Posts Tagged ‘horror’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if someone comes?” Darlene argued.

“She has a gun,” Steve answered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hope so,” Zack answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo laughed. “Sí. Y cabras, goats.”

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

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

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

Hugo shrugged. “Sí.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m clueless. The only one I’ve even talked to has been the preacher. I was hoping to get a few of the girls into separate quarters. It’s one thing to have a dorm for kids…but all the adults in the Rec Center with them, is a pain in the ass. No one is getting any sleep between the snoring, kids giggling, and going to the bathroom all night long, it’s fucking circus. Then add all the bitching…shit.”

“Is there more units at the camp?” Matt asked.

“At least three. They’re not in the best shape but movable. Maybe with a little cleaning and a new mattress or two, they’ll be serviceable. We can keep looking for campers if we head back toward one of the bigger towns.”

“Hell no! We make due. No one’s heading into that cluster-fuck.” Matt growled.

“What if we get a bunch of tarps from that home improvement store or look for some place with tents?” Larry suggested.

“Tent’s might work if we can find a sporting goods store or a rental store. They have those big white ones like they use for weddings.” Matt offered. “Get a couple portable air conditioners and generators, maybe. But then we’re back to making way to much noise.”

“I’ll talk to the team and see if anyone knows of a place that might have supplies we can use to expand our living space.”

“Meanwhile, let’s go over to Billings and put half those women in the empty camper. It’s stupid for all those women to be in one camper. The damned waste tank will be overflowing by morning.”

Matt and Larry walked across the parking lot to the furthest pair of campers. They got to the preacher’s trailer and tapped on the door with the end of a flashlight.

“Billings? We need to talk.” Matt called out. He could hear a harried discussion then the door opened a couple inches.

“What do you want?” The man in coveralls growled.

“I want to talk to Billings,” Matt announced. “Get him out here, or I’m coming in.”

“He’s busy.” The man retorted.

Matt sighed. “You were starving, and now you have a full belly. Either Billings gets out here, or you can load up that fucking bus in the morning and drive on outta here.”

The door slammed, and a frantic conversation took place behind it, then it reopened, and Billings appeared. It was evident he had been in bed. When Billings opened the door to speak Matt caught a glimpse of a young girl in a white shift staring at him. Her hair was a tangled nest while red marks marred her young face. Her eyes were red and puffy.

Matt turned and whispered to Larry. “Assemble the men and make sure they’re armed. Tell Jasper and Joan to get the kids in the Rec Center.” He whispered.

Billings watched as half a dozen uniforms in addition to Larry lined up behind Matt. “What is the meaning of this?” He puffed up his chest and did his best to look authoritative.

“Get out here. All of you. And leave your fucking guns inside.” Matt ordered as he pulled his handgun. Larry and the men behind him raised their weapons.

Billings started to close the door, but Matt slid the Mag Light into the opening. “What do you want? You don’t have the right to order….”

Matt grabbed the door and jerked it open with Billings still clinging to the barrier. He stumbled outside. Matt caught him and pushed him to the ground.  With a nod to Larry, he was searched, and then pushed to his knees.

The remaining men stared at the scene, unsure what to do. Matt reached into the camper and pulled the rifle from the man wearing coveralls. Matt raised his handgun at the men. The little girl’s eyes were big as saucers.

“You men get out here! Don’t make me shoot you,” Matt ordered. “I’ve had a long fucking day, and you’re pissing me off.”

Larry and the soldiers took control of each man as he came outside. Matt walked inside the camper while the remaining men were each searched then forced to their knees next to Billings with zip-ties on their hands.

Matt nodded at the second camper and ordered. “Everyone out of there, too.” He walked into the men’s camper where the child still stood trembling. He sat down at the table while the girl stood staring at him. The child was terrified.

“My name is Matt. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m here to help you. Can you tell me your name and how old you are?”

“Mary.” She answered as tears slid down her cheeks. “I’m twelve.”

“Is your father one of those men?” He asked.

She moved her head from left to right then answered. “My daddy’s dead. I don’t have no family.”

Matt was confused. “Your mother is not one of those women?”

Mary squared her shoulders. “No! My family’s dead. Some sick people came into the camp. Daddy locked me in the camper, then he and mama and two other men tried to kill them, but they got hurt.”

“What about the preacher and his men?”

“They didn’t come out to fight them.”

“When it was over, they were covered in blood, and the preacher said they would get sick, so the men shot ‘em all. Just like that, they shot them.”

“Did the other men have families?” Matt asked.

“Yes. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. They killed Becky’s mom when she pointed a gun at the preacher. The other man’s wife and two daughters are here. Becky’s daughter is my age. They came got me and said I belonged to them now.”

Matt struggled to control the rage that was building. He wanted to kill the bastard. After taking several deep breaths to steady his voice, he asked. “Did he hurt you?”

“Yes.” Mary turned toward the door and whispered. “He said he was saving me.”

Matt jumped to his feet with his fists clinched. When he saw Mary shrink away, he realized her fright, and he sat back down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m just so angry right now.”

“Can I shoot him? He did it to my friend, too.” Mary asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re having a baby now?” Amy asked.

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

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

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

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

“Who exactly did they have?” Matt asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt smiled and nodded. “Thanks, sweety.”

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

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

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

“Da da?” Larry grinned.

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

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

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

“Six,” Larry answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But we’re not wasting it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Faster!” Della screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve frowned and leaned into Zack’s wide arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve raised his hand. “Goodbye, Millie.”

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

Together they stepped into the shadows of the barn.  The silence was heavy and ominous after the roar of the ATV’s motor.  Della could hear Zack breathing.  As his breathing began to slow, she became aware of another sound.  She heard a shuffling sound and then a gentle brush against wood somewhere deeper in the barn.

Della held out her hand, and they both stopped.  “I hear something.”

Zack whispered. “It’s at the other end of the barn.  Let’s get in and out.”

Della gave a quick nod and flicked on a flashlight.  She fanned it across the dark recesses of the long passageway.

“Nothing.”  She answered as she swung it into the tack room. After a quick pass around the room, she stepped through the doorway.

Della pulled a list from her pocket.  She grabbed a burlap bag and walked to the wall on the left.  She pulled half a dozen bridles from the wall.  She walked to a work bench picked up a grooming box and dumped the contents into the bag.  She tied the end with a length of rope and picked up three saddle blankets.  She carried the items to the ATV and settled them on the back cargo rack.

She hurried back to meet Zack carrying two saddles toward her.  “Only two in the tack room.  Got to be a lot more around here.”

“I think I saw at least a couple hanging over the side of the stalls in the barn,”  Della answered as she helped him stack the saddles on the rack.

“Great.”  Zack lamented.

“I have the bridles and three blankets,”  Della answered.

“Let’s get this over with.  I can carry two saddles if you can carry one and the blankets.” Zack answered.

“Sounds good,” Della whispered as she pointed the small LED beam down into the dark.  “There.”

She focused the beam on the closest stall.  Hung over the top board was a saddle with a saddle blanket next to it.  “One.”  She whispered as they walked deeper into the barn.  She examined the next stall and saw nothing.  She quickly moved the beam to the next stall, she hesitated, then added.  “Two.”

“Gotta find one more,” Zack commented.

Della hurriedly fanned the beam to the opposite side of the barn.  “There!  At the end, on the right.”  She let out a long sigh.  “I’ll get that one.  You picked up the other two and let’s get the hell outta here.”

Zack held out a dark hand.  “Be careful.”

“You too,”  Della answered as she quickened her steps.

Della hurried down the corridor of the barn.  She glanced over her should see Zack had gotten to the second saddle.  With a powerful arm, he pulled the saddle and blanket from the top board of the stall.  Suddenly, Della realized the scratching was louder and closer.

She stopped and fanned the beam of light from left to right.  She stumbled when she was clouded eyes staring back at her from the stall holding the saddle.  She kept the beam on the face and stared.  The gate was open, but the infected reached through the slats of the stall.

“Shit.”  She whispered.

Della fought for control of her breathing and her racing heart.  She raised the machete in her hand to hit at the infected then dropped her arm to her side.  The board where the saddle rested was too high to get to the infected person.

She thought about stepping into the stall with the monster but hesitated.  She could pull the saddle down and take a chance of the monster coming through the door after her or do something about the problem.

The stall door opened outward.  If she closed the door, she could trap the monster, pull off the saddle and run. She glanced at Zack as he grabbed for the second saddle.  A slam against the double doors a few feet beyond the stall made her jump.

“Shit!”  Della cursed.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen…no need to be so jumpy.  I assume you’re Lieutenant Monroe, so you’re the man I am here to see.”  The man stepped closer to Matt and reached out with his right hand.  “I’m Reverend Jacob Billings.”

“Well, Reverend Billings, you have just barged into my home.”  Matt ignored the outstretched hand and Billings let his hand drop to his side. “You three can turn around and get the hell out of here.”  He bellowed.

Billings looked startled then reached out as if he could appease Matt’s ire.  “Sir, I mean no disrespect….”

“You damned well did disrespect me by barging into our home.  Now get out!”  Matt nodded at Jake.

Jake walked over to the trio and with Larry coming up behind him, escorted the men outside.  He pulled the door closed behind them and flipped the lock.

Matt slumped into the recliner just as Amanda walked into the room carrying Claire and with Amy at her side. She chuckled.  “Well, that was interesting.  You know that isn’t the end of it.”

Matt looked up.  “No, but it gives me a night to sleep on it.”

Amanda’s face tightened, and she handed Claire to Amy.  She turned to Jake.  “Now I think you can go see if the doctor Matt brought back is all he claims to be.”

Jake’s mouth turned down in worry.  “Oh, Lord, have mercy.  It’s time?”  He raced to the door, flung it open and raced outside.

“I’m going to the bedroom upstairs.  Please have the doctor come up when he gets here. The kids can stay in the downstairs bedroom.”  She suddenly gasped and folded against herself as she clutched at the doorway.

Matt stepped up and draped his left arm around Amanda and swept his right under her legs.  He pulled her off her feet, turned and headed up the back stairs.

“I got this.  Larry, look after the girls.”

Matt carried Amanda up the stairs and through the door at the top of the stairs.  He looked around then crossed the room to the double bed.  He sat her gently down on the sagging mattress.  “What can I do?”

“Help me into this gown,”  Amanda answered around a groan of pain.  She pulled the loose t-shirt she was wearing over her head while Matt reached for the cloth.  She loosened her bra and tossed it and the shirt to a nearby chair.

“It’s going to be hard enough having this baby without drugs.  I’ll be damned if I’m wearing this thing.”

Matt held up the gown while turning away from Amanda’s full breasts and her swollen belly.  She stuck her arms into the armholes and let the thin material fall down around her.  “Okay, I’m decent.  Let me hold your arm” Matt, reached out and Amanda stepped out of her sandals and shed her shorts and underwear.  She reached back to lay a sheet and quilt aside and then looked up.   “You can let me go now.”

He did, and she eased into the bed and pulled the sheet over her just as another contraction gripped her midsection. She curled onto her side and moaned.

“What can I do?”  Matt whispered.  “I don’t know what I can do to help.”

Amanda forced a laugh.  “Can you have this baby for me?”  At Matt’s shocked expression she groaned.  “You can rub my back.”  She rolled to her right.

Matt felt the panic rise.  After a brief hesitation, he reached out with his fingers and lightly stroked her back between her shoulder blades.

“Not there,”  Doc called out from the doorway.  “Use your thumbs and make circles right above the dimples of her bottom. “

Doc walked into the room with Helen at his side.  “Well, I guess we got her in plenty of time after all.

Matt watched as Doc removed his jacket and set a bag and box of supplies on the chair.  He walked around the bed to sit down in front of Amanda.  “Now, Helen will get some things set up then when we get all settled I’d like to do an examination and see how far along we are. If that’s alright with you?”

He continued without giving Amanda a chance to answer.  “I’ve been retired for a while, but having babies is as easy as riding a bike.  I don’t have much to do, but make sure you’re doing what you need to do.  Actually, Helen will be doing more.  She brought a few things but do you have towels and baby stuff?”  He looked around and noticed the stack of newborn supplies on the dresser.  “Well, I guess that answers that.  You’re pretty well prepared, looks like.”  With a nod from Helen, Doc got to his feet. “Well sounds like we’re ready. Let’s see how we’re doing.”  He turned to Matt.  “You can wait outside until we’re done.”

Matt’s heavy footsteps could be heard escaping down the stairs.  A minute later, Doc opened the door to see Jake sitting on the top step.

Brian glanced right then left.  There were dozens of infected stumbling toward the gate from the right so Brian pointed to the left.

“Left!” Brian ordered.  “Take a right at the next intersection and go south. We need to get out of the area.

Juan guided the van around stalled cars in front of the massive church, then up across the medium in an effort to avoid a cluster of infected in the street.  Slowly, they moved further and further from the massive stone structure in the distance.  After three turns they entered an industrial area with massive buildings behind parking lots littered with cars and trucks. Some of the vehicles were still parked neatly between the lines. Most had attempting to escape the mayhem but ended up stuck behind clusters of vehicles locked together blocking the gated entrance.  Many of the doors were flung open, while other contained the remnants of the occupants.

“I don’t know about this.”  Juan announced.

“Keep going!”  Brian ordered.  “We have to get through here to get to the blacktop heading out of town.”

Juan steered the van through the labyrinth of vehicles abandoned in the streets.  Dozens of infected meandered between the abandoned vehicles until they heard the van, then began moving toward it.

“Get moving, man. The natives are getting restless.”  Leon advised.

Juan scowled. “I can’t go any faster!”

Brian leaned over the seat and pointed to an alley between buildings.  “That way, go down the alley.”

Juan stepped on the gas and dodged the last sedan, taking off the door.  He made a quick right and accelerated.  At the end of the alley, he followed the asphalt to the right between two rows of small warehouse buildings.  The unit included rolling overhead doors and side doors.  At the end of the building, the alley opened onto a narrow street with a grassy median on the far side.

“Jefe?”

“Ease out.  Let’s see what we can see.” When Juan complied, Brian looked to the right and could see a cluster of infected coming their way.  “Well, that’s settled.  Left.”

Juan complied. When he realized the road was fairly open he accelerated and everyone settled back a little more comfortably.

“Keep watch,”  Brian ordered.  He pulled a map from his pocket and scanned the spider web of lines.  “That’s it!”  He announced.  “Head south on Pleasanton Road. When we get there we can head west.”

“Sí señor.”  Juan leaned back in the seat and accelerated. “I hope it’s not far. We only got a quarter tank of gas.”

“As soon as we get out of the city we can stop,”  Brian answered.