Posts Tagged ‘Torn Apart’

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.”

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.


“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.”

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.

Tate gave Matt thirty minutes from dawn’s first light.  When he didn’t show up she cranked the engine of the white rig and headed across the highway to the overgrown cattle guard and the road.  Once across the guard the road quickly disappeared. She drove for ten minutes around massive stands of mesquite, rocks and dry gulleys.   Amid the weeds and scrub grass she saw the first signs of blood and gore. The scattering of blood and remains made her breath catch. Tate downshifted and stopped. She grabbed a small pair of binoculars from her bag and studied the scattering of blood and bones.  When she scanned the area she saw several infected surrounding a cluster of mesquite.

At the edge of the cluster greenery, she studied a length of bone.  She saw a split hoof at the end of the leg bone being devoured by an infected.  As she looked more closely, she saw more and more remains of a massive feral hog. Several more infected followed running piglets.  As Tate examined the area, she noticed movement amid the cluster of mesquite where the infected continued to press closer.  She studied movement and thought she saw the pink flesh of a human arm.  She looked again and saw it was a hand lying on something amid the brush.  A finger twitched.

She saw a glint of light.  A ray of sunlight flickered off of glass.  It was a bottle, a liquor bottle.  With a grunt of disgust, she snarled.  “Ought to leave his drunk-ass to be eaten.”

He must have crawled under the mesquite and the dead-heads were distracted by the feral hog and piglets.  She realized there were at least a dozen infected pressing closer to the brush pile.  The rest of the pack of infected were gathered to one side of the mesquite focused on the buffet of pork.  From her vantage point Tate looked as if there was a trail through the brush to the back side of the stand.

She took a deep breath and turned off the engine.  “Come on, dick-head.  Talk me out of this.” She whispered to herself.  “He could be lying in the brush dead.”  She gathered her handgun and machete.  She stuffed an extra magazine in her hip pocket.  “Tell me I’m not doing this.”  She mumbled before she opened the door to the cab.  “Fuck!”

She slid to the ground and quietly closed the truck door.  She bent over and duck-walked toward the back side of the cluster of mesquite away from the infected cluster around a squealing piglet.  She moved slowly between rocks and brush with huge thorns across the rough terrain.

Tate rounded a clump of mesquite and stood face to face with an infected man in a plaid shirt and jeans.  He reached out and opened his mouth just as she slammed the machete into the top of his skull.  He fell like a sack of potatoes and remained still.  Tate jerked the machete free then stepped over him and moved around the next stand of brush.

With the death of the last piglet, the infected were losing interest in the scattered remains.  She picked up the pace and crossed the last fifty feet to the back of the mesquite warren where she had seen the bottle glistening in the morning sun.  She bent down and looked into the narrow passage way.  “Hey, dumbass!  Get your drunk ass out here!”

Matt groaned.  He thought he heard a voice but he couldn’t be sure.  His head ached.  He looked down and remembered d he’d crawled in the mesquite labyrinth and was trapped.  He couldn’t fight dozens of the infected alone.

“Dumbass!  Get the fuck up and crawl this way. We don’t have much time before the lunch crowd come looking for us.”

He knew that voice; the Orange Bitch.  “Hey!  I’m here!”  He yelled.

“Shut the fuck up, you asshole.”  Tate whispered.

Matt looked from side to side then asked.  “Where are you?”

Tate was so frustrated for a heartbeat she considered raising her gun and shooting Matt. “Behind you.  Slink around the back of that brush and make it quick.  The deadheads out in front of you are getting restless.”

Matt grabbed his pack and rifle, turned around and crawled to a thinning curtain of vegetation he realized Tate stood behind it.  He got to his knees and crawled under the upper branches and thorny brush.  “Ouch.  Fuck.  Damn it.”

Tate used the machete to clear branches and moved toward Matt.  The blade came down just as Matt stuck his head out from behind a clump of thorny green.  The brush fell against his face and shoulder.

“Whoa!”  Matt startled. “You almost took off my ear.”

“Come on dumbass.  You’re lucky it wasn’t your head.”  Tate grumbled.

Tate turned on her heels and headed back through the brush and briars.  She didn’t bother to see if Matt followed just expected him to.

“I need a drink.”  Matt mumbled.

Tate stopped and turned around to face him.  “You have all those people counting on you and the first time no one is looking, you get drunk.  I don’t know what kind of dumbass you are, but it’s time for you, man up.” She slammed her fist into his chest.  “If you get me bit, I will shoot you.  Now, shut up and keep up!”

Matt follow as guilt silenced his protest.  She was right.  He was drunk when he led those infected to that road block.  If he hadn’t been tipping the bottle he would have noticed long before he drove up on it.  If any of those people died it was on him.  They had a right to go after him.

By the time Tate worked her way back to the edge of the maze of mesquite two infected were heading their way.  The first was an old man in boxer shorts with the remains of a bathrobe still clinging to his emaciated body.  His belly was distended and a brown sludge trickled down his legs.  Even behind Tate, Matt could smell the stench wafting up from the walking corpse.

“Oh fuck.” He whispered and tried to breathe through his mouth.

Tate walked up to the old man and used the gun to blow a small hole in his forehead.  He went down and a farmer in bib overalls stumbled closer.  Tate fired, took him down and turned to Matt.  “Keep up.”

She started jogging straight for the white truck in the distance.  Matt refused to let the dehydration and pounding inside his head slow his steps.  He felt pretty sure, as mad as the woman was, she would probably leave him.

When they got to the truck, it was all Matt could do to keep from puking.  He stumbled around the front of the truck while Tate climbed in the driver’s side of the big rig and cranked the engine.  Matt opened the door and pulled himself into the seat and slammed the door.  He let his head fall back against the headrest.

Tate reached behind the seat and dropped two bottles of water in his lap.  She picked up another, opened it and took a long drink. She ignored the infected that had started following them and now surrounded the truck and slapping hands on the doors and hood.

Tate glanced at Matt.

“You man, are a grade-A, fuck-up. You have forty people looking to you to lead and protect them and you’re a fuckin’ drunk.  God knows why. You saved my life and now we’re even.  Clean slate.”

“You don’t understa….”

“Can it!  I don’t give a shit what your drama is.  The people at the camp are looking to you to lead them.  Either step up and lead or get the hell out of my truck.”  She looked totally disgusted.

Matt sat there for a long time without saying a word.  Finally he spoke. His voice was strong and succinct.  “You’re right.  Everything you said is true and my shit has cost us the Humvee. I owe you.”

“No. We’re even with who saved who, but you do owe those people better than you’ve been giving.”

“You’re right. I’ll do better when we get back.” Matt answered.

“First you’re going to help me.  And if you’re real good and don’t fuck this up, I know where you can get another Humvee.  A really nice one.”  Tate answered with a grin.

“Okay.  I’m in. What do I have to do?”

Tate grinned.  “First, you call the camp and tell them you’re safe.” She tossed a radio in Matt’s lap.  “Next, tell them we’re going on a supply run. And as for you, the entire fucking state is now considered dry and you better remember it.  I’ll shoot you in the ass if I catch even a beer in your hand.”

Matt called the camp. When Lawson answered he stated he’d lost the vehicle and was going to try to replace it.  Larry got on the radio and asked questions, but Matt shut him down.

“Hamilton and I will be back tomorrow.  Don’t take chances and keep the camp safe.”  Matt instructed. When he was finished, Tate laughed at the hang dog look on his face.  “Can we go now?” He finally asked.

Tate cranked the engine of the white truck. She slammed the beast in gear and rolled forward.  Three bodies slid under the front tires of the rig.  She made a wide circle around a small cluster of mesquite and headed back to the road leaving the remaining infected in the dust.

Liz stared at the two men standing in front of her.  “He would want me to find our girls!”

Harry moved his head from left to right.  He would want you and the baby safe.  “Your girls are with capable men.  God willing, they will survive and bring them to you.”  He swung a leg over his bike and held out his hand.

Liz stood staring at his hand for a full minute before she slid on the bike with a final protest. “I can’t just give up.”

Harry cranked the engine and slipped it in gear.  “No one is giving up.  We’re protecting this child.”

They left the farm to market road and headed northwest.  The roads were clear of traffic and road blocks.  Few infected seemed to be in the area.  Four hours later, they stopped so Harry could consult a map.  They were getting close to Kerrville, an area rife with back roads, hills and canyons.  It was beautiful country with lakes, rivers and wooded expanses that shut out the ugliness of the past few weeks.

They stood next to the rail road tracks and sipped on water bottle.  Ahead in the distance was a big rig and trailer at the side of the blacktop. The truck was lying on its side as if kicked out of the way like a petulant child.  Liz wondered to the side of the road where vines of dewberries grew.  She stood picking at the lush fruit and eating berry after berry.

“We need to head up to 16 to Ranchero Road to North Valley View Dr. to Rim Rock to Lehmann to Cully Drive. We’ll work our way around Peterson Regional Medical Center then end up on 98 North.”  Harry announced.

They got back on the bikes and slowly accelerated toward the wrecked trailer ahead.  Liz glanced to the left as they rode by and she saw spray painted graffiti.  Suddenly she slammed her hand on Harry’s shoulder and screamed “Stop!”

Harry and John both slammed on the breaks and came to a skidding halt.  Harry turned around to see Liz jumping from the bike.  He studied the massive red heart painted on the smooth metal skin of the top of the trailer.  A red heart with Amy and Claire’s names painted inside.  To the side was three smiley faces, the first with bangs, second with hair on either side of the head and the last bald.

Harry started laughing.  “Well, well, well.  I guess there is a message.”

Liz reached out to touch the dried paint.  She caressed the swirls of red paint as if by touching it she could feel the soft cheek of her daughters.  Tears streamed down her face.

Finally John spoke.  “Would someone tell me what the hell this is all about?”

Liz looked up and smiled.  “My girls’ names are Amy and Claire.”  She took a deep breath.  “It’s meant for me.  They’re safe.”

Harry nodded.  “I think you’re right.”

Suddenly a moan interrupted the conversation.  The trio looked toward the road ahead and were shocked to see an army of infected stumbling toward them.  Harry cranked his bike and Liz slid onto the seat.

“Head out, John.  We’ve got to head back the way we come.”  Harry ordered.  “They’re coming out of the small communities around Kerrville.”

A infected were drawn toward the sounds of the motorcycles.  They stumbled down streets and from buildings and nearby houses.

“I guess we know what happened to all the creeps from back at that last little cluster of houses.  Bastards follow sound.”  John commented.

“Turn right at the next intersection, John.  If I remember right, it should by-pass the housing section and end up behind what looked like an industrial park.”  Harry ordered over the intercom.

“Got it!”  John answered as he pulled his handgun and fired at the closest monster.  A middle-aged woman in a housedress fell to the ground.

Liz pulled her own gun and fired twice as they pulled away from the moving horde of infected.  As she stowed her hand gun she heard John’s startled yelp.

John’s bike jerked to the side and his handlebars pulled from his hands and he sailed over the front doing a loose limbed summersault then landing on the pavement spread-eagle.

Harry slammed on the breaks just as his bike jerked to the side.  Liz clutched at Harry but in the end both him and Liz were thrown from the machine and off to the side in a tumbling roll.   The world became a blur of flying arms, asphalt shredding denim and driving gravel into her knees and elbows.  She felt Harry bounce against her then slip away.  Suddenly, she slammed against a wall and all momentum stopped.  She lay still gasping for breath.  She heard a distant curse.  John?

“Fuck!”  Harry yelled. “Lizzy?”

Liz reached for the snap on her helmet. “Here.”

“Get up…we gotta get to cover!”  Harry yelled.

Bits of asphalt and gravel ricocheted from the ground as Liz realized they were under attack.  She rolled over and saw she was close to the bike.  She grabbed the strap of both their go-bags then followed Harry as he crawled to the side of a building.

John grabbed his pack from his bike and crawled behind a concrete barrier.  “Hey, you two okay?” He called out.

Liz looked at her scrapped knees and elbows where blood was soaking through the denim.  “I’m fine.”  She turned to Harry and examined a knot on his head.  He nodded slowly.  “Harry’s a little banged up, but we’re good.”

John answered.  “Fuckers killed my bike.  Front end is trashed.”

Shots pinged off the concrete again.  “They’re up high, at least half a dozen shooters.”  Harry pulled his handgun and pointed to the corner.  “We have to get the ammo bags and my rifle. It’s still tied to the back of my bike.”

When Harry made a move to reach across the open area between the wall and the bike, Liz pulled him back.  “I can do it.  You and John make sure no one has a chance to look up.” Harry started to protest. but she interrupted.  “I’m a smaller target and you two are better shots.”

Liz pulled off her helmet.  Harry grabbed her arm and handed her a knife with thick heavy blade.  He stood and took her helmet.  “When I toss this, they’ll fire. John and I lay down some cover fire.  Get out there and cut the gun and bag from the bike then get back here.  You’ll have maybe ten seconds before they figure out what’s happening so you have to get back by then.”

“I got this.”  Liz whispered.

Harry stepped back, and tossed the helmet underhanded across the street to clatter against a dumpster where is hit the lid and fell inside to clatter against the bottom with a loud crash and thud.

At the first shot, Liz ran to the back of the motorcycle.  She squatted down behind the rolled bike and began sawing at the rifle strapping.  While she worried through the leather she could hear both Harry and John returning fire.  The bag and rifle dropped. She grabbed the strap of the bag, hunched over and hurried back to Harry’s side.  When she glanced over her shoulder she saw dozens of infected converging on the street leading to the bikes.

The group attacking noticed Liz just as she slipped behind the corner of the building and two shots pinged against brick sending shards into the back of her leg.  Harry peeked around the wall and fired two quick shots then fell back to release a magazine and slam a fresh one into place.

“You okay?”  Harry asked.  When she nodded, he spoke into his helmet one last time.  Head north, John.  We’ll be right behind you as soon as you’re clear.”

Harry peeked around the building, fired and jerked back before answering fire could find its target.  Liz pulled the rifle from the case and handed it to Harry.  He pulled off his helmet and whispered.  “Get low. Take two quick shots then get back and take the bag and run after John.  I’ll be right behind you after I send a couple rounds at the guy on the roof.”

“Got it.”  Liz took the shots, backed clear then grabbed the bag and ran.

Harry stepped away from the corner with the rifle pressed against his shoulder.  He fired.  A shooter across the street toppled from the top of a two story building to the pavement with a blood chilling shriek.  He fell to the street.  One of the attacker on the ground rushed to pick up the injured man but was attacked by two infected.

Harry retreated and the shooter concentrated their fire on the infected attacking their comrade.  Screams from both attackers ended quickly when a single shot rang out.  Another shot silenced the second voice screaming in terror and pain.

Harry limped to where John and Liz waited.  John slid Harry’s arm over his shoulder and the trio hurried around the corner of the first building with the sound of gunfire still echoing in the distance.

Liz struggled to carry two backpacks and the gun bag but kept her feet moving.  At the first break between buildings, they made a left turn, went half a block then right.

The distant gunfire grew less intense then was reduced to single shots as if the shooters were singling out deliberate targets.  The harried voices had long since faded away.  Finally, Harry pulled away from John’s grasp and rocked back against a building wall.

“We have to find a place to hide out until they give up looking for us.”  John announced.

They each scanned the surrounding buildings looking for a place to call sanctuary.  Harry walked to the end of the building and looked down the row of offices and store fronts.  Wandering infected stumbled into view at the far end of the complex.

“We gotta move.” Harry whispered.

“You can’t, Harry.  We have to stop and clean John up and tape your ankle.”

“Has to wait.”  Harry picked up his pack and limped to the opposite end of the building and took a quick look.  “Come on.”

Liz picked up her own pack and the gun bag and began walking.  John slipped up and grabbed the other strap to take some of the load.  Liz gave a quick nod and followed Harry.

He led them down the alley, around a building then through a maze of single story buildings until they left the business park and entered a wooded area.  After nearly a mile Harry stopped, gasping for air.  “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Brian looked up. “How far?”

“Eight miles, maybe.”  Juan answered.

“Like I said, in the morning.”

Another twelve hours, Brian figured the construction workers would be recovered enough to make the trip after their drinking binge and resulting hangovers.  The food prepared by the women did a lot to aid in their recovery.  Brian decided the trio was decent men, just overwhelmed by the situation.

As the sun set and the bar darkened, everyone migrated to booths and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep.  Soon the women were out and Dale curled up on the floor on a pile of cardboard.

For Brian, it was a losing proposition with all the noise from the dead in the street.  He and Billy repacked backpacks and readied supplies before Billy settled on a vinyl bench near the door.  At one, he changed places with Brian when spent the early part of the evening watching the street.

Eugene and Juan were the first to stir.  Juan put on coffee and threw dozens of sausage links on the grill.  He made flour tortilla and as folks got to moving arund, passed out the impromptu breakfast.

They were out the door by full light.  The group spent the day of slipping from doorway to doorway, dodging infected and stumbling past horrible scene of mayhem.  By the time they got to the office building, Brian was ready to shoot at least two of the party.

Getting inside was easy, since Eugene had a key to the back door.  He explained, the crew working on the rehab of the third floor offices were only allowed to work at night.  The night security didn’t want to be bothered every time they needed to open the back door or loading dock to bring supplies in the building.

Brian and his group slipped inside the building without a problem.  Eugene ushered everyone into the back hall, then pulled the door closed.  They stood in the dark listening and sniffing at the stagnant air.

Billy turned to Brian.  “What do you think?”

“We check it out.” Brian answered. “Billy, stay here.  Eugene and I will check out the lobby and security.”

Brian left Billy and the others at the back door then followed Eugene to the lobby.  The reception desk was empty and windowed front of the building was intact.  The reflective glass hid any movement inside. They rounded the reception desk and opened a door to a back hallway.  They walked past the security office.  They found no sign of infected or victims alike.

“Good sign.”  Eugene grinned.  They made their way back to the others and led the group down a hall to a security office.  When he called out a name, everyone shushed him.

“We do this quiet.”  Brian ordered.

Eugene nodded sheepishly.

The place was clean and quiet.  Despite no obvious signs of danger, Brian pointed to the office.

“Dale, you, Juan and the women stay here.  We’ll come back for you.”

“But?” Juan started to protest.

“We’re clearing each floor before we settle down.”  Brian ordered.  He pointed to Eugene and Leon, “You two take the second floor, Billy and I will clear the rest of this floor then move on to the third floor.  When you’re done, head up to the fourth floor.  Don’t take chances.”

Eugene grinned.  “Got it.”  He turned to Leon and slapped him on the shoulder good naturedly. “Come on, buddy.”

Brian and Billy cleared the rest of the first floor while the construction workers cleared the second floor where they had been working.

Brian and Billy, working as a team, made quick work of the open floor with a dozen offices. They began clearing the third floor when the construction workers appear at the exit door.

“Second floor is good, boss.”  Eugene announced.  “We’re going to the top floor.”

“Be careful.” Brian ordered as Eugene disappeared back through the stair door.

It all would have worked out just fine if one of the security guards hadn’t come to work sick or bit.  Somehow both guards ended up trapped in an office at the end of the hall on the top floor.

Working together, Eugene and Leon cleared each office. Eugene jerked open each door, moving to the right while making room for Leon to follow close behind him.  Together, they cleared the office then Eugene moved to the next door leaving Leon to close the door behind them.  Until they got to the executive suite at the end of the hall.

Eugene was sure it was more of the same so he jerked open the mahogany door and charged into the well-appointed office.  Leon was still admiring the sun dancing off the crystal canisters on the glass shelves behind the bar when he heard a loud curse.  Leon turned just in time to see Eugene disappear into the office.

Inside the office, the steel-toe of Eugene’s boot caught on the fleshless leg of the mutilated body of one of the guards.  Eugene tumbled across the body ending up face to face with a torn and shredded face.  Horrified, he jerked away from the gnashing teeth and picked up his hammer to stove in the man’s head.  Blood, bones and brains splatter across the expensive carpet with the first crack of the skull.  Still angered at the sudden terror of the gnashing teeth so close to his face.

“Fucker!”  Eugene yelled as he drove the weapon into the skull again and again.

So intent in destroying the monster, Eugene failed to notice a shadow step from behind the opened door until he felt a stab of pain on his shoulder. He yelped as he dropped the hammer. He rolled over to kick at the monster as he tried to crab-crawl away.

Leon burst into the room and swung his hammer into the head of the second guard that had bitten Eugene.  When the body lay still on the floor Leon looked up to see Eugene getting to his feet.

Eugene stumbled across the room to the massive ornate desk and collapsed onto the executive chair.  Leon stood over the monster he had killed with his hammer still dripping blood and brains when Brian and Billy walked in a few minutes later.

Brian sent Billy for the rest of the party and gave orders to put them in the office across the hall.  He put the women and Dale inside and closed the door.

Brian took in the blood and gore of the room and crossed the blood soaked carpet to the desk.

“Well this sucks.” Eugene announced with a crooked grin.

Brian nodded. “Sorry, man.”

Eugene reached in his pocket and laid a keyring on the table.  “Only works the back door where we came in.” He sighed. “I’d appreciate you not letting me turn.”

Brian nodded.  “No problem. I can do that for you.”

When Billy, Leon and Juan returned, they covered the bodies of the guards. Leon went back to the second floor to retrieve a large roll of construction plastic.  They rolled the two guards in plastic then moved each of the bodies to the second floor and left them behind a pile of construction debris.

The next morning when Eugene died, Brian picked up a letter opener from the desk and ensured he wouldn’t become one of the walking dead. They wrapped his body and moved to the second floor as well.

When Leon protested, Brian answered. “It’s not up for discussion. We’re going to be here until tomorrow or the next day and I, for one, do not want to smell dead bodies and shit the entire time.”

After getting everyone fed, Brian announced he and Billy would be looking through the building for supplies.  When they returned mid-afternoon, everyone had managed to clean up and Leo and Juan volunteered to stand first and second watch so Brian and Billy could rest.

Brian took the early morning watch.  He stood in the dark facing the street below from the darkened office window and thought about the last few days.

He had been dealing with a domestic squabble when the attack happened.  By the time he got his prisoner into the holding cell at the office and to the parade grounds the bio teams were in place and directing emergency services.  He was given gloves and a mask and put to assist transporting the sick and dying to a hospital half way across town.

Without anyone noticing the colorless mist had drifted away to a nearby residential area.  Of course, no one knew or understood the implications at the time, they were too busy trying to save the lives.

Brian warned Liz when he saw the number of people writhing on the grass.  He saw the situation was worse than anything ever imagined so he broke protocol and warned his wife to leave.  As the day wore on he prayed his family had escaped San Antonio and were safely tucked away at her father’s hunting lodge. The image of his wife and girls safe kept him moving.

Brian still hated to close his eyes. Images of the mid-town hospital still haunted his slumber.  That was where he saw the first of the infected attack the living.

Dozens of bodies lying on gurneys had been pushed into a side hall not far from the emergency room.  Without anyone noticing the dead stumbled to their feet and walked the halls attacking anyone they stumbled across.  After half a dozen staff members went missing, the infected managed to escape the hall and enter the emergency room where Brian waited with two paramedics.

It was chaos.  The dead appeared, covered in the blood of those they attacked.  They pounced on doctors and nurses alike.  Brian was unsure of what to do like everyone else. No one wanted to shoot infected soldiers or civilians.  Orderlies, medics and emergency staff raced into the mayhem to pull the infected from the doctors and nurses only to be attacked themselves.  Each and every one fell attempting to save staff.  Brian pulled his handgun but hesitated.

Then a shot rang out.  After the first blast there was an explosion of gunfire echoing throughout the building.  A female voice screamed “head-shots”.

Brian fired at one infected, then another.  With head shots, they dropped.  An officer with three enlisted men ran past him toward the door.  Brian fired again and again putting down more infected dressed in scrubs.

The last man, leaving the building, grabbed his arm.  “Gotta go, sir!”

The last man grabbed Brian’s arm and pulled him back through the opening.

“Close the fuckin’ doors.  Get ‘em secured!”  A commanding voice called out as the soldiers ran back toward Brian.

“Help us get this door sealed or we’re dead!”  One of the soldiers called out.

Stunned Brian helped slam the two sliders closed then secured them.  The officer stood at the side of the building with a hand covering his bleeding arm.

The soldiers who pulled him from the hospital had saved Brian’s life, but all he could think about was the people left trapped in the emergency room with the infected screaming as they were being torn apart.  With another barked order, the men ran to a nearby ambulance, hopped in and drove away.  Brian decided he could do nothing by staying so he jumped in the ambulance as well.

After a brief discussion, Brian directed the young PFC driving the vehicle to the MP office.  He figured it was the closest place to get more ammo and guns.

When they got to the single story green building, they walked in to the sounds of a man screaming to be released.

Brian walked back to the cell. “Shut the fuck up!” He ordered in a voice that left no room for argument.

“What’s going on? Everyone ran outta here and no one’s been back.” The soldier asked.

“I’m letting you out of here. Get your ass home and protect his family.” Brian threw him the keys to a military sedan parked at the side of the building.  “Don’t stop for anyone. Infected people are attacking anyone they get their hands on. Don’t get bit.”

The soldier ran out of the office.  A moment later and engine cranked and the sound slowly disappeared moments later.  Brian locked up the building and went back to the briefing room where he had left the injured soldiers.  He bandaged each of the injuries on three of the four men then watched as they sickened. One by one they succumbed to illness.

Six hours later, Brian put a bullet in Major Winston’s head then two of his men an hour after that.  The only soldier to survive was the kid that had pulled Brian from the hospital.  PFC Billy Walker was still with Brian, expecting him to tell him what to do next.  Brian laughed.  The kid was green as grass, but he knew how to take orders.  That was a good thing.

Lieutenant Brian Jameson looked through the blood smeared fourth-floor window of the office building to the streets below.  A lot of the infected had followed the last of the army vehicles as they thundered from the base the day before.  He and PFC Walker watched the vehicles pull out unable to do a thing about it.

He had known there were more soldiers on the base, but when he had lost his radio he had no way of contacting them without drawing attention to their hiding place.  Land lines were down and cell service was overloaded and none of the calls connected.  The one time he had gotten his wife’s cell phone to ring, it went to voicemail.  She hadn’t answered. Were Liz and his daughters still alive?

He forced his thoughts from his family.  He could do nothing to help them.  He had people to help here and now. The four story office building was the third structure Brian and the PFC had used to hide from the infected since leaving the Army base.

The day the surviving military left the base had been bad and nearly sent PFC Billy Walker into a panic.

“Son of a bitch!”  Billy gasped.  “We’re so fucked!”

Brian reached out and shoved the kid behind a vehicle then fired a silenced round into the head of an infected woman who had taken notice of his outburst.  “Quiet.”

“If we cut across the base we can head northwest.  Maybe we can catch up.”

They spent the next few hours working their way past the enlisted men’s barracks and office buildings and around groups of infected.  By late in the afternoon they realized most traffic was at a standstill and any vehicles that were still moving were being quickly brought to a stop and surrounded by the infected.  No noise was the key so they were traveling on foot, at least, until the edge of the city.

Even if they found the surviving soldiers, they would be surrounded by the dead.  The loud military vehicles were rolling dinner bells.

As the afternoon sun began to fade they were left at the edge of a strip center.  Only one door seemed intact so Brian used a crowbar to pop the door from the frame and slipped into a building.  He sniffed and signaled Billy inside.

They wedged the door closed and moved through the darkened building.  When they got to the back of a long hall to a small breakroom they found three people huddled in the corner too afraid to even turn on a light.  They had had few supplies to start with and nothing but water since the day before.

The two women and an overweight insurance salesman were so terrified they could barely speak.  Brian and Billy calmed the hysteria caused by their arrival and got enough information to know they needed food.  They shared a few supplies then left the trio to scavenge supplies from other offices in the building.

“What are we going to do with them?”  Billy asked.

Brian used the toe of his boot to ease the door open as he held the silenced handgun in front of him.  The room was a call center filled with thirty-plus waist-high cubicles, arranged in four rows of cubes extending the length of the room. One row was positioned against the wall on either side and the two middle rows were separated by a five-foot soft wall.

“Perfect.  Pay attention, Billy.  It doesn’t look like anyone is here, but stay alert.  We need shoes for the women. Go through drawers and cabinets.  Look for anything we might be able to use, shoes for the women, food, pants, or t-shirts. Even jackets if you can find a couple.”

“Yes sir.” Billy grinned.

Brian moved to the pathway to the right while Billy approached the corridor on the left.  Brian moved past the first cube with an assortment of posted notes bottom of the computer screen and a photo of a dark haired little girl.  Brian laid the picture flat and opened each of the drawers.  He scored two Slim Jims and a Candy bar. He dropped them in a plastic bag and turned to the cubical to the right.

Brian could hear Billy moved down the opposite corridor opening drawers, rattling bags and checking out every cubical.  It took nearly five minutes to search all the cubicles.  At the end, Billy looked around the corner and grinned.  Over his shoulder hung two pair of jogging shoes tied together by the strings, He held a jacket and a sweater and some kind of a shawl.

“Only scored a couple Ramen noodle cups, but not much in the way of food. They had a butt load of rotten salads.”   Billy grinned.  “But I got shoes.”

Brian nodded. “I got food, and a pair of shoes, small though.  Most of my side was used by men. They worried more about food then clothes.”

They cleared the manager’s office and found a bowl of candy but little else of value.  They got back to the trio and settled down for the night.

The two women, Paula and Margo, worked in an office across the street.  When the office was attacked, then ran to the next office door and slipped inside and locked the door.  Dale Witman was a three pack a day smoker and showed it.  He had watched the mayhem from his office and the three of them had decided to hunker down and wait for help.  Help that never came.

Brian tossed the three pairs of shoes on the floor in front of the two women and Dale.  The women tried on shoes and settled on the two smaller pair leaving Dale wear the pink jogging shoes. When he started to protest Brian turned and glared at him.

“Wear ‘em or not.  I don’t care. But I’m telling you right now, you keep up or I will leave you behind.”

Dale slid his feet out of the expensive loafers and jammed his feet into the pink running shoes

They spent the night and moved on at dawn.  They moved down alleys, around building and through parking garaging until they got caught between two drifting herds of infected  in the middle of the afternoon.

“Do something.”  Dale clutched at Brian’s arm.  “We’re going to die!”

Brian jerked his arm away.  “Shut up!”

He glanced up and down the block then turned to a scared door at his side.  He jammed the crowbar between the door and wood facing.  With a crack of wood the door swung open. Billy stepped inside, fanning the light from side to side and sniffing at the stagnant air.

He stopped at the sight of three bodies slumped in a corner booth.  The table was littered with dozens of beer bottles.  The stench of stale beer made him take a step back but Brian pushed him further into the room.   Brian led the others into the bar and eased the door closed then jammed a chair under the doorknob. The three men snorted and groaned then returned to slumbering.

Brian gave them a quick onceover and realized the three bodies were live men, just dead drunk.  They each wore tool belts of construction workers and had obviously been drinking for quite a few days.

Paula with Margo in tow went behind the bar.  She used a rubber band to pull back her long dark hair and dug around behind the polished bar until she found coffee and filters.  Once the smell of coffee filled the air, she began searching for food.  At the smell of food cooking and coffee the drunks began to stir.

Two hours later, most of the group sat together at a large table discussing how they ended up at the bar.  After one last look outside, Brian settled down to eat.  Billy took his place watching through the small peephole in the door.

After brief introductions, Brian asked.  “So Eugene, Juan and Leon, what’s your story?”  He slathered mustard on his burger and stale bun and took a big bite of sandwich.

Eugene, the foreman on the construction project the trio had been working on announced. “We were working on this building on the outskirts of town before the attack.  We took outta there together.  I got hit by a sedan a few blocks from here.  We barely escaped a bunch of those crazy people. Got this far, and couldn’t decide to what to do next.”  He chuckled.  “Besides, I was outta beer at home.

Juan interrupted.  “I knew the bartender that worked here.  We got to the back door it was open.  No one was here when we come in.”

Eugene laughed.  “Been here ever since.”  He belched. “Couldn’t decide what to do and we could lock the place up, so we just had a drink or two to think about what to do next.”

Leon, a muscular black man with a big smile, chuckled. “We weren’t thinking on it too hard.”

“We’re leaving in the morning.  You can come or not.  Up to you.”  Brian answered.

Juan leaned closer.  “Where are you going?”

“Southwest until we can find a place to get a ride then head out of town.”

“We know a place.  It should be empty and we can find a vehicle since there’s a used car lot nearby.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After filling gas tanks, Harry led Liz to the bike and pulled her onto the seat behind him. She clung to his black leather jack, too lost in her own misery to speak during the next three hours of riding. She laid her head against his back and let the world slip away.

Dusk was quickly settling around them when John finally slowed enough to allow Harry to pull his bike alongside side. They stopped in the middle of the blacktop.  He kicked the engine out of gear and he turned to speak to Harry.

“We need to find a place to stop. We’re not gonna make it to the Thompson Highway before dark and I don’t want to chance going through a pack of infected in the dark.”

“I know. Look for a place away from the road.” Harry answered then turned around to speak to Liz. “We’ll be stopping soon. Just hang on, Lizzy.”

Lost in the pain of seeing the infected family at the gas station, Liz closed her eyes to the outside world. She trembled uncontrollably as she imagined her own children’s bodies torn and bloodied like the younger reanimated children. Tears ran down her face. She had to find her daughters and protect them.

Harry pointed at a wood-frame house on a nearby hill. The property was surrounded by a pasture fenced in with several strand of barbed wire. A wooden fence separated the yard and buildings and back half of the property from the open pasture.

“That looks good.”

John kicked the bike in gear and eased over a culvert and faced the crossing the cattle guard.  “Let’s do this.”  He gunned the throttle and rolled over the cattle guard with Harry close behind.


They followed the narrow dirt lane toward the house, all the while looking across the open yard. John pointed to a fenced area at the back of the house. A horse and colt roamed the paddock munching on grass.

“What the fuck?” John cursed into the mic in the helmet.  “See the livestock. You think anyone is here?”

The men stopped the bikes at the gate of the fenced barnyard. John walked to the gate and unhooked the chain. He pushed the gate open until it caught on a clump of scrub grass. John rolled his bike through and allowed Harry to follow. Together they rode to the front of the house. Harry stepped off the bike and looked around. Finally, he cupped his hand around his mouth and called out.

“Hello, the house!”

They waited quietly as John looked toward the outbuildings. Chickens roamed the barnyard. An open barn door allowed the birds and animals sanctuary from night-time predators. He turned back to Harry.

“I don’t think anyone is here.”  John commented.

The two men stared at the graying boards.  The house had needed repainting years ago.  The lace window curtain at the side window danced on the light even breeze.  The place felt empty.  It felt deserted without any hint of the people who once lived there.

“I’m gonna check out the house, but I don’t think anyone is here,” Harry announced.

He walked up the concrete steps to the weathered porch and cupped his hand against the screen to look through the glass at the top half of the door.  “Hello?  Anyone home?”

When he heard nothing inside, he stepped back and opened the ram shackled screen door.   He knock on the glass with the barrel of his handgun. The sound filled the small house then faded away to silence again. After a second rap on the wooden door resulted in no response from inside, he turned back to John.

“We’re going inside. Lizzy, you gotta get your shit together. If anything happens, we need you.” Harry announced.

Liz looked up and swiped at the wet streaks on her face with the back of her hand. “I’m good.” She stepped off the bike and pulled the handgun from the back of her pants.

John stepped away from the silent bikes. He slipped his handgun out of the holster on his hip. He nodded at Liz to step behind Harry’s bike.

“If this goes sideways, you get on that bike and get the hell out of here,” John advised.

“That’s not going to happen.” She headed toward the house with a hard look on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Harry placed his hand on the doorknob just as Liz stepped on the porch. He turned the knob and pushed.  The door opened. Warm air escaped the closed up house with the smell of dried rose petals with a hint of dust. Harry stepped inside with Liz close on his heels.

The old fashion parlor had heavy burgundy drapes partially obscuring the late afternoon light. Harry flicked on a flashlight. He moved the circle of stark white beam from one side of the room to the other.

“Doesn’t look like anyone is here and hasn’t been for some time,” Harry commented. “Let’s make sure then settle down for the night.”

Liz nodded. I’m ready.”

Harry turned to John. “Watch the road.”

Together, Liz and Harry approached each room with weapons drawn. Once the downstairs was cleared, they walked up to the second story to do the same. They entered the first room and saw a guest bedroom and empty closet. The second door was a bedroom still in use. Nothing was out of place. A worn cotton nightgown of flannel lay across the pillow on a sagging double bed. A man’s plaid pajamas lay folded at the foot of the same bed.

Liz looked down and smiled. She could imagine the old couple who lived in the house before the world turned crazy. Then the image shifted to them stumbling through the streets together as one of the monsters, searching for warm human flesh to consume. She frowned.

“It’s clear. Let’s settle in.” Harry whispered softly.

Liz turned and left the room. She followed Harry until he turned to step outside. She headed into the kitchen while Harry went out to the yard where John waited. Liz watched John walk to the front gate and latch it then the two men brought their bike closer to the house.

The kitchen was sparsely appointed, but clean. There was a gas stove, an ancient refrigerator, and sink. The cabinets were filled with carnival glass dishes behind the glass doors. At the side of the sink, a coffee pot rested upside down in a wire drain rack with two coffee cups. A paper had been taped to the refrigerator door. Liz looked closer and realized it was a schedule.

That day, the day the world ended, was circled in red. In ink was written “last chemo”.

Liz picked up a stack of envelopes from the table and fanned through the return addresses. There were nearly half a dozen statements from a cancer treatment center in downtown San Antonio. The owners of the house would not be coming back. She turned away and dropped the stack of paper back to the table.

A sudden noise made Liz jump. She spun around with her gun drawn to face the sound. She stood staring at the kitchen window above the sink when saw a single drop of water fall from the kitchen faucet to ping on a metal pan in the sink.

She walked to the sink and turned a handle, not expecting water to flow, and jumped back when water streamed from the faucet. She turned the water off and looked toward the stove. It was a gas stove. She held her breath when she turned one of the knobs. It clicked twice then lit. She quickly turned off the gas and ran to the back door.

“There’s a gas stove and water!” She called to the two men parking their bikes at the back of the house.

“Fucking A….,” John answered.  “I saw some chickens so I’m going to look for eggs, maybe even catch one for supper.”

Harry laughed. “We’ll eat tonight.”

Liz asked. “Why is there water?”

Harry pointed to several solar panels on the roof of a metal shed at the back of the house. A black cable ran from the panels to a metal pump shed.

“It’s why the animals still have water. That and the infected haven’t found the place.”

Liz kept glancing out windows as she made her way around the house. The house was a time capsule of life before the attacks. In the kitchen, she opened drawers and cabinets. The woman of the house was an orderly housekeeper even down to the junk drawer. Liz pocketed two lighters and a book of matches before closing the drawer.

She opened a side door and stepped out on an enclosed sun porch and saw a freezer near the door. She reached out, her hand shaking as she raised the lid. She gasped at the cold white mist billowing from the depths.

When the air cleared, she smiled at the site of the treasure of food inside. She reached for one of the loaves of home bread. Liz took a loaf out, closed the door and walked back into the kitchen. John grinned as he held out a straw lined wire bucket with a dozen eggs inside.

“Bread!” John laughed. “Thought I’d never have bread again. “

Liz grinned. “It was in the freezer on the sun porch…It has all kinds of food inside.”

Harry walked to the sink and turned the faucet on. “Fucking unbelievable. This place is fucking unbelievable.”

He stuck his hands under the stream of water and sighed deeply when it grew warm. He splashed water on his face and scrubbed at the grime on his hand and face. He stuck his head under the faucet and let water run over it.

Liz glanced around the kitchen and found a hand towel hanging on the back of a chair. She handed it to Harry as he turned off the water.

“I can’t believe water and lights are still on.” She commented.

“It’s a real find.” Harry sighed. “I need a real shower, but we’ve got to do a few things.”

John laughed. “I saw a barrel of cans out back. I’m gonna set up rock cans between the out buildings out back. You find any string? If I don’t find any wire out back I can use it.”

“There’s some in the third drawer left of the sink,” Liz answered.

“Did you figure out anything out about the owners?” Harry answered.

Liz nodded at the table. “They were in San Antonio that day.” She walked to the stove and turned on the front burner. “Give me a couple minutes to fry some eggs then you can get busy.”

A few minutes later, they each gulped down an egg sandwich smeared with mayonnaise. They had run out of food the day before and they all three needed a quick meal that would fill stomachs. The two men were far from satisfied, but it was enough to get them through the next few hours. Liz picked at the egg, gagged then ate only the bread.

“If you catch a chicken we can have it for dinner,” Liz commented.

“Sounds good.” Harry grinned as the trio stepped out of the house.

They crossed the yard to a tool shed. After clearing the small building, Harry riffled through tools and gardening supplies and found a roll of thin wire intended for electrical fencing. He stuck a pair of wire cutter in his back pocket and headed back outside. He began stringing wire at the corner of the shed and headed toward the small barn. He walked about six feet, twisted the wire around the lid of the can, dropped three or four rocks inside and pushed the lid closed.

With a flick of his hand, the rocks rattled against the side of the can. John held the wire taught while Harry repeated the process half a dozen more times. He wrapped the wire around a post twice then secured the end with a twist of his wrist.  He looked back at the knee high red-neck alarms and grinned.

Liz asked. “How can I help?”

“Put rocks in cans and use that string to balance them between the wooden posts out front,” Harry stated. “You only need to put a couple on each section of fencing should do.”

“Try to get done before dark,” John added.

“Got it,” Liz answered.

Liz picked up a plastic bag from the kitchen, walked back to the can pile and filled it with at least a couple soda cans then headed toward the fence.

Liz got to the fence and picked up a handful of rocks. She dropped a few in the can and shook it. She stood up, looped the string around a post, then the can tab of two cans. She pulled the string taught and slipped another loop on the next post. She brushed it with her finger against the string and the stones and cans rattled. Not loud, but in the quiet of night without traffic it should be enough. She finished the “alarm” cans and headed for the house.

She walked past the guys crouched at the side of John’s bike. “I’m going inside and get cleaned up. Don’t be too long.”

Harry threw a wave and answered. “No problem. It’s getting dark so we’ll be in pretty quick. Don’t turn on lights if you can help it. Try to find candles and cover the windows.”

“Got it,” Liz answered.

An hour later, Liz wore a fresh pair of jeans that were too big and a man’s plaid shirt while her own clothes hung on a clothesline at the side of the house. John, good to his word, had spent ten minutes chasing chickens around the barnyard until he finally caught a scrawny looking gimpy hen. He cut the head off then delivered it to Liz with a big grin.

“That’s a pretty sad looking excuse for a hen.”  Liz commented.

“Lucky I caught it. Do you want me to gut it?”

“No, I can take care of it.  Just finish what you’ve been doing and come on inside.  This place makes me nervous.”

“We’re fine.  It’s quiet here.” John walked away glancing around at the deepening shadows.

Liz walked back inside to retrieve a pot of boiling water.  Having anticipating cleaning the chicken, she had filled a huge pot with water and placed it on the gas stove over a bright blue flame as soon as she came in the house.

She had filled a smaller pot with water and set it over the flame when she removed the first pot.  She carried the boiling water outside where the chicken lay on the back steps.

She grabbed the chicken and dunked it in the water, swished it around for a minute then pulled it from the water to tug at a couple feathers. The aroma of wet feathers wafted up from the scalding water.  When the feathers didn’t pull free easily, she jammed the bird back in the pot and sloshed it around for another minute.

When she pulled at the feathers a second time and they came out easily. A few minutes later, the bird lay nude at her feet. She threw out the water, picked up a knife and cut open the back end of the chicken. With a quick flick of the knife, she opened up the cavity and clawed out the organs. She dumped the offal into a bucket holding the feathers, saving the gizzard, liver, and heart. She dropped the chicken into the empty pan with the kitchen knife.

John walked just as she was finishing.  “I wondered if you knew how to do that.”

“You’re a day late…” Liz answered. “Do you mind taking the bucket to the garden and bury the guts.”

“I got it.” John retrieved the pale. “Since you’re cooking and I’m such a nice guy.”

“Well, nice guy, if you hurry up there’s time for both of you to shower while I fix dinner.”

Liz picked up the pot ready to head inside.

Harry opened the door to let Liz enter the back porch and turned to John. “Keep an eye on things while I shower. When I’m done, I’ll relieve you. I know the animals are still around and it’s been safe until now, but I think we need to keep watch.”

Harry followed Liz inside as she asked. “You don’t think it’s safe.”

He answered. “If the place doesn’t get noticed by roaming infected it should be. The flood lights had been turned off. That’s why no one has noticed this place. This house is off the beaten path and probably anyone who noticed it figured it was abandoned, just like us. We need to keep it that way. No lights after dark.”

“Got it. I’m boiling the chicken. There was a package of noodles in the freezer and potatoes in the frig.” Liz answered. “I found a whole box of dinner candles anda  package of emergency candles in the pantry.”

Harry accepted a short candle anchored to a saucer with melted wax. He disappeared into the gloom down the hall.

Meanwhile, Liz cut up the chicken and dropped the pieces in the boiling water. She added onions, salt, and pepper. She retrieved the potatoes from the frig, walked to the sink to peel potatoes. She watched as John appeared from around the corner of the shed with the bucket in hand.

When he stepped inside the kitchen, he set it down on the edge of the sink. Inside were lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers.

“I noticed these in the garden. I thought it would make a decent salad.” He grinned.

Harry walked into the kitchen wearing a pair of overalls at least a full size too small. He could only hook a single strap over the shoulder.

John laughed. “Farmer Harry. Never thought I’d ever see you in a pair of overalls.”

“Fuck you.” Harry raised his hand with a single finger extended upwards. “I take it, all’s quiet.”

“I walked the perimeter. The place is fenced. If anything show’s up the fencing in back of the property will slow them down. Only vehicle access is the drive we came in on.”

Harry nodded then ordered. “Get your sorry ass upstairs and cleaned up. I hadn’t noticed how bad you smell until now.”

Liz smiled as she stuck a fork into the boiling chicken. “Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready as soon as I put the salad together.”

She opened the bag of homemade noodles and dumped them into the pot with the chicken and turned up the heat.

John grinned as he walked away. “Ten minutes top.”

She put two scoops of flour in a bowl, added a couple tablespoons of shortening, salt and added water with powdered milk. Liz spooned dumplings into the boiling chicken and noodles and replaced the lid.

Harry with a little help from Liz put the salad together. He set it on the table just as John appeared in an identical pair of overalls. Unlike Harry who barely fit into the faded denim, John buttoned both straps and even wore a borrowed white t-shirt under it.

Liz scooped up the dirty clothes, walked them to the porch and started the washer.

Liz sat the pot of chicken and noodles on the table beside a big bowl of mashed potatoes.

“I think I died and gone to heaven,” John commented as he scooped a pile of potatoes on his plate. He ladled noodles and dumpling on top and let a skinless chicken thigh slide to the plate.

“Looks mighty good, Lizzy,” Harry commented.

Liz sat picking at a slice of bread until she finally pushed the plate away.

“Harry watched her as he brought spoonful after spoonful of food to his mouth. “Lizzy?”

Liz looked up. “Sorry. I guess I tasted too much.”

She rose and walked to the window and looked out. The room had grown dark with only a single candle on the table. She pulled the blind in the window down making sure it touched the windowsill.

“I’ll check out front and make sure the door is closed.” She disappeared into the gloom of the front of the house. As she walked from window to window, she marveled at the darkness outside. With the stand of trees around the remote farmhouse, they wouldn’t see anyone until they were nearly at the door.  She stared out into the gloom.

“What’s the matter, Lizzy?” Harry asked from the dark doorway behind her.

“Nothing. I need to find my family.” She answered in a whisper.

“That’s not it.” Harry answered.

“You know as well as I do what the world is like out there. How could three men take care of them? Babies cry. If Claire cried, it could be death for all of them. A ten-year old can’t keep up with grown men if they have to run. How can we find them?”

“Lizzy, it’s turned into a really a dangerous world.” Harry shrugged. “But that’s not the problem, is it? We need to get you to your old man’s place. You can’t keep riding around on that damned bike. Not now.”

Liz placed her hands on her lower abdomen. “I have my girls to find before I can worry about this child.”

Harry blew out a breath. “No. We’re done. You’re girls are in God’s hands. We’ve been chasing around the country roads looking for military vehicles that we can’t even be sure passed this way.”

“But….” Liz protested.

“We can’t keep taking chances now. If you don’t survive, neither will this child. The girls will have no one to come home to.”  Harry turned to walk away then turned back and added. “What would your husband want you to do?”