Posts Tagged ‘Matt’

“Ladies and gentlemen it seems our numbers keep growing as you see.” He nodded at Maggie and Doc and the new group brought in with them. “As of now, we still only have fifteen soldiers responsible for security and scavenging. The majority of our civilians are either untrained or under the age of eighteen. As the demand increase for more and more goods, we’re finding ourselves stretched pretty thin. That said, I’m concerned we’re not doing as good a job in the area of security as we should be. That said we’ve come up with a plan. We’re going to be training every member of this camp to be better prepared to defend themselves. After the retrieval of firearms recently those with experience, will be expected to carry a firearm at all time once they are cleared by an instructor. Everyone else, thirteen and older, will be required to begin firearm training. Training with knives or spears will continue as before with six years and older.”

One of the women from Doc’s group stepped forward. “I have a concealed carry license.”

“Good. Anyone else?” Matt felt a smile crease his face when six more hands raised. “Alright. Glad to hear it. Anyone else?”

Three teens raised their hands. “I don’t have a CHL, but I can shoot. I’ve shot an automatic pistol and an AR-15,” commented one of Larry’s teenagers.

“Same here,” added a second boy with a grin.

The third to respond was a tall, thin girl of about sixteen with blonde hair and a tentative smile. “I can shoot almost anything. My dad had a gun range.” She blushed as she stepped back.

Matt gave the group a hint of a smile. “Alright. All of the shooters report to Jake. Anyone not skilled will be scheduled in one of two classes.” He pointed to Larry’s spear carriers. “More of the spears need to be made, and everyone will be trained with knives. Classes are mandatory, so check with Larry about scheduling. No one gets to opt-out. Everyone will be assigned to protecting the camp or responsible for watching kids. We’ll be passing out machetes to those without guns.” He looked at the group then added. “Your lives depend on being able to defend yourselves. Also, we’re going to set up a couple fallback for the kids. We brought in a storage container that we’ll bury and add venting with a fan of some kind. We’ll store emergency supplies and extra bedding inside.”

Maggie stepped forward. “It sounds like you’re planning on an attack.” She pulled her daughter close.

“No one knows we’re here and we’re trying to keep it that way,” Matt answered. “We have a good setup with the generator and campers, but if the wrong people stumble across this place, we’ll have trouble. I’d rather be prepared and not need it, then need it and not be prepared.”

Jasper Novak stepped up and raised his hand. “Ladies, I understand your concern but if we err let us err on the side of caution. These soldiers have been doing all they can to protect us, but I agree, it is time for us to step up and stop being dependents and be partners in our survival. I will be signing up for the class to use all three weapons.”

Joan, the camp cook, stepped out of the food truck and held out her hand to Jake for the clipboard. “Young man, I can do more than sling hash around here. Never know when I might need to shoot a snake.”

The crowd burst into laughter. The tension and trepidation disappeared as women walked to Larry and Jake to sign up for classes. Occasional chuckles and debate of timing resulted in class schedules without compromising the care for the children or helping with cooking and laundry.

Matt watched the residents step forward to begin to take control of their lives and walked to the shade of the Rec-Center to lean against the wall. He folded his arms across his chest, and a hint of a smile crossed his face.

“Pretty proud of yourself,” Tate whispered.

“They’ll get there,” Matt answered. “We should have started looking for weapons from day one.”

“Between food runs, dragging campers in here for people to live in, and saving people?” Tate answered. “You’re a bit hard on your men. I’m sure they brought in weapons when they ran across them.”

Matt scowled. “I’ve got two kids that I need to get to their family. But here I am. I owe it to their father, but it seems I’ve done for everyone else, but them.”

“Then do something about it,” Tate answered.

After three hours standing guard and a few words with his replacement, Matt returned to the office and spread out on his cot with his hands under his head. He watched hints of dawn spill through the picture window. After a time, Matt realized he was anxious to get the day started as he lay there, plotting and planning while he waited for the house to wake.

The sound of small bare feet padded down the hall. Amy shushed the baby in her arms as she made her way to the kitchen. Matt turned to look through the doorway and saw Amy slide Claire into a highchair that Jake had brought back on one of the supply runs.

Amy warmed a bottle on the stove then used the milk to make a small bowl of dry cereal. She poked a spoonful of the wet-paper looking concoction at Claire’s mouth. Claire stuck out her tongue and let the glob of brown splat on the tray. She slid an open hand through the glob smearing the sludge across the white plastic.

“Claire….” Amy chided. “You have to eat.” She reached into a cabinet, retrieved a jar of baby fruit then disguised the next bite of cereal with a covering of the fruit.  The response was a second lump of baby food on the tray.

Matt got to his feet and padded into the kitchen on bare feet. “We got a problem in here?”

Amy looked up exasperated. “She won’t eat her cereal.”

Matt dipped his finger in the cereal and stuck it into his mouth. He made a face and tickled Claire’s chin. “It tastes terrible.” Amy’s eyes grew big, and Matt laughed. He opened the refrigerator and took out three eggs. “You go get dressed, and I’ll make you girls some scrambled eggs.” He grinned at Amy. “You like scrambled eggs, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” Amy ran from the room, her bare feet barely making a sound.

Matt sprayed the pan with non-stick then placed it on a lit gas burner. He broke all three eggs into a bowl and used a fork to assault them. Finding a box of powdered milk, Matt added a white powder to an old juice bottle of cold water, shook the jar, then added some of the liquid to the eggs before pouring some in Amy’s cup. He poured the eggs into the skillet and then turned around to make a pot of coffee.

When Amy reappeared dressed in shorts and a sports shirt, Matt had the table set and a plate of scrambled eggs in front of each of the girls. Clare dug into the pile of eggs with both hands and pushed a hand-full after handful into her mouth. She licked at the yellow lump, swallowed, and grinned as she reached for another handful of scrambled eggs.

Matt stepped to the stove and poured a fresh cup of coffee. He turned back to see Amy with her head bowed and hands folded.

“And bless, mommy, daddy, Daddy Matt, Mr. Larry and Mr. Jake, Ms. Amanda, and the new baby.” Amy looked up and smiled sweetly. “Oh, and please help us get to grampy’s house soon.”

“Eat your eggs before they get cold,” Matt ordered a little more gruffly than he intended. After a few minutes of awkward silence, he spoke again. “I’m going to be gone for a day or two. When I get back and get things squared away, we’re going to head to your grandfather’s place. I’m going to need you to pack for you and Claire. Maybe Ms. Amanda can help you get together what we’ll need to make the trip.

“Yes, sir,” Amy answered with a big smile.

“Good morning.” Amanda with her newborn in her arms appeared with Jake close on her heels. She passed the baby to Jake and turned to pour a cup of coffee and put on a pot of water to boil. “Glad you noticed the eggs. Claire is getting a little picky about breakfast lately.”

“Not the little man here.” Jake laughed. “He knows exactly what he wants.”

Amanda slapped at Jake’s arm with a wide grin. “Shush.”

Matt chuckled. “Amanda, you need to be at the meeting today. Everyone that hasn’t been training will need to start. As soon as you’re able, that means you, too. In the meantime, Jake can teach you gun safety then hit the target range and use an air gun to get a feel for shooting.”

Amanda nodded. “Jake explained the plan, and I agree. I want to be able to protect my son and myself. We had no chance at the park because the civilians were all helpless. Military took all the weapons.”

When he had finished his coffee, Matt picked up Claire and walked out into the morning sun. Jake and Amanda followed behind, chatting together and fussing over the new baby.

Amy picked up the carrier and followed close behind chattering as they walked. “Mr. Larry brought Claire Bear new shoes. He brought baby Alex shoes too, but they’re way too big.”

Matt led the small group to the food truck where taquitos were being served for breakfast.

He stationed himself at the side of the serving window greeting each of the residents coming for their breakfast. Maggie, the women rescued from the mad preacher, and the girls that composed her new family walked toward the residents looking a little uncertain. They each looked clean and well-rested but had not lost the haunted look on their faces. Matt waved them toward the serving window. “Come on over. We line up and get meals from the food truck.”

Doc, his wife, and granddaughters appeared at the front of their trailer and crossed the grounds to meet Matt. “Well, young man, you have quite a set up here. Thank you for the trailer. It’ll do fine for the four of us. The FEMA trailer next to it will do just fine for my medical office. If we can get someone handy with a hammer to help remove the bed in the bedroom, I think with some Texas engineering we can set up an exam room. Meanwhile, the wife and girls can spend the morning sorting and set up supplies. I imagine we can start treating patients this afternoon.”

Matt nodded. “You can make an announcement at the meeting right after breakfast. We’re asking everyone to be there.”

“No problem, young man. If you’ll excuse us, I see a couple taquitos with my name on them.” Doc chuckled as he turned and headed to the serving window.

“Y’all enjoy your breakfast,” Matt answered.

Jake led Amanda to a concrete picnic table and helped Amy set Claire’s carrier on the seat then spent a few minutes fussing over her. Amy settled next to carrier and placed a bottle on the table. He slid Claire into the chair and buckled the harness. “Will you girls be okay while I get some breakfast.”

Amy nodded. “I’m a good babysitter.” She handed Clare the bottle then looked up smiling. “Can I have one?”

“You’re a bottomless pit, pumpkin. With catsup or hot sauce?”

“Hot sauce, please.” She answered with a grin.

Matt laughed as he headed for the food truck. Jake quickened his steps to elbow Matt and comment as they walked away. “You’re just downright domesticated.” He laughed.

“And look who’s talking.” Matt jabbed back.

By eight o’clock, everyone in the camp had made it through the breakfast line, and except for three of the men who’d had breakfast delivered because they were standing watch at the gates and front road. Jasper called the meeting to order. After a few internal matters had been addressed and the introduction of the newest arrivals, the meeting was turned over to Matt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s busy.” The man retorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the preacher and his men?”

“They didn’t come out to fight them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re having a baby now?” Amy asked.

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

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

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

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

“Who exactly did they have?” Matt asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt smiled and nodded. “Thanks, sweety.”

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

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

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

“Da da?” Larry grinned.

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

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

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

“Six,” Larry answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doc and Matt spent half an hour collecting jars of home canning, half a dozen rounds of deer sausage and several packages of hard cheddar and gouda cheese.

“This is a hell of a stash,”  Doc commented as he sliced off a chunk of sausage. “You gotta know country folks would have extra food around the house.”

Matt nodded.  “In the morning I want to check for a garden or fruit trees.”

“Sounds like a plan.  With being this far from a major highway, these folks were in pretty good shape.” Doc continued.  “I guess old age is a weakness we all face eventually. They couldn’t do anything about that.”

After spending a few more minutes stacking the food stuff in two wooden boxes, Matt rigged a rope handle on each box then announced.

“Time to get this stuff back down to the store.”

Each man picked up a box and clutched a weapon in their free hand.  They stepped out of the house and headed down the gray shadow that was the lane leading back to the store.  The full moon provided enough light Matt pocketed the small LED light.

“Slow and easy.  I don’t want to break any of these jars.”

“Got it.” Doc answered.

“Where did that bunch pick up you and your people?”  Matt asked.

“My son and his family had a lake house on Medina Lake.  It was only the second day and my wife and I lived far enough out, we didn’t see anything but what was on the television.  My son was heading to his lake house and stopped long enough for me and Helen to load up the car and follow. About eight families made it up there.  Some belonged there, others we settled in the empty houses.  There was a cluster of six houses within sight of each other. We shared what we could.  We had a couple generators, couple boats, and plenty of fishing gear.  It wasn’t bad.  We figured we were pretty safe with only one way in and that was a gravel lane.  Problem was, my son and only three others had firearms with ‘em.”

“Sounds pretty sweet.”  Matt commented. “Except for the lack of firearms.”

“Would have been.”  Doc answered.  “Seems that bunch of rednecks were riding the backroad looking for exactly what we had; lots of women and not enough men or arms to protect ourselves.”

“Sounds like a bad deal.”

“They had to have been watching us for days.  They waited until three of the men were out fishing and used a deer rifle to take them out.  Just like that, my son and two other men were dead.  My daughter-in-law came out of the cabin with a rifle and they dropped her right on the porch in front of the girls.

By then, the rest of the adults including me and Helen were gathered up and on our knees.  They called the kids out telling them they would start killing the parents if they didn’t come out quick enough. The poor girls could barely walk they were so devastated.”

“Poor kids.” Matt mumbled.

Doc stopped and traded the box from his left hand to his right. “There were nearly forty people.  When everyone was present and accounted for, they executed five men and four teen boys.” Doc started walking again.  His voice was barely more than a whisper when he continued. “By then, the rest of us were in shock and so terrified we just did as we were told. They herded the women and children in the trucks. They knew I was a doctor and who my granddaughters were. They told me and Helen to get what we needed for the girls and get in the car.  If we did anything to cross them, they would kill the girls.  We had no choice.” His voice trailed off.

“You did what you had to do to protect the girls.  They had just seen their folks killed.” Matt commented.  “ Let’s get this inside.” Matt knocked on the door.

“Well, you took your sweet time.”  Tate groused.  “I’m getting cleaned up.  The kids are at the back of the store sleeping.  The rest of the women are in the break room.”

“No problem, I’ll keep watch soon as I set this stuff down.”  Matt answered.

“You two might get cleaned up when I’m done.  You both smell like shit.”  She walked away without looking back.

He pointed the barrel of the automatic weapon at the man called Stubby. “You keep yourself nice and frosty.”

Grant slammed his fist on the camp table. “Who in the fuck are you?”

Matt laughed. “The guy that’s gonna shoot you if you make another move like that.” He threw a length of paracord at Stubby. “Tie up your boss.”

Stubby looked confused for a moment then slowly rose with the cord in his hand.

Tate found the man called Arty still grunting with his bare ass glowing white in the light of the moon. Tate muffled a giggle as he farted and sighed. He belched as he got to his feet and pulled his pants up.

“Sounds to me like you have a digestive problem, there Arty.” Tate laughed softly as she made sure he saw the gun in her hand. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Arty jumped and stepped in the muddy pile at his feet. “Fuck!” He slid his foot across scrub grass trying to clean his boot. “Who in the hell are you?”

Tate answered. “Not a fan for sure.”

Arty reached for his handgun and Tate squeezed the trigger.

Stubby’s friend, with the key on the string around his neck, walked to the cage. “Time for a little fun, Red.”

The women in the cage backed away from the door, all but the two Matt had spoken with. They moved toward the door where Black Beard was inserting the key into the lock.

He glared at the dark haired woman. When she didn’t move, he pointed his gun at her. “Back off bitch!”

The black-haired woman hesitated. When Black Beard pointed raised his gun, Red slipped the knife from her left hand to her right behind her back.  She looked toward her friend. “I got this.”

“That’s right bitch. Red and I are going to do a little bump and grind.” The Beard answered as he grabbed himself. He stuck the key into the padlock and opened the door then stepped to the side.  He motioned with the tip of his handgun for her to climb out of the truck.

Red stepped to the door and jumped from the truck. She landed hard on the ground falling to her knees. She sat crumpled in the dirt while the big man snapped the lock hasp close again.

Black Beard grabbed at Red’s arm just as the sound of a shot echoed in the distance. He let the barrel of the gun lower and Red swung the blade in a wide arc. She stabbed into Black Beard’s protruding gut. He stumbled back staring down at the blade.

Red pulled the blade free and swiped it across his throat. He tried to raise his gun, but Red jerked it from his grip as he fell to the ground. She pulled the keys from his neck and threw them to the waiting hands reaching from the back of the truck.

“Get out of the truck. All of you.” She tossed the knife toward the truck. “Free the Doc and his wife. Stay together and hide until this is over.”

Matt heard the shot the same time as Stubby struck out with the length of cord in his hand. Matt pressed the trigger and sprayed a burst of bullets in Grant’s direction. Stubby tackled Matt and the pair went down in a crush of swinging fist and grunts of pain. Stubby was every bit as large a man as Matt. It was not going to be a quick overpowering of the man.

Stubby rolled and slammed his fist into the side of Matt’s head. Matt blocked a second blow and swung out with the butt of the rifle. The hard plastic connected with Morgan’s head. He fell back dazed.

Matt slammed the rifle at his head again, but Stubby rolled away just in time to avoid the blow. He swung out his leg and connected with Matt’s knee. Matt went down, rolled and kicked out. His boot heel connecting with Stubby’s face.

He fell back dazed. Matt picked up the rifle and pointed it at him. He shook his head, trying to focus.  Finally, he sat up staring at Matt.

“Move again, I’ll shoot you.”

When he was sure, Stubby would remain still Matt got to his feet. He picked up the rope and quickly tied Stubby’s hands behind his back. When he was secure, Matt stepped over the man’s bound legs and checked Grant. He was barely breathing. He had a bullet hole in his chest where bubbles of blood hissed with air.

Matt rose just as the tent flap flew open and Tate rushed in with a gun in hand. The two women from the truck followed her ready to rumble.

“Well, I guess we got this done,” Tate announced.

The dark-haired woman stomped over to Stubby and kicked him in the balls. He howled in pain, rolled over, curling his knees against his chest trying to protect his crotch against another assault.

“Pig!” She pulled her leg back to kick again but Red stopped her.

“That’s enough.” She grabbed the gun from the dark-haired woman. She pointed it at Stubby’s temple and fired before anyone could stop her.

“What the fuck!” Matt grabbed the handgun from Red.

“He killed my husband. He raped Theresa and two of the other women.” She answered.

Tate stepped up to Matt and placed her hand on his chest and pushed him back from the body. “I would have done the same. Let’s get out of here.”

She grabbed Red’s arm and led the two women out of the tent. Matt followed after a backward glance at the two bodies in the tent.

Outside, Doc and his wife and three children were huddled together still looking a bit like deer in headlights. Besides, Red and Theresa seven women and two more children stood waiting for someone to speak.

Tate looked at Matt. “We have sixteen people here. What are we going to do with ‘em?”

Matt nodded toward the vehicles. “We take ‘em back to the camp.”

Tate laughed. “You just the fucking Pied Piper, Monroe.”

Red and Tate went back for the white rig and the guns stowed inside. By the time they returned Matt had drivers and guards assigned to trucks. None of the women had options so they agreed with Matt’s plan. Amid the supplies, clothes were sorted and distributed to those in need.  All were fed.

They gathered the remaining supplies, but left the tent as it was. No one wanted to salvage anything from the men other than their weapons. Matt had retrieved the guns as they walked out of the tent.

Tate led the caravan away from the site of the carnage and toward sanctuary.

Matt slipped back into the shadows. He lowered the body of the guard he had just killed to the ground. He retrieved the weapons and dragged the corpse behind a mound of rocks. He watched the pickup pull to the far side of the camp and park. He hoped Tate got Rodney secured and silenced as planned. If he didn’t fight back, Rodney might survive but, then what? What do I do with a man who took part in abducting and abusing women? Matt mentally shrugged, that decision would have to wait.

There were six men in camp according to Rodney. It sounded right with what Matt had seen. One guard down, five to go. Matt jogged into shadows around the back of the camp watching the two men standing at the edge of camp.

“I plan on getting to know that little red head tonight.” A big man with a thick black beard laughed.

The short guy retorted. “She’s a feisty bitch for sure. Think you can handle her?”

“Damned straight, Arty.” The beard laughed.

Arty laughed. “I gotta drop a load, so wait till I come back before you go courtin’, Josh. That bitch will take off your head if you try something without some backup.”

Matt watched a third guard near the truck where the women were held.  He decided he would be next neutralized.

The man walked from the front of the vehicle to the back. He glanced around the camp while he lit a cigarette. With the tip of the cigarette glowing red he paced to the front of the truck. He settled on the bumper smoking and stared out into the shadows.

Matt slipped to the side of the truck with the eyes of the women following him. He held his finger to his lips and crouched in the shadows of the truck and waited.

The guard rose and dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and smashed it into the dirt with his boot. He looked up at the women and slapped the screen. “What the fuck are you looking at, bitch?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” The red head snapped with a wicked grin.

The guard stepped to the back of the metal cage. Matt rose from the shadows and slit the guard’s throat. After a quick jab of the blade into his temple, he released the body and nudged it under the truck.

The red head rushed to the screen. “Help us!” She whispered. “Get us out of here.”

“Who has the key?” Matt slipped the guard’s handgun and knife through the bars into the cage. “Be damned careful who you shoot at with this. A friend of mine is out there. If you shoot her or me I’ll be pissed.”

“The big guy with the beard has the key.” She answered as she accepted the gun and knife. She passed the gun to another woman.

“Him and his friend will be coming to see you in a few minutes. See if you can get him to open the cage then kill them. I’m going after the last two.”

“I’ll take care of Black Beard.” The red head announced. “I want to be the one to kill him.”

“Who’s the boss and where is he?” Matt asked.

“He’s in the tent. His name is Gregory Grant. He’s always got a guy named Stubby with him.” Another woman answered. “There were only six left in camp until the truck came back.

“Don’t worry about the two in the truck. What about the old couple?” Matt asked.

“They’re keeping them alive because he’s a doctor. They’re being used to cook and take care of us. They won’t fight back because their grandkids are in here with us. Those assholes killed their folks.” The red head answered.

“That means there’s four left.” I’m going after the pair in the tent. If the other two come after you, kill them.”

The red head smiled. “We can take care of them.”

The woman with the black eye stepped closer. “Give me a chance and I’ll take care of Arty.” She hid the gun in the folds of her skirt.

Matt gave a quick nod and disappeared into the shadows again. He moved toward the tent until he heard the sound of angry voices. It came from the truck. A door slammed.

A man’s voiced cures. “Bitch!”

There was a muted thwack and then silence. Matt saw a single figure move into the shadows at the edge of camp. The slender figure reappeared heading toward the caged truck. Matt stepped back into the shadow of the truck and disappeared. I guess Rodney didn’t play nice.

Matt heard Tate’s footsteps before he saw her step into the moonlight. She startled when he appeared next to her.

“Rodney?” Matt whispered.

“He won’t trouble anyone else, again.” Tate whispered. “How many left?”

“Four. I’m going after two in the tent. There’s a big guy and a greasy little shit walked off that way to take a shit.” Matt whispered back as he pointed toward the back of the camp.

“I’ll find him.” Tate shrugged. Matt reached out, but Tate held up her hand. “I got this.”

Tate stepped into the brush heading toward the direction Matt had indicated the man had gone. She stopped and listened. Night sounds filled the evening. She moved slowly through the shadows created by the branches of the oaks overhead.

Matt slipped away from the truck, all the while watching the tent for the two survivalists described by the women. He took a quick survey of the camp then studied moved closer to the tents. From one he heard voices.

A gravely male voice ordered. “Take care of Doc and Granny. Make sure they’re chained to the car again. I don’t want them wandering around getting ideas.”

“They won’t. The kids are still locked in the truck.” A second male voice answered.

“I don’t care. I want ‘em secured.” The gruff voice ordered. “Have the rest of the men come back?”

“No. Not yet. Rodney said they picked up the soldier’s rig and were getting extra diesel from behind the shed.”

“Good. With the extra fuel we can make it to the camp by tomorrow afternoon. We’ll refuel then head out first thing in the morning. With this trip there’ll be enough women for a bit of comfort.” He laughed.

“Yes sir.” A second voice answered. “Moving the camp to the edge of Indian Springs was a good idea. If they’ve followed orders at campgrounds we’re set for the duration.”

“Duration, hell!” Grant answered. “Stubby, you don’t get it. It’s Armageddon. I’ve led the faithful into the Promised Land. We have thousands of acres fenced off and secured by the government. From the same fucks that wrought this plague on the good folks of Texas. It’s our duty to bring the weak and defenseless into the fold.”

“Yes sir.”

Matt reached for the flap of the tent with the automatic pointed at the two men sitting on camp chairs with a table and bottle between them in the room sized tent. “Keep your hands on the table, gentlemen.”

The second man rose to follow but found Matt rushing toward him. In a flash, he swung out his left leg and connected with Matt’s side. Matt doubled over, spun and kicked out himself. His foot connected with the man’s leg and the man went down. He tucked his body and rolled away coming up with his handgun in his hand. As he brought the barrel to aim, a shot rang out.

Matt saw a flash from the hay bale and threw up his hand in a careless wave. He hunkered down ready to follow the last man when three more shots rang out in the distance.

Snorts and stomping hooves filled the night. The sound of a thundering stampede of hooves filled the night. Another terrified scream was suddenly muffled by the sound of the charging buffalo.

Matt reached the corner of the shed and looked around in time to see a man disappear under the mass of moving bodies. The herd trampled over the ground where the man had been standing. The herd in mass, ran past the building, made a wide arc and moved off into the distance.

When the sound of the herd disappeared, Matt made his way to where the man had disappeared amid the stampede. There was little left of him. The chest was crushed, while the man’s arms and legs were broken and bent in odd angles.

Matt turned toward the hay bales and double clicked his LED light. Tate blinked her light back. Matt watched as a slender shadow appeared from the top of hay. She looked toward the retreating herd one last time then slid down the side of the bale.  She began making her way toward the light then stopped at the body of the man she had shot. The bullet had gone into the middle of the chest and blown out the back of his spine.

When Matt approached, she asked. “Well, did we kill ‘em all?”

Matt answered. “Except for one, I left strung up a ways back.”

Tate looked at the body on the ground. The lower jaw had begun to work spastically. “Now that’s fucked up.”

Matt squatted down next to the body to get a better look. “I thought it took a bite or blood to get the virus.”

Tate let out a long breath and whispered. “You know what that means?”

Matt looked confused. “Not exactly, no.”

Tate gagged. “It’s air born. The virus has mutated and we’re all going to come back.” She leaned over with her hand on her knees taking deep breaths fighting the clinching of her stomach. She could feel the nausea begin to fade. “The world is fucked.”

“Looks like it.” Matt pulled his blade and slid the ten inch steel into the attacker’s eye socket and twisted. “Let’s go talk to a man about those women and kids.”

As Matt led Tate to the man hanging from the oak limb, he retrieved the weapons he had hidden. He only bothered with the handgun from the trampled man. The rifle barrel had bent under hooves of the herd.

When they got to the oak tree, Tate gasped when she saw a man swinging from the oak limb. The whites of his eyes glowed in the shadows of the night. He was terrified. Matt got to his side and untied the bandana and pulled the end of the rag from the man’s mouth.

“Talk.” Matt ordered.

The man moaned. “I can’t feel my hands. Cut me down.”

Tate walked up and slapped the man’s face. “Quit whining. Now tell us about the women in the cage, asshole.”

The man looked panicked. “They’re for the camp. We were alone. Jed said we needed women. It’s his place.”

Matt stood back and folded his arms across his chest.  Tate leaned closer with an angry scowl.  “What kind of place?”

“Camp.  He’s a survivalist sort of.  We went out to shoot guns and had a couple whores….”  His voice trailed off when he noticed the look on Tate’s face.

She slammed her fist into the man’s gut. “You fuckers kidnapped ‘em?”

“Well?” The man began, but Matt grabbed his face in a vice-like grip. “You’re going to tell us all about the camp. How many men are went on this little kidnapping raid and who’s in charge? Where they’re camped, now.” He leaned close and spoke softer yet. “If you don’t tell me everything, I’ll slit you open and leave you tied to a tree with your own guts.”

The man nodded his head. “I’ll tell you!”

An hour later, Tate, Matt and Rodney, the kidnapper, were headed back to the camp where the women were being held. Rodney drove, Tate sat next to him in the truck cab with a gun pressed into his rib. Matt stood in the truck bed with his boonie hat pulled down over his face.

“Make this good or I’ll start shooting and you’ll be the first one I take out.” Tate ordered.

Matt studied the camp as they approached. The only people they had to watch for were an elderly couple that had been in the Oldsmobile. Their daughter and two grandkids were in the cage so easily controlled.

Six survivalists remained in camp to control the old couple and the caged women. Rodney slowed when he neared the camp and saw the first guard. Matt slipped from the back of the truck.

“Don’t do anything stupid and you might live through this.” Tate advised in an angry whisper.

“Sammy? That you?” Rodney asked as he neared a man standing guard at the entrance of a farmhouse driveway.

“Sure is. Where’s the rest of the men?” Sammy asked.

“Bringing up the big truck soon as they syphon diesel from another truck. They’ll catch up soon enough.” Rodney glanced toward Tate.

“Good deal. We need all the fuel we can get.” Sammy laughed. “Head on in. Cows are fed and it’s almost time to check out one or two.” He laughed wickedly.

Tate jammed the gun in Rodney’s rib. “Move out, she hissed.

Rodney pulled away. Tate glanced back and saw a shadow swallow Sammy in a deadly embrace.

Matt hurried after the two men sent into the woods. After a five minute sprint through the dark, he heard them. Slowly, he advanced. He saw their silhouettes against the fading night sky. They carried rifles held to their shoulders, fanning the barrel back and forth as if monsters would jump from every shadow. They drew close to a massive stand of mesquite.

Matt grinned. HE was the monster, they were expecting. He slipped deeper into the gloom of the mesquite bushes and picked up a rock. He glanced at the pair then tossed the stone to the opposite side of the pair. Both men stopped, frozen in place.

After a brief whispering conference, one of the men headed toward the sound where the rock had landed. The second man stood still waiting for his companion to check out the noise. His hands trembled holding the rifle as he moved his weapon covering his cohort.

Matt stepped back into the shadows. It took several seconds to circle to the back of the cluster of mesquite. He stood so close to the man’s side he could hear the man’s raspy breathing. Matt side-stepped behind him, pulled his head up, and drove the blade up into the flesh under the man’s chin. He pulled the inch blade free.

Without a sound, the man relaxed against Matt’s chest. Matt grabbed the rifle strap before the weapon could fall from his fingers. He pulled the body back into the brush and slowly eased it down into the dirt. He placed his foot on the dead man’s back and rolled him under the brush.

Footsteps in the dark alerted Matt of the second man’s approach. Matt stepped behind a forked cedar as he listened to the man draw closer.

An aggravated whisper called out. “Asshole, where the fuck are you?  Get over here!”

Matt whispered. “Help me.”

“Where are you?” The man stopped and whispered back.

“Here.” Matt whispered.

The man took a tentative step forward, then another and another. Suddenly Matt slammed the butt of the confiscated rifle in the man’s head. The man went down without a sound out cold. Matt took less than a minute to string the man up under a massive oak limb with a length of cord. The man’s feet dangled inches from the ground when Matt was done.

After taking a few seconds to search the man’s pockets, Matt fished out a used handkerchief. He shoved it in the man’s mouth, pulled a second from his own pocket and forced it into the man’s open mouth and tied it behind his head. He gave the man a shove and walked away. He picked up both rifles and handguns. He slid them under the brush where he’d left the other man’s body.

Matt glanced toward the road and realized he was less than a quarter mile from the shack. The moon was up full and bright. He sprinted after the two men sent to circle around the front of the shed.

Tate lay out on the hay bale nearly forty feet from the corner of the shed. She could see the hint of light from the lantern inside through the weathered boards. She had a clear view from the roadway to the pasture behind the shed. She kept her eyes moving, examining every shadow, looking for movement from the road to the woods.

Suddenly she noticed half a dozen dark shapes appear from the woods to lumber across the pasture toward the shed. Tate watched the four legged, short-horned, thick bodies plod toward a water tank. She heard a nearby snort and realized another dozen animals rounded the hay bales heading off to meet the rest of the herd.

She studied the shapes and decided they were buffalo, not cattle. She knew of a couple ranches in the Hill Country supplied buffalo meat to specialty restaurants in Houston and Austin. This could be one of them. Getting back to the truck might be interesting with a herd of buffalo to avoid. They were unpredictable and would kill if they felt threatened.

Tate saw a sudden glint of light from the road. She squinted and made out two bent shadows rushing across the blacktop.

Tate followed the moving silhouettes with the rifle scope as they sprinted toward the shed. The men made it across the open road and squatted at the corner of the fence pointing rifles toward the shed. After a full minute, one of the men rose, rushed to the corner and disappeared into the shadows.