Posts Tagged ‘horror’

  • The trucks driven by Jake, Jenkins and Dreschel arrived with Tate in tow.  It had only taken an hour after leaving Matt at the intersection.  The camp residents had all turned out to watch as the vehicles rolled through the gate. Two women hurried to the gathering of children and hustled them to the playground and out of the way of all the activity.  The soldiers and civilians alike grinned and waved at the drivers of the caravan of vehicles.

    Once all the vehicles were inside the gate and the barrier was secure again.  Two soldiers resumed guard duty.  Tate put the white rig in park and waited while Jake, Dreschel and Jenkins jumped from the cabs and conferenced with a small bookish looking man with thick glasses.

    Tate pulled a cigarette from her pocket and lit up and watched.

    Jenkin pointed to the rigs.  “Alright Novack.  Figure it out.  We’re tired and we need to get these trailers off loaded.”

    Novack pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose.  “Well, Mr. Monroe didn’t tell me where to place the containers.”

    “We’re placing the two containers on the east side of the gate.  We’ll be putting them end to end for now.  We’ll park the trailer at the far end.”  Jenkins advised.

    An older women with gray hair and glasses walked up. “Canned goods need to be closer to the food truck.”  She brushed her hands across the front of a white butcher’s apron.  “I can’t carry cases of canned good across this camp ground.”

    Novack moved his head from left to right.  “Now Joan, we don’t have room to pup a container there.  If you need supplies, one of us will assist you.”

    The woman turned to the military dressed man.  “I won’t have time to chase someone down in the middle of cooking, Mr. Larry.”  Joan argued.

    The man she called Larry stepped up and placed an arm around the woman’s shoulder.  “Now, Joan, I promise me or one of my men will carry cases of goods when you need them. All you have to do is ask.”

    “Well, if you promise.”  Joan answered.

    “You got my word.”  Larry winked.

    Tate chuckled when she saw the woman’s face redden.  “Well, that’s a smooth talker.  I’ll have to remember that.” She mumbled to herself.

    Larry turned to the four men. “Where’s Matt?”

    “Turned off to give a bunch of infected another direction to head besides back here. He shouldn’t be more than an hour or so behind us.” Jake answered.

    Larry shrugged. “Okay, I’m heading back to the barn. I got a couple of the boys mucking out the stalls and promised to teach them to ride if they did a good enough job.” Larry walked off with a wave. “You got this covered?”

    “Sure.  We’ll get the shipping containers up front by the gate and our new friend’s trailer along the back fence.” Jake answered. “We’ll introduce you later.”

    “Look forward to it.”

    The scavenging crew had been back at the camp nearly three hours and in that length of time they moved the shipping containers and the trailers to the edge of the fence.  They parked the trailers and trucks at the back edge of the recreation center and food truck.

    The trailer with the cases scavenged from the train was close enough to keep an eye on yet, far enough away to be out of the way of normal camp traffic. The doors of the containers stood open exposing a plethora of goods for all to see. Tate disconnected the trailer and drove the white rig to a small maintenance shed near the trailer used by the soldiers to listen to radio traffic.  Tate had glanced inside when the female soldier had called out a greeting.

    “New arrival?”  The soldier called out from inside a small camper.  “My name’s Lawson.” She stepped out into the afternoon sun.

    Tate nodded.  “Yep.  Name’s Tate Hamilton.”

    “You came in with Jenkins and his crew?”  Lawson asked as she wiped at the moisture on her face.

    “They pulled me out of my wrecked rig.”  Tate answered.

    “You should go to the manager’s office and let Amanda take care of it.”  Lawson answered.

    “This place has a manager?”  Tate asked.

    “Hell no.  She’s our resident prego.  Baby due in a couple weeks.  She was a nurse.  Closest thing we got to a doctor.  Don’t know who’s gonna deliver her baby…that’s a whole ‘nother complication.  Anyway, it has living quarters and the Sergeant and his men sleep up there.” Tate raised a brow and she continued. “Not like that.  Amanda takes care of the Sargeant’s kids when him, Jake or Larry aren’t around.”

    “He has kids?”

    “No. Not really.  Two little girls he found when this shit storm hit.”

    “Oh. What you doing?” Tate asked.

    “Communications, sorta.”  Lawson answered.  “Mostly, I just listen.  The Sergeant thinks we should just listen for now.  I monitor our hand radios on channel 19 and a CB.  It’s a decent unit, but we don’t get shit for reception.  We need a taller antenna.  We’re in a bit of a valley here.”  Lawson reached inside the camper and handed Tate a bottle of water.

    “Thanks.”  Tate answered.  “Sounds boring.”

    Lawson laughed.  “Better than out there.”

    “Yeah.  You think I can use a few tools.  This is a new rig to me and I’d like to look it over before I need to go out again.”

    “No problem.  I’ll call one of the kids to take you to see Amanda.  She can check your head.”

    A few minutes later she was led off to meet Amanda.  After a brief doctoring and told she would probably have a scare she returned to cleaning the white truck’s engine.

    Tate finished her work and even worked in a shower and a change of clothes.  She stood close to the communication’s trailer and watched the festivities. The soldiers and civilians alike were celebrating the haul with soft drinks and cans of lake-chilled beer.

    Having spent the afternoon at the barn, Larry walked up to the cluster of soldiers and accepted a beer. “Well, looks like we made a good haul. I have a couple things to discuss with Matt. Is he up at the house?”

    “He hasn’t made it back.” Jake answered before glancing over his shoulder toward the gate at the edge of the camp grounds. “I figured he’d be back by now.”

    “Do you think we should go out and look for him?” Dreschel asked.

    Before anyone could answer, Lawson called out from inside the communications trailer called out. “Shut up!”

    Larry put two fingers to his mouth and whistled. The shrill shriek silenced the buzz of voices. The crowd stood frozen in quiet.

    “I heard something. I think it was the Matt.” Lawson, yelled. “Shut up!”

    Tate closed the pen knife she was using to clean oil and grime from under her fingernails. She stepped to the corner of the trail under the open windows.

    A voice broke through the static.  “Monroe to … ly… head… to … Or… Bitch…. Ov… n Out.

    “What did he say?” Larry asked.

    The woman soldier answered. “I couldn’t tell. There was a lot of static. I couldn’t get anything else except “bitch” something.”

    Tate turned and walked back to the white truck. During the few hour she had tossed out the personal items from the previous owner and taken inventory of what was left in the tool box and stored in the multitude of cubbies. She had cleaned the unit, got the sheets washed and with the help of a couple of the women, found all she needed to make a new home.

    She climbed inside the truck cab and turned the key.  She checked the gages and lights, then cranked the engine.

    She put the truck in reverse and made a k-turn. When she cleared the campers and maintenance shed, she headed for the entrance. When the guard made no move to open the gate, she called out the window.

    “Open the fucking gate or I’ll go over it!”

    The soldier hustled to the chain securing the gate and removed it. After a minute, he swung the heavy gateway open.

    Tate eased off the clutch and the rig began to roll forward. She glanced into the side mirror one last time to see Jake and several soldiers running toward her. She gunned the engine and left the camp grounds behind.

    They could catch her with a Humvee, but she didn’t think they would bother. She figured she owed the damned soldier. She was going to repay the debt. She wasn’t one to owe anyone anything.

    She knew where Matt had turned off to lead the infected fuckers away, so she figured she could back track. She could find him. Save his drunk-ass and then…well. She wouldn’t owe him for the truck.

    She turned the CB on channel 19 and then spent the next hour back tracking the roads to the turn off Matt had taken. She headed toward the orange truck they had moved to the side of the road. When she got there, she was disappointed to see half a dozen infected standing around.  At the sound of the truck they turned and stumbled toward her.  She took out three with the truck but the last three had to be taken out with her handgun.  When Matt still didn’t appear, she called out.

    “Monroe! Hey, you around here?”

    The only reply was another three infected stumbling between the two trucks to reach toward the open window. Tate sighed. “Come on ass-hole. If you’re around here give me a sign.”

    Again the only response was the pitiful moans of the infected.  Tate reached behind the seat to retrieve a machete. She put the truck in park and then got onto her knees in the seat. She leaned out the open window and raised her blade and brought it down on the closest head. When the body slipped down to the asphalt, the remaining two monsters stumbled closer. Tate finished both and then pulled herself onto the side of the tuck. She slid over the bench seat and climbed out the passenger window to the top of the door of the Orange Bitch.

    She squatted on the door looking down into the small compartment than had been her home. It hadn’t been disturbed since she had left. She used the steering wheel to ease herself inside. She spent a couple minutes to grab her pillow, and then stuffed clothes into a second pillowcase. She took one last look around and was satisfied she had found everything salvageable from the cab. She tied the bundle and then made her way out of the truck and back into the cab of the white truck.

    Tate slipped the SD disk from her truck’s into the navigation slot of the white truck. She scanned the area for a few minutes and then zoomed in at the intersection nearly ten miles down the side road where Matt had turned. Half a mile beyond was a grid of streets.  Since she was sure it was the road Matt had taken, she thought she could imagine what happened.

    It would be the place to set up a road block if they were protecting a community.  They could turn traffic away.  She could imagine Matt’s surprise when he realized what he had delivered to their doorstep.  He was caught in the line of fire and couldn’t make it to the cross roads so he would have headed out cross country.  She decided, there was only one way to head, back to the highway across open scrub grass and mesquite to the Bitch.

    If he was headed for the highway, then she had a pretty good idea which direction to head to find him but it was nearly dark.  She decided to wait until morning.  She picked up the mic and clicked the button.  She listened but there was no reply. If he was out there he wasn’t listening or unable to respond.

    She backed up the white rig and rolled over the cattle guard heading south and parked a quarter mile from the road.  If he came toward the Orange Bitch, he would stumble right into the white truck.  If not, she’d head out to look for him at dawn.

Matt slowed the Humvee and revved the engine to ensure the infected focused on his vehicle while the big rig trucks with trailers loaded with the shipping containers picked up speed and rumbled ahead. Nearly a mile ahead, they turned off the blacktop and disappeared from sight behind a stand of trees. Before he got to the intersection, Matt turned on a farm-to-market road and stopped about a hundred yards from the intersection.  He pulled the bottle from between the seats and took a long pull at the fiery liquid.  He relished the familiar burn and sighed.  He replaced the cap and stared at his hands until the trembling began to lesson.

He debated about another drink but decided against it, he had to get going.  He laid on the horn and the ghouls quickened their steps.  He let his mind wander to imagine a reunion with Amy and Claire.  He knew they waited and the camp and wanted to get his act together.  They depended on him. He had no kids of his own so he was a little surprised that his attachment to the children had grown so quickly.

Without even thinking about it, he grabbed the bottle, unscrewed the cap and gulped down a double shot’s worth.  He took a second pull before replacing the bottle to its place between the seats.

Amid the warm developing haze of the alcohol flowing through him, Matt wondered about the mother who sacrificed herself for those kids. He imagined Amy must be a lot like her. She had found a place to hide her sister and herself. Then the kid had known enough to silence his drunken rambling to protect the three of them until Larry and Jake had come for him. If not for the little voice calming his drunken mumbling, they would have all died that first night.

He smiled as he realized he wanted and needed to get back to the girls and his camp full of kids. It was his job to protect and provide for the entire lot of them. He decided life had gotten complicated for a man who had once prided himself on staying unattached. He smiled to himself as he thought of Claire in his arms and snuggled against his collar.

A slap on the back window of the Humvee startled Matt from his drunken musing. He looked in the rearview mirror and was stunned. The group of a few dozen infected had grown into a hoard of over a hundred. More slaps against the vehicle sent him into action. He stepped on the break, slipped the vehicle in gear and stepped on the gas.  The Humvee fishtail when he stepped on the accelerator with more force than he intended. He eased his foot off and righted the vehicle.

The Humvee lurched forward and an infected man alongside of the Humvee fell under the back tire. Through the side mirror, Matt watched another infected in a flannel shirt and jeans disappear under the mass of bodies as the vehicle lurched.

Still annoyed he had let himself get distracted, he eased up on the gas and steered the Humvee down the single lane road. The narrow blacktop wound through acres of fallow ground covered in scrub grass and brush. He maintained a speed slow enough to ensure the infected followed. According to the GPS there should be a side road heading north in another mile right after a tight curve.

When he got to the turn off, he figured he could speed up leaving the infected in the brush and scrub grass to cook in the Texas sun where they could do no harm.

As he mused about the possibility of baking brains, he rounded the curve in the road and slammed on the breaks. There was a road block. Before he could decide what to do, men manning the roadblock began firing. The windshield shattered on the passenger side as bullets pinged off the metal of the hood and grill.

Matt jerked the wheel to the right and the Humvee shot over a shallow ditch and into a dilapidated fence at the side of the road. The barbed wire stretched then snapped and he stomped the accelerator. The Humvee barreled through scrub grass and onto the rocky ground beyond. He kept his foot pressed down and maneuvered around mesquite bushes. The shooting behind him continued but seemed to have redirected their attention to the hoard of the infected he had delivered on their door step.

“Fuck!” He cursed as he white-knuckled the steering wheel in frustration. He had led the infected right to someone’s front door. The road block protected access to a community. Matt sobered somewhat as he hoped the guards had enough ammunition to take care of the horde of infected but knew he couldn’t go back. Judging by the initial reception, no amount of talking would convince them he had not led the horde to their doorstep intentionally.

He eased up on the gas and slowed the Humvee to twenty miles an hour. He expanded the map screen on the GPS. The arrow, symbolizing his vehicle, moved across open terrain. He was further from the main roads than he had ever intended to be.

He studied the expanded mapping for a moment and realized his only option was to drive through the scrub grass and mesquite toward an asphalt road several miles away. He contracted  the screen and saw a road number he recognized and aimed the Humvee in the general direction.

He made his ways around gullies and dry streambeds. He fought against the rough terrain all the while with his speed becoming less and less.  With the first wafting cloud of steam he realized his truck was damage.  Matt glanced down at the Humvee’s gages.  He could see the needle climb. The hissing noise coming from under the hood grew louder and he knew repairing the Humvee out in the desolate wild was way beyond his expertise.

His only option was to drive as far as he could, then do whatever he needed to get back to Camp Verde even if it meant walking. Using the online GPS, he knew he was at least thirty miles from the camp. It was not going to be a good afternoon when the Humvee died and it would die.

He activated the mic on the radio. “Home Camp, Monroe here. Over.”

He released the talk button and waited. Static crackled from the speaker but didn’t include words of response. He used the mic a second time, but again the only sound was the crackle of static gradually being overpowered by the struggling engine.

While Matt aimed the Humvee toward the general direction of the railroad tracks, the needle of the temperature gauge pegged out. He estimated the distance at least five miles from his current location.  Steam hissed around the hood in billowing clouds of white. Matt eased up on the gas and the vehicle coasted to a stop. He slammed the shift into park and stepped from the vehicle.

He could still hear sporadic gunfire in the distance as he walked around to the front fender and opened the hood. As Matt looked at the damaged radiator, he pondered the fate of the guards at the roadblock.

He decided with the roadblock and fencing on either side of the road, the men facing the horde could hardly be missing their targets. As long as the ammo lasted, the guards should be able to handle the crisis. Matt shrugged. Nothing he could do about it.

After a few minutes of looking around he saw two bullets embedded in the radiator. Steam hissed around the metal projectiles. Matt dropped the hood. The best he could do was limp along hoping he could make it back to blacktop and find a working vehicle before the Humvee died. He walked back to the door and listened for a minute. The sporadic gunfire was now deliberate and spaced several minutes apart.

“Great. If they have enough ammo left, they’ll be coming after me.” He grumped.

He looked up at the afternoon skies as he cranked the engine. He eased the Humvee into gear pointing the arrow on the GPS toward the highway.

With a sigh, Matt picked up the bottle and emptied the last of the amber liquid and mumbled. “This day is just getting better and better.”

Six minutes later the Humvee died with a clattering of overheated moving parts. The engine locked up with the smell of burning oil and scorching metal wafting up from the front of the vehicle. Matt opened the door and reached into the back seat to grab a go-bag. He was glad they had removed Claire’s car seat from the Humvee before he had left camp.

Matt picked up the mic and spoke into the mic. “Camp, Monroe here. Larry, I’m on foot. Headed to the Orange Bitch. Over.” At the crackle of static he repeated the message. “Larry? Jake?  I’m headed to the Orange Bitch. Over and Out. Pick me up there.” He drove his foot into the dash then reached under the dash to pull wires from the electronics to ensure his sins didn’t follow him home.

He stepped out of the vehicle and settled a pair of sunglasses on his face and a boonie hat on his head. A stiff breeze pelted grains of sand across his bare skin.  He was glad he wore his boots, the black T-shirt and camo pants. It was going to be a miserable walk.

He looked into the vehicle and pulled a wool blanket from the back of the Humvee. He picked up a six pack of plastic bottles of water from behind the seat and dropped them into the pack along with half a dozen energy bars and his bottle of Jack Daniel. He slid the bag over his shoulders and grabbed two corners of the blanket. He had been driving east, so he headed off into the brush and scrub grass toward the north.

Della laid the heat gun on the table and handed the prosthetic back to Steve. “That should do it, but I would give that pressure sore a day or two to recover. It’s pretty tender looking.”

“I can’t afford to be out of commission.” Steve slipped the modified plastic of the prosthetic onto his right leg. He pulled himself up to stand and his weight settled on the prosthetics. He took a step and the tender flesh of his stump sent knifing pain up his leg.

Della pushed the chair up behind him and he collapsed into the seat.

“I’m useless in this chair.”

“Humor me.” Della retorted. “You have to give the nerves time to recover. I plan on going over to the clinic and see if they have a topical that will ease the pain.”

Steve slid both prosthetics from his legs and reached over his shoulder to drop them into bag hanging from the back of the chair.

“Maybe one or two days.” Steve conceded. “I’m still not sure this place is as good as it looks. I haven’t given up on heading up to the place where Randy is staying.”

Della brows furrowed. “I agree off the beaten path is a good idea, but I’m not sure I want to live around Randy. The last time I saw him he really wasn’t stable enough to even hold a conversation without going into a tirade about the Iranians and crazy theories.”

“Look, something scared the shit outta him on his last mission.  Who knows, maybe this was it.”

Steve ended the conversation by placing his hands at the side of the wheels and made a two-wheel one-eighty turn. The wheelchair headed across the cafeteria leaving Della to follow as he called over his shoulder. “Let’s get some breakfast before Zack leaves. I want him to go with me to look around without a guide.”

Della and Steve made their way through a small gathering of people to a serving line and picked up trays. The breakfast choices were limited to dry cereal, scrambled eggs and biscuits. To go along with the biscuits, they offered a steaming white sludge they called gravy without meat.

Steve winked at Della.  “It looks more like paste with fly droppings floating on top than gravy.”

Della chuckled. “My granny would have been beside herself to see white gravy without sausage.”  She suddenly grew silent.  “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this world.”

“I know.” Steve answered.  “My folks were killed a few years back.  I understand the feeling.”

They approached the steam table and a woman wearing a white bibbed apron looked up and smiled.  “What can I get you folks?”

Both Della and Steve settled for eggs and biscuits, no gravy. At the end of the line, a young girl handed each of them a single serving of butter and small dollop of jelly in a plastic container.

“Since you didn’t get gravy, you can have butter and jelly folks. Sorry, but we have a limited supply of both.” The girl smiled. “Rationing.”

Della laughed. “If you knew what we’ve been eating for the last week you’d realize what a luxury it is just to have a taste of butter or jelly.

Steve dropped the condiments on his tray sitting on his lap and grinned at another young woman handing him a cup of coffee.

“Plenty of coffee for now, so come on back for seconds.” The woman advised.

“Sounds great, appreciate it.” He gave her a wink and reached over the sides of the chair to roll toward a table where Zack sat eating his breakfast.

Zack looked up from his tray as Steve rolled across the floor to the edge of the table and placed his tray in front of him. He locked the wheels just as Della settled on a chair across from Zack.

“Well, you get the sticks fixed, man?” Zack asked before taking a bite of biscuit soaked in gravy.

“We’re good.” Steve answered as he began buttering his biscuit. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Not real good. I know they did right by Jimmy, burying him and all, but I keep thinking about his mom.” Zack shrugged. “Are we going to stay here for a while?”

Steve looked to Della. “I don’t know. At least for now it seems safer than the open road.”

“We can’t go back to San Antonio.” Della answered just as Sandy approached the table.

“I’m not leaving here.” Sandy commented as she sat down at the table

“It’s not our decision if we stay or go.” Steve answered.

Zack looked up. “You mean they might not want us to stay?”

“I don’t know.” Steve answered. “I want to check their defenses before we make any long term decisions. Everyone seems friendly and willing to welcome us, but for now let’s just look around and see how they’re set up.”

Sandy waved across the room at a pair of young woman settling at a table. “Well, I’m staying. Those two invited me to move in with them in a house. We have a wide-screen television and everything.” She picked up her tray and walked away.

Della started to follow Sandy, but Steve reached out. “No. Let her be. We have no right to tell her what to do.”

“But….” Della began then closed her mouth and sat back down.

“She wants some semblance of normal. I don’t blame her. If she’s found it here, well, let her be.” Steve commented.

Zack looked at Steve as he used his fork to scoot his last bit of biscuit through smears of gravy. “If you’re going to look around today, do you want me to push your chair?” He wiped at his mouth with a wide grin.

“You can go with…but I got the chair covered.” Steve answered as he buttered both halves of the biscuit. He turned to Della and asked. “Want to come with us?”

“No. I’m heading for the clinic. I might be able to help out. Besides, it might give us a better chance of staying if I offer my services.” Della answered.

Three hours later, Zack and Steve were heading back to the motel from their tour of the town. The entirety of the town was little more than ten acres, no more than a hundred buildings total. The downtown area consisted of twenty or so buildings around a block square park with a pavilion, park benches and a number of trees.  The middle school and library were located on a side street north of the city building while the motel was located on the south side of the park at the corner of a side street.

“Well? What do you think?” Zack asked.

“There isn’t as many people as I thought there would be.” Steve answered. “The older part of town is cut off from the newer upscale construction out by the Walmart. They blocked off the road and put up barricades and a gate. It looks like they moved everyone behind the gate and then cleaned out all the homes and the new box store then finished up by bringing the extra trailers full of canned goods and supplies into town.”

“So you think we should stay?” Zack asked.

“I’m not sure. I want to find some area maps. Let’s head to that library.” Steve answered. “I want to see how far we are from Randy’s.”

Zack shrugged and began walking toward the small red brick building that served as the town library. “I got nothing better to do.”

Once inside the library, Steve found maps of northwest Texas. He focused on an area that was well away from populated areas and at the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain National Park where Randy Matherson lived.

When no one was looking, he pulled a knife from his cargo shorts and slid the blade down the spine of several pages.  He pulled the pages from the book, folded the paper into quarters, and jammed them into the thigh pocket of his shorts.

Finally, he rolled through the shelves of books to find Zack. He was sitting near a collection of gaming magazines. He looked up and grinned at Steve when he rolled up.

“Ready to go?” Zack asked.

Steve nodded and spun the chair toward the door. They headed for the motel at an easy pace, but Zack slipped behind the chair and began to push. Steve relaxed his arms.

When Steve was quiet for most of the way back, Zack finally asked. “What’s going on?”

“I think we need to move on.” Steve answered softly. “This place is bottled up pretty tight. If an infected makes it inside, it’ll be a disaster. There must be almost two hundred people in town. The only firearms are on the two entrances and half a dozen around town. No one is carrying weapons in town.  Frankly, I’m surprised they managed to put down the first attack.”

“When are we leaving?” Zack asked.

Steve shrugged as Zack rolled his chair to the picnic table in front of the motel. “A couple days. I don’t think they have guns to spare, but maybe they can give us a few bullets. I think they’ll let us keep the truck and the provisions we came in with, but maybe they’ll give us a few supplies.”

“What happens if we can’t keep the truck?” Zack mused.

Steve answered with a shrug. “Walk or steal one of the street vehicles. But they don’t look the type to hold us if we want to go. How much help they’ll be is another matter.”

Lunch was a light affair that left both Steve and Zack wanting more, but they walked from the cafeteria thanking the staff anyway. Della caught up with them and followed to the motel. They settled around the picnic table to visit.

“Well?” Della asked.

Steve answered. “We’re fine for now, but when the supplies run low they’ll be in trouble with being so remote. They’re not even thinking about becoming self-sustaining. No gardens are being planted and there has been no effort made to gather livestock or store up firewood for winter.”

Della sighed. “Meaning, there is a finite amount of supplies and no one is planning ahead.”

Steve nodded. “I can try to talk to them, but I really don’t think it’ll matter. Everyone here thinks the government will resolve the problem and things will go back to normal in a month or two…they don’t want to even imagine differently.”

The next day Steve met with the sheriff and mayor and city council.  He spent nearly an hour talking to the gathering of men and women.  They listened politely then dismissed him.  At the door, Steve stopped to listen.

“I’m not tearing it up my yard.  The government will have this resolved and then what?”

“But Gladys, what if they don’t?” Ollie answered.

“Don’t be ridiculous!  We took care of our own infection in less than six hours.” Another voice answered.

Tony cleared his throat. “At a pretty high fucking cost, too.”

Ollie jumped in. “That young man makes a strong argument for preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  I think this is the case. We should be prepare….”

“We don’t have enough able bodied people to do what you’re asking.”

Steve sighed and spun the wheels of the chair and rolled away from the city council office.  He met Zack at the door.  With a shrug headed for the motel.

“Well, what did they say?”  Zack asked.

“Let’s start gathering supplies.”  Steve answered.

Two days later, the sound of heavy vehicles approaching the motel woke Steve from a sound sleep. He sat up in bed, slipped on his walking prosthetics and pants before crossing the room to the window.

“No shit. Sherlock.” Tate glared at Matt as she pulled a cigarette from her pocket, stuck it between her lips and lit the end with a Bic. She inhaled deeply then blew the smoke at Matt.

“Dumb shit. Why in the hell would the asshole pull the keys?” Tate asked.

Jenkins and Dreschel walked up to see what was going on. Hearing Tate’s rant, Jenkins laughed and called over his shoulder.

“Hey, Jake! Can you hot wire the truck?”

“Dickhead, just because I’m black don’t mean I know how to boost a car much less a fucking truck,” Jake answered.

Jake walked up to the closest body and gently tapped at the pockets. It was the youngest of the fresh turns. After a quick search, he looked up and moved his head from left to right.

Dreschel headed toward another body, dressed in office attire. The body had no shoes, torn flesh hanging from arms and legs. Most of the clothes had been torn and shredded.

Matt called out. “Just the fresh ones.” He pointed toward to other bodies.

“What if he ran?” Jenkins asked.

“Wouldn’t make any sense to run if he had keys in his pocket. It’s one of these fresh ones.” Matt pulled on a pair of gloves and answered. “I’m really getting tired of smelling these shit-bags.”

He began dragging bodies to the far side of the road while the two men and three women hunted for keys to the truck. He swallowed bile trying not to lose his breakfast. He dropped the leg of the body into the ditch and used his boot to roll it into the trench.  He walked away to retrieve two more and do the same. He struggled to hold his breath mentally listing the mixture of shit, piss, and rotten meat.

Jake walked up to Matt and began helping him move bodies. “There’s just nothing easy about the dead walking around killing people.” He commented.

Tate headed toward an older man’s body dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt. She leaned over and patted one pocket after another until she suddenly stopped and jammed her fingers into the front pocket of his jeans. She pulled her hand away with a finger inside a round key ring. She examined the bloodstained keys until she found one with a GMC logo.

“Got em!” Tate held the key ring out and poured a stream of water from a plastic bottle over them. She pulled a red handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the stains from the keys. She jammed the keys into her pocket then grabbed the legs of the dead man. With the cigarette dangling from her lips, she pulled the body across the asphalt to the ditch.

Once there, she dropped his leg then booted his backside and rolled him into the ditch. Tate crossed the road to the cab and climbed in the rig.  She settled on the worn seat and slid the key in the ignition. She turned the key and the motor roared to life. She turned it off, leaving the keys in the ignition and jumped to the asphalt and jogged over to joined the men.

“We’re in business, folks.” She grinned as she tossed the cigarette butt toward the ditch.

Matt and the others quickly moved the last few bodies then walked to the back of the truck to look inside the trailer. A clipboard lay on the side of the open door. He picked it up and glanced down the list.  He could see a hand written list with several items crossed off.  He shrugged and tossed it aside.  He eased the trailer door open and cautiously peered inside.

The back was filled with cases of canned good. They were stacked several deep, but it was obvious the transfer of goods had been hasty. As he stared at the helter-skelter of cardboard boxes, he wondered if the people they were trying to feed were still alive.  Would they survive without this load of food? He shrugged as he realized he would probably never know.

Matt took a deep breath and pointed toward the open freight car. “Let’s finish what they started. We’ll get this truck loaded, moved out then we’ll snag a couple containers and get back to the camp.”

“Sounds like a plan. But I’ll be taking this bitch. I’m claiming it as mine.” Tate said as she squared her shoulders and set her jaw as if expecting a fight.

Matt shrugged. “Its all yours…You more than earned it.”

“Then let’s get moving.” Tate locked the doors open then jumped up into the truck to disappear into the gloom. Matt could hear her moving cases to the front of the trailer.

“You want some help in there?” Jenkins called into the dark.

Tate answered. “Sure, we get this shit stacked decent and we can get a lot more in here. We can make this trip worthwhile. The rest of you hump up and get those cases over here.”

“Stand guard, Dreschel. Jenkins, inside with our new friend.” Matt ordered then looked to Jake. “Okay, big guy, let’s hustle this shit over here.”

They worked hard hefting cases of canned goods for thirty minutes then Matt called a break. The trailer was loaded and buttoned up. While the men sat at the side of the road, still glistening with sweat Tate walked around the rig and trailer clutching a bottle of water. Her brown hair stuck to her face in damp ringlets as she pulled at the break hoses, looked over the tires, and, in general, inspected her new ride. When she was finished, she walked back to the men grinning.

“We’re good to go. You trust me to move the truck out of the way?”

Matt hesitated only a moment then nodded. “Give us plenty of space to maneuver.” He pointed at two rail cars. “When you get done will you watch our six while we work on moving containers to the flat beds?”

Tate gave an imitation solute. “You got it.”

When she got in the cab and fired up the truck, Jenkins asked. “What if she just drives away?”

Matt shrugged. “Her bag is still in the Humvee. I don’t think she’ll leave it.”

Two minutes later, Tate stood in front of the men. “Well, you slobs going to sit on your asses all day? I can bring up the crane while you four lounge around.”

Dreschel jumped to his feet. “No way! Just stay out of the way.”

Tate grinned at Matt and lit a cigarette then opened the door of the Humvee and retrieved her rifle.

Dreschel jogged back to the crane truck’s cab, climbed in and fired up the big rig. After about a few minutes of back and forth, he had the vehicle parked on the road next to the tracks. After a few minutes, the telescoping arms extended the outriggers toward the solid rail bed. He shifted counterweights to the opposite side of the vehicle then announced he was ready.

Meanwhile, Jake had pulled the first big rig closer. Dreschel stood in the road directed Jake as he parked the trailer in front of the crane.

When Dreschel was satisfied with the placement of the vehicle, he went to the truck and pulled cables from a box and tossed them down to Matt and Jenkins then spent a few minutes explaining the procedure he anticipated.  He climbed into the crane cab and fired up the engine.

Matt frowned when he heard the engine roared to life, but they couldn’t change it. They needed the crane to move the containers to the trailer.  They would have to hurry.

The crane swiveled on the turntable to face the designated container. He extended the boom over the container then lowered the cables with hooks.

Jenkins climbed to the top of the container ready to grab the fishhooks.  One by one, he secured lines to each of the four corners. When he was done, Matt threw up two additional lines Jenkins anchored to the front and back of the container.

“Okay Jake, we use these to guide control the swing, so put some muscle on it,” Matt yelled out.

Tate walked back to the Humvee and retrieved a rifle from her canvas bag and headed back up the road to the crest of the hill.  She stopped and began her scan of the back road and distant buildings.

Her brows furrowed as the motor of the crane rumbled into action. It was loud and the motor billowed black smoke from the exhaust pipes. It wouldn’t take long for the dead to hone in on the sound. They would hear the motor, smell the exhaust and the monsters hanging around the small community she could see about a mile away would begin heading their way.

Her head throbbed and she dry swallowed two more OTC pain killers. She couldn’t take anything stronger for now. Her eyes never stopped moving as she surveyed the surrounding fields and roadways. She glanced toward the operations from time to time but for the most part, she studied the distant terrain.  As she watched distant figures began moving out of the shadows.

Jenkins climbed down from the container and grabbed the front guideline while Matt grabbed the back one.

At the controls, Dreschel powered up the hydraulics and raised the boom. The cables grew taught and the container began to move. When it cleared the rail car, Dreschel swung the boom toward the waiting trailer.

“Too high!” From the top of the container, Jenkins called out. “Lower the box now.”

Dreschel worried the controls into sending the container into a wide arc toward the cab of the truck with the waiting trailer.

“Easy! Take your time.” Matt yelled. “We got this. Slow and easy.”

Jake and Matt pulled at the ropes until they got the swinging container under control. Dreschel began moving the boom again, this time slower and with a bit more precision. He stopped the boom when the container hovered over the trailer.  With another control he slowly began lowering the cable. The container inched toward the trailer.

Dreschel eased forward on the controls and the boom slowly lowered the container. Matt and Jake pulled at the lines as the container turned and wavered. Finally, the container brushed against the edge of the flatbed causing the trailer to rock. As it got closer, Matt and Jake made small adjustments to ensure the container settled on the trailer mountings.

With a loud clank, the container slipped onto the mountings and the lines slackened. Jake rushed to the metal container and pulled himself up to free the fishhooks. And guide lines.

“Got it!” Matt called out as he matched Jake’s actions at the opposite end of the container.

With shaking hands, Dreschel lowered the boom to allow more slack in the cables. When everything was loose, Dreschel stepped from the cab. Matt gave him a thumbs-up in answer to his unspoken question. Jenkins climbed down to the ground.

“I’ll get this truck moved,” Matt called out. “Jenkins, get to the next container.”

“Fuck! That wasn’t pretty.” Dreschel commented with a tremble in his voice.

“You did fine, man.” Jake gave Dreschel a wave. “Let’s get this last one and get outta here.” He ran toward the second truck and empty trailer.

Matt jumped into the cab of the loaded trailer and fired up the engine. He ground gears as he shifted into first to get the truck moving. Several minutes later, he pulled up behind the white trailer of the wreck and turned off the engine.

Matt ran to the white trailer and retrieved a can of red paint from his pack.  He pressed the nozzle and made sweeping motions inches from the white trailer.  He ended with a giant symbol and initials.  As an after-thought he made three smiley faces as a signature.

By the time he walked back, Jake was looking around obviously nervous. “What in the fuck are you doing?  This is taking a long time and we’re making way too much noise.” He pointed toward Tate jogging toward them.

She got about twenty feet away and answered slightly out of breath. “We’ve got company coming. There’s a small cluster of houses about a mile and a half from here.” She glanced over her shoulder pointing off to the east. “They’ll be here in less than half an hour.”

“We got time for one more container.  We’ll be quicker this time.”

“That took us nearly half an hour,” Dreschel answered from the cab of the crane.

Matt stood silent for a minute then looked at Jake. “Get that last truck up here.” He turned to Dreschel. Get busy and pick up that last container. Jenkins, get back up there and do what you did but make it quick this time.”

When he turned back, Tate handed him her rifle and pointed into the distance.

He squinted into the scope and saw monsters being drawn toward them by the noise of the roaring motor of the crane.  He handed the rifle back to her.

“Keep an eye on ‘em and let me know when they come over the rise.”  Matt ordered then turned back to the task at hand.

Tate jogged back down the road to watch the herd of monsters stumbling toward them. It included men, women and children, all torn and injured beyond belief. She made a quick count and her breath caught in her chest. She realized there were between fifty and sixty of the infected shuffling toward them.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw the container dangling above the trailer. With a final growl of the crane motor, the container settled on the raised sections at either end of the trailer. The container hung over the end of the trailer by at least six feet but looked to be balanced on the back axel. The boom lowered and the cables collapsed to the top of the container.

She watched as Jenkins freed the cable hooks from the boom and the telescoping arm retracted back into place. Dreschel jumped from the crane and began retracted the out-riggings and restored the counterweights to their resting position.

Matt, Jake, and Jenkins struggled with tie-downs to anchor the container. She watched as they settled for retractable tie-downs across the container and tied together.

Tate shrugged. It was far from ideal, but would have to do. She heard a moan and the sound of shuffling feet and startled.

She’d been paying too much attention to the salvage operation and not enough to the approaching undead. She was shocked seeing the infected were less than a hundred yards from her and heading up the hill with dogged determination. She realized their shambling gate was coming much faster once prey was sighted.

She stuck her fingers between her lips and blew. A shrill whistle pierced the sudden silence. “Company coming!” She turned back to take three quick shots then turned back and continued. “They’re here! We gotta get going.” Tate backed down the hill toward the white truck still firing at the monsters.

Matt threw a wave toward the trucks. “Get to the trucks!”

Jake, Jenkins and Dreschel each headed toward a truck cab and climbed in. Jake got in the rig with the last container and fired up the motor. Jenkins started the first rig behind the white truck. Dreschel climbed in the crane rig cab and the engine roared to life.

The three trucks were ready to move, but trapped behind the white truck in the middle of the road. Tate began jogging toward the waiting trucks.

Matt raced to the Humvee and cranked the engine. He slammed the vehicle in reverse and planted his foot heavily into the floorboard. The vehicle swerved toward Tate as she backed downhill. She continued backing up and shooting at the leaders in the pack until the full force of monsters crested the hill.

Matt got within ten feet of Tate and slammed on the breaks.  With the Humvee still rocking, he threw open the passenger and yelled.

“Get in!”

Tate turned, ran to the open door and jumped in the Humvee.  Matt slammed the vehicle into drive. “I’ll be dropping you at your rig. Pull to the side and let the other three pass then fall in behind Jenkins and follow them to the camp.”

“But…” Tate interrupted.

“Just do it. I’ll fall back and lead the infected back the way they came to make sure they don’t follow us back to the camp.” Matt answered.

He pulled alongside the white truck cab. Tate grabbed her bag, jumped out of the Humvee and raced around the front. She threw the bag inside, climbed into the cab and settled behind the wheel.

She fired up the engine and steered the rig slowly toward the left to allow Jenkins to pass. He shifted gears and the blue tractor roared around her on the right to the lead position. She stepped on the clutch and slammed the rig into second and then through the gears as she accelerated. Jake and Dreschel fell in behind her truck. Now the four vehicles sped up. They got up to thirty miles an hour and she saw when the Humvee disappear behind a stand of trees.

It was at least a couple hours before dawn when Captain Marcus Griggs made his report.

Major William Bishop glared at him. “What in the fuck do you mean, she’s gone?”

“Hill and all of her squad. Only ones left are those two dick-heads she was bitching about.” Griggs answered.

“So we’re down to eighteen men?” Bishop answered.

“Plus the two idiots from Hill’s squad,” Griggs answered. “What do we going to do, now? We need more men if we’re going to survive this shit storm?”

Bishop turned to look at the remaining men and vehicles he now considered his Army. Finally, he answered. “The country is under martial law. That means the military can requisition assets and that includes men as far as I’m concerned.”

“Time to start recruiting for this man’s army.” Griggs laughed. “About time we quit running.”

“Get me a map of the area,” Bishop ordered.

Two minutes later, Griggs spread a detailed Texas map out on the table. Both men studied the roads and surrounding countryside. “We’re here.” Bishop pointed his finger to an intersection. “We’re here. We’re heading north and connect with 470 then west.”

Griggs nodded. “And then, sir?”

“There’s a little town called Utopia. I was through there once. It only has two ways in or out of town. There’re only a few hundred people and most of them shouldn’t be a problem. We give them a choice, join up or….”

“Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye out for a few good men.” Griggs laughed.

Bishop scowled. “I want you to take four men and those two dipshits and go after Hill’s squad. I want ‘em dead.” After a moment, he added. “If you have any trouble with those two, morons cut ‘em loose. Permanently.”

“Yes sir,” Griggs gave a careless salute.

“We roll out of here at dawn,” Bishop added. “We’ll leave one of the Strykers so you can follow if you don’t make it back in time.”

Griggs called out to the men that would go with him. He reached in the Stryker and retrieved two radios from the unit. He tossed one to a man after setting the frequency.

“Smith…you stay here and if I call, you bring the Stryker.” He clipped the radio to his belt. “The rest of you, gear up. We got six deserters to take care of.”

One of the two remaining men from Hill’s squad asked. “What about us?”

Griggs glared at the two men. “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” He pulled rifles and ammo from the Stryker. “Two days rations. Lock and load.”

He didn’t bother to wait for the men scrambling to gather weapons and supplies. He headed out through the trees.

Bishop and the rest of the soldiers prepared to bed down until dawn.

When Smith was left standing alone by the Stryker, he climbed inside the vehicle, closed the door. He wanted nothing to do with Griggs, but he didn’t have the nerve to sneak away like Hill and her bunch. He made a bed of blankets in the back and pulled a magazine from his pack. He’d have to leave the vehicle when it got hot, but for now he thumbed through the glossy pages of the magazine ignoring Bishop and his crazy shit.

Griggs watched the ground for signs. It was easy enough to follow the six deserters where they raced into the woods. They had run single file through the dark. The four men and two women had been desperate to get away from the camp and been careless. There were broken branches and turned stones so tracking was no problem.

The shadows cast by the ridges of the footprints grew long and stood out in the growing light. Griggs set a pace that quickly drew ragged gasps from the men following him. With a grunt of disgust, he finally slowed his pace and continued pursuit at a pace they could manage without falling over.

The sun climbed higher in the sky making shadows shorten. By midday, the footstep no longer created shadows at all. Finally, Griggs called a halt. It had been a quarter mile since the last sign.

It was obvious that since the sun came up, the deserters were actually making an effort to obscure their passing. Between that and the glare of the sun, it was becoming more and more difficult to see where they had passed. He was beginning to wonder if they had veered off and he’d missed the sign.

Griggs stopped to reach in his pack for a bottle of water, one of the men following him bent over breathless while yet another collapsed to the ground, exhausted. The remaining four took the time to hydrate, but overall looked no better than the others.

Griggs capped the bottle then looked off in the distance. Through the trees, he could see bright rays of sun on an asphalt roadway. “Move out.” He ordered.

When the group cleared the tree line, Griggs saw a multitude of footprints alongside the road. Some prints made by shoes, while others by bare feet. He noticed several puddles of a dark oily sludge mixed in the dirt at the edge of the road or on the asphalt. When he stepped closer, he caught a whiff of decay and rot. He felt the bile rise to the back of his throat.

“Infected. Must be twenty or thirty of ‘em.” Griggs commented.

The corner of his mouth tilted up in a malicious grin. If they had a herd of the infected after them, this was going to be good.

“Double time. We got a show to witness…” Griggs announced.

The first shots could be heard less than an hour later. Griggs forced the team into double time despite the hardship being caused by the harsh pace. Heavy boots echoed on the asphalt as they chased the shimmering waves of heat. The sun glared off the blacktop, making the soldiers squint against the brightness. The road made a sharp curve to the left and disappeared behind a stand of trees.

The gunfire rose in volume then fell silent. Orders were being shouted by a gravelly voice that was obviously not military. Griggs and the team drew up short when they rounded the corner and saw a dozen men surrounded by at least two dozen of the infected.

The men fighting the infected were dressed in assorted versions of motorcycle garb. Black leather, patch adorned jackets, and chains spoke volumes. They used machetes and a variety of handheld weapons to kill the infected one at a time.

“Well, well, well…” Griggs shouted. “You boys seem to be in a pickle.”

“Fuck you!” The gravelly voice answered as he swung a tire iron into an infected man’s head. The blow was glancing and slid off the side of his head taking a patch of scalp with it. He stumbled then righted himself and reached for the man again.

“We could give you boys a hand….or we could just stand here and watch. Up to you.” Griggs answered.

“Come on, man. We’re out of ammo.” The man answered.

“This man’s army is looking for new recruits. You boys interested in signing up?”

The bikers were outnumbered and the infected pressed their advantage and grabbed at one of the bikers that took a step too far from his comrades. He stumbled and two monsters grabbed his arm. He was pulled from the group and disappeared into a clutch of half a dozen flesh eaters. His screams lasted at least one full minute before he fell silent.

The leader shouted in rage. “Fuck! Yes, damn it. Whatever! Kill these fuckers before I lose any more men!”

Griggs laughed and shouted above the din. “All you boys signing up?”

With a shout to the affirmative, Griggs turned to his men. “Handguns. Let’s clean house.”

Without hesitation, the six men walked toward the cluster of infected. They each took aim and six infected fell. They repeated the process again and six more fell leaving only four more facing the bikers.

The bikers attacked the remaining infected then walked to their recently deceased companion and drove a tire iron through his left eyes. When only bikers and soldiers remained, they turned to stare at each other.

Will Ryder stepped to the front of the bikers and laughed. “So we joined this man’s army?”

Griggs held the handgun loosely, but still out of the holster. You boys wouldn’t be considering reneging on your recruitment package, would you?”

“Hell no. You boys got ammo and probably have access to a lot more.” Ryder laughed. “Just know we ain’t the marching type.”

Griggs laughed again. He walked up to Ryder and stuck out his hand. “Neither is this man’s Army.”

Ryder laughed and slapped the back of the biker standing next to him. “My boys need a little R & R. We’ve been kicking ass and pissing on the nameless…” He walked to a black bike and opened the saddlebag. He drug out a strip of dried beef and tore a mouthful off.

“Have you boys seen any more soldiers? We’re looking for half a dozen deserters.”

Ryder looked at his men then laughed. “If they were anywhere ahead of us, they may be walking, but they’re not still alive. We ran into the main body about half a mile up.” He pointed at two of the dead laying on the ground. Two were in remnants of military garb matching that of the men in front of him. Both were so badly mangled on their faces to make a visual identification. “These buddies of yours.”

Griggs walked over to the bodies and kicked the first to its back. He looked down and studied the body. It was hard to find facial features in the mass of torn flesh. The camo t-shirt bore no name and since no roster had been taken of the survivors at the roadside park. It was impossible to tell by just looking at the body.

One of the men stepped up to Griggs side and pointed to the second body. “This one could be Bailey. It’s about the right size, but the face is so chewed up…. Dog tags are gone so can’t be sure.”

Griggs turned to the man. “Hicks, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Hicks answered.

“You better be right.” Griggs grinned. He pulled the radio from his belt and spoke into it briefly. Then he turned to Ryder. “We’re resting here while our ride comes up.”

Griggs walked back around the curve in the road and out of site of the pile of bodies. He made his way across a shallow ditch to a stand of trees. He dropped his pack from his back and settled on a stump amid the new growth of trees. His men followed suit.

Hicks sat down a few feet from Griggs. “You think they’ll come?”

Griggs shrugged. “They’re out of ammo. No skin off my nose, either way. It was worth figuring out Hall’s team is dead bait.” He laughed. “Only regret, I didn’t get a piece of ass off that bitch.”

Ryder and his men stood amid the bodies and watched the soldiers walk away.

“So what’s the plan?” One of the men asked in a deep whisper. “Kill ém.”

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

“Sounds like a plan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry,” Liz answered.

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

“I won’t freeze again,” Liz answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think it’s Ryder?” Liz asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Same here.” Harry responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tate got in the rig and pumped the choke before pushing the starter. The motor roared to life.

“Ready for this?” Tate answered.

Bill nodded with a grin. “Sure thing.”

The gate opened and three pickups rolled through the opening with Doyle’s rig close behind. Tate shifted into first and followed. She glanced in the side mirror and saw the gate sliding back in place just as she made the first curve.

“So, you think we can do all this?” Bill asked.

“I hope so. If the three men in the pick-ups can get the FEMA trailers without a problem and we find semi-trailers at Walmart loaded with canned goods… With us all going to Boerne and not splitting up, we have a real good chance.”

They drove past the cluster of vehicles they had passed when they turned off Highway 16 the day before. The smell of the scorched earth as they passed still hung heavy in the air.

“I’m afraid we need more people,” Tate commented to no one in particular.

“The FEMA trailers are on the edge of town. Walmart is only a mile further down the road so it’s on the edge of town, too.” Bill added.

“RVs would be a lot nicer. Why FEMA trailers. ”

“They include an air conditioner, a furnace, water heater, LP gas supply, water supply and plumbing, appliances, ventilation fans and able to be towed. Besides, no one should be around there. The RV lot is in the middle of town.” Bill chuckled. “That asshole with the teenage boys, Stewart…thought he ought to get the pick of the RV lot. He was all excited about it until Phil told him; he would have to get it himself if he wanted one.”

“At some point, we’re going to have to make a run to a home improvement store for plumbing supplies,” Tate commented.

“We’re gonna need a lot of stuff. Most of it is gonna be dangerous to get, but there’s no way around it.” Bill answered.

“How many acres does Phil have fenced?”

Bill screwed up his face, obviously pondering the question. “Best I can guess fifteen/sixteen acres. There’s deer fence around three sides. Deer fence is taller and sturdier than barbed wire, but a heavy truck or a herd of those monsters could bring it down.”

“Three sides?” Tate asked.

“There’s a two thousand foot drop at the back of the property. It’s why Phil bought the place. Defense. Only problem was when he got hurt. He had back surgery about a month ago, but it didn’t seem to have solved the problem.

“Usually there’s physical therapy involved after something like that.”

“He was supposed to be cleared for the physical therapy, but Beth got caught waiting for us and the world went to shit.” He paused for a minute then spoke softly. “I haven’t really thanked you for saving Ben. He wouldn’t have lasted much longer up there.”

Tate laughed. “I didn’t do much. I drove up, he jumped into that seat. We picked up Doyle and drove up the hill.”

“You took a big chance trying to come after us.”

“Again, we didn’t do much. We blew shit up and now you have Roger and Stewart on Phil’s doorstep. I’m not sure Phil’s real excited about that either.”

“Look.” Bill pointed where the lead truck turned off the highway into a lot with hundreds of white trailers. Rows of trailers were lined up. The man in the lead vehicle ran up to the gate with bolt cutter in hand. A minute later, the three pickups pulled into the parking lot.

Doyle and Tate pulled to the side of the road and waited outside the gate to watch for trouble. John, Roger and the young father ran to the first row of trailers. They did a quick inspection of the trailers including tires and trying the doors. They worked together getting each truck backed up to a trailer and connected to the hitch. Within fifteen minutes, they headed out the gate. Roger jumped out of the last truck and reconnected the chain with the shank of the padlock.

John pulled alongside the rigs. “You’re up. Sure you don’t want us to wait?”

“We’re good,” Doyle answered.

He shifted into first and his truck began to roll forward. Tate waved at John and followed Doyle.  She glanced in the side mirror to see the caravan of white trailers head back to Phil’s compound.

Tate was beginning to grow more and more uncomfortable with the layout of the compound; one way in, one way out.

Trying to shake off the sense of foreboding, she glanced at Bill. “What do you think of all this? I slept through the first twenty-four hours. By the time I figured out something was wrong, the world was a clusterfuck. I feel a step behind of everyone else.”

“What do you mean?” Bill asked.

“Is there any chance this is regional or is the state going to be overrun by the dead?

“Regional or state? I don’t think so.” Bill answered.

What about the rest of the country?” Tate asked.

“We’re all in deep shit. The states around the affected areas won’t be able to close the borders completely. The infected WILL get through or around anything they set up. Maybe isolated towns and communities will be able to wall themselves off, but the states, no. The key is going to be to hold out.”

“For how long?”

“Logic tells me the bodies will eventually rot, but how long it takes is anyone’s guess. We can see it in some of the bodies even now, maggots and decay. But if that’s the case, all we have to do is hunker down and survive. The problem is, there is always fertile ground for additional infection.”

“So the best chance to survive is to find a place to hold out.”

“Yep. That’s all we can do.” Bill commented. “Phil has a pretty good set up. You can stay with our family?”

“I have a family of my own I want to get to.” When this job is over, I’m going to head out west to my cousin, Randy’s place.”

The CB crackled to life. “Tate, got your ears on?”

Tate grabbed the mic. “10-4. Go ahead.”

“Coming up on the Walmart. A few infected stumbling around out front but overall it looks pretty quiet. Stewart says it wasn’t a twenty-four-hour store. There’s a chance it closed before the town got overrun. Follow us around back, but not too close.” Doyle advised.

“Roger…” Tate dropped the mic.

She watched Doyle turned off the highway and follow the drive around the side of the store. She turned the wheel and guided the Bitch around the corner and saw Doyle back under the hitch of a white trailer parked at the back door. A second truck sat to the side still with the cab attached. A quick glance at the back and they saw the security seal was intact.

Tate and Bill jogged over to Doyle just as he walked back from the dock. She pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. “The trailer out by the fence is still loaded. I could see the seal on the back door. We need to take that truck out there. It’s good to go if we can find keys.”

“Are we going to have to go inside?” Bill asked with a frown of concern.

“Not until we check out that rig,” Tate answered. “Both trailers are from the distribution warehouse…Non-perishables for the grocery shelves; probably came in together.”

Doyle chuckled. “The drivers probably left together in the missing rig.”

“If that’s the case, the driver of the rig out there might have left his keys.” Tate added then looked at Bill. “You can drive it, right.” He nodded and she continued. “Look for the keys. If you find them get the rig started and be ready to roll.”

Bill jogged off toward the truck. A moment later, he opened the door and climbed inside.

Tate turned back to Doyle and asked. “Is this one sealed?”

Doyle shrugged. “No. I don’t see the seal.

“Then we go inside the warehouse,” Tate announced. “No point in taking an empty trailer. If it’s been off-loaded, we load it back up.”

Doyle slapped his hand on the cab door. “Hey Stewart, bring your crowbar and get out here, buddy. It’s time to earn a living.”

Stewart climbed out of the truck with the look of a deer in headlights. “I’m not prepared for this.” He whined.

“Let’s get this done,” Doyle announced.

Tae rolled her eyes at Doyle and he only shrugged and walked away.

With machete in hand, Take followed Doyle to the access door at the side of the dock. Stewart followed half a dozen paces behind. His head swiveled from right to left and back again. They climbed the stairs silently until Stewart missed the bottom step and nearly tumbled off the concrete.

“Christ! Get a grip, guy.” Tate snarled.

Doyle laughed. “Don’t be so hard on him. He’s not used to hunting zombies.”

Tate snickered. “Neither am I, come to think of it.” She stepped back with a hint of a grin. “Big strong he-man, by all means go first.”

Doyle flashed a grin over his shoulder. “Eat shit, little girl.”

“You first, old man,” Tate answered. “Smells like plenty around here.”

Doyle raised a hand to the door knob. He rotated his wrist, but the knob didn’t move. “I guess we do it the hard way.” He held out his hand to Stewart. “Crowbar, buddy.”

Stewart looked around, hesitant to pass the metal rod to Doyle. “I won’t have a weapon!”

Doyle scowled. He grabbed the end of the machete he was holding and poked the handle toward Stewart. “Don’t hurt yourself and don’t lose it. I want it back.”

Stewart accepted the machete and passed the crowbar to Doyle.

Doyle shoved the end of the bar into the crack between the jam and the door. He leaned into the bar and they heard the screech of metal against metal. He made a quick pivot and the door latch popped free and the door opened a few inches.

The three stood still listening. Tate could hear Stewart’s breathing as he shifted from foot to foot. Tate waited while Doyle tried to hear sounds from inside. She tried to control the hint of panic she began to feel at Stewart’s agitation.

Doyle opened the door a little wider and sniffed.

“There’s dead in here.” He whispered. “Lights on. Tate move to my right…Stewart kicked the brick against the door to hold it open then follow on the left. Watch your backs.”

Doyle opened the door and fanned his light from left to right and back again. He stepped into the gloom with Tate close on his heels. She scanned the shadows with the beam of light and saw the first infected at the far end of the warehouse. Stewart kicked the brick under the door then stopped at the doorway.

Tate turned at the reduced light. “Get out of the doorway!” She whispered as she realized the trailer had been emptied. Dozens of pallets sat around the warehouse in a semblance of order.

Stewart finally stepped forward. His flashlight jerked from side to side in a nervous attempt to illuminate the dark.

“Calm down folks…” Doyle advised. “I’m going to the overhead door and try to get it open. Cover me and take care of any infected that stumble my way.”

“I got it covered.” Tate said as she moved further into the gloom.

Doyle side stepped to the overhead door and began struggled with the chain.

Facing the shadows moving in the dark, Tate glanced over her shoulder at the bottom of the chain used to raise the door and saw a padlock securing the chain to a hole in the track. Doyle stuck the tire iron in the hasp and began to pry.

The moan of an infected grew louder in the maze of pallets. Tate took a step toward the movement and whispered toward Stewart. “Heads up over there! I can’t tell where it is.”

Tate heard the lock snap just as a man in blue pants and shirt moving into view. One arm hung at his side useless. The other arm and bloodied hand reached out as he stumbled closer. A second moan announced another infected and then a third.

“Shit! Doyle. We got a problem.” Tate stepped forward and met the first infect man with a swing of the machete. The blade connected with the side of the man’s head. The man fell to the concrete floor in a heap.

“Shit! Shit! Oh God!” Stewart screamed. “I can’t….” He turned and ran. He disappeared out through the door stumbling over and knocking the brick aside as he passed.

“Fuck!” Tate cursed. “Prick! Doyle, there’s two more in here and the dick head skated. Get that fucking door open NOW!”

“Got it,” Doyle answered.

The overhead door rolled up with a screech of metal wheels on the track. Light spilled around the trailer of the truck.

Tate stepped deeper into the warehouse and swung at the second infected. Doyle spun around and connected with the last monster. He took out the man’s knee, then as the monster struggled to get back on his feet Doyle brought the tire iron down on its head with a bone-shattering blow.

“Damn that prick!” Tate swore. “The bastard left us.”

“I’m getting the second door….we need to get more light in here.”

“Go ahead….I got you covered.”

Doyle crossed to the next door and jammed the tire iron in the padlock. It snapped and he threw the door up toward the ceiling and the warehouse was filled with afternoon light.

Tate studied the warehouse from left to right and back again. She saw a door leading into the front of the store. Two pallets had been parked in front of the swinging doors blocking the entrance to the warehouse. Pallets loaded with soda had been pushed in front of the door and left there. As she looked around she noticed cases of food had been opened and the remnants discarded in a pile near the dock at the far corner.

“Doyle.” She whispered as she pointed toward the door. “What do you think?”

“Infected on the other side.” Doyle looked at the bodies. These three got trapped. “They had food and water. Only problem, one of them got bit. Turned and infected the other two.”

“That must have sucked,” Tate mumbled as the first moans from the store beyond could be heard.

Doyle looked at the back of the truck and with the jerk of his arm, had the door to the trailer open. He turned the beam of his flashlight into the recesses. The trailer was nearly empty.

“Let’s get this done,” Tate added. “I can hear them.”

She walked to an electric pallet jack and pulled it to a wooden platform loaded with cardboard boxes labeled the house grocery brand. Doyle saw a second jack on the opposite side of the warehouse. He made his way to it and slid it under a pallet of bottled water.

“I can run this one, it will be faster,” Tate told Doyle as she rolled the second pallet on the trailer.”

“Fine. Get what we can, then get out of here. I got a bad feeling.”

“Fine, let’s get moving then. Where is that prick, Stewart? We need to get him in here helping us.” Tate complained.

“Leave him out there. I might shoot him, the worthless piece of shit.” Doyle groused.

The sounds of the infected grew louder as they shuffled pallet after pallet onto the truck. When Tate saw a pallet of plastic bins used in the health and beauty section of the store, she slid the jack under it and headed for the truck.

“What are you getting that shit for? We don’t need fucking women’s makeup!”

“Not what it is. Vendors fill those shelves. It’s how they bring in shampoo, toothpaste, soap, over the counter drugs like Tylenol and Cold meds, and feminine products. It includes everything we need to be healthy that doesn’t come from the pharmacy.

“Fucking feminine products…” Doyle carped.

“The blocked doors slammed against the pallet and one of the pallets moved a few inches. Both Doyle and Tate jumped at the sound. The door bounced open and infected got a glimpse of them in the warehouse. They jammed arms through the open door then pulled and pushed at the barrier.

“Natives are getting restless,” Doyle observed wryly.

“Move it old man. Get that last pallet. I think we need to get out of here.”

Doyle pushed the pallet and jack into the truck then grabbed the left door and pulled it closed. He threw a latch then hurried over to close the right door.

Doyle reached for the chain and closed the overhead door. While he pulled at the second chain Tate disappeared into the gloom. A crash and then the sound of tumbling bottles and pallets echoed through the massive warehouse. Bottle caps shattered and the sound of carbonated drinks spewing out muffled the sound of moans.

“Damn it, girlie! Let’s get outa here.”

Tate reappeared with three-liter sized bottles of cola in her arms. Tate and Doyle bolted for the side door. Just then a scream from outside drew them up short. Doyle skidded to a stop, Tate nearly stumbling into him. He peeked out the door.

Outside, Stewart danced around trying to avoid two infected making a real concentrated effort to make him the main course on the lunch menu.

“Help!” Stewart screamed. “You’ve got to help me!”

Tate stepped around Doyle still clutching her prize. “You left us you prick! Why in the hell should we help you now?”

“Please…” He pleaded as he stabbed at the closest of the infected. He stumbled away nearly tripping on his own feet.

Doyle followed Tate through the doorway then turned to wedge it closed while Tate walked to her truck and placed the bottles inside. With machete in hand, she turned to face Stewart’s predicament. Two additional monsters had stumbled forward.

Doyle stepped up to a bloodied man in a t-shirt and shorts. His body was torn and battered. His head tilted at an awkward angle and bobbed with each step. Doyle swung the tire iron and took him out with a blow to the crown of the head.

“Defend yourself, you pussy!” Doyle yelled.

He looked toward Bill who had opened the door ready to help Stewart but with a wave of Doyle’s hand, Bill closed the door and remained in the truck.

Tate walked up and used the blade of her machete to hamstring two of the monsters. She stepped back and sneered. “Take ‘em out now, asshole.”

Stewart’s hair was standing on end while his face glistened with moisture. He raised his arm to swing then again stepped back. “I can’t!” He fell to his knees, sobbing.

Tate stepped up and dispatched both monsters. Doyle was taking out a massive woman in a bloodied house dress. Tate turned to the last with a shrug and swung the machete. She split the teenager’s skull with a solid connect to the back of the head.

The only sound was Stewart whimpering into his hand. Doyle picked up the machete from the ground and pulled the man to his feet.

“You’re going to get someone killed! Tate snarled at Stewart.

Doyle pushed him toward his cab. “Let’s get out of here.”

Doyle backed his rig under the trailer and with Tate’s help, they had the trailer secured and were ready to roll.

When they were done, without saying more, Tate headed to her rig. Her chest ached to scream and yell at the man Doyle was now treating like a child. She fumed as he opened the door for Stewart and helped him into the passenger seat.

She opened the door and climbed in her own rig. She released her breath when she cranked the motor and shifted into gear. She wanted to kill the coward. Not once but twice, he’d put people in danger.

Two hours later she stood in front of Phil. “He’s going to get someone killed.” Tate raged. “Bastard left us to deal with the infected in the warehouse then couldn’t even deal with them when his own skin was on the line outside.

Phil moved his head from left to right. “Some people have a hard time dealing. Afraid he’s one of them.”

“No shit,” Tate fumed.

Doyle reached out to place a hand on her shoulder. “He’ll do better next time.”

“Not with me,” Tate stated. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning. I’ve got family. I’m not hanging around waiting for that bastard to get me killed, because he’s a chicken-shit.”

“You know you can stay. We’d like you to stay.” Phil pleaded.

“Are you going to live up to our deal? I need fuel and supplies.” Tate answered.

Phil looked stricken. “Of course. We’ll provide as much fuel as you can use and plenty of supplies.”

Tate watched as Phil studied George’s oldest son. Finally he turned back at his father. “What’s wrong with him? He’s sweating like a pig.”

“Nothing!” George answered. “He’s tired, and hot. We all are.”

John walked up to the gate and studied the young man as he swayed on his feet. He turned back to Phil and whispered. “He’s bit. Look at his right leg.”

Phil took a closer look and he saw dark threads stretching up one leg from the waistband hanging at the top of his boots. “He can’t come in.”

The young man turned to his father with a questioning look on his face.

“You and the boy can come in, but he’s bit. He’ll turn.” Phil stated.

George dropped to his knees. “I can’t leave him.” After a sob, he added. “Just take Jason.”

“Dad?” The younger boy called out. “I want to go with you and Dell.”

“I can’t leave your brother. You’ll be safe here.”

John opened the gate wide enough for the boy to walk through.  When Jason didn’t move, John looked to George and he nodded.

John took Jason by the arm and led him through the barrier. “Come on boy.”

Jason and John walked through the opening and the gate closed behind them with a loud clank as the security latches engaged. George got to his feet and together with his son pulled his clothes back on.

Jason walked up to the gate and wrapped both hands around the wrought iron. “Dad? Please. Let me come with you.”

George pushed his older son toward the truck then turned back to Phil. “Take care of my boy. When this is over, I’ll be back. Jason better be here.”

“He will be…unless we’re all gone.”

The F-150 pulled away amid a spray of gravel. The truck fishtailed until George eased off the gas and righted the vehicle. It headed back down the narrow road toward the highway. John led Jason away while Bill, Doyle and Tate walked up to Phil.

Bill continued to stare at the gate. “I don’t like the prick, but I wouldn’t wish that on even him.”

“Nothing else to be done. I am not about to let someone that is infected in here.” Phil spun the chair around and headed toward the house and called out. “Ben.”

The boy ran up to him. “Yes, Uncle Phil.”

“Get up to the roost. Keep an eye on the road and Bandera Falls. I want to know if anything moves toward us. Walking or riding.”

“Yes, sir. Can I take Jason with me?” Ben asked.

Phil nodded. “Do that and try to keep him from worrying too much about what’s going on.”

Ben disappeared into the house with Jason in tow.

Tate looked toward the new arrivals that stood in front of their vehicles. Beth came rushing from the house with a tray of sandwiches and plastic bottles of water. She herded the people to a couple picnic tables with several benches. When they were settled and eating Phil rolled up with his entourage.

“I know some of you, the rest I’ll get to know soon enough. We don’t have room for any more people in the house, but with your help I think we can make arrangements that will be tolerable. In the meantime, everyone will be expected to help keep the place secure and feed everyone. Meanwhile, just remember, you’re on my property so what I say goes.”

Phil turned around and motioned for his brother-in-laws, Doyle and Tate to follow. When they got to the house he led them into a back room with a large desk. He rolled to his position behind the desk and motioned the others to find seating.

Phil propped his elbows on the desk and rubbed at his temples.

John sighed. “What in the fuck are we going to do with all these people?”

Phil slammed his hands against the desk. “What we have to do.”

Tate and the men spent the next hour making lists and prioritizing jobs. It was decided the three car garage would be cleaned out and the space used as living quarters until something better could be arranged. Sanitation issues were not an immediate problem since a fully functional apartment had been built at one end when Phil and Beth first moved to the bluff before the big house was built. The apartment would provide a full bathroom with shower and a functional kitchen with a gas stove so cooking.

“The FEMA trailers are going to be even more important now. People are going to get real tired of staying in the garage.” Tate commented. “Until the last week, when the electricity went down, we all enjoyed air conditioning. It’s going to be a hot summer and people will be getting pretty tired of the heat inside that metal building.”

“I know,” Phil answered. “We got a lot of shit to worry about.”

John nodded. “We need to trim back the brush around the fence.”

“I agree,” Phil answered. “But we have to get those trailers and more supplies in here first. We don’t have enough to feed all these people for very long.”

“The food situation is the priority. Is there a big box store anywhere close?” Tate asked.

“There’s a discount store outside Bandera.” John answered.

“Alright. We settle them in and then head out tomorrow.” Bill announced.

It was a long day settling the new arrivals into the garage. There was plenty of spacee, but in the end, it took an executive decision to decide who would take the two bedrooms in the garage apartment. Phil announced the older couple got one bedroom and the second would be used by the young couple with two young children.

When a middle-aged man tried to protest, Phil pointed at the gate and the man quietly accepted the bedding and army cot Phil had pulled from a storage closet. His wife and two teen sons accepted their bedding and quietly set up cots in the corner next to him. The woman sat down on the cot as if waiting to be served.

Ben and Jason set up cinder blocks and one by eight-inch boards to make shelving around the side and back walls and half a dozen plastic tarps over ropes created private enclosures. By the time everyone was assigned sleeping quarters and fed an evening meal, they were more than ready to go to bed.

The next morning Tate rolled off the couch at the first gurgle of the coffee maker. She got in and out of the bathroom right after Beth and ahead of the men. The older couple, Iris and Roger Spencer had volunteered to cook for the second group out in the garage so Beth and her sisters were only cooking for the family household.

Tate picked up a cup of coffee. “You know, Doyle and I could have slept on cots outside with Roger’s group.

“Nonsense. You and Doyle are family now. You saved our Ben. You put yourselves in danger to come after the rest of us.”

Ben’s mother, Janice nodded quickly and added. “You saved my son. Bill and I can never do enough to repay you.”

Tate squirmed at the praise so she changed the subject. “It’s hard to imagine you walked all that way. That’s a pretty long trek for the kids.”

Beth sighed. “For a while, I didn’t think we would make it. We took turns carrying the little ones, but we had no choice.” Beth looked embarrassed. “They followed Bill and Janice when they drove in. John, Mary and I had been shooting at the monsters and killed my SUV the day before. When Bill and Janice drove in, we just kept firing. They got inside, but we hit the radiator of the van. We were just so scared. It took a while to figure out only head shots. Then we started running low on ammunition.”

“I can understand that, but there was the explosion.” Doyle responded.

“Oh, that was Bill. He decided he could slow them down so we could get out the back door, over the fence, and up to the ridge. He opened the valve on a small propane tank and taped a wood match to the door resting against a striker. He figured he had a few minutes before they could push the door open, but he barely got out the back door.” Janice chuckled. “Wish you could have seen his face. His eyes were big as saucers by the time he scampered up the ridge.”

Tate chuckled and Janice continued. “We knew we were in a terrible situation and still in danger, but we stood on that ridge just laughing.”

“I’m glad he’s going with me. He sounds like a man who can think on his feet.” Tate laughed.

The men wondered into the kitchen to grab cups of coffee while Phil rolled up to his spot at the end of the table. He looked around the large table. Beth set a cup of coffee in front of him.

“Everyone knows their job, right. I wish I were going with you.” Phil complained.

Bill held up his hand. “We’ve had this discussion. You need to get the yard ready for the trailers. Everyone left here will need to work together and you’re the only one that knows what should be done.”

Beth sat biscuits and homemade apple butter on the table then passed around bowls of grits. Everyone settled down to eat without further discussion. After a final cup of coffee, everyone got up and drifted toward the door.

Beth stood at the door and handed each a bag. “It’s only a sandwich and an apple and two bottles of water. Bring the bottles with lids back, please. We need to recycle.”

Tate accepted a bag and headed to the Bitch with Bill close on her heels. He carried his own bag and a rifle and wore a handgun in a holster at his waist.

“You ready for this?” Bill asked.

Thank you for reading the first three chapters of “DEAD TEXAS ROADS”, Book 2 in the “Torn Apart Series”.
I hope you have enjoyed it.  The book RELEASE DATE IS APRIL 17, 2017.  Available in ebook and paperback.
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Thanks again for your interest.
Leave a review if you’ve enjoyed my efforts.

C. A. Hoaks