Category Archives: Horror

Iron Jack’s

Before you read Chapter 4, I’d like to invite you to like my facebook page What Zombies Fear.  The link opens in a new window, so you can click it without losing your place here.

Now, on with the show, thank you for reading.

-Kirk

A new free web story by Kirk Allmond

 

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 4                                                                                                    Chapter 6>>

It took Nyko almost an hour to retrieve the carburetors from the ceiling tiles where he’d hidden them when he locked Iron Jack’s for the last time.  These two choppers were his babies.  He’d crafted them, by hand, in the back of shop.  Even though they sat in the show room, each with a price tag hanging from the handle bars, he’d never really had the heart to sell them.  They were designed to pique the interest of potential buyers, who would want a bike built according to their own specifications.

Nyko started working at Iron Jacks since he was a kid, tinkering on bikes.  At first he did grunt work, adding aftermarket parts and doing minor repair work after school.  When Jack died Nyko was already running the place.  Jack’s son Henry didn’t want any part of the business, so Nyko bought it from him, and grew the business into a successful custom bike shop.

He enjoyed the time getting the two bikes ready to run.  He worked by the light of a small lantern, quickly and quietly, trying not to draw too much attention to himself.  The infected were all around out here, and Nyko knew from experience that light and sound could draw them from miles away.  The work reminded him of better times.

In just a few minutes, the stainless steel carburetors were installed, the batteries had water added, and he added a gallon of fresh ethanol to each.  The fuel lines were all stainless, so there wasn’t any real need to worry about the ethanol rotting rubber tubing.

When they were ready to crank, he resisted the urge to kick the starter and roar off down the road.  He was on a mission.  The old shop truck was in the first garage bay right where it was supposed to be.  He drained the oil out of it, and while that was draining, he topped off the battery with water, and checked his portable jump-starter.  The battery in it was dead too.

His motorcycle was a six-volt, not enough power to turn the old truck’s motor over.

Nyko searched the shop, looking for an old twelve-volt alternator.  While he was looking, he grabbed a pair of jumper cables, and the cordless drill out of his saddlebags.  In his office, he searched through his desk until he found a nine-volt battery.

An hour later, he squeezed the trigger on the cordless drill, spinning the alternator.  The nine-volt battery excited the actuator, and current began to flow through the jumper cables into the old truck’s battery.  He wasn’t sure if it would be enough, but after he’d expended both of the batteries for his drill; the truck turned over slowly and finally fired.

“Fuck yeah!” Nyko shouted when the engine caught.

Without the shop’s air handling systems running, he knew he couldn’t leave the truck running for too long, but he also knew it would take some time to recharge the battery, and his drill was dead.  He knew the noise he’d been making would have drawn several infected to the shop.  His old bike trailer was still parked outside, he’d made sure when he pulled up.

Nyko scouted the shop.  If there were only one or two out there, he wanted to dispatch them as quietly as possible.   The first thing he found was an eighteen inch pipe wrench.  He picked it up and hefted it over his head in a trial run.  “Quit stalling, pussy,” he said under his breath.

He laid the pipe wrench down on the work bench and picked up a pry-bar.  A couple of practice swings later, he laid the crowbar down.  Blunt instruments always resulted in large amounts of bodily fluid.  Even a single drop in the eyes or mouth could result in infection.  The biker laid the crowbar down on the bench, and picked up a long, flat bladed screwdriver.  The shaft was over a foot long, and forged steel.  An idea formed.

A pair of safety goggles hanging on a hook on the back of the bench caught his eye.  Nyko grabbed them and slipped them over his head, resting the goggles just above his forehead.

The cleaning cabinet delivered the second half of his weapon, as he unscrewed the fiberglass handle of the push broom and used two pipe clamps to fasten the screwdriver securely to the end.  He now had an almost seven foot spear, tipped with a massive steel point.  He tied a clean rag from the cabinet around his face, covering his nose and mouth, donned a pair of mechanic’s rubber gloves, and lowered the goggles onto his face.

Nyko checked his keys to make sure he had the right one for the lock on the trailer.  He set the key ring on the bumper of the truck, laid the spear down quietly beside the door, and drew his pistol.  The heavy steel door was good protection, but without any windows, Nyko had no idea how many might be in the general area.

With a deep breath, he lifted the door about waist high, crouched on one knee and peered out into the parking lot.  By the light of the full moon he made out four shapes.  All four immediately turned and started making their way towards him.

“Four. Fuck.” Nyko cursed.  Four was the worst number.   If there’d been five, it was clear he’d have to use his pistol.  No one went hand-to-hand with five.  Three, he could pretty easily take down without making any noise.  But four was always a toss-up.

“What I wouldn’t give for a silencer,” he said, heaving the door the rest of the way up.

The four infected moved quickly.  Nyko holstered his gun and picked up the screwdriver-spear, waiting to see which would make it to him first.

He jabbed outward, piercing the nose of a redhead.  He felt the spear stop against the back of her skull, and quickly pulled it backward.  Pus and gore dribbled down her face as she collapsed.  “Sorry Darlin.  Always did love a redhead,” he said, stabbing another.

The third and fourth infected stepped within spear range at the same time.  Nyko backed up as he speared one straight through the eyeball.  As he removed the spear, the eyeball came with it, stuck at the base of the screwdriver.  He kicked the final one in the chest, pushing it onto the flat of its back.

“I wish you’d just fucking stay down,” he said, stepping towards it.  The infected, of course, didn’t.  The drive to infect others was all they felt.  No humanity, no memories, nothing left of what they were.  Just some genetically manipulated virus created in the basement of some research laboratory contracting muscles and firing enough synapses to keep blood circulating.

It tried to get up, reaching for Nyko’s leg.  He drove the sharpened metal screwdriver through the back of its throat, interrupting the few synapses still firing.

 

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 4                                                                                                    Chapter 6>>

If you’re interested in my other work, please check out kirkallmond.com or my Amazon Author Page

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Post Apocalyptic Truck Shopping

I miss the old days of writing a serial. That’s what started my writing career, and I’d like to get back to that.  To that end, I offer up “Hell on Rails.”  An all new zombie-ish series.  It’s a whole new universe, all new rules.

Table of Contents                                                                                       Chapter 2 >>

 

hell_on_rails4“Nyko,” shouted Jonas.  The excitement was palpable in his voice.  “We got it!  Come check it out!”

Nyko limped across the barren landscape, the remains of a junkyard in Fort Mojave, Arizona.  To his left, a lone corpse stood up from behind a rusted out Buick Skylark and stumbled towards him.  It had been a girl in its previous existence, but now it was just a corpse.  Her clothes were torn to shreds; the junkyard was full of sharp pieces of metal.  Her once white, spaghetti strap tank top was torn half off, one strap trying in vain to hold the tattered garment over her breasts.

Normally Nyko would take a second to admire a mostly topless woman, but the pustules on her body leaking greenish goo that covered all of the walking dead reduced her to an object of revulsion, however pretty she must have been in her previous life.  Without missing a step, Nyko drew a wicked looking sawed off shotgun out of a thigh holster, held it out at arms-length and fired.  Nine ball-bearing sized pellets erupted from the gun at supersonic speed, completely eliminating the corpse’s face and sending a spray of greenish zombified brain fluid across the hood of the Buick.

“I’m sure that’ll buff out,” Nyko said, holstering his weapon before calling to his friend.  “Jonas, What ya got?”  Nyko wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve and continued towards his friend.

“It’s a Chevy.  Says Union Pacific Rail” on the side,” came the reply from behind a stack of crushed cars.

“How bad is it,” he called, making his way towards his friend.

“Body’s good.  One tire is flat, the others look okay.  Windshield’s in good shape and the doors open and close,” Jonas called as Nyko rounded the stack.

Jonas reached up on his tip-toes to grab the door handle, slammed the door on the pickup, and looked at Nyko.  “Now we just have to figure out if she runs,” he said, drawing his gun and pointing it at Nyko.  In one quick motion, Jonas fired, killing the zombie a few steps behind his friend and holstered his gun.

“Thanks, I just have one more shot in the over under,” Nyko said patting his thigh.  “Pop the hood.”

Jonas was just over three feet tall, and constantly grease covered.  Before the outbreak he’d worn glasses, but they’d long-since broken.  He’d worked the lenses into a pair of copper-clad goggles, which now sat on top of his head, lost in a mass of tightly curled black hair.  He wore the same gray coveralls every day, something he’d recovered from the local juvenile detention center, with a leather tool belt cinched at the waist.  His boots were mismatched, the left was a cowboy boot with a two inch heel on the back, and the right was a red converse high top.  Jonas’ left leg was shorter than his right, and without someone to make him special shoes; he’d figured it out on his own.

On several occasions, he’d shot a man for calling him a little person.

Jonas reached up to open the door and climbed inside the truck in order to reach the hood latch just as Nyko got to the front of the vehicle.  He flipped the hood safety with his finger and raised the hood.  “Looks fine. Everything’s here, no corrosion on the battery.  Fuel’s gonna be shot though.  Get the air filter open, I’ll bring my truck around to jump-start it.”

Jonas climbed up into the engine bay and began disconnecting the air filter to give Nyko access to the fuel injectors.  When he was finished, he scoured the inside the truck, finally locating the keys in the ash-tray.  Junk yards usually left the keys in the vehicle somewhere if they ran.  He took that as a good sign.  He sat in the driver’s seat, moved it all the way forward, and strained to reach the gas pedal.  If he held his leg out straight, he could just barely reach it.

He was back under the hood, checking the oil and dripping with sweat under the noon-time sun when Nyko’s tan Chevy Avalanche rolled up.  The whole crew had been searching for weeks for a Chevy truck with a rail suspension.  All Chevrolet pickups from 2006 on were designed as “flex fuel” vehicles.  That was the lynch-pin to the whole operation.

Nyko ran the Hell on Wheels Saloon, the only fully functioning casino, bar, and brothel left in New Vegas.  He made all his own beer and liquor in the back, and had a special still for making ethanol.  No one had any idea where he got the sugar, it was one of his most closely guarded secrets, but every week Nyko had a fresh five hundred gallons of fuel-grade liquor.   Everyone knew that’s why the Governor of New Vegas left Hell on Wheels alone, Nyko gave him fuel.

This project was the future though, and this truck was the key to it.   “Still look good?” Nyko asked.  Jonas was his chief mechanic.  He could fix anything.

“Yeah, I think it will.  Oil doesn’t look too bad, no gas smell in it.  Corporate trucks usually had good maintenance.  That’ll work out in our favor, it’s getting harder and harder to come by motor oil, and this monster,” Jonas said, patting the eight cylinder engine’s head cover, “Needs six quarts.”

Nyko handed Jonas a small can that said “Pampered Chef” on the side.  Jonas pumped the lid, creating air pressure inside, while Nyko connected jumper cables from his own battery.

“Three years of sitting here.  Hope it’s not seized.  Let me know when you’re ready.”

Jonas held the can down into the air filter bay and pressed the button, spraying aerosol fuel into the air intake.  “Hit it!”

Nyko turned the key.  The engine rolled over twice before roaring to life.  “Ha!  We got it!” he shouted over the engine noise.

“She’s missing on cylinder six,” said Jonas.  “I’ll need to tear it down, probably needs a ring job.”

“Will it make it to the shop?”

“Yeah, I think so.  Don’t get too far behind me though.”  Jonas disconnected the jumper cables and tossed them to the ground while the truck idled.  Nyko busied himself adding a second can of fuel to the truck.  Ten gallons, even with reduced mileage for ethanol should be enough to get the truck back to the shop.  “Oh shit!” exclaimed Jonas.  “The fucking AC works!”  Air conditioning was a thing of the past.  There just wasn’t enough power to run it.  Inside the casinos at night it was over a hundred degrees.  Many inhabitants purposely smashed the windows of their rooms out, just to try and get some air movement.

The heat was one of the reasons Nyko lived above Hell on Wheels.  He had real windows that opened.   He ran his generators for three hours every night, half the patrons only came there to sit in the cool air.  Anyone could sit in the saloon, as long as they could pay the door fee.

The front of the saloon was a store.  People brought whatever they could find or whatever they could spare and traded them for currency that could be spent in the bar, at his gambling tables, on his girls, or for other things in the store.  Nyko printed his own money and set his own prices.  A jar of pickles was worth ten bucks, which would get you in the door with a cool beer.  Five gallons of diesel would get someone a night with one of the girls, and ten gallons would earn the trader a cool shower afterward.

Nyko was the richest man in New Vegas, and for good reason.  It was called Sin City before the apocalypse, and people hadn’t changed.

Once they were both satisfied the truck would make it back to New Vegas, Nyko followed Jonas back.  Jonas was a terrible driver, in part because he couldn’t see over the steering wheel, and in part because he hadn’t ever been taught.

The drive back to New Vegas was harrowing in a couple of places, but Jonas managed to keep the truck off the guard rails and out of the ditch all the way back.  Just before the steel gates of New Vegas, Jonas turned off and headed out across East Flamingo, now mostly covered in sand.  The desert was reclaiming what remained of the city.  A short way down the sandy street and the two men were at the shop.

The wall around New Vegas was impressive.  Built in the first year after the apocalypse, it started off as the demolished remains of several of the big casinos.   Anyone approaching the city could see the sign for the MGM Grand, upside down against a huge pile of scrap off to the side of the road.  The scrap pile was the first line of defense.  When the outbreak first happened, the day the White House declared martial law across the United States, the day of the last television broadcasts, Las Vegas acted extraordinarily quickly.  They conscripted every man, woman, and child over age eight to work on the wall.  The city demolished four casinos along the strip and the citizens dragged the scrap to form a circle around the city.

The day the scrap wall was finished was a day of celebration; people caroused in the streets, drinking and laughing, confident in their safety from the pus covered hordes trying to pick their way through the scrap heap.  The very next day, work resumed, only now the residents of New Vegas were building a permanent wall.  Anyone who came into contact with the infected ran a significant risk of infection themselves.  If any of the pus that filled the blisters on the walking corpses got in their mouth, eyes, nose or an open wound would almost guaranteed infection, and a bite was a sure thing.  Whatever the infection was, it most preferred the mouth of the host, that’s where it replicated the fastest.

Forty feet tall, made of steel reinforced concrete poured eighteen inches thick, the safety wall went all the way around the strip.  City engineers designed a steel gate system at either end of Las Vegas Boulevard, the first just north of the iconic ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign, the second just south of East Flamingo.

If a person didn’t work, they didn’t eat.  Every living soul was given a room in one of the remaining casinos.  Every night and every morning, people were checked for signs of infection.  Anyone who turned in an infected person got a week’s vacation in a Bellagio penthouse for their whole family or themselves and three friends.

Hell on Wheels was a mile outside of the wall, down Flamingo in an old warehouse, chosen specifically because of the railroad tracks that ran directly behind it.  In the old days, goods for the casinos came in on the train.  The train was unloaded into this warehouse, where it was then re-loaded onto trucks to be delivered to the hotels.  After the end of the world, Nyko owned all of it, including the train he’d found still on the tracks in the back.  Thirty-five pallets of liquor, among other hotel foods came with the location.

Nyko and his crew worked on the train all day, until the saloon opened at six. Just before the doors opened, his whole crew changed clothes and worked the saloon.  The warehouse was a gigantic half-million square foot “L” shaped facility.  The railroad ran along the long side.  They’d built a wall separating the short side from the warehouse, and finished the first half of the short side into living quarters for his crew, and the girls who worked in the saloon, twenty six people in all.  The rest of the short side was the saloon.

He hated being cooped up, the idea of living inside the walls was ludicrous to him; Nyko was a man of the open road.  The governor of New Vegas, Jim Ratton hated that Nyko was outside, but couldn’t do anything about it.  One day, Nyko would be the first man to run the rails.  He’d be free to cross the wasteland as he chose.  Hell, maybe one day he’d find a nice little train station in the middle of nowhere and take up residence.  But for now, he had too many people depending on him.

Jonas pulled the truck up over the curb and around behind the warehouse.  Nyko hit the button on a remote inside his truck and watched the garage door roll up.  He’d have to remember to charge the warehouse batteries tonight.  The patrons would complain about warm beer, but fuck them; he had a train to build.

The warehouse was buzzing with activity.  Brian and Andy were in the corner welding on a dune buggy they’d been building out of scrap car parts.

Derrick and Terrell were sitting at a table on the side, over by the door to the saloon.  The parts of four different guns were laid out in front of them in orderly rows.  The two men were scrubbing parts with tooth brushes.

At the back, near the rear door, the final two men were operating reloading equipment, pressing bullets into used shell casings.

Brian looked up from his welding.  “You hear that?”

Nyko looked over at him.  “Hear what?”

“I’d swear I heard someone…” Brian was cut off.

Everyone heard it this time.  Outside, still a few hundred feet away.  Someone yelled, “Buzzing a likes he for making a last day! Poop!”

“Stations!” Nyko yelled.  The men in the warehouse all scattered.  Andy climbed a long ladder to the roof.  Jonas bolted to a door on the far side of the warehouse.

Terrell tossed Nyko a long, black rifle and a radio with two feet on the front as the pair of them ran out the side door.  Derrick hit the door between the two roll ups, clipping his own radio to his shirt pocket.

“A tablespooonful of pizza, femur to eat!”  The marauder appeared.  He was wearing an old torn speedo, that once upon a time had been red, one sock, and a tattered “Hard Rock Las Vegas” tee shirt.  His skin was horribly sunburned, everywhere except where his matted hair hung down around his shoulders.

As if his gibbrish was a call to charge, three dozen more, all in similar shape ran out from behind the neighboring building, straight for Nyko.

The big man jumped up on top of a trash dumpster, and then to a platform he’d added to the outside of the building specifically for this purpose.

His radio chirped.  “All clear front,” Derrick checked in.

“In position,” Jonas said, closing the roof hatch and walking towards the edge of the gravel warehouse roof, holding a bag full of radio control car controllers.  His goggles were down over his eyes as he peered into the setting sun.

“Wait for them to hit the line,” Nyko said, unfolding the bipod on his rifle.  He laid down behind the rifle and flicked the covers off the scope.  “How long has it been since the last attack?”

“Fourteen days,” said Brian from the rear corner of the warehouse, right at the edge of the railroad tracks.

“You’d think they’d learn to duck.”

As Nyko spoke, the first marauder ran over the words written in chalk-dust on the ground, ignoring their warning.  He collided at full-speed with a thin piano wire stretched between the telephone poles at either end of the dry, rock-strewn field between Nyko’s warehouse and the abandoned one next door.

As the marauder’s legs flew forward, the wire bit into his neck, opening a huge cut across his windpipe.  Seconds later, thirty marauders hit the same wire, all suffering the same fate.

“Fourteen,” said Brian into the radio.  It never occurred to him that that was the same number he’d said a couple minutes before.

“Sixty one,” said Jonas.

“Seventy-two,” guessed Derrick.  Andy and Terrell both followed suit.

Nyko spoke into his radio.  “Today’s number was seventy-seven.  Jonas and Derrick, you two were closest. Cold beer on me.  The rest of you, clean this mess up.”

He was halfway down from his platform when he heard gunfire from the front.

Derrick called, “They’re hitting the front! Trucks!”  Then more gunfire.  Nyko recognized the sound of Derrick’s favorite assault rifle firing quickly.

Table of Contents                                                                                       Chapter 2 >>

 

I hope you enjoy this story!

 

-Kirk

 

 

If you’re a new reader and would like to read some of my other work, here is my Amazon Author Page.  You can also find most of my work on NOOK, at Smashwords, and other retailers.

6.04 Restoration

Along the length of the wall, a multi-colored shield rose up, slowly at first, then faster, until it met in the middle directly over the manor house, two miles inside the wall.

“What the hell is that, Max?” asked Marshall.

“I learned it from Miss Kris.  I thought the people would feel better if they could see the shield.  I’ve been keeping it over the town since I was a kid, I just figured out how to make it visible to everyone.”

Renee looked up over her head, then towards the middle of town, before asking, “Can the zombies see it?”

“They could always see it.  Well, they could feel it.  It sends them away, makes them not want to come here,” said Max.  “The visible part is the only difference.  I thought it might give the supers something to think about.”

“Does your Dad know about it?” Renee asked.

“No,” said Max.  “You know Dad.  Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?”

Renee grinned.  Her nephew sounded exactly like his father.  “Let’s get back to the house.”  She was down the ladder in a flash.  Marshall and Max watched the grass sway as Renee ran through the waist-high field on the inside of the wall.

“Reggie? You coming?” Max asked, holding his hand out.  Reggie took one hand, and Marshall the other.  Milliseconds later they appeared on the lawn of the house.

Something’s not right,” Steve said inside Max’s head.

I know.  I think it might be the dome,” thought Max.  “It’s like the world outside doesn’t exist.  I kind of like it.

Renee was there seconds later, having run the two miles from the wall.  “I didn’t see anything on my way here,” she said when she came to a stop.  Whenever Renee stopped from top speed, there was always a backlash, as if she was outrunning the wind.  When she finally stopped it caught up to her, blowing her hair forward.  She calmly smoothed her short hair back down before continuing, “Let’s get inside and check on Mom.”

Inside the house was utter chaos.  Men were running back and forth between rooms, guns held low, making sure that each room was safe.  Shouts of  “Clear!” came from everywhere.  Max went straight for the library, where two men stood on either side of the door with assault rifles pointed down.

“What’s the code, Max?” The first one asked.

“Alpha six four two…” His voice dropped and then reluctantly added, “Maxmonster,” said Max, turning red.  His father would embarrass him to death one day.

The two men stepped aside, “Glad to see you’re okay, Max.  Did you make this dome? Everyone’s freaking out.”

“Yeah.  I wanted people to see that they were safe.  Is the house clear?” replied the boy.

The man who asked for the code nodded to Max as he spoke into the radio on his shoulder.  “All clear.  The dome is friendly, repeat dome created by Paladin.”

Max turned eighteen more shades of red hearing his radio nickname.  That one had been created by Jimmy, the head of house security.  Max’s father was Renegade, and his grandmother was Evergreen.  He opened the door to the library and stepped inside.  His grandmother was reading a book, when she looked up and saw her grandson a single tear fell from her eye.  Sharon quickly hid it with a scratch of her face as Max stepped towards her and hugged her.  “I’m glad you’re okay, Gramma.  The house is clear and we’re mopping up the grounds.  We held them off.  Have you seen Dad?”

“Last report was that he was passed out in the barn.  I’m sure people are starving,” she said.  “Children, lets go finish making supper.  By the time we’re finished they’ll have all this mess cleared up and we can eat supper!  Who’s hungry?”

All the kids let out a unanimous “Me!” as they raised their hands.

“I’m going to the barn then.  I need to find Dad.”

“Max, wait.” said Sharon, causing Max to turn back around.  “Use the door.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” said Max sheepishly.  He stepped through the door of the library, down the short hall and out into the back garden before he disappeared.

Sharon took the two youngest children by the hand, looked down at them and said “Let’s go make something yummy.  We’ll show those meanies out there that we’re not afraid.  We’re going right back to our life, because they can’t hurt us, can they?”

“Not wif Max watching us,” said the little girl plainly.  It was clearly a line little Jane Thomas had heard her parents say a number of times.

“That’s right.  We have so many people keeping us safe.  And now we need to go show them that we love them, and we are grateful for their hard work keeping us safe.”  She shepherded all the children into the kitchen, where they finished up the evening meal.  Sharon put the older children in charge of the younger ones, and gave them all a dozen cupcakes to decorate.

Inside the barn, Max appeared in the loft.  “Your Dad just left,” three people said from all around him in unison.

He grimaced.  “Any idea where he went?”

“He took Kris.  Said he had to get her away from the farm.  He didn’t say where he was going, or how he was gong to get there.  He looked pretty rough,” said Addy Madison, Max’s old teacher.  Miss Madison taught fifth through twelfth grades at the school.

“Thanks, I’ll see if I can find him.  It’s a little weird that I can’t.”

Thousands of miles away, Kris was vaguely aware that time had passed. There was soft, warm sand between her fingertips. Just outside her consciousness, she heard the familiar sound of crashing waves and the sharp cries of distant seagulls. Jeff would be walking down the dune at any moment with a cooler full of Sam Adam’s Summer Ale in his hand. Kris hit the beach early that day and had every intention of taking full advantage of her day off. She sighed lightly and moved her arm to rest under her neck. The sun felt good on her skin and she realized it had been a long time since she was at the beach. She had been working so hard lately she just hadn’t had the time…

In the back of her mind, there was a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right – something had changed.  But she was absolutely on a beach.  She was certain of that.

Keeping her eyes closed in the sunlight, she pursed her lips together and tried to recall the last time she had been on a beach.  After all, Tennessee didn’t have beaches and Gander Acres was always so busy, she and Alicia never had the time to…

Alicia.

She remembered Alicia laying on the ground, her body limp, her face bruised and bloody with a bullet through her skull.  Lifeless.  Never to look at her and whisper “I love you.”  Her eyes snapped open and she sat up with a start as the memory returned to her.  Fresh tears were rolling down her cheeks and she wrapped her arms around herself and began to sob.

“Kris,” began Victor.

“Stop, Vic.  Just…stop,” she whispered through tears. “Why did you stop me?  I didn’t want this.  I didn’t want–” Tears took her again and she buried her face back into her arms.

“I had no right.  I just had need, Kris.  These fucking zombies have to pay.  Then you can die.  But not until you’ve extracted every ounce of vengeance from them.  Not until they pay, Kris.”

She was quiet for a long time, thinking carefully about his words.  “Haven’t I already paid enough?”

“None of us has paid more than you, except maybe John. He lost his wife, brother, friends, and five of his seven kids. I lost a wife, but have been very very lucky.  Max, Marshall, Renee, and my mom are still with me.  How much more are any of us going to pay?”

She shook her head but avoided the question.  “We planned the farm so perfectly.  I mean…it wasn’t flawless but it was damn near.”  Kris looked over to him finally.  “I never thought that other humans would have been our downfall.  What kind of sick fuck betrays humanity to the zeds?”  Kris trailed off, like she wasn’t talking to anyone in particular.  Or maybe she was just talking to herself.  Victor sat quietly and let her get it out.  “And then they just…killed them like they were nothing.  Stole Alicia from under me and I missed it.  Missed it all.  I didn’t even get to tell her I loved her.”  She choked back another sob and then glanced over to Victor with big, tearful eyes.

“Everyone who ever saw you two knew you loved her.  Just as we all know how much she loved you.  You know in your heart she loved you, right?”

Kris nodded but didn’t reply, as Victor continued, “She died knowing how much you loved her.  I know we’d all like to tell our loved ones how much we love them one last time, but she knew, Kris.”

“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.  I’m so fucking angry.  I don’t know if I’m safe to be around.  I can barely handle my shit right now.”

“That’s why we’re on a deserted island somewhere in the Florida Keys.  That’s why I’m here.”

“Was punching me out self serving?  Because it hurt like some bitch.  Hope it was worth it.”

“I couldn’t think of any other way to make you stop.  You were beyond words.  Kris, I’ve always been straight with you.  I may not have always fully explained myself, but I never lied.  I need you.  I need what you can do, and I need your anger.  I need your power.  But I waded into that inferno you created, because I care about you.”

“My power?” She scoffed.  “My…insanity?” Kris was standing now and her voice was hollow like before.  “You mean this?” She shouted the last word and immediately threw a shield around herself and rapidly pushed it outward.  It caught her voice and magnified it over and over again until the entire island was covered.  The strength and force of the trapped vibrations was stirring up the island.  The sand was pressing down against the ground and all of the palm trees seemed to shrink under the weight.  As she pinched the sound, she felt the vibrations permeate the trees, the sand and the ocean and fill all of the open gaps in their structural makeup.  All of the palm trees began to shiver and then abruptly explode and break apart, throwing ash into the swirling air.  The ocean was boiling 100 feet away from the shore and Victor could see the bodies of a few fish floating belly-up in the water.

Kris only saw red no matter where she looked and screamed until her throat gave out.  And she cried.  “I amplify everything, Vic.”  She wailed.  “When things are good, it’s amazing but when things are bad, everything is so much worse.  I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore.  I’m not safe.  I just–”

Victor drew her in close, hugging her tightly.  He pushed his aura around her, enveloping her in his calm.  He sealed everything out, all the noise he could.  It had a much more profound effect than he anticipated.  She slumped against him, sobbing.

“Oh my god,” she said between sobs. “It’s all gone.  It’s normal again.  Quiet like before I got bit.  I can…breathe.” Kris pulled back from Victor and locked eyes with him. “Why did you do that?”

“Friends help each other, Kris.  It’s the best part of humanity.  It’s why we deserve to live, and they need to die.”

Her eyes narrowed and then she nodded slowly. “You’re right.  Fuck them all.”

“When I let go it’s going to come roaring back, are you ready?”

“Can it last another minute,” she asked. “I forgot how silence feels.”

Victor pressed his palms to his temples and said, “I’ll hold it as long as I can, but I haven’t stopped in days.  My head feels like it’s in a vice.  It took me three stops to get here.”

“I hope I’ll be less weight this round.” She took a deep breath. “Okay – I’m ready.”

Victor held the shield for several minutes longer, giving her as much peace as he could.  His vision started to blur.  “I have to let go now.”

She nodded. “Okay. Do it,” She said, but it was already gone.  The sound of the surf was roaring in her brain, she could hear crabs scraping along the rocks on the reef, and the ash from exploded palm trees hitting the sand.  His heartbeat was slow, but the sound was intense and strong.  It was the sound of humanity and of life.  It gave her new focus, keeping the fiery rage at bay. “Let’s go fuck ‘em up.”

“I love the attitude, but I haven’t really slept in three days.  Mentally, I’m toast.  I don’t think I could teleport myself to the bathroom.”

5.05 Darkness

“I don’t know what bites a zombie,” Victor said, “And I’m not sure I want to find out.”  Victor gestured with his hands now as he added,  “Let’s check the garage and move on.  I don’t want to stick around here too long.”

The two men left the perfectly stacked corpses exactly as they found them, and walked over to the garage.  It had a small locking handle in the center.  Victor reached down and gave it a solid twist, breaking the tiny lock and opening the door.

“Not much for security here in America, eh?”  Sean asked from behind him.

Vic decided to brush the obviously condescending comment aside.  He was still annoyed from what happened with James and decided it was going to be easier to ignore the gibe than to acknowledge it.   At this point, he just wanted to get this the hell over with.  “Those locks are for show.  They were mostly to keep honest people out.  A thief would get in whether there was a lock or not,” Victor said.  “Watch out.”  The man took another breath and heaved the garage door open.

The two men backed off, but there were no zombies inside the garage.  A quick glance showed nothing particularly useful to Victor, but Sean started gathering everything he could get his hands on.  Power tools, screws, nails, yard tools, bits of scrap lumber, tool boxes, everything he saw went into the back of the truck.  Tookes stood in the entrance of the garage and watched him with great curiosity.

“Sean, these aren’t nice tools.  We’re going to go through at least a hundred garages before we find the generators we need.  Are you going to grab everything from all of them?”

“Every house in America has this many tools?” Sean asked, clearly surprised.

“No, but seventy-five per-cent of them will have better tools than this.”

“Fuckin’ American excesses,” Sean scoffed.  With a shake of his head, he muttered something under his breath and put the rest of the tools in the back of his truck.

Victor pursed his lips together and instead of coming back with a prickly response of his own, he stuck with “Whatever,” and tossed a case of bottled water into the bed of the truck.  The corpse piles had him a little on edge.  Vic wasn’t sure if Sean was being intentionally abrasive or if he was just being overly sensitive because his mind was elsewhere but Vic knew he had to concentrate on the job at hand.  He’d done enough of this to know it wasn’t just zombies you had to watch out for.  Victor hadn’t ever seen zombies stacked like that; this was something new.  And these days, “something new” was rarely a good thing.

“I’ll head to the next house.  Just back the truck into the driveway when you’re done,” he said as he walked through the yard.

The two men repeated this process through four houses.  By the time they’d reached the fifth house, the truck bed was full of junk.  Vic walked over to the truck and scanned the truck, trying to keep the frustrated look off of his face.

“Sean, we’re not going to have room for the generators if you keep piling shit in the back of the truck.  Remember, you can come back any time for this stuff,” he said, gesturing to the mound of stuff in the back.

“Not if some Drongo gets it first.  Never know when I might need this,” he said, hefting a wood-stove pipe into the back of the truck.  “Besides, we can always strap the gennies on the roof of the truck.”

There was a moment of awkward silence between them.  “Where the fuck are you from?” asked Victor.  “John never felt like he had to take everything.”

“John has talked non-stop about his ability to live off the shit you throw away, even now,” said Sean.  “He just doesn’t say anything to you.  Not that saying anything to you would have helped.  Fuckin’ Americans.”  Sean shook his head again and then headed back into the house for more trinkets.

Victor worked in silence for the next couple houses while Sean continued to pile every single screw, broken bucket, old mop, and half-empty bottle of cleaner he came across into the back of the truck.  And the higher the pile grew, the more patience Victor lost.

“Sean, at this rate, we’re going to be three days trying to find these generators.  We need to get water on quickly.  I don’t want to delay much longer.  I need to get home.”

“Nothing’s keeping you here, mate.  We can handle the house full of zombies,” said Sean dismissively.

My loyalty to John is keeping me here, Sean.  I don’t know what I did to piss you off, but we need to move.  We’re ten minutes drive from your town.  If you want to stay here all week and loot everything out of every house, that’s fine, but I’m going to grab a truck and find generators.  Surviving in this world means not taking your eyes off the goal,” said Victor, gesturing with his hands.  “You can’t just float along without a care.  You have to make a plan and stick to it.  I’m all for picking up a few things here and there, but this is ridiculous.”

“Alright,” Sean said.  “Next truck we pass, you can take it and go get ya fuckin’ generators.  I’m not passing up an opportunity to gather things that will make our life easier.”

“Fine.  See you back at Hazardville,” said Tookes.

Victor walked away from Sean, who continued loading his truck.  As he walked towards the next house, felt a sudden, small tickle on the back of his head.  As he ran his hand over the sudden itch, he shook his head at the same time.  The amount of bugs here was overwhelming – one of them was bound to be a mosquito.

He opened four different garage doors, never once encountering any undead, before he turned the corner and encountered another set of those unsettling zombie piles.  Just like the first, there were six piles, each with twelve along the bottom row, seventy-two bodies in each corpse-pyramid.  Tookes took a moment to stare at the piles, trying to make sense of it.  There is definitely a pattern, he thought as he walked around and in between the piles.  The corpses on the bottom seemed to be the ones in the best shape.  Those at the top were missing legs or large portions of flesh, while those on the bottom seemed to have all their parts.  In the middle of the piles were a couple missing arms, and several missing part or all of their face.  Every one of them that he could see had the same bite mark on their neck.

Victor, as he often happened when he was alone, was reminded of a movie quote.  “One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, the damn zombie vampires,” he said to no one.

Twelve piles of seventy-two.  ‘All zombies when they died, that’s like nine hundred dead zombies,‘ thought Victor.  ‘What the fuck killed nine hundred zombies?

After a few minutes inspecting the piles of corpses, Victor walked towards the garage of the next house.

“Thank God,” Victor said aloud, when he opened the garage door and saw the control panel to a whole house generator next to the electrical panel.  One whole house generator would provide a huge amount of power, and would run on either propane or diesel.  Both fuels would still be in abundance long after the gasoline went bad.  There were three major components to it, the part that interfaced with the house wiring, the part that cut off the power grid so the electricity from the generator didn’t flow out and get lost in the grid, and the generator itself, which was probably mounted outside the garage directly behind the panel.

It took him about forty minutes to cut the panel down.  He cut all the wires, leaving the generator connected to the house panel, so that John could see how to wire it when they got where they were going to put it.

The generator itself was bolted to a concrete pad which quickly proved to be the worst job.  It was tucked back into some bushes.  Everything in this god forsaken desert was covered with spines, prickles, thorns or barbs.  These bushes seemed to be completely armored in all four.  Ultimately he threw a tarp from the garage over the abominable shrub, which only slightly diminished the vexation.

Victor had to search six additional garages to find the right tools to unbolt the generator from it’s foundation.  In the fifth garage was a small volkswagen pickup truck, fully restored to all of its mini-sized, 80’s glory.  Shiny chrome wheels, low profile tires, and a huge stereo system completed the build.  It was perfect for John’s group.  It ran on diesel, and probably got forty miles per gallon of fuel.  The truck had the utility of a bed, and easy wiring and mechanicals.  Vic opened the door and say down in the driver’s seat.  He was thrilled to see that the keys were still in the ignition.  It had to have been at least six months since it had been started and yet the truck started with the first crank of the starter.  As the engine came to life, that itch on the back of his head came back, but it was much stronger than it was previously.  Again, he ran his hand over the spot and realized it was much harder to ignore it this time.  That mosquito must have really dug into his skin and he was left wondering when the last time a mosquito drank the blood of a human that was still alive.  With a slight cringe, Victor decided to not continue that line of thought.

It was almost three in the morning by the time Victor had the whole thing loaded into the truck, and was on the road back towards the compound. Victor was not the least bit tired, still feeling unsettled, driving the mini-truck towards his family.  There was something nagging at the back of his head all night, besides Sean being a prick.  It was a little bit like the hairs on the back of his neck  standing up, except inside his head.  It was like something was pulling him, and the more he concentrated on the feeling, the harder it pulled.

The little truck rolled to a stop, and Victor shifted his eyesight, looking for auras, or lack of.  He was oddly reminded of an old spider man comic book, as if his spider senses were tingling.  The minute he re-opened his eyes, his breath caught in his throat.  He was completely surrounded by what he’d always thought of as negative aura, the type of blackness that surrounded zombies.  His own aura seemed stretched away from his body, as if something was trying to suck the colors off of him.

Reflexively, Tookes solidified the outer edge of his aura, and stepped out of the truck.  He left his hatchet and gun sitting on the seat, but had a fleeting wish that he was half a mile away safely behind Sammie’s scope, watching the goings on.  He made a mental note to go by Fort Hood on the way home and recover his weapons.  They wouldn’t do any good here, whatever this was was more powerful than anything he’d ever encountered.

He knew there was no sense in ignoring this, just like he knew that it had waited until he was alone to make it’s presence known.

“The theatrics aren’t necessary,” Victor said. “Show yourself.”

5.03 Departure

The runway was like the ending scene out of a movie. There were hugs and handshakes all around. Introductions were made, and Victor was finally able to put faces to all the names he’d been hearing for six months.

The last to approach Tookes was Sean, John’s twin brother. He had a huge grin on his face as he walked up, so Victor was surprised when shadows shot out from him. One of them solidified and developed into a right cross aimed at Vic’s jaw. Reflexively, Victor ducked his head, taking the punch right where his hairline met his forehead.

Sean jumped back shaking his hand, “Ahhh, ya fuckin hard-headed Drongo! I think ya broke my hand!”

“I knew you Aussies were a rowdy bunch,” said Victor. “But that was out of line. What the hell did I do to deserve that?”

“All that screaming you do! My head is still vibrating from that last one out at the army base,” he said, gesturing with his hands. “I’ve had to listen to you blasting my inner ear drums out for the last six months. You need to learn to control ya volume, mate.”

Tookes laughed. “To steal a phrase from your brother, I have a teaspoonful of concrete in my pocket. Swallow that with a cup of water – it’ll harden you right up,” Victor said with a grin. He stuck out his hand. Sean looked at him thoughtfully and then smiled again, gratefully accepting the handshake.

“John, lets put you and your whole family in one van, and we’ll all pile up in the other,” Tookes said to his friend. “We’re going to need to find a third vehicle and fuel up. We should get moving; the plane made a lot of noise and I’d like to be out of here before things get ugly again.”

The group crowded into any available spot in the vehicles, and the two overloaded vans took off towards the city of Yuma to find new transportation. Just inside the city limits, they pulled into a Chevrolet dealership. There were a handful of wandering zombies, which were easily dispatched.

John picked a white Silverado four-door pickup. James picked the same truck in tan. Victor and Marshall both picked Eco-Boost enabled suburbans. They were the newest model that could turn off up to four of the eight cylinders and, according to the stickers on the windows, got up to thirty miles per gallon on the highway. Behind the shop, they found the dealerships gas pumps and filled all four vehicles, plus the gas cans they had in the vans. Marshall transferred all the food and gear into the various new vehicles. Victor looked up to see John coming towards him. John’s face was troubled.

“Tookes, can I chat at ya for a minute, mate?”

“Sure John,” said Victor, knowing what was coming. It seemed like he had just had this same conversation with Kris not too long ago. Was everyone going to leave? He extended his hand and said, “Walk with me.”

The two men walked a short way away. As they walked, John absently rolled a cigarette, clearly uncomfortable with the entire situation. Victor didn’t want this to be harder on his friend than it had to be, so he spoke first.

“I assume from your choice of gas guzzling trucks, you’re not making the trip all the way back to the train.”

“Yeah, mate. Jo’s adamant. She says you’re gonna get me killed.” John paused for a moment, took a deep breath and said, “And, she’s right.” As he spoke, Vic fought back the flinch that was forming on his face. “I have my family to look out for now. Plus, you’ve won, mate,” John said. He was speaking with his hands now. “Laura’s dead. We haven’t seen fuck-all for zombies in the last eight hundred miles. It’s over, Tookes. It’s time to start living.” The Aussie paused and looked closely at his American friend. His voice dramatically softened as he continued, “You always said you were working to create a safe place for Max and we’ve done that. Good people died along the way, but we made this place safe. I met you on the side of the road, and followed you through the depths of hell.” He paused again before turning to fully face Tookes. “Go home Victor, it’s safe.”

“She’s not dead, John. This isn’t over, all it takes is one zombie and all this shit starts back up again,” said Victor sadly. “But I won’t stand in the way of your family. Blood comes first. Besides, Leo’s dead and I’m crazy. Your family needs you now.”

“You know if you ever need anything, just speak. I’ll have Nori taxi me wherever you are,” John said, putting his hand on Vic’s shoulder.

“John, I think of you like a brother. We’ll help you clear out a spot,” Tookes stated. “Do you have any idea where you want to go?”

“We passed a neighborhood right off the highway about thirty miles east of here. I checked it out when we drove by and it looks like a good spot,” he said. “It has a huge cliff on two sides, and the highway barricade on the third. All we’d have to do is close off the road leading in and it’ll be tighter than a platypus’ clacker.”

“What are you gonna do about water?”

“We’ll get it worked out. We’re Bushies,” he replied with a smile.

“Alright, man,” Victor nodded, “We’ll help you clear it out.”

John looked relieved, and Victor looked haggard. His team was falling apart, and there was nothing he could do about it. Leo left, and was now dead. Kris left and had a new life with Alicia in Tennessee. John was leaving. Thoughts and memories of the times they’d all spent together welled up and were quickly stuffed in the box – the box where he stored all his emotions to be dealt with later. And although he desperately tried to ignore it, “later” seemed to be creeping up on him much faster than he had anticipated.

It was a short trip to the little village John was talking about. Victor was filled with a sense of dread about the place, but chalked it up to John and his family leaving. They paired off to clear the houses. Each of the Americans had a lot more experience with this particular task, so each team had one American and one Australian. Victor paired with James, Marshall with Nori, and John with Sean.

Renee and Reggie led the rest of the crew and the children to find the local water source. The town was really just a flat spot at the bottom of a huge sandstone cliff. Thirty two houses, a general store, and a gas station made up the village. The highway ran along the south side. It was raised about ten feet high, with an impossibly steep hill and a guard rail at the top. On the north and west side, there was a sheer cliff that rose hundreds of feet in the air. The area was only accessible from the east from a small, two lane road. The narrowest part of the road was just over one hundred feet from the road to the cliff. Against the short western cliff face was the town’s water tower, just atop a wellhead.

“Jo, let’s head into the store there and see if we can find some supplies, and something for the kids to do,” said Renee.

“Are you sure? They haven’t cleared it yet,” said Jo.

“It’ll be fine, I have a few tricks of my own,” said Renee with a wink. “Would you mind watching Max, Maya, and Holly for a few minutes?” Jo nodded. Renee made herself invisible before continuing, “Zombies can’t see me either. I can scout the store, but it’s likely empty or we would have heard something by now. The kids aren’t being exactly quiet.”

“Okay, but if you hear me scream, come quickly,” Jo said.

“I wouldn’t go if I thought there was any danger,” she said. Renee began to climb the stairs and called over her shoulder. “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to look.”

She opened the door to the hardware store, and saw a very good sign. The shelves weren’t bare, and there was no sign that the place had been looted. It only struck her as odd for a single moment before she remembered how small the town really was. There was a high probability that the entire town either turned or had fled before raiding the stores. The parasites had spread so fast that most people didn’t have time to react or even realize what was happening being it was too late. Renee searched the store quickly; there wasn’t anything living or undead inside. Renee grabbed a couple of large styrofoam airplanes from the small section of toys and took them outside.

Renee reappeared infront of Jo and said, “Nothing in there. But I brought some toys.”

All of the children heard that magic word and ran over to them. Renee laughed as the planes were taken out of her hands and began soaring through the air. Jo was standing there watching the children play with a smile on her face. Max was talking to John’s older son and the girls were running around looking carefree and happy. The children were their hope for a future and so far, that hope was still going strong.

“We can find a generator to run the pump for a little while, but eventually you’re going to need to put a windmill up on top of that cliff to run your well pump,” said Renee.

“John knows all that. He can fix it up.” Jo paused and looked around. She had a sad smile on her face as she added, “This is going to be a good place for us. It has to be.”

“I wish you’d come back east with us,” said Renee. “It’s much easier living out there.”

“For you, maybe,” Jo replied. “This is what we know, and this is what we love. We came all the way here and I want the kids to be in familiar territory.” She crossed her arms over her chest now and looked down. “Our whole life was there. Everything we loved and all of that is gone now. We need something that’s at least…somewhat familiar. Besides,” she looked over to Renee with a small smile and said, “John says out at Victor’s place he feels like he’s going to drown with all the humidity.”

The two women looked up at the sudden sound of three shots that exploded in quick succession. Down the street, Marshall and James were standing near three dead zombies. Marshall yelled something they couldn’t hear, and John waved his hand out of the second story window of a house.

Victor and James worked well together. After the second house, James had the routine down pat and Victor let him take the lead on the third. James stood in front of the door and knocked hard. The two men stood silently and listened for any sign of movement. Victor backed up a step to try and catch a glimpse of anything inside the porch window, but everything seemed clear. Victor nodded to him, and James opened the door. The two men instantly knew something was wrong. The second James opened the door, the stench hit both men like a brick to the face.

“There’s gotta be a bunch inside,” said Victor, suppressing a gag. He had pulled his shirt up over his nose. “I’ve never smelled anything that strong. Keep your wits about you.”

“I know that smell,” said James. “I smelt it in a petrol station. Musta had forty zeds in it.”

The two men waded into the house, warily checking every corner, doorway, closet, and kitchen. When they finally opened the door to the basement, they found what must have been the entire population of the town milling about. Taped to the door was a note:

The situation is dire
We have no food. We lost water when the power went out.
It has been six days without water and we are dying.
We are desperate. The only way we can preserve our bodies and return to Your service is to infect ourselves.
When Max arrives, He will save us, smiting the evil from our bodies and returning us to glory
We will spend the rest of our lives spreading the word of Max.
I have sealed these people in this basement with one of the minions of the Evil Father Victor Tookes, so that they may be preserved until The Savior arrives, and moved on to spread the Gospel.

In the service of Max, Nathaniel Rotelle.

“Oh shit,” said Victor, frozen in his tracks.

5.02 Gander Acres part 2

Kris only heard the tail-end of a conversation as she was coming up the stairs.  “Markus, I know you think you can do this.  But I swear to God, you’ll be more of a pain in the ass than an asset.  You can hardly walk for pete’s sake.”

“Alicia, come on.  I can do this.”

“Bull shit.  You’re sitting this one out and that’s the last I’m going to say about it.”

“Jesus Christ, Alicia.  I’m–”

“Markus, stop being a prick and just listen to me for once in your life!”

As Kris peered around the corner, the brother and sister were standing across from each other.  Even though Markus now stood a foot and a half taller than Alicia, she did not back down.  Having been a US Marshall, she was used to making herself appear to be the largest person in the room.  Although it was almost comical to watch the big man versus the petite woman, there was no doubt who would win this argument.  The two of them continued to yell at each other.  Alicia’s hand gestures were getting increasingly more and more dramatic and Kris knew she had to interject.

“She’s right, Markus,” Kris said from the doorway.  “I know you think you can help but for fuck’s sake, please listen to her.  We don’t have time for this.  You’re staying, even if I have to hold you here.”

“Hold me?” He said, walking over to her.  “Have you seen me?”

“Yeah, I have,” she replied, placing a hand on his upper arm, “But I can still lock your stubborn ass down.”

Markus started to laugh but before he got the chance, Alicia disappeared and then reappeared behind her brother.  She placed her hand on Markus as well and in a swirl of chilly darkness, Alicia transported the three of them out of the house and to the opposite side of the farm.  She was only there long enough to drop Kris and Markus off before disappearing again.

Alicia had dropped them off one of the spring houses on the property.  She had chosen the one that was farther away from the house and the battle.  The stones had all been hand-laid by Riley’s grandfather decades ago and even so, the small building was in excellent condition.  Of the three spring houses on the property, this one was the least used.    There was no furniture inside the single-room, save a couple of sections of an old tree trunk that were roughly the right height for sitting on.  The spring bubbled up through the stone floor, creating a small pond right in the middle, before flowing out a channel built into the middle of the floor.  The air inside the small building was almost chilly and Kris wrapped her arms around her body and sat down on one of the small retaining walls.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Markus said throwing his head back.  He sighed heavily and began limping over to the doorway of the little house.  “I’m going to fight.”

“No, you’re not,” Kris said.  She tilted her head to the side and threw her dome across the floor and over to the door.  She pulled it taut across the opening, making sure to seal the edges.  He tried to take another step, and ran into the dome.

Markus drew his fist back and slammed it into the shield.  Kris felt her brain vibrate with the force of the blow.  He pounded on the shield over and over, lighting Kris’s brain on fire.  She wasn’t about to let him win, no matter how strong he was.

She sealed the dome to the floor, and whispered as softly as she could, “Keep on goin’, big man.  I’ll be here all day.” She trailed off and watched Markus closely.  He was hell bent on getting out.  He hated not being next to his sister, especially now that an attack was imminent.  Knowing the land as well as he did would have been a huge asset and Markus refused to believe that he would have been nothing but a help to his sister.  And now that she had gotten her way without a fair fight, he was angry.

Markus continued to beat on the inside of the shield for a full thirty seconds while Kris’s message bounced around, reverberating and gaining volume.  She had separated the dome for only a moment to create a second barrier around her own ears; she knew how loud it would get.

The strength of the sound continued to grow and as it did, Markus’s speed dramatically slowed down.  The large man shook his head, trying to ignore the pressure building inside his ears.  Before long, he brought his hands up to cover his ears and he was grimacing in pain.  Markus slowly sank to his knees, resigning himself to his fate. “Stop,” he muttered.  He took a breath and then yelled, “Kris, stop!”

As the words exploded from his mouth, Kris collapsed the dome.  In a second, she snuffed out all of the sound that was reverberating inside the small house.  Moments later, the soft sounds of the woods and the gentle trickle of the spring filtered back into the air.  Kris’s eyes never left Markus but she continued to maintain a look of neutral indifference.  The man stayed on his knees and sighed again.  Glancing over his shoulder, he met Kris’s gaze.

“You weren’t kidding,” he said simply.

Kris shook her head. “No, I wasn’t.”

“Alicia was telling me about what happened in Atlanta.  Is that what…” his voice trailed off.  Markus didn’t need to finish his thought – Kris already knew what he was going to say.

“Something like that, yeah.”

“Fuck me,” he muttered with a look of slight bewilderment on his face.  He pushed himself up off of the floor and as he stood, a grimace of pain flickered across his face. “Man, just trying to get the hell outta here wiped me out.  Maybe Alicia was right.”  He looked over to Kris and smiled weakly.  “But don’t tell her I said that.”

Kris laughed and said, “We’ll keep it between you and me.”  She patted the stones next to her and said, “Come on.  Sit next to me.  Alicia would kill both our asses if something else happened to you.”

“You have no idea,” he replied with a laugh.

____________________________________

Martin and Neil took off on the two tractors heading towards the oncoming horde of zombies.  When the they were about twenty feet away, Martin slowed dramatically and turned left.  At the same time, Neil sped up, pushing his tractor to its maximum speed.  The wire caught the outer edge of the zombies at waist height, and dragged them inward.  Neil arced around the walking dead, and then rocketed down through the middle, closing the loop.  He slowed down to match Martin’s speed as the two tractors dragged a hundred zombies towards one of the pits Joey had dug.

“It’s not gonna hold ‘em all,” yelled Martin over the sound of the two tractors.

“It’ll hold em’,” yelled Neil.  “It has to.  We can gather up the stragglers later.”

The two men dragged their haul of zombies into a pit where they separated the tractors and raked them in with the line.  Martin circled around and reset beside Neil, and the two of them started over.

“This time you take the outside.  You’re gonna have to gun the hell outta that tractor to keep up.”

“I know how this works, Neil,” said Martin.  “Joey!  Watch your ass; there’s a few stragglers.”

Joey hefted a spear over his head, and charged one of the few zombies that managed to avoid being dragged into the pit.

“I got ‘em Mart,” he yelled.

The two tractors rocketed off, repeating the same maneuver and dragged the rest of the horde into the pit.  When they were done, the two men parked their tractors and walked over towards where Joey was spearing zombies.

“It’s like fishin’ in a barrel, Neil,” Joey exclaimed with a broad smile on his face.

Neil patted Joey gently on his shoulder and then said.  “It was too easy.” He looked to Martin now.  “Did that feel right to you? There’s gotta be somethin’ else going on here,” said Neil as he speared a zombie through the top of the skull.  Something off to his left caught his attention.  It was pitch black now and a small sliver of moon barely lit the landscape.  On the ridge, silhouetted against the thin moonlight, were two lumps that shouldn’t be there.

“Joey, there’s two on the ridge watching us,” Neil said after several minutes of watching them.  “They’re not doing anything, they’re just laying there.  One of ‘em just moved his head, otherwise I mighta missed ‘em.” The older man pushed the brim of his baseball hat up off of his forehead, deep in thought. “Whaddya think they’re up to?”

“Looks like they’re fixin’ to start somethin.  No way to know.”  The younger man shrugged.  “Weren’t no other zombies anywhere ‘round when I was scoutin’.  We got em all, Neil.”  Joey pointed behind the older man.  “Watch behind ya.  One comin’ up.”

Neil spun.  With a grunt, he speared the zombie through the face, then put his foot on its chest to pull the spear out.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that this was way too easy.  Were the two smart ones sizing them up?

Alicia spoke from behind Neil.  “Is it just the two of them?”

Neil jumped in surprise.  “Holy shit.. err… crap, Alicia.  When did you get back?” Neil asked quietly.  “Sorry ‘bout my language.  And yea, just two of ‘em.”

He heard her chuckle softly, but she didn’t reappear. “No problem Neil.  You guys handle these.  You’re doing an awesome job,” she put her hand on Neil’s shoulder.  It was like a ghost was touching him.  “I’ll go take care of the two supers.”

Neil heard Alicia’s holster click, and then her heard her work the slide, chambering a round.

“Alicia, I gotta tell ya.  This whole “invisible” thing is weird,” said Neil spearing another zombie in the hole.

“Sorry, Neil.  I don’t want them to know I’m coming.  You three be safe,” she said.  She lifted her hand from his shoulder and left the three men.

Alicia ran up the hill as fast as she could, cloaked in her invisibility.  She knew nothing could see her.  ‘Other than Kris,’ she thought to herself.  Kris was such a mystery to her but on the other hand, she’d never known someone so well.  Their minds had been merged not once, but twice.  Kris’s mind was elegant, if slightly disorganized.  She was the most beautiful person Alicia had ever known.  Ever since she was 16, Alicia had openly acknowledged that she was attracted to women but there was something about Kris that was different.  It was more than just a physical attraction; she adored what she saw in her heart.  But then again, the way she bit her bottom lip was so…  ‘Snap out of it Gander.  Focus on the job,’ she thought to herself.

The lone woman reached the top of the ridge, where she paused for a second.  Two zombies were laying prone, watching the three men by the pit work.  She raised her gun and drew a bead on the first one.  She let out a slow breath as she squeezed the trigger.  Between the time she started to exhale and the time she squeezed the trigger, both zombies were on her with their hands at her throat.

“Shit,” croaked Alicia.  The blonde to her right was her first target.  She kicked him in the leg, then squirmed sideways and dropped to the ground.  She helicoptered her legs, spinning on her back so fast her legs were a blur, in an attempt to sweep their legs out from under them.  Both zombies leapt high into the air, dodging her kicks.  They landed squarely on their feet as Alicia threw her legs upward and flipped herself onto her toes.  She extended her arm, and pointed at the dark haired one.  “You’re done.”

Alicia sized them both up.  They had some skill, but she’d been top of her class in hand to hand combat, and her Krav Maga was better than the academy instructors.  They were faster than she was, but she’d fought faster.  The way she saw it, she just had to wait and bait them a little.

The woman decided to play with them a little bit.  She grinned and asked, “You just gonna stand there?”

In perfect unison, the two of them split and circled around her.  They came from both sides at once.  The two men moved so fast that they were a blur.  She dropped to her knees and brought her fists upwards, catching both zombies in the groin.  ‘Stupid,’ she thought to herself.  ‘They have no use for those.’

The two zombies brought their knees together, smashing Alicia’s head between them.  The force of the blow made the woman see stars.  Out of reflex, she wrapped her arms around their legs, and somersaulted backwards.  As she moved, she twisted their legs and brought the two of them to the ground with her.  She released one, rolled over sideways and scrunched her body up, breaking the leg she had in her hands.  “That’ll slow you down,” she said, bringing her heal up to smash it into his face.  As she did, she drew the KA-BAR knife from the small of her back.  As she knew he would, the second zombie caught her heel.  The moment she felt that pressure on her foot, she lunged forward and drove the knife into its nose.

The zombie with the broken leg screamed “No!” as she did, but it was too late.  The blade penetrated the soft bones of the first zombie’s face, into the brain.  The blonde zombie fell, dead, and Alicia jumped to her feet.  She’d twisted the dark haired zombie’s leg up pretty well; he was a little slower getting to his feet.  She wasted no time and drove her knife into his shoulder, severing the ligament that controlled the arm.

Alicia stepped back to catch her breath, knowing he was using the time to repair his leg and shoulder, but she needed a second to get her head.  He was enraged, and had to be worried about how this fight was going to end.  In less time than Alicia expected, he lunged forward, driving a huge fist into her nose.  At the same time, he simultaneously kicked the inside of her thigh with the leg that had just been broken.  He wasted no time, spinning and driving his foot solidly into her chest, knocking the wind out of her.

Alicia rolled over backwards and got to her feet, slightly dazed.  The zombie closed the distance, launching another punch towards her already broken nose.  Through the blood in her eye, she managed to bring her knife upward at the last second, driving the knife point-up through his arm at the base of his elbow.  The knife-thrust stopped most of the energy of the punch, but he still connected with her nose, causing a fresh geyser of blood.

The zombie pulled his arm back, splitting it wide open.  When the blade hit his wrist, Alicia twisted the blade, dislocating all the tiny bones in his wrist.  “Heal that, fucker,” she said as she reached around grabbing his shredded arm.  She stuck her fingers inside the slice she’d just created, wrapped them around his radius bone and yanked it fully out of his arm.  Without missing a beat, she used drove his arm bone into his eye socket and left him wobbling on his feet, dead again.  It was a full second before the corpse hit the ground.

5.01 Gander Acres

Kris never let go of Alicia’s hand as they disappeared from the desert. They traveled through space and time in an instant and once Kris opened her eyes, she found that they had safely reached the front yard of the main house on Gander Acres. All of the air in her lungs rushed out of Kris in a loud WHOOSH.

“We made it,” she laughed, shaking her head.

“I told you we would,” Alicia said with a smile. She brought Kris’s hand up to her lips and placed a kiss on her soft skin. The two women locked eyes for only a moment before Alicia gestured up to the house. “Let’s go check on Markus.”

They trotted up the hill and pushed in the front door. Kris was immediately put at ease with the familiar, safe feeling of the house. The smell of boiled potatoes, green beans and ham filled her nose and Kris realized that it had been a long time since she had anything real to eat. Even though she had been here only yesterday, her stomach had been in anxious knots and she hadn’t eaten anything the whole day. A wave of comfort came over Kris and while she didn’t dare to hope for a change, she couldn’t help but believe that maybe, just maybe, this place would become her new “normal.” A new life was possible here if she was willing to give it a shot. The faith that Kris had in Alicia made her truly believe that really living was possible. As Kris thought about all of the potential for her life, a huge smile spread across her face. It was time to breathe.

The two women rounded the corner into the kitchen. Liam was sitting at the kitchen table, pouring over a map of the farm and the surrounding area.

“Hey Liam,” Alicia said.

The curly-haired redhead jumped in surprise as he looked up. “Holy hell, you’re back!” As he stood, he almost knocked the table and the chair to the floor. He launched himself across the room and warmly embraced Alicia. As he pulled back from the embrace, he looked at her carefully. “We were worried you wouldn’t come back.”

Alicia laughed. “Why wouldn’t I come back?”

Liam shrugged. “You know the folks here. Paranoia is their way of life.”

“How’s Markus?” Kris asked.

“Conscious most of the day now. I don’t know what happened, but he managed to outgrow and break his bed overnight,” he replied as the small group walked up the stairs and then down the hall to Markus’s room. They stopped just outside the door as Liam continued. “And he’s eating everything in the house and then some. He looks like he’s healed, but he’s still really weak.”

“I can hear you, you know!” A voice called from inside the room.

Alicia smiled broadly and opened the door. Markus was already laughing and she leapt onto the bed, hugging her brother close to her. “Good Lord, Markus. You’re huge!” The siblings shared a laugh as Alicia poked Markus’s now bulging muscles. The brother and sister rapidly spoke to each other, explaining what had happened the night Markus was bit and where Alicia had been for the past day and a half.

Liam tapped Kris on the shoulder and gestured for her to follow him back to the kitchen. The two of them made their way downstairs and sat down at the wooden table. Riley was in the kitchen now, large spoon in hand, stirring the pot of potatoes. The ginger pushed the map he was looking at towards Kris. He didn’t have a very happy look on his face.

Before he should speak, the tea kettle on the stove began whistling ostentatiously. Liam stood up, grabbed the kettle, a smaller stoneware tea kettle, and three cups. He placed the cups in front of them and sat back down. It would take a few minutes for the tea to fully steep. The silence between them seemed to stretch on forever.

“I wish I had good news, Kris,” Liam finally said. He reached towards the teapot and poured all three of them a cup of earl grey tea.

Kris held the mug tightly in her hands, breathing in the sweet smell of the dark tea. She shook her head and softly replied, “Shit. I was afraid you’d say that. I had a feeling that things had been too easy.”

“We always have someone watching every square inch of this farm. And if they’re not watching the farm, someone is watching the everything else.”

Kris nodded, taking a short sip of the tea.

“There’s a whole group of zombies on their way here as we speak. And we’re so unprepared. There’s no way we have enough ammo to take them all out.” He pointed to the map on the table. “From what we can see, they’re coming from where we were almost totally burnt out from the fires.” Liam saw the look of confusion on Kris’s face and then clarified. “North east.”

“Right,” she paused again, deep in thought. “So what do we do?”

A smirk moved across Liam’s face and he glanced over to Riley. The older man was smiling broadly. “It was Riley’s idea. It’s a little risky, but I think it’ll work.”

____________________

It was Neil’s shift to watch the main road. Given that the farm was so massive, they had developed a system to always have someone watching almost every square inch of the farm. He was perched up in a hand-built treestand, slowly smoking the last of his tobacco. Neil had hand-rolled his cigarettes with his own home grown tobacco since he was 16, just as his father before him had done. To his left, Neil had his hunting gun loaded and ready. It had been around a week since he had to fire a single shot, but he was no fool to think that “the end” was over.

He had spent the majority of his time outside, working on a farm of his own. It had been in the family for five generations. All of that was lost the day that the military came through, thinking that bombing the area was the fastest way to destroy the undead. All of his hard work and everything that he had ever called “his” was burned to the ground. The plan to burn the zombies had dramatically backfired; instead of destroying the zombies, they had only destroyed farmland and forest. It had taken a week for the fires to burn themselves out. Once the ash had cleared, there were at least a 100 people that had nowhere else to go.

Alicia and Markus had saved them. Neil had no doubt about that. Markus had showed up in a huge truck and offered them all a chance to survive on Gander Acres. Everyone had agreed. The siblings were well known in the town and highly respected. Now, they were more than respected. They were revered.

The horde was covering ground slowly but steadily, pushing towards the farm. Neil shouted encouragement over to Joey, who was digging pits with the backhoe. They had a large amount of diesel, but it was still a precious commodity. “You’re doing great, Joey! Keep it up, don’t burn that ‘hoe up, replacement parts are going to get real rare!”

Neil looked through his binoculars, counting the zombies. He knew there was no way he could count them all, but he knew every parcel of land on this farm. If he knew how many could fit in an area the size of the farmhouse yard, he’d know roughly how many there were. After some quick figuring in his head, he called out to Martin “Looks like about 225 of em. They’re coming slow and steady, we got about half an hour. Run fetch the kubota and that spool of wire. I’ll ride the ford. We’ll run out a trot-line and wrangle ‘em into Joey’s pits. If we get lucky, we won’t have to fire a shot tonight!”

Neil squinted into the sun, the finely lined crows feet stood out at his temples, the product of years of working out in the bright summer sunlight. His favorite old John Deere cap sat atop his head, the bill worn threadbare from years of being stuck in his back pocket when he went inside. No real man wore his hat inside. He worried about the two boys he loved almost as his own sons. The three men had been working the land together since they were small children. They were good men to have around though. Solid, sturdy framed boys, rugged from an outdoorsman’s life. Both could grow anything, and Martin was the best hunter and tracker Neil had ever known. Neither boy had been much for school, all either of them wanted was to be outside working. Both had quit high school as soon as the local constable would allow, and hadn’t gone much before that.

The sound of the new kubota running up the hill woke Neil from his memories. Martin had the front bucket low to the ground and full of a scoop of dirt to offset the weight of the barbed wire on the back spooler. “Pull up next to the ford,” Neil yelled over the sound of the diesel engine. “I’ll attach the wire to the PTO, and we can run off about 100 yards, then run it back. When we have six or eight wires running between the tractors, I’ll use the tractor’s PTO to spin them all together into a barbed cable.”

Martin looked over at Neil, “Ya reckon’ this is gonna work?”

“Of course it’ll work, Martin. Just like runnin’ a net through the lake. Some few stragglers might make it through, but they shouldn’t be too hard to mop up. We need to thin the herd, taking them out one at a time is too long.”

“What if it’s some of them fast ones?” yelled Joey.

“Then we’ll deal with them, like we have before. No way of knowin’ so we might as well follow the plan until we have to abandon it. You boys know there ain’t no sense in bein’ worried about somethin’ we can’t control.”

“Yes sir,” they both said at the same time.

Joey dumped one more scoop of dirt, then backed the tractor over the rise. A few seconds later he came trotting over to Martin on the big Kubota tractor and got straight to work. The three of them were so practiced at working together, none of them really needed instruction. Joey attached the barbed wire to the back of the Ford. Martin took off, looped it around a tree, then back to the Ford. Joey cut the wire, attached the looped end and a fresh wire to the PTO on the tractor, and Martin was off again. In no time, eight lengths of barbed wire stretched between the tractor and the tree. Neil cut the wire against the tree with his hatchet, and attached those ends to the Kubota.

The Ford’s PTO was powerful, designed to spin huge cultivator blades through hard dirt. The wire was no match for the engine, it spun into an inch-thick cable with deadly, flesh ripping barbs sticking out at every angle. The three men shut down the tractors and waited, wondering if the sun would set before the zombies got to them. It was always worse fighting them in the dark. Neil reached into his back pocket and pulled out a smooshed sandwich.

“Might as well grab a bite, boys. Gonna be a fair piece before we get somethin else to eat,” he said as he bit into his sandwich.

The three of them ate a small supper standing between the tractors and waited. When they were done eating and had all taken a long pull from the water jug, they mounted their tractors and started them up.

“Martin, you take the inside arc, I’ll swing out and come through the middle. It’s going to take a couple of trips. The three men pushed their tractors into their high gear and started off towards the horde, ready to lasso them and drag them into the pits.

Just over the grassy hillside at the edge of the field, two zombies lay on their stomachs watching below.

‘They’re smart, this group,’ said one.

‘We are stronger,’ said the other.