Posts Tagged ‘Randy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo laughed. “Sí. Y cabras, goats.”

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

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

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

Hugo shrugged. “Sí.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jefe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is she dead?”  Trace asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Baby?”

“Yeah. She’s pregnant.” Harry nodded.

“What about her husband?” Randy asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both men turned toward her looking a little guilty.

“Now, Lizzy. We’re just….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They rode in silence for nearly thirty minutes before Randy pulled his foot from the accelerator and elbowed a dozing Miguel.

“Sí.” Miguel said then cleared his throat when he realized he’d nodded off. “What is it Señor Randy?”

“Ahead.” He answered.

They both looked toward half a dozen cars scattered across the road. Doors had been left open. The vehicles had been abandoned, no people living or infect seemed to be around. As they rolled closer, Randy pulled his handgun from the holster at his waist and slid it at the side of his right leg, next to the center console.

Miguel rolled down the window and laid his rifle on the window ledge. Randy glanced in his side mirror and noticed another rifle extend out the window of Pablo and Hugo’s truck. Randy drew closer to the vehicles.

“See anything?” Randy asked.

“No. I no see anyone.” Miguel answered.

Randy slowed as they rolled past the first car, an SUV. The white vehicle showed signs of abuse. They saw splotches of dark brown on the shattered head lights and along the front side panels and hood. The doors were thrown open. Inside, bags were torn open and the contents scattered. The back door gaped open with clothes hanging out.

Randy whispered. “There’re keys in the ignition.”

“Out of gas, maybe?” Miguel answered.

The trucks eased past the SUV and they drew near the next stalled car. It was an older sedan with a shattered grill and front end damaged. The doors were closed and again, no sign of the driver or occupants.

“What do you think?” Miguel asked.

Randy made a quick shrug. “No idea.”

He eased the truck around three more vehicles then a massive pileup came into view. At least a dozen vehicles blocked the road. The two vehicle at the front had crashed head on with several other vehicles slamming into the first car. The crashes were so violent none of those involved remained intact; all were reduced to massive piles of twisted and destroyed metal. Many had burned.

The road was completely blocked. The debris stretched from fence row to fence row. Among the crumpled metal was moving and thrashing bodies. The road was impassable. One side of the road was a wooded briar tangled wall. The opposite side had once been a pasture but now was tangled with massive stands of mesquite and clusters of cactus.

“What we do now?” Miguel asked.

“Get wire cutters out of the tool box behind the seat.” Randy answered. “Let’s get Pablo to come up and drive this truck. We’ll open the fence over there.” He pointed to an expanse between two fence posts with a shallowing of the ditch.

Miguel leaned out the window and waved at Pablo. “Vienen aquí Pablo!”

Pablo jumped from the truck and jogged toward the pickup.

Randy stepped out of the truck. “Tu disco.”

“Sí, I drive.” Pablo answered as he slid behind the wheel.

After putting on a pair of leather gloves, Randy pulled two machetes from behind the seat. He passed one to Miguel then turned to Pablo.

“Follow, but not too close. Let us pick a way through the mesquite. Don’t run over any of that shit. I don’t want to be changing a tire out there. We don’t have a clue where all those people went.”

“Sí, Señor Randy.”

Miguel and Randy walked to the barbed-wire fence.  Miguel cut the top strand next to a cedar post. Randy grabbed the end and pulled it back to the nearest post and tied it off. They repeated the procedure two more times. Randy waved for the trucks to follow.

Randy and Miguel walked to the south and led the trucks around a massive stand of mesquite. The trucks rumbled after the men barely out of idle. Past the mesquite stand was open grass for nearly a quarter mile then they faced with a massive rock formation.

Randy called out to Miguel. “Check to the north, I’ll go south.” He held up his had to stop the truck. “Wait.”

The truck stopped and Pablo threw a wave from the window and called out. “Be careful amigo.”

Randy called out.“Miguel, don’t take any chances. We don’t know what happened to the people from the accident and stalled cars.” Randy called out.

“Sí.” Miguel answered as he disappeared around the outcropping.

Randy walked a hundred feet before he noticed the first few drops of dark brown in the sand. He walked another thirty feet before he squatted and picked up a pencil of mesquite and poked at a dark puddle. The pool broke into pieces leaving chunks of white chips and a few unidentifiable chunks.

He stood and began following a trail of brown droplets. A stand of mesquite had long ago sprouted at the base of the rocks. Randy walked toward the edge of the mesquite. He walked to the edge and headed around and suddenly stopped in his tracks.

Ahead, Randy saw the remains of several bodies lying in the sand and rocks where Behind them was a solid wall of stone. The bodies were covered in wounds. Flesh was torn from the bodies, limbs separated from torsos, leaving the remains barely be identified as human. The stench rolled over him in a blanketing cloud of disgusting smells.

Randy gulped and the remnants of breakfast spewed from his lips. He leaned over propping himself up with his hands on his knees. He stood for several minute, struggling to control the dry heaves tearing at his stomach. When he finally got himself under control he pulled his elbow over his lower face and stared at the remains.

The survivors of the car crash had escaped through the fence and out into the brush and mesquite. They were being chased by infected. They ran and were slaughtered when they reached the wall. Even in the sorry state of the bodies as Randy stood there, heads turned his way, mouths opened, and teeth gnashed.

Randy looked around, suddenly frightened. Sand, desert, the infected. Where were they? He turned and began retracing his path. He could feel eyes bearing down on him and quickened his step. A few minutes later he was jogging then, running. He felt as if he could feel hot breath on his neck. He met the trucks and jumped into the passenger seat of his truck.

“Drive….” He called out as the first of the infected appeared in the distance. “Follow Miguel.”

The truck tires spun into action at Randy’s harried command. “Go!” He ordered. “They’re coming!”

Both trucks roared past the rock formation. They accelerated until they saw a man jogging toward them in the distance. The familiar shape of Miguel walking toward them made Pablo slow the truck.

Randy opened the door and Miguel slid in next to Pablo.

“It’s open ahead. Straight shot back to the highway.” Miguel announced.

Randy and Miguel dropped two men to work on the cattle guard cover. The trucks rolled over the cattle guard and out across the meadow.

“We’re going to have to clear more pine from this side of the arroyo. Attackers could use the trees and brush to hide.  We won’t know it before they’re at our doorstep.” Randy commented.

“Sí” Miguel tipped his straw hat back from his forehead. “Do you really think it will come to that, Señor Randy?”

“The world is going to shit, if you haven’t noticed. It’s not bad enough with the infected. When resources get scarce, if we’re not ready for it, we’ll be sitting ducks for any asshole deciding to take what we have.” He steered the pickup across a dry low water crossing then continued. “At some point we’ll have to start trading with other groups. No matter how careful we are people will figure out where we are and some of them will be willing to kill to get what we have.”

“Corregir. If the drug cartels survive and hear of a safe place to the north, there will be mucho trouble. We don’t have enough hombes to hold off attack like that.”

“I know, believe me, I know.” Randy whispered. “We need time to be ready.”

Trees quickly closed in as they left the canyon behind. The road was little more than a dirt trail wandering through the forest. They crossed McKittrick Creek, twice with low water crossings. The creek was the only major surface water in the area. After a twenty miles trek through the high country, the woods and rolling hills gave way to the rock strewn flat arid grassland of pinyon pines and juniper.

Few people knew about Pine Springs Canyon. It wasn’t nearly as big as McKittrick Canyon and had not been considered a camping attraction since the early 1900s because of its proximity to the highest and driest peaks located across the state line from New Mexico.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was located on the Texas side of the Guadalupe Mountains and Pine Springs Canyon was protected by the high peaks. They only had to worry about a frontal attack from the east or southeast.

Pine Springs Canyon had some of Texas most varied weather, hot in the summer, calm and mild autumn weather, and cool to cold weather in the winter and early spring. Higher up in the Guadalupe Mountains there would be snow storms, freezing rain, or fog in the winter and sometimes found its way to the canyon. Early spring included high winds during winter through spring while late summer monsoons produced thunderstorms with cool nights even in summer.

“We’re going west. How far will we go?” Miguel asked after nearly an hour of driving.

“Not as far as Juarez, at least not this time. There’s a couple dozen ranches out this way and some small towns. We’ll check ‘em out. If they’re deserted, we take what we can use.”

“If people still there?”

“Try to get a feel for the kind of people they are. Maybe even establish some way of contacting them.  We’ve got the short wave radio.”

“Señorita Cassie wants the medicamentos.”

“I know. She was animate about getting the meds. We can go into Dell City. There’s a pharmacy and a few small stores. The town is small but maybe we can find some of the things we need. There’s a veterinary office that might have some of what she wants. Until we know a little more about what’s going on, I don’t want to go into Juarez. It’ll be too dangerous.”

The road widened and the first ranch came into view. Randy slowed the pickup and the truck behind him slowed enough to drop back at least fifty yards.

“What do you think?” Randy asked as he studied the buildings in the distance.

“The gate is closed. I think the people is still there. Look at the windmill in back. Someone has hung clothes on the line.”

“I think you’re right.” Randy answered. “Well leave a note on the gate and move on.”

They approached another ranch with a herd of goats wandering a front pasture. A cattle guard kept the animals from the roadway. An old man gave a careless wave from the corner of the fence. A rifle rested in the crook of his arm. Miguel pointed out two more men hidden a dozen feet away.

Randy stopped the truck. He opened the door and stepped out on the running board. He leaned over the cab of the truck.

“Hi there.” Randy called over the hood of the truck. “Name’s Randy Matherson, Mr. Goodman.”

“I ‘member you, young fella.” The old man called out.

“How’re you doing, Mr. Goodman?”

“Good ‘nough.” The man answered. “You folks going far?”

Randy shrugged. “Maybe as far as Juarez, I don’t know. We’re just scouting around to see how folks are faring. Maybe pick up supplies if we can.”

“Best stay outta that cesspool, young fella.” The old man stepped a booted foot to the bottom rail of the fencing. His companions approached from their hiding places.

“Did the infection spread that far already?” Randy’s faced mirrored his shocked.

“Is that what you’re calling it?” One of the younger men asked. “An infection? That shit’s bad. Made people bat-shit crazy. Fucker’s from the city are eating people.”

“Ain’t like no infection I ever seen before.” The second man added.

“My boys barely made it out Juarez with their families.” Mr. Goodman added. “We’re building a gate for the cattle guard, here. From what I hear, those fucks attacked a ranch on the other side of Dell. Folks killed ‘em, but it was ugly. They had to take down men, women, children, young and old alike.”

“We ain’t got much here, but we plan on protecting all sixteen acres.” The older of the two young men announced. Got no choice. This is all we got.”

“It’s going to be hard to protect you’re livestock when the infected come down this road.” Randy paused for a moment then continued. “Mr. Goodman, if I offered an alternative, would you consider leaving the ranch?”

“Don’t know why you’d do that.” Mr. Goodman responded and spit a glob of tobacco to the ground.

Randy grinned. “For one thing, we’re looking for livestock. You’ve got livestock. We need good people. I know you’re a good man, figure you’re sons learned to be the same.”

Mr. Goodman laughed. “Well, can’t fault your logic. I know you and that Army General been fixin’ up that big place in Pine Springs Canyon. You got room for a dozen people?”

Randy laughed. “We got plenty of room for you folks and your livestock. There’s plenty of work and we have kids so we’re planning on having a school.”

Mr. Goodman looked at each of the young men standing at his sides. Finally, he turned back to Randy. “You boys do your lookin’ around then head back this way and we’ll have an answer for you. We gotta talk about it with the family. If we take you up on this offer, we got trucks and a trailer for the livestock.”

“Well, I hope you decide to join us.” Randy answered. “It might be a day or two.”

“No problem.” One of the young men answered.

“If you decide to go and we don’t make it back in two day take off and head up there without us.  Stop at the cattle guard and blow your horn.”

The old man waved as Randy settled back on the driver’s seat of the truck and cranked the pickup engine. He slipped the truck in gear and steered the truck back onto the blacktop.

“You think they’ll come, Señor Randy?” Miguel asked.

Randy shrugged. “Who knows? The place is almost sitting on the road. No cover, no natural protection. They’re an easy target for the infected and criminals that comes along. Not good the way I see it.”

“Sí.” Miguel answered.

Cassie looked up.  “That makes sense. When people got sick they went to the hospitals and clinics. Those places got overrun pretty quickly. That’s actually a pretty good idea. They use the same equipment more or less.”

“Maybe GPS’s will still work a while longer. I think data comes from satellites.  When the orbits begin to decay though, they’ll become less reliable.”

“We need maps of the area, Texas, New Mexico, maybe even Oklahoma.”  Cassie announced.

“We’ll need other ways to communicate with our people and the outside world.” Daniel commented.

“What about radios and CB and shortwave radio?” Cassie answered.

“I’ll start looking around for options.”

Adding to Daniel’s computer skills was his curiosity about the alternate forms of communications and shortwave radio. He downloaded directions for using CB and shortwave radios and all the list of jargon and codes. He turned to Cassie.

“When the Internet fails, and it will, we’ll need a way to communicate with the outside world.”

Cassie shrugged.  “You think there will be anyone left to talk to?

“Of course.  There will be people like us all over the country.  This will pass…if you believe in God, you know this will pass. The world will rebuild.” Wilma answered from the door. “All things in His time.  Now, come to dinner.”  She led them to the dinning room.

Two days after the attacks, Israel and the US announced Iran was behind the attack and bombed the country into oblivion. It didn’t save anyone but it showed the world what would happen if harm was done if the US was ever truly pissed off.  Israel fell to the dead despite closing their borders. The virus had mutated and became airborne after forty-eight hours, so ultimately, everyone was infected.

A week later social media was blasted with accounts of the infection crossing quarantine lines and into Mexico. It proved Will was right when he told them early on that quarantining the infection would be impossible. Social media became the front row seat to the end of the world as they knew it.

By the end of the second week, all forty-nine states and Canada had cases and the infection was spreading fast. South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East were overrun with reported cases.

At the lodge, Will and Randy agreed they would need a way to communicate with the outside world and other survivors when the Internet was no longer viable. Until then, Daniel would work on the shortwave radio when the computer was tied up downloading files or he had spare time.

While Cassie and Daniel watched the world dissolve into chaos, Will setup one of the men enlarging the garden using a small tractor while three others worked at enlarging a corral for the livestock they anticipated finding.

The women discussed options and in the end, decided what to plant and how much to plant. While Elaina and Wilma concentrated on meals, Maria supervised the work in the garden and breathing new life into the vegetables already growing. They would be planting the Heirloom seeds Will had carefully accumulated.  He had planted only Heirloom seeds since any hybrids and GMO modified seeds would be useless for replanting from harvested seeds.

Maria turned out to be an avid gardener and made suggestions how to utilize the garden space as much as possible and avoid unwanted cross pollination. They planted, corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, greens, lettuce and half a dozen other plants to can and preserve.

All of the adults worried no matter how much they planted, they would not have enough food for so many people.  In addition to saving food, they would also need to save seeds for the next year’s planting. Despite all the fruit trees Will had planted when he bought the property, food would be a problem without livestock.

Will, Randy, Miguel, and Pablo decided they needed to scout the area and collect any domesticated animals they found. Miguel and his family shared information about towns, farms and ranches along the way north. Will pulled out a state map and began making note. He was hoping to eventually make contact and establish trade with the other folks, but for now searching for supplies was priority.

“There’s a good chance we can gather a few horses and tack needed to ride them. Add cattle and well, it would improve our chances of survival.” Randy commented. “Sure wish we would have had another year.”

Will turned to him over morning coffee. “I’ve been thinking if we find livestock, we can’t drive them across cattle guard as it is. I’m gonna put a couple men to cutting some expanded metal on a welded hinge to lay over the cattle guard when we need to cross with animals. We can leave the guard down during the day for coming and going, as long as we have a guard on duty. We need to build a guard hut, too. It’s gonna get pretty hot come summer and shade’ll make it a little more bearable.”

“Wilma and Cassie gave me a list of supplies to scavenge.” Randy complained. “I don’t know how we can get everything they think we need even taking two trucks.”

“You probably won’t find most of it. We’ll have to make do.” Will answered. “People and livestock are critical. Medical supplies if you can find them. Everything else we’ll look for after that.” Both Wilma and Cassie opened their mouths to protest, but fell silent when Will raised his hand and continued. “We get what we can, but there will be a point when it gets too dangerous to be out there. If we find strangers we get to know them a little bit before we make an offer of a place to stay. Our families will be coming, but we still have picked up enough folks to build a community to survive.”

Randy stood. “I’m taking Miguel, Pablo and his son, Hugo out, today. We’re taking my truck and Pablo’s because both have trailer hitches so if we find a trailer, we can fill ‘em up.”

“When are you leaving?” Cassie asked.

“Now.” Randy answered then got up from the table and gathered his plate and cutlery to stack in a plastic pan on a cart at the side of the dining room. Three Hispanic men followed suite.

“Be safe.” Wilma called out.

“Vaya con Dios mi amor.” Elaina whispered.

Miguel slammed a hat on his head. “No te preocupes, mujer.”

Randy threw a careless wave at the room and stepped out into the morning sunshine. Ten minutes later motors roared to life and two vehicles headed for the cattle guard half a mile away.

Wilma , Cassie and Elaina stood and gathered her own dishes. Will and the remaining men deposited their plates and left the dining room. The four women spoke briefly with Elaina then followed the men out of the room.

“How is your mother?” Cassie asked Elaina. “I noticed she didn’t come for breakfast.”

Elaina shrugged. “Not good. She has pain, from the cancer.”

Cassie’s jaw clinched. “Do you want me to come and check on her?”

“Sí.” Elaina whispered. “It would be a kindness if you could help.”

Wilma instantly liked Elaina. The woman brought her mother into the lodge the first morning after their arrival, ready to work. The three women sat at a small table at the side of the massive kitchen with cups of coffee.

Elaina smiled approvingly at the kitchen. “I am surprised. I did not expect the kitchen to be in this condition. Those two hombres are not the cleanest. Señor Will is a big lío. Mess.” She clarified.

“You’re telling me.” Wilma laughed. “You can’t even imagine how bad it was a week ago.”

Cassie walked into the room and retrieved a cup of coffee. “Hi ladies.” She yawned. “Coffee sure smells good.”

“Didn’t you sleep last night?” Wilma asked.

“I was checking out the library and trying to get a handle on what’s available in print. There’s a pretty good selection of books including lots of history, how-to books, and geography books. Will has an eclectic taste in fiction. It has a little bit of everything. Then I spent hours downloading textbooks while I could still access the internet. I feel we have limited time to get all the information we can.  The virus is appearing all over the country. Cases have already appeared in Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis and even Vegas. Europe is in chaos.” Cassie announced.

Wilma nodded.  “I was afraid of that.”

“I’ve been watching the news feeds.  Anyone that dies will turn now.  The virus has mutated according to the CDC.”  Cassie sat down. “Whatever they let loose, they have destroyed the world.”  She clutched at the cup frowning.

“No niña.”  Maria reached out to take Cassie’s hand. “God will protect us. Others will come and we will live on.”

Elaina agreed.  “Life goes on.  We work, teach our children and protect ourselves.”

“I guess we still do have kids to educate. With a little luck we’ll have a lot more.” Cassie agreed.

“Oh my. I guess none of us have been thinking that far ahead.” Wilma said.

“Do you know if any of your family can use a computer, Elaina?” Cassie asked.

“Sí, Daniel.” Elaina laughed. “He is always on the computer at home.”

“Will has a computer center behind the office and I set my stuff up in there. We need to download as much information as we can get our hands on.”

“I’ll talk to Daniel about letting him help you if Mr. Will says it okay.”

Cassie laughed. “I’ll mention it to Will. We need this.”

“Education is very importante.” Elaina’s mother answered softly.

“I wish I had a lot more education.” Cassie added. “We’re going to need a doctor and I have only six months practical experience as a nurse practitioner. It doesn’t make me much of a doctor.”

“We’re lucky to have you.” Wilma answered. “If you had been at the hospital.…” Her voice trailed off and eyes filled with tears.

“I would have been if not for the immunization clinic at the community center.” Cassie sighed. “I lucked out when the van broke down and I had to catch a bus home.” Her voice trailed off.

“I’m grateful.” Wilma answered softly.

Elaina echoed. “We are all lucky to be here.”

It only took a couple days for the fifteen adults and five children to settle in the cabins and establish a semblance of routine. The three older women decided three meals a day would be cooked and served in the main lodge to control supplies and avoid duplicating efforts.

Will’s communication office was appropriated by Cassie and Daniel. While Daniel accessed the Internet, Cassie inventoried the meager medical supplies in the closet-sized first aid station next to a small conference room. She began to make a list of supplies she thought critical then spent hours adding to it.

The third morning after Pablo and his family arrived, Will, Wilma, Randy, Cassie, Miguel and Elaina sat together making plans. They spent a couple hours listing content to be accessed on the Internet while they still could. No one wanted to admit it, but they all knew at some point the resource would disappear. Links had begun failing already.

Daniel turned out to be methodical and a patient researcher. He set up spreadsheets, a filing systems and priority list. He and Cassie worked almost none-stop. They spent hours downloading files on natural medicines, gardening, animal husbandry and dozens of other subjects they thought might be of value. Will had stockpiled printer and paper supplies that allowed them to print content when they felt it was necessary while other times they saved to a hard drive with a nightly backup.

As Cass added another item to her list of medical supplies, Daniel remarked. “You know we could get a lot of those supplies at a veterinary office or animal hospital with a lot less danger from the infected.”

When Randy had filled both truck gas tanks and the three had eaten a quick meal of fast food, Randy shuffled everyone back into the truck and headed out again.

They got to the Lodge late the next afternoon. It was a long grueling drive and they had fallen into bed at Randy’s cabin as soon as they got inside. They woke the next morning to see their boxes and bags sitting by the front door.

That was three days ago. They spent the first day at the cabin watching the news channels and worrying and watching it all fall apart and news channels disappear one after another. After only a few hours, too worried to just sit amid the squalor of Randy’s cabin, Wilma started cleaning. It took Wilma and Cassie two days just to get the cabin up to Wilma’s standards.

Now they were being asked to move into the lodge. She looked at the bags at her feet. Randy had dropped her at the front door and told her to find a room for her and Cassie and move in. He promised to bring the rest of their belongings that evening.

She hadn’t really gotten a chance to get acquainted with the General. Both men spent sun up to sun down working and the three times she had been in the man’s presence, he’d been gruff and bad-tempered. She wasn’t looking forward to living with a man with such a sour disposition.

She stood admiring the main hall. The massive log building was the inspiration for the rental cabins. A stone fireplace divided the public room into two areas. One side included seating areas with comfortable couches and chairs and the other, three large rustic tables with benches on both sides. On the far side of the dining room were two doors she imagined led to the kitchen.

At the far side of the room was an open wooden staircase leading up to the second level where an open balcony displayed a number of doors. All the wood looked hand-hewn including the steps of half-log and gnarled wood railings and banisters.

“Home sweet home, I guess.” She whispered.

She picked up her and Cassie’s bags and climbed the stairs to the second floor. She glanced from left to right and decided if General Will Edmonds used the bedroom on the right, she was going to the opposite end of the hall. She walked to the end of the hall and opened the door.

Inside were two double beds with a stripped wood bedframe, a couple easy chairs, a desk with an office chair, and a six drawer dresser with television and DVR player. On the outside of the door was a wood placard on a string with vacant painted on one side. When she turned it over she realized the room would be labeled occupied. She turned it over.

Wilma set a bag on the foot of each bed and turned to leave. She looked around one last time and imagined the property as a resort. With each room having an iron stove for warmth in cold weather, the resort would have been extremely popular with the hunters and outdoorsmen it was intended to accommodate.

Wilma shrugged. Those days were over. She wasn’t naïve, Texas, California, Georgia, and Maryland were lost and the rest of the country would follow. There was no chance of the borders being sealed tight enough to limit the spread of the infections. The country would fall and with the first reports of the infection appearing in Europe, Asia and the Middle East the world would follow.

Her eyes welled with tears at the thought of her eldest daughter out in a world where the dead rose up to consume the living. Wilma had been a child of the cold war, lived through the pain of 9/11. She had spent the last fifteen years watching young men fight a losing battle in a place with burning sand and extremists ready to kill anyone not willing to follow their version of religion. She sighed deeply. The world was a nightmare and all they could do was try to survive and pray family did as well.

Wilma squared her shoulders and walked out of the room and made her way to the downstairs kitchen. She walked through the door and was horrified at the mess. She was disgusted. Obviously, the General had been cooking and NOT cleaning for the past week. She walked to the refrigerators and looked inside. There were three units, two were empty and not turned on. The third had been filled with a variety of food stuff and not with any great care. She closed the door and turned to face the sink. It was filled with pots and pans, dirty dishes and a multitude of food crusted utensils. The stench of blood, raw meat, and rotting food was overpowering.

After a quick perusal of cleaning supplies, Wilma began the daunting task of scrubbing the room that had been used to process the deer she was supposed to cook. Wilma started with dishes. After soaking the crusted food loose, she slid glasses, into fresh soapy water and washed dozens of glass, pot, pans and stacks of dishes. She refilled the sink with more clean soapy water and cleaned the counters, the stove and refrigerator then found a bucket and mop, to scrub the floors.

Still working on scrubbing Wilma glanced at the large clock above the industrial sink. She struggled to her feet and pulled a pre-made lasagna and garlic bread from one of the overstocked freezers to prepare for lunch. Hard work required calories but she had too much cleaning to do to prepare the deer meat. If the General had a problem, he could cook his own meals.

At twelve-thirty, Will, Cassie and Randy arrived for the mid-day meal. Cassie was first to walk into the spotless kitchen.

“Something smells good.” Cassie commented.

When the foursome sat down to eat, Will scowled at the pan of lasagna. “Thought we still had deer meat left.”

Wilma glared at him. “You wanted me to cook in a kitchen that hasn’t been cleaned in God knows how long? There wasn’t a pan or pot without food burnt in the bottom. If you want me to prepare meals for you, fine. But I’ll be doing it my way. And that means no more processing meat in this kitchen. You left this kitchen looking and smelling like a slaughter house. You left blood and scraps of meat splattered all over. You both have been living like pigs.”

“Ain’t my fault. Elaina and her husband, Juan, left to visit family in Mexico the week before all this shit happened. Until you and Cassie got here it was just me and Randy.” Will scowled. “We had more important things to worry about than doing dishes.”

“I appreciate your thinking about us in Houston, but you can’t treat us or anyone else as if we are hired help. I’ll contribute to the well-being of this group, but you will not be shooting out orders when it comes to meals as long as I’m cooking.”

“Okay, already. You made your point.” Will answered sounding a little more contrite than he really wanted. He reached for a piece of bread to go with his serving of pasta.

Wilma added. “I need Cassie to help me inventory all the food stock this afternoon. We need to start rationing fuel so we can continue to run the generator to maintain the freezers.”

“We won’t be using the generators much longer. I’m going to finish hooking up the solar panels tomorrow.”

“Fine then I won’t worry about the fuel issue but there is more to be thinking about. Is there a garden? Frozen food will run out, eventually. We need to think about sustainability.”

Will answered. “There’s a chef’s garden out back.”

Wilma threw up her hands. “We need to plant as much garden as we have useable space. You keep telling me there is going to be a lot more people coming. If that’s the case, we have to create a self-sustaining environment.”

Will scowled. “We don’t have the man-power.”

Will Edmonds sipped from a cup of steaming coffee as he looked over the pine and oak forested valley stretching out before him.  “How’s your family settling in, Randy?”

Randy shrugged.  “Cassie hasn’t moved the boxes of books from the door. Aunt Wilma is worried sick about my cousin.  The last time she talked to Tate she was in San Antonio waiting for a load.”

“She’s in the middle of the shit storm, right along with my daughter and her family.” He sighed then continued.  “All we can do is pray they got out in time and are now headed this way.”

“Tate’s tough.”  Randy chuckled.  “She used to kick my ass, when I was a kid.  Last time I saw her, I told her if the shit-hits-the-fan, head this way. I tried to tell her what happen on that last mission, but I just couldn’t talk about it back then.  I was pretty messed up and those quacks at the VA didn’t help by telling me I was crazy and throwing pills at me.”

Will laid his hand on Randy’s shoulder.  “I know.  No one would believe anyone would want to reanimate the dead a few days ago, much less three years ago.”

“Well, they fucking believe me now.”  Randy railed. “I told ‘em.  My team ended up like those walking dead fuckers. I had to put five men down.” His breath caught and his hands began to shake.

“Let it go Randy. Being angry now won’t make a difference and we got family to protect.  My daughter and her family and your cousin will get here and we have to be ready.  With a little luck more of our friends will arrive soon. We need to be ready.”

“Yeah.  You’re right.  Gotta let it go.”  Randy closed his eyes then took a deep cleansing breath. When he opened his eyes, his hands had grown steady again and face relaxed.

“Will your cousin know to come here?” Will asked.

Randy shrugged. “I think so, but really I don’t know.  She would want to find her mother and sister. I think she would come if she knew about Houston. What about your daughter. It would be a hard trek for a woman and two kids.”

“I know, but I’m hoping Brian is with them or maybe even other soldiers from the base to help protect them coming west.” Will sighed.  “Let’s get the day started.  You want some coffee.”

“I’m good, thanks. Aunt Wilma made me breakfast, this morning. Said a man ain’t worth much without a good breakfast.” Randy laughed.  “Cassie offered to help me work on the drawbridge. Sure could use Juan’s help. When do you expect him and Elaina to roll in?”

Will shrugged.  “Who knows? I’m going to use the small front end loader to extend the last hundred yards of the gully back to the south wall of the canyon.  With that done, the cattle guard will be the only access across the gap. I figure we can start unrolling the barbed wire on this side of the ravine then.”

“With the cattle guard rigged as a drawbridge it’ll limit access to this side of the canyon.  I need to get back to it this morning.  I’m going to take the welder down to the crossing and finish assembling the counter-weight system.”  Randy laughed.  “A ten year old will be able to raise and lower the gate when I get done.”

“I’m lucky to have you here Randy.  We’ll have to worry about looters when supplies run low for the folks leaving the cities.” Will stated.

“Hopefully, won’t be many people come up this way.  Not many people even know about this place.  It was abandoned for years before you came out here.”

Will shrugged.  “True, but when people start looking for a safe place to hide out, a few hunter types is bound to remember an isolated hunting lodge like this.  We can support a small community but I would like to have a say in who that includes.  With all the Juniper and Ponderosa Pine on the high ridges we could eventually build even more than the twelve cabins to house families.”

“Creating those watering holes up in the hills a few years back sure has increased the wild life around here.  I even saw a few wild horses the other day.” Randy commented.

“Yeah.  Maybe we’ll run across some stray cattle if we get a chance to search some of the open range. For now, our focus is security and that means digging the trench and getting the bridge operational.”

Randy shrugged.  “Well, I’m going to get another cup of coffee then Cassie and I’ll head out.  I did ask Aunt Wilma if she’d go to the lodge and fix our dinner and she said she would.  We still have some venison from the deer we killed yesterday.”

“I’ve been thinking.  I know the cabin you’re living in is big enough, but I’d like to have you move up to the lodge.  It doesn’t have to be today, but in the next couple days.  It’ll be safer for everyone.”

“You’ll want your family to live there when they get here.” Randy protested.

“Yeah, but when they do show up there’ll still be plenty of room and I don’t fancy strangers in the lodge with me and mine.  Besides, I’d like the guns in one place.”

“I guess you’re right.” Randy answered.  “I’ll talk to them, but I don’t see a problem.”

“Well, for now we got a lot to do to protect this place.”  Will mumbled as he walked away. “Be sure to pick up the two-way radio on the front desk.”

Wilma Hamilton stepped into the Lodge and glanced around.  So now the lodge was going to be their home.  They were safe, because of Randy and this strange man but she wasn’t sure she liked the new living arrangements.

That night both she and her daughter, Cassie, had watched the horror of the attacks at the military base unfold on the television.  The news programs grew more and more frightening.  She and Cassie discussed loading up the car and leaving, but after spending hours trapped in traffic before Hurricane Rita, they were afraid it would more of the same. People died trying to escape a hurricane that didn’t even show up. Wilma was afraid they would get trapped and overtaken in Cassie’s little Prius.

Randy had arrived like a storm at midnight.  He told them they had twenty minutes to pack whatever they wanted to take because they wouldn’t be coming back.  He backed up his big truck and loaded whatever Wilma or Cassie could carry out of the house.

Wilma insisted on her portable sewing machine, trunks of fabric and sewing supplies.  When Randy announced enough, she packed two bags of clothes.  With the time left, she emptied canned goods from the kitchen into a laundry basket and grabbed a large blue enamel pot with all her canning supplies.  She hurried to the garage and retrieved six boxes of assorted sizes of canning jars.

Cassie spent her time packing up her laptop, printer and paper supplies.  She pulled quilts from the beds and linens from the hall closet.  It took a bit of convincing to get Randy to load the massive cedar chest from Cassie’s room, but with it headed for the truck she packed her own clothes then cleared the bathrooms and cabinets of shampoos and OTC medications.

When Randy ushered them out of the small house in West Houston, it looked like a storm had hit the inside.  They got in the truck and Randy cranked the diesel engine.  He headed west on the back streets and ended on the narrow two-lane blacktop roads that wound through country roads through southwest Texas.  Randy drove finally stopped in Dryden at a fast food place that still had Internet access.

Cassie sent an email to her sister then used the computer to pull up news programs and social media to see accounts of attacks that began on the southeast side of Houston and rolled over the city like a wave.  She tried calling and texting her sister but cell service was sketchy at best this far from the big city.