Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Zack pulled into the small yard in front of the cabin. He turned off the engine and the six travelers sat quietly in the waning light. The hunting cabin was a throwback from a hundred years ago.  The siding was weather cedar that had grayed years ago.  The tin roof was rusted but look to be in good shape.

Millie leaned forward. “Don’t y’all suppose we’d better get settled before it gets dark?”

Steve nodded and answered. Let’s check it out, Zack.”

The two men got out of the truck. Zack carried a crowbar and Steve a handgun. They crossed the bare packed earth to the front porch. Oak leaves danced across the faded planks of the covered porch. Windows at the front of the cabin were dusty but were crack free. The weathered wood door had a gate latch with a padlock for security. Uncovered windows on either side of the door allowed the waning light to expose the minimalistic furnishings inside.

“Someone’s hunting camp. If we’re lucky, there’s a cistern or water well.” Steve whispered as they stepped on the porch.

He pointed to his eyes with two fingers then to the window closest to Zack. He sidestepped to the window to the right and pressed his back against the rough wood logs of the wall. He leaned over the edge of the window and peeked inside.

Zack watched the procedure and repeated it at the window on the left side of the door. “Nothing here.” He whispered.

“Stay here.” Steve mouthed.

Steve stepped off the porch and stumbled around the side of the building. He followed the solid wall to the back of the structure. Looking through the back windows, he realized the structure was a single room with a ladder access to a loft overhead. The back of the cabin included barn doors on an overhead track. He made his way around the corner and a massive stack of firewood at the side of the house. He stepped back up to the porch with Zack.

“Anything?” Zack asked.

“Looks good. Let’s get inside. It’s almost dark.”

Zack picked up the padlock and shoved the crowbar through the hasp. With a snap of his wrist the lock snapped open. He pulled the lock off the door and laid it on a window sill.

Steve opened the door leading with his gun hand. He fanned his barrel from left to right and then back again as he studied the shadows inside. The building was set up with a sink, and few cabinets and a table at one end. The rest seemed devoted to providing sleeping quarters. Bunk beds and from what he could see, a couple more twin beds overhead.

“Let’s move ‘em in.” Steve commented.

Zack went to the truck, while Steve lit a kerosene lamp on the table. He limped to the sink and examined a hand pump. He pumped the handle a few time and rusty water spilled from the spout. After a few more pumps of the handle, the water flowed clear and clean. He dipped his hand in the stream and brought it to his nose. It smelled fresh.

Zack and the women walked into the cabin. Millie still holding Penny’s hand crossed to the sink when she saw what Steve was doing. “Young man, you need to sit done.”

“I’m fi….” Steve drug his arm across his forehead.

Millie interrupted. “Young man? I’m not suggesting, I’m telling.” She walked to the sink and found a pan. She filled it with water then looked in drawers until she found a dishtowel. When she turned back she glanced at Penny. “Child, tell that boy, Zack, to bring us that chair on wheels.”

With another glare from Millie, Steve settled on the chair at the table. She nodded toward the prosthetics and Steve removed the right leg then the left. Both silicone cuffs were smeared with blood when he pulled them from his legs.

Della came in carrying an armful of supplies. She saw Steve’s ulcerated legs and gasped. “I told you. How could you let it get this bad? You’re running a fever.”

Steve shrugged. “I didn’t see I had much choice.”

“Well we do now. We stay until you’re healed.” Della announced.

Millie sat the pan of water on the table and another pan on the floor at the front of the chair. She soaked the rag and dribbled water over the red angry flesh. After the first couple passes of cold water over the flesh, the shock lessened and began to numb the pain. Steve sighed in relief.

Millie looked up when Della walked in the cabin with another armful of supplies. “You got medicine for this?” She asked Della.

“Yes, mam.”

Penny came in with Zack carrying the wheel chair. He looked at Steve’s legs and cringed. “Man that looks painful.”

“A day or two and it’ll be fine.” Steve began, but Della interrupted.

“NO! You need to rest at least a week.”

“Mommy? I really gotta go to the bathroom.” Penny announced.

Darlene looked around the room, then to Steve.

He grinned. “Out house in back. We got running water though.”

“Praise the Lord for that but, an outhouse?” Darlene groaned. “Gross.”

Zack laughed. “I saw it out back. It’s close to the shed. I thought I’d check it out so I’ll show you.”

They walked to the barn doors and unlatched one door and opened it. Zack pulled a LED light from his pocket. He led Darlene and Penny through the back door.

“Let’s cover the front windows and close the door when we get everything inside. I don’t want to advertise we’re here.” Steve announced.

Della placed a tube of ointment on the table with two rolls of gauze. “We have what we need inside. I’ll cover the windows.”

Two hours later, Millie had schooled Zack on starting a fire in the wood stove in the kitchen. They had found kindling in a bucket by the stove and wood at the side of the house. She pulled a pot from a cabinet and dumped an assortment of cans in it and added a can of diced chicken.

All remains of the day slipped into night as the small gathering sat around the cabin eating bowls of Millie’s concoction.

“Do you think we’re safe here?”  Darlene asked.

“Safer than we’ve been since we left Utopia.” Steve answered. “Everyone needs to get some rest.  I’m beat.”

He rolled the chair to one of the windows. “I’ll wake you at midnight, Zack.”

“No problem.”

Della helped Millie to the other lower bunk beds. Zack decided he wasn’t trying the top bunk and pulled the mattress from the top bunk on one of the bed to a place near a window.  Della took the bunk above Millie while Darlene and Penny made their way to the loft. Within a short time Steve could hear both Millie and Zack snoring.

The warmth of the cabin was unbearable. Finally, Steve opened the front door and rolled the wheelchair outside. The handgun rested in his lap. He looked out over the valley beyond and realized how high on the bluff they had driven. He could see a few lights and wondered if what he saw was fires or people running generators.

At midnight Zack stumbled through the opened door wiping sleep from his eyes. “All quiet?”

Steve nodded then answered. “Not much to see out there. I saw a few fires in the distance. There must be a blacktop about six miles north. I saw a few headlights heading west.”

“Get some rest, I got this? Use the bottom bunk. I opened the back windows and with this door open it’s not so hot. I’ll be out here.”

“Thanks.” Steve handed Zack the handgun. “Wake me or aim for the head and pull the trigger.”

“Got it.” Zack laid the gun next to him on the top step of the porch. “I’ll get you if I hear or see anything.”

Steve rolled inside and pulled himself into the bunk. He closed his eyes.

The sound of whispered voices woke Steve. Dust motes danced across the first rays of the sun shining through the opened back doors. The smell and sound of something cooking filled the little cabin. Steve threw his arm over his eyes and listened to the voices coming from the kitchen. His stomach rolled.

“Now, this canned meat is poor folk’s best friend. That garden out back looks to have been cared for last fall. Got volunteer vines up on the side of the shed. Might be something we could use.” Millie commented.

“Penny and I can look around and check it out.” Darlene volunteered.

“I figure to take the young man with me and show him how to set a few snares. I don’t know if we’ll catch much, but I know we don’t have food for more than three days.”

Zack chuckled. “Me? Trapping? Just call me Daniel Boone.”

Despite the warmth radiating from him, Steve slid out of the bed and onto the wheelchair. He rolled toward the back door. “Zack, can I roll this to the outhouse and shed?”

“I’ll go with you. You’ll need a little help.” Zack answered.

“Let’s see what’s in the shed while were out there.”

A few minutes later, Zack rolled the wheel chair at the door of the shed. The owner of the property had put up a shed and used another padlock to secure the door. Zack pulled the crowbar from his belt and performed the same procedure as before to pop open the lock. When he was done, he threw the door open. He gave a low whistle.

Inside the shed was ATV parked against one wall. Zack flicked on the LED light. He looked from one side of the shed to the other. He saw garden tools propped in the corner, some fishing gear, and a variety of hunting equipment. In the back corner was something covered by a tarp.

“We need to see what’s under there.” Steve commented. “But first, I think I need to go inside and lay down for a bit. I’m not feeling real well.”

Zack stepped behind the wheel chair and pushed it toward the cabin. “You don’t look so good man.”

“If we had enough supplies it would be a good place to rest up but we don’t. We can’t sit around and wait for my legs to heal.”

“I’ll check out the shed in a while.” Zack 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.”

Harry and Liz stacked the supplies inside the kitchen then Harry stepped back out of the camper.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He gave a careless wave as he got back in the truck and drove the pickup back to the sales office.

Liz closed the door and stepped back inside to look at John. Her face mirrored her concern. “I can’t see much.”

“Close the curtains then you can turn on a light.” John answered.

She moved around the camper and pulled the curtains closed on the windows.  When she was done, she turned on a small light and then announced.

“I’m going to make sure the light can’t be seen from outside.” She slipped from the camper and stepped back out into the night. She walked around the camper then walked back inside.

When she got back inside, she walked helped John out of his denim jacket then his shirt. She turned on a second light to get a better look. Half of his chest was splotched with deep purple and abrasions.

“Oh God, John.”

He moaned softly. “I think I hit the concrete divider. I’ll be okay.  Just needs taped up.”

He breathing was reduced to shallow gasps.

After a light double tap at the door, Harry’s harsh whisper announced his return. “Just me.”

He slipped inside the camper and pulled the door closed and locked it.  Harry turned back to straighten the curtain over the window.   “Well, is he going to make it, doc?”

“I’m as far from a doctor as you could get.  The only things I’ve ever treated has been scrapes and skins of a ten-year old but I think he might have a broken rib.”

Liz slid her fingers down John’s ribs and as they grew closer to the purple flesh John cringed. She clinched her jaw and continued the exploration.

John gasped. “You found it.”

“I think it’s only one broken rib.” Liz announced. “I can feel the bone move.”

Harry looked over Liz’s shoulder. “I’ll find something to wrap his ribs.” He disappeared into the back of the camper returning with a sheet in hand. After a few swipes of a knife he began tearing six inch strips of fabric.

“I’ll be fine.” John commented through clinched teeth.”

“When we get that rib stabilized, I think you’ll feel better.” Liz agreed.  “We have Tylenols.”

Harry brought soap and a bowl of water. Liz carefully cleaned the abraded flesh then dried the area and gently smeared on antibiotic ointment.  When she was finished, she pressed the flattened end of a fabric strip against his chest and wrapped it around his chest and the damaged rib again and again. When she reached the end, she grabbed a second strip and began wrapping again. After the third strip was added to the binding she glanced around for a way to secure the wrap.

When she heard a ripping sound behind her she turned to Harry and accepted a strip of duct tape with a tilt of her head.

“What?” Harry pulled a second strip of silver tape from a roll and handed it to Liz. Harry grinned. “I picked it up in the shop when I was in there. See you never know. Duct tape has a million uses.”

Liz smiled and anchored the binding then pressed several more strips over the damaged rib to add more support.

“Well?”  She asked.  “Is it any better?”

“I think so.” John huffed.

After binding John’s ribs he felt good enough to stop at the bathroom to clean up before he went back into the bedroom at the back of the camper to lie down.  He cracked windows on either side of the bed and the heat that had built up began to dissipate.

Harry and Liz gathered the supplies and went to work on fixing an evening meal. Harry stacked the water out of the way by the door while Liz sorted through the boxes.  She found beef jerky, pasta and soup cups, dried fruits, crackers and cheese, and boxes of candies and chips.

Liz opened a cup of dried soup added bottled water to hydrate it then used the microwave to warm it.  She used a box lid as a tray and carried the soup with crackers, and a bottle of water back to John.  She gave him two aspirins and left the bottle of aspirins and a second water bottle next to the bed before leaving.

 

Harry stood at the front of the camper studying the parking lot through at the side of a window blind. “Looks quiet.” He commented over his shoulder.

“Do you think they’ll find us?” Liz whispered as she handed Harry a cup of soup.

Harry let the privacy curtain slip back into place. They had opened the windows a few inches, and the top vent to let some of the heat escape.  The privacy blinds hid any hint of light from the outside.

Harry shrugged. “Hopefully, they’ll give up. They wanted what we had. They have it now. No reason to keep chasing us. At least, I hope.”

“I’m not tired. Why don’t you try to sleep? I’ll keep watch and wake you around two.”

“That works. John needs to stay as still as possible for a few days to give his ribs a chance to heal.”

“What about you?” Liz asked. “Your ankle?”

Harry stripped off his jacket, and sat down to take off his boots.  He groaned in relief as he pulled off his boot. “It’ll be fine if we can stay put for a few days.” He finished his soup then reached into a bag of dried fruit Liz had opened.  He tossed a handful in his mouth and chewed. After a full minute of chewing he took a gulp of water and scowled. “This stuff tastes like shit. I wish we had some beer.”

“It’s good for you.” Liz chuckled. “Enjoy it while I get cleaned up.” She walked back to the bathroom and filled the sink with a couple inches of warm water. She used a wash cloth and cleaned up as much as the limited water would allow.

When she reappeared Harry grinned. “You smell better.”

Liz laughed. “You don’t. Get cleaned up and try to rest. I’ll wake you up later.”

The next morning Liz woke when a shaft of sunlight invaded the camper at the edge of a lowered blind. She looked around the narrow bed and sighed. She hadn’t slept in a bed since leaving Benny and Hazel’s farm. She curled under the sheet and tried to recapture the dream of her husband and children, but it was lost. All that was left was the stifling heat of the sun beating down on the trailer.

“May as well get up.” Harry called from the front of the camper. He limped to the small table and sat down. “I think John looks a little better.”

Liz found a package of animal cookies and bottle of juice from the supplies and began eating. “How’s your ankle?”

“Not great, but if I can stay off it a couple more days, I’ll be fine.” Harry answered.

“Hmmm. Well, let’s hope we don’t have to run again any time soon.” Liz answered as she handed Harry a bottle of juice.

He took a long drink then flexed his ankle. He winced and frowned. “I was looking at the navigation on the dash. The parking lot backs up to a country road that heads west. I think we could take it to state road 54 then to 180 and head north. That should take us to the Guadalupe National Park area. Then it’s up to you.”

“We can’t just leave my daughters.” Liz protested.

“And where do you think we should look for them?”

“I ….” Liz looked at her clutched hands on the table.

“The girls are in God’s hands. Your son is ours. We’re continuing to Pine Canyon.”

The third morning they woke to the sound of breaking glass in the distance. Harry had nodded off near dawn while John and Liz were sleeping.

John lumbered from the back bedroom rubbing at the stubble on his chin. “Did I hear something?”

“Fucking getting old. I fell asleep.” Harry groused as he peeked out the window.

Liz slipped her feet in her boots. “What is it?” She pulled the laces and made a quick bow in each.

“What are we doing here?” John asked. “What’s happening?”

“Wait.” Harry answered. “Maybe it’s just a lone scavenger looking in the office. That’s why I wanted to make it look as normal as possible. Didn’t want anyone to think there was anything worth breaking in for.”

John answered. “It might have back-fired. Most offices have at least a vending machine or two and a kitchen.” He moved the edge of the curtain aside then let it drop. “I’m going to get a better look. Be ready to take off.”

John adjusted the handgun at his side and grabbed his knife. He opened the camper door and stepped outside, then turned and gently closed the door. He jogged to the back of the row of campers and disappeared.

Harry nodded at the back fence. “I’m going to cut the fence. Get the blinds up so you can see to drive, but wait to get behind the wheel. For now, try to stay out of sight.”

Liz nodded and quickly stowed supplied in the cabinets and behind rails along the shelves. She slowly raised the blinds around the front of the camper and watched as Harry slipped out of the camper.

Harry made his way around the back of the camper and crossed the twenty feet of asphalt to the fence. He made his way to the center of the fencing between two posts and took out the wire cutter. He began at the bottom, cutting each of the wire loops. Each snap of the wire snapping seemed to echo across the yard like a gunshot.  He cut two or three wires then glanced over his shoulder. When no one appeared to investigate he resumed cutting.

When John glanced toward the camper he could see Liz slowly open the screens and ready the camper to leave. He clipped half a dozen more wire loops and heard more glass break, then a terrified scream. John finished cutting the fence then ran back to the camper and reached inside to grab his machete.

“Stay put. Get behind the wheel and duck down. If you see us running, crank this bitch and get ready to get the hell out of here.”

John hurried to the back of the row of camper to follow Harry’s trail. He realized his ribs felt pretty good. He jogged after Harry, looking at each camper for his friend. He rounded a camper parked thirty feet from the office just in time to see Harry enter the building.

John glanced back at the camper and Liz then followed.

At the evening meal the four adults at the Lodge ate without much conversation, each lost in thoughts of family and friends and the struggles they must be facing. Most picked at the food despite Wilma’s abilities in the kitchen.

Finally, Randy announced. “I’ve been monitoring CB radio transmissions. There’re a lot of people moving west and north from San Antonio since the FEMA camp was overrun. That means they’re bringing the infection with them. We have to be careful who we let in.”

“We have room for over a hundred people here.” Wilma protested. “You said so yourself.”

“Shush!” Cassie jerked her head to the side. “Hey, I hear something?”

After a minute the distant rumble of motors fell silent and a distinctive truck horn blared twice. After a brief silence, it blared again one last time.

Will and Randy jumped to their feet and ran to the front porch with the two women close behind. They each picked up rifles, stepped out into the night air and looked toward the raised cattle guard in the distance. Three sets of headlights approached the gully in the distance.

“Who in the hell?” Will whispered.

“I wish it was family, but I think it’s Juan? You asked him to bring help to work at the Lodge.” Randy chuckled.  “I think it’s that sick-assed horn of his on that old beater he drives.”

“Or it could be some asshole who decided this would be a good hidey-hole.” Will growled. “Let’s get on the ATVs and check it out.”

Randy called over his shoulder at Wilma and Cassie. “Get armed, but stay out of sight.”

“We’re fine. Do whatever you need to.” Cassie answered.

Randy and Will climbed on ATVs and disappeared into the dark. Five minutes later, they rolled up to the wide ravine to shine a spotlight toward the trio of vehicles. The first was a rattle trap truck packed with boxes, bags and supplies. Three men stood at the front rack of the second truck shading their eyes from the glare of the light. The driver of the front truck stepped out of the driver’s door and approached the edge of the ditch in front of the cattle guard.

“Hey, Señor Will.” The man called out. “I come to help.”

“Miguel?” Will called out.

“Sí.” Miguel called out. “I bring Elaina and others. You make a few changes.”

“Yeah.” Give us a minute to lower the guard. “Come on across then follow us to the Lodge and park the vehicles in front. We all go inside so we can talk.”

“Señor Will, is something wrong?” Miguel asked.

“Nothing at all. We have to check for the infection before we get everyone settled.” Will responded.

“I understand, but we have women and children.” Miguel answered.

“No problem. We got a couple women to check them.” Will answered. “We do the exam or you can turn around and head back south.”

No, Señor Will, it is little to ask. Is no problema.” Miguel answered.

Will nodded to Randy and he began turning the wheel to lower the cattle guard. A minute later all three trucks were led to the Lodge and parked at the front door. Randy followed after raising the cattle guard again. When the vehicles were parked, Will led seven men, eight women and five children into the Lodge.

When the vehicles were parked and Will led the new arrivals into the lodge, Randy stood at the door still holding his rifle at the ready.

“What is this?” Why are you carrying a gun inside?” Wilma berated the Randy.

“We’re going to do a quick health check.” Will ignored Wilma and announced.

“Ladies, if you will escort the women and children into the kitchen and give them in a once over, Randy and I will check the men. Everyone we bring through the gate will be doing this. No matter who they’re kin to.”

Wilma scowled. “Hmmmm. I suppose it’s necessary.”

When Cassie followed the assemblage of women and children Randy stopped her at the door and stuck a handgun in her hand. She pulled her hand back but Randy leaned close.

“You will always carry when new folks come in to the camp.”  He nodded toward the others.  “One infected and we all pay the price.”

Cassie slid the revolver into the back of her pants and followed the other into the conference room at the front of the hall.

Ten minutes later the women reappeared to see the men sitting around the main room, holding a drink. They were laughing and drinking like long lost friend.

“Señor Will, it is bad in Larado. The muertos came from San Antonio the first day with familia. It’s busy at the check points, but this was loco. They just opened the gate and let people go. The first night the muertos sat up and killed familia and amigos.” Miguel explained.

“We had already begun packing to come up for the job when it happened.  We gathered family and left before dawn.” A short thick man by the name of Pablo added. “The first day was realmente terrible.”

“This is all very interesting, but you men have families to get settled.” Wilma announced.  She turned to Will.  “I’m assuming you have places for these people set up since they were expected.  I would suggest you get the women and children settled then if you men want to sit around swapping lies, you can do it without the children passing out from exhaustion.”

Will looked startled. “Oh. Yes. I guess we should.”

Miguel chuckled. “If I might suggest, my family will return to the staff housing with my brother and his family. There is plenty of room for both and my mother. That leaves two families to provide housing for.”

“Sounds good.” Will answered. “Take them to the cabins closest to the staff housing. You know which ones. Anything they need, make a list. We’ll try to find it. For now, get everyone settled. Don’t forget to turn on the water at the side of the house.  The batteries should be charged enough from the solar panels so lights won’t be a problem.  Give us an hour and we’ll bring a big pot of venison stew to staff housing.”

Miguel and Pablo hustled the crowd back into vehicles and drove around the Lodge to the first of the designated cabins. After leading a family of four inside and turning on a few lights, Miguel went to the side of the cabin to turn the water on.  He reappeared to lead the next vehicle to the second cabin twenty yards away. Again, he took the time to walk the family inside and turn on the water.

He pointed to a larger cabin of similar design closer to the lodge and advised. “We will be there. Clean up and come in an hour for an evening meal.”

The second vehicle was left at the front of the cabin and the family disappeared inside. Miguel and Pablo moved the truck to the front of the staff cabin.

“Wish we hadn’t loss my truck.” Pablo sighed.

“You are here, hermano and the familia is seguro.”

“Safe?  Are you sure? Pablo asked.

Once she turned back on the blacktop, she slowed and pulled out a map and tossed it into Matt’s lap. “Figure out where we are and the best way to get to Hondo.”

“Hondo is back toward San Antonio.” Matt protested.

“No shit, Sherlock.” Tate snapped. “I told you I need a new ride.”

“How do you know you can find a truck there?” Matt asked.

“There’s a Mack dealer there. Saw the trucks with my dad a few years back. Dozens of rigs lined up out in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the biggest dealerships in Texas.”

“It’s at least sixty miles.” Matt protested as he examined the map.

“I imagine that’s about right.” Tate answered.

“I don’t suppose I can talk you out of it.” Matt argued.

“Nope.”

“Alright, then I suggest we weave through the back road until we get to FM 426 then catch that into Hondo.” He took the time to designate the route he had picked out then finished by adding. “If that works for you, take the next right.”

Tate downshifted, as they approached the turn off. “Sounds good.”

Matt asked. “Where is the dealership?”

“South side of town.”

Tate downshifted then turned on a narrow blacktop. She accelerated, clutched and shifted until she was rolling along at forty miles per hours. The white truck rumbled down the highway all alone passing stalled and abandoned vehicles.

Tate glanced at Matt. “I figured we’d hold up tonight then head into town in the morning. By the time we get there, the light will be going and I don’t want to go into a populated area in the dark. I’ve done that before and it’s ugly. I got a place in mind that is remote enough to be safe.”

Matt looked around the truck and at the woman sitting next to him. “Why did you come after me?”

“Simple. Those people need you.” Tate answered.

“I don’t know about that.” Matt whispered morosely as he stared out the side window.

She nudged Matt’s arm and nodded toward the road ahead. “What do we have here?”

Matt studied the line of vehicles moving at a slow even pace toward them. Tate reached into her duffle bag and handed him binoculars. He brought the glasses to his eyes and studied half a dozen vehicles heading their way.

The lead vehicle, a pickup with big tires and a roll bare had two men in the cab and two rifle-toting, rough-looking men in the back. Another truck, a lot older and in really bad shape followed the first.

Behind the second truck was a flatbed with a cage up the sides and over the top. Canvas had been stretched across the top. Inside the truck stood women and a few children while on either side of the vehicle walked men. Platforms had been welded onto the back and side of the vehicle for the men to ride on if they picked up speed. Behind the open bed truck was a SUV, an old style Oldsmobile with a glistening paint job splattered with smears of dark brown. The last vehicle was another pickup with two people in back clinging to the hood of the cab.

“What do you think?” Tate asked.

“Pull in to that drive near the shed up ahead.” Matt said.

“Do you think they’ll attack us?”

“They aren’t making any moves, but I don’t like the looks of those women in the cage. Guns out, we need to look ready for trouble.” Matt opened the passenger door and draped his elbow over the door with the military weapon and his garb in plain sight. He threw his hat at Tate. “Put that on and don’t let ‘em get a good look at your face. We don’t want them to know you’re a woman.”

Tate scowled, but put the hat on and pulled it down to hide her face. She held the steering wheel with her knee while she slid her arms into a camouflaged shirt to cover her arms. She picked up the Mossberg rifle and propped it against her leg with the barrel sticking out the window.

Tate down-shifted and let the truck slow. The caravan of vehicles continued to approach. She glanced at Matt. He looked mean and dangerous as he hung over the opened door with the automatic weapon in hand. He relaxed his angle and the barrel of the weapon drifted toward the lead driver.

“ Pull over and stop. Let the lead truck come to us.” Matt ordered. “Pick up the radio when they can see and act like you having a conversation.”

“Got it.” She answered as she down-shifted again and slowed to a stop letting the truck idle.

The convoy of vehicles stopped about twenty feet from the big rig. The driver opened the door and stepped out. He wore forest camo and carried a hunting rifle. He pushed the brim of his hunting had up to expose a faced lined and darkened by lots of time in the sun and outdoors. After examining Matt for a full minute, he called out.

“Is that what the Army is driving these days?”

“You folks doing okay?” Matt asked as he watched the men walking along side of the cage jump to the platforms and start speaking to the women and children. The women in mass stepped back from the men and clustered toward the opposite side of the truck.

The driver scowled. “As good as we can be with every dead fuck in the area trying to eat us.”

“Where you folks headed?” Matt asked.

“Got kin up in the National Forest. We’re headed up that way if we can make it through.” The man answered. “Where are the rest of your Army boys?” He looked around as if worried.

Matt laughed. “Closer than you think. We’re looking for a place to hold up tonight.” He nodded at the truck. “Who you got in the cage?”

“Wives and kids. We’re keeping ‘em safe.” The man answered. “Got miles to go. Maybe we’ll be seeing you around soldier.”

“A good chance.” Matt growled. “A damned good chance.”

The man got back in the truck and put the truck in gear. They headed out with the other vehicles following close behind. One by one the vehicles passed. Tate and Matt watched the procession. As the cage passed a red headed woman in back mouthed the same words over and over again.

“Your shopping trip is going to have to wait.” Matt muttered as he flopped down into the seat.

“I didn’t like the looks of that bunch.” Tate announced. “And it sure didn’t look like those women were happy being in that fucking cage.”

“I saw a padlock on the door of it.” Matt answered. “It’ll take ‘em less than a mile for them to figure out we’re not part of a unit. They’ll send someone back to take care of us and maybe grab the rig and our guns.”

“It’ll be dark by then.”

Matt made a quick survey of the area then grinned at Tate. “Perfect. Let’s park the truck over there.” He pointed at the nearby shed.

They parked the rig outside the small shed. Tate shared a meal with Matt while he outlined plan. The shed was three sided shelter with an opening at each end of on the front wall. It included three stalls with several hay bales stacked in the first two stalls while the last was empty.

Matt walked into the stall in the darkest corner of the building. They used hay stuffed in a jacket and shirt from the truck to create the illusion of men sitting on bales of hay around a small lantern. Tate adjusted the hat Matt had given her on the top of one of the hay figures to complete the illusion. They turned down the small LED lantern and slipped out of the shed.

Matt led Tate to row of massive round hay bale thirty feet from the back of the shed and beyond a wooden fence. He gave her a leg up. “Lie down and don’t give them a silhouette to shoot at. Don’t come down, we’re not alone out here.”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

Matt ignored her question. “Use that silencer if you can get a clean shot. Just don’t shoot me.”

“Fuck you.” Tate whispered as she settled between the two bales and stretched out on the rounded hay.

“You may be here all night. Whatever happens, stay there until morning or I come get you.” Matt ordered.

Tate whispered. “There! Look. I see lights, a couple miles down the road.”

They watched the lights for a minute. The lights slowed to a crawl. “This is it.”

Matt slipped into the trees and ran toward the lights. He jogged until he was half a mile from the shed. He watched as the vehicle in the distance stop and raised his binoculars. He watched six men climb out of the vehicle and gather for a short conference.

Matt glanced over his shoulder and could see the dim glow of the lantern through the back opening in the shed. He squatted down into the tall grass at the side of the road. He watched one of the men direct two men one way, another two in yet another direction and the last man followed him when he moved out.

Two of the men crossed the road and disappeared into the brush to work their way to the far side of the shed. The second pair climbed over the fence and headed into the woods to circle around the back of the shed. The last two men stepped into the ditch along-side the fence and crept toward the shed.

The leader, anxious to get to the task soon outpaced his companion. Just as the man lagging behind passed, Matt rose from the grass, grabbed the man’s head under the chin and shoved the blade of his K-Bar under his chin into his brain. Matt eased him into the grass. He picked up the rifle and his handgun behind a fence post.

Matt turned and disappeared into the brush. He ran back into woods and made a mad dash to outdistance the leader.

The leader walked forward with an arrogance that belayed confidence in numbers. He didn’t bother to check on the man supposedly following.

Matt got to the tree he had staked out earlier and peaked around the trunk of the spreading oak. The limbs reaching toward the road made long deep shadows in the waning light.

Suddenly the leader’s steps slowed as he noticed he could no longer hear his companion behind him.

Ten feet from the tree he turned and whispered into the dark. “Arnold? Where in the fuck are you, you idiot. I told you to stay close.” He turned to retrace his footsteps.

Matt lean around the tree and hissed. “Psssst.”

The leader turned back and stopped mid-step when Matt’s knife appeared in his chest. The leader fell to his knees, looking down at the blade sticking from his body. Matt walked to the man and grabbed his knife. He pulled it from the man’s chest and drove it into his eye. The body collapsed into the grass. Matt turned back to the woods and disappeared back into the shadows.

Della, Millie and Darlene, with Penny in her lap settled in the back seat while Steve watched the gate close behind the truck. Zack accelerated.

“We need to get away from here as quickly as we can. I don’t want to be in the area if that bunch decides they don’t want deserters.” Steve advised.

“They looked military.” Darlene commented. “Since when does martial law include taking over a town and killing civilians?”

“It’s not supposed to.” Steve answered.

Steve pulled out a map and folded it in fourths. He found Utopia on the map and traced his finger across the paper. “Thirty miles back we can catch a farm to market road, ten-fifty to twenty-seven forty-eight and head north toward Leakey.”

The truck passed several small side roads before Zack eased off the accelerator and began to break. “Don’t think we’re goin’ that way.”

Ahead on the road an eighteen wheeler had tried to pass a pickup and gone off a narrow bridge. The truck driver had misjudged the clearance and the rig had ended up on its side blocking the entire bridge.

“Back up.” Steve ordered. “Careful, man.”

Zack slipped the gear shift into reverse and swung his arm over the seat to look through the back window. He eased off the break and accelerated. The truck strayed from side to side as Zack backed down the road. “I’m not good at this.”

“Doing fine. Ease up on the accelerator and you’ll stop overcorrecting.” Steve advised.

“Got it.” Zack slowed.

“Look!” Della shouted. “In the distance at the top of that hill.”

A string of motorcycles crested the distant rise and raced down the blacktop toward them.  Steve pulled a pair of binoculars to his face and studied the riders.

“Back up to the next side road and get the truck off the road, Zack. They’ll have to get past the overturned trailer and when they do we need to be long gone.”

“What did you see?” Asked Della.

“Looks like a rough bunch of bikers with a military vehicle leading the way. After what we saw in Utopia, we can’t take a chance on them catching up with us.”

Darlene clutched at her daughter behind Zack. “Please hurry.”

Zack waved his hand, “Working on it, Ms. Darlene.” He accelerated a bit as he got better at guiding the vehicle in reverse.

“There. To the left.” Steve pointed to a side road.

The truck sped past the intersection and Zack slammed on the breaks. The truck skidded on loose gravel at the side of the blacktop. Amid yelps of surprise, the truck swayed to a stop. Zack slammed the gearshift into drive and whipped the vehicle around to the gravel road. He accelerated and followed the curve of the road out of sight.

“Stop!” Steve ordered.

Zack complied. The only sound was the ticking of the cooling engine. A few minutes later they heard the sound of the approaching motorcycles from behind the stand of trees at the edge of the road.

“Did they see us?” Della asked.

“I guess we’ll know soon enough.” Steve answered. “Stop here.” Steve looked back, hesitated then gave a quick nod. “Real slow, pull off to the left under that tree and behind the brush.”

Zack did as he was told but Della interrupted. “Why are we stopping?”

“We need to know where they go.” Steve announced. He started to exit the truck, but Della caught his arm.

“You can’t do that. Your legs are not healed. You’ll be crawling before you get a hundred feet.”

Steve opened his mouth to protest, but Della rested her hand on his shoulder. “If we have to know, I can go back, but you can’t. You have to take it easy if you’re going to be any good to us.” She took a breath then continued. “Besides, what difference does it make? If they head into Utopia, we can do nothing about it. If they saw us, we need to be gone.”

Steve hesitated then answered. “You’re right.” He eased the door closed and slid back in the passenger seat of the truck. “Let’s move, Zack. Slow and easy. Try to make as little dust as possible.”

Zack guided the truck down a narrow dirt road. When the road veered to the south Steve directed them to a fire road heading north.

“Are you sure?” Della protested. “This doesn’t look like much of a road.”

“It’s a fire road. It goes through the canyons and will take us past some really sparsely populated areas. We have enough supplies for now.”

Darlene leaned toward the front seat. “Do we have enough gas?”

“We picked up two five gallon cans and they’re stowed in back.” Steve answered. “During our time in Utopia, Zack and I picked up a few extra supplies. Since, we’re going to head northwest I think we can avoid populated areas at least for a while.”

Della nodded. “Sounds good.”

Darlene reached out to cover Millie’s wrinkled hand. “I think it’s a good idea. It seems the best of humanity is not the only survivors. “

Zack chimed in. “You got that right, between the military and now those bikers.”

Steve agreed. “Legitimate military wouldn’t have taken control by killing people. I think the residents of Utopia are in for a rough time.”

Time passed slowly as they followed the isolated fire roads though the rough bare rock strewn canyons and wooded valleys. Penny pointed at deer grazing along the road. She laughed at Zack when he started singing nursery rhymes and soon they were all singing together. When she grew tired, she settled in Darlene’s arms and napped.

It was those quiet times Millie started talking quietly about life without modern conveniences. “Being share-croppers, my people were poor. I didn’t use an indoor toilet until I was near thirty years old.” She chuckled. “When I was a child my folks killed and cleaned squirrels, rabbits, possum, and raccoon. You name it and my mamma could make it for dinner.”

They stopped from twice to rest and eat. After a quick trip to the bushes they would pile back in the truck. Any time, they stopped they listened for motorcycles in the distance and looking over their shoulder.

Late that afternoon and several hours after passing Garner State Park, Zack tried to flex his wide shoulders and asked. “It’s getting late. Are we going to stop tonight?”

Steve answered. “I know we’re all tired. If I read this map right, we should be coming to a farm to market road in the next couple miles. Turn left and we’ll be going west again. In that area we should see a few small camp grounds and maybe a hunting cabin or two. First place we come to, we’ll check it out.”

Major William Bishop stormed into the city hall with Lieutenant Mason close on his heels. “What in the fuck was that?” Bishop scowled at Mason. “I told you no trouble before we had the place locked down.”

“Bastard pissed me off.” Mason protested.

“Fuck it. They would have gotten their shorts in a knot anyway soon enough.” Bishop settled in the mayor’s plush chair behind the desk. “Now they know we’re in charge.”

“The city council is locked in the holding cell in the basement.” Mason announced.

“Good. Close the windows so it warms up down there. No food or water until tomorrow night. That ought to soften them up. Meanwhile, get men on the gates. No one comes or go without my authorization.”

“What about the mid-day meal?” Mason asked.

“Go ahead and open the mess hall at one. Put up a sign announcing all residents are required to register with the military office in Utopia effective immediately. Set up something on the first floor to facilitate registration. I want name, age, where they’re living and any usable skills recorded. Get a couple men over to the office supply and pick up supplies to make ID cards. ”

Mason answered. “We can use locals to do the paperwork and a few of our men to enforce it. But why do you want to know who’s here?”

“The ID cards will control who consumes resources. It will also let me know who could be trouble and give us a chance to confiscate weapons.”

If they want to eat, they’ll have to sign up.” Mason laughed.

“Exactly.” Bishop answered. “Meanwhile, get a couple men out to the guard posts on both ends of town. Send that little prick, Carter in here. He’ll serve as my aid.”

“No problem. He’s downstairs.”

“When folks go to eat, find half a dozen office drones and set them up in the front office on the first floor. Make sure they have enough office skills to set up the ID system. I want registration to begin this afternoon.” Mason got up to leave and Bishop called out. “Tell Carter to bring me back some lunch.”

Three hours later six women stood in front of Bishop. “Who can use a computer and a spreadsheet?” Two of the women raised their hands. “The rest of you have office skills?”

All four nodded. Bishop pointed to an older woman. “Were did you work?”

“The medical clinic.” A middle aged woman answered.

“Good. You’ll go with one of my men and inventory the drug room in the clinic. I want the inventory by tomorrow morning. Get out.” Bishop tossed Mason a key ring. “Get someone to go with her.”

Mason pushed at the woman’s back and guided her toward the door. He disappeared for a few minutes then returned.

“All taken care of, sir.”

Bishop stared at the rest of the women for a full minute. “You have until tomorrow morning to develop a plan to register all residents and have the ability to issue ID cards within the next twenty-four hours. You will be expected to get the registration and issuance completed by the evening meal Wednesday. At that point in time, any resident without an ID cards, will not eat.” He paused then added. “Any questions?”

“What do you want on the ID card?” A woman with red hair asked.

“Where did you work?” Bishop asked.

“Downstairs. Permitting office.”

“Good. You know your way around here. You’re in charge until you screw it up, Red?” Bishop continued. “I want name, age, address of where they’re living and any usable skills. You have two hours to come up with samples registration form and IDs.”

Red gave a quick nod and turned to the door then stopped and turned back. “My name is Angie. I’ll help, but these girls are not to be harassed by your men. That dick-head and his men have been leering at them since we walked in the building.”

Bishop burst out laughing. “Fair enough. My staff,” He used his arm to indicate the small gathering of women. “are off limits. Mason, pass it along to the men.”

“Yes sir.” He made a sloppy salute.

Angie gave a quick nod. “Thank you.” She turned and left the room with the other women following behind.

Bishop stood up and walked to an overstuffed couch just as Carson walked into the door carrying a covered tray. He settled in front of the coffee table and motioned toward Carter.

Carter set the tray down and Bishop reached for to uncover the tray. He set the napkin aside and began to eat. Around a mouthful of pasta, he looked up at Carter.

“Clear my desk including the drawers. Throw all that shit into a box and get it outta here.” He dismissed Carter with a tilt of his head then and took another went back to his meal.

He turned to Mason. “Get rid of the shit on the south end of the school down by the gym showers and turn it into a barracks. Get half a dozen men and find furniture and twin mattresses in the empty houses. Use a truck. Get some of the women to do the laundry. I want clean cloth and this bunch of dipshits looking like soldiers again.”

Mason chuckled. “Some of the boys are getting a little ripe, that’s for damned sure.”

“There’s a two story house behind the court house and across the street from the school. You and I will be moving in this evening. If anyone is living there, move them out.”

“Yes Sir.”

An engine roared to a stop in front of the town hall and Mason stepped to the window. He watched Ollie Ford pulled his bulk from the vehicle.

“It’s the town clown,” Mason commented. “The fat sheriff from the gate.”

Bishop tilted his head toward the door. Tell Carter to stall the dick-head until I finish lunch. Make sure a couple men are outside the door to enforce it.”

Mason disappeared then stepped back into the room. Bishop took his time as he enjoyed the meal. When he was done, he got to his feet and walked to the window and looked down at the entrance to the school across the street.

A small gathering of civilians had arrived at the cafeteria for the noon meal. They stood around obviously discussing the sign now posted at the door. Angry glares were turned toward the town hall from time to time.

Bishop turned back to Mason. “Let him in.”

Mason opened the door and Ollie Ford charged into the room. “What the fuck is going on here? I’ve been told the city council is in the holding cell in the basement. There were shots fired. Townsfolks assaulted?”

“Sheriff Ford!” Bishop interrupted. Sheriff Ford fell silent and Bishop continued. “Now, if you are calm we can discuss the fact your city council attempted to assault one of my men. As a result there were shots fired.”

Brian led the group down the stairs to the exit and stopped at the door. “Billy and Paula go around to the passenger side. I’ll keep an eye on the driver’s side while Leon and Juan make sure Margo and Dale get in the back? Once you’re in the truck get to the roll bar and hang on. The minute I crank that engine every dead fuck within a ten blocks radius will be heading our way. We’ll just keep attracting attention so don’t lose that duffle bag. We’ll need that ammo.”

Brian passed the bag to Leon and he hiked it up on his well-muscled shoulder. “Got it covered, boss.”

Brian looked at each person in the party. “We’re crossing open ground so keep your eyes open. Move quickly and stay together.”

Billy, Juan, and Brian each hiked backpacks over their shoulders. Leon adjusted the gun bag and reached out to Margo. She reluctantly placed her hand in his. He gave a quick nod. “We got this, right.”

Margo tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace.

Juan leaned toward Dale with a wide grin. “Keep up, hombre. I ain’t letting no dead fuck bite me in the ass, because you can’t keep up.”

Dale hiked up his drooping pants and tightened his grip on the table leg. “Fuck you.”

The group made their way down the dark stairway to the bottom floor of the building. Brian peeked through the small glass window at the top of the door and saw a nearly empty parking lot. He pushed on the door and eased it open slowly. Looking around one last time, he stepped out into the sunlight squinting at the glare. Once everyone was out of the building, he moved from the sidewalk to the asphalt of the parking lot one step at a time. The others followed close behind.

“Slow and easy, folks.” Brian whispered. “Quiet.”

Brian hurried across the parking lot with Paula and Billy close on his heels. Following them was Leon clinging to Margo’s arm. Juan with Dale in tow began lagging further behind with each step.

Dale gasped for breath. Juan slowed and motioned at the insurance salesman to move more quickly.

When Dale caught up to him, Juan whispered with a voice tinged with irritation. “Want another cigarette? Hurry the fuck up!”

Brian and the group got over ten yards before the first infected noticed them. He unlocked the doors with a push of the button on the key fob. “Move it, people!”

The click of the button sounded loud with the deafening quiet of the city. Billy, still holding Paula’s hand, veered off to the left when he saw the blink of parking lights on the truck.

An infected woman stumbled from behind a mini-van and headed for the group. Three more infected took notice and turned to make a bee-line across the parking lot toward them.

“They’re coming! We have to go back.” Margo shrieked.

“The door locked behind us. Run faster, woman.” Leon ordered just as Margo stumbled and pulled from his grasp.

She fell to her knees dropping the chair leg with a loud thud on the asphalt. Leon reached down, and yelled. “Get up and run!”

He took three quick steps toward the infected woman and swung his metal chair leg. The heavy metal made contact with the side of the infected woman’s head. A patch of scalp peeled off her head as it jerked to the side but she didn’t go down. Leon back stepped to take another swing only to stumble into Dale.

Juan seeing what was happening, side-stepped avoiding the tangle of legs when both men went down. He raised his metal bar and slammed it down on the infected woman’s head and she collapsed on top Leon’s legs. Juan reached down and jerked the body off Leon and pulled him to his feet.

“Come on amigo.”

Leon turned to Margo still crumpled on the asphalt and swung out with an open hand. He slapped the side of her face. “Shut up and get up or we’re leaving you.”

The slap silenced her screeching. Leon turned and pulled Dale to his feet. “Move it man!” Both men headed for the truck.

Juan grabbed Margo’s arm and pulled her to her feet then released her. She picked up the improvised weapon and ran after Leon, Dale and Juan toward the truck.

“In the truck, now!” Brian called out as he watched another infected approach.

The gray-fleshed man dressed in a shredded white shirt covered in dark splotches of dried blood snarled. The monster growled and reached toward Brian.

“Not likely,” Brian roared back as he kicked out and caved in the man’s knee. When he went down, a quick thrust of Brian’s knife into the eye socket put the monster down.

Billy got to the passenger side of the pickup and opened the door. He jerked the door open and ordered. “Get in and get over.”

While she scrambled into the cab, Billy turned to slam his table leg into the head of a blood and gore covered child monster.

Leon got to the truck and threw the canvas bag over the edge of the bed. He glanced around then stepped on the extended hub of the back wheel and vaulted into the truck. He turned just in time to see Juan push at Dale’s wide butt as he reached for the top of the bed.

Dale grunted and hung there unable to pull his own weight into the bed. Leon grabbed the back of his pants and hauled him into the truck bed and dropped him in the bed unceremoniously leaving him lay in a heap.

Brian intercepted another monster as it made its way around the front bumper of the truck. He stepped out and swung a table leg into monster’s legs. When the infected woman went down, he slammed the table leg down hard on her skull.

Juan jumped to the top of the wheel and climbed into the bed of the pickup.

“Don’t leave me…Help!” Margo slammed her hands against the side of the truck then reached up while trying to step up on the wheel.

Brian turned around and frowned. “Guys?”

“We got it.” Leon called out.

Brian climbed into the cab and behind the wheel while Leon and Juan each grabbed an arm and jerked Margo into the bed of the truck just and three more infected slammed against the back fender.

Juan pushed Margo toward the roll bar, while Leon pulled Dale to the front of the truck to lean against the cab. Brian cranked the engine and the big truck roared to life.

Billy slid open the window at the back of the cab. “Good to go back there?” He called out.

Leon slammed a hand on the hood. “Get us out of here. We’re drawing a crowd.”

Brian stomped the gas and the truck bowled over three infected. The cluster of infected, pounding at the side of the truck bed, were quickly left behind. Margo yelped in surprised and Leon slid an arm around her waist while she grabbed the roll bar.

Juan laughed and swung a chair leg at the head of an infected man with dreadlock as they drove past. The impact crushed the side of the man’s head and sent him reeling away.

“Home run!” Juan laughed.

Brian and Billy found a military truck in the motor pool. The garage door was still open and a front tire lay next to the truck.  It explained why the vehicle was still in the motor pool. With Brian standing guard, Billy checked the tire’s pressure then bolted the tire on the front of the truck as fast and quietly as he could. Once they climbed in the big truck, they felt semi-safe for the first time since the attack.

They point the light truck away from the Army base and headed out of town only to be t-boned by an out of control panel truck. The panel truck sheared the front wheel and pinned the Army vehicle against a barricade. A horde of infected noticed the commotion and turned toward the sound of the accident. One and all started stumbling toward the trucks. Billy grabbed his rifle and ran around the front of the vehicle. Brian retrieved his own weapons and collected the duffle with extra ammo and a pack filled with water and food.

Brian led Billy past to the van where a quick glance verified the driver was beyond help. They escaped the slow moving horde only to be driven into hiding by another mob of infected. They hid long enough to catch their breath then ran again. They spent that first afternoon making their way west. Near dusk they broke into a small office building where they found the first three survivors.

Brian glanced over his shoulder at the trio gathered together watching him expectantly. The two women, Paula Mendoza and Margo Dixon, were both exhausted, but were in pretty good shape to be locked in the building for days with only bottled water, soda and snack machine fare to survive on. The fifty-plus year old insurance salesman, Dale Witman, was overweight and had the wheeze of a long-time smoker. Dale patted at his pockets every few minutes looking for that illusive pack of cigarettes he had long since smoked.

Brian was waiting for the return of the latest addition to his group of survivors. The two surviving members from a construction crew, they had encountered, were doing a little recon mission. The two men, Leon Jones, a short black guy with mad skills with a hammer and Juan Campo, who claimed to be one hundred percent American to anyone who dared to call him Mexican were tough men that Brian was glad to have around.

Billy sat on an office chair, a handgun lying on the desk in front of him, his eyes constantly drifting toward the door of the office as if expecting a monster to stumble in at any moment. He was a good kid, but a little overwhelmed at the moment.

When Brian wasn’t running, scavenging, or planning their next move, he worried about his family. He prayed when he got to his father-in-law’s place. He imagined when he got there he would see Liz and the girls standing on the wooden porch of the lodge. He had to believe they were waiting for him so he could keep going….

“Please, God, protect them.” Brian whispered as he turned to face the sound of Leon and Juan opening the office door.

Leon stuck his head into the office. “We’re good, bro.”

Juan nodded. “Sure thing, man. We took out a window on the second floor. We could click the locks on both vehicles. We saw the lights blink so batteries are good.”

Brian crossed the room and followed the two men into the hall. “Well?”

Juan announced. “One of the vehicles is at the back of the lot and looks like it’s a ten year old piece of shit. The other is a big GMC all decked out with roll bar and big tires. It’s parked three rows back and just left of the main drive, maybe ten yards from the door. Most of the people must have left early so there’re less than half a dozen vehicles scattered around the lot.

Leon nodded. “We can get to it, easy enough. The ladies should be alright but good old Dale is gimpy since he fell, coming up the stairs yesterday. Add that smoker’s wheeze, well, who knows?”

“Does the big truck have an extended cab?” Brian asked.

“Not so lucky. But it’s a big fuckin’ ride,” Leon answered. “Three people in the cab, rest of us can ride in bed. It has huge tires and a lift kit. Once we’re in the bed, nothing will be able to reach us as long as we stay away from the sides.”

Juan looked excited. “When I was looking for the keys on the big security guard, I found a gas receipt. It looks like he filled up the gas tank that morning, both the main and reserve tank.”

“Show me the truck.” Brian grinned with real optimism for the first time in days.

They walked across the hall to a window in another office and the two men pointed out the big blue truck with a confederate flag stencil on the back window.

Leon chuckled. “I always wanted to ride in a big-ass redneck truck like that.”

“Well, you get your wish, Leon. Let’s get our people and get the hell outta town.”

He led the two men back into the office. “Okay folks,” He looked at the anxious faces of the two women and Dale looking at him. “We’re ready to move.”

Billy jumped to his feet. “Yes sir. I have all the rations stowed in the four backpacks we found. The extra magazines are good-to-go. Extra firearms loaded and ammo stowed in the duffle. I pulled off the metal legs from a couple tables for weapons.”

Brian looked at the handguns on the table and nodded toward Juan and Leon. “Pick up your weapons and extra magazines, gentlemen. Billy’s got everything ready to go.” He turned back to Dale and the women. “Pick up the table legs, folks. We do this nice and quiet.”

“Where are we going?” Dale asked as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin.

“We’re not taking a chance on the car lot. Juan and Leon located a truck that belonged to one of the guards. Only problem is the truck is in the middle of the back parking lot and a few infected people are wandering around back there.”

Paula took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and picked up a table leg. “I’m good. We’ve changed into the running shoes you found.”

Billy glanced at Dale as he got to his feet and laughed. “Yeah, the pink looks good on you, man.”

“Fuck you, kid.” Dale groused.

“You can’t expect me to hit someone on the head with a table leg.” Margo glared at the others.

Brian took three steps toward Margo. “Look, lady. I’m trying to keep us all alive. That means we all work together.”

“They’re people.” Margot argued.

Billy stepped up and handed the woman the metal cylinder. “They’re dead. They will tear you apart if you don’t bash ‘em in the head. The LT has done everything he can to keep us all alive and being quiet is part of the deal. You can’t do it, fine. Stay here. We’re leaving.”

“Fine.” Margo mumbled as she accepted the weapon.

Brian nodded at Dale and he picked up a metal table leg with a scowl. “I’ll drive.” Juan tossed him the keys ring. “We’re taking one vehicle and it’s the big blue truck in the parking lot. We found receipts and we’re pretty sure it has a full tank of diesel. It will be a bitch getting everyone in, but with the big tires and lift kit, everyone will be safer in the long run. All we have to do is keep moving. Billy and Paula will ride in the cab with me. I want the rest of you getting in the back as quickly as you can. Any infected get close, swing at the head as hard as you can and put ‘em down.”

Billy nodded at Paula. “You’d better be quick crawling in the cab.”

Paula whispered. “agujero del culo.”

“I think she likes you.” Juan winked at Billy.

“I can tell. She called me an asshole.” He grinned.