Posts Tagged ‘Zombie’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretty proud of yourself,” Tate whispered.

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

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

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

“Then do something about it,” Tate answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s bad, I won’t lie. But those bodies are decaying. Eventually, there won’t be the herds of infected. The world will have to learn to deal with the dead and dying in a new way, but I think we can survive. Maybe, even thrive.”

“How can that be? More people are infected every day. We see new turns every time we stopped.”

“Like I said. People will hunker down and survive while the bodies of the infected decay. Once they’re gone, communities will learn to trade and co-operate.”

“Or not,” Zack added.

“Good people will step up and work together. It will be different than it was before, but life will go on.” Steve yawned. “Come on big guy, get some rest. We stay close to the girls. I’ll wake you around two.”

*****

At first light, Zack retied his shoes and yawned as he got to his feet. He walked past Steve as he added several sticks into the Dakota pit.

“I’m gonna check the snares I put out. Maybe we can have something besides oatmeal.” He checked the skinning knife at his belt as he walked away.

“I’ll put on the water for oatmeal,” Steve called after him.

Zack raised his hand with his middle finger extended.

Steve chuckled as he picked up his prosthetics. When both were in place, he made his way to the stream where h found a large rock at the edge and settled on top. Steve retrieved a bar of soap then pulled off his t-shirt and used it as a makeshift washcloth. When Steve was satisfied he was as clean as he could get, he splashed the shirt around a few more times before fumbling to his feet with the wet shirt in hand.

He made his way back to the camp where he took a long stick and draped his shirt over the end and propped it over the fire to dry. Just as he finished adjusting the angle of his shirt, he heard a branch snap nearby and stepped back against the thick trunk of the Pin Oak tree. He took a calming breath the eased around to look toward the sound with his handgun drawn. A heartbeat later he stepped out just in time to intercept Zack. “Well?”

Zack held up two squirrels that had been skinned and gutted. “Breakfast of champions.” He whispered softly. “You think Della can make some fresh biscuits?”

“I wouldn’t plan on it.” Steve laughed. “I’ll break the backs and lay them out on the grate. While I do that, can you get the girls up then get the horses watered. We’ll let them graze a bit more before we saddle up and head out. Penny can come help me.”

Zack sighed dejectedly, “I was hoping for three.”

“You did just fine. We’ll make due,” Steve answered as he pulled his shirt off the stick and pulled it over his head. It smelled of smoke and was still damp but at this point, felt cleaner than it had been.

After a quick breakfast, the tarp was taken down, the horses were saddled, and the duffle bags loaded. When everyone was mounted, and Penny sat in front of her mother, she kicked her heels then called out. “Gitty up.”

Steve obliged by touching his stirrups to the horse. The day got hotter and hotter as they shadowed the highway. His t-shirt clung to his back while dark rings of sweat circled his armpits. Trees grew fewer and farther between. As he rode, he hoped the place he was leading the other to was not this arid and unforgiving. For the first time, he began to question his destination. The horses plodded along without complaint but the riders not so much. Hours became long and grueling.

“Steve we have to stop. Everyone is exhausted.” Della called out.

The light faded as the party of five sat watching the sun settle behind distant hills is a display of gold, oranges, and shades a red. Finally, Steve spoke. “We should get to the outskirts of Van Horn in two days.” The Dakota Fire still smoldered below ground.

“How big of a place is it?”

Steve shrugged. “Maybe two thousand people so I’m hoping to find some supplies. We could use clothes, food, and footwear.”

Darlene brushed Penny’s damp hair from her face. “It’s hot now, but winter this far north can be brutal.”

“I don’t want to show up at Randy’s with nothing to offer,” Steve commented.

Della turned to Steve. “What do you mean? Do you think they would turn us away?”

“No. Not at all,” Steve answered.

“Then why do you seem worried?” Della asked.

“I just want to have more to offer than a gimp and three women,” He laughed.

“You’re baiting me,” Della smiled.

Steve nodded. “We have five horses, but I don’t plan on handing them over to anyone if I don’t have to. They’re our trading future down the road.”

“What do you mean?” Darlene asked.

Steve took a deep breath. “We’re joining a community. As such, we either live off their charity, or we become a critical component. We have five horses two males, and three mares and two of those are pregnant. That gives us leverage.”

Zack cocked his head to the side. “You’re thinking long term?”

“Yes. But this only works if the camp doesn’t have many horses. That’s why, if we get a chance, we need to gather supplies or items that are light, easy to transport and will be in high demand. Drugs or seeds are at the top of the list. A good alternative would be ammo. But ammo is heavy, and that would limit the amount we could carry.”

“What about fishing gear?” Zack asked. “Line, hooks, that kinda thing.”

Steve laughed. “Anything that will help a community survive would be good. We’ll just have to keep our eyes open.”

Della picked up her bedroll on the patch of grass near where she had been sitting. “I’m going to turn in, folks. I’m exhausted.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Steve agreed.

Darlene chuckled. “Penny has been out for the last ten minutes. Della, will you spread out that extra blanket for her?”

“Sure.” Della laid the blanket out for Penny near Darlene’s bedroll under the tarp.

After a few minutes, both women had settled down under the tarp. Zack and Steve still sat by the dim glow of the fire.

Zack swatted at a dark spec on his arm. “Damned bugs.”

“Yeah. Nothing compared to the mosquitos around South Houston.” Steve laughed. “Half a dozen of those suckers are big enough to suck you dry in twenty minutes.”

“Never been there,” Zack answered. “Fact is, I was never outta San Antonio before now much less the state.” His voice trailed off.

“You doing alright?” Steve asked.

“I guess. I don’t know. I keep thinking I’ll never see my mom again.” His voice was soft with emotion.

“There’s a good chance none of us will know what happened to our families. My dad still lives in Galveston. I don’t imagine it was spared since Houston was overrun.”

“The world is pretty screwed,” Zack whispered.

“That old bastard?” Tate laughed. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to Randy.” Her face grew serious. “All I know about him is he bought an old run down hunting lodge out there about three years ago. They’ve been fixing it up. The website just went live before, well… It looked pretty sweet. Pretty big lodge with a dozen cabins or so.”

“So it could be a safe place for the girls?”

“Hell yeah,” Tate answered. “Last I heard they planned a self-contained facility since they were so far off the beaten path.”

“You could take the kids!” Matt brightened.

“Wait a minute, cowboy. I don’t do babies.” Tate protested. “I didn’t babysit as a kid, and I don’t know shit about taking care of no babies.”

Jake laughed. “My boy, Matt knows all about changing diapers and makin’ bottles.”

“Not so fast, folks. Dip-shit there owes me a new truck. He has to hook me up before I’m willing to go anywhere with or without kids.” Tate snorted.

Matt raised his hand in defeat. “I know what I owe you. When we get the camp set up, I’ll go with you back to Hondo. But that means me and the kids go to Pine Springs with you.”

“It’s a deal. But, I don’t do crying babies. I drive. You take care of the kids.” Tate added.

“Fine.” Matt conceded.

Tate got to her feet and handed the empty bottle to Larry. “You folks got a week then I plan on heading north.” She breezed out the back door leaving the table of soldiers to stare at the black ink visible around her shirt.

“Well, shit,” Mumbled Matt. “I guess that settles it.” He looked around the table then continued. “We have a plan so let’s get some sleep before we have to stand guard duty. We’ll call a meeting after breakfast. All adult will need to attend.”

Jenkins and his companion got to their feet and headed for the door. Matt followed them out into the summer night. Heat still wafted up from the hard packed dirt of the parking lot. Dark of night had settled on the camp leaving only a hint of light from the moon and stars. A soft glow from lanterns and candles could be seen around the blinds in the rec-room building.

Jake walked up behind Matt and cleared his throat. “I can’t be going to Pine Springs.”

Matt turned to face him. “Wasn’t planning on it. I noticed how you’ve been sleeping upstairs.”

“All she’s got is that baby. I won’t let her loose the boy. Besides, I think I love her.”

“Then she’s a lucky woman.” Matt slapped Jake on the back. “I’m not taking you or Larry when I go.”

“What do you mean?” Jake asked.

“It’s going to be just me, Tate and the girls,” Matt answered. “Anyone else going would leave the camp shorthanded.”

“How will you get back? She’s planning on staying.” Larry asked.

“I’ll figure out something. I imagine the grandfather will be glad enough to have the kids, I can talk them outta vehicles of some kind.”

“I don’t like it,” Larry commented. “You’ll be driving back alone.”

“You don’t have to like it.” Matt got to his feet. “I’ll be heading out in a few days to help Tate pick up a rig. And if we find what she’s expecting in Hondo we’ll be bringing back a full tanker. That’ll solve our persistent fuel shortage, at least for a while.”

“Yes, accident,” She said firmly. “Time to isolate the sick, no matter who they are. If someone fails to get up and you don’t get a vocal response, take precautions. That’s all we’re asking. The man involved in this incident had a snake bit. He didn’t tell anyone, and neither did his wife. He died and attacked his family.”

“You mean that could happen to any of us?” One of the Goodman women asked.

Will answered. “As terrible as that sounds, yes. It’s important to take care of each other, so come to the clinic, so illnesses and injured are treated.”

Liz realized why her bedroom door had been closed when anyone left and why they always knocked and waited for her to respond before entering. She covered her bulging middle. What would happen to her baby? Was she sick because she was pregnant and was it because of the virus? With a wave of dizziness, Liz slipped into a chair at the side of the room. After a couple deep breaths, she calmed and looked around the room. She realized she didn’t know most of the people. There were two distinct groups. Each crowd clustered together acting more than a little suspicious of the other. She recognized Pablo, Miguel and their extended family and gave the women a quick nod and smile of recognition. Elaina and her mother, Maria whispered at Pablo and Miguel. Both men turned toward Liz and smiled. They turned back to the assembly, their faces still looked.

The goat rancher, dressed in overalls, sat next to a graying woman with the two younger men, and women approximately that appeared to be the younger generation. Two teenagers sat on the other side of the gray-haired lady. Randy stood next to Liz’s father. Not far from him, sat John and Harry.

Will raised his hands to quiet the assembly then continued. “Now that we’ve settled that, let’s work on setting some priorities. I realize we still don’t have enough folks to do everything we need to get done yet, but for now, we’ll do the best we can. Safety and becoming self-sufficient is the two most important tasks at hand. Planting the new gardens need to be done by the end of the week to take advantage of the remaining growing season. At the same time, we need to finish fencing the goat pen back at the Goodman cabins.”

Mr. Goodman stood up. “Me and mine can work on it. I ‘magine two days and we’ll be finished. The wife and girls are milking twice a day. We’ll keep what we need and bring the rest up here. You can pass it along with who you want. I got a spot picked out to put in our own garden…”

Will interrupted. “Sam, this is a community effort, I think you seem to be missing that point, here. You and I obviously need to discuss individual efforts, but for now, let’s move on.” He turned to Randy and nodded.

Randy began. “We still have to try to gather livestock and supplies while we can. We’re not the only people trying to create a secure stronghold to live. As time goes along, more and more infected will leave the cities and make it more dangerous out there. As people get more desperate out there, some groups will be raiding others to survive.”

“What makes you think the government won’t get this under control. Early on, there were reports of the CDC working on a cure.” Glenn Goodman interrupted.

“Have you heard something I don’t know about? We’ve had a couple people monitoring communication channels and the Internet. Unless you know some other means of communications, we don’t.” Will asked.

“Well….” Glenn mumbled.

Brian crept toward the guard practicing the stealth skills his father-in-law had taught him while they hunted. The sentry stood in the shadow of the truck smoking a cigarette. Brian chose to take out that guard since it required the longest approach and he decided he had the skill to accomplish the task. At least, he hoped so.

When the moon slipped from behind a cloud bank, Brian could see the man wore a plaid shirt and sported scruffy hair poking around the bottom of a baseball hat. As Brian drew closer, he caught a whiff of the man’s unwashed body. The amber glow of his cigarette provided a beacon to track his movements as he strolled back and forth, never more than twenty feet from the camp. The scruffy man yawned and rolled his head from side to side, then turned from the dark shadows of the nearby trees and back toward the light of the dying fire. Brian smiled, knowing any chance of retaining night vision disappeared each time he looked into the flame of a lighter. He dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and used his boot to grind it into the dirt. Brian moved forward with the crinkle of cellophane from another cigarette pack being opened. The man still stared at the dying campfire. Brian moved closer. Close enough. He rose up like a dark wraith and drove his military blade into the guard’s kidney. The man gasped. While his hands reached for the cause of such sudden pain, Brian grabbed the man’s forehead, pulled the blade free then slid it from left to the right across his throat, then into the brain. When the body slumped, Brian eased it to the ground without a sound. He looked to his right and saw Billy completing the same maneuver on his assigned guard then gave a thumbs up.

Brion gave a quick prayer that Leon and Juan were taking care of the guards on the opposite side of the camp. He retrieved the guard’s rifle and hat, put the hat on his head, and walked slowly toward the camp full of sleeping men, hoping if anyone noticed his approach they would think he was the guard coming in. Billie disappeared into the shadows of one of the truck.

A minute later, Brian stopped at a second truck and stopped to look inside, no keys in the ignition. He looked at Billy and held out his hand with a thumb pointed down. For a split second, Brian worried about Juan and Leon eliminating their targets but dismissed it. It boiled down to trust. They would do their job. He could do nothing to help them. All he could do was eliminate as many enemies as possible before the shit hit the fan. The more men he and Billy took out, the fewer they would have to deal with when the operation went sideways. Brian stepped around the truck and walked toward a sleeping man. As he drew closer, he heard a deep rattle with each breath. Suddenly the man rolled from his back to his side and coughed. Brian froze. The sleeper took a rattling breath and groaned, then lay still and began snoring softly again. Brian stepped closer and squatted over the prone figure. He tightened the grip on the handle of the blade then drove the steel into the head of the man lying on the musty smelling sleeping bag. He gave the knife a twist then pulled it free from the skull.

Billy appeared out of the shadows and squatted over a prone figure, made a similar move, then rose slowly. He moved toward the next sleeping outlaw ready to take another life.

“Hey, about time you woke up.” Harry chided Liz as he rushed toward the bed with Cody and Emma close on his heels.

“Miss Lizzy, we’ve been waiting for you to wake up. We got a house to live in. It has running water and a toilet and everything.” Emma announced.

Liz looked at her father.

“The kids wanted to stay with Harry and John. We put them in the cabin south of the barn. It’s the one with two bedrooms downstairs. We put twin beds in the loft.” Will added.

Liz looked at Harry and John. Both men were cleaner than she had ever seen them. Harry had trimmed his beard but still wore a do-rag on his head with gray hair neatly bound with a band at the nape of his neck. John was clean shaven and looked relaxed for the first time since she had met him.

“I got a full belly.” Cod patted her rounded middle then asked in all seriousness, “Are you getting better?”

“I can see that.” Liz smiled at the brother and sister. “I’m doing the best I can. Are you two doing alright now?”

“We’re good.” Answered Cody with a hesitant smile. “We have lights at the house. We get to eat a lot.”

“They got horses. Did you know they have horses?” Emma said excitedly.

“No.” Liz smiled. “I guess that is a new addition.” She looked to Will.

“Lots of things have changed.” Will chuckled.

Cassie interrupted. “All right. Everyone move along. My patient needs her rest.”

When the room cleared out, Cassie started to walk away, but Liz called her name. “A minute, please.”

Cassie turned. “Sure.” She forced a smile.

“Now, I want to know what you’re trying not to tell me.”

Cassie squared her shoulders. “Best case scenario is appendicitis; worse case, a tubal pregnancy.” She whispered. “Either way, I’m not a surgeon.”

“But you have medical training.”

“Sure, I can perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat the common cold, set bones, and monitor patients, but that’s a far cry from being qualified for doing surgeries,” Cassie protested.

Liz sighed, “I guess you’re continuing education will have a steep learning curve.”

“Try to rest. The antibiotics you’re receiving seems to be resolving the current issue. Let’s pray it’s not something that needs surgery.” Cassie closed the door to the hall then added. “Someone will be in the next room. Just ring the bell if you need something.” She stepped into the next room and came back with a cup. “If you keep the ice chips down, I’ll bring some clear broth in an hour or so.”

Liz spent another day in the ward then talked Cassie into removing the IV and letting her move to her two-room suite on the second floor. The main room included a queen-sized bed and a small sitting room. The second room was once used by the Amy and Claire. It still held Claire’s baby bed and two twin beds and small chest f toys. When she saw Liz look longingly at the reminder of her lost children, Cassie closed the door to the second room.

The terrible abdominal pain had disappeared, and everyone including Liz crossed their fingers and prayed the antibiotics had resolved the problem. She spent two days staring at the wall, then on the third day she got up bright and early and put on clothes that she had left at the Lodge. She cinched the belt at her waist and decided it was enough to keep her pants up. She pulled on a t-shirt that had belonged to Brian. They had always been an oversized, but now they really seemed big. She walked out of the bedroom and crossed the balcony to the curving stairs where she met Cassie.

“Well, I guess this means you’re feeling better,” Cassie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo laughed. “Sí. Y cabras, goats.”

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

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

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

Hugo shrugged. “Sí.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s busy.” The man retorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the preacher and his men?”

“They didn’t come out to fight them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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