Posts Tagged ‘Matt’

“It’s okay, baby girl. I got you.” Matt comforted.

He carried Amy from the bathroom to the Humvee and eased her through the open door to the back seat. When she eased her grip on his collar, he pulled her hands from his neck.

Matt whispered. “I am so sorry, sweetie. I will never let that happen again.”

Jake and Larry mirrored the concern etched on Matt’s face.

Jake huffed. “Man, what the fuck happened?”

Matt answered. “I fucked up. There was an infected woman in the room behind the bathroom. She almost got the kid.”

“Shit!” hissed Larry. “Is she okay?”

“She didn’t get bit, but okay, I don’t know.” Matt studied the two men in front of him.

Larry turned to Matt with his face creased in a deep frown. “You have to get your head out of your ass. You’re hung over and not paying attention. It almost got that little girl killed.”

Jake interrupted. “We can’t take things for granted anymore. It’s going to get someone hurt.”

“I know. I screwed up in the Sand Box, but I won’t be doing the same thing here.” Matt dumped three white pills from the bottle of Tylenol into his palm and dry swallowed them.

Both men nodded. “You got a plan.”

“We get the kids to a safe place as quickly as possible,” Matt answered. “Larry, you drive. Jake and I clear the gate. We keep it tight and quiet.”

Larry chuckled. “It’s about time you stepped up.”

Matt nodded at Jake. “Let’s do this as quiet as we can.”

Jake pulled his machete from its scabbard. “I agree. No point in drawing attention.”

Through Larry’s open door, Matt looked into the back seat and smiled. “It’s going to be alright, Amy. We’re going to take care of you and find your mom.”

Amy gave a tentative smile while Claire cooed and grabbed at her bare feet. Matt straightened up and tapped the window frame. “Button it up.”

Matt and Jake made their way around the back row of storage units and jogged toward the entrance. The red sports car rested where it had crashed into the post. The gate leaned against the side of the vehicle. The impact knocked the wheels from the track and only hung by a length of bicycle chain running from the edge of the gate to the power box.

Jake whispered. “The truck can roll right over the gate, but we have to move the car.”

“Just what I was thinking.” Matt responded.

Matt looked back over his shoulder to see the Humvee had moved to the edge of the building and Larry cut the engine. He could watch them and roll in if things went south, but the sound of an idling engine wouldn’t draw attention.

“We can lay the gate on the pavement and crack a few skulls then put the car in neutral to push it off the post. Once it’s clear, we can run it into the ditch.” Jake whispered.

“I count five. You take the two on the right and I’ll take the two at the back and that poor bastard in the ditch.”

When Jake shrugged, Matt pointed his machete tip toward a shambling figure on the opposite side of the road in a shallow ditch.

The shredded-faced, creature seemed confused by the steep slope of the incline and unable to make its way up to the road. Blackish gore covered his shorts and a sports shirt. A sandal, with a tire tread sole, dangling from one ankle. The infected started up the incline, stumbled then landed face-down on the asphalt. He embedded more gravel into his raw face as he wallowed on the rough road’s edge until he got to his feet again. A few steps later it happened all over again.

“When he hits the ground next time, I’ll take him out. I don’t want him stumbling out of the ditch when I have my back turned.” Matt whispered. “Let’s get the gate down then clear the rest of ‘em.”

Matt remained behind the brick support post at the side of the gate while Jake duck-walked behind the sports car to the opposite side of the gate. When he got to the brick support, he nodded at Matt and together they reached up and tilted the gate upright and off the rail. They slowly eased the wrought iron over and to the ground with only the gentle clatter of the chain.

An infected woman wearing a pink housedress covered in blood turned from the remains in the car. She stuck her nose up in the air, sniffed twice then went back to gnawing on the arm clutched to her face. A large man in gray overalls and a plaid shirt nudged the woman aside and reached into the driver’s midsection. He raised a chunk of liver to his mouth and tore a piece from the bloodied organ. He chewed as dark red blood ran from the corners of his mouth.

Matt walked up to the pair and kicked out at pink dress’ right knee. She fell to the ground in a heap. He turned and swung the machete at the second monster, splitting the top of the man’s skull. The woman rolled to her side and Matt raised his leg and slammed his booted foot into her head. The skull shattered and gray gunk exploded from the inside.

Matt turned to see Jake finishing off the second of two infected golfers. Both had had substantial damage to their legs so they were barely mobile. One had been clutching a nine-iron in his gloved hand and now it lay on the ground next to him.

The infected man in the ditch turned at the commotion and began fumbling to his feet again. Matt took three quick steps to the prone figure and jammed his knife into the top of the man’s skull. He hurried back to the sports car and tried to ignore the gore that had once been the woman driver.

Matt jammed the shifter into neutral and manhandled the steering wheel to the left while pushing back against the doorframe. With the gentle slap of Jake’s palms against the front fender of the car, the vehicle moved.

They pushed the vehicle around a bright yellow parking barrier and into the grass filled ditch. The engine of the Humvee roared to life in the distance as the car crashed into the ditch leaving only the bumper, back axle and truck visible.

Matt turned and waved and the vehicle moved forward.

“That was a crime against a good looking car.” Jake brushed his hand together with a grunt.

“You really wanted to ride around with what’s left of the last driver still inside?” Matt asked as he turned to walk toward the Humvee.

A distant moan drew both men up short. Matt turned back to the road. He heard the crunch of gravel under foot but could only see the dim shadows of morning light.

Jake followed his gaze and pointed as half a dozen figures emerged from the gloom stumbling toward them. Matt held up his hand to stop the Humvee. Jake and Matt jogged into the road and studied the dead as they approached.

They would have to take them out or go over them once they got in the vehicle.

“This sucks,” Jake commented.

Matt held up his machete for Larry to see then pointed at the approaching dead. He took several steps away from Jake. “I’ll take the three on the left then if you need help with the others.”

Jake snorted. “Like I need your help with anything.”

He grinned as he stepped forward and took a round-house swing with a machete at a thin, stumbling man with half his face frayed. The top quarter of the man’s head caved and the body slumped to the ground. Jake stepped over the body and a second swing took out a lumbering overweight woman with arms covered in dozens of bites. With the impact of the machete, the gurgling moan from her torn and ragged throat silenced. She fell to the ground in a quivering heap.

Matt lopped off the head of a teen, stepped back then stabbed his machete into the eye socket of another. The monster stumbled over the gate and landed face down at his feet. Matt slammed the machete down and split the crown of its head. He looked up just in time to see a pair of bloodied hands inches from his shoulder.

Matt spun around and jammed his elbow into the middle of the face, shattering nose and bones around the eye socket. When the infected stumbled back, Matt swung the blade into the middle of its forehead. Matt turned just in time to see Jake kicking the knee from under the last infected. When the blonde-haired woman slumped to the ground, Jake slammed the knife into the side of her head.

Both men stood together panting as they stared at the mayhem they had visited on the miserable beings that had once been living, breathing people. They had been people with lives, loved ones and futures. Now they would all stay where they had fallen.

Matt looked at the last of them. The woman had been pretty before the gray complexion and blackened lips. Her neck and bare chest hung in shreds exposing a single silicone implant. The other side of her chest was nothing more than a gaping wound.

“And I thought the Iraq sucked,” Jake commented as he wiped the black sludge from his blade on the woman’s skirt.

“Let’s go,” Matt answered as swiped his blade against the back of another monster.

Larry drove up in the Humvee and threw damp rags at them. They climbed in the vehicle after wiping blood and gore from their clothes with a wet rag Larry had tossed at each of them. He guided the vehicle through the quiet morning streets avoiding the roaming infected as much as possible until they left the suburbs and found a farm-to-market road.

They drove for an hour before it looked safe enough to stop and change the baby, fix a bottle and eat some breakfast. Matt dug in the stash behind the seat and opened plastic trays of pasta to pass around.

Larry accepted a tray of pasta then scrunched up his face toward the back seat making Amy giggle. “I’d rather have cereal for breakfast. You couldn’t have picked some Coco-Puffs?”

Matt held out his hand. “No milk. If you don’t like it, hand it back. I’ll eat it.” He laughed.

Larry pulled the tray back into the front seat. “You’re mean.” He made a thumbs-up sign at Amy and she mimicked it laughing.

Jake and Matt chuckled at Larry’s antics. After they finished eating, Amy changed Claire and they tossed the diaper into the grass. She looked embarrassed then whispered. I have to go to the bathroom.

Matt sighed. “We’re going to have to do things a little different now. We don’t have a bathroom handy. Have you ever been camping, Amy?”

She moved her head from right to left. “No.”

Matt took a deep breath. “We had to learn in the Army. Now we’re going to show you how it’s done.” He looked toward the front seat. “Larry will show you while Jake and I keep watch.”

Larry snorted then opened his door and climbed out of the vehicle. He opened Amy’s door and helped her out of the Humvee. He held out his hand and she took it in hers. She followed him around the front of the vehicle.

It was all Matt could do not to burst out laughing when Larry demonstrated squatting and waving at his butt with a wad of toilet paper. After a quick look around he pointed to a nearby bush and deliberately turned his back. Amy disappeared out of sight. A few minutes later she reappeared with a grin on her face. She and Larry walked back to the Humvee.

“All set?” Matt asked.

Amy answered with a thumbs-up.

They drove while the rising sun climbing toward the apex of midday. They made terrible time. They had to turn around and take side roads when they neared major roads. The roads were all congested with traffic and any place with traffic was overrun with infected. Matt figured they had traveled less than fifty miles when they stopped again to eat a mid-day meal. After another bathroom break, they got back in the Humvee to head northwest again.

After a few minutes of driving, they reached the top of a hill and Larry stopped the vehicle. They sat on the asphalt strip of highway staring at a graveyard of cars along both sides of the road. At the side of the road near the base of the hill was a roadside rest park that stretched back from the road at least a three hundred yards to the edge of an open field. Scattered across the parking lot were bodies; bodies of the dead and the undead alike.

The three men studied the open fields around a rest park trying to make sense of the scene when Jake pointed at the center of the chaos where several buses had been parked.

“This must have been an organized evacuation by the military. They probably picked up a few infected among the survivors before they realized what was going on.” Matt commented. “Only explanation I can imagine.”

“It would explain what we’re seeing.” Larry sighed. “There’s military tents and a vehicle or two.”

The trio debated about traveling through the confusion of vehicles. They saw the vehicles had been pulled off the road and parked in a neat row at the edge of the park. The remains of a temporary camp had been strewn around the center of the park. Several civilian vehicles were sitting with doors open at the back of the park while three military vehicles sat amid the disorder at the road edge.

“We don’t have a choice.” Matt finally whispered.

Larry slipped the vehicle in gear and let it begin to move forward while they watched the chaos in front of them.

Movement could be seen among the scattering of vehicles. A few walking bodies took notice and began to move toward them, then more and more they began the halting march toward the Humvee. The moaning rose above the sound of the Humvee’s engine.

“Look! A Stryker on its side.” Jake interrupted. “Infected are bunched around it.”

“Do you think anyone is in there?” Larry asked as he stepped on the break.

Matt studied the vehicle tipped on its side at the side of the road. “If there is, they’re trapped with all the infected stumbling around.”

Larry reached for the radio on the dash. He pressed the transmit button twice.

“Hello! Hello! Is someone out there?” A voice called out from the speaker. Several voices could be heard then a male voice responded again. “Transmit again please.”

“Don’t we ever get a break?” Larry turned toward the back seat.

Matt leaned forward and reached for the mic. After clearing his throat, he spoke. “Who am I speaking to?”

“PFC 1st Class, Mark Jenkins, sir. There’s seven of us in here.”

A second voice broke in. “We’re trapped in the Stryker. You gotta get us outta here!”

“Okay, Jenkins,” Matt answered. “Tell your boy to calm down. We’ll do something.”

“How many men with you? How soon can you get us out of here, sir?”

“First, don’t call me sir. Matt is fine. To answer your question, there’re only three of us and a couple kids we rescued.”

“Two kids?” The female voice gasped. “You only got two kids out of the bus? Oh, God.” The voice lamented.

“Kids out of the bus? What are you talking about? We had the kids with us. We haven’t gotten any kids out of a bus.”

“You have to help us get to the bus next to the bathrooms. When things went to shit last night we put a bunch of kids in the bus. I came back to get a driver, but Major Bishop ordered us to evacuate. When we refused to leave them, he rammed the Stryker out of his way.” Jenkins answered. “We got trapped in here with all the infected. The prick took off and we haven’t been able to get back to the bus.”

Matt mulled over what he was hearing as he saw dozens of the undead begin shambling in their direction. He pointed to the bus and Jake brought binoculars to his face. He studied the bus surrounded by at least a couple dozen of the undead.

“We are so fucked,” Jake commented. “They’re in there. It looks like a taco truck at a construction site. There’s at least a couple dozen infected standing around or pounding on the side of that bus.”

Matt sighed. “Okay, Jenkins. Give us a minute.” He looked to Jake in the front. “We can’t take a chance going in there with guns blazing?”

Larry shrugged. “The Humvee is big enough to carry half a dozen men on the roof and running boards, if we can get to them without getting overrun.  It would be a rough ride to the bus but then what? There’s the infected around the bus too.” His voice trailed off.

Matt pressed the button on the mike. “Jenkins, do you think you can open the back door?”

Jenkins answered. “Yes, Sir. The ass end of the Stryker is tilted up, but I’m pretty sure we can prop it open and get out that way. I take it you guys have an idea.”

Matt added. “Take as much ammo and weapons as you can carry but remember, you’ll have to ride on the roof. We’ll still have to take out stranglers around the bus. Are your men up to it?”

“We’re good for it. If you can get us there, we’ll take care of the rest.” After a moment Jenkins added. “Oh, if you can make a big boom and light a couple fires on the other end of the park before you come for us, it might help. They get real interested when there’s noise and something burning.”

“Good to know, soldier,” Matt answered. “Oh, be sure to take a radio and charger with you when you head out. Be ready. We won’t be coming back after we pick you up.”

Matt outlined the plan and with a few adjustments they were ready to go. With a nod, Larry eased the Humvee around a Passat clipping off one of the open doors with the front bumper. He cut the wheel and headed across an open grassy knoll next to the park at a pace slow enough to ensure the infected stayed interested.

“I guess we’ve got as many of them following us as we can attract. Head out into the open field before you head back.” Matt ordered as he pulled a black-labeled bottle from behind the seat. “When we draw them out as far as we can, we’ll take off back to the two cars on the far side of the park.”

Matt clicked the mic. “We’ll be back in a few minutes. Be ready to exit the vehicle.”

The radio crackled. “How will we know when?”

“Trust me, you’ll know.” Matt laughed.

They lumbered over the open field trying to avoid the deepest of the ruts. The infected stumbled after the Humvee. It was a stumbling parade of the dead.  Larry keep just far enough ahead to keep the infected interested. When they got a quarter mile from the buses, they turned and drove back to the camp as fast as they could. The girls bounced and jostled but in the vehicle raced well ahead of the horde. Larry jerked to a stop between the two parked cars specified by Matt.

“Sure hope this draws the rest of them away from the bus,” Jake commented as he jerked open the door with a rag and grenade in hand.

“Waste of JD, for damned sure.” Matt groused as he stepped to the ground and poured the amber liquid over a t-shirt then passed the bottle to Jake. He soaked his own cloth then passed the bottle back to Larry.

Matt went to the left and Jake to the right. They each carried a hand grenade, an alcohol soaked cloth and a strip of duct tape across their sleeve. They stuffed the rags into the gas tank and taped the grenade to the opening. With a nod from Matt, they each pulled the pins and ran like hell toward the Humvee.

They hit the seats at the same time Larry stomped on the accelerator. The big tires of the Humvee threw chunks of sod and grass as it raced toward the front of the camp. They were nearly fifty feet from the cars when the first grenade went off and flames blossomed from the ruins. The second detonation filling the air with even more debris and a second whoosh of fire mushrooming from the explosion.

Larry ignored the small missiles hitting the hood as he drove back across the parking lot to the Stryker. Larry leaned over and pressed the mic button. “Now dickheads!”

The back door of the Stryker dropped open and soldiers spilled out of the vehicle. Larry skidded to a stop next to the vehicle. Four soldiers jumped to the roof of the Humvee while the last two jumped to running boards on either side of the vehicle.

“Go!” Yelled the soldier outside Larry’s window.

Matt rolled down the window and prepared to pick off any infected that got too close. Jake rolled his window down and aimed a gun out the window.

The Humvee roared through the grassy roadside divider and hit the asphalt of the parking lot with a leap of the front wheels. The vehicle landed with a bone jarring crash then raced across the parking lot. The soldiers on the sides of the vehicle aimed and fired AKs at approaching infected while clinging to the rail at the top of the vehicle.

When the Humvee got twenty feet from the bus, Larry slammed on the breaks and skidded to a stop. The soldiers jumped to the ground and took up positions to begin taking out the infected still hanging around. Jake and Matt jerked open the door and stood on the running boards covering the soldiers back. Jenkins and his team quickly disposed of the remaining infected blocking the bus door and formed a perimeter around the door.

Jenkins kicked two open luggage doors closed, rushed to the bus door then slammed his flat hand against the glass. “Come on kid…let’s go!”

A teen boy of about fifteen had started pulling suitcases from the steps and passed them to a couple more teens behind him and stowed them in empty seats. The youth jerked open the bus door and slid back between two seats.

Jenkins stormed into the bus and quickly cleared the way for the rest of the soldiers to enter. When the last soldier entered, the door was slammed closed.

Matt and Jake jumped back into Humvee slamming the doors as the infected from the fire noticed the activity at the bus and began wandering back.

Larry depressed the mic button and instructed. “Fire it up and let’s get out of here, Jenkins!”

Matt looked back at the bus just in time to see a bloom of black smoke billow from the tailpipe.

A blink of lights and the bus pulled out.

Matt punched in the code of the security gate of the storage units. It slowly slid open and the Humvee eased through the gate onto the property. Larry stopped to wait for the gate to close behind them. Once it latched, Matt directed Larry between rows of units to the farthest end of the complex. They rounded a corner and Matt slapped Larry on his shoulder.

“Here,” Matt ordered. He passed Claire to Amy and unbuckled his seat belt. “I didn’t see anything that stood out but let’s look around Jake.” Standing in the afternoon gloom, he eased the door closed. The catch of the locking mechanism echoed in the silence.

“Got your six, man.” Jake jumped out and eased the door closed every bit as gently as Matt had done.

Together they moved quietly to the next row of units, looked toward the front of the row of units then crossed to the last driveway. The only other vehicle in the lot was a dented dark blue Escape. The Ford seemed to be abandoned since it was parked in front of a unit with the doors locked. The unit in front of the SUV was padlocked and secure, but there was no sign of the driver.

After finding no one on the grounds, Matt went back to the unit located on the back row of the complex behind the Humvee. He reached into the vehicle and retrieved the key ring he had handed Larry earlier. After fumbling with the ring for a few moments, he selected the right key and opened a side door next to the orange rolling door of a unit. He stepped inside and flipped a switch.

Jake peeked around Matt’s shoulder. “Man! Nice setup. Is this where you’ve been staying off base?”

Matt nodded, slightly embarrassed. “Sometimes I just need to get away. Besides, I had shit to store. There’s a restroom at the end of the next building and a dumpster.” Matt grinned. “Almost all the comforts of home.”

Inside, the unit was a couch, a recliner, three industrial shelves stacked with boxes, a flat screen television on a wooded create and in the center of the space a military footlocker serving as a coffee table. An apartment size refrigerator with a microwave on top sat next to the television where both were plugged into a surge protector snaking down from an adapter between the fixture and a bare light bulb overhead.

On the back wall, a stool sat in front of a workbench. On the bench lay a gun cleaning kit and a bullet re-loader, a bag of brass, and a variety of other related items. The cord of a light bar above the table stretched back to the power strip.

Matt walked back to the door and waved at Larry. Within minutes, carrying baby Claire, he ushered Amy into the unit. She turned to take Claire from Larry. She crossed to the couch and sat down. She looked from one man to the next. “I need to change her or she’ll get diaper rash.” Claire squirmed in Amy’s arms and began to whimper.

Matt looked from Larry to Jake and then took a deep breath. “I know, sweetie. We’ll get what you need. Then we’ll get organized and eat something. Tomorrow we head out to your grandfather’s place.”

Amy began to tear up as Matt continued. “When we know you’re safe, we’ll come back and look for your mom.”

Jake shrugged. “Sounds like a plan to me.” He winked at Amy and grinned. “I’ll get diapers and such for your sister, okay?” He stepped back outside.

Amy settled on the couch with Claire in her arms.

Matt turned to Larry and whispered. “It looks like we might be on our own.”

“You got that right. You would have thought at least a few brothers were out there.” Larry nodded in agreement then asked. “You got any food?”

“Right here.” Matt crossed the room and picked up a box to set it on the workbench. He pulled the clear tape from the top of the cardboard and tilted the box up to show Larry an array of microwaveable dinners. “Let’s get the kids settled then we’ll sort out the supplies and make some plans,” Matt answered.

Jake brought in supplies. Amy changed Claire’s diaper and fixed her bottle. He sat down a bottle of water and the diaper bag. Amy settled on the ragged couch with Claire in her lap. She tickled her sister’s chin and made a face by pursing her lips and crossing her eyes.

When the baby giggled, Amy pulled her close and kissed her head. “We’ll find mommy, Claire Bear, I promise.” Amy picked up the bottle and Claire reached for it. Amy hummed softly as Claire wrapped her chubby fingers around the plastic.

Matt looked at the older child. She was a cute little girl with dark hair, a button nose, and serious eyes. She was so grown up to be only ten years old. She cared for her sister and didn’t complain despite the uncertainty of not having a parent around. Now she sat quietly giving the baby a bottle when Matt was sure she had to be hungry herself.

When the baby fell asleep, Amy settled her on the end of the couch on a baby quilt, pulling the end over her bare legs. Amy accepted the microwave dinner Jake handed her and ate quietly. When she was finished, she stretched out on the couch next to her sister. Within minutes, the girls were cuddled together fast asleep.

Matt, Jake, and Larry stepped outside the unit and quickly pulled the supplies from the back of the Humvee. They carried packages and boxes of supplies into the unit then pulled items from packaging.

Stacks were sorted and “go bags” filled. The bags included fire starter, a small package of first-aid supplies, a handful of zip ties, bags of dried food, hygiene items, a small sewing kit, a metal cup and spoon, some camping supplies including a flashlight, compass and plastic poncho. Bottles of water were added to each bag and it was left open and set aside.

Baby clothes, bottle liners, and formula were put in the diaper bag along with a supply of diapers. The remaining supplies were sorted and boxed then carried back outside to stack in the back of the Humvee with a huge bag of diapers within easy reach of the back seat.

Jake then took a pink backpack and packed a bag for Amy. He included two changes of clothes consisting of shorts, t-shirts and small cotton panties from the discount store, a small hair brush, toothbrush, and small packages of food and two bottles of water.

When Matt and Jake agreed they had everything settled in the Humvee including the car seat with its detachable carrier, they locked up the vehicle and walked into the unit. Despite the quiet of the area around the storage unit, the men were kept on alert by the continuous sound of gunshots in the distance.

Matt turned to Larry. “You get first watch. Whatever you do, stay close and out of sight. We need to stay under the radar and head northwest first thing in the morning.”

Larry opened the door adjusting the machete on his hip. “Got it.” He answered. “See you around ten.”

“Keep an eye out, I got a few goodies to share.”

Jake and Matt walked back to the worktable and Matt retrieved a small battery operated lantern. He figured the dim glow would let the kids sleep while they worked. He handed Jake a scabbard for his machete.

Jake threaded the scabbard through his belt and settled it on his hip. “Wish we had something besides these.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Matt answered. He walked to the footlocker on the middle of the scrap of green carpet. He squatted down and opened the padlock on the lid. After he pulled the shank through the hasp, he eased the lid back to expose a cache of weapons.

“Holy shit, man. You been holding out.” Jake chuckled. “Nice. Even grenades. You do know that’s illegal, right?”

Matt grinned at the contents of the footlocker.  He had multiple handguns, three rifles, an AR-15, several tactical knives and boxes and boxes of ammunition. He pulled the Browning 9mm from its case and threw it to Jake along with a holster, and three filled magazines.

“Give the nine to Larry. We’ll be taking everything so he can get his rifle later.” Matt announced.

Jake walked out of the unit with the handgun. A few minutes later, he came back empty handed. “He was a happy camper.” Jake laughed.

“I’ll bet.” Matt pulled another handgun from the footlocker. “You can have the Berretta or the Ruger, I don’t care. I’ve got another Ruger I’ll be keeping for myself. Same deal with the rifles. I figure Larry will want the AR. Same ammo, so either or….”

Jake laughed. “I’ll take them both.”

Matt chuckled as he reached into the box and pulled out both gun cases. He slid them toward Jake. While Jake examined the firearms, Matt quietly filled half a dozen magazines with nine-millimeter bullets.

When Matt was finished he reached for the Ruger and inserted a magazine. He tossed a filled magazine to Jake. He caught it midair and slid it into the Barretta with a slap of his palm. After holstering each weapon, Jake rose to his feet and anchored one holster on the back of his belt and the other on his hip.

“I’m not much good with a rifle, so how about I carry the shotgun,” Jake said.

Matt chuckled softly as he pulled out the Barrett 98B. “All yours, buddy.” He pulled three mesh vests with multiple pockets from the box and threw one at Jake. He stuffed his own vest pockets with boxes of nine-millimeter rounds and 338 Lapua for the Barrett. He filled the third pocket similarly and draped it over the back of a chair.

“We’ll give Larry his then let’s get some shut eye. I’ll take last watch so you can relieve Larry at ten.”

When Matt stepped back inside the unit, he pulled two sleeping bags from a box on a shelf and tossed one to Jake. When he reached in the box again, he brought out two quilts. He draped the smaller quilt over Amy before he pulled the footlocker out of the way and made a bed on the rug next to the couch.

Jake found an open spot near the shelving. He laid his head on the rolled sleeping bag, folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was sound asleep and snoring softly.

Matt drifted off to the sound of Jake’s snoring. The nagging headache spawned by too much alcohol and not enough sleep disappeared and he relaxed into slumber until images of monsters feeding on screaming children invaded his dreams. He was running to save them, but his body moved in slow motion. Still mired in the terror of dying children, the sound of a whimpering baby woke him.

With his heart still racing, he got to his feet and found the lamp. He turned on the light and picked up the sniffing baby.

“It’s alright, baby girl.” Matt held her close and rubbed at her back.

He shuffled through the bag of baby supplies and found a diaper. After fumbling through the changing, he made a bottle just as Amy had. He settled in the armchair with the infant in his arms. After a few minutes of squirming they both got settled and both her eyes drifted closed. Just as he was dozing off, Claire squirmed in his arms and made little sounds that reminded Matt of a mouse.

Matt raised the squirming little girl to his shoulder and patted her back until a healthy burp escaped in a blast of warm air. Once relieved, Claire nestled her small face against Matt’s neck. He chuckled as he slid down in the chair and settled the baby on his chest. Claire wrapped her tiny fingers into the softness of his worn t-shirt and together they slept.

Jake entered the unit at two o’clock, ready to kick Matt out into the night. In the soft glow of the lantern on the work bench, he could see him reclined in the armchair still holding the baby. He patted Matt’s shoulder, careful not to disturb the sleeping infant.

“It’s two. Can you manage watch?” Jake asked.

“No problem.” Matt looked down then carefully shifted in the chair.

He got to his feet, still holding the baby close. He settled Claire in the seat of the recliner and pushed the chair against the couch to form a makeshift crib. He pulled the thin quilt around the baby then patted her small bottom. When he was done, he stretched, grabbed his belt with a machete, his handgun and vest. He stepped around Larry sleeping near the wall of shelving.

“She should be good for a couple hours.” After a moment, he asked. “Anything out there?” He jammed his hands in his pockets to hide the trembling in his hands. He really needed a drink.

“All’s quiet now. I haven’t heard anything at all in more than an hour.” Jake answered.

“Get some shut eye,” Matt answered. “We’ll head out, come daylight.

Matt stepped out into the dark of night and pushed the door closed. He walked to one side of the units, looked down the row of units and over the fence. He saw nothing moving so he walked to the opposite side of the complex and did it all over again. He wished he had picked up the bottle of Jack Daniel in the unit. His stomach knotted and his hands trembled. Maybe in an hour he could sneak back in the unit to get the bottle.

He walked around the units twice an hour until he heard the sound of gunfire from multiple firearms in the distance. The gunfire continued for all the while growing louder. Terror-filled screams joined the cacophony.

Matt knew the only real danger would come from the front of the complex, so jogged toward the entrance. The outermost storage units had been built to form a U with the back of the units forming a solid barrier to the outside. Inside were two additional back-to-back rows of units. His unit was at the back of the U and out of sight. Half of the front was more storage units and a brick building that included a business office and an eight-foot high wrought iron fence with the electronic gate. Soon the electricity would be out and the gate would be a problem.

They were safe for now but come daybreak they would certainly be less secure. They were soldiers. How were they going to take care of kids? He mulled it over. Chain of command made life easy. Surely, this is a localized situation. They needed to get out of the hot zone. That was it. Get out of the area. Locate FOB (Forward Operating Base) and see that the girls got to their grandfather.

The roar of a gunned engine on a street nearby tore Matt from his thoughts. He looked at his watch, keeping the glow of the face behind his hand. It was nearly six and the skies had begun to lighten. The sound of the racing engine grew close enough he could make out the sound of a Mazda engine straining against the abuse it was obviously taking.

The squeal of tires and a loud crash sent Matt running toward the front of the units. He stayed in the shadow as he made his way toward the entrance. Terrified screams sent chills down Matt’s spine as he slipped from the shadows to the back of the office building.

He peeked around the building and immediately saw the crumpled gate. A small low-slung sports car had slammed into the side of the wrought iron toppling it from its tracks. The car blocked the entrance. Its engine still roared as it pushed against a heavy-duty support post.

Two monsters that had once been people leaned over the driver’s side of the vehicle pulling at a young woman still trapped behind the steering wheel. While one monster chewed at her arm, the other leaned into her neck. They both jerked at her flailing arms as they tore at her flesh. Her screams pierced the night. With a final gurgle, the woman slumped against the steering wheel. The monsters pulled her free of the car and the roar of the engine settled into a placid idle.

Matt stepped back into the shadows. He was too late. He watched more infected stumble toward the sound of the racing engine. They joined the pair devouring the woman to pull at her as well.

He jogged from the office building to the corner of the storage units then between the parked SUV and the wall of storage units. When he got to the unit, he met by Jake at the door. Both he and Larry had armed and were ready for action. Amy sat up rubbing at her eyes. Matt hoped she had not heard the screaming.

“We gotta get moving,” Matt ordered. “Be quiet. Jake, watch the gate.”

Jake disappeared through the door with a belt of weapons and shotgun in hand. Matt walked to the baby, gently gathered her into the blanket and grabbed the diaper bag. He handed the baby to Larry.

“I’ll grab the packs, blankets and sleeping bags. You put the girls in the Humvee.”

Matt reached into the refrigerator and dumped all the water, sodas into a duffle bag then stepped to the shelf to do the same with the few remaining packaged dinners. He looked around then zipped and shouldered the bag.

“Ready,” Larry asked as he adjusted his weapons. He held out his hand. “Come on sweetie?”

Amy looked from one man to the next. “I need to go to the bathroom.” She whispered.

Larry looked to Matt.

Matt shrugged. “You get the baby in the car seat and I’ll take her. It’s close and as long as the crowd at the gate stays there, no problem.”

When they left the unit, Matt snapped the padlock back on the door. “Never can tell if we might need some of the stuff we’re leaving behind.” He shrugged.

Matt held out his hand to Amy while Larry quietly opened the Humvee doors. Larry eased the baby into the car seat and buckled her in. Larry slid his bag behind the seat. He closed the door quietly then walked around to the back of the vehicle.

“Jake?” Matt whispered. “How’s it look?”

“No change. They’re all outside the gate.” He answered.

Matt led Amy toward the restrooms. “Let’s try to be real quiet.” He took a breath and added. “No flushing.” Amy looked up and Matt answered. “It might be noisy.”

“Oh, okay,” Amy answered.

When Matt got to the restroom, he peered into gloom of morning light through the open door. “Wait here while I check it out.”

Matt pulled his machete from the scabbard and reached inside to flip on the light. The bathroom was small and had two stalls and a single wall sink. Both stalls were on the right side of the cinderblock room and the sink on the opposite wall. He eased into the bathroom, past the open stall doors to an open utility room door. He flipped the light switch but the room remained dark. He tapped his blade against the door and listened. He heard nothing. He stared into the gloom and saw nothing move. He kicked a door stop from under the door and turned around and walked back to the entrance. The room smelled really bad, but it was a public restroom. More often than not, they smelled like piss.

He pointed at the first stall. “Use that one.”

Amy went into the stall and Matt heard the gentle click of the lock. He watched under the stall and saw Amy’s feet raised and dangled at the front of the porcelain. He turned away and waited. Nothing.

“We have to hurry,” Matt whispered.

“I can’t go with you standing there.” She answered. “Close the door.”

“Damn it!” Matt whispered. Against his better judgment, he pulled the door half closed.

Immediately a gentle trickle echoed from the concrete grotto. Matt smiled. They would be out of the storage units and on their way within minutes. The dribble stopped and then huffing breaths and a whimper echoed from the bathroom.

“Amy?” Matt whispered. “Time to go, sweetie.”

Amy screamed.

Matt jerked the door open and heard a moan. He suddenly realized the smell was more than typical bathroom aroma. He rushed into the gloom to see a prone figure sprawling on the floor in front of the stall where Amy was trapped behind the locked door.

Matt grabbed the corpse by the leg and pulled the dead woman from under the door. He stepped over the body and seized a handful of hair and slammed the face against the cinderblock wall. The bloodied woman jerked her head around to latch on to Matt’s arm, but he raised her head again to slam it into the concrete floor.

He threw the body toward the back of the room and slammed the machete into the head. When the walking corpse didn’t move he wiped the blade on her clothes then walked back to the stall.

“Amy? Honey, it’s alright. Unlock the door, sweetie.” His voice hitched with concern.

The door remained locked and Amy whimpered. “I’m scared.”

“The monster is gone. You can come out.” Matt implored.

The door lock clicked and the stall door opened a couple inches. Matt slowly pushed the door to see Amy standing on the toilet seat, her back pressed against the wall. Her eyes were wide with terror. When she recognized Matt, she launched herself into his arms.

He stumbled back wrapping his arms around the little girl. “I’ve got you.” He held her close as he walked out of the bathroom. “I am so sorry. I won’t let anything like that ever happen again.”

“Okay, Matt, where to now?” Larry asked as he plowed over three infected at the entrance of the alley. Two of the bodies fell under the massive tires jerking the wheel and jostling the vehicle from left to right and back again. The Humvee roared from between the brick buildings and hit the front bumper of a Fiat sending it into the front of a glass storefront across the street.

“Sorry. I’ll try to dodge around the next one so you can settle things down back there.”

The baby in Matt’s arms screamed in terror. Matt had no experience with babies and the screaming made his head throb. He didn’t have a clue what to do so he just clung to the squirming bundle trying to keep her from slipping from his grasp.

“Larry, damn it, slow down and stop hitting shit! You’re scaring the shit outta the kids back here.” Matt ordered. “And I need a fucking drink.”

“Sorry,” Larry mumbled over the crying children.

“My mommy? We have to go back for my mommy.” Amy wailed.

Matt sighed as he looked at Amy, then down at the sobbing baby in his arms. He had to get his shit together. When he looked at the men in the front seat, he realized the three of them were the only hope for the two kids. It was time to man up.

Larry slowed the Humvee to a speed that allowed him to dodge around stopped or crashed vehicles but still outpace the roaming infected.

Matt slid closer to Amy and wrapped his arm around her trembling shoulders trying to calm her terror. “We’re going somewhere safe. Can you help me, Amy? Let’s get your sister a clean diaper and calmed down.”

Amy nodded and pulled a pacifier from the diaper bag. She popped it into the baby’s mouth. The baby began sucking the nipple and silence filled the vehicle.

Matt gave a big sigh of relief. Amy unlatched the seatbelt and slid out from under Matt’s arm to reach deeper into the diaper bag. She passed Matt a disposable diaper then settled back and reattached the seatbelt.

Matt accepted the diaper then laid the unhappy baby across his lap on her stomach.

“Not like that!” Amy protested. “On her back. Her head there.” She pointed to his knees. “My daddy can do it like that.”

He carefully laid the baby girl down as instructed and with a little help removed the wet diaper then opened the window and tossed it out. The wind caught the diaper and it flew into the face of an infected man as they passed. Amy giggled.

“Oh, you like that, huh?” Matt asked as he grinned at her. Amy shrugged and grew silent. He unfolded the new diaper. It can’t be that hard, right. He looked to Amy and asked. “Now what?”

“That end goes under her bottom,” Amy advised.

Matt followed the directions then pulled the front up and between the baby’s legs. He pulled down at the top as he wondered about the closures.

Amy leaned over and pulled the tabs up and over the front.

It was done. He sighed in relief. “That wasn’t so hard. You think she’s hungry?” Matt asked.

Amy nodded.

Matt leaned toward the front seat. “Hey Curtis, hold the baby for a minute.” He passed the infant to Jake immediately made faces and baby sounds. It was funny seeing a huge black man playing with the tiny baby girl. Her sudden smile caused her to drop the pacifier and the road sounds were drowned out by a giggle.

Amy helped Matt make a bottle of formula then passed the bottle to Jake. Within minutes, the vehicle was quiet except for an occasional slurp of the hungry baby.

Matt looked at the ten-year-old girl and asked. “What’s your name?”


“Is this your sister?”

“Yes. Her name is Claire. My daddy is a soldier. How are we going to find my mommy?”

“We’re gonna work on that as soon as we can,” Matt answered as he rubbed at his temple.

When they got a few miles away from the alley, Larry pulled off on a side street with a good view of the surroundings and stopped. After looking around for the infected one last time, Larry leaned over and picked up a radio and depressed the button on the side.

“Three stooges outside the wire. Request FOB?”

Initially, Matt had hated when a smart-ass sergeant had referred to the trio during ranger training as the “three stooges”, now at thirty-two, the moniker never failed to bring a smile to his face. They became fast friends in boot camp and remained together ever since. When men in the unit began referring to them as The Three Stooges, Matt decided if he couldn’t escape it, he may as well embrace it.

He smiled thinking of his friends as young recruits and the strong capable soldiers they had become. If he was going to be caught in a shit-storm, he was glad it was with them.

Larry Benson was five-ten but sported broad shouldered with thick muscled arms. He was a bearish man that kept his wiry black hair cut short and his hazel eyes hidden behind a pair of aviator glasses.

Jake Curtis had put on almost fifty pounds of muscle since basic training and grown into a huge man with a quick smile. When he started losing his hair, he shaved what was left and never looked back. The bald head and massive build made him look fierce and dangerous until he smiled.

Matt was almost as tall as Jake, but didn’t have the bulk of his friend despite the weight lifting and training. He kept his sandy blonde hair short and his face with its square jaw, clean shaven at least until he had started drinking. Over the last year in the Sand Box, a name used by some of the troops to identify Iraq, deep furrows had appeared on his sun-browned face.

Since back stateside, he had become brooding and silent. He spent hours replaying missions over and over again blaming himself for the missions that failed. Only alcohol dampened the need to constantly examine his decisions.

Larry released the button on the mic and waited. Static and distant gunfire was the only answer. After three minutes, he repeated the message and waited again. No response.

Finally, Larry sighed and turned down the volume. “Maybe it’s the range on this radio.”

Jake answered pointedly. “You saw the same things I did last night. We’re on our own.” He bounced Claire on his shoulder.

Matt’s head pounded as if Van Halen’s drummer was doing a solo. He leaned forward to be part of the conversation. “What in the fuck is going on? What is wrong with all those people?”

Jake turned around and looked at Amy pointedly.

Matt grunted and mumbled. “Sorry, kid. I’m a little under the weather.” Matt ignored Jake clearing his throat and continued. “What’s going on?”

Larry spent several minutes outlining the attack and the resulting masses of roaming infected dead.

Matt just kept moving his head from side to side all the while his face growing paler by the minute. “I…I can’t…I don’t…believe this.” He leaned against the window and closed his eyes. He gripped his knees to keep his hands from shaking. He really needed a drink.

Finally, Larry turned to Jake and asked. “What are we going to do?” He jerked a thumb toward Matt. “Shit for brains there, is so hung over he can barely sit up. We’re so fucked now.”

Jake frowned. “Watch your mouth, Larry. We got kids in the vehicle.”

Matt looked at Amy. Her pale and tears streaked face tore at his heart. Ignoring the bickering conversation in the front seat, Matt swallowed the bile at the back of his throat and cleared his throat.

“Turn left here and head to Smith Street. We’re going to the orange storage units just north of West Commerce. I got a unit at the back of the facility. It’ll be a quiet place to regroup.” After a pause, he continued. “I got weapons.”

Larry snorted. “And you got a well-stocked frig in this storage unit?”

The baby began to whimper and Jake turned his dark face around to look over his shoulder and smiled at Amy. “Don’t worry little one. We’ll figure this out. Poor Larry here is a little anxious. Just ignore him.”

“Yes, sir.” Amy answered then continued. “A hmmmm. Mister? That was the last diaper and Claire makes a dirty diaper after she eats.” She shrugged.

“Diapers.” Larry lamented. “Where in the fuck are we going to get diapers?”

Matt raised his hand. “Enough!” He swallowed hard. “There’s both a CVS and a Walgreens about a mile from the units. If we’re lucky we can find what we need, then have a quiet place to hunker down and evaluate our options. Hopefully, the area is quiet.”

“Yeah. That sounds good.” Jake chimed in. “And after that? You know we can’t stay in the city for long. Electricity will be going out.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Matt answered as he picked up the diaper bag and riffled through the contents.

Amy was right. No more diapers. He put everything back except a woman’s wallet he’d found in a side pocket. He ignored the credit cards and cash and looked at the driver’s license. Elizabeth Jameson. She was a nice looking woman judging from her picture. He replaced the license and found a slip of paper with a rural address postmarked through a small town three hundred or so from the city.

Matt turned to Amy. “Your last name is Jameson?” Amy nodded. “Who lives in Pine Springs Canyon, Texas?”

“My grandpa. He used to be in the Army, but now he lives out in the woods.”

Matt nodded. Jameson? He groaned. He knew the kid’s father. He was a good man and had kept him out of a jail cell more than once in the last few months. He was an M.P. on the base. That meant whatever went down he would have been in the middle of it. Captain Brian Jameson was probably dead.

“Is your dad, Brian Jameson?” Matt asked.

Amy smiled. “Yes, sir.”

Matt replaced everything in the wallet except the slip of paper and returned the wallet to the bag. At least it would be a destination that satisfied two requirements; family for the girls and out of the city. Maybe grandpa would be remote enough to protect the kids.

Matt buckled Amy into the seat belt next to him while Larry put the Humvee in gear and pulled from the gloom of the side street onto a boulevard that led to a thoroughfare. He guided the vehicle around a small fender bender and eased down the street toward the warehouse district. They passed gatherings of the undead. Each time the vehicle grew close the faces turned and arms reached out toward them. The infected would begin to follow and Larry would accelerate and leave them behind.

Matt was appalled.  There were hundreds of the mangled and torn dead stumbling around the city. The bodies were walking nightmares.

Matt leaned toward Amy. “Hey, don’t look out the window okay?”

Amy turned to face him. “Claire is supposed to ride in a car seat.”

Matt chuckled. “I guess you’ll have to tell us what we need for your sister.”

Larry used the medium to drive around a roadblock as they got closer to the base. Clusters of the infected dressed in military garb stumbled through the streets aimlessly until they spotted the moving vehicle. As they neared a group of stumbling monsters in the middle of the road, Matt saw they were feasting on two bodies. The world has gone to hell.

Twenty minutes later, the Humvee approached an intersection where three infected dressed in tattered and torn business suits leaned over a body still trapped in a car. The car had been involved in a minor accident crumpling the front fender. Now the windows were broken and the infected were feasting on the remnants of the occupants. They pulled entrails from the trapped corpse and clutching organs against their gnashing mouths. Dozens of infected had been drawn to the accident.

Larry slammed on the breaks. “Ain’t getting through this ways.”

Matt stared at the sight through the windshield then turned back to Amy. “Lay your head down, Amy.” He reached out and pulled her against his chest.

He sobered as he realized the terrible state of the world. He could see when the infected noticed the vehicle. They focused on the sound then sniffed the air like dogs smelling a bitch in heat. Finally, they seemed to comprehend the faces through the windshield and turned toward the passing vehicle.

“Uh oh. I think they’ve noticed us.” Jake commented as he passed the baby over the seat back.

Matt accepted the infant and pulled her close as he ordered. “Back up! Get us out of here, Larry.”

Larry slammed the Humvee into reverse and turned the wheel to the right. He performed a K-turn and headed back the way they had come. At the next intersection, he turned right and stepped on the gas. At the first cross street, he looked toward the right and saw a repeat of the same scene of the previous intersection.

“We’re fucked!” Larry pointed to the intersection ahead. He braked then quickly looked left and right. “Which way? Where do we go from here?”

Matt pointed toward a yard and deteriorating picket fence. “That way! Go right through the yard to the next block.” Matt ordered. He pulled Amy and the baby closer. They jostled around the back seat. “Amy, hang on. This is going to be bumpy.”

Amy grabbed at the handhold of the seat in front of her, her face mirroring her terror. She turned toward Matt and commented. “Claire should be in a car seat.”

Matt cuddled the baby close with both arms and answered. “We know sweetie, but for now, we have to get outta here. Now hang on as tight as you can.”

“Fucking hope there ain’t any pools!” Jake shouted as he braced himself between the door and the array of equipment in the console between the seats.

Larry turned toward the fence and gunned the engine. The vehicle jumped the curb and slammed into the fence. Pickets flew to either side in arcing white missiles. The Humvee plowed through the yard and into the adjoining yard. Larry stirred the vehicle between cemented posts, sending splinters of cedar left and right.

The Humvee burst through the last fence but by the time the debris cleared, Larry realized they were racing toward the side of a Cadillac parked near the house. He jerked the wheel to the left and sped between two small trees, before bouncing down the curb and clipping the passenger side tail light with the front bumper. He jerked the wheel to the right and ended up face to face with a horde of the infected.

“Oh, hell, no!” Larry cursed as he slammed on the breaks.

Jake clutched at the handle above his head. “Turn around. One-eighty man!”

“No, shit!” Larry answered as he executed a U-turn in the middle of the street and headed in the opposite direction.

“I know where we are.” Matt leaned over to look around Jake’s head. “Take the next right.”

“We gotta find some weapons. We’re rolling around with all these freaks and we don’t have a gun between us.” Jake commented.

“I got that covered,” Matt answered. He looked down and groaned. A wet spot appeared under the baby and began growing across his pant legs.

“Before we do that, we stop to find some fucking diapers!” Matt groused. The baby in his arms began to cry and he instantly felt like a jerk. “Sorry, sweetie. I know, you’re wet and we’re going to deal with it as quick as we can.” After a soft rumble against his leg, a whiff of dirty diapers filled the confines of the vehicle. Matt laughed. “I deserved that baby girl.”

The residential area gave way to a sparsely occupied commercial zone with blocks of overgrown vacant lots. They drove nearly a mile before they saw occupied buildings in the distance. As they drew closer, the trio realized it was a small strip center with half a dozen stores. Only two storefronts were occupied; one with a Dollar General store and the other a florist.

An infected woman paced back and forth inside the small flower shop. She clutched a wilted rose in one hand while the other hung limp at her side still covered in gore from the shoulder to fingertips. The dead woman just stood at the window staring through the glass. The retail center gave way to several office buildings then the open parking lot of a large discount store.

“Hey, look there!” Jake pointed at the Walmart.

Larry slowed and turned into the parking lot. He headed toward the front door driving slowly through the vacant parking lot. He parked the Humvee about twenty feet from the door and studied a sign on the door. The store was closed the night before for inventory.

“Could be people in there,” Jake commented.

“Yeah, could be,” Matt commented. “Jake, with me. Larry, stay with the girls. If anything happens, get to my storage locker then take the girls to their grandfather’s place.” He scribbled an address on a scrap of paper and passed it to Larry. “If anything goes wrong, head to the storage unit at this address. It has everything you’ll need. These keys will get you in the unit.” He laid a keyring on the center console. I wrote the code to open the gate on the paper.”

He turned back to Amy and passed the baby to her. “Hold your sister while I’m gone.”

He opened the door, got out and reclosed it. He walked around the back of the Humvee, opened the back door and pulled a tire iron from inside the back then reclosed the door.

Jake eased his massive frame from the front seat of the vehicle. He put a hand to his back and stretched. “I guess there ain’t two of those?” When Matt offered him the tire iron, he moved his head from left to right. “I’ll pick up something inside. Let’s do this.”

Amy called out. “Don’t forget a car seat!”

Jake laughed and gave Amy a thumbs-up. “I got it covered, little girl.”

He walked to the front door and pushed on the closed door. When it didn’t budge, he reared back to drive his foot through the glass panel. The glass shattered and fell to the concrete in a waterfall of sparkling shards.

Matt and Jake eased through the opening and disappeared into the dimly lit store. Matt stopped to study the overhead signage. A moment later, he nodded toward the baby aisle. “Get what you think we need for the girls over there. I’ll get water and food. Don’t forget diapers. Pick up something to use as a weapon on the way. There might be infected in here.”

“No worries,” Jake answered as he grabbed a shopping cart and hurried away toward the garden center.

Matt grabbed a cart and headed into the store. Suddenly, he stopped as he neared the end of an aisle. Shuffling feet and a low moan made Matt stop and release the cart handle. He sidestepped toward the shelving of the endcap. He raised the tire iron then slid his foot forward. Peeking around the cases of canned corn he saw the infected making his way toward him. He also noticed a hanging display of the small packages of notepads. He pulled a package from the rack and tossed it to the middle of the aisle.

The infected, dressed in a white shirt and black apron moaned as he leaned toward the packet. Matt slammed the tire iron down on the back of a young man’s skull. Bone crunched and scalp split. The body fell to the floor, black goo spilling from the wound. The monster still clutched the note paper in his hand when he twitched one last time.

“Sorry, buddy.” Matt pulled the kid’s legs out of the way and rolled the cart into the hardware department. He grabbed a number of items from the shelves, all in threes. He found multi-tools, large knives and machetes then headed toward the grocery department.

He stacked cases of water on the bottom of the cart then swept the shelves of pre-packaged ready to eat meals and bags of nutrition bars. As an after-thought, he tossed in boxes of Pop Tarts, cereal in bags, boxes of crackers and powdered milk.

He heard Jake on the baby aisle tossing things into the cart. When he arrived, he found Jake’s cart filled with an array of items: cans of dry formula, three huge bags of diapers, baby wipes, cases of baby food, packages of baby clothes, blankets and in his hand he carried a car seat box.

Matt grabbed a rattle from the shelf and tossed it into Jake’s cart. “Let’s move.”

They both turned and headed toward the front of the store door. Matt walked past paper goods and grabbed three boxes of plastic spoons. As they made their way down the aisle, they passed a display of Tylenol. Matt grabbed two bottles and tossed them into the cart. He kept a third box and tore the top off, dumped the bottle out and then twisted at the cap.

When he looked back up, he cursed again. “Fucking headache!”

Jake nudged Matt with his elbow, but Matt ignored him.

“Child proof.” Matt complained.

“Ain’t got time for that,” Jake answered and pointed toward the back of the store.

Two infected appeared from the auto department and began shambling toward them while Matt struggled with the packaging. Jake looked up and reached for the tire iron, but Matt raised his hand.

“I got this.”

He threw the plastic bottle at Jake then dug through his cart and pulled two machetes from the shopping cart he had filled. He tossed one to Jake and ripped the second from the scabbard. He walked away to meet the pair of infected. He jabbed the blade into the left eye of the first, withdrew it then swung the blade in a wide arc at the second monster. The head separated from the body of a young woman in a white jacket. Her hair fanned out as her head spun away.

Matt finished off two more store employees and wiped the blade on the white coat of the pharmacy technician before he slid the machete back in the scabbard. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Jake rolled his cart to the shattered window, stepped outside then picked up the front wheels and eased it over the window frame. He pulled the cart forward then Matt raised the back wheels over the window frame. When Jake’s cart was clear, Matt moved his cart in position and they repeated the process.

Jake pushed the cart to the back of the truck and began tossing his haul into the back of the Humvee. He tore the car seat box open and tossed the box aside. He pushed the seat into the middle of the back seat of the Humvee. He stepped aside to give Matt access to the open tailgate.

Matt pushed the cases of water toward the back seat, then picked up the cart and upturned the content into the back of the vehicle. He slammed the back door and grinned at Jake.

“Good work, buddy.”

Larry called out. “Better get a move on guy, we got company.”

Matt looked over his shoulder. “Oh, fuck.”

Jake turned just in time to see an infected redneck ready to take a chunk out of his shoulder. He jumped back swinging the shopping cart at the monster. The cart knocked the infected man down and Jake drew his machete. He slammed the blade into the top of the man’s head. The man fell back pulling the blade from Jake’s hand and landed with a crack of his skull against the asphalt. Jake ran to the body, stepped on the redneck’s face and pulled the machete free. He hurried back to the front of the Humvee and climbed in the front seat.

Matt took off half of the second infected man’s head then followed Jake to the passenger side of the vehicle. With the second door slamming, Larry jammed the vehicle into gear and spun out of the parking lot.

Matt Monroe slumped on the tattered barstool in front of a battered bar. He knew the cheap booze was clouding his mind, but that was the point. He drank because he wanted to forget. He’d been drinking on a regular basis since he’d returned from Iraq.

It was a country with a hopeless population. Add all the radical jihadists and as far as Matt was concerned the United States government was pissing down a dry hole in the Sand Box, many of the soldier’s term for Iraq. Nothing was ever going to change. People, poverty, and religious extremists made it impossible to live together. They would be killing each other until the end of time. Now the world had terrorists using religion as justification to kill people they didn’t even know.

He pushed away the thought of shattered lives and dead children. His actions were slow and deliberate when he reached for the next glass. He could barely hold his head steady on the fisted hand at his temple. There were nearly a dozen shot glasses lined up in front of him when he reached for the full shot glass.

This particular bar was a shithole frequented by serious drinkers and Matt considered himself a serious drinker. He didn’t care about the decor. Getting drunk could be accomplished in a high-class bar alongside a bunch of suits and cost a lot, or in a dive like the current one with enough money to do it over and over again. Matt chose the latter, hands down.

Since he was six foot four and weighed close to two hundred pounds, it took a lot of alcohol to get him drunk. He ignored the amber liquid splashing his fingers as he drew the glass closer to his lips.

“Hey, buddy.” A voice behind him interrupted as an arm snaked around his shoulder and grabbed the glass from his hand. “You’ve had enough.”

“Fuck off, Larry!” Matt slurred as he reached for the drink Larry had set on the bar to his left.

Before Matt could reach the glass, Larry gave it a shove down the bar. A grizzled old man, four stools down, reached out and snagged the glass and downed its contents in one fluid movement.

“Hey!” Matt protested. “My fuckin’ drink.”

Without responding, the two men behind Matt each grabbed an arm and pulled him off the backless stool.

“Time to get out of here, man!” Larry declared. “Shit’s fixing to hit the fan.”

Matt’s head spun and images swirled around him, ebbing and flowing until finally engulfing him in an opaque haze. His final coherent thought was that the cheap whiskey was finally doing its job.

Oblivion was preferable to the distant screams from his past he could still hear. Those screams even intruded into his thoughts as he slipped into the void, he could hear them again. He could hear the terror and pain filled screams of women and children.

Larry Benson’s companion, Jake Curtis, pulled at Matt’s arm. “How in the fuck are we going to get him out of here? He’s passed out cold. It would serve him right to get eaten by those freaks,” Jake complained as he supported most of Matt’s dead weight.

“Come on, Jake. I got an idea. Back door. Now!” Larry slid under Matt’s arm.

He had been a frequenter of this particular dump and knew the back parking lot was fenced off. That left only the front of the alley to worry about.

“There’s a fence behind this place. I figure we can cut it, escape through the hole and then zip tie it back together.” He began pulling Matt toward the back door.

When the bartender saw them head toward the store room door, he grabbed a bat from under the bar and followed the trio. “Hey! You dick-heads can’t go back there!”

Jake held up a hand, palm out. “It’s okay man, we’re just leaving.”

The bartender raised his bat and ordered. “Use the front door!” He made a move to stop them when a commotion at the front of the club halted his steps. He turned and hurried toward the front door and a fight breaking out.

The trio hit the back door just as the front door burst open and several blood-splattered people stumbled into the bar. The horribly injured people staggered into the darkened recesses of the bar. They stood swaying in place until they noticed two women closest to the door. Together, the bloodied abominations fell on one of the women. Screams and curses erupted as the bartender jumped into the fray. Pandemonium ensued.

Curtis pushed open the store room door with a grunt. He pulled Matt through as Larry glanced over his shoulder to see the infected spilling into the bar in mass. People with blood splattered clothes were stumbling into the bar intent on following the trio.

Larry pushed Matt through the back door then closed it. He leaned against the egress with his backside and dropped a hand to turn a small lock in the doorknob. Across the room, a red sign announced the exit. Jake started pulling Matt toward the metal door.

“Wait! That lock is not going to hold long.” Larry whispered. “We don’t know what’s outside yet.”

He dropped Matt’s arm then slid a full case of liquor in front of the door. Without a word, Jake eased Matt to the floor and slid stacks boxes toward the door where Larry stacked them into an impressive barricade of liquor cases.

With only empty cases left, they retrieved Matt’s arms and carried him to the metal door below the exit sign. Again, Larry stopped and let Jake bear Matt’s full weight.

Larry eased the door open a few inches and looked toward the back of the alley. When he saw no one, he opened the door a bit wider and stuck his head out.

“Good for now.” He commented over his shoulder.

They stepped into the darkened alley with Matt held between them and began heard moans at the back fence.

“We’re fucked,” Jake whispered as he jerked his head toward the front of the alley. Shadows stumbled into the alley entrance.

Both men looked from the front of the alley to the back.  Escape was blocked by a fence with dozens of the dead staring back at them. When they saw the trio, they began pounding on the fence and moaning even louder. The undead at the front of the alley turned and began shambling toward them. More and more joined the crowd at the alley entrance.

“Fuck! Back inside!” Larry whispered.

“No! We’d be trapped.” Jake answered. “We climb to the roof.”

“What about Matt? He’s been a dumb-ass lately, but we can’t leave him.” Larry argued.

“No! Hell no! We put him in the dumpster. We can’t get him up the ladder and the bar is full of those bastards. If we go back inside, we’re trapped.” Jake pulled Matt toward the dumpster. “We’ll seal it and then head up the fire escape. We’ll draw those fucks out of here, and then find a way to get back for him.”

In the waning light and hidden from the front of the alley by the dumpster Jake held the lid open while he helped ease Matt over the edge of the rim. Larry pushed on his backside while Jake guided him over into a pile of cardboard. With a thud and groan, all went quiet. Jake dropped the lid and secured it with heavy zip ties.

“Time to go!” Jake jumped to the ground and tossed the stack of boxes at the side of the dumpster to the opposite side of the alley. “Fuck! Let’s move!”

Larry tossed two more boxes aside. “I’ll give you a leg up!” He bent over and laced his fingers together in front of him.

Jake tapped on the dumpster. “Man, I’m sorry about this, but we have to get outta here.”

Without saying more, Jake stepped into Larry’s laced fingers and vaulted to the lid of the dumpster. He turned on his heels and reached down to Larry’s outstretched hand. Jake pulled Larry up in a single smooth movement while he slipped from the dead fingers reaching for him.

Larry kicked out and his boot heel jerked from the grasp of a bloodied hand.

“That was close,” Larry commented with a wry chuckle as he walked across the dumpster. “You sure Matt will be okay?”

Jake looked concerned. “No, but I don’t know what else we could have done.” The sounds of the dead made speaking almost impossible with their cacophony of moans. The stench was near overpowering.

Jake followed Larry toward the fire escape. “We have to lead them away from here and make sure he survives his own stupidity tonight.”

The two men scampered up the fire escape. “Hey! Assholes! Lunch is this way.” Larry shouted at the crowd below as they made their way toward the front of the building.

Slowly, the crowd looked up and watched Larry and Jake make their way back across the roof toward the lights of the distant street all the while waving their arms and shouting at them. The infected turned to follow the two toward the street reaching toward the men unable to comprehend their prey was out of reach.

As they walked toward the front of the building, Larry glanced over his shoulder. “You know if we don’t make it back he is really going to be pissed.” He leaned over and yelled at the dead stumbling after them. “Hey! Dinner bell is ringing.” Larry yelled as he vaulted up the wall to the next building.

“At least he’ll be alive to be pissed,” Jake answered. “Besides, I slid a multi-tool in his back pocket. He can get out if we don’t make it back.”

Matt’s thoughts drifted to how dead kids were his fault and nothing could change it. He could still hear their moans of pain. The nightmares never went away. He saw their broken and torn bodies even when he closed his eyes. He was lost in their shrieks of terror and moan of anguish when he heard a baby whimper.

Somewhere in the darkness, a small voice whispered. “Shuuuuush. It’ll be alright. Go back to sleep, baby girl. Mommy and Daddy will find us.”

The voice calmed his troubled mind and blackness followed. Matt turned to his side, pulled his arms close and curled his legs in the cramped confines. He fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Hours later, despite the fact the darkness of night had not yet faded completely, Matt drifted on the edge of wakefulness. An acute hangover pounded inside his skull, he thought he could hear the sound of a baby whimpering and the shushing of a voice trying to quiet the child.

He could smell a thick heavy aroma, not adult stench, but the mix of baby formula and a dirty diaper. It was a baby smell, heavy, warm, laced with talcum powder and it filled his nostrils.

Matt pushed himself up and his thumb broke through a thin film of plastic. He felt something cold and squishy. When he used his hand to extract his thumb, he felt a round bundle of a balled up diaper. No wonder he smelled shit.

He struggled to sit up and looked around in the dark but saw nothing in the blackness. He reached out his arms and realized he was in a metal box. His elbow rammed into the side and the sound echoed inside his skull. As the fog cleared, he remembered his buddies, Jake Curtis and Larry Benson dragging him off the bar stool. It had to have been them. His head throbbed and ached as if he had a metal drum over his head and someone was beating on the sides. Slowly he realized his buddies had thrown him in a dumpster.

“Fucking jerks!” Matt cursed as he reached up to open the lid.

“Sh sh sh.” A voice whispered. “Please. We have to be quiet.” The small voice begged.

“Who’s there?” Matt growled. The only answer was a timid whimper. “Damn it! Answer me!” He barked.

“Just me and my sister.” The voice answered. “Please be quiet. The bad people will hear you.”

“Where are we?” Matt asked a little less gruffly.

“In a dumpster. You fell in last night.” Amy answered. “We’re hiding from the sick people.”

“They threw me in a dumpster?” Matt asked.

He reached above his head to test his theory when he heard the snap of wire-cutters cutting zip ties. Before he could respond, the lid of the dumpster swung open and sunlight invaded the dark recesses.

Matt blinked at the glaring light and saw a small brown-haired girl sitting in the dumpster with him less than six feet away. She couldn’t be older than ten and held a squirming tow-head, that he assumed was a sibling. She stared at him, more than a little frightened.

Matt looked down and saw three neatly bundled diapers inches from where he sat.

A deep voice called over the edge. “Okay, buddy. We gotta go. The world has gone to shit and if we don’t hurry up we’re getting flushed.”

Jake’s black face peeked over the edge with a big grin. “Fuck! He’s got company.”

Amy had had just enough time to see a black man wearing military clothes peak over the edge of the dumpster. Tears welled up in her eyes as she imagined being alone in the dumpster again.

“Ah, Jake. Don’t tell me they got him?” A second voice that Matt recognized as Larry answered. “Oh, fuck.”

“No!” Jake answered. “A couple kids. Just sitting there with him.”

Matt struggled to make sense of being in a dumpster with shit on his hand. He tossed the offending diaper across the ally as he looked from the two men to the little girl holding a fidgeting baby in pink.

“What the fuck is going on?” Matt demanded as he glared at his friends.

“We ain’t got time to explain,” Jake said. “Come on sweetie. We need to get out of here.” He turned to Matt. “Get your ass outta there or you’ll end up like those dead fucks we came across during the last mission.”

That got Matt moving. He stumbled to his feet and reached out to the girl. “Come on, kid. When Jake says we gotta go, it’s time to go.”

“But my mommy?” Amy protested as she slowly got to her feet still clutching Claire to her chest.

“We’ll try to find her, but right now we have to go. Give me the bag.” Matt wiped the brown goo from his hand to his pants leg and passed the bag to Larry. He motioned for the girl to stand up. When she got to her feet, he grabbed her under the arms still clutching her sister and lifted her over the edge of the dumpster.

Jake caught the child and set her on her feet, careful not to disturb the squirming bundle in her arms. “Go with him, sweetie.” He whispered as he pointed toward Larry as he hurried toward them. Jake turned back to help Matt stumble over the edge to the ground.

Matt stood staring at the alley entrance, his face mirrored his horror. “Thought it was a dream….”

“In the Humvee now!” Jake called out as several shambling forms had taken notice of the activity and turned into the entrance of the alleyway. The infected shambled steadily closer as they headed for the Humvee in front of the dumpster.

Larry grabbed the bag and the child’s hand to hurry her to the vehicle, but she dug in her heels and balked.

“My mom will be coming for us. We can’t leave. She won’t know where to find us.”

Larry grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the vehicle. “Kid, you don’t have a choice.”

He opened the door, set her inside and pulled a seat belt over her lap, careful to avoid the baby in her arms. He dropped the bag at her feet. “Don’t move kid.”

Amy gave a quick nod then looked around searching for a glimpse of her mother. She didn’t want to leave. “My mommy is coming. She’ll be worried.”

She knew the soldiers would protect her and Claire but how would her mother find them? How would they find her daddy? Tears filled her eyes and quietly slid down her cheeks as she resigned herself to staying with the soldiers.

Larry jumped behind the wheel of the Humvee and the machine roared to life. Matt stumbled into the back seat next to Amy scarcely able to control the bile at the back of his throat. Jake slammed the door then jerked the passenger door opened.

Jake slid into the front seat and pulled at the door, but an infected had wrapped its fingers over the top of the door and was pulling at the door. The blood-covered soldier’s vice-like grip forced the door back open. The barrier became the prize in a tug of war with Jake wrestled against the infected soldier’s steely grip.

“Drive, damn it!” Jake yelled.

Larry jammed the vehicle in gear and stomped the gas despite the open door. A blossom of black appeared on the infected soldier’s forehead. The soldier’s grip relaxed, his body pressed against the door leaving his fingers still hooked over the door. A black hole appeared in the infected soldier’s head. He was shot.

“What the fuck?” Jake looked at Larry and saw he had both hands wrapped around the steering wheel, no gun in hand. He glanced over his shoulder at Matt who was barely sitting upright. “Who fired?”

“Fuck if I know!” Larry answered. “Close the fucking door!”

Jake pulled the door shut severing of two fingers of the soldier still clinging to the door. The infected fell down the side of the vehicle just as another shot echoed in the distance.

Larry slammed his foot into the accelerator and raced over a fallen infected toward the entrance of the alley. They rolled over three more newly felled bodies as they spilled into the morning glare.

“We had help but beats me who in the hell they are.” Matt looked out the window just in time to see a rifle barrel disappear from a nearby roof top.