Category Archives: Super hero

6.03 The Wall

The three figures stood in a triangle on the high stone wall, staring each other down.  The zombies were strong.  Max could sense an overwhelming number of E’Clei in each of them as they stood eyeing each other up.  The two zombies stood upright, hands straight down.  Their faces were expressionless as they studied their prey.

Steve spoke to Max, as he’d been doing for the last twelve years.  “They’re primes, Max.  Councilmen, most likely.  They’re the queen’s top advisers, and among the most powerful on the planet.”

How do I beat them, Steve?

We cannot.  Not two of them at once.  And now that they’ve seen you, the others will be here in seconds.  You must run.  They will follow but your family will be safe here.

How can you know that for sure?  This is my home, Steve.  This is where we make the last stand,” replied Max.

The last stand isn’t today, Max.  Wait for your father.  Wait for Marshall and Renee and Kris and John.  They’ll be here soon.  Now, run, and don’t stop.”

His father had taught him how to track teleporters; the two of them had spent years perfecting the techniques to track others and to avoid being followed.  The tracker had to stand in the exact spot where the prey disappeared, and empty their mind.  An image would form; a residual of the previous jump.  The hunter then fixed that image in their own mind, and then appeared right behind the prey.  Max knew these two would be able to follow him.

The clever boy picked a destination, a place he and his father had spent several days with heavy equipment the summer before.  “Hey, you fuckers wanna dance?  Let’s go somewhere more private.  Follow me, if you can,” said Max as he disappeared.

He reappeared in the woods high up in the mountains in North Carolina, and drew his hatchet as he backed up three steps.  Hanging suspended from three trees above the circle where he appeared was an old school bus.  Sharpened angle iron was welded the length of the bottom of the bus.   A single line ran down the tree trunk and was tied off low to the ground.

“Three, two, one,” said Max, cutting the rope with his hatchet.  Branches snapped.  The rope zinged as it ripped through dozens of steel pulleys.  To his left, a huge pile of logs that had been the counterweight to the bus hit the ground with a thunderous crash.  Limbs snapped and wood creaked as massive trees straightened after months of being under load.  Less than a second later, the two supers appeared just as the bright yellow school bus crashed down on them, followed by a sprinkling of green leaves ripped from the limbs high above.  The weight of the bus broke the lumber the two zombies were standing on, carefully placed there by Victor and Max to conceal a large pit underneath.  The two councilmen were pushed downward into a cavernous hole filled with sharpened wood and metal stakes.

‘Yeah!” yelled Max as he jumped in the air and fist pumped.  “Take that, bitches!”

“Take what, Max?” The two intoned from directly behind him.  One of the two councilmen lunged for him.  Stunned Max barely had time to react, bringing the hatchet up to block the attack.  The zombie grabbed his hand and twisted viciously.  Max kicked the creature in the knee, but it felt like his foot hit a brick wall.

Run, Max.  Keep running.

I can’t run if they’re holding on to me, Steve.  I’m open to constructive ideas.  And don’t tell me how much my dad is going to yell at me for blowing the bus trap.  It should have worked.”

We need to lose them.  You can’t go farther than them, but you are faster.  Every time you stop, they have to take a second to see where you went.  I would suggest hiding your trail of jumps.

Max solidified his aura in a spot to the left of his face, allowing it to absorb a left hook from the zombie in front of him.  Even shielded, the blow knocked Max back to the ground and jarred his neck.  The boy disappeared before his persuers had a chance to follow up.

His first stop was a mile up in the air, directly above the bus trap.  He let himself fall for almost half a minute before he teleported again, to the ocean off the North Carolina coast.  The water was frigid, but Max swam down as hard as he could.  Max thought quickly about his next destination, and remembered he and his father taking a trip to Chile a few years ago when his class was discussing volcanoes.  He was nearly forty feet down when he teleported again.  He saw the first councilman splash into the ocean above him just before he disappeared.

Smoke and ash surrounded Max as he fell, choking him and making it hard to judge distance.  He hardened his aura and fell as long as he could stand the heat.  The soles of his shoes started to melt as he rocketed downward into the crater of an active volcano.  Glowing orange liquid magma bubbled and sputtered at the bottom.  Max disappeared just inches away from the bubbling surface.

Pleased with himself, Max bounced around several more places from pictures he’d seen in books.   After dozens of stops, he paused in the woods long enough to try and contact his father.  “Dad, where are you?  I’m being chased by a couple of betas.  I could use a hand.

He took off at a dead run through the woods, running down the side of a mountain somewhere in Washington.  They couldn’t still be following.  Somewhere along the way they had to have slipped up.  The tar pits, the alligators in the swamp, the volcano, the sharks off the coast of South Africa, something had to have gotten them.

Uncle Marshall, where are you?”  Max ran along a small game path somewhere high in the smokey mountains.  The path opened out along a ridge, his footfalls sent stones skittering down the side of a near vertical cliff.  He cartwheeled his arms to keep his balance, his feet criss-crossing on the narrow path.

Renee and I are helping with the zombies at home.  Where are you? We’ve been worried sick about you.  Someone said they saw you fighting a couple of supers on the wall.”  Marshall’s thoughts were slow, the mental equivalent of being out of breath.

“I’m running from them, but I’m not sure if I lost them.  I can’t come home, in case they’re still following, but I can’t find Dad anywhere,” Max said, starting a series of giant leaps down a steep rocky slope.  With each step he sent tons of rock sliding down the mountain.  “Stupid, Max.  They’ll hear this from miles away,” he chided himself as he tried to stay ahead of the landslide.

He’s out cold, Max.  John says your dad has been running non-stop, and he needs to rest.  Vic took a couple steps after he dropped John, his family, and Kris off at the barn and then passed out.  He’s sleeping now.”  As Marshall spoke, Max got flashes of the scene at the farm.  Marshall was indeed tiring, if his thoughts were getting that disorganized.  And if Marshall was tired, things were bad.

I don’t know what to do, Uncle Marshall,” thought Max, taking one step up onto a fallen log, leaping high into the air.  The boy grabbed a branch and propelled himself over a small stream, landing high up on the opposite bank without missing a stride.

Middle of the west wall in two minutes, Max.  We’ll be ready.

Max ran on, trying to make as little noise as possible, listening behind him, but there were no sounds of pursuit.  He covered another ten miles on foot, in the two minutes before heading back to the wall.  Max was almost as fast as his father on foot, but he was tired, and fear was starting to creep in to his consciousness.

Coming now.  I don’t know if they’re behind me or not.

Max appeared on the wall, stepped a foot to the left and drew his gun.  He pointed it at nothing, holding it head high where the zombies would appear, if they were still following him.  Then he waited.  From this height, the battlefield was a scene of complete carnage.  Marshall’s arms were dripping blood, which pooled on the stones at his feet and streamed off towards the gutter system carved into the back side of the wall.  This was exactly why water collected from the wall was used for irrigation, not drinking.

Seconds passed.  A full minute, then two.

“Maybe you lost them,” said Renee, who was holding a long gore covered spear in the exact spot Max in which Max had appeared.  If the zombies followed him, they would impale themselves on it.

“They are very powerful,” said Max, still breathing heavily.  His wrist was on fire, he had a bruise on his cheek, and his feet were going to blister from the heat of the volcano and then all the running.  Steve had been to busy shielding Max’s whereabouts and trying to throw off their attackers to heal him.

Max felt the pain in his wrist subside first.  “Feet first, Steve, in case I have to run again,” thought Max.

Wrist first, in case you have to fight,” replied Steve.  “Then feet.  The damage to your face is going to take a few minutes.

Reggie peeked his head above the wall, then stepped up the last rung of the ladder and wiped his blood smeared palms on his handkerchief.  “Master Tookes, I’m so glad you escaped your pursuers.”  As he spoke, Reggie re-folded the bloody rag and stuffed it in his back pocket.

Marshall and Renee spun around to look at Reggie, then looked at each other and shrugged.  Each was thinking the same thing; where does Reggie always come from?

“Hi Reggie.  That’s still up for debate though.”  Max’s eyes never moved from the spot.  His gun was starting to waiver a bit as his arm tired.

Reggie thought for a moment as he tottered over to Max’s side.  “My father always said the trouble with hunting the Bubal Hartebeest was not that they were faster than the Gahiji, but that they ran so far the hunter would collapse before they gave up.”

“What’s a Gahiji?” asked Max, watching the spot carefully.

“It means hunter in my father’s language,” said Reggie.

The four of them stood there for another five minutes, intently staring at an empty spot in space.  It was becoming more an more apparent that the two chasing Max weren’t going to follow him here.

Marshall spoke first, turning his back and walking towards the ladder.  “Lets get off this wall.  If they show back up we’ll deal with them then.  There is still a lot to do.”

Two thousand miles west in the penthouse suite on the top floor of the Bellagio Casino, Charlie was not happy.  “What do you mean you lost him.  He’s just a fucking boy.  How could you lose him?  There were eight of you!

A man in a shredded suit stood in front of Charlie. He was missing an arm.  A steady stream of blood ran out of his shoulder, dripping off a bit of flesh into a priceless oriental rug.   “He teleported from the wall when he saw us.  He had traps set, and he is crafty.  The ones known as Roberts and Jamison were crushed by a bus and then impaled in a pit of spikes below.  We joined in after the boy dropped three of us into a volcano.  The child is completely fearless, he is beyond reckless.  His trail ended just eight inches above the magma, There was no time to follow his vortex.”  The councilman showed no emotion, but it was obvious that he was puzzled by this boy.  “We were damaged on the next stop above a watery pit filled with beasts made entirely of teeth.” The councilman paused, accessing the memories of his host.  “Alligators.  One of the beasts removed my arm with one bite.  The ones in Rohrer and McCaskil were ended by these alligators.”

Charlie flew into a rage, lashing out at the one armed councilman.  He struck him in the forehead, knocking him prone, then knelt on his chest.  “One boy,” said Charlie placing his thumb to the councilman’s temple.  “One boy killed eight of you, who were stupid enough to chase him.”  Charlie commanded all of the councilman’s E’Clei out of their host and into his own body.  The former councilman’s head rolled to the side, dead again.

Someone clean this fucking mess up,” Charlie commanded before he disappeared.

Bookbinder appeared in the same spot overlooking the farm he’d been several hours earlier.  It was pitch black, low clouds hung over the farm.  A few lights and a couple of fires made pinpricks of light around the settlement from this distance.  The smell of wood smoke and burning flesh from one particularly large fire drifted to his nose.  They were already cleaning up and burning the bodies of his wasted soldiers.

Had things gone so badly?  It was true that his forces in Atlanta and Virginia were wiped out.  The overseas offensives had gone well, and preliminary reports said John was dead out in the desert.  The Gander Acres attack went perfectly, except somehow all of his soldiers were dead too.  At least the last report he’d gotten was that Fuller had killed Kris and Alicia.

The day was a success, if not a complete one.  Half of Tookes crew being dead would make him an emotional wreck.  Victor never thought clearly when he was in that state, he would make mistakes now, and Charlie would be there to capitalize on them.   He knew the boy was inside those walls.  Charlie could feel him.  Max was shrouding their property once again.  Charlie knew the vague compulsion he felt to walk away was Max.  In his soldiers, it was overwhelming.  “What is it about that boy,” he said out loud.

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6.02 Sharon

Charlie drew his pistol and looked out over the farm.  He was on a ridge, about three hundred yards from the wall Victor had built.  It was impressive.  Victor, unlike his friends, had never given up, never stopped believing that one day the zombies would come.  And he was right.  That day was today.  The day he got Victor Tookes.  Bookbinder had memories of Tookes, and of Max.

The E’Clei queen attached directly to Charlie’s brain stem bristled at the thought of the child.  Bookbinder shivered, and went over the plan in his mind.  They had tens of thousands of soldiers just over the rise outside of the hourly patrols.  Tookes had six teams patrolling the wall every hour.  Four separate squads ran scouting routes every four hours, but after nearly six months of sending soldiers in ones or twos at the house, those routes were never the same.  Leave it to Victor to plan chaos.

The soldiers were grouped into five battalions of two-thousand.  For each fifty soldiers, there was a Lieutenant, and for each twenty Lieutenants  was a Councilman.  “Ten thousand zombies, two hundred supers, and ten Councilmen,” said Charlie to himself, reverting back to the human terms for E’Clei.  “It’ll be enough.”

“We hope so,” droned the ten councilmen standing behind him in unison.  “The child cannot be allowed to escape this time.”

They waited throughout the cool, drizzly afternoon, until the appointed time.  At exactly six o’clock in the evening, eastern standard time, twelve attacks would be carried out simultaneously.   Six here in what was The United States, three in China.  Tookes and his friends were the primary targets, but there were groups like this throughout the world, immunes that had come together to protect small communities of humans.  Bookbinder had planned this night for twelve years.  Tonight he solidified his position as Queen, tonight he would take control of this world as his predecessors had failed to do.

Inside the house, Sharon was busy supervising the kitchen crew.  These days not everyone ate in the dining hall, having built houses of their own.  Many people ate in their own house with their family these days, but everyone came to the hall several times per week.  It was what drew the community together.  Sharon’s dining hall, a remodeled, refurbished indoor riding ring, embodied the spirit of the town.  Everyone worked together, for the common good.  No one was paid a wage or a salary, everyone split the fruits of their labor evenly.  The town lived or died together.

Sharon didn’t do much actual cooking anymore.  After years of working under her watchful eye, the men and women who volunteered to cook with her were well trained.  She always suspected that after her seventy-fifth birthday, Victor had asked people not to let her work so hard anymore.  She was grateful for the rest.  It was harder and harder to get up every day, but she still felt a need to be active and involved.

“Joseph darling, that bechamel is going to break, don’t stop whisking,” she called out to a burly man with a long red beard.  “And make sure not to get any whiskers in it!”

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied, whisking harder than ever, despite the burn in his muscular arm.

“Andrea, how are the torts?”

A tall woman with fine features and close cropped, dark hair checked a timer hanging around her neck.  “Four minutes, Ma’am.”

“Wonderful.  Thank you all for your hard work,” she said, plunging her hands into the dish sink.  She scrubbed a few pans, happily watching the commotion.  Even now, she was the last one to leave the kitchens, never going to bed before every surface was scrubbed, every pot and pan put away, every knife sharpened, and every scrap of left over food either sent to the men on the walls, or to a house with a sick person, or stored away in the deep underground cellar.

She was carrying a large ladle over towards the soup tureens when she heard the bells.  Deep, loud bells ringing, first from the north, soon followed by the rest lining the walls.

“Oh my,” she said to herself, quickening her step.  She moved as quickly as she could, covering all the food before retreating back towards the manor house.  She could hear constant gunfire from the walls all around her.  From all over the farm, children came streaming up into the manor.

“Kaylin, where’s your brother?”

“He’s right behind me.  He was loading magazines for Mr. Davis.”

“Thank you, please go into the library and help keep all the smaller children calm.  I’ll be right in,” Sharon said.

The house shook as the first set of explosives outside the wall were triggered, and then another and another, until all six lines were blown.  Starting twenty yards from the gate, Victor had buried explosives in lines every ten yards.  The blasts were designed to push an attacking force back, if something ever got close enough with enough strength to threaten the iron gate.  The gate itself was twenty feet high, made of two inch steel straps woven together and welded.  Behind the outer gate was a one hundred foot run, wide enough for two cars side by side, ending with a stone portcullis even Marshall couldn’t lift.  It had taken Marshall and Markus, plus a crane to lift it into place, high above the second entrance.  Once it was down, nothing on earth could move it.

As Sharon counted the last child entering the Manor, she saw the house guards streaming up to the manor.  She quietly closed the door and moved into the library.  Some of those children were going to lose someone they cared about tonight.  They needed her more than Victor’s men did.  She sat down in her leather chair and opened up a book.  “The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster,” she read.  “This was Victor’s favorite book when he was a boy.”

“Mrs. Tookes, when will Victor be back?”

“I don’t know, Lydia,” she replied kindly before continuing, “There was a boy named Milo, who didn’t know what to do with himself– not just sometimes, but always.”

Sharon read on, throughout the siege  keeping the children’s minds busy, keeping them from worrying about the gunfire, even when it was right outside the house.  She and her son had chosen this room very deliberately.  The library was lined from floor to ceiling with books, tightly packed into the shelves.  There were no windows in the room, but two doors left them with an exit, in case one of the two steel fire doors was breached.

The battle raged on, outside the house and on the walls.  Sharon knew from the distant gunfire that the zombies hadn’t breached the wall, it was impenetrable.  The force there was just for show, the men up there were firing slowly, and all had small caliber rifles.  Most of the defensive force was around the main house.  Sharon knew Victor’s wall would hold the ocean at bay, but no wall could stop teleporters.  A super could bring a force of twenty five or fifty zombies right up to the house, and she knew that was what they were doing now.

The men on the roof fired bursts down into the crowd of zombies arriving on the lawn with military precision.  As soon as the super appeared with a load of zombies, the squads would mow them down.  The squad leaders were trained not to fire at the zombies, but instead to watch for the super.  On the second trip, all four squad leaders found and opened fire on the super.

All the men’s radios were silent, there wasn’t a need for communication, every single person knew their job.  Victor’s home defense drills had made all of this second nature, even though it hadn’t ever happened before.  There hadn’t been a zombie inside the walls since they were completed, but everyone in town knew it was only a matter of time.  Victor knew that two hundred people couldn’t protect everything, so he’d designed his plans around protecting the most obvious targets, the manor house and the barn.  Everything else could be rebuilt.

Upstairs in the house, six men took positions.  The original antique windows of the house were stored safely in the attic, replaced two years ago by bullet proof glass in custom welded frames.  Each window opened and closed like a normal window, but the center pane also opened to provide a small hole to shoot through.   One man at each window and a sixth, Gerald Moore, standing back watching the room.  His job was to watch the backs of the men shooting out the window.

Gerald never had a chance.  Charlie Bookbinder appeared behind him and immediately put his hand on Gerald’s shoulder.  Thousands of E’Clei poured out of Charlie’s thumb directly into the brain stem.  He was paralyzed before he could even take a breath, and turned in less than a second.

Where are Victor and Max.”

We do not know.  This one says they were not here.

“Not here?  Not fucking here!  Twelve god damned years I planned this and they’re not fucking here?” Charlie yelled.

The five men at the windows turned and opened fire at the sound, but the bullets bounced off, completely ineffective.  Charlie waved his hand at the men.  Each slumped to the ground, blood running from his temples.

Charlie nearly screamed an order to his councilmen.  “Find out where Victor and Max Tookes are.  Now!

Several seconds later one of the councilmen replied, “Lieutenants at the Georgia offensive report that they are there.  And that that offensive has failed.”  There was almost a smirk in the thought.  “But that’s not possible,” Charlie thought to himself.  “That’s a human trait.

Continue the Virginia assault.  Burn the place down.  I’m going to reinforce Georgia,” Charlie ordered, just before disappearing.  Gerald Moore stood perfectly still, waiting for the right time.

Sharon read on.  She recognized Charlie’s voice, but couldn’t place it.   As she read about Milo and the literal Watch Dog, she wished Victor and Max were here.  Her son inspired these people.  Even if things got bad, they knew he would never stop fighting for them.  Her little Victor, that cute little boy had grown up to be the finest man she could have ever hoped for, although she was sorry for the circumstances, she delighted in watching him with the people of the town.  He was their leader.  Fair, clever, and unwavering  he led the people of this town without even knowing he was doing it.  “I love you, Victor.  I hope you and Max are safe, wherever you are,” she thought, hoping it would reach him, and still she read on.

The battle raged on outside for over an hour before Max was in her mind.  “Gramma, I’m home.  Dad went to get Kris and John, they’re under attack too.  Are you okay?

I’m fine Darling Boy, please come in here and be safe,” she thought.

I can’t.  There are too many out here, they need me.

And then he was gone from her mind.  Sharon read on as Max strode down the front walkway of the house.  He called softly to a man in an all black uniform, “Mister Gibson, Dad’s delayed.  Where do we stand?”

“We’re holding.  They sent a ton at the wall.  We blew the gate charges, it took out almost one whole group.  After that they didn’t really bother with the frontal assault.  They knew they weren’t getting through the wall, Max.”

“Why would they waste that many soldiers?” asked Max.  Gibson mused at how much the young boy was like his father.  Always looking past what was in front of you, looking for the hidden agenda.  In times like these, it was an important trait to possess.

“I don’t know.  Seems like it was a distraction, but your father trained us to trust the walls,” said Gibson, shaking his head.  ” Surely they knew zombies wouldn’t be able to breach them, and surely they knew we knew that.  It makes my head spin.”

Max looked thoughtful for a moment.  “How did the attack happen?”

“It was just like your dad said.  When they come, they’re going to throw everything they have at the walls, and then send ‘porters in with small groups to get us from behind while we focused on the hordes outside.”

‘And we were able to handle the incursions?”

“No problems, Max.  They landed in all the places we thought.  We had guys waiting.  Really, it started off like a well planned attack, then the whole thing just kind of fell apart.”

“Thank you for keeping my grandmother safe, and for defending our home, Mister Gibson.”

“It’s what we all do, Max.  Glad you’re safe, glad our families are safe,” replied Gibson just as Max disappeared.

The view from the top of the north wall was incredible.  Thousands and thousands of zombies, neatly lined up in rows standing perpendicular to the wall, arms length from each other.  They weren’t pushing, snarling, grabbing hungry zombies like a normal horde. They just stood there.   Just over the rise, Max could make out the auras of hundreds of people, running towards the zombies.  Seconds later, like something out of a medieval war movie, a standard bearer cleared the hill carrying a long pole and the flag of the Maxists, followed by rows of people wearing white robes with a giant red “M” on the chest.

He stepped up onto the gravel filled trough to get a better view of the field below him.  The religious nutjobs were about to crash into a full sized horde of undead, in an attempt to save him.  But he didn’t need saving.

“None of this makes any sense.  Those people are going to be destroyed because they believe I’m some kind of savior,” Max said to himself.  “I can’t let that happen.”

He raised his hands up even with his shoulders, palms outward.  As he did, a burst of psychic energy, a rolling blue wave formed at the base of the wall, spreading outward in an ever expanding semicircle.  Nearly a thousand zombies turned to dust as the wave crested over them.  The Maxists charging the horde came to a stunned stop, their battle cries silenced, as the zombies in front of them disintegrated before their eyes.  Looking up at Max on the wall with his arms outstretched, several of them fell to their knees, prostrating themselves in front of the child they worshiped.

“You must be Max.  We’ve been waiting for you,” said two men in unison directly behind Max.

Max realized this was Bookbinder’s plan all along.  He was willing to sacrifice ten thousand of his soldiers just to draw Max out.

With all the confidence of a sixteen year old boy with super powers and a legion of worshipers could possibly have, Max kicked up a bunch of gravel as he lept off the trough.  The rocks were already spinning around his head when he landed.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.  Clearly you’re anxious to die,” he said, crooking his finger at the two zombies who’d spoken in unison.  “Come on.”

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6.01 Retreat

Hey, Kris.  John’s in trouble.  Any chance you and Alicia could head out to his hou…”

Victor’s thought was cut off in the middle by a horrific scream, loud enough to knock him to the ground, clutching his head.  It wasn’t a scream of physical pain.  The energy behind it rattled in Victor’s head.  He put his hands on the ground, and stayed there, on all fours for several seconds before he spotted Max in much the same position.  Behind Max, hundreds of miles to the north, Victor saw Kris’s aura, as if she were standing directly in front of him.  Her aura was spun out of threads of red, whirling and spinning around her, bright enough to illuminate the darkness to Victor’s eyes, like a red sun sitting on the ground up north in Tennessee.

Continue reading 6.01 Retreat

5.07 Victor is Lost

Marshall dove at the zombie, intending to knock it off his brother.  He brought all the force his legs could bear.  As he lept, his feet created waves in the white striped asphalt like a bolder being dropped in a smooth lake. The collision with the super zombie should have been enough to kill it.  Marshall hit with his shoulder.  As his body collided with the zombie, Marshall felt his own collarbone give way.

With a bellow of surprise, he bounced off the super.  Moments later, Renee drove her kitchen knife into the zombie’s neck.  The blade plunged in to the hilt.  She twisted the knife blade a quarter turn inside it’s neck, severing the spinal column, but when she pulled the knife out, the wound sealed immediately.  From the way its skilled ripped, it was as if the zombie was made of water.

Marshall was struggling to get up when the zombie threw one punch, hitting Renee in the abdomen.  The strength of the blow knocking her back almost to the truck.  She hit the gravel shoulder of the road with a grunt, dazed from the force of the punch.

All the while, Max was walking slowly forward with his head tilted to one side.  The look of confusion was plain on his face.  “Stop hurting my family,” he said softly.  As he spoke, a bright blue aura surrounded him, driving away the inky blackness that no one other than he could see or feel.

By now, Marshall had regained his feet and was pulling on his left arm, trying to align the collar bone.  He knew if he didn’t, the bones bones would knit together improperly.  “Max, get back in the truck,” he yelled.

“I can’t, Uncle Marshall.  I have to stop him from hurting my Dad.”  Max said, his face looking confused and almost desperate.

“Max, go now.”  Marshall’s voice was stern.  The older brother was approaching panic as Max continued to walk towards the powerful zombie.  He pushed aside the horrible thought that he may lose his brother and his nephew all in one night.

“But Uncle Marshall!  I can’t!  I really really can’t,” said Max, continuing forward.  He knew he was supposed to do what his elders told him, but he also knew his daddy was in trouble.  He was just three feet from the zombie, and stopped for a second.  ‘Steve.  I’m not supposed to hit people.  Daddy says ‘we don’t hit’ all the time.  But Uncle Marshall and Aunt Renee are hitting him.  He’s hurting them.  I don’t know what to do.

‘Max, I’m not sure we should get involved.  He has many more E’Clei than we do.’

‘But my dad always says we have to take care of those who are weaker than us.’

‘Not if it gets you killed.  We understand you need to help your father, but he would be very cross if you were hurt.’

‘Then I won’t get hurt.  Can we just make him nice? Like I did with you?’

‘He is too strong, Max.  Please listen to us.’

Max stepped forward and put his hand on the zombie’s shoulder.  Blue light shot down into him, freezing him in place, like someone grabbing an electric fence.

Max spoke softly, “Stop hurting my friends.”

“I can not,” said the blonde zombie.

“You have to.  You’re not being nice.”

“I’m trying to save your father.”

“Then stop biting him,” Max said, increasing the pressure on the zombie.  Max felt the man start push back against him.

“I can not.  If I stop, he will die.  There are too many E’Clei in him, and you’re putting him in danger by stopping me.”
Marshall and Renee stood watching, afraid to get involved out of fear of hurting Max, or the zombie hurting Max in retaliation.  Panic was plain on their faces as Victor began to convulse on the ground.  His eyes had rolled back into his head and his body was violently jerking from side to side.

“Max, honey, get away.  We need to get to your Dad,” said Renee.  She was no longer hiding the terror in her voice now.

“I can’t, Aunt Renee,” Max said.  He was desperately trying to work out the right thing to do.  His four year old mind wanted to trust everyone, but the zombies actions didn’t mesh with his words.  Max had never encountered duplicity before.

Steve, I don’t know what to do.

If you won’t run, hit him hard.  With everything you have.  Think about how much you love your dad and hit him.  We can sort this out later.

Max thought of his favorite memory of his father.  He, his mother, and his dad were out on the back deck.  Max was riding his tricycle around the huge table pretending to be the ice cream man.  He had a small bell on the handlebars and was ringing it as he came around one of the corners and stopped.

“Hello, sir,” Max had happily said.  “Would you like some ice cream?”

“Why yes, young man,” his father had said in a funny voice.  “Could I trouble you for a strawberry cone?”

Tears streamed down Max’s face, thinking about that time when everything had been right.  His mother had been laughing.  He fondly remembered the three of them together on the deck on a beautiful summer afternoon.  The thoughts of his mother brought an extra powerful surge of emotion to him, as he hauled back and punched Drake in the side of the head.  Steve channeled all of Max’s E’Clei into protecting the little boys hand from the force of the impact.  Max’s aura solidified around his fist, just as his father had done.  The impact of Max’s energy, powered by his feelings of need for his father launched Drake off of his father and into the oncoming lane of traffic.  The zombie laid still.

Max wasted no time. ‘Daddy.  I punched the bad guy, I’m sorry.

There was no response from his father.  Concerned, Max moved over to his father and rolled him onto his back.  Victor’s eyes were closed as Max gently nudged Victor’s shoulder.  He still did not answer.  With a furrowed brow, Max pushed inside Victor’s head, and saw turmoil.  New E’Clei were fighting for control; there were so many.  Max started squishing them one at the time, as quickly as he could.  Even then, the E’Clei were forming pathways inside Victor’s brain faster than Max could kill them.  He could feel them weakening from the poisonous environment, but they were building up quickly.  As the E’Clei formed large groups around areas of Victor’s brain, the outside bugs died but their corpses shielded the inner ones.

Max pushed into the center of the largest group and started killing the bugs that were in direct contact with his father’s brain.

“Uncle Marshall,” Max said, strain clear in his tiny voice.  “I can’t get them all.  I think there are too many.”

Drake groaned from his position on the opposite side of the road, and started to stir.  Marshall walked over to the zombie and stomped on his femur, smashing it.  He then kicked the blonde zombie’s foot up under his butt, and repeated the same process with the other leg.

The bones in Drakes legs healed quickly, almost as quickly as Marshall was working.  His femurs healed together in the shape of the letter W.

“I was trying to help him!” Drake yelled.  “He ordered me to bite him.  I warned him that this might happen.  I was trying to forcibly remove the extra E’Clei, but they’re determined to beat his immune system and bring down the great Victor Tookes.”

“Fix him!” yelled Renee.

“I can’t.  I was barely keeping up when you three attacked me. If we hadn’t been so busy trying to keep him alive, we would have killed all of you.”

“Why are you trying to save him,” asked Marshall.  “Don’t you want to kill all of us?”

“Victor is our Prime.  He created us.  He told me to collect all the E’Clei.  We were full.  There wasn’t any more room in this host to hold any more of us.  We came to try and talk him out of the order he implanted in us to kill ourselves.  He said he would only remove the order if we gave him the extra E’Clei we carry.  Even with our warning, he said he needed the extras to defeat Laura.”

“But Laura’s dead.  We watched her burn,” said Renee.

“Almost, but not dead.  She will heal eventually and be back.”

“Fuck,” said Marshall.

“Marsh, grab the corpse.  I’ll get Victor.  We need to get out of the open, and back to where it’s safe.  Crookshaks there may come in handy.”

Marshall grabbed the black suited zombie by one arm and dragged him over to the truck like a child carrying a rag doll.  With a flip of his arm, he tossed the zombie up over the side into the back of the truck.

While Marshall was dealing with Drake, Renee had grabbed Victor under the shoulders and was dragging him towards the truck.  Once Drake was securely nestled in, Marshall lept out of the truck.  He met Renee halfway and easily lifted his brother and set him in the back seat of the truck.  Max shadowed them all the way back, squishing bugs inside Victor’s brain as quickly as he could.

The trip back to the compound was a panicked one for Renee and Marshall who spoke in hushed whispers all the way back.  Max largely ignored then, instead focusing on his father’s predicament. He searched through his father’s mind, looking for anything familiar.  He saw a number of memories, and felt the emotions that went along with them.  The memory of the first time his father held him made him feel oddly uncomfortable, experiencing his father’s instant love for him from a different perspective.  ‘Daddy, are you in there?  It’s me, Max.  It’s Max-monster.

He waited while he continued to squish E’Clei with his mind.  He dug deeper, looking for some sign of his father, ‘Dad, it’s your boy, Max.  Remember me?

There was no response.

“Uncle Marshall, I can’t find Daddy,” said Max.

“Mommy.  I think Daddy needs your help,” said Max.

—-

Victor woke up in a familiar feeling white room.  He was in a huge wood bed with crisp white sheets.  The edges of the room were barely visible, the fog surrounding him seemed to get thicker the farther away it got from the bed, obscuring any decoration or anything on the walls.  The light in the room was soft and diffuse.   “The last time I was here you yelled at me,” said Victor.  “Could we skip that part this time? I know what I’m doing.”

“Tookes, you have no idea what you’re doing,” said Candi.  “But yes, I’ll skip the yelling at you.  For now, you need to fight what’s happening to you.  The E’Clei are trying to take over your mind.  The dose you got from Drake was way too strong, even for you.  You’re going to need to look inside your own head, find the parasites and kill them.”

Victor shook his head and asked, “What do you mean look inside my own head?”

“Search your mind, like you did when you first re-programmed Drake,” Candi replied.

“I programmed Drake?”

“Think about his face, Tookes.  Imagine it sagging off the bones.  He was wearing a blue button up shirt and shredded blue jeans.  It’s the zombie you messed with at the airport.”

“Oh, shit.”

“When you went into his mind at the airport, you changed him.  Do the same for yourself.  Find the E’Clei and will them not to exist.”

“I’m not sure I know how i’m supposed to get into my own head.”

“Tookes, you really are dense sometimes.  We’re in your head now.  Just get up and walk through the door.  And hurry, you’re dying.  There isn’t much time.”

As Candi spoke, the fog cleared, revealing a heavy brown steel fire door with a shiny brass deadbolt and knob. At head level there was a slide chain, and just under that a flip bar connected to the door frame.  The entire door had a steel bar crossing it, connected to steel braces on the wall.  Whatever was on the other side of that door was clearly not welcome on this side.

5.05 Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.04 Water

“Let’s head out of here, James. Shut the door,” said Victor. “It would be a waste of ammunition to shoot them all.” Victor was fighting the urge to open fire. He knew they didn’t have much in the way of ammunition, but these things, these particular zombies were an affront to him. It felt like a personal insult, and it worked. He was angry.

James paused for a second after closing the door, and then asked, “What do you think that note meant?”

“It’s kind of a long story. It’s a crazy cult,” Victor said, waving his hand dismissively.

“Mate, the note had ya name on it,” said James, stepping forward towards Victor. “How do you explain that?”

Victor took a deep breath, obviously annoyed at the insinuation. “Alright, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version. A while ago, my son was kidnapped. He escaped his original kidnappers on his own, but another group of survivors found him. Max has some…unique talents. For one, he can make the zombies follow his orders. He can also kill all the E’Clei in them. Somewhere along the way, that second set of kidnappers decided Max was Christ reborn, and it started a whole cult. When we rescued Max, apparently I became the devil.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Jame’s hands went up and he shook his head. “You’re saying Max can kill zombies? By lookin’ at ’em? What the fuck are we doing then? If the boy can kill them all, why the blue fuck are we going house to house?”

“Do not raise your voice to me,” said Victor. He was an inch shorter than the Australian, but he brought himself to his full height and looked James straight in the eye. “Because I won’t send a four year old boy into a house full of zombies,” Victor said firmly. “I won’t endanger a child, any child. Our job, our only purpose is to provide them with love, safety, security, and knowledge.”

James looked furious. He turned on his heel and strode out of the house, followed quickly by Victor. Out on the lawn, James turned to face Victor again. “You know, Sean said you were a fuckin’ drongo, but I had no idea you were risking everyone’s life for nothing.”

Tookes already felt himself standing on edge; this man he just met was getting close to pushing him over that edge. “Nothing? It’s not nothing. It’s my son. There’s no way of knowing what using these abilities does to us,” he said, gesturing with his hands. “There’s no way of knowing what the super zombies are capable of.” Vic paused and lowered his voice. “He’s four years old, James. If he were sixteen, it would be a little different.”

“It’s no different. We have to use every weapon at our disposal,” James said.

“My son is not a weapon. He’s a little boy.” Victor was overcome with anger. He was angry at the insinuation that he was holding something back, and he was angry that these kidnappers of his child were spreading their lies this far across the country. Without warning, he shot his fist upward into James’s jaw. “He’s MY son. I will be the one to decide,” Victor yelled, throwing a left across the stunned Aussie’s face. Victor followed with a third punch, straight with his right arm into James’ nose. The bigger man went down on his back, blood running down his face.

James lept up off the ground. Victor watched a punch to the abdomen form, the only option James considered. Victor stepped back and to the side, dodging the punch, and snapped a low front-kick, knocking the wind out of his opponent.
James aura solidified around him, and he stepped towards Victor. He was wary this time, considering his options as he said “You’re fuckin’ crazy.” He settled on a feint with his left hand, and a strong kick towards Victor’s thigh. Tookes completely ignored the punch, knowing it was just intended to distract. Instead, he raised his foot and kicked James other leg out from under him.

“Stay down, James,” said Victor.

James jumped up again and lunged at Tookes, wrapping him in a bear hug. Tookes expanded his aura outward, enveloping James, and then parted the bubble, pushing the man off of him, leaving James stuck inside the shield Victor had learned from Lightfoot’s men.

“You can’t win this, James. I’m stronger than you.”

John and Sean were standing a couple feet behind Victor. Sean spoke first, “Easy James. This is over.”

“He fuckin’ sucker punched me,” said James, his voice muted by the shield around him. The sharp glare he was carrying never left as he wiped a hand across his nose.

“Tookes, You have him in one of those shields we were in?”

“Yea, John.”

“What’s this all about,” asked Sean.

Victor repeated the story of Max’s kidnapping, and of the note inside the door to the house, and then added James’ insistence that he put Max in harm’s way, just to make this easier.

“James, no one’s gonna put their kids at risk here. Without the kids, what do we have?” asked John.  “Tookes, please let him out.

Victor paused for a second and then released the shield holding James in place.

“There’s a note on the door, John. From a Maxist,” said Victor. “They said they intentionally infected themselves thinking Max would save them, instead of leaving to go find food and water.”

“Fuckin’ lazy Americans. Waiting on someone to save them, rather than saving themselves,” said Sean.

Victor cocked an eyebrow at Sean and said, “Really?”

“You’re nothing like normal, Mate. I reckon’ that’s why John hasn’t shot you yet,” he replied. Sean quickly changed the subject before Vic could respond. “ Can Max do that? Can he turn someone back?”

“When he was kidnapped, he took over a zombie. Before Steve died–”

“Who the hell is that?” Sean interrupted.

“The zombie Max took over,” he replied, losing patience. “Anyway, Max wanted me to build him a house because, he said, “zombies are people too.” If he could have turned him back, he would have.”

James spoke up then, “Maybe he didn’t think of it,” the man looked to his Australian friend and said, “I think we should ask him.”

Victor shook his head and said, “No. In fact, none of the children should know about this. I think we should knock the house down and burn it.” The sudden appearance of the Maxists created an odd resurgence of emotion and Tookes didn’t like it. The one thing he’d been sure of was his ability to keep Max safe, but this cult had shaken that belief. Even the suggestion of putting his son, his little boy, all he had left in the world, into the middle of his mess had been enough to coax him to violence. He wouldn’t even entertain the idea of including Max in this so he decided right then that he would ignore any further suggestion about involving his son.

“Flaming zombies? Do you think it’s a good idea to have flaming zombies walking around? They’d catch everything on fire,” said John.

“They’re all contained in the basement. The stairs have been removed. If we’re careful, we can collapse the house in on itself,” said Victor.

“We’d need a fire truck full of water,” said John.

“You’re going to need that anyway if you’re going to make a life here, John. We need to get ya well working. Jo and Renee went to have a go at that. Let’s go see what they found,” said Sean.

Renee showed them the well and the pumps. As they figured, the wooden water cistern was empty, the townspeople had drained it before turning themselves into zombies.

They talked about what they’d need, and how to start the plan. Ultimately, it was decided that Vic and Sean would go get generators and fuel.

About twenty minutes later, the two men entered Yuma in Sean’s truck. The drive to Yuma was largely through barren desert, nothing but sand dunes as far as they could see on either side of the highway. It wasn’t until they got to the outskirts of town that the first bushes and shrubs started to appear. The houses along the road were all southwestern in style, ranging from small adobo ranch houses to large spanish influenced two stories. Every house, no matter how small had a swimming pool, and there wasn’t a blade of grass anywhere within two hundred miles. Yards were landscaped with stone, the occasional Yucca tree or Saguaro cactus. Yuma wasn’t a ghost town, but it wasn’t a booming city either. The cars on the side of the road were average sedans, this had been a town full of working people.

Victor remembered from history classes in school that Yuma was a railroad town. From the coast of California, it was the last stop before the full desert, and from the east it was the first stop after a long, hot trip through the arid plains of Arizona and west Texas. There were train tracks everywhere, and huge metal warehouses dotted the landscape.

Victor led them to the a Sears store. The front doors were ripped from their hinges, shattered and bent in the parking lot. The two men decided to check it out anyway. Inside, the place was completely wrecked. Most of the hand tools were gone, although Sean did manage to put a couple tool bags together. All the battery operated tools were gone, and there were no generators. In the back of the store, there were three badly decomposed men in sears uniforms laying dead on the floor, black dried blood surrounding them. The two men returned to the truck with the few things of value they found and pulled out of the lot.

“Where to next?”

“I have no idea, I’ve never been here before, I saw the Sears sign while we were heading to the airport,” said Victor. “I guess we should try to find a phone book. Keep an eye out for a pay phone.”

“You reckon’ the hospital would have a gennie? In Townsville, the hospital always had a couple of trailer mounted units in case the power went out.”

“Usually here in US they’re built as part of the hospital, on huge concrete pads. We can take a look though,” said Victor.

“What about schools?”

“Same thing.”

Sean drove along in silence for a few minutes. “I can’t imagine being able to go this far in a city in Oz and not see one of them walkers. Where’d they all go?”

Victor had been wondering the same thing. There were some stragglers at the airport when they left, and this was a pretty sizable city.

“Maybe they went to the airport? That plane was loud. That may have drawn them all out to the edge of town.

“Hey, over there. What ya think about a vet’s office?”

“That might work, at worst we might be able to pick up some medications and other supplies.”

Inside the vet’s office, they found the first of the three generators they needed, plus they were able to find a huge haul of medications and other first aid supplies. Sean grabbed several drawers full of surgical tools, and all the saline bags in the office. In just under an hour, they had the truck loaded and were back on the road.

“I think we’re going to have to go house to house,” said Victor as Sean pulled the truck out onto the main road through Yuma. “Somewhere in this town a group of people survived, or is surviving. I’m worried that they’ve hit all the stores in town. That’s going to cause a little trouble for you guys, if you’re staying that close to town.”

Sean turned left off the main road, down a residential street, to start the house-to-house search. As he pulled the truck into the driveway of the first house, the two men looked at each other.

Victor spoke first, “Have you ever seen that?” he asked pointing to stacks of corpses. Sean backed the truck up a little bit, and turned the wheel. As he did, the headlights lit up six piles of bodies, each perfectly stacked.

Victor jumped out of the truck and walked over to the first pile, his gun in one hand and hatchet in the other. Each pile had twelve corpses face down along the bottom, then eleven in the next row, then ten, all the way up to just one body on the top, forming a perfect pyramid. The corpses were clearly zombies before they died, bits of rotten flesh were torn off and blackened from time and the elements. Each corpse had a fresh looking bite mark right at the base of the neck.

“What the fuck is this? Why would someone take the time to stack them? And what the fuck bites a zombie?”

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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.