Category Archives: Zombie Book

5.06 Prime

“Good Evening, sir,” said a zombie, appearing on one knee before Victor.  His fist was pressed into the ground, and his eyes were looking down.  His accent was strange, from somewhere in western Europe.  He was wearing a black suit and black shoes, and his blonde hair was cut short, and combed forward.

“Who are you, and what is your purpose,” asked Victor.

“My name is Drake.  You are my creator,” came the reply.

Victor kept his eyes on the man, clearly confused.  “Me?  I didn’t create a zombie, I’m a human.”

“You created my structure.  You’re my prime.”

“Stand up.  What the fuck are you talking about?” asked Victor.  He was starting to feel uneasy at this whole situation.
The zombie stood up.  He was a full head taller than Victor.  His skin was perfectly smooth, except for a series of ridges running up his forehead.

“What’s wrong with your head,” asked Victor.  “You look like a white Klingon.”

“You ordered us to take all the E’clei.  I have done so.  But there is no more room in this humans skull, so we appear as ridges under the skin.  Those E’Clei will die without access to the brain.  We can not continue to absorb more.”

“Then your orders are complete, kill yourself,” said Victor.

“Yes, sir.  However, before that happens, we hoped you might reconsider your order.”

“Why would I do that? You’re a zombie.  I’m going to kill every one of you.”

“Because, sir, we are valuable.  We have more E’Clei than any other creature on this planet.  We are your ally, and would like to continue to serve.”

“Can you kill Laura?”

“Probably not.  The E’Clei she carries are the original soldiers sent to earth in search of hosts.  The ‘bugs,’ as you call them, that she carries are older than this planet.  The E’Clei we carry are only months old, having been created after we arrived.”

Victor made a mental note of his confirmation that Laura was still alive.  “If you can’t kill her, how can you be useful to me?”

“We can infiltrate her upper command; we are powerful enough for that.  I will report her plans to you, and together we can kill her.  Then I will absorb all of her E’Clai.  Once I’m in control of the Primes, you will have won.  No more humans will die.”

Victor thought the proposal over.  He knew he was going to need allies.  He’d faced Laura twice and hadn’t managed to kill her either time.  The last time he fought her, combining his powers with those from Kris he hadn’t been successful. By the end of that second attempt, it took everything he could muster just to keep his friends and himself alive.  If that much strength thrown at Laura didn’t kill her, Victor wasn’t sure what would.

As he thought about it, Victor realized Kris didn’t really understand the full extent of her power.  In many ways she was more powerful than he.  Her particular talents were capable of such widespread destruction, abilities like hers were a key element in battles against massive hordes of undead. He felt a strong sadness at her loss, not just because of her combat abilities, but because she grounded him.  He hoped she was happy wherever she was.

Dozens of ideas floated through Victor’s head.  “Can you control the areas of the brain the E’Clei go to when they enter a host?”

“We are unsure of the intent of your question.”

He paused, rephrasing the question in his mind.  “If you were to transfer your extra E’Clei to me, can you control what brain functions they would attempt to take control of first?”

Drake’s response was immediate. “No.”

“If you transfer them all to me, what would happen to me?”

“There is a reasonable probability that you would die.”

“Why? I’ve been infected a number of times,” said Victor.

“That volume of E’Clei may be able to overcome the toxin in your brain chemistry long enough to shut down the gland that secretes it.  Then, they would genetically modify you to not excrete that toxin.”

“So they could make me not immune?”

The blonde nodded and replied, “And you would become one of them.”

Tookes knew his powers were not enough to take on Laura.  He knew he needed more.

“We can see where you’re going with this.  Allow me to educate you.  You actually have relatively few E’Clei in your brain,” Drake said, without a hint of expression on his face. “What makes you unique from every other survivor is that you killed a prime.  When you opened the skull of James Watley and were splattered with his blood, a small percentage of his E’Clei entered your system through your nose and mouth.  Reflexively, they attached themselves to your brain, where they died.  Normally, even in a non-immune human, those E’Clei wouldn’t be enough to take control of a host, and would die off.  Because James Watley was a prime, and was originally infected with ancient E’Clei, they were strong enough to start the process before your brain chemistry killed them.”

“So, I need to find Primes and absorb them slowly before I try to kill Laura?”

“That would be one way.  That path is dangerous though.  You are very strong, but you got lucky with Watley.  He was overconfident.  In the beginning, it was not known to the E’Clai that there would be humans who were immune.  They were still trying to figure out what you and your son were when you killed Watley.”

There was a long pause in the conversation before Victor finally said, “Give me some of your E’Clei.”

“We are under no compunction to obey new commands from you,” Drake replied.  “You didn’t include that in our original programming.”

“You said I am your Prime,” said Victor.

“That does not mean I am obligated to obey new commands, only the ones you first implanted.”

“If you don’t, I won’t remove the command to kill yourself.  That urge has got to be getting strong now.”

Drake looked at Victor, thinking of any possible way to avoid this outcome.  “We will comply.”

Victor held his arm outstretched, and braced for the pain.  Drake bit into his arm, sending searing pain up through his shoulder.  He was sure it was his imagination, but Victor was sure he could feel the E’Clei moving up towards his brain.  He felt his legs growing weaker and he sank down to his knees.  There was a heavy fog spreading through his mind and the corners of his vision began to fade into darkness.  Slowly, he fell to one side and then rolled onto his back.  As he lost consciousness, the last thing he saw was Drake standing over him.

“We told you,” Victor heard as the blackness encompassed him.

Max’s eyes opened suddenly and he knew something wasn’t right.  Even when he and his dad were miles apart, Max was always able to “feel” Victor.  Only moments ago, the line between father and son went silent as Victor’s body was overcome by E’Clei.  His daddy needed help.

The three children were all nestled together on a queen sized bed.  Holly, the youngest, was tucked between Max and Maya so she wouldn’t roll out of the bed. Renee, ever watchful, was sleeping on the floor between the children and the door.  She had taken one of the blankets and rolled it into a ball to use as a pillow.  It looked like she was still sleeping soundly.  For a moment, Max considered going out alone.  Quickly, he pushed the thought aside.  The last time Max went out by himself, he got hurt very badly and upset a lot of people.  He wouldn’t do that ever again; he needed extra help.  Not wanting to wake Holly, Max slipped out of the bed  and softly padded over to his aunt.

Max was very close to her ear as he softly said, “Aunt Renee?” The woman flinched in surprise as her eyes opened.
“What’s up, buddy?  Bad dream?” she whispered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

The little boy shook his head.  “No, Daddy’s in trouble,” he said simply.  “You have to get Uncle Marshall and go get him.”
The color drained out of Renee’s face as she slowly sat up.  She tried to keep her voice calm as she asked, “What’s happened?”

“They bit him and there are lots of bugs.  I can’t hear him anymore.”

“Oh shit.  Stay here,” Renee said.  “I’ll send Jo to watch you guys.”

“I have to go too,” said Max.  He grabbed her hand.

In the bed, Maya had stirred from her sleep.  She slowly sat up and whispered, “What’s going on, Mommy?”

“Maya,” Max said, “We’ll be back soon.  Remember when we were in the truck with the mean guys and I told you that we would be okay, because your Mommy was out there?”

“Yes, Max,” said Maya, nodding.

“I have to go tell Daddy that it will be okay, because we are there.”

Renee pushed herself off of the floor and went over to Maya.  With a small smile, she placed a kiss on her cheek and said, “I’ll be back soon.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes.  I promise.”  She kissed her again. “Go back to sleep.  We’ll be back before you know it.”  Renee walked back over to her nephew and said, “Max, I’m going to give you a piggyback ride.”  She lifted him up onto her back.  As she lifted him, she marveled at the depth of thought that this little boy had.  At times, he acted well beyond his years.  “Hold on tight!”
Max clung tightly to Renee’s neck while she ran as fast as she could to the end of the compound where Marshall was working to get the water tower ready for the generators.  They covered the distance quickly, and found Marshall with his head buried in a manual, reading by flashlight.

“Marshall,” Renne said, reappearing in front of him, “We need to go, Victor is hurt.”

“I’ll get the truck,” said Marshall.

“I’m going to go get Jo.  I hope she can watch Maya and Holly, I’ll meet you at the truck in two minutes.”  Renee put Max down on the ground and knelt down in front of him.  “Max, we’ll get to your Daddy.  Tell Uncle uncle Marshall what you saw.”  Renee was gone before she finished the last word, a small trail of dust marking her passage in the thin moonlight.
Less than two minutes later, Max was in the truck seated between Marshall and Renee, Jo was heading over to get Maya and Holly, and the family was headed off into Yuma after Victor.

After they’d driven about ten minutes, Max’s eyes lit up as he spoke.  “I think.  I think we are close.  Yeah! We are close!.”  His smile at helping his aunt and uncle find his father quickly turned into a frown, and he added “I still can’t hear him.”
Renee pointed at the sign overhead, “There’s an exit here, Marsh.”

Marshall turned the truck left onto South Avenue at the bottom of the Interstate 8 off-ramp.  Less than a quarter mile later, he slammed on the brakes as his headlights lit up a blonde man leaned over the corpse of his brother.  The blond man’s mouth was attached to Victor’s neck next to a pickup truck loaded down with loot.  As the lights of the truck fell on them, the blonde man pulled back from Victor.  Dark blood ran down the corners of his mouth and chin, beginning to stain the collar of the white Oxford shirt he wore.  The man looked down to Victor again before sinking his teeth back into his shoulder.  Renee was invisible and out of the truck well before it stopped.  Marshall slammed the gear shift into park and charged the zombie killing his brother.  Max unbuckled his seat belt and slid out the drivers side of the truck.

Max, something isn’t right here,’ Max heard inside his head.  ‘That zombie has more E’Clei than anything we’ve ever seen.  He is very dangerous.

5.03 Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you gonna do about water?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the service of Max, Nathaniel Rotelle.

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

5.01 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.

4.05 Departure

Victor stood just inside the doorway leaning on the shopping cart, trying to puzzle everything out. Leeland stood on the front side of the cart where he’d dragged it inside the door. A few seconds later, Mother Rotelle walked in, set her rifle barrel up in the umbrella tree, and looked at the groceries.

“That seems like way more than I asked for, Victor,” she said.

“Well Mrs. Rotelle, I didn’t want you to run out, and I wasn’t able to get everything on the list. But, now I see how you were able to survive this long by yourselves.”

“How’s that deary? Survive what,” she asked.

Leeland looked puzzled at the entire conversation.

“You shoot as well as my friend John. And Leeland, do you often end up places and not know how you got there?”

“No, never,” Leeland replied.

Victor decided not to push any farther. Either they were both firmly entrenched in their dementia, or they were pretending and not going to let go. He liked them and decided to just play along.

“Alright,” Victor said. “Lets get these groceries put away, and then I need to be on my way. I’ve been gone from my son for far too long.”

“Oh, you have a son? What’s his name?”

Victor thought about lying, but he decided against it. He watched for reactions, switching his vision to see their auras. He looked to see what their actions would be. Their auras were as they always were, swirling rainbows of color. Most people’s auras were one solid color, or slashes of different colors. Both Leeland and Mrs. Rotelle’s were always shifting through all of the colors in big swirling patterns. It added weight to his thoughts that they may be suffering from dementia.

“Max,” said Victor.

“That’s a good strong name,” said Leeland. “What was your name again?”

“Victor Tookes, sir. It’s nice to meet you.” No change in either of their auras as he spoke. Either they really didn’t remember their dinner conversation or they just didn’t care, Victor couldn’t be sure.

He finished putting the groceries away while Mrs. Rotelle made lunch for them. One thing he missed about normal life was regular meals that consisted of more than one thing. Victor was so used to eating whatever food came out of the can he happened to open, even lunch consisting of Spam sandwiches and processed cheese-food were a treat.

When he was finished eating, Victor checked out for a minute in the middle of Leeland’s third telling of the time he arrived at the house just out of the army in the summer of ’53. ‘Kris, are you there?‘ he asked.

Well hot damn, Mr. Tookes! Glad to hear from you again. Ya get a little cooked in Atlanta?” He could hear the smile in her voice and she continued, “That resonance idea was GOLD. I’m out if the hotel and there’s no sign of those pricks that took me. Or Laura.

Great news. Where can I pick you up? I’m in Mobile now.

Moblie? Damn, you work fast. I ran into another group of humans that have a settlement up in Tennessee and I’ve decided to go with them. I honestly think I could help them. And to be honest? I think it’ll be more…normal than the usual bullshit,” she replied.

His heart sank. I really thought after we connected, after we worked so well together she’d reconsider leaving me. I liked Kris a lot.

‘Nothing against you, but I’ve had my fair share of humanity saving.

Kris, if we don’t do it, no one will. We’ll never be safe, we’ll never be able to relax our guard. I’d rather be sitting back at the farm with my mom watching the crops grow too, but this is way bigger than both of us,’ I replied.

I get that. I really do. I’ve been in your head, Tookes. We’re all on the same side. Why can’t I do my own part by helping another group survive?’ She replied. “Besides, if you really need me, all you need to do is ask. You’ll always knows where I am.’

Do what you need to do. If you ever get in trouble, call Max. We’ll be there for you. Stay safe out there, keep your head down and try to find some happiness.’ I said, ending the connection. He tried to shove his anger down into its box. His team was now down two members. How was he supposed to keep them all together? Not that it mattered, he’d do this alone if he had to.

Victor opened his eyes, or rather, refocused them. They’d been open the whole time, staring into space. Leeland was looking at him strangely. “You alright son? Looked like you left us for a while,” he said.

“Oh yea, I’m fine. I was just thinking about getting back to my family. I really need to be going. Leeland, do you know where the east-west train tracks are, up in Montgomery north of here? My family is on a train heading west, and I need to get to the tracks before they pass through here.”

“Oh yea, its about two and a half to Montgomery, but just over the boarder in Louisiana the tracks turn south and run down to Naw’lins. We can be at those tracks in Hattiesburg in under an hour.”

“Would you be willing to drive me to the tracks?” asked Victor.

“Oh, sure. Nothin’ to it. Let me know when you’re ready. Probably gonna have to gas up the truck though,” Leeland said.

“I’ll cover the gas, its the least I can do.”

“That’s a deal then, son. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“I’m ready now, just need to thank you both for your hospitality. I needed this night here,” said Victor.

“It was nothin’ deary, it was our pleasure to have you. Safe travels,” said Mother Rotelle, hugging Victor tightly. She laid her head on his stomach, as she hugged him. Once again he was astounded at how small she was. He hugged her back as best he could.

“It was a pleasure having you with us, son,” said Leeland holding out his hand. Victor took Leeland’s hand for what must have been the twentieth time. Before he could shake his hand, Victor felt the cold of travel surround him. A millisecond later he was shaking Leeland’s hand standing on a rail bed.

“Thanks for the lift,” Victor said. “Be safe when you head home, I don’t want you to doze off like you did on the way up here.”

“Oh, it’s always better when I’m driving. Nell always says I there must be an off switch on my ass that gets tripped when I’m in the passenger seat,” said Leeland turning to walk away. He’d gone about five steps when he yelled back, “Stay safe Victor Tookes.” And then he was gone, leaving only that familiar black mist.

Victor looked around. He was standing at an intersection where a small road crossed the train tracks. There weren’t any buildings in site. He was surrounded by hay fields. There weren’t even crossing gates at the intersection, just a diamond shaped sign facing away from Victor about a hundred yards up the road in either direction.

Victor slowly got down on his knees near the train tracks and put his ear to the steel. It had always worked in the old cowboy movies, but he couldn’t hear anything on the tracks. ‘Maybe they are still too far away,’ Victor thought to himself. He turned around and sat down on his backpack. It was a little lumpy, but far better than sitting on the road. He sat for the better part of an hour, getting up to listen to the tracks every ten minutes. He started to worry, which lead him to thinking about Kris leaving the group. That lead into Leo leaving, and that lead to Victor getting angry.

Like always, Victor shoved his anger down into a box specifically built in his brain to handle excessive and unnecessary emotion. A box he kept promising he’d open one day, and deal with. For now he needed to be busy, so he strapped his pack on his back and struck off up the road towards the nearest farmhouse. The house was up on a small rise, about half a mile from the tracks. It was the only thing he could see from where Leeland had dropped him off, so that was the target. He told himself it was to get out of the cold. It couldn’t be more than a few degrees above freezing. Victor was wearing lots of layers, but the constant breeze was blowing right through them all.

It took him about fifteen minutes to walk to the house. He moved slowly and deliberately, walking down the middle of the road looking through the tall grass for any sign of the undead. When he got to the house, he looked it over thoroughly. It was old, probably antebellum, although Victor was no expert on architecture. The wooden siding had once been painted white, although now it was mostly gray weathered wood with white flecks of paint. The shutters were still mostly black, and the tin roof looked like it had been painted within the last several years. It had a huge bi-level porch that wrapped around three sides of the house. On the back was a small addition, probably a wash room or a laundry room.

Victor slowly stepped up on to the front porch, trying to avoid stray creaks that a porch this old was bound to have. He failed miserably at that task. The porch creaked with every step. The whole area was eerily silent, there were no birds, no crickets, no grasshoppers chirping. It sounded like his footsteps carried for miles. That should have struck him as odd, but he was concentrating all of his energy on listening to the inside of the house. The front door was unlocked, and opened easily. The inside of the house was dark, and it took his eyes a couple of seconds to adjust from the bright sunlight outside.

Sitting in an ancient wingback chair in the middle of the parlor to his left was Joshua Frye. In one smoothe motion Victor pulled his gun and fired two shots. his aim was true, but Frye was surrounded by some sort of shield. Frye still had an aura, and hadn’t ever let on that he was a super.

“I told you he’d shoot first,” said Frye.

4.04 Shopping

Victor awoke with a start just before daylight. He’d been dreaming the same dream for weeks; every night, he relived fighting the zombie horde outside of the family home. Every night, he experienced those few steps into the sea of undead after he was forced out of the truck. Every night, he relived the pain and despair of being eaten alive as he struggled to reach his son, and failed.

Like every morning, Victor sat up in bed and said out loud, “I won’t let you down again, Max.”

He stood up, stretched the night’s kinks out of his back, and pulled his borrowed clothes on. The backpack in the corner of the room still had books in it, one by on he set them on the desk. “College English Essentials”, “The Norton Field Guide to Writing”, and “Practical Statistical Analysis” went by without a second glance. The last book in the bag was “Oryx and Crake”, by Margaret Atwood. Victor had read that book years before and it had always been one of his favorites. Victor thought if he was going to carry a book of fiction, this particular post apocalyptic story would be a good choice, so he left it in the bag. On top of that he put his now dry pants and tee-shirt. He strapped his gun on his belt and dropped his trusty hatchet into its loop.

When he got downstairs, Mrs. Rotelle was already cooking breakfast in front of the gas stove. “Good morning, Mrs. Rotelle,” said Victor. “That smells heavenly. Do you have a grocery list for me? I’m going to run out to the grocery store for you.”

“Not without a hot breakfast you’re not. It’s cold enough to kill hogs out there, you need something to keep you warm. Besides, you look like you’ve skipped too many meals as it is. Sit down at the table son, it won’t take a minute,” she ordered, handing him a sheet of paper. “Here’s the list, thank you for going to the store for me. All walking up and down the aisles wears an old woman out.”

Victor could find no valid reason to complain other than he didn’t want to mooch any more than he already had, so he sat down at the table. After a short couple of minutes, Leeland entered from the barbershop, wearing a gray suit, wide blue tie, and matching gray fedora. He took his hat off as soon as he entered the room, hanging it on the hat rack in the corner before joining Victor at the breakfast table.

“Are you ready to go to the store, son?” Leeland asked. “What was your name again? I’d better drive you, my old truck’s almost out of gas so we’ll have to stop by Fred’s Service Station on the way home.”

“My name is Victor, Mr. Rotelle, but you can call me Vic. All my family does. I’m ready to go when you are, but… Mrs. Rotelle didn’t give me much choice about sitting down to breakfast. I got the feeling she’d hold me down and spoon feed me if I didn’t eat enough. And I believe she could do it,” Victor chuckled. It felt good to laugh. These people were slightly off kilter, but not harmful at all. He still wondered how they’d managed to survive this long, but he liked them well enough to avoid asking any questions that would destroy their delusions.

Mrs. Rotell entered the room carrying a steaming plate of sausages and a huge bowl of grits. It looked like enough grits to feed a dozen people. Victor had been able to smell the sausages since the minute he walked into the kitchen. “Oh, sausage! I haven’t had breakfast sausage in forever,” he exclaimed. Mother Rotelle rolled four off the serving platter on to Victor’s plate with a smile.

“Is that enough for you? A young boy like you needs strength for a day like today. Are you sure you can’t stay another night? It’s been so nice having someone to talk to,” she said with a wink and a nod towards Leeland. “He’s not much of a conversationalist.”

“No, I really have to be going after I get back from the store. I have to get back to my son, I’ve been gone too long already. I promised him I’d be home last night,” Victor said.

“We understand that,” said Leeland between mouth fulls of grits. “A man’s got nothin’ if he ain’t got his word.”

“That is a true statement indeed,” said Victor, spooning a bite of grit’s into his mouth. “Oh, Mrs. Rotelle, these are fantastic.”

“Why thank you, deary. See Leeland, someone has good taste around here.”

Leeland smiled as he said “The poor boy’s starved half to death. Doesn’t look like he’s eaten right in months, no wonder he likes your cookin’, Mother!”

Victor really liked this couple. They were fun, they jabbed at each other, but it was easy to tell that it was based on decades of love. He forked a sausage in half and ate half a sausage in one mouthful as if to agree with Leeland.

“Don’t forget to chew, Victor.” Mother Rotelle said.

Victor slowed down his chewing, and ate smaller bites for the remainder of his breakfast. When he was done he pushed back from the table feeling full and happy. Leeland followed suit, although he’d only eaten about half of what was on his plate.

“I’m ready whenever you are, Mr. Rotelle,” said Victor.

“Alright son, lets go. Would you hand me my hat?”

Victor took Leeland’s hat off the hat rack and handed it to him. Leeland rolled his hat in his hand with a flourish before parking it on top of his head, and said “Alright son, lets go.”

Victor walked towards the door in the kitchen, the closest door to the truck, followed closely by Leeland. As they stepped out onto the back porch, the elder man handed the keys to the truck to Victor and said “Don’t tell Mother, but you’d better drive. My vision isn’t what it used to be. I’ll ride shotgun,” said Leeland clapping Victor on the back.

Before he could form the words of his response, Victor felt a familiar cold sensation. It was an unmistakable cold; one he’d felt so many times travelling with Leo. Then they were standing in the produce isle of a mega-mart. It took a couple of seconds before it dawned on Victor how Leeland and Mrs. Rotelle had survived.

The smell of rotting food assaulted Victor’s nose. There were piles of vegetables in their stalls, all marked with summertime prices. There hadn’t been a delivery of fresh produce since that day back in early summer; everything on the shelves was at least six months old and either growing some sort of white furry mold or had melted into puddles of goo, which had long-since dried on the floor.

“Oh my, I must be getting old,” said Leeland. “I don’t even remember the trip up here. Did I fall asleep on the way?”

“No, we…” Victor paused, eyeing Leeland. He wasn’t sure if the old man was acting or not. Surely he wouldn’t carry the act this far; he had to really be this delusional. “We made it fine, not a bit of trouble,” Victor said, putting the keys to the truck into his pocket. “It seems like I forgot to get a cart though. I’ll run back and get one.”

Victor walked back towards the front of the grocery store and eased his head around the wall to peer out the front window. There were dozens of the dead out in the parking lot, milling around aimlessly. A pair of gruesome zombies stood right by the doors that led into the airlock where the shopping carts were kept. One of them was missing its entire bottom jaw, his tongue flopped around as he moved, hanging down well past the second button of his gore covered oxford shirt. His upper teeth were mostly broken, and drool ran down his tongue neck-tie and dripped on to a substantial beer gut underneath. The other was more intact, missing only a chunk of her cheek. Her blackened teeth were visible through the hole in her face as she opened and closed her mouth. She was wearing ripped sweat pants and a shredded tee shirt. Victor wondered briefly if they’d been that ripped up prior to the apocalypse. Heading into the airlock to get a shopping cart wasn’t an option. He’d have to find one inside the store somewhere.

Leeland watched Victor back away from the window with his hand on his gun. Leeland noted that as Victor backed around behind the check-out lanes, his eyes never stopped moving. He was constantly aware of his surroundings, looking for threats down any isle and behind every display. The man paused for a second at the entrance to the cereal isle, then darted down the row. Victor returned a second later with a shopping cart already full of canned goods from behind one of the registers. “Definitely not a hippy, he moves like a soldier. Reminds me of myself back in the day,” Leeland thought to himself proudly.

Victor returned with the cart he had found in the cereal isle, and pulled out Mother Rotelle’s list, and marveled at its organization.

1 large bag of frozen, skinless chicken breasts (found in the freezer section)
1 package low-fat sliced chicken or turkey deli meat
24 ounces eye of round beef steaks
1 package turkey burgers
½ pound turkey sausage
1 package turkey bacon
1 pound ground turkey
1 New York choice lean sirloin steak
1 container old-fashioned oatmeal
1 package of whole-wheat tortillas
1 box low-fat whole-wheat frozen waffles
1 package whole-wheat English muffins
1 package pita bread
1 loaf whole-wheat bread
1 package whole-wheat hamburger buns
1 box whole-wheat spaghetti
Whole-wheat flour
1 stalk celery
1 portion water chestnuts
1 portion scallions
1 jar dill pickles
2 bags spinach leaves
3 fresh tomatoes
1 cucumber
2 bags frozen carrots
1 bag Romaine lettuce
2 bags frozen broccoli
2 sweet potatoes
1 potato
1 head lettuce
1 onion
1 can whole tomatoes
1 bag fresh mushrooms
2 cans kidney beans

No matter how well the list was organized, most of it just wasn’t available. Victor eyed the produce section where he and Leeland were standing. Victor pushed the cart in front of him, to where the onions were. Those on top had sprouted, but were still good. Underneath there were several bags of onions that hadn’t sprouted. Victor put two of those in the cart. He rooted around the potato section, and found the ones that had been individually shrink-wrapped for baked potatoes seemed firm and in good shape. He put two dozen in the cart.

Across the department there was a display of acorn and butternut squash, they seemed firm and fine, so he put a couple of those in the cart. That pretty well covered the fresh produce section, which he was anxious to get away from.

In the middle aisles, he grabbed boxes of whole grain cereals, several tubs of oats and a twenty pound sack of stone ground grits. The cart already had several of every type of canned fruit and vegetable in it, but he stopped off at the Chef Boyardee section and picked up a dozen cans of Max’s favorite raviolis. He loaded up the cart, making sure he had some sort of canned version of everything Mother Rotelle had asked for. Canned chicken, canned ham, canned chipped beef, every can of tuna, and several packets of salmon went into the cart.

In the dried foods section he loaded up with powdered milk, butter flavored sprinkles, popcorn and beef jerky, as well as coffee and tea and several dozen bottles of coffee creamer.

As Victor put the last of the coffee creamer in the basket “She had all that on her list?”

“Yep, and a few more items. We still have to see what’s left in the dairy section,” Victor replied, turning the corner into what was perhaps the most disgusting part of the store. The smell of rotten eggs battered his nose. Gallon and half-gallon jugs of milk had expanded until the plastic tops could no longer hold the pressure, exploding chunky rotten milk all over the shelves, floor and even on the ceiling. Victor was after two things; ultra-pasteurized vacuum sealed tubs of margarine, and a few blocks of his favorite processed cheese-food, both of which would still be edible for years to come. He was able to find both that weren’t too covered in gooey mostly dried milk chunks, and threw several packages of each in the cart.

“Alright Mr. Rotelle, that’s it,” Victor said turning the cart.

“They really should get someone to clean this mess up,” Leeland said, motioning to the milk everywhere. “This store is going to the pits. I think this is the last time I shop here.”

“We’ll let them know there’s a clean up on Isle 18 if we see someone up front,” Victor said, still unsure whether or not Leeland was all there and just pretending or if he’d really lost all his marbles.

When they reached the check out counters, Victor purposely stalled and let Leeland pick which one they went through. He stepped into the one nearest the raised managers area. Victor followed him with the cart, and Leeland stood there for a minute. “Where is everybody gone?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Leeland. But we probably shouldn’t be standing right here. The parking lot looks a little dangerous. Bunch of crazies walking around out there.”

Leeland looked outside and said, “Fuckin’ pinko hippies. They do look kinda dangerous. I’ll just leave my card and the list here, so they don’t think we stolt all the stuff, and we can make a break for the truck. You ready?” he asked, laying his hand on the cart.

“Leeland, I don’t think…” Victor started, but the chill cut off his words, and then they were standing in the driveway.

“What were you saying, son? Musta dozed off in the truck again, last thing I remember you saying was in the store, something about them commie bastards outside.”

“Doesn’t matter now,” Victor replied looking behind Leeland. “But we should get inside, there’s a group of crazies coming up the driveway.”

“Mother!” Leeland shouted. “There’s another group of them commies comin’.”

“Push the cart up to the door please, Leeland,” Victor said, drawing his Sig from it’s holster. I’ll hold ’em here.”

Mother Rotelle stepped out onto the porch holding an AR15 rifle with ACOG scope and suppressor on the barrel. “Get on outta here,” she yelled, raising the rifle to her shoulder. “Boys, get on in the house with them groceries,” She squeezed off three rounds, dropping three of the zombies where they stepped. The action of the rifle knocked her back a step, but she firmed up her stance and said again, “Get in the house, now!”

Victor squeezed the trigger on his pistol, clipping one just above the nose.  Blood sprayed out behind it coating two zombies behind with blood and brains before he holstered it.  He stepped two feet to the left, grabbed the whole shopping cart full of canned goods and heaved it up onto the porch. Leeland, who was already up on the porch, pushed the cart inside the house.

“If there’s one thing I hate about this place, It’s all the fuckin’ zombies,” Mrs. Rotelle said, squeezing the trigger. The AR was fully automatic. She never missed. The kick of the rifle knocked the tiny woman back three steps, but she didn’t miss a single shot, from almost 100 yards at full auto firing speed.

4.03 Supper

Victor opened the door to the bedroom, the first on the left at the top of the stairs.  Inside the door was a small but orderly bedroom.  Along one wall was a perfectly made twin bed.  The blanket was tight and the sheet was folded back along the top edge.  A single fluffy pillow invited Victor to lay down, but he was on a mission.  He opened the closet on the wall opposite the bed.  Inside he found a few pairs of pants, several shirts, and two sport coats.  The clothes were old, but well kept.  He pulled a pair of green heavy duty cargo work pants, a tee shirt and a khaki work shirt out of the closet and tossed them onto the bed.  Next he pulled out the tweed sports jacket.  It was out of fashion, with patches over the elbows and a slightly larger than modern collar, but it looked warm and it looked like it would fit.

It turns out the clothes were all about one size too large, but its not like anyone was going to be judging him.  He slid the tweed jacket on, emptied his pockets out of his old pants into his new ones and laid his still slightly damp clothes out to dry.  Over beside the desk he found an old beat up school-book style backpack and laid it out next to his clothes.  He needed to ask the Rotelles if he could have it.  Judging by the clothes, no one had been actually using this room since the early nineties.  There was a Lethal Weapon 3 poster hanging just above the desk, and a Right Said Fred CD sitting on the desk next to a CD player.  Victor hit the eject button on the CD player, inside was Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

“This guy had great taste in music,” said Victor as he walked out the door and back down the steps.

When Victor stepped out into the dining room of the old mansion, Leeland stood up from the table and walked towards him.  He stuck his hand out and said “Leeland Rotelle, nice to meet you young man.”  Victor shook his hand.

“Victor Tookes, sir.  It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” he said, looking at Mrs. Rotelle who was smiling happily.  She gave no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.

“Come in, Victor deary.  Supper is ready.  I’m afraid it’s not much, the cook didn’t come in, and apparently he hasn’t been to the grocery in a while.”  She took the lids off three different pots, one contained steamed white rice, the other stewed tomatoes and okra, and the third had something that looked like ground beef and onions.  Victor wasn’t sure where they would have gotten all this fresh food, but the had to have power in the house.  They weren’t using any lights, but maybe their freezer was working.  There were lots of unanswered questions.  Victor hadn’t heard a generator running when he was walking by.  Keeping a generator running constantly for six months would have consumed a massive amount of fuel.  Who was doing that work? Who was defending the house?

Victor debated asking those questions.  It wasn’t really any of his business, if these two were happy and surviving, did he need to interfere with their delusion?  Perhaps they were better off forgetting all the loss and death.  Maybe they had it right.  He sat down at the table across from the Rotelles and folded his hands in his lap.

“Leeland, would you say the blessing?” Mrs. Rotelle asked.

Leeland held his hands out.  Victor took one hand; Mother Rotelle took the other, and extended her other hand to Victor who completed the circle.  He’d never been a religious man, but when in Rome, as the saying went.  “Kind Father, please accept these thanks for the bounty you have provided.  Please keep an eye on our friends and family wherever they travel.  Please be kind to those less fortunate than us.  Please continue to bless this house and all those in it, in Max’s name we pray, Amen.”

Victor was stunned.  He thought back to the group of survivors that had held Max a few miles from his house in Virginia.  “Did you say in Max’s name?” he asked, after nearly a minute of sitting there dumbfounded.

“We had the nicest guest last week,” said Mrs. Rotelle.  “He told us all about the coming of  Max, and how the little boy had come to save us.  He told us about how The Boy’s father had stolen him away from their loving embrace, and with that action plunged the world into darkness and despair.  What was that devil’s name, Leeland?  We were supposed to be on the lookout for him.”

Victor slowly moved his hand to his hip and loosened the snap on his gun quietly.

“Victor something,” said Leeland.  “Jukes? Dukes?  Tookes.  Yea, that was it.  Victor Tookes.”

Both of the Rotelles looked at Victor long and hard.  “Didn’t you say your name was Victor?” asked Mother Rotelle.

“Yes Ma’am,” said Victor slowly.  He slid the gun slightly out of its holster, his finger on the trigger under the table.

“What a coincidence,” she said clapping her hands together. “Would you like some rice?”  She picked up the pot and passed it to Victor.

Tookes slid the gun back into its holster and sighed softly before taking the pot from her.  He spooned a third of the rice out onto his plate.  He had so many questions, but if either of them remembered his name and put two and two together, he would be in trouble.  He didn’t want to kill them, they were mostly harmless, if slightly deranged.  They were someone’s grandparents, or someone’s friends, and they were mislead by a charlatan.

“On Sunday we’re going to church,” said Mother Rotelle.  “You’re welcome to come with us.”

“I appreciate your offer, but I actually need to be moving along in the morning.  I appreciate all your hospitality.  In the bedroom upstairs, I found an empty book bag, would it be alright if I borrowed that?  I have a long way to go to get back to my son, and I’ll need a backpack to carry some food and water.”

“Oh, sure, deary.  Ronald hasn’t used that backpack in years.  I’d love to see it getting some use, it was an expensive bag.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Rotelle,” Said Victor spooning stewed tomatoes and okra over his rice.  “And thank you for this fine meal, and the clothes.  I feel like a new man.”

As they ate they talked about simple things.  Victor struggled not to break their delusion, and gain as much information as he could.  He learned that the man who had come to see them was a middle aged black man who wore a white robe.  He was one of many prophets of Max.  He was travelling the country telling anyone he could find about the coming of Max, a God-Child who would save them all from this life

“Do you two have any children?” Victor asked at one point.

Leeland frowned as he said, “We have two sons, Nick and Nathaniel.  Nick works for a television show, out in California.  Nathaniel left right after the Prophet; he went out to spread the gospel of Max.”

Victor ate the rest of his meal in silent contemplation.  He had so much to think about.  Those freaks in Reva had spread lies about him, and were holding Max up as the savior of mankind.  Was this a new religion?  How could he use this?

At the end of the meal, he helped carry the dishes into the kitchen and set them down beside the sink.  The kitchen was spotless, as he expected.

Victor asked, “Mrs. Rotelle, what can I do to earn my keep? I don’t want to feel like a beggar, but I’m not sure what I could do for you.  I don’t see anything that needs to be fixed around here.”

“If you’d be willing to run some errands for me tomorrow, I need a few things from the market.  The kitchen is horribly under stocked.”

“Sure, Mrs. Rotelle, do you have a list? I may not be able to find everything, but I’ll do my best.  The last time I was in a grocery store the shelves were getting pretty bare.”  Victor tried not to chuckle as he said it.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be able to find what we need, deary.  We have one of those mega-marts.  They even have collards in January.  I guess they bring them up from Mexico or something.”

“I’ll do my best ma’am.  I appreciate your hospitality.  Supper was delicious,” said Victor taking a plate from her and drying it.  “Where does this go?”

“Second cabinet on the left,” she said, pointing to the cabinet.

Victor opened the door and sat the plate inside.  He dried each dish, once again thinking about all he’d learned here.  “We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one card we have, and that is our attitude,” Leeland had said to him.

He thought about Candi, and how much he wanted to change the past.  He wondered if he’d done something differently if he’d have been able to save her.  She was dead because he made the choice to run that road block.  He wasn’t careful enough.  If he’d been smarter or faster or stronger maybe she’d still be alive.  If he’d killed every zombie along the way instead of running, she’d still be alive.  His resolve firmed, the fire in his belly burned through the thoughts of how comfortable it was here.

When he finished drying the dishes, he took his leave of the Rotelles.  If its alright with the two of you, I’m going to go up and go to sleep.  It’s been a long day, and I’m exhausted.”

“Ok, sleep well deary!  Tomorrow will be a better day,” said Mother Rotelle.

Only if I kill a few zombies,” thought Victor as he climbed the steps.

“Hey, Son.  Remember, all you have is your attitude.”

Victor sat down on the bed, and closed his eyes.  He shifted his head to the north, as he thought “Max, are you there?

Hi Daddy!” replied Max.

I’m not going to make it back to the train tonight.  I ran into some trouble, and I’m staying at a very nice ladies house.

I know, Miss Leo stopped by the train.  She took all of her stuff Dad.  She said she wasn’t coming back.  How come she left?”

“I said some things to her that I shouldn’t have, Buddy.  I would like to apologize to her, but I can’t find her now.  Tomorrow I have to find a truck and get back to the train.”

“Oh, Poppy will be so happy to see you.  Uncle Marshall found him!  Uncle Marshall and Poppy got back here today.  We’re waiting for you at the place you said you’d meet us.”

Holy cow! Marshall found Poppy!  That’s great news!  How is he? How does he look?”

He looks like Poppy.  He was sad that you weren’t here, but I gave him a kiss and told him you would be back soon.

I’ll meet you tomorrow.  Maxmonster, can you tell Uncle Marshall something for me?  Tell him I think there’s a shot that kills the bugs in that fort.  He needs to get it before you leave tomorrow.

Daddy, my bugs said that shot didn’t work.

I know buddy, but it did make them sick.  We’re going to need every advantage we can get.”

Ok, I’ll tell him.” said Max.  “I like your haircut.

You can see my hair?” Victor asked.

Yes, I can see in your head when you saw yourself in the mirror when the grandpa was finished cutting it.

4.02 Rotelle House

Victor continued his trek west on Government Street, walking down the middle of the road through the afternoon.  He killed every zombie he came across, hoping to find one of them carrying keys, but he had no such luck.  There were keys in the pockets of three zombies, but according to the panic buttons on the key fobs, none of the zombies were anywhere near their cars.  Every half-block he pushed the panic button on each key-chain.  As he walked it was increasingly harder to stay busy, and staying busy was how he avoided thinking.  The rain hadn’t let up a bit all day.  Victor was frozen through and through, every step elevated the misery of this whole trip.

At the corner of Roper and Government he noticed a bed and breakfast that looked inviting.  He stopped walking for a second and stopped in the middle of the street, standing in the rain looking stupidly at the building on the left.  It was an antebellum mansion, old growth trees surrounded the property, all with Spanish moss hanging from the leafless limbs.  As he stared, he  realized that he hadn’t eaten in almost twenty-four hours.  The front door was closed and there was a newer ford ranger pickup truck in the parking area.

Victor walked up the three brick steps onto the porch and knocked on the door.  Not out of any sense of habit, but because it usually drew the zombies, and a door was a nice bottleneck.  It was the easiest place to dispatch the former inhabitants.

As he stood at the red painted extra wide front door of the house, looking at the antique glass sidelights, he caught movement inside the house.  A chair scraped against the floor, and Victor heard a single slow pair of footfalls coming towards the door.  He stepped to the side and drew his hatchet.  To his surprise, he heard the deadbolt click in the door.

Oh, a super,” he thought.  “This might be entertaining,” but that thought didn’t ring true.  Something wasn’t right, a super wouldn’t just come to the door.  He switched to aura view and was surprised to see a rainbow of swirling color through the door.  “Hello!” he called out.

The ancient door opened wide with a creak.   The shortest, oldest woman Victor may have ever seen stood in the doorway.  Her pure white hair was clean and stood straight out from her head.  Most of it was tamed by a large paisley scarf.   “Oh, look Leeland! We have a guest!  We haven’t had a guest in so long!  Come in, come in. Did you have a reservation?  What’s your name?”

“Victor Tookes, ma’am.  I don’t have a reservation, and I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of money.  Would you be willing to trade some work for a room for the night and a hot meal?  I’m pretty handy.”

“Come in.  Come in before you catch your death of cold!” She said.  “Leeland! We have a guest!” She yelled loud enough to wake the dead.  Which, it occurred to Victor, wasn’t very loud these days.  Victor stepped into the wood paneled foyer.  It was not that terrible seventies wood paneling, but actual real wood.  The detail and craftsmanship of the woodwork in the house would rival even Marshall’s woodworking skills.

“The Rotelle House has never turned away a traveler in need!” she said, followed quickly by a disapproving look down at the floor.  “Ohh deary, you’re dripping all over my rugs!”  Then even louder than before, “Leeland! We have a guest! Bring a towel!”

“I’m a-comin’ mother!  For cryin’ out loud, you don’t have to scream.  Hello young man! It’s good to see you!”  The man Victor assumed was Leeland said, sticking his hand out.  “What’s your name, son?”

“Victor Tookes, sir.  I was just telling your wife that I don’t have any money; I stopped carrying a wallet a few months ago,” he said, shaking the old man’s hand.  Leeland was no more than five and a half feet tall.  His hair was combed back in a white pompadour.  He had white sideburns down to his earlobes that spread out onto his cheeks, and very kind eyes.  His clothes were freshly pressed; the plaid button-down shirt he wore still had creases down the sleeves, and his blue jeans had creases down the front.

“You’re not one of them hippies, are ya, boy? Ya don’t look like a hippie with that hair, although you could use a cut and a shave.”

“No sir, not a hippie sir, just in need of a shave.  Things have been pretty crazy lately, I just haven’t had time.”

“Son, you’ll never get ahead in life without a clean shave and a haircut.  I was a barber for forty years, come on in and I’ll get you cleaned right up.”

“Mother, fetch my bag, please.  I have a customer!” Leeland clapped his hands together excitedly.  “Right this way son.  What did you say your name was?”

“Victor, Victor Tookes.  I’m afraid we haven’t been properly introduced,” said Victor sticking his hand out again.  “What’s your name sir?”

“Leeland Rotelle,” he said shaking Victor’s hand for the second time.  “The shop is right this way.  Take your shirt off, Mother will dry it for you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Rotelle.  I appreciate your kindness,” said Victor.  He paused for a second and then stripped his tee-shirt off over his head.  Victor looked at himself in the mirror in hallway.  He was a mess, and in the best shape of his life.  He was thin and toned, his muscles didn’t stand out like Marshalls, but there was no softness under his skin.

Mrs. Rotelle handed Victor a towel and handed Leeland a worn black leather bag with a brass zipper holding the top closed.  The bag was shaped like an antique doctor’s bag, and clinked as Leeland carried it towards a door at the back of the house.

The three of them passed through the dining room, painted deep red with a twelve person antique dining table in the middle.  Even with the massive table there was still space in the cavernous room for two wingback chairs, an ottoman, and a buffet table that looked like it could hold enough dishes for twelve in its cabinets and enough food for twelve on its top.

“This is a beautiful home,” said Victor.  What he really wanted to say was “This whole situation is really weird.  Do you know there are zombies out there?

“Oh, thank you, Deary.  This was my grandmother’s home.  My mother lived here with us until she passed in eighty-seven, and since then it’s been just Leeland and me.”

Leeland looked at Victor and mouthed “Thank God” as Mrs. Rotelle continued her narrative.

“My grandmother always said never turn down a traveler in need.  My mother kept that tradition, when Leeland here got back from Korea; he looked a lot like you.  He was a worn out traveler who needed a shave and a haircut.  He opened the barber shop in the back parlor, and we’ve been in love ever since.  He was so handsome back then.”

Victor wasn’t quite sure how crazy these people were, but he decided to go with it.  They seemed pretty harmless, more eccentric than dangerous.

Leeland puffed his chest out and said “Still wear the same size pants I did when I got back.  Kept myself in shape for fifty years.  Ya never know when the commies are cominm’ back.”  He opened the door to the barber shop.  Inside were four antique barber chairs, each with a long leather strop hanging from the back.  It reminded Victor of the place he got his hair cut when he was a boy.  It was dim inside the room, despite the huge windows that made up one whole wall.

Leeland walked into the room kicking up little tufts of dust into the air.  He left footprints in the dust on the floor.  Victor wondered if anyone had been in this room in a decade.  “Mr. Rotelle, when was the last time you gave a haircut?”

“Oh, it’s been a few days.  I did a high and tight flattop for an army boy last week,” Leeland said.

“Leeland, do you know what the date is today?”

“Why, son, of course I do.  Today’s Christmas!” He said with a smile.

Somehow Victor had gotten almost two weeks off in his time keeping.  He was sure it was the thirteenth of December.  “Are you sure?  I was thinking it was closer to mid December.”

“Yes sir, December 25th, Nineteen Hunnert Ninety Two,” said Leeland.

Oh.  Bat-shit crazy,” thought Victor.  “Do I really want this guy near my neck with a straight razor?

It frighteningly easy for Victor to allow himself to be pulled into this fantasy world, a place where there were no zombies, where you could make up whatever reality you wanted.  It was warm and dry, and these were living people who didn’t try to shoot him.  Victor lost himself in the thoughts of what life had been like for this elderly couple.  He wondered how they survived in their delusion.

“You gonna sit down, son?” Said Leeland, swatting the chair with a towel.

Victor walked to the chair and sat down.  Leeland ran water over a white towel, wrung it out and placed it on Victor’s face.  Victor was pleasantly surprised at the warmth of the water.  Somehow this couple had hot water.

“Oh,” said Victor.  “That feels good.  It feels good to be normal for once.”

“What do you mean?”

“My life has been crazy the last few months,” answered Victor.  “I’ve been running and fighting for so long, I’m not sure I know how to stop.  It’s all that’s left for me.”

“Son, life is about living.  You’re not living, you gotta let go of the past, find some pretty little girl and get on with your life,” Leeland said.

“My past won’t stay let go.  Every time I think I’ve moved on, it comes back to haunt me.”

“We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one card we have, and that is our attitude.”

Victor closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the steaming towel.  There was something familiar about sitting in a barber’s chair, something normal.  Leeland could have been any old barber in any old town.  He felt Leeland’s hand on his head, pushing it up.  A comb slid through Victor’s longish, greasy hair.  A slight tug as the old man grabbed the first lock of hair between his index and middle finger, followed by the familiar snip of a barber’s scissors.  Comb, tug, snip.  Comb, tug, snip.  Leeland worked quickly and efficiently, cutting Victor’s hair.  He never asked Victor what kind of haircut he wanted, or how he wanted it styled.   The barber cut his hair the way it should be cut; based on the way the hair grew.  A good barber didn’t force your hair into a style; he molded the style around the hair.  Leeland was a good barber.

The snipping stopped, and Victor heard the water running for a second, followed by a whisking sound.  A few seconds later the towel was removed and Victor felt coarse bristles swirling warm shaving lather against his face.  Victor knew this was an authentic badger hair brush.  Leeland would have nothing less.  Before the lather had a chance to cool, Leeland swiped a heavy bladed straight razor across the leather strop hanging on the back of the chair, honing the edge.  He held Victor’s head in one hand, pulling the skin of his face tight and dragged the razor lightly down his cheek.  Leeland was all business, no shake, no hesitation, this was pure muscle memory.  Before Victor could even think about the danger of this guy holding his head in one hand and a razor blade in the other, Leeland wiped his face with a towel and said said “All finished.”

Victor stood up and looked like a new man.  He’d always worn his hair clipper short and scrubbed backward.  Leeland had cut it short with scissors and laid it down forward.  Between the forty pounds he’d lost and the new hair cut, Victor looked ten years younger, and felt fantastic.  He rubbed his hand down his cheek, amazed at how close the shave was.  There wasn’t a hint of stubble.

“Thank you, Leeland.  I can’t tell you how much better I feel,” said Victor.

“Amazing,” said Leeland.  “You walked in my house a dead hippie, and going to walk out a living man.  It’s nice to meet you, what was your name again?”  Leeland stuck out his hand.

“Victor Tookes, sir.  I’m pleased to meet you,” said the freshly groomed man, shaking hands again.

“Well, come on Victor Tookes, Mother will have supper ready now, and we have to find you a shirt to wear.  You can’t sit down to the supper table without a proper shirt.  We had a helper last year who was about your size; nice boy.  Never did get his name though.  I bet he has some clothes you could wear in his room.  It’s right up these stairs, first door on the left.”

Victor walked up the stairs wondering what he’d find in the first door on the left.

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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.


“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.