Category Archives: Zombie

Iron Jack’s

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

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

-Kirk

A new free web story by Kirk Allmond

 

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 4                                                                                                    Chapter 6>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 4                                                                                                    Chapter 6>>

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

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Molly

Before you read Chapter 4, I’d like to invite you to like my facebook page What Zombies Fear.  The link opens in a new window, so you can click it without losing your place here.  Facebook is the easiest way to keep abreast of everything going on in the worlds I create, however with their new rules reducing the number of news items you see from a page (it’s now below 10%) it’s still easy to miss something.  The most foolproof way to know when a new book comes out is to please sign up for my email list.  I promise I won’t spam you.  I publish 4 – 5 novels per year, so you’ll get 4 – 5 emails per year.

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

-Kirk

A new free web story by Kirk Allmond

 

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 3                                                                                                    Chapter 5>>

His hair streamed out behind him as he thundered across the desert, enjoying the cool, dry, night air.  He knew the sound of the motorcycle would draw them in.  The infected were attracted to loud noises.

Nyko rode for an hour, due north on interstate 15, dodging dunes and wrecked cars.  At times, the reverberation of his bike bouncing off the walls that held the desert back was almost deafening.  It was the sound of freedom.  It was a sound that he craved.

Every time he passed a car he looked inside.  One in three had some sort of movement inside, sun-cooked flesh barely holding on to the bones.  In many cases, the inside of the windows were completely coated with dried gore.  The sun cooked the infected meat-sacks until the gasses inside exploded.  Everyone knew; never, ever open the door to those cars.  The smell took days to wash off, and nothing in the vehicle was salvageable.

He steered off the highway at Moapa, a small town in the middle of nowhere.  A left at the top of the off-ramp led him down the main street, and just past the long-dark traffic light, he stopped his bike in front of Iron Jack’s customs.  He deftly killed the engine, swung his leg over and took a step towards the door.  Keys still in his hand, Nyko unlocked the front door to Iron Jack’s and stepped inside.

There was a small front showroom with his two completely custom, hand-crafted choppers in it.  He looked them over fondly, each now covered in fine dust.  Nyko had pinned his hopes for Iron Jack’s on these two bikes.  They represented the future and his dream of being a custom bike builder.

Two years ago, he’d been sitting in his office in the back of this building when he got the call.  “It’s Molly,” the woman on the other end of the phone sobbed “She’s sick.  She’s dying, Nyk.  She’s got these sores all over her face.  The doctor doesn’t know what it is.  Her fever is over 107.”

That was how it had started for him; a desperate phone call from his ex-wife all the way across the country.  Nyko hung up the phone, hopped on his bike and headed down to Las Vegas to catch a flight to Northern Virginia. He rode south on Interstate 15, at times pegging the speedometer at the 130 miles per hour mark.

Ten miles north of the city, Nyko topped a small rise and brought the bike to a screeching halt.  Brake lights lit up in front of him and the sound of twisting metal eclipsed the sound of his bike. Cars and trucks went everywhere, filling up the median and the emergency lane.

He eased the bike over next to the wall on the west side of the highway, and idled through the cars, looking briefly for something he could do to help.  He reached into his inside coat pocket, retrieved his phone, and dialed 911.

“All operators are currently busy.  Please stay on the line and the next emergency responder will be with you as soon as possible.  If you are in need of immediate medical care, do not hang up.”

Nyko hung up his phone.  Half the people involved in this wreck were probably calling.  He stood up on the pegs of his bike to get a better view.  At least a hundred cars were totaled.  Fifty more were stopped with minor damages.  Everywhere he looked, doors were opening and people were walking up towards the front of the accident.

The biker wasn’t trained in any sort of first aid, but he looked in each car he passed to see if there was some way he could help.  He pulled up beside a blue Nissan Sentra.  The driver was slumped over the wheel, and there was blood on the inside of the windshield.

He knocked on the passenger side window.  “Hey buddy, you okay?” he asked.  The front of the Sentra was buried half-way up the hood under the rear of a black Suburban.  There was no movement inside the car.  Nyko pulled on the door handle, but it was either locked, or jammed.  From the wrinkles in the quarter panels, he assumed it was jammed and leaned out, pulling hard.

The door handle broke in his hand at the same time he heard screams from the front of the accident.  It wasn’t just one scream, it was hundreds of them.  He looked up in time to see a flood of people running towards him.

“Hey dude!” Nyko yelled, banging harder on the window.  “You alive in there?”

The crowd of screaming people was getting closer.  Nyko looked up from the car.  It looked like they were running for their lives.  Those in the front were looking back over their shoulders, while in the back, a group was chasing them, head-down and running as fast as they could.

Nyko saw one of the people fall.  Several of the group chasing dove on top of the fallen accident victim, like a pile of football players after a fumble.

“Dude! You gotta get up!” Nyko yelled, banging on the window again.  The crowd was less than fifty feet away now.  Hopefully, if the guy was alive, he’d be safe inside his car.  He could see the group chasing them clearly now.  All of them appeared sick with some kind of rash on their faces.  Like his daughter had.

There wasn’t room between the Sentra and the wall to turn his bike around.  With a grunt, he lifted the rear wheel up and spun the bike around in place, before hopping on it and racing off, away from the crowd of people.

Table of Contents
<<Chapter 3                                                                                                    Chapter 5>>

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

6.04 Restoration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He grimaced.  “Any idea where he went?”

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

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

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

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

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

Alicia.

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

“Kris,” began Victor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.02 Sharon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Andrea, how are the torts?”

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

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

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

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

“Kaylin, where’s your brother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are Victor and Max.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘And we were able to handle the incursions?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6.01 Retreat

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

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

Continue reading 6.01 Retreat

5.07 Victor is Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max spoke softly, “Stop hurting my friends.”

“I can not,” said the blonde zombie.

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

“I’m trying to save your father.”

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

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

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

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

Steve, I don’t know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fix him!” yelled Renee.

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

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

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

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

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

“Fuck,” said Marshall.

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

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

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

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

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

There was no response.

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

“I programmed Drake?”

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

“Oh, shit.”

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

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

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

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

5.03 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.