Posts Tagged ‘horror’

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.

Billy and Leon jogged away from the van toward the back of the chapel.  After a brief hesitation, they disappeared behind the structure.

Juan handed his cases of water and food to Brian.  “What about the priests who live here?”

Brian glanced toward the two-story structure across the yard. “No sign of movement that I can see.” He stacked the bottled water in the back of the van. “Only person I saw was an infected man in the maintenance office. What do you want to do about it?”

Juan glanced over his shoulder.  “We can’t just leave them if they’re still alive. They’re the priests too old or infirmed to serve the church.”

“Damn it!” Brian cursed. “Alright, when Billy and Leon get back, get them in the truck and you drive over to the building.” He tossed Juan the keys.  “Keep your eyes open.”

Brian turned toward the residential building with a sigh of resignation.  He glanced around and realized the beauty of the compound. The rain had given new life to the sun scorched grass and now in the morning light the lawn was a bright green.  The flower beds and blooming gardens around the fountain and at the edge of the adobe walls glistened with renewal the rain had brought.

For a split second Brian wondered if making everyone leave the sanctuary was even wise with all the infected roaming the city.  If the residence was well stocked, he could leave Billy, Leon, and Juan to protect the women and head out alone.  No matter how well stocked the building was, they would eventually run out of food.  Then they would have to scavenge for food and that would get more and more dangerous as time passed.  He couldn’t leave these people behind, they would die.  They had to stay together.  At the General’s he could offer sanctuary.

Brian got to the door at the front of the building.  It was a two story structure with multiple windows on either side of the front door.  Brian walked to the closest window and raised his hand to the side of his face to look inside.

The room was a library or office.  It was dark inside but he could see a massive desk and walls of books.  He moved to the next window and looked through the glass.  The room held a substantial table at least sixteen feet long.  Places for three were set on one end. Brian flicked on his LED light and looked toward a distant opened door.  He could see a metal table and a distant counter with what looked like a sink and window at the back. A second door opened into a darkened hallway beyond.

Brian glanced over his shoulder to see Juan still waiting for Leon and Billy.  He went back to the door and crossed to the windows on the opposite side of the building.  The heavy dark curtains had been pulled closed. He hurried to the second window and again looked inside.  The room had been set up as a sick room. Inside the bed lay a withered body of an old man. A near empty IV bag hung from a pole.

“Shit.” Brian cursed.

He made his way back to the door and tapped lightly on the barrier. He waited, not sure what he would see or hear.

“Hola, un minuto.”  Called an aged voice from inside.

Brian waited a full thirty seconds before he heard shuffling steps approach the door. The door opened and an old man in a pair of rumpled khakis and white shirt opened the door. He nodded at Brian.

“We didn’t know anyone was here.”  Brian began as he noticed a terrible stench wafting from the inside of the house.

“You should not be here?” The old man stated.

“We’re trying to get out of the city.” Brian stepped away from the smell of drifting from the interior of the house. “Do you need help? Is there bodies inside?”

“I need nothing.” The old man pushed back on the door but Brian pushed it back open with his hand. “There is only two of us left.  They others are all at peace.”

The pressure against the door relaxed and Brian dropped his hand to his side. “We’ll take you with us.”

“I cannot leave Father Gabriel and he is too sick to leave his bed.  Take what you need and close the gate when you leave.” He pushed the door close and latched it from the inside.

“But….”  Brian protested.

“Go with God.” The old man called out from behind the door. “I will pray for you.”

“Señor Brian!”  A gravelly voice called out. “We have to go. NOW!”

Brian turned to see Leon jump into the passenger door of the van and slam the door.  Juan had crawled behind the wheel and cranked the engine.

Billy hung out the side door aiming his weapon at half a dozen infected stumbling from around the chapel.  The infected were in terrible shape.  They had been caught in the flooding and crawled from the creek.  Limbs where torn and broken, yet they stumbled toward the sound of the van’s revving engine.

Harry steered the camper in a wide half circle around debris in the parking lot and guided the vehicle to the fueling island of the abandoned station.  The front of the vehicle faced the town. Randy and Pablo parked the two trucks close enough fuel up as well.

Harry glanced over his shoulder.  “Cody, I need you and your sister to keep an eye out that back window.  You see anything at all moving, you give us a heads up.”

Trace jumped up. “We can do that.”  She pulled at her brother’s arm. “Come on. We can watch together.”

“Sure.”  Cody answered flatly.

Liz clutched at her back as she followed Harry and John out of the camper. “He’s having a hard time.” Harry grunted as way of an answer so Liz continued. “I think it would help if you would spend some time with him.”

“I’ll try, but ain’t never had kids.  Don’t know what good I’d do.”  Harry answered.

“Dr. Phil, let’s get this done.” John commented as he headed toward the access port.

“Fine. But think about it.” Liz turned around and stepped back in the camper. “Pass the adapter through the window when you’re ready.

He dropped the pump to the ground and used the tool they had found on a fuel truck to open the cover over the tank access.  He pulled a string with three silver dollar sized washer tied to the end from his pocket.  He dropped the washers into the hole and spooled out the string counting the knots as he unwound the string.  He felt the hesitation when the washer hit the fuel and again when it hit the bottom.

“About half full.”

He wound up the string and dropped the hose into the hole.  He hooked up the pump to a second hose.  Harry picked up the end carried it to camper.  He opened the fuel cover on the camper and poured a bottle of fuel stabilizer into the tank. Harry glanced over his shoulder.

“Liz, plug in the pump.”

Pablo and Mario, Pablo’s son, each carried automatic weapons to edge of the back of the trio of vehicles.  Pablo stopped at the back of the camper while Mario made his way further down the street.  The small electrical motor chugged gallon after gallon of the precious fuel into the camper.  After nearly five minutes, the gas tank of the camper burped fuel across Harry’s hand and called out.

“Off!”

John turned off the pump and Harry carried the hose to the truck Randy had been driving. He stuck the hose in the tank and called out order to turn the pump on again.

Randy led Miguel across the street to the vet clinic.  It was a small brick building with two waist high windows in front and a glass door.  There was a small fenced area at the side. All the while, Randy scanned the street for any movement.

“Where are the people?”  Miguel asked. “There should be at least a few signs of people or the infected around.”

Randy grunted his agreement. “Yeah. I don’t like it.”

When they stepped up to the glass door, Randy tapped on the glass with the crook of a crowbar. They looked into the gloom of the building and saw only shadows and hints of a reception desk.

Randy slid the end of the crowbar between the door and facing.  Leaning into the bar, there was a pop and the door pulled free of the door jam.  He held the door with his elbow and caught a whiff of death.  A low growl from inside make both men halt.

“Shit.”  Randy growled. “A dog. They left animals to starve.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Let’s do this.”  Randy said as he flicked on his LED light and moved deeper into the recesses of the office.  He noticed four doors across the back wall.  A sad whimper could be heard from behind one of the doors. Randy started at the right and opened the first door a crack.  He saw the white shadow of a toilet and closed the door.

Randy glanced at Miguel and he moved his head from left to right. “Exam room.” He mouthed.

Randy moved to the next door while Miguel did the same.  Nodding at Miguel, Randy waited to see what he would find.

“Same.” Miguel announced. “They each have a door to the back.

“Okay, this had to go to the back room.” Randy whispered.  “Follow me.”

Randy opened the door and the stench of urine, feces and death was overpowering.  The back room was as massive open space divided by function.  Along the left wall was cages; three for large dogs, three for medium size dogs and six for small pets.  Three of the cages held bodies. The door stood open on one of the large cages.  The cage was empty. Along the right wall was the medical cabinets, surgical table and a number of machines.

“Shit.” Randy cursed as a low growl emanated from the shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is she dead?”  Trace asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Baby?”

“Yeah. She’s pregnant.” Harry nodded.

“What about her husband?” Randy asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both men turned toward her looking a little guilty.

“Now, Lizzy. We’re just….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The roar of the running water grew louder. The flood escaping around the dam created by the tree had grown rougher and more dangerous by the minute. Brian waved everyone onward when he saw Leon sit up and take control of the Jon boat again.

Leon looked over his shoulder and pointed toward the blocked water. He shouted something, but it was lost amid the pelting rain and rushing water. When he drew closer to Brian, he yelled. “When it breaks loose, we need to be outta the water, man!”

Brian waved his understanding and gunned the engine as much as he could. He carefully worked his way to the center of the stream and let the flood water drive them from the danger of the military base.

The light of the burning base faded while the rain swallowed the shores. The further away from the base they got the more muted the sound of the remaining gunfire and the raging water escaping the willow tree and pile up of debris.

Leon guided his boat next to Brian and called over. “It’s gonna bust loose soon. There’s too much water coming through!”

Brain answered. “It won’t be just debris, there’ll be dead bodies and those bastards will still be moving. We sure don’t want to be in the water with ‘em.”

“There’re a couple places a mile down the creek.” Leon answered. “A contractor supply company I know of has a supply yard that backs up to the creek.”

Brian gave a thumb’s up. “Lead the way.”

The tropical storm finally began to wane leaving the trio of boats motoring down the creek shrouded in the darkness. The only sound was the rushing water surrounding them. They moved further and further downstream through residential areas into a commercial section of the city. The water jostled the boats, slamming chunks of debris into the boats. Each slam against the aluminum boats jolted the occupants and causing yelps of surprise and terror.

Leon guided the Jon boat closer to the western shore watching every feature. “Stay close!” He yelled over his shoulder as he looked off into the dark beyond the shoreline. A roar could be heard in the distance.

“Make it quick, Leon. I think we’re running out of time.” Brian called back.

Juan guided his boat closer to Brian. “Is Dale okay? He ain’t moved since we left the truck.”

Suddenly, Leon turned his boat toward the shore and waved excitedly for the others to follow. All they could see was hurricane fencing at the edge of the water.

Leon grabbed the fence, held the boat in place and retrieved a small flashlight from his pocket. He pointed the narrow beam of light into the dark beyond. “Hang on! I think this is it.”

“Well is it or not?” Brian yelled.

A log slammed into the side of Brian’s boat as he held the craft against the fence a few feet down from Leon. “Damned it, Dale. Help me hold this boat.”

Dale shuddered then slowly got to his feet. The boat tilted and swung out with the sudden shift in weight.

“Sit down and grab the fucking fence, Dale!” Brian yelled.

Dale turned and the tarp covering him fell from his shoulders. Leon turned and the beam of his flashlight whipped around to pan across Dale’s face. Brian saw the gray pallor and vacant gaze of his eyes.

“He’s infected!” Paula screamed and released the fence she had been holding.

Dale moved his right leg toward Brian. His foot caught under the front seat. He fell toward the back of the boat, his chest landing on the center seat, his arms still reaching for Brian.

Brian kicked out, lost his grip on the fence and the boat spun out into the torrent. He glanced at the others but could do nothing. He faced a monster. Brian kicked out and struck Dale in the face. The impact barely registered. Dale pulled himself toward Brian all the while his jaws gnashing and his teeth snapping.

The rolling water spun the boat, while debris slammed against the aluminum. Brian pulled a Ka-bar knife from his belt and jabbed at Dale’s face.

The first swipe was deflected when Dale flung his arm out to grab at Brian’s leg. The monster, that had been Dale, opened his mouth and leaned toward Brian’s flesh.

Brian kicked with his free leg into Dale’s forehead. The momentum threw the massive body off balance and it fell to the side of the boat. The boat tipped into the roiling water drawing gallons into the bottom.

Brian stabbed the knife into Dale’s head and gave the massive body one last shove. Throwing his weight against the opposite side of the boat, Brian shoved into the thick body one last time. The massive girth rolled over the side of the boat and disappeared but not before scooping up even more water into the boat.

When the body slipped from the boat, the craft popped back to the opposite side and Brian was almost thrown head over heels into the water on the opposite side. He righted himself, and straightened the boat with into the current. Suddenly Leon and Juan appeared on either side of his boat.

“You okay, man?” Juan asked as both he and Billy steadied Brian’s boat.

“Yeah. Asshole died and turned.” Brian answered. He pulled his camo tarp back into the boat and stuffed it under the seat.

“We have to get outta the creek. It’s higher than I’ve ever seen it.” Leon announced. “All the pumps have shut down and all that shit in the creeks is going to be real trouble.”

Brian waved to Billy. “Step over here.”

Billy clutched at the Jon boat and pulled the two crafts closer. He stepped into Brian’s boat.

“Stay close and the first place we can get the boats out of the water. Stay close to the west bank!” Brian led out, the other staying close behind. He yelled at Billy. “Use that spotlight to find a place to land.”

Leon yelped. “There!” He pointed toward a sandstone mission tower silhouetted against the sky in the distance. “Around the bend! I know that place.”

Brian slipped in behind Leon’s boat and motioned Juan to follow. The roar of the water grew louder while the swirling torrent climbed higher and higher up the bank. Large chunks of debris floated by at a terrifying speed.

The three boats made it around the bend and what had once been a tranquil garden came into view. Now ornamental trees and shrubs had been uprooted and ripped from the shoreline leaving long angry gouges in the landscaping.

Leon ran his boat into the ragged slopping bank. Margo jumped out of the boat and pulled at the aluminum craft until it scraped at the gravel underfoot. Leon joined her and began pulling and tugging the aluminum over the ragged ground.

Brian drove the bow of his boat a few feet further downstream into gravel and sand. Billy jumped out and tugged the boat up the grassy slope. Brian jumped out and together the two men wrestled to move the water laddered craft.  Leon rushed to help.

The roar of the flowing water suddenly grew louder. Amid the sound of the rushing water was the noise of breaking branches and collapsing structures.

Juan drove his boat into the grass another twenty feet further down the bank.  The craft began to drift back into the water before anyone could get out and begin pulling it onto the bank. The trolling motor was losing the battle against the current that now raced past the shore.

Billy dropped the front of the Brian’s boat and ran to Juan’s boat. He jerked at the bow of the boat. He pulled Margo from the boat and screamed. “Help me!”

He grabbed her hand and slammed it onto the side of the boat. Juan jumped at the bank and slipped under the rushing water. His head bobbed back up and Brian arrived just in time to pull Juan to the shore alongside the boat.

Juan climbed up the bank and joined Billy and Margo pulling the boat into the grass.

Brian led the two men back to retrieve his boat. They quickly off loaded the supplies and tipped the boat to be rid on the water, once and for all.

“Pick up the boats!” Get them as far up from shore as we can!” Brian yelled.

With two bodies on each boat they stumbled, tripped and man-handled the boats across the garden to a rock faced terrace. They hauled the boats up the rise then flopped down on the wet grass. Everyone sat there for a full minute exhausted.

They watched as a massive floating trash pile rolled and churned amid the wall of water. The torrent rose up the bank spreading toward terrace where they rested.

Brian stood and reached for the boat, but Leon raised his hand.

“No need.” Leon said. “Look, the water is going down already.”

Still a little unsure, Brian watched through the darkness as more trash and bodies floated by amid the rolling water. “Let’s find some shelter.”

He looked toward the structure behind the garden. It was dark. No sights shown through the windows. The grounds appeared to be surrounded by a stone wall about eight feet tall. Brian turned to Billy. “Come with me.” He glanced toward Leon, Juan and the women. “Stay put. We’re going to check the place out. Watch for trouble. If you hear anything, get two of the boats back in the water and get the hell outta here. We’ll follow if we can.”

Leon and Juan nodded grimly. The two women looked near drowned and shell shocked. Both shivered uncontrollably.

“Get a couple of Mylar blankets out for the women.” Brain added as he walked away.

Ten minutes later after gathering packs, Brian led the foursome into the structure. They were safe….

 

The End

Jack smiled and whispered. “Thank you.”

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

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

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

“Doesn’t matter.” Cody snarled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s do this.” Harry said.

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

“I will.” Liz answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack sighed and smiled at the gathering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” Liz asked.

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

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

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

John sighed. “Optimistic, aren’t we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry.” Jack whispered. “We were….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll bet.” Liz answered.

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

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

The kids headed to the back of the camper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad?” Cody cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One look at the father and she announced.

“You need to lie down.”

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

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