Category Archives: Post Apocalypse

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.

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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.

4.06 Alicia

This entire book, as posted on this site, is a rough draft.  It’s the cost of reading as I write, instead of waiting until it’s available on Kindle.

She wasn’t out of this yet.

Kris was furiously pacing the floor, deep in thought. It was obvious that she had spent too much time dwelling on what she could not do verses what she could. The knowledge that there was much more to her than she had ever imagined was invigorating. She felt revived with a new sense of purpose. As she paced from one side of the dark room to the other, a deep driving need to survive filled her mind. She was consumed by it.

They had underestimated her the first time, but they wouldn’t make that mistake twice. Kris knew that she needed to be well beyond their reach by the time they got back.

Two hours passed. Thin, deep red streams of light stretched across the industrial carpet and Kris could feel the temperature dropping. She needed to get out of here and the only thing standing in her way was that damn door, but she wasn’t strong enough to break it down. There had to be another way.

Miss Kris?” It was Max again. “Are you still there?”

She forgot he had been listening. “I’m here, Max. I’m sorry you had to hear that. I don’t know how, but I have to get out of here.

“Daddy says all the things have a reasonable frequency. Find the tone and use your shield to amplify it.” There was a pause and Kris wondered what a “reasonable frequency” before Max corrected himself and said, “Resonating.”

Kris smiled slightly at the word correction. Victor must have been listening in to their conversation. He was such a good father to Max. It was strange that children were not something that Kris ever felt drawn to. When Leslie, one of the girls she worked with, brought her four month old son into the restaurant, Kris felt the urge to run the other way. All of the other servers were so excited over the baby but Kris found herself purposely avoiding the entire situation. She had awkwardly waved at Leslie from the opposite side of the bar and then hid in the kitchen. Just the idea of holding the baby made her skin crawl and that’s when Kris decided that some women just weren’t meant to have children. Maybe she was one of those women. From her experience, children were usually loud, obnoxious and rude. But little Max was different. He was sweet, adorable and very intelligent. As much as she hated to admit it, she really liked him.

“I’ll try that, but what if I can’t make the right sound?”

“Then we’ll try something else, but you can do this Kris,” The voice was Victor’s now. “When you get out, find out where you are and tell Max. I’m going to go get Leo and we’re coming to find you.”

We’re coming to find you. His voice echoed inside her mind and their connection was abruptly silenced and Kris was alone again. Conversations were also so damn short with these people. The world had complained about what technology had done to the ability to converse, but no one even considered what an apocalypse would do. Kris wanted nothing more than to have a moment of normalcy and have a real conversation with someone that didn’t involve how they were going to survive. Or about some insane crusade to save the world. Or maybe where she didn’t have to worry about what was coming to kill her next.
The frequency of resonance is linked to the time it takes for a vibration of sound to spread throughout a building, reverberate and then how long it takes for the “echoes” to return to the oscillation, The voice told her in its usual clipped fashion. By finding the correct frequency, any structure can be destroyed. Kris took over the conversation and told herself, Find the right frequency, and I can bring the house down.

Kris stopped pacing and stood in the center of the room. Her feet were placed shoulder width apart and she stood tall, exhaling slowly. She let all of air out of her lungs and focused on expanding her ribcage as she inhaled. Air filled her lungs again and she picked the lowest note she could sing. Kris created a small dome just in front of her lips and sang into the bubble. With a flick of her hand, she pushed the bubble across the room and morphed it around the door. The metal door vibrated gently and began to produce a beautiful cord inside its frame. Kris listened for the highest note in the cord and shifted her voice to fit the sound. She was singing a few octaves under the highest tone and pinched the dome into a tall cylinder to bend the pitch. As the dome pinched together, the note was pushed to screaming heights.

The note permeated the door and filled its core. Kris could feel it rattling around in the frame, and the door shook violently before it slowly began to crumble. Before her eyes, the steel door turned into nothing but dust and the the aluminum door handle clunked to the floor. The sound was abruptly snuffed out as the door disappeared.

“Holy shit, that actually worked!” she shouted and threw her arms into the air and shouted with joy and made a mental note to thank Vic later for that bit of genius. She ran towards the open door frame and into the hall. Kris pushed the dome out from her body and had it expand over the floor of the Sheraton hotel. The entire layout of the floor filled Kris’s mind and she could once again confirm that she was alone. Part of the dome brushed against the elevator shaft 400 feet in front of her and a distinct “8” bore into her mind. Eight floor.

The industrial carpet was golden yellow, tan and black in a typical modern block formation. The pattern was over-sized and terribly standard-looking. As she ran, she had to be careful where her feet landed. There was wooden debris, glass and discarded pieces of furniture that littered the floor. In her bare feet, every step was a risk. Even though she healed very quickly, Kris didn’t want anything potentially slowing her down. At the end of the hall, she found the emergency exit and threw herself against it. Kris drew the shield back around herself like a warm blanket as the door flew inward and rattled roughly against the interior concrete wall. As she stepped inside the door, she glanced around the staircase. It was silent. Kris knocked on the metal handrail and as the sound reverberated through the open stairwell, she expanded the sphere that protected her to fill the entire area. Aside from a half dozen rotting corpses in tattered clothing and a broken-up love seat, the emergency exit was empty. Kris trotted down the cold cement stairs. Her bare feet made soft padding noises as she crossed each step.

It is better for civilization to be going down the drain than to be coming up it. Henry Allen’s Law of Civilization, the Voice told her. Oh, thanks for that. Always so God damn cheerful, Kris snapped in response.

She only had to side step once to avoid a shattered portion of the stairs before she pushed open the emergency exit door that lead into the hotel lobby. It must have been beautiful before the world collapsed. The tan, deeply veined marble floor still gleamed brightly in the late evening light. Whoever had polished it last did a remarkable job and would have deserved a raise for his work. The lobby was enormous with a squat, arched ceiling and four large, multi-coloured glass chandeliers. One of the four chandeliers had crashed to the marble floor and shattered into thousands of rainbow shards. All that was left attached to the ceiling were a set of wires with a few left over strands of glass. Gathered into small groups around the expansive room were black, leather bound love seats paired with two wing-back chairs and a circular, glass coffee table. The furniture groupings were anchored together on what used to be brightly colored, hand woven rugs. In the passing months, they had grown dark, dingy and some had been stained with blood. There were more corpses in the lobby than anywhere else Kris had encountered and the stench was overwhelming. She felt bile rise up in her throat and she swallowed hard to avoid throwing up.

There were dark patches of dried blood spread across the marble floor. There were streaks of it that led from the revolving door and straight to the main desk. Kristina Thompson, checking in. And have the bellboy pick up my bags, please. Just to the side of the streak there were awkwardly placed, bloody footprints that seemed to stagger off behind the desk.

She was suddenly standing just outside of the Humvee that picked her up the night the world changed. With horror, she watched a set of zombie teeth tear into a bicep of the man that wore black swimming trunks. The teeth sunk into his muscle and out of reflex, the man’s elbow snapped upwards. Another set of teeth tore into the base of his neck. Both zombies pulled their heads backward and strings of muscle, skin and gore fell from their gnashing teeth. Blood exploded from the wounds and bubbled down his shirt. Another zombie had the man’s left hand in its mouth and was chewing slowly. Kris heard his bones snapping and popping and the zombie bit down again and pulled with its teeth. The flesh and muscle was pulled from his hand in one solid motion and all that was left was the skeletal remains.

The man screamed.

With a shout, Kris tore herself from her past and pushed the memory back down where it belonged. Breathing deeply, she focused on what was real and stomped her feet against the cold marble. She was cold, hungry and in need of somewhere safe to spend the night. And the first order of business was to find some God damn shoes.

As she pushed through the revolving doors, she spread the dome out and stretched it across ¾ of the block. As she walked, Kris had the entire layout of the block etched perfectly in her mind. From what she could see, the area looked like a scene out of some over-done, Hollywood disaster movie. Only in this world, the credits would never roll and the dead never stayed dead. Lifeless bodies and destroyed, burnt out cars lined the silent streets. The air, just like the city, was still. Kris pushed the sphere out farther and it fully covered the block and aside from a small flock of seagulls, there was not another living thing in the area.

“Jesus Christ,” she sighed and wrapped her arms around herself as she walked down the small staircase that lead to the sidewalk. The first ten corpses she passed were either men, or women with much smaller feet than her. She tried very hard to ignore that she was about to steal shoes from a dead body.

Stealing shoes off a dead man. Oh, we’re going to hell. Weekend at Bernies 2, The Voice said.

That was one of the shittiest movies I’ve ever seen, Kris retorted with a snort.

But Jeff wanted to watch it. So you did.

Kris brushed the last comment aside as she jogged down the street, keeping her eyes open for shoes that looked like they would fit. Eventually, she found a pair of lime green and yellow Puma running shoes. As she crouched down to remove the shoes, she turned her head to the side. The skin and bones had dried out and as Kris pulled the shoes off, the bones made a sick snapping sound and she flinched in disgust. Standing up, she tied the laces together and tucked the shoes under her armpit. She could handle shoes from a dead body, but socks were something else entirely. Half a block down, she found a CVS with all of the glass windows broken in. She did a quick search and managed to find a bag of men’s socks, an XXL black hooded sweatshirt with the word “MOBILE” across the front, a bottle of water and two Lara bars. In desperation, she also grabbed a mop. After placing it on an angle against the floor and wall, she stepped on it and snapped it to a sharp point. It wasn’t much of a weapon, but it was better than nothing.

She tore one of the wrappers off of the Lara bar and bit into it. It still tasted like cardboard, but it was the best tasting cardboard she had ever eaten. With a sigh, she sat down on the curb of the street and ripped open the plastic bag of socks and took out four pairs. With a cringe, she realized that the only thing separating her feet from the feet of the shoes’ previous inhabitant was a thin piece of cotton. And then she realized that doubling up on socks was not an option because the shoes weren’t large enough. Her face was tightly scrunched as she pulled the socks onto her feet and then the sneakers. “Oh, this is all types of fucked up,” she muttered and as she stood, she twisted off the cap of the water and drank it greedily.

She pushed the extra socks and the second Lara bar into the front pocket of the sweatshirt and pulled the deep hood up over her head. The sun was getting perilously low and she still had no safe place to go. After another deep sigh, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and began to walk down the block. The only thing she was grateful for in this entire trip was that their little stunt in Atlanta had apparently drawn all of the zombies in the surrounding area into Georgia and out of Alabama.

Fucking Tookes. God damn crusade… She thought, shaking her head. And yet at the same time, she found herself missing his drive and his passion. If not him, who? She thought. Followed immediately by, I must be losing my mind.

The last thing she expected to hear were running engines shuttering to a stop three blocks away. And as if hearing those engines wasn’t enough, she heard nin distinct heartbeats pumping warm blood to live bodies.

Her ears picked up a clear, distinctly feminine voice. “Jackson, spread your men around the trucks. Keep your eyes peeled for walkers. Tommy, move your teams into positions around the pumps. We have thirty-thousand gallons to pump, move your asses!”

“You got it, Alicia,” one said.

“We’ll get it done,” said another.

“We’ll get you back to that beautiful baby tonight, Tommy. You have my word.”

Kris ran towards them and as she did, she carried the sphere with her and began to project it forward.


3.05 Conundrum

Marshall swung his bat at the first zombie, smashing its skull, spraying brains and gore on the crowd behind it.

“What’s our plan here?” Victor asked with a grunt as he buried the hatchet in one’s skull.

“I was thinking we’d kill these zombies,” replied Marshall.

“Thanks, smart ass.”

Fighting back to back like this Victor couldn’t use his normal side-step-and-cleave method.  Marshall had the strength and height to smash through their arms and still destroy their skulls, but Victor didn’t have the right angle.  It wasn’t too hard to get inside their range, but every time he stepped past their arms, there was a chance they’d get a hand on him.

“What the fuck are they doing?” asked Marshall.

Victor took a seconds pause from concentrating on his strategy to look up.  He and Marshall were at the back of the train.  The zombies had formed a semi-circle around them, almost pinning them to the train.  The circle went from the side of the train car, all the way around the yard to the other side of the train car.

The dead weren’t moving, they weren’t advancing at all.  Victor killed one and Marshall two, now the edge of the semi-circle was about ten feet from them.  The zombies stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a solid mass.  Vic searched the yard for the super that had to be controlling them, but found nothing.  He couldn’t see one that was less decomposed.  He couldn’t see one making any decisions.  They were all just standing there, arms down at their side.  We couldn’t go anywhere, but they weren’t attacking.

“Are they holding us?” He asked.

“Lets make for the truck.”

The two brothers moved as one, back to back towards the truck.  No matter how much you train or drill, no one could touch their level of communication.  They had a lifetime of figuring each other out.  The circle around them moved, each zombie keeping roughly ten feet away from them.  They allowed them to move.

“What do you think this is about?” Marshall asked as they climbed into the truck.

“I don’t know.  Do you think we should kill them?  I hate to leave zombies standing.”

“Lets just get out of here and come back with Leo and John.”

“I’m worried that there’s a lieutenant out there somewhere that’s going to wreck our train.”

“Hmm,” Marshall said, thinking.  “Maybe you’re right.  What’s the plan then?”

“Let me think.  What’s in the box left on the back of the truck?” Vic asked.

“Mostly hand tools. A hand saw, hammer, nails, screws, nothing I would consider really useful.”

“Any chance there’s a second hatchet?”

“I think there’s a machete in the bottom.  Its old and rusty though.”

“That’ll be fine, I just need it to help me keep their hands off me.  I’m not as tall as you, its hard for me to get a clean head shot with their arms up in my way.”

Marshall chuckled, and reached back to unlatch the small window in the back window that led to the bed of the pickup.  Victor reached through the glass and opened up the lid of the rusty job box.  He couldn’t reach much, so he squirmed out the window and stood up in the back of the truck.

When he stood up, the zombies closed their circle a little bit.  Not much, just a half a shuffling, stumbling step forward, but it was enough to worry me.  “Marshall, they just closed the circle by about a foot.”

“Hurry up then!”

“Lets get the truck out of here.  Do you think we can take a few out with the truck?” Victor asked, having finally found the machete.

“Hold on, lets find out!”

Marshall started the truck.  Victor sat down in the bed with his back to the cab, wedging himself as tightly as he could.  The big job box was on his right.  It stood a couple of feet taller than the sides of of the truck bed.  He felt reasonably safe, except the only thing he had to hold on to was the rope holding the big tool box in place.

Marshall jammed the gas pedal, spinning the wheels in the gravel.  The zombies immediately  behind the truck were pelted with rocks and debris.  The truck lurched forward when the tires found purchase on a railroad tie, and the brothers were off like a shot, the big diesel motor propelling the nearly empty truck up to speed in a short distance before they plowed the first zombies under the truck, their corpses ground to a bloody pulp between the truck and the railroad ties.

When they were clear of the group that had hemmed them in, Marshall slowed the truck, and bounced across the tracks until we were clear of the rails.  He parked the truck on the blacktop, and they got out as the zombies approached.  The two men waded in to the rush of zombies, hacking and slashing.  The machete and hatchet combo was very effective.  Victor was keeping pace with Marshall for the first three zombies, then Marshall cheated by picking up a ten foot length of train track.  He swung the thousand-pound length of track like a club so hard it whooshed through the air.  Marshall was crushing the skulls of four or five undead at a time.

All in all it took the brothers a little more than ten minutes to clear the dead from the rail yard,  Victor counted forty-six corpses.  Marshall hadn’t even broken a sweat; Victor though, was drenched.  ‘I should really learn not to try to compete with him,‘ thought Victor.  His strength was one on one, no one could take supers down as well as Victor.  Marshall’s talent was traumatic brain injury on a grand scale.

The pair paused for a few minutes to catch their breath, then dragged the corpses over to a pile.  Within an hour they were headed home; with a small stop at the house they saw on the way in.  Tomorrow they would be back to start the trip south.

—–

A skinny blonde woman ran as fast as she could across the street.  She lept off the curb, crossed the blacktop, without even a glance left, right, then left again.  Her dirty, stringy hair blowing back behind her as she ran towards a car that had long ago crashed into the side of the building in the next block.  The straps of her backpack were almost as tight as they could go, and the chest strap was fastened above her breasts to hold it solidly against her.

When the woman was passed the demolished red car, she ducked down, and checked the gun in her hand once more.  She pressed the magazine release button, and looked at the bullet on top.  She could see that there was only one left.  She put the magazine back in the gun and pulled the slide back, inserting the bullet into the firing chamber.

“Maya! Run!” She half yelled, half whispered.  A little black haired girl came running out from between two cars.  She was about three and a half feet tall, with long curly hair and a beautiful round face.  She ran to the blonde woman’s side, and crouched down.  Without a word she wiggled herself into the space between the wrecked Honda Civic and the wall.

“Ok, we’re going one more block,” the blonde woman said.  “We can rest here for a minute, but we need to keep moving, Ok?”

“Ok, Mommy,” said the small girl.

They sat there for a minute, catching their breath leaned up against the wall of the skyscraper.  The blonde nodded to her daughter and took off running.  She ran to the edge of the gigantic building, and rested her back against the light orange granite blocks.  She peeked quickly around the corner, at first just looking for a sign of movement.  On a second peek, she studied a little harder, her eyes searching for anything that looked vaguely human.  A third peek satisfied her that there weren’t any infected out in the open.

The woman looked at the little girl and motioned to her.  Maya ran like the wind, she was fast for such a small child.  She ran with coordination, a well practiced gait that comes when someone has spent a lot of time running.  She leaned tight against the wall, squeezing behind her mother’s leg.  She was skinny, although not as skinny as her mother.

The woman ducked around the corner, squatted down and put one hand on the concrete sidewalk, presenting the smallest possible target.

“Maya, remember this is the street where the man was shooting at us.  We have to stay small.  We’re going to run together this time, first to the car, then we’re going to run down into the parking garage.  We’ll be safe for a little while there.  As long as no one has followed us, I can put this gas in the truck and we can go look for some food.  Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Mommy, I’m very hungry,” whispered the little girl.

“Ok, lets go!”

The two ran for the garage at top speed, the little girl was fast, but not nearly as fast as the mother could run.  The woman loped easily alongside the little girl, their footsteps making almost no noise on the hard sidewalk.  The turned right into the garage, and ran down the ramp of the underground parking garage.

At the bottom of the ramp they slid behind a round concrete pillar.  The woman knelt down again, pulling the little girl close to her.

“You did so good! I’m so proud of you,” the woman whispered

The little girl beamed.  “We’re safe from the bad people here?”

“Almost baby.  We have a little bit more work to do today, then we can go back to our room where its safe.”

“I don’t like it up there, can’t we use the elelator?”

“Elevator, with a v.  And, no, there still isn’t any electricity.”

“Oh, bother.  So many steps.”

“I know, Mymy.  But the bad people have to climb them to get to us, and we can move faster than they can.  All those steps keep us safe,” the woman said, repeating the line she had used several times each day for the last four months.

“Its getting harder and harder to find food for us here, and we’re running out of water.  We have to go farther every day here, and we only have a couple of hours a day to get gas for the truck and find food and water while baby holly is asleep.  I can’t carry her out here, and she doesn’t know how important it is to stay quiet.”

“What if the bad people come while baby holly is asleep?” asked the little girl.

“We can’t let that happen, Mymy.  That’s why we have to run so much and be so quiet.”

They moved quickly and quietly to a black suburban.  The huge sport utility vehicle had a few scrapes down the side, but it had been good to them.  They’d parked here on the night of the outbreak, looking for someplace safe to stop for a few hours rest on their trip from Atlanta, Georgia to the farm in Virginia.  All they really wanted to do was get a couple of hours of sleep and get back out on the road.  In hindsight, they should have pushed on, to get through the city of Charlotte, NC.  Neither she nor her husband had expected the entire city to become infected overnight.  They fell asleep in the truck down there in the parking garage.  When they woke up the next morning, her husband had gone outside to check the road.  He never came back.

The woman poured the gas out of the one gallon can into the truck and put the key in the ignition.  She started the truck and let it idle for a few minutes to keep the battery charged.  Once a week she’d started it for exactly four minutes.  For the last week she’d been struggling to find 1 gallon of gas every day.  Siphoning gas out of cars was more work than she expected.  In the movies people just stuck a hose down in the tank, sucked on it, and gas came out. Most of the time all she got was mouthful after mouthful of horrible gasoline flavored fumes.  She knew some of the cars had to have fuel.  There must be some sort of device to keep people from stealing gas.  She’d only had luck with older pickup trucks.

Two weeks after she gave up hope that her husband would come back, she’d started coming up with this plan.  It took her a week to find the gas can and hose.  It took her another three days to find a suitable truck to siphon the fuel from.  Finally she’d managed to carry half a tank full of gas to her truck.  That was enough to get her about 125 miles.  She was still twice that distance from her destination, but she knew they had to go before she could find that much gasoline, one gallon at a time.

At first they lived on food from the refrigerators in the break rooms on every floor of the 62 story building they now called home.  When that ran out or went bad, they’d switched to chips, candy bars, and sodas from the vending machines.   After nearly a week of that she’d gone out in search of more wholesome food.  Across from the building there was a small burrito shop where she’d found some canned beans and rice.  When that was gone, she’d been going farther and farther every day.  One day she’d found the backpack, which made life much easier than trying to put number ten cans in her purse and run with them.

Lately, every restaurant she came across had been looted or everything had spoiled.  This far into the city, there weren’t any animals, and very few plants, not that she would know how to prepare them or which plants were safe to eat.

They’d gotten their fuel for the day, but they had a long way to go to find some food.  Yesterday all she’d had to eat was a bag of M&M’s.  That day’s scavenging had only produced a small can of tomatoes, and a cup of applesauce.  The best part of yesterday had been finding the gun.  Even though it only had one bullet, and she’d spent nearly three hours figuring out how it worked, she felt safer with it.

The two of them headed back up the ramp, out into the cool fall air in search of food for the day.  Renee checked her watch, the baby would sleep for another hour or so.  Tomorrow they were leaving this hellish place, one way or another.

This is the end of the sample, if you’d like to continue reading please visit The Library

3.04 Train Yard

Victor woke up early that morning, just before dawn.  It was a cool fall morning,  he had on a pair of heavy canvas pants, a tee shirt, a flannel button up shirt, a fleece vest, and was still cold when he walked outside.  One of the worst things about living without modern conveniences was that in the fall, winter, and spring, he stayed cold.  No matter how many blankets he slept under, he always woke up cold.  It took him until well after sun up to get warm.

He walked into the kitchen and packed up a bunch of food.  Victor found Marshall out by the diesel f250 Victor recovered from the Haversham farm.  It seemed like an eternity ago, although in reality it hadn’t even been two weeks.  Marshall was loading all kinds of tools in big steel tool boxes into the bed.  They were tool boxes we’d always called job boxes.  Roughly the size of a chest freezer, they were the type of thing construction companies used to keep hand tools locked up at a job site.  At the end of a job, the construction company would use three or four men to push them up onto the back of a truck at a loading dock.  Marshall lifted each one easily up into the back of the pickup by himself.  Each time he set a box in the bed of the truck, the truck sank a little lower on its springs.

“What time did you get started?  Why didn’t you wake me up?” Victor asked, putting the small cooler of food in the back seat.

“I was going to in just a minute.  I wanted to get all this stuff packed while I was thinking about it.”

“What is all that?” Victor asked.

“If we’re going to armor up a train car, we’re going to need tools.  I figured it would be easier to bring them than to find them there.”

“That’s why you’re the smart brother.” The younger Tookes said with a grin.

“You brought the food,” Marshall replied laughing.

“That’s why I’m the fat brother.  Or used to be.”

The two of them climbed up into the cab of the truck.  It got terrible gas mileage, but Victor thought they might need the power, and they had a lot more diesel than gasoline in the tanks down at the barn.  The truck held more than enough fuel to get them to and from Charlottesville, where the train yard was.  Also, the pickup truck was wide enough to straddle  the train tracks if they had to.

“I know that this place is somewhere near Renee’s high school on the back side of town.  I’m not really sure where it is though.  I know where there is a bridge over four or five sets of train tracks, its got to be somewhere near there.”

“Alright, lets head there.  Worst case we can drive down the tracks until we find it,” said Marshall.

The drive into town was fairly uneventful.  They made it all the way through the town of Orange before encountering the first zombie.   It was a leg dragger, one of the easiest kind to put down, Marshall hopped out with an aluminum bat and literally knocked its head off.  Most of it exploded into a fine pink mist of gore and bits of bone, but the top half flew like he was swinging for the fences.  It flew across the street and crashed through the plate glass window of a bakery.  The hand painted window of Hats Off Cakes and Pastry crashed down onto the sidewalk.

Marshall climbed back in the truck, and now it was Victor’s turn.  There were two fat, bloated corpses stumbling towards the now broken plate glass window.  The first one fell out of the window, landing flat on its face.  Its ass followed with more momentum, folding its spine in half.  The fetid corpse sat on its own head.

The second made it out of the window with much more grace, only falling onto its side, before scrambling back to its feet.  The glass did a number on its hands, slicing the flesh open, releasing a putrid pussy looking fluid.  When it regained its feet, it started limping towards the truck.   Victor’s typical style was to push their hands out of the way as they inevitably grab for his neck, but he didn’t want to touch this one with that goo oozing out of it.  Victor could smell the rotten flesh from across the street and he had plenty of time to work.  The first zombie was still trying to unfold itself.

Rather than standing in the path of its hands, he sidestepped and swung his favorite hatchet as hard as he could at its shoulder, severing one arm.  His follow up swing landed squarely in the putrid creature’s temple. It fell limply to the ground, and Victor levered his small hand axe out of its skull.

“Nice one, little brother!” called Marshall.  Victor looked up at him and grinned, thinking about when they were kids.  Victor remembered playing catch with Marshall in the front yard of the house, and hearing the same thing after a good catch.  That whole world was dead now, and Victor felt like he had to fix it.  He got his wife killed; he’d let them get Max’s mother.  They’d lost their house.  All of Max’s things.  Max would never get to play football with the neighborhood kids.  He’d never go to the prom.  He would never go to college.  Victor and Max had lost virtually everything.

The second one successfully unfolded himself, and rolled over on his belly to stand up.  He was on all fours when Victor’s hatchet cleaved its head off in one clean sweep.  The head rolled about two feet; stopping right beside Victor’s boot where he disembodied face clamped its jaw down on his toe.  It couldn’t penetrate the boot, but Victor yelled out in pain at the pressure. He shook his foot, but the head would not come loose.  Finally he kicked the curb; smashed the back of the skull inward.  The last of the un-life faded from the creature.

On the north side of Orange, the undead population was much higher.  At first, the brothers were stopping every half mile or so killing a zombie.  By the time they were ten miles above Orange, about halfway to the Charlottesville city limits, the undead were getting too thick to take out so easily.  They saw them wandering in groups, fours, fives, even one group of eight.  On a couple of occasions, Victor was able to nudge them down with the truck and drive over them without too much trouble.  Most of the time he was too worried about damaging the truck, so he  just swerved around them.  They would be there another time, when were in less of a hurry or had more backup.

The University of Virginia was in Charlottesville, about twenty-thousand students.  Victor wanted no part of a super-horde of hoodie wearing half rotten college coeds.   The university was right in the middle of old town, which was the most direct way to their destination.  That route was clearly out of the question, so they stuck mostly to side streets and back roads.

“Keep an eye out for houses that look looted,” said Marshall.

“That’s a good idea, do you think there could be any survivors this close to town?”

“You never know, doesn’t hurt us to look for signs.  None of our people have been this far yet,” said Marshall.

As we drove along, Victor watched the houses along my side of the street.  Mostly they all looked the same, but every now and then they’d pass one that had been boarded up.  Most of those that had been secured had their doors standing wide open, with the boards sticking out at odd angles.

“Marshall, look at that one,” Victor said.  “Do you think that was zombies?  It looks different than the rest.”

“I don’t know.  Why that one? Why one in the middle of the street?  If a group were looting houses, don’t you think they’d be a little more systematic about it? Start at one end of the street?  We mark every house we loot, and close it up when we’re done, hoping to keep it fairly safe from zombies.  I’d like to think that somewhere someone has holed up for the night in a house that we cleared, and had some safety because we’d been there before.  Its the same reason we don’t take  every single scrap of food out of the houses.  We always try to leave a little something behind, whatever we can find that will last the longest.”

“I don’t know, but the door doesn’t appear to be broken, it looks different than all of the others.”

“Do you want to stop and check it out?” Marshall asked.

“Nah, but lets try to remember it and check it out later.”

The Tookes boys followed the neighborhoods around the outskirts of the city, until they were on the north side of town.  When they got to the street Victor thought merged with the main road, it was actually a dead end.  There was a hundred yard section of dirt and grass between the street they were on, and the main road Vic thought he was heading for.

The truck was pretty powerful, and it hadn’t rained in more than a week.  Without hesitation Vic put the truck into four wheel drive and bounced slowly up over the curb onto the overgrown grass.  They drove at an idle between the two houses and through the back yard.

“Oh shit, Vic! Check that out!”

Victor craned his neck around and saw a monstrous pile of trash on the ground underneath the kitchen window of the blue house to the right.

“Survivors?”

“I think we have to check it out.  Do you want to do it on the way in, or on our way back out?”

“Lets go on to the train depot.  Its not even eight in the morning, seems kind of early to come calling.”

They both chuckled at that thought while the truck idled along through the back yard and bounced down onto the main road.  Another mile down the road, they were at the tracks.

The bridge crossed high over the tracks.  Victor stopped the truck in the middle of the old rusty steel truss bridge, so he and Marshall could get out and try to figure out which way the train yard was.  There were five sets of tracks running under the bridge.  Within a quarter mile of each side of the bridge, the tracks curved out of sight, but on the east side of the bridge it looked like two of the tracks merged just before the curve.

“It looks like it must be west of here,” Victor said, pointing eastward towards the merging tracks.

“Seems as good a guess as any, Vic.  Lets see if we can find a spot to get the truck down there.”

The younger Tookes backed the truck up to the entrance of the bridge, and the brothers looked down the embankments on either side.  On the west side, there was a very steep hill, reasonably free of trees and rocks, but with a chain link fence at the bottom.  On the east side, the trees were thicker, and the hill was steeper, but there wasn’t a fence.

“There was a road heading west about half a mile back,” said Marshall.

“Lets go back and see if that gets us any closer.  I don’t want to risk turning the truck over or getting stuck.  You might be able to carry these massive tool boxes, but I don’t think I could even budge one.  With all that weight up in the bed we’re pretty ripe for a rollover.”

The side road led them right to the loading depot.  It was a huge train yard, way bigger than either of them expected.  Off to one side was a red train garage, with tracks running up to four huge rusty steel roll up doors.  At one end of the yard there was a gigantic metal warehouse with tractor trailers backed up against the loading docks and giant cranes on the train-side for loading shipping containers onto the flat bed rail cars.

“Holy shit Marshall.  This is better than I expected, look!” Victor said, pointing up by the cranes.  There was a train half loaded, the huge black diesel locomotive was already facing east.  Victor was pretty sure they needed to go a few miles east to get to the main north-south tracks that ran from Virginia to North Carolina.

“Vic, do you think you can figure out how to get the rear cars uncoupled?  I’ll work on unloading that shipping container.  Its already half armored, all we need to do is cut slits to look out of, armor up the bottom few feet, and protect the widows on the locomotive.”

The truck lurched and bounced as Victor jockeyed it over the first sets of rails.  He spun the tires a couple of times when the front and back tires were both against a rail, but it wasn’t anything the powerful pickup couldn’t overcome.  He stopped even with the locomotive, just one full set of rails away.

Neither of them had ever seen the way trains were coupled together before, it turns out it was pretty simple.  There were large S shaped pieces of steel attached to either end of a train car.  On the underside was a lever that released the bottom of the S.  Then there was a cable which passed electricity from car to car.  Connecting or disconnecting that was just a matter of twist and pull.  The last piece was a hose, Marshall suggested it was probably hydraulic fluid.  At either end there was a lever valve.  Victor turned the valve to ‘off’ before unscrewing the fitting.  It was just hand tight.  No tools required, fifteen minutes to figure out how to de-couple a train car.  “Marshall,  I’m  pretty sure  we could get that in under two minutes now that we know how,” Victor said proudly.

With the locomotive and one car, the rest of the cargo would be left behind.  Victor moved up to the locomotive.  He read in one of the books that this kind of engine had three gears, two forward, one reverse.  This locomotive was diesel powered, but not a diesel engine like in their truck.  This was technically an electric train.  Two huge diesel-fed electric generators powered electric motors that turned the wheels.

Inside the cab of the locomotive were hundreds of gauges, dials, knobs, levers, switches, and lights.  Victor searched gauge by gauge until he found one bank labeled “Fuel”.  There were two indicators, one of them “Head End Power Unit”.  Victor knew that was the electric power for the rest of the train, only really necessary if towing passenger cars.  The second was labeled “Thrust Power Generation”.  Both tanks read full.  “Luck is with me for once,” he thought.

He pulled a huge book out of his backpack and flipped to the first dog-eared page, labeled “Start-up procedure”.

  1. First a walk-around of the loco is done ensuring that the loco appears in condition fit for duty. This takes around 10 minutes. All the fluid levels (coolant, lube oil) are checked at this stage. After being started, the loco is checked once again before leaving the shed or stabling area.
  2. Close the battery master switch inside the short hood compartment.
  3. Close the fuel pump breaker and wait for the fuel oil pressure gauge to start showing some reading. The presence of fuel oil pressure means that the fuel is present at the injectors when the engine is cranked.
  4. Close the crankcase exhauster breaker – this blower removes explosive vapours from the crankcase during operation.
  5. Ensure: loco brakes on, generator field breaker open, reverser in the neutral position, Engine Control Switch in the Idle position, throttle in the closed position.
  6. Press the green start switch – the bell will sound inside the engine compartment warning anyone working there that the beast will wake up soon. I think it takes a second push of the button during which the engine is cranked.
  7. The switch is to be held down till all the cylinders start firing.
  8. Once the prime mover is running, observe the oil pressure, air pressure, brake pipe pressure being build up.
  9. Observe the battery charging taking place. The battery charging ammeter in the electrical panel always shows a (center) zero reading – this indicates the charging and discharging of the battery is perfectly balanced. The charging is checked by operating a toggle switch near the ammeter – this toggle switches off the field to the auxiliary generator (meant for battery charging, etc.) and the ammeter immediately shows a small negative deflection indicating a loss of battery charging. Once the switch is closed, the ammeter swings back to the center zero position.
  10. Another check of the loco – some drivers open the crankcase exhauster breaker at this stage – the positive pressure inside the crank sometimes shows up oil leaks faster.
  11. The throttle is moved to ensure that loco is responding to being notched.
  12. Release the parking brake, remove any wedges, wheel blocks, or rocks placed at the wheels to stop the loco from rolling.
  13. Move the Engine Control Switch from Idle to Run position.
  14. Observe the signal being pulled off, release the loco brakes and honk before moving!

The batteries were very low, but enough to start the pony engine.  The pony engine is a smaller gasoline powered engine that turns the flywheels on the gigantic generator.  He flipped the lever that engaged the gennies.  They struggled, but started after just a few seconds.  Victor let the batteries charge for about fifteen minutes with the engines running before increasing the throttle.  The ammeter needle bounced in sync with the increased revs.

“I’m gonna pull forward a few feet.  I need to test the brakes and get us decoupled.  Be ready, I have no idea how to stop this thing!” Victor yelled to Marshall over the loud engines.

He pushed throttle back to idle, and looked over the entire train for anything labeled “Parking Brake”.  It took him almost three minutes, but he finally found it.   The last book he read had him looking for a lever, but in this train it was just a small toggle switch.  When he flipped it, a huge air hiss rushed from the dump valves over the wheels and he felt the train rock a little bit.  He moved the engine control switch from “Idle” to “Run” and felt the train jerk forward.  One single click of the throttle lever caused the train lurched forward, rolling about five miles per hour.  A few seconds later he pulled the throttle back and squeezed the brake lever handle, ratcheting it back.  The wheels locked up, stopping the lightweight train in about a foot, throwing him into the control panel.

“Shit! He yelled, laughing. “The brakes were made for hauling a lot of weight!”

As Victor picked himself up off the floor of the locomotive, Marshall was standing in the doorway.

“Freaking idiot!”

“Tell me about it.  Note to self, the brakes work!”

With the train idling, he reversed the start-up procedure, shutting the huge generators down.  It was a complete success as far as he was concerned.  He started and drove a locomotive.  Now they had real work to do; armoring the shipping container that was the only car behind the locomotive.   Marshall handled the heavy work.  Victor helped cut two shipping containers apart with an oxygen and acetylene torch from one of  Marshall’s job boxes.  In the time it took Victor to cut one side, he noticed Marshall had cut an entire container apart.

“Dude.  Where the fuck did you find a plasma torch?  And give it the fuck over, I wanna play with it!”

Marshall grinned at him.  “Come get it little brother!”

Victor ran up towards him, cocking his fist backwards.  Victor watched Marshall’s decisions, waiting for him to be tricky.  Victor hit his brother squarely in the jaw, at about quarter power.  Marshall didn’t move.  He grabbed for Vic to put him in a bear hug, which of course Victor saw coming.  He ducked under Marshall’s arms, and punched Marshall as hard as he could square in the thigh.

“Ouch! Fuck!” Marshall limped around in a circle, my patented charlie horse maneuver was successful again.

“That move has worked since I was 10 years old! I can’t believe you fell for it!” Victor laughed.

“I’m gonna smash you!”  He reached for me and wrapped me in a hug.

“I love you big bro.  I’m glad you’re here with me.  Once we get Renee, we’ll just be missing Bubba.    I sure wish he was with us too.”

“We’ll find him.  If anyone is alive, Bubba is.  Shit, he’s probably bigger than me.  He was strong as a moose before all this shit.”

They worked all day on the train car.  Victor built sliding windows in the side of the cargo container by cutting the sides out with the plasma cutter and welding three sets of brackets in place.  The first set held the piece he cut out in its original position, closing the window.  The second allowed it to slide down about an inch, leaving a small gap to shoot out of.  The third set held the steel wide open, for maximum air flow.  Marshall found a sleeper sofa in the employee lounge of the train yard.  It was ragged, but clean.  Victor found a dining table and four chairs, a couple of lamps, and a rug.  They could easily get electricity from the locomotive back to this car, but wiring the car for it was going to be a little more work, and they didn’t have the stuff they needed.  That would have to wait for another trip.

“Marshall, we’re going to need more rugs, its cold in here.”

“Dude, you put rugs in it?”

“Hell yea!  We’re going to be living in this thing for a few days.  Max is going to be living in this thing for a few days.  Its got to be comfy, ’cause he’s not getting out of it.  I’d like to put book shelves and a TV and an xbox and whatever else would make him happy.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Maybe, but its kept all of us alive until now.”

“True,” said Marshall.

They both whipped their heads towards the rear doors of the shipping container.  Outside, closing in on the back of the train, four zombies were lurching their way forward.  They were having a hard time on the tracks, stumbling over the rails and the ties.  Behind them was a larger group, Victor quickly counted eight.

“Marshall, we need to get out of here.”

Victor hit the ground and rolled, smashing his shoulder into a railroad tie.  When he stood back up, it wasn’t just twelve of them.  They were closing in from all sides.

“Marshall, get ready to do some work,” Victor shouted up to his big brother.

Victor drew his hatchet out of its belt loop, and his pistol out of the holster on his left hip, and had just stepped up when he felt Marshall land on the cross tie behind him.

The two Tookes brothers waded into the mob, back to back, ready to commit some violence.

3.03 Sean

“Hi, Daddy.  I’m hungry,” Max said with a smile.

Tookes woke up with a start as a huge grin spread across his face.  “Good morning Max!” He exclaimed.  “I’m happy you’re awake!  How do you feel?”

“I’m fine, my leg hurts, and these bugs are noisy.  They talk and talk.  Steve says sorry he scared you.  He told me you were here all night watching me.”

Victor looked Max over and said, “I wouldn’t leave you when you were sick.  I love you buddy, but what you did was very naughty!  You should never leave the house without telling a grown up.”

“But I had to go.  My bugs were dying, and I needed Steve’s bugs to make mine better.  Jason gave all his to Steve, and then I told Steve to bring them all and give them to me.”  Max held out his hand to his father, who took it in his own.

“You told Steve to bite you?  Why would you do that?”

“Thats the only way to get his bugs into me, Dad.  The bad men that took me from here gave me a shot.  My bugs took the medicine they gave me to make me sleep.  They said that because they did that, it was hurting them, but they needed me to be awake to escape.”

“Max, never do that again without talking to me.”  Victor said, filing that bit of information away.  “If you told me they were sick I would understand.  I would try to help,  but I was so afraid you were sick.  I was very scared.”

“I’m sorry Dad.  Can I have some food?”

“Sure buddy, I’ll go get you a cheese sandwich.  Gramma made cheese last week, I bet she saved some for you.”

“Ok. Thanks, you’re the best Dad ever.  Can you send Mr. John in here while you get my sandwich?”

“Sure thing, Maxmonster.  You’re the best little boy ever.”

Victor walked out of the room and down the stairs towards the kitchen.  In the small dining room John was sitting at the table surrounded by guns and gun parts, meticulously cleaning every speck of carbon and dirt off every part.  He looked up at Victor when he entered the room.  “How’s the boy, mate?”

“He’s awake finally.  Said that he told Steve to bite him because he needed their bugs.  He said that his bugs were dying because of something Frye gave him.  Seemed like something we might be able to use, if it can make the parasites sick.  Anyways, he asked for you while I go make him a sandwich.”

John wiped the film off his hands with towel and stood up.  “I’ll go see to him.  Glad he’s awake and feeling right.”  John walked towards Victor to head upstairs as Victor turned right to go down into the kitchen.

At the top of the stairs, John turned left into Max’s room and said, “Heya Maximillion, how ya feeling bucko?” as he sat  on the end of the bed.  He kicked off his boots and stretched his toes.

“I am hungry Mr. John.  It is important that you talk to your family.   The bugs can feel how sad I am for you. ” Max made a sad face to mimic the feeling.

“Just call me John when no-one else is around mate. Tell ’em I said that they have no idea how sad,” John laid down along the bottom of the bed on his side facing Max

“They can hear you John, and they feel as we do now.  Not like the bad bugs.  The bugs say I have enough strength now to talk to Sean, would you like to talk to Mr. Sean?”

“Mate, there is nothing more I would like to talk to him, except maybe deck him.”

Max sat up and held John’s hand and the heat built up causing John’s palm to sweat.

“Mr. Sean, are you awake?”  Talking through Max was so much more than when Tookes talked to him.  Not only were the words more clear but you could see the thoughts, the path of the connection,  and feel the emotion between minds.  John was amazed that Max could handle the intensity of the connection.

“I am now kiddo, are you ok?  I lost ya there for a while.  Is your father ok?  He is no longer on my grid mate.  Where is that dic… err brother of mine?”

“Sean?” John said out aloud.

“Bloody hell John, don’t yell!  You’re as bad as Victor, talk in your head mate.  How you doing?”

“Yeah good mate.  Holiday got extended, I think I’ve gone over my visa.  Yaself?”

“Ya idiot.  Good, Jo and the kids are here sleeping. We are safe here, well a lot safer now.”  As Sean looked over to John’s family, John could see his wife, his kids, sleeping peacefully through waves of light blue.  Then the vision dissapeared.

“Max, I told you to warn me before looking through my eyes mate. It hurts.”  John felt Max apologise to Sean, but no words were spoken.  John wondered how long Max and Sean had been talking “They probably didn’t know the connection” he thought.

“John, I can hear your thoughts when we’re connected like this mate.  It took us a few months to register it, Max told me one day about two weeks ago that I sounded funny like his friend Mr. John.  John, the locals are trying to claim back Australia with the help of some of us white fella’s, but we have one hell of a super zombie team here at the moment.  Three zombies wiped out forty humans with powers in Western Australia last week.  They didn’t stand a chance mate, I heard everything.

“Sean, settle down. I got a plan now that I can see into ya head.  And stop swearing with Max here.  How is Jo coping?” John imagined his plan as a computer file, and then imagined sending it to Sean like an attachment to an email.

“Righto, that’s a good plan, John.  You learn to quick sometimes, for a drongo!.  Jo is great, she keeps quiet but she is as much as a deviant as you are.  She’s sacrificed my life twice now.  I woulda taken it to heart, except she’d have done the same to you, if it meant saving the kids.    Apparently we are tougher to kill than you bastards in yankland.  That’s why Laura is here at the moment.  We killed off too many to quick, but after your last fight with all those supers, she may be going home sooner then expected.”

“John, I need to eat.” Max said aloud and John nodded in response.

“Sean get my family here, you are all welcome to come.  Tell Frank I said thanks, tell the family I love them. and Sean, it kills me to say this, but I am proud of you little brother.  Thanks mate, I love you.”

“Ditto bro, now let the kid rest and I’ll talk to you in a week.”

John sat up and put a hand on Max’s shoulder “Thanks bucko.”

“It’s okay.  Mr. John, did you like where I showed your wife and kids?”

“I did, very much.”  John sat back and his eyes welled up with the happiness of seeing his family and the good chance that he will see them again in a few weeks, when Victor walked back in.

“Is Mr. John telling sad stories?”

“No Daddy!! I was showing Mr. John a happy beginning!”

Tookes remembered Max eating an entire box of cereal bars after the first time he’d been bitten.  This time he brought Max two fresh mozzarella cheese sandwiches, an apple, a pear, and a glass of milk.  they all watched in amazement as he ate every bite, including the cores of the fruit before draining the glass of milk.

“I’m still hungry, Dad,”  Max said, his belly distended.

“Let’s let that settle a little bit buddy.  Then you can have anything you want in a few minutes.  Your fever is still up, do you need to rest some more?”

“I’m sleepy,” said Max.

“Ya, mate, I’m sleepy too,” said John with a grin.

I kissed Max on the forehead, and pulled his blanket up over him.  “Have a good sleep buddy.  We’ll be here when you wake up.”

John and I walked out of the room, and down to the kitchen where we found the rest of the crew.

“Hey Mom.  He woke up for a little bit, appears to be ok.  He ate two sandwiches, an apple and a pear before downing a huge glass of milk.  Last time he was bitten, he ate everything he could get his hands on for a day or two afterwards.”

“Oh, thank God,” Sharon said.

“Since we’re all here,” Victor continued.  “I’d like to go into Charlottesville with Marshall today and see if we can work out getting a train running.  We can scout around for tools and supplies that are already there, maybe we can find the steel and welding equipment to armor it up.”

“Vic, do you think you can really get to Renee?” Sharon had thought of nothing else since finding out her only daughter and two grand-daughters were alive.

“I’ll get her, and the kids.  I promise,” Vic said, nodding his head slowly.

Marshall and Victor went into the kitchen followed by John and Leo.  “We don’t like the idea of you two going in alone,” said Leo as she closed the door.

“I’d rather have you two with me too,”  Tookes said, “But I can’t leave Max here alone, I need you two here in case Frye or the nutjobs try to get him again.  I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to drive a train, and Marshall is the best welder of all of us.  It makes the most sense for the two of us to go.  Besides, the two of you are best  equipped to fight humans.  Your speed and John’s guns will make quick work of any humans that come our way.  I’m really only good at one on one fights, and Marshall is good at breaking things.  If I left Marshall here he’d probably throw the house at frye.” Tookes said with a big grin.

“What do you want us to do here then?” Asked John.

“Mostly, I want you to stay in the house and guard the boy.  Let the fire teams on patrol handle anything they can.  If anyone gets inside the house, kill them.  If they get to Max’s room, Leo I want you to grab Max and get him as far away as you can go in one hop.”

“Speaking of that.  What did you learn up in the national forest Leo?”

“Well.  By myself, I can go about 15 miles,” she said.  “If I’m carrying a 15 stone adult, It drops to about eight miles.  If I’m carrying two adults, its only about one mile.  I can move a rock the size of a small garden shed about five feet, but then I couldn’t even run for a few minutes.  My power comes back pretty quickly, but it does appear to be finite.  If I use it all in one shot, like when I moved that huge boulder, it took about five minutes before I could move it again.  The last interesting thing I learned, the more different things I take with me, the harder it is.  Carrying four humans is 100 times harder than two humans.  I’m not sure what thats about, but I could move all of us plus Max maybe 100 yards,” she said.

“Can you teleport someone or something and not go with it?”

“I’ve never tried that, but I don’t think so.  I think I have to be there to guide the re-entry.”

“Ok, anything else you learned?”

“I’d been in the same spot for about an hour when a zombie came stumbling out of the woods.  I don’t know haw far he came from, but I moved the big boulder first.  I think he’d been walking that whole hour.  He felt me move it from as much as three or four miles away.”

“Thanks for doing all of that, I know it was dangerous work,” Victor said.

Max slept most of the afternoon.  He woke up for about an hour to eat some more, and then went back to bed for the night.  Marshall and Tookes spent the rest of the afternoon planning the next days visit to the train yard.

3.02 Purpose

Tookes was in his room, sitting at the desk.  There were two candles burning on either side of a book and he was completely  absorbed in his studies when he heard Baker screaming as he ran full speed up the hill and across the back lawn.  “Mrs. Tookes, Victor, it’s lil Maxie.  He’s been fuckin’ bit.”  His voice cracked and Baker sounded desperate.

Tookes lept out of his chair, turning the antique wooden desk chair over in the process.  On the way to the stairs, he quickly glanced into Max’s empty room and then took the steps three at a time to meet  Baker on the back porch.  Baker was holding the quivering child  in his arms.  Max’s face was red and flushed – beads of sweat coated his forehead and upper lip.  There was an angry looking bite mark on Max’s arm.  There were marks where a pair of incisors had broken the skin.  Two small streams of blood ran down the small boy’s arm, joining together at the elbow.  The blood had stopped, but the bite looked painful.

“He’s real fuckin’ hot, Tookes,” Baker said as Tookes took his son from him.  Max was so hot he was nearly burning his hands.

Oh fuck.  Max, come on Max, you’re strong buddy.  You can beat this, he thought desperately.

The man ran back upstairs, carrying the small boy and gently laid him down on the floor of the bathroom.  He immediately started running the last of the day’s hot water into the tub.  Everyone had learned to shower in the late afternoon, when the water in the five hundred gallon black plastic tank on the roof was as warm as it would get.  Now fully dark, the water in the solar heater would have cooled some.

Tookes knew he  had to get his son cooled down, but if the water was too cold it could throw the small boy  into shock.

“Victor!” Candi yelled at the top of her voice.  “Max is burning up!”  She swiped the temporal thermometer across his forehead again.  “This thing says he’s at 105.”
“Lets try the other kind,” Vic said, digging in the closet for the old under-the-tongue style thermometer.  He shook the thermometer as he’d seen his mother do his whole life and stuck the end under Max’s tongue.  “Hold that there.  It takes like three minutes,” he said.
“He feels like his skin is on fire!”  Candi was nearly hysterical with worry.
“Remember when you’re sister’s son had that fever so high he had convulsions?  She said their doctor told them to put him in a warm bath and alternate Motrin and Tylenol every two hours.  I’ll start the tub.”  

Victor shook himself out of his memory.  He stripped the small boy’s clothes off.  By the time he was done there was two inches of water in the big tub and Sharon was there.  Leo stood just outside the door, leaning against the frame.  She needed to stay out of the way and as much as her heart was in her throat to be next to Victor, she knew that it was not her place.  Being there for him after this took precedence and she would always be there for him no matter what.

“He’s got a huge fever, Mom,” Tookes said to Sharon.  “Last time Max was bitten, I caught it early and got Tylenol into him.  But I don’t think his fever went this high.  What if this bite is worse?  What if this bite is too much for his body to fight off?”

Sharon grabbed her son’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly.  She wasn’t going to leave their side.

Tookes could feel himself approaching panic and took a few breaths before he lifted Max gently over into the water.  His son was still unresponsive and his skin bright red, flush with the heat.  Victor ran his hands across his son’s light hair and asked, “Mom, do you have any liquid Tylenol or Motrin?”

“Maybe down in my bathroom,” she softly replied.  She still held her son’s hand in hers.  “He’s such a good father.  He loves that boy so much,” Sharon thought. “I wonder if there’s anything Victor can’t accomplish.

The shower curtain blew outwards towards the door and less than two seconds later, Leo was back by the door with a bottle of baby Motrin in her hand.  She tossed it towards him and Tookes caught it with ease.  He read the label.  The dosage for a two year old was half a teaspoon and that was as high as this bottle went.  It was for babies, not children, but it would have to be enough.  I opened his mouth and poured about half a teaspoon in his mouth, closed it and rubbed his throat to make him swallow it.  Vic repeated that process three times so Max drank a total of a teaspoon and a half.

Once the medicine was in him, he sat back and waited.  There wasn’t much else that he could do.  Sharon dug up a thermometer from a first aid kit in the hallway and checked his temperature every fifteen minutes.  Max soaked nearly two hours in the tub.  Shortly after we gave him the second dose of medicine, his fever dropped below 104.  Tookes lifted him out of the tub and cradled his son in his arms.  Leo had gone into Max’s room and grabbed some fresh PJ’s which Vic lovingly put on him.  He carried his son back to his room and put him in his bed covered by a sheet and a quilt.  Tookes fell asleep sitting on the floor beside Max’s bed with my arm under the back of his neck.

Sharon checked on them both throughout the night.  Her son and her grandson, the loves of her life.

Vic checked Max’s temperature the moment the sun rose the next morning.  There was no change.  It had been four hours without fever reducer and his fever was still 104.  Tookes administered more Motrin and watched him for a few minutes.  Again, he ran his hand through his son’s hair and down the side of his face.  Max’s breathing was slow and steady and his chest was rising and falling steadily.  Zombies didn’t breathe.  He put his hand on the tough little boy’s forehead.  He was still hot sweaty.  Hot is better than cold, thought Victor. Zombies don’t produce body heat.

Tookes left him there in bed.  He needed to get someone to sit with him for a few minutes while he grabbed some breakfast.  Stopping by Leo’s room was the obvious choice.  Tookes peered into her room and saw that she was sound asleep.  Checking his watch, he noted that it was only 5:20 in the morning;  still early.  Leo was laying on her right side with one of her hands up by her face.  She is so beautiful, he thought to himself.  He crawled into the bed beside her and kissed her on the forehead.  A small smile spread across Leo’s face as she snuggled up against him.

“Morning, Leo,” he whispered, “I need a favor.  Can you go sit with Max for a few minutes while I go get some food, some coffee and a new book?”

“Sure, Vic,” she said.  Sleep was heavy in her voice.  Vic rolled over on his side, and laid his arm over her. Leo suddenly realized how much she missed his touch.  He kissed her forehead before she got up, pulled on some clothes and walked out of the room towards Max.  Tookes felt his eyes growing heavy, but he resisted the urge to crawl back under the warm covers and go back to sleep.  Before the urge became undeniable, he climbed out of the bed and walked downstairs.

On the kitchen table there was a brown paper bag with my name on it.  Inside the bag was a note from mom that just said;

Vic
You’re a great Dad, you make me proud.
I love you,
Mom

He cringed slightly and thought, I feel like a shitty dad.  I let my not-even-four year old son sneak out of the house and get bitten by a zombie.  A zombie that he told me was his friend and I believed him.  Why did I believe him?  He is a baby.  He’s three years old.

Sharon had left a butter and cheese sandwich and an apple sitting on the table for her son. Victor ate hungrily and then went outside for a quick smoke.  They would need to either start growing tobacco, or he would need to kick the smoking habit.  The cigarette supply wouldn’t last forever.  He walked down the 300 year old brick sidewalk, around the edge of the old summer kitchen building and up towards the parking lot.

He walked past his cherished 4Runner.  The wrecked truck reminded him of the trip down here, almost half a year ago.  He thought about life before all this.  Working every day in an office, thinking he felt fulfilled, being satisfied with his life.  These days people fought and worked and bled for everything they had.  The four of them had nearly died on several occasions defending this place.  Many people had died defending this place, just a few nights ago.  Victor had several of their funerals to attend today.

He thought about his friends back in Pennsylvania and wondered if any of them were still alive.  He hoped that Ben and Melissa were still alive.  Ben was a US Marine, who’d gotten out of the ‘corps after ten years, and worked as a recruiter for the company Tookes worked for.  His wife, Melissa, worked from home, and kept their three kids.  If anyone could survive this, Ben could.  Tookes had made the mistake of going on a hiking trip with Ben once.  They walked twenty-two miles in one day.   Tookes stumbled into camp on the verge of death; Ben went for a run after the hike.  At least he took his pack off first, thought Tookes.

He hoped Angie was alive.  Tookes, Angie and Candi had been best friends for years.  Angie had the cutest little daughter who was born on the same day as Max.  Angie and her daughter Sarah had accompanied the Tookes family to Florida on vacation the year before.  One of Victor’s favorite memories was laying on the beach with Candi and Angie, watching the two children play in the surf.  That had been the trip of a lifetime for both families.  These days those memories were to be cherished, there weren’t going to be any more carefree trips to Florida.

He was tired.  He wondered if super-hero’s ever got tired.  The four of them hadn’t stopped fighting the “forces of evil” for months.  Real people had died; he had gotten himself  shot once and beaten up countless times.  Only his freakish immunity to zombies had kept him alive.  I am ZedMan! he thought.  Bumbling his way through a post apocalyptic world, ZedMan is sworn to kill every zombie on the planet!  Victor thought about his ridiculous promise to kill every zombie in the world.  It sounded absurd.  He considered the futility of that and for the first time, he formed the thought of giving up.  It really was an insane proposition.  Victor Tookes, mild mannered corporate middle manager, on a quest to save the world.  Maybe I should just stay here.  Maybe I should just keep Max alive, build a huge wall around this place and start a new life.  Maybe saving the world isn’t my job, he thought.

There were other humans with super powers out there.  The four of them had run into people with their exact powers not 50 miles from here.  Why was it his responsibility and not one of theirs?
Because they’re dead.  You killed them because they were bad people.  The thought entered Victor’s mind.  It didn’t sound like one of his thoughts.  It sounded more like Max.

He flicked his cigarette into the tall grass as the sun began to peeked up over the horizon.  He then turned back towards the house.  Victor had already been gone about twenty minutes and was feeling himself drawn back to Max’s side.  The sun was moving quickly; it was half-up over the horizon already.   There was some rustling up by the garden and Tookes felt compelled to check it out.  He changed his direction to walk up towards it.

About five feet later, he identified the cause the rustling.  There was a man laying in the tall grass around the garden,  inching towards Tookes on his belly.  The man wore a red flannel shirt and the remnants of a green John Deer baseball cap.  After a  few more steps, Victor was certain it was a zombie.  Reflecting back, Victor realized that he hadn’t seen one this close to the house in a very long time.

He didn’t have anything on him that even remotely resembled a weapon.  “Another stupid mistake, Tookes,” he said to himself and walked towards the ghoul.  It was pulling itself along by the arms.  The sunlight grew brighter with every step he took and every step brought him closer to the pitiful creature.  Eventually, Tookes stopped and watched it struggle across the grass.

Its legs trailed behind it, broken and useless.  One of its arms ended in a stump with a bit of crushed bone sticking out.  The bone was worn to a sharp point.  It flopped the dead arm up over its head and down in front of it, moving the corpse forward about an inch before the arm bone slipped, digging a semi-circle furrow in the grass.

Victor walked past the zombie and towards the old carriage house where all the gardening tools were kept.  The heavy wooden door scraped the concrete of the driveway as he slid it open.  Inside in the dim light, he made his to the back of the shed and hefted a mattock.  The slightly rusty tool had a pick on one end and a flat, slightly curved blade on the other.  He thought about all the times he swung this thing digging out tree stumps.  With the mattock you could get the flat blade under a root and then pry back on the handle, popping them like matchsticks.  It was a back breaking device to use all day long.  It was a heavy, rough duty digging tool.  He walked back out of the carriage house and took a practice swing with the mattock.  Rudimentary, but it would do the trick.

He walked back to the slithering corpse and knelt down a couple of feet in front of it.

“Morning, old timer.  I’m sorry that your life came down to this.  I’m sorry that these fucking creatures came here and did this to you and…I’m sorry that I now am the one that has to end this torment.”  He stood up and heaved the heavy iron blade up over his head and said, “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you,” and he brought the pick end down into the creature’s skull.  As the long pointed iron pick pierced his skull, he felt the zombie’s body go limp.  The creature struggled briefly before finally giving up.  Tookes finally felt it rest.  “Rest in peace,” he said softly.

If not you, who?  Every one of the great accomplishments  in the history of mankind were started by one man.  It’s a job, and someone has to do it.  If everyone asks “why me,” who would do it?  Tookes had always considered himself a “do-er.”  He could hear his father say “Son, there’s two kinds of people in this world, big-picture people and “do-ers.”  The world is full of big-picture people and what it needs are more “do-ers”.”  This was my life now.  This was what I was made to do.

Victor trotted back to the house, feeling a renewed sense of purpose.  He dropped the mattock off by the back door and stepped into the kitchen.   Sharon and two other people were busy preparing breakfast for all of the people of their little settlement.

“Mom,” Victor said, leaning against one of the kitchen counters, “I killed a zombie up by the garden.  I’m anxious to get back to Max but the corpse is still there.  Do you think you can find someone to get rid of it?”

“At the garden?  That’s a little worrisome.  We haven’t seen anything that close to the house in a long time,” she said, glancing at her son before returning her attention to the potatoes she was cutting.

“I know,” he responded,  “It was just a dragger.  It probably took it four months to make it from the old Vaughn riding ring to the garden.  But still…”

“Ok, I’ll have Ron take care of it,” Sharon said. “Give Max a kiss for me.”

On the way up to Max’s room, Tookes grabbed one of the re-filled bottles of water and trotted up the stairs.  As he entered the room, Leo looked in his direction.  She was laying on the bed next to Max.

“Any change?” Tookes asked her.

“None,” she replied softly, “But at least we know he’s not getting worse…”

Tookes sighed as he sat back down on the floor beside Max.  He slid his arm under Max’s neck and kissed him on the forehead.  In minutes, Leo was fast asleep again with Max on the bed.  Victor sat on the floor and went to sleep with his head laid against the mattress.