is a feast. We lost our supplies so anything you set in front of us is great. We’re not picky.”

Both John and Harry grinned in agreement as they began building sandwiches.

Finally, Harry stilled his hands from his sandwich making and looked up. “Hazel, do you know there are some real bad people out there?”

“Of course I do, young man.” Hazel retorted. “I’m eighty-seven years old. Benny and I have seen a lot over the years. We’ve done what we can to protect ourselves but at our age, we’re not changing who we are. Helping good folks is the right thing to do.”

She passed out bowls of peaches and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers to eat with their sandwiches.

Liz laid a slice of bread on the plate, slathered it with mustard then added slices of ham and cheese. She spread condiment on a second slice of bread then closed the sandwich. She groaned with pleasure at the first bite. Once she swallowed, she mumbled a compliment around another bite.

Harry and John wolfed their first sandwich without a word then began building a second. At Hazel’s smile, Harry finally spoke. “Been twenty-four hours since we ate last and it was a three-day-old sweet roll.”

He slurped at the coffee until Hazel poured three glasses of water and placed one in front of each of them.

Liz savored the last crust of bread then smiled at Hazel. “I wish I could make bread like that. That was just about the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted.” She spooned a mouthful of peaches between her lips and sighed at the sweetness.

Steam wafted from the pots on the stove and Hazel called out again. “Benny, dear. Would you carry the hot water to the bathroom, please?”

Liz grinned. She imagined when Hazel requested something of Benny there was no room for argument.

Benny arrived to make four trips back and forth carrying water. By the time he was done, Hazel grabbed Liz’s hand to lead her down the hall.

“Come dear. Now, that’s all hot water in that tub, so turn on the faucet and cool it down a little. Towels are in the cabinet at the end of the tub. I’ll lay a nightgown outside the door for you and you can wash your unmentionables and hang them up. They should be dry by morning. I’ll put more water on for your companions.”

“You can use the bedroom at the top of the stairs, so I put a candle on the table in the bathroom you.” She smiled then added. “Oh, there’s some proper hair scissors in the medicine cabinet.”

Liz had forgotten about her hair. She blinked away the tears that threatened to spill again. “Thank you.” She whispered as she disappeared into the bathroom.

The scent of lavender wafted up from the steam when Liz stepped inside the bathroom. She reached down and turned on the old style water spigot. In another time, she would have been enchanted by the claw foot tub and handwoven rag rug. She pulled off the leather jacket, shoes, her t-shirt, and jeans. When she was out of her underwear, she used a plastic container to add water from the tub to the plugged sink. She dipped her underwear in and scrubbed them against a bar of soap then dropped them in the water to soak.

She turned off the cold water and stepped into the tub full of hot water. She eased her aching body down into the liquid and let thoughts of the girls wash over her. Sobs of despair racked her body. She imagined her girls in a place without hot water and clean clothes. She prayed the men were protecting them and keeping her girls safe. She slipped under the water; holding her breath while she lay in the tub listening to the silence.

When her chest was near exploding she sat up and took a deep breath. With water dripping down her face, she spilled a small amount of shampoo into the palm of her hand. She lathered her hair and hurriedly completed her bath then stepped from the bath. She was clean for the first time in nearly a week.

Liz looked into the mirror. Her hair was a chaotic mess.  She had a hurried job cutting it and it showed.  She grabbed the scissors and began trimming. When she was done, she had a shaggy cut that resembled the female lead in a popular television show. Her version was far from professional but a lot better than before. She left the front a little longer just in case she needed to impersonate a boy again, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. When she was done she ran her fingers through the blonde strands and turned from the mirror.

She peeked out the door and found the neatly folded floral print nightgown with smocking at the oval neckline. She picked it up and stepped back inside.  After slipping into the gown, she folded the towel over the rack and gathered her panties and damp t-shirt. She opened the door and faced a smiling Hazel.

“Benny and I will be going up to bed, now. There’s water on the stove for the men. You can use the bedroom at the top of the stairs. I offered Harry and John beds, but they are determined to sleep downstairs in the sitting room. I got them a couple quilts and pillows.” She shrugged.

“I can understand it. We barely got away from some really bad people.” Liz answered. “I think they’re still a little wary.”

Liz retrieved the rest of her clothes and gun from the bathroom and went up the stairs. Once inside the bedroom she draped her damp clothes on the foot of the bed and closed the door. She told herself she was being paranoid, but still propped a straight backed chair under the door knob.

In the darkened room, she walked to the window and looked out over the pitch-black landscape. She was exhausted, her body was sore from riding the bike and sitting in the booth the night before. Sleep seemed so far away despite her aching muscles.

She stood at the window until she could pick out the international space station in the darkened skies. She wondered if the current crew would ever come home. Would the Russians bring them home without the United States paying for it? Would the men in the station even want to return home? And if they were brought back would they be forced to stay in Russia or Europe. How long would it be before those countries were infected? How could even a terrorist not see it would not be contained? The whole world would be lost.

With a deep sigh, Liz made her way to the bed and pulled back the hand-made quilt. She slid between the sheets. The mattress was old and lumpy but for Liz it was heaven. Her muscles relaxed and her eyes grew heavy.

Morning came with the sound of a rooster crowing then the echo of a distant gunshot.

Liz tapped Harry on the shoulder. She spoke into the mic of the helmet. “There. A pawn shop, maybe they’ll have guns.”

They rolled past shattered bodies and remnants of a typical small town in Texas. A flower shop, a bakery and the remains of a boutique baby store. At the end of the block was a sign in fading colors advertising cash for jewelry, guns, and electronics.

There were several bodies in the street around the shop, but none of them were moving. Some wore biker colors while others looked like some of the townspeople. The front window was shattered and remains of a mutilated body spilled over the glass shards. Harry and John eased to a stop. Liz jumped from the bike and hooked the helmet over a handle at the side of the seat.

“Let me do this,” Liz asked. “It’s time I carried my own weight.”

She picked up a tire iron lying at the feet of the body in the window. She ignored the glob of gray matter and hair on the rounded end. Ready to strike, she looked at the door and sighed. The chances of finding weapons were decreasing by the minute.

“Door’s open.” She called over her shoulder as Harry walked up behind her.

Liz pushed the remains of the door out of the way and peered into the store. Finally, she called out. “Hello? Anyone there?”

“Get the fuck out of here! Let me die in peace.” A gravelly male voice called out.

Liz looked at Harry then stepped into the gloom and responded. “We can help you.”

The voice forced a harsh chuckled and whispered. “I’m gut shot. Can’t help this, little girl.” He moaned softly.

“Harry, John. I need help!” Liz called out as she pulled a rag from a shelf and pressed it to the hemorrhaging wound in the middle of an old man’s stomach.

Harry squatted down and moved the hand clutching the rag. “Sorry man.” He told the old man.

“Who did this?” John whispered.

“Fucking bikers.” The man whispered. “Yesterday morning. About two dozen or so mean looking assholes. Leader was ugly, mean bastard with big hair and a do-rag.”

“Ryder and his bunch,” John whispered. “We ran into them ourselves. They cleaned us out. Took all our food and weapons.”

“Bastards.” The old man responded. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

Harry patted the old man’s leg. “We got some payback.” He chuckled. “Led ‘em right into a herd of dead heads. Last we saw, they were getting chewed up pretty good.”

The old man sighed and pulled a key from his pocket and held it out to Liz. “Behind the register. Under the mat. The bag.”

Liz got to her feet and walked to the counter, raised the mat and inserted the key in the metal door in the floor. “Harry?”

Harry stepped to her side and picked up the handle of the heavy door. There was a gun safe embedded in the floor. Among the guns and ammunition was a white canvas bag with a red cross on the side.

Liz picked up the bag and hurried over to the old man. “What can I do?” She unzipped the top.

“There’s morphine in the bag.” He chortled. “It was for the cancer, but I need it now.”

Liz scratched through the bag and found several small bottles labeled morphine. She pulled a syringe from the collection of trauma supplies. She raised the bottle and inserted the needle.

“All of it.” The old man whispered.

She did as he asked, then turned to the man with the syringe in hand. At her look of confusion the man whispered.

“In the vein.”

Liz tied off his arm, inserted the needle then released the tourniquet. The man’s eyes fluttered then his face relaxed.

“My name’s Ed. Ed O’Hara.” His voice slurred, but he continued. “You ran into that bastard Willie Ryder?”

“He took all our supplies and was gonna to kill us.” Liz responded.

Ed nodded. “They’re bad as they come. I took out a couple, but couldn’t stop them from cleaning out my place.”

Harry patted the man on the leg. “Rest easy, we put some hurt on ‘em.”

John walked to the window and looked out. When he came back, he whispered. “Infected are headed this way.”

“Get what you can use from the safe.” Ed whispered. “You have to get moving.”

Harry grabbed Liz’s arm and pulled her to her feet. “We gotta go.”

Liz let herself be guided to the safe. Without speaking, she helped carry ammunition to the bikes. When only a few boxes were left, she walked back to Ed’s side. “Thank you. Is there any more I can do for you?”

He pushed the med-kit toward her. “Take it. I won’t need it.”

She zipped it closed and slung it over her shoulder. “I’m sorry we can’t do anything more.” She whispered.

“Go.” Ed answered. “Please.” He whispered as he looked at John.

John nodded.

Harry called out. “Now, Lizzy! We gotta go.”

Liz ran out of the store with Harry close behind. He forced a gun into her hand and pulled her onto the bike then cranked the engine. Liz turned and fired at a monster less than six feet away. His head exploded and he dropped to the ground.

“John! Now!” Harry shouted.

John fired from inside the store and a single infected fell to the ground. Two more shots and another infected fell. John ran to his bike, cranked the engine and the pair of motorcycles raced from the parking lot to the street and away.

Days End

Posted: July 1, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
Tags: , , , , ,

Liz woke to the muffled noise of someone passing gas. She listened to a bombardment of hurled curses and insults at the perpetrator. Slowly the growls and groans quietened and a semblance of quiet returned to their corner of the dining room. Liz finally decided she was awake and wouldn’t be going back to sleep and began moving.

She sat up rubbing at her neck. She looked across the table at John. Harry sat next to him. John slid a box of packaged breakfast rolls across the table to Liz. The lights had been turned back on in the kitchen area and the smell of coffee wafted through the air. John held a steaming cup of black liquid.

“Need a trip to the bathroom?” Harry asked.

Liz nodded. She stood and glanced around the room. Most of the bikers were still snoring. It looked as if they had just collapsed to the floor when they’d had enough to drink. Three men milled around the coffee machine, one of them was Ryder. All except Ryder looked hung over and worse for the night of drinking. From the looks of it, they had finished off the store’s beer supply.

Harry led the way to the restrooms. Once inside the family facility, Liz used a wet paper towel to scrub at her teeth. She gargled with handfuls of water, drank deeply and then used the toilet. Washing her hands one last time, she waited at the door until she heard the gentle knock. She stepped out just in time to see Ryder walk up to Harry.

“You boys sleep okay last night?” Ryder asked as he tried to blink the sleep from his eyes.

Harry answered. “As good as you’d expect.”

“We’ll be leaving in ten minutes so be ready.” He scrubbed at the stubble on his chin. “No excuses.”

Ryder walked away and Liz followed Harry back to the table. They gulped hot coffee and ate sweet rolls and beef jerky for breakfast. Liz stuffed several packages of dried jerky and crackers in her jacket’s zippered pockets when the bikers were not looking.

When Harry, John, and Liz walked out to the bikes and saw their supplies that had been on the back of their bikes were gone. Their bikes had been stripped of anything useful and their clothes left in a pile at the side of the bikes. Liz grabbed the backpacks and stuffed what was left back in the bags. She was glad she had not picked up bras at the resale shop.

John’s face flared red and he turned to confront Ryder, but Harry caught his arm. “Let it go. I expected as much.”

“Fucking assholes.” John cursed under his breath.

Ryder strode over to John and Harry just as they started to mount up. “You ride in front. Lead the way or else.” He placed his hand on the handgun on his belt. “The first one I shoot will be the kid if you try anything.”

Without responding, Harry and John got on their bikes and cranked the motors. Without looking back, Harry and John pulled out. One by one, the gang followed. Soon the group roared down the highway in a rough semblance of order.

Once underway, John’s voice came over the mike. “What if the horde is still hanging around the trailer? We’ll be riding right into a clusterfuck.”

Harry answered. “I’m hoping they are. They can give Ryder and his boys something to worry about besides us. With a little luck, we blast through and by the time Ryder and his boys roll into the mix every dead fuck within fifty feet will be on ‘em.”

“But. . . .” Liz interrupted.

Harry continued. “We got no choice, Liz. John, we kick it when we get to the overpass.”

Liz clung to Harry and watched the landscape race by. They got closer and closer to tiny town of Boseman, a typical wide spot along Texas highways.

After two hours, Ryder raced forward to call a halt.

Harry and John stopped and took off their helmets. Harry asked. “What is it?”

“How much farther?” Ryder snarled. “If you’re dicking us around, you’re all three dead.”

Harry raised his hand. “It’s not far now. Maybe ten or twelve miles. There’s a railroad overpass right before the town. The trailer was knocked off the tractor and sitting alongside the road on the backside of overpass.”

“It better be,” Ryder growled.

Harry shifted the bike into gear and he accelerated.

Ryder tossed a beer bottle at them as they pulled away. The glass shattered only a few feet from Harry and Liz as the bike roared by. The assemblage of bikers took their time. Beers were passed around as the riders moved out.

Ryder dropped back to carouse with his cronies. They had started drinking around ten that morning and even forgone lunch for more beer and a couple bottles of JD. Ryder yelled something in their direction that Liz didn’t catch but felt the hair on the back of her neck raise.

Harry cranked the bike and eased further ahead with John close on his heels. “All those loud mufflers are drawing all kinds of attention,” Harry commented.

They passed houses and monsters appeared in the yards. It was easy to see they were being drawn by the sound of the motorcycles. More and more appeared from around buildings and out of doorways. Those trapped in stalled vehicles turned toward the sound reaching out and gnashing teeth.

The gang’s interest in John and Harry faded as they consumed more and more beer. Ryder was handed another bottle after tossing an empty bottle. Bottles tossed against road signs sound like shots from handguns. Laughter boomed above the sound of the motorcycles. More bottles sailed from drunken riders.

Liz glanced over her shoulder just in time to see Ryder hurl a bottle at a monster amid a cluster of his brethren. The bottle hit the monster in the side of the head and the gang exploded in celebration. They were less a mile from the overpass, when Harry accelerated.

Liz yelled into the mic. “No one is paying attention to us. Keep going!”

The gang was drunk and Liz ducked lower against Harry as she waited for the impact of a bullet from Ryder’s gun when he noticed they were pulling ahead of the pack.

“Now!” Harry yelled at John then gunned the engine.

The bikes vaulted forward and raced toward the overpass leaving the gang behind still tossing bottles at random targets. Harry and John didn’t wait to see how soon the gang noticed. Liz watched the roadside flash by. John matched the pace without giving a hint of easing up on the throttle.

A sudden clank of metal and the report of gunfire made Liz duck. She looked back to see guns pointed at them. Another shot whizzed by and she screamed.

“They’re shooting at us!”

“Hang on!” Harry yelled back and opened the bike up with a deafening roar of the oversized motor. John matched the action. Together they pulled away quickly and began the gradual turn toward the overpass.

Liz felt the back wheel on the left rise from the ground and she clutched Harry tighter. He made a guttural sound that was a cross between a laugh and grunt of strain.

Shots echoed in the distance while the closest bikes accelerated to a crazy pace considering how drunken most of the men were. Liz watched as they barreled after them, all the while firing wild shots. More of the infected were drawn toward them as the cacophony of roaring engines and gunfire grew.

Harry dodged a Wandering infected and screamed into the mic in his helmet. “John! First cross street! Take a right!”

John’s bike raced through the underpass with Harry at his back fender. Both men braked. Liz was thrown into Harry’s back then momentum pitched her to the left. If not for Harry grabbing a handful of the leather, she would have fallen from her perch on the back of the bike. Harry pushed her back onto the seat then accelerated again. They raced away from the overpass and the trailer.

Liz looked back at the cross street and saw what could only be described as a cluster-fuck of epic proportion. The first bikes flew through the underpass into dozens of the undead that had appeared around the disabled trailer and overpass at the trio’s passing. Unable to see what lay ahead, the rear bikes slammed into the riders being attacked by the infected. More and more of the monsters stumbled toward the twenty or so bikers fighting for their lives. Motorcycles were knocked over riders were drug from the bikes as the infected overwhelmed the gang.

Harry turned around the corner of a large building and eased up on the accelerator. He and John slowed the bikes. They rode to the end of the business complex, turned a corner and then headed back to the west away from the road. They moved the bikes into the parking lot of a lumber yard and eased around the back of a storage area. Harry killed the motor and John followed suit.

The quiet around them was deafening. They could still hear shots and screams in the distance. Both men pulled off their helmets.

“That was bad,” Liz commented as she pulled the helmet from her head. She took a minute to describe what she had seen. “We’ll never get back through the underpass. Riders were pulled from their bikes and the ones behind them ran into the bikes and bodies.”

Harry shrugged. “They deserved what they got.”

“We gotta find a way to get outta this town and away from Ryder. That is if any of them survived. They were drinking pretty heavy.” John chuckled. “Fucking assholes.”

Harry pulled a map from his pocket. He opened it and studied the colored lines. “We can go north on this farm-to-market road for about forty miles then head back west. I think we need to wait until tomorrow.” He ignored Liz’s look of frustration. “I doubt we have much left in supplies and we need to locate some weapons.”

John searched the saddle bags on either side of his bike then opened the storage unit behind the seat. “Empty. I got nothing.”

Harry stepped off his bike and flipped open his bike’s saddlebags. He grunted then opened his own storage compartment. “Sons-a-bitches didn’t leave us anything. We have to find weapons and supplies before we leave this Podunk town.”

“They were going to kill us,” Liz asked in a hesitant voice.

“Probably,” Harry answered flatly. “They just wanted to make sure we were telling the truth about the trailer. It was the only reason we were still riding.”

The two men pushed the bikes into the shadow of a storage rack and listened to the sound of gunfire in the distance. Gradually the shooting became more sporadic. Then they heard a dozen single shots then silence.

“Do you think any of them survived?” Liz asked.

Harry shrugged. “It’s hard to say, but I imagine so. I think someone was putting down the injured.”

They stood in the shade and listened. The firing stopped and then the sound of motorcycles rumbled to life and faded into silence.

John stepped closer. “We need to find some weapons.”

Liz looked toward the lumberyard. “Maybe we can find something in there.”

Harry led them toward the darkened building. They found an open, door used by employees to access the storage area. As they got closer, they found a stack of construction scraps. Harry and John both picked up pieces of two by fours and Liz picked up a piece of rebar.

Liz noticed only the emergency lights were on in the building when the trio crossed the garden area and stepped into the main building. It was not a chain store so merchandise cluttered the isles. Liz considered a display that she was passing and stopped. She studied the four inch cylindrical tubes in a display then picked one up and pushed a soft rubber switch at the bottom. A light flicked on. Both men stopped and she tossed each of them flashlights and stuffed the remaining three in her back pocket.

John stepped closer to the garden tools and came back with three machetes. He tore open the plastic and pulled the first one free. He used the sharpened edge to quickly open the second two. With everyone armed with clubbing weapons and blades, they made their way deeper into the gloom.

Harry picked up a canvas utility bag and walked over to a drink machine. He pulled water bottles from the shelves.

“Do you think they have a break room?” Liz asked as she stuffed bags of peanuts from a countertop display into her pockets. “Could be food there, if they have a break room.”

Harry shrugged. “John, find some crowbars or hatchets.” He hesitated a moment then added. “Liz, we’ll look for a break room in the back.”

John headed off into the dark and Harry whispered. “Watch your ass!”

Harry and Liz headed toward a hardware display. They froze in place when they heard the first moan. It was distant and a pitiful sound. Liz imagined it a keening of loss and pain. The companion sound that followed was angry and dangerous.

“John!” Harry called out. “Out of here, now!”

Steps could be heard running toward them. John called out. “We got company and he looks pissed. Time to move. Fast.”

Harry grabbed Liz’s arm and turned her toward the garden center. He started running and nearly pushed Liz into an infected man covered in blood from the neck down. Harry elbowed Liz out of the way and swung the canvas bag of water bottles knocking the monster off his feet.

He swung the machete with one hand connecting with the side of the infected man’s head peeling an ear and a connected flap of skin from his skull. The monster righted itself and reached for Harry, still struggling to recover his own footing.

Liz grabbed the machete from the scabbard at her waist and raised the blade in a two handed swing and chopped off both of the man’s arms just below the elbows. The arms fell to the floor with a wet splat. The monster, ignoring the loss, raised his stumps and focused hungry eyes on Liz.

Before Liz could act, Harry cleaved the man’s head open. Harry caught her by her arm and held her still for a moment. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I could have finished the job.” Liz responded. “It’s just…well.” Finally, she shrugged and fell silent.

John caught up just as they jogged through the garden center. “That was ugly. I had to take out the cashier in the break room.” John caught up and continued. “Her legs below the knees were eaten clear to the bone. The rest of her was big as a brood sow carrying a litter.”

Harry glanced over his shoulder at John and commented. “Better pick up the pace, old man. Customer service is heading our way.”

Harry hopped on his bike and pulled Liz up behind him then cranked the engine. He eased forward while John got his bike started and began moving. They put helmets on and led a following of infected as they pulled away. After the first two blocks, they lost sight of their pursuers when they turned around a corner and made their way back out on a main street heading back through town.

“Keep an eye out for a place to pick up some guns,” Harry ordered.

“Damnit, Liz!” Harry cursed as he stepped away from her. “That wasn’t a kid. The kid died when one of those monsters tore out his throat.”

John looked at her with real pain on his face. “You did him a favor. Trust me. If it happens to me, I’d want you to do the same thing. Blow my fucking brains out.”

Liz nodded. “I know, but I can’t help, but think of my girls. It’s making me crazy.”

Harry turned back to face her. “Your daughters are fine. They’re with three men that are better equipped to survive this than anyone else I know. Our job is to stay alive until we find them.”

After an impatient swipe at the tears streaking her face, she nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

They searched the back roads the entire afternoon and when it started to get dark they decided to spend the night in an abandoned gas station.  At first light they headed out again.  Despite Wandering the back roads they saw no trace of the Humvee. By mid-afternoon, they were exhausted and back on a two lane back-top stopped to discuss where to head next. They stood around drinking warm water and eating energy bars.

Harry commented.  “I think we’re ahead of them.  It’s the only explanation.”

“There hasn’t been any sign of the Humvee.” Liz answered. “Maybe….”

“Shush. I hear something.” John interrupted.

All three stood with their heads cocked to listen beyond the normal sounds of chirping crickets and birdsong.

“Motorcycles,” John commented. “At least a dozen heading this way. Coming fast.”

“John, give me your jacket,” Harry ordered as he handed Liz her helmet. “Keep the helmet on while we talk. Liz, tuck your hair inside the jacket. Don’t speak until we find out what we’re dealing with.”

Harry reached into one of the saddlebags and drew out a sleeveless denim vest with a Harley emblem on the back. He threw it to John. “Put this on.”

“What do you want my jacket for?” John asked as he peeled out of his leather. “It’s way too big for her.

“That’s the point.” Harry took it and gave it to Liz. “I don’t want anyone knowing she’s a woman.”

Liz twisted a band around her hair and set the helmet over her head. She slipped into the jacket and then settled behind Harry on the bike. They took off fast heading west on the narrow blacktop.

“We can’t turn and outrun them. Slow down and follow my lead.” Harry called out to John. “John, try to look tough. “ Within minutes, they caught their first sight of the gang racing toward them fast.

John turned back with a fake looking scowl on his face then burst out laughing. “Mean enough for yah?”

Harry scowled. “Man, get serious. This could be bad.”

Liz’s heart raced as the first biker on a custom Harley Davidson soft tail motioned for his fellow riders to spread out. The road ahead of them was blocked by a dozen and a half bikers. They all looked rough and mean.

Two of the bikers pulled up in front of John and Harry. They sat facing the Spyders gunning their engines letting the gang surround them. When there was no escape, they killed their engines.

Liz clutched at the front of Harry’s jacket. He gently eased her hands free of the leather.

“Hang tough, kid,” Harry whispered through the helmet mic. “Whatever happens, don’t speak.”

Liz loosened her grip and straightened up on the seat. She glanced around and counted a total of sixteen riders surrounding them.

They sat quietly, turning off their engines. The gang facing them suddenly began moving apart to let a single rider approach. The rider was a bear of a man with wild black hair barely controlled by a do-rag covering the top of his head. He pulled aviator glasses from his face and studied Harry, John.

Finally, he commented with a sardonic grin. “Hell of a good day for a ride.”

Harry pulled his helmet off and rested it on the gas tank in front of him. “If you don’t mind all the dead bodies walking around, I guess.”

“Right.” He made a loud guffawing sound. “No fucking joke. My name is Willie Ryder. Most people just call me Ryder. Where’d y’all come from?”

“East,” Harry answered. “You?”

“A lot of places,” Ryder answered. “Who you got riding with you on that tricycle?”

Harry’s face reddened by the remark. “My kid. He’s only fourteen. He saw his maw get her throat ripped out by the fuckin’ neighbor.” Harry continued. “I found him in a closet and he hasn’t spoken since.”

Ryder eased his bike up between John and Harry and slammed a fist into Liz’s shoulder. “Gonna have to man up, kid. It’s a rough world out here.” He ignored the flinch of pain and continued. “Where you headed?”

“Way the hell away from here,” Harry growled. “We got family in Montana.”

“You got supplies to go that far?” Ryder reached out and grabbed a bottle of water from the back of John’s bike.

John snorted a protest. Harry answered before it could cause offense. “Hey, not likely. Thought we would scrounge what we needed as we go. You lookin’ for supplies?”

Liz looked over her shoulder behind them. Several of the rough looking bikers had trailers attached to their machines. She raised her hand to Harry’s side. He pressed his arm against her hand in response.

Ryder pointed to the men with a wave. “Fuckers eat a lot. We can always use more supplies. You got anything to share?”

“We can’t carry much, but we passed a jack-knifed trailer outside of Boseman near a railroad overpass. It had pallets of food inside. We took a few things, but the trailer was loaded with stuff. I can tell you how to get there.”

Ryder laughed. “We aren’t real good with directions. I think maybe you need to take the time to lead us to the place.”

“Fuck no.” John blurted out.

“That wasn’t a request.” Ryder pulled a handgun from his waist and pointed it at Harry. “We need supplies, you know where they are. So to make sure you don’t try to double cross us, turn over your weapons.”

“Hey, man, no need for that. We’re glad to see you get stocked up then we’ll part ways. None of us will be the worse for the detour.” Harry answered with a forced grin.

Ryder held out his hand pointedly.

With half a dozen guns pointed at them they had no choice but to comply. Afraid they would search her if she didn’t produce a weapon; Liz pulled the pistol from her waist and handed it to a greasy little man with bad teeth.

“Turn around and let’s go,” Ryder ordered.

Harry made a quick nod and cranked his bike. In orderly chaos, all the riders cleared enough space for Harry and John to turn their bikes around and head back the way they had come.

With helmets back on and the roar of bikes to cover their voices, Harry spoke to John. “Hey, you have to take it easy, John. Don’t give these guys any shit or we’re dead.”

“Pricks!” John interjected.

“Yeah, but we have to deal with them. Liz, if we stop, keep away from the group and your head down. Keep the jacket on and the collar pulled up. You’re small enough to pass for a kid. Don’t speak if you can help it.”

Liz tapped his side to let him know she understood and whispered. “Got it.”

“When we get a couple miles down the road, John try to ease up on the gas. We’ll try to work our way to the back of the pack. I don’t want to be up front when they hit the pack of dead that was following those soldiers if they’re still hanging around the trailer.”

“Got it,” John answered.

Silent tears slid down Liz’s face as she imagined her girls being driven further and further away. They were losing a full day of travel going back to the trailer. Whatever prayer they had of finding the soldiers in the Humvee disappeared as the sun began to sink into the west.

Liz was exhausted by the time Ryder decided to check out a massive fueling station near an interstate intersection. He ordered three of his crew to keep an eye on their guests while the gang cleared the facility. They charged off amid the roar of bikes as if it were a two-wheeled rodeo. Whoops and hollers rose above the sound of the bikes and sporadic gunfire.

Liz was appalled as she whispered into the mic. “They like this?”

Harry shrugged. “Definitely, not the cream of society. We have to be careful, here.”

“We’re so fucked.” John chimed in.

The gunfire grew more sporadic then faded to silence. Ryder reappeared at the edge of the road. His gang stopped amid a volley of curses and laughter when he raised his arm to call a halt.

The biker closest to Harry nudged him in the ribs with a rifle. “Get moving, pops.” He nodded toward John. “You too, shithead.”

Harry and John cranked their machines and moved out with their escort on either side and behind. They accelerated up the ramp leading into the fueling station. The front riders flocked around the fueling islands, each taking turns at the pump. The escorts guided Harry and John to do the same. Once all the bikes were fueled up, they were escorted to the front of the novelty shop.

Harry made a wide turn and walked his three-wheeler bike next to John’s ride facing away from the building. When he cut the engine, he stepped off the machine and turned back to Liz, but she brushed away his hand. She climbed off the bike and stepped behind Harry. The escort guided them into the novelty shop and nudged them toward a bank of tables and benches at one end of the room.

Harry grabbed bags of jerky, cheese sticks and bottles of water as he walked by a display. They walked to the furthest table and Harry nodded to the bench facing away from the room. He guided Liz inside then fell in beside her. John slid into the seat facing the room.

“We’re lucky the electric service is still on,” John commented.

“Won’t be much longer,” Harry answered.

The men removed their helmets while Liz sat still without following suit. Harry nudged her with his elbow and she removed it. She made sure the collar of the jacket jutted up to near the top of her ears.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” She whispered.

John stood and whispered. “Let me check it out.”

He crossed to the hall with a sign overhead proclaiming the restrooms and was halted by one of Ryder’s men. The bearish sized man stood at the hall entrance his massive shoulders blocking the way.

“Where yah think you’re going, dickhead?”

John jabbed his thumb toward the sign. “Unless you’d rather I piss on your boots, no matter to me.” He made a show of going for the zipper of his pants and the guy stepped aside.

The man stomped away with a scowl on his face. “Get in, get done then get your ass back to the table.”

“Got it,” John answered with a wave. “No problem, big guy.”

When he got back to the table, he whispered. “Everyone is ignoring the family bathroom off to the right. You can walk down the hall and she can dodge in there. She can wait until you come out of the men’s then come out and both of you head back this way.”

“Might work,” Harry commented. “They’re all hitting the beer pretty hard.”

Harry stood and stepped aside facing the rowdy gathering. Liz slipped out of the seat and stepped behind Harry. He strode toward the restroom without looking back. He was not challenged at the hallway entrance so he strode forward without glancing at the gang members celebrating the cache of alcohol. When he got to the family restroom door, he hesitated while Liz stepped around him and slipped inside.

She pushed the door closed and activated the lock. She quickly used the toilet and then looked in the mirror over the sink. Her hair was a dead giveaway. She fished in her pockets until she found the Swiss Army knife she had been given by Harry at the bar. She pulled out the longest blade and checked the edge. It was surprisingly sharp.

Liz dropped the jacket and finger combed her hair around her face. She grabbed a handful of locks at the side of her face and slid the blade down the strands. A few seconds later, she was holding a handful of hair. She let it slip from her fingers into the toilet then repeated the procedure until she could finger comb the remains around her face. She worked at the back resulting in the ragged hair brushed at the top of her collar. She gave the front a last brush toward her face then closed the knife.

When she was finished, she used a damp paper towel to wipe what she could of hair that had slipped from her grasp and dropped it into the toilet. She glanced around one last time then flushed. With a push of the handle, the water rose and swirled as Liz watched her past disappear in the blast of water from the tank swirling into the bowl.

A gentle knock on the door interrupted her musing as the water washed away her life. She opened the door and saw Harry’s shoulder.

“Enough time?” Harry asked then his eyes opened a bit wider when he noticed her hair. “Oh?”

Liz slipped on the jacket. “Well?”

Harry winked. “I got a good lookin’ boy.” He chuckled. “Try to keep your head down, though. No telling how many perverts in this bunch.”

Liz chuckled softly. “No problem, dad.”

They made their way back to the table where John was now making sandwiches. He had a loaf of bread, lunch meat, mustard, mayo and bags of chips. He also had several bottles of drinks, everything from water to a collection of sodas.

Liz slipped in the booth and accepted the offered sandwich. It was all she could do to muffle a sigh. The bread was getting stale, but the thick globs of mayo and mustard made up for the dryness. She ate half of the sandwich and then drank a big gulp of water.

Around a mouthful of sandwich, she mumbled. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Harry nodded as he reached for the makings of another sandwich. “It’s going to get ugly in here if they keep drinking.”

The party cranked up a notch in the novelty shop when two of the bikers started taking pot shots at the mounted deer heads on the walls amid the open rafters. One bullet took out the left eye of the mounted head. Both men laughed and jabbed at each other.

Ryder walked up behind the shooter and cracked him on the head with the butt of his handgun. The other man stepped away quick enough to miss the same assault. Ryder followed and slammed his fist into the man’s face breaking his nose. The man fell to the floor with blood spilling from his face.

“Stupid fucks.” Ryder turned away and crossed the dining room to within a few feet of Harry and John. “It’s hell having to control a bunch of stupid fucks.” He took a swig of beer. “Well, kid, are you getting enough to eat. Looks like you could use some meat on your bones.”

Liz kept her head tilted down and answered trying to lower her voice. “Yes, sir.” She cringed at the squeak at the end of her answer. She ducked her head even lower.

Ryder reached over and slapped Liz on the back. “God damn, kid. It’ll get better. Give it a year and you’ll sound like a man.” He tousled Liz’s hair then nudged Harry. “I can see why he don’t say much. Little shit sounds like a fucking pussy.” He walked away laughing.

Harry’s breath exploded from his mouth. “You okay?” He asked Liz.

She nodded as she gaged on the bite of sandwich. A tear slid down her face. She struggled with the bit of bread and meat, wallowing it around in her mouth until she took a long drink of water and swallowed.

Finally, Liz whispered. “Fucking asshole.”

By dark, Ryder had found the breaker box and turned off the electricity. He said it was to keep from attracting attention, but Harry figured it was to shut down the party. Strategically placed emergency lights left the interior of the building with dim light scattered throughout the building.

Ryder had his men duct tape posters and newspapers over the lower portions of the windows then upturned tables against the glass. Harry, Liz and John helped then settled at the table again.

Darkness shrouded the interior of the store when Ryder posted guards outside the building after securing the back door. Harry and John and Liz stayed at the table opting to stay as far away from the rest of the gang as possible.

Harry mused. We’re as secure as we can be inside of a building with a glass front.”

“That’s not saying much considering whom we’re in here with,” Liz answered.

Harry, John, and Liz moved to the back of the room tried to get comfortable at a table shoved up against the back wall. Liz folded her arms in front of her and leaned her head down. She could no longer fight the exhaustion. John propped his head on one hand and soon settled into slumber as well. Harry slid around to watch the gang members as they settled down for the night. A couple of the bikers settled on the carpet in the eatery with them.