Category Archives: Zombie

3.05 Conundrum

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

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

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

“Thanks, smart ass.”

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

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

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

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

“Are they holding us?” He asked.

“Lets make for the truck.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any chance there’s a second hatchet?”

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

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

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

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

“Hurry up then!”

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

“Hold on, lets find out!”

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

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

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

“Ok, Mommy,” said the small girl.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, lets go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, bother.  So many steps.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.04 Train Yard

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

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

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

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

“What is all that?” Victor asked.

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

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

“You brought the food,” Marshall replied laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh shit, Vic! Check that out!”

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

“Survivors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Freaking idiot!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dude, you put rugs in it?”

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

“You’re crazy.”

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

“True,” said Marshall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.03 Sean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sean?” John said out aloud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is Mr. John telling sad stories?”

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

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

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

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

“I’m sleepy,” said Max.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, thank God,” Sharon said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, anything else you learned?”

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

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

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

3.02 Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any change?” Tookes asked her.

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

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

3.01 Recharge

Tookes spent most of the day planning.  Max slept until almost noon and once again, woke up ravenously hungry.  That was a good sign and he was recovering well.  It was becoming more and more apparent that Max was a true Tookes just like his daddy; he was small, but Vic was proud at the bravery of his son.  Time slipped by so fast these days and Tookes felt like his little boy was almost growing before his eyes.  He knew he needed to cherish every moment.

Max ate a decent sized lunch then immediately went back upstairs to bed.  Vic watched his son climb the stairs, blowing him as kiss as he went around the last corner.  A few minutes later, Tookes and the crew discussed their options as they sat  around the antique dining room table, eating a lunch of thinly sliced roast venison sandwiches and fresh fried sweet potato chips.

“John, Max needs to recover a little bit before we can even talk to Sean.  Sean needs to get from your house to an airport, but not just any airport.  We need the biggest airport in the lowest population area we can find.  We need to find someone that can fly a plane.  Then we need to fly a plane and coordinate flying around the world with them arriving at the airport.”

John sat back in his chair,  mulling it over.  Marshall took that second to interject between bites of freshly fried sweet potato chips, “Let’s talk about Renee.  Max said that she was stuck south of a big city,” Tookes said.  “The only big city between Atlanta and here is Charlotte, North Carolina.   In the old days, that was a five hour drive.  These days, who the hell knows how long it could take.” Victor shrugged, “If she’s south of the city, we’re going to have to go through or around it and I honestly don’t like the prospect of either.  When I lived in Charlotte fifteen years ago, there were a million people there.”

“How the fuck are we going through a million bloody zombies, mate?” asked John.

“I have an idea about that.  On the north side of Charlotte is a huge stone quarry.  It’s over a half mile deep.  I  think we go pied piper on them, lead them to the quarry and dump them in.”

“Vic, there has got to be supers in a town that size,” said Marshall.

“That’s the first phase.  We draw the supers out first.”

“That has to be easier said than done.  How do we do that?” Marshall asked.

“With a show of strength, bro.  The way they’ve been tracking us, I say we use that against them.  We find our killing zone and have some fun blowing out our powers.  I’m talking about things that make so much noise every super within a hundred miles will come looking.  I’ve been cooking something up I’m dying to try.  I know Leo wants to see how far she can teleport.  Marshall, have you ever figured out exactly how much you can lift?” Tookes said with an almost mischievous smirk.

Marshall was ever the pragmatist and ignored his brother. “My thoughts are that we find a train,” the big man said. “The railroad runs forty-five minutes from here,  starting in Charlottesville down through Virginia and North Carolina to Atlanta.  There, it turns west and runs all the way to southern California.  With stops in the old days, it was an eight hour train ride.  I should be able to push almost anything off of the track.  I figure that if we ride a locomotive with only one car, we should have the power to push anything else off the tracks that I can’t push off myself.  We can outrun any zombies and run over any in the way with very little fear of damage to the vehicle and of course,” he added with a smirk,  “We won’t run into any traffic jams.”

“Victor, darling, what are you going to do with Max?  Last time you left, Frye came for him,” asked Mom.

“I’m bringing him with me.  I’m not making the same mistake twice,” Tookes said plainly and grabbed  a second home-made roll and a bottle of mustard.

The four faces around the table looked at him  in astonishment. “Seriously?”

“He’s not leaving my sight with Frye still out there and with those whack-jobs from Reva.  Actually, that’s an even better reason to take a train.  We can armor up the car and have some kind of a mobile tank.” Victor cut open the roll and then gestured towards his brother with the knife.  “I think Marshall is right.  We can easily stop anything that gets in our way fairly quickly with just one train-car.” Tookes said and  piled thinly sliced roast venison tenderloin on a second roll and slathered it in  spicy brown mustard.

Tookes’ mother looked skeptical and had her arms crossed as she asked, “What if you get swamped  in there?”

“We would have to build the train with that in mind,” said Marshall and paused. “Now that I think about it, we could build it to withstand a significant siege.”

“How sure are you?” asked Leo and Marshall shrugged.

“Sure enough,” he said.

“Well, I’m sure.” Tookes said, trying to convey confidence. “We have a few more items to discuss.  We need to hold funerals for the men that died and come up with some way to honor them.  I’m open to suggestions.”  Vic took another bite of his sandwich, amazed once again that his mother could take almost nothing and make it into a miraculous dinner.  She always had the ability to take what she had on hand  and turn it into something fabulous and delicious, even with something as basic as venison.  Even though it seemed small, this lunch with his family warmed Tookes’ heart.  It was another glimmer at the potential that life could return to some semblance of “normal.”

“We’re going to start a wall, right?” Leo suggested.  “We could name a tower or section of the wall after them.”

“We could build a tall tower in honor of all those who have and will lose their life in this mess,” was Marshall’s suggestion.

“I like the idea of a tower,” Tookes said, taking another bite of his sandwich and wiping mustard from his face.  “Maybe in the center of the east wall, the direction of sunrise, to represent the new life they died to build.”

“That’s awfully poetic, Vic,” Leo said, raising her eyebrow.

“Well, it seems fitting to me.  Let’s all put some thought into this and talk about it in a couple of days.  I’m open to suggestions.” He took another bite of his sandwich and then pushed his plate away, “Now,  item number two on the list is home place security.  With Bookbinder gone and compromised, we need to change up everything.  We need to change our patrol routes.  We need to change our personnel and we need to invent new tactics.  Bookbinder knows how we train, so we need new training.  Basically, we need a new Bookbinder.   He was a good friend to me but he’s a big threat to our security.”

“If Sean was here, he could train ‘em up right,” John murmured.

“I wish he was and he will be soon, John,” Vic said, clapping John on the shoulder. “Until Sean gets here, would you mind setting  up a training schedule?   We need someone competent.”

“Not sure I’m the best choice for that,” John laughed and added, “Alright, mate.”

“What about Ken Leuty?” asked Marshall.  Tookes knew Marshall had the best relationship with the settlers; he spent a lot of time down at the barn when the four of them weren’t out trying to exterminate the planets infestation.  Marshall was a very talented carpenter.  He’d built beds and chairs out of the scrap lumber from a two hundred year old barn we’d torn down several years earlier.  He was an amazing craftsman.  The talent to take ancient barn wood and turn it into exquisite furniture  was a unique and wonderful gift.  Seeing Marshall working with his hands was treat to anyone who watched.  His skill  was a combination of patience and attention to detail.  He would spend hours sculpting and carving a headboard until it was just right.  Almost all of the furniture the settlers used daily was hand made by Marshall.  It was his labor of love and the settlers regarded them as prized possessions.

“Leuty?  He’s pretty young, isn’t he?  Do you think he can handle it?” Tookes asked.

“He handled himself in the whole Frye situation better than Baker did.  Leuty showed initiative and tried to take control of the situation.  He was doing well but the whole crew was out maneuvered.  I don’t think there is a better man to fill in,” Marshall said and then ate half of his third sandwich in one bite.  Leo giggled from the other side of the table as he chowed down.

“Okay, let’s name Leuty as commander of M1.  We should pull the guys from M1 aside and let them know.  Can you take care of that, Marshall?  John and I need to go to the library and I have a special task for Leo.”

“Sure,” Marshall said,  “Oh, can you pick me up a book with woodworking patterns while you’re there?”

“Sure, bro,” Tookes said.  He looked around the table and asked if anyone else had any other questions.  “If we’re done here, we need to get a move on.  I don’t expect a lot of trouble at the library, but I’d like to be back before dark.  Mom, did you have anything else?  Do you need anything?”

“I’m pretty well set up here.  If you happen to find any seeds, could you bring them with you?  We could use seeds from any vegetable or herb.  But we have a lot of time for that kind of thing.”

“Okay, we’ll keep an eye peeled.” Tookes said as we all stood up from the table. “Thanks for this lunch Mom, my sandwich was amazing.  And potato chips? Did you make them by hand?”

“Oh, it was nothing,” she said with a wave of her hand.  “I fried them this morning to keep the sweet potatoes in the house from going bad.”

“You amaze me every day, Mom,” Tookes said and embraced his mom, kissing her on the cheeck.

“Thank you Mrs. Tookes,” said Leo as she  stood.

The group of friends all walked out and Marshall headed off towards the barn to deliver the news of Leuty’s promotion.  Tookes and Leo stayed behind as they spoke.

“Leo, I need to know a couple of things about your power but I need you to do your testing pretty far away from here,” he said.  “About 100 miles from here, you’ll find yourself in the Jefferson National Forest.  It’s almost two million acres of forest.  The zombie population should be pretty low there.  I need to know how big or how much weight you can teleport and how far you can go in each bound when you  by yourself and if you’re carrying something or someone else.”

“You got it.  But I can tell you most of that now,” Leo said, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall.

“I also want you to really use your power.  Part of why I’m sending you so far away is to see if I can feel it.  I’ve never really paid attention to it before but when I think about the times we’ve really used our powers, there’s a tickle in the back of my head.  I want to see if that’s what it is.”

“Okay, I don’t need a lot of arm twisting to be sent off to the middle of the woods for some alone time,” Leo said with a smile.

“Try to be back before dark.  And let me know also if you feel like you’re getting stronger with use. We’re all getting stronger but I’m not sure if it’s our continued exposure, or if it’s use. Lke a muscle.”

“Sure thing, Vic.” She said, leaning forward to kiss him on the lips before running off.  Tookes felt her body flinch awkwardly as their lips touched, but thought nothing of it.

It is remarkable how little Victor sees, Leo thought to herself as she jogged away.  The way he held his lips when they kissed felt foreign and forced.  One of her favorite things about Victor was the way he would kiss her.  When their lips would touch, it was like nothing else mattered in the world other than what was happening in that very moment.  But something was different between them now.   He needed time to himself to think and figure things out with Max.  She understood that.  But everything about him had changed in such a short amount of time and she couldn’t help but wonder if she had done something wrong without realizing it.

—-

John and Tookes loaded up in the jeep and headed towards town.  Tookes needed many different books.   He had a lot of reading to do before they boarded the train.  He needed at least one book on trains and a book on planes, specifically navigation, flight lanes, air speeds and fuel capacities.  He needed world maps and he hoped to check out a bunch of books for Max.  The two of them spent the entire afternoon at the library and brought back more books than they had originally intended.  They made it back to the home just after dark without incident.

John picked up every book he could carry that detailed military tactics.  One book compared the strategies of every general in history and another one detailed modern special forces training.  He picked up a stack of books on hand to hand combat and martial arts.  John’s recent hand to hand combat with Dan at the Crazy’s encampment made him a little insecure and that, in turn, made Tookes a little nervous.  Perhaps I should read all those books too, he thought.

Late that night, after a supper of beef tips and gravy over rice with peas, everyone retired to their rooms.  Leo had stopped in her room briefly to grab a clean tank top for the next morning.  As she came out of her room and around the corner, she made brief eye contact with Vic and she smiled at him.  Tookes looked right past her as if she wasn’t even there.  Her smile fell as he turned into his room and abruptly shut the door.  Leo could feel her heart shatter as she took a step back.  She shook her head as she turned around and walked back into her room feeling confused and frustrated.  With defeat resting heavily in her mind, she shut the door.

Tookes started reading a book called “Study Guide for the Locomotive Engineers Exam.”  A lot of it had to do with traffic control.  Other than trying to figure out how the switches worked and how to make sure he ended up on the right tracks, he didn’t have a lot to worry about with traffic on the rails.  The controls of a locomotive, it turns out, were fairly simple.  However, starting up the huge diesel generators that made the massive amounts of electricity to power the thing was very complex.  There was an exact start-up sequence required.  It reminded him of the old 1960’s Adam West Batman. Turbines to Speed! he thought.
—-
“Max, wake up.  Steve is here;  he’s waiting for you across from the river.”

Max rolled out of his bed and put on his shoes.  He grabbed a jacket from the chair in his room, in case it was cold and padded quietly across the bedroom and down the stairs.  Once he was outside, it wasn’t hard for the small boy to make it across the lawn.  He stopped once for a group of soldiers and then again for the returning patrol.

He hid behind a bush until the returning patrol passed by.

“I can’t believe they put Leuty in charge,” one man said as he walked by.

“They’ve been in the shit deeper than any one of us and they’ve made it out every time. I’d follow any one of The Four through hell and back,” said another.

“I’m not saying they made a mistake.  I’m just saying I don’t understand why Leuty.”

“Maybe Tookes read his mind and saw something.”

“Can he do that?”

“Absolutely.”

Max almost gave himself away giggling.  Daddy can’t read anyone’s mind.  At least not like that, he thought to himself.

When they had passed, Max ran as fast as he could to the barn office, around the back and down the hill to the river.  He waited about 10 minutes for the patrol to go by.  This time, they walked by in silence.  They were so quiet that he almost missed them.  Max had to think very hard about hiding.  He thought about looking like a tree stump with dark, textured bark.  He imagined what it would be like to have his feet turn into roots and to grow deeply into the ground and have plants growing at the base of the stump.

Anyone staring directly at him when he concentrated would have seen the little boy’s eyes light up with a pale blue light and then seen his shape shimmer for a second.  When you blinked to clear your eyes, you would have realized you were only looking at a stump and not a little boy at all.

Baker nearly tripped over the unfamiliar stump. “Who put that fuckin’ stump right in the middle of the fuckin’ path I’ve been fuckin’ walkin for four fuckin’ weeks?” He said passing by.

Max almost giggled as he waited for them to be out of ear shot before calling out to Steve.

“Come bite me.  Come across the river and give me all your e-clays.”

“Thank you, Max.  The time you’ve given us and your kindness towards us showed us that humans don’t have to be exterminated.  We will transfer ourselves to you to strengthen you.  You can always count on us,” Steve said.

“Thank you for being a good friend.  I’ll miss you Steve,” said Max.  He wasn’t sure this was right, but his bugs told him it was the only way.

Steve did as he was ordered.  When he had transferred the last of his E’Clei to Max, the shell that had been Steve fell to the ground, dead forever.  Max screamed when Steve bit him; his bugs had been too sick to fully mask the pain.

“What the fuck was that fuckin’ noise?” asked Baker.  He immediately started running back towards the source of the sound with his team.  When he found Max, he was laying beside Steve’s corpse, unconscious.  Max felt like he was two hundred degrees in Bakers arms as he ran up the hill towards the manor house, screaming for Victor and Mrs. Tookes.

2.05 State Police

Earlier that morning, the day Tookes went to the propane depot, Leon Scott watched Bookbinder stride purposely down the hill.  The chill in the fall morning air made his breath visible as he walked.  He’d spent the last hour in an early morning strategy meeting with The Four.  He looked calm and in control.

“Listen up.  Colonel Bookbinder is here.  Attention!” Shouted Scott.

Nineteen men came running out of various places around the barn.  They lined up in two straight rows and stood at attention on the gravel parking lot they used as the parade ground.  Scott stood off to the side, facing the men.

“Colonel Bookbinder, Sir.  Fire teams M1, M2, M3, and M5 present,” Scott reported.  “M4 is out running a perimeter check, due back in 20 minutes,” said Bookbinder’s newly promoted Lieutenant.

“Command has need for medical supplies, communications equipment, and fuel for cooking,” said Bookbinder.

“M2, you’re on homeland patrol, so you’re sitting this out.  M1, we’re going to the police station to secure assets necessary to the mission.  M3, your mission is to take the CVS off route 29 in downtown Culpeper.  This is a hostile environment,” said Bookbinder pausing while he looked at the men assembled in front of him.

“Understood, Sir,” Said Scott.

Bookbinder nodded, “The number of infected is expected to number in the tens of thousands in Culpeper, and you’re heading right to the edge of a residential area.  Your orders are to breach the CVS, acquire medical equipment and supplies, over the counter and prescription drugs.  You are not to fire unless contact is overwhelming.  Men, this is a silent mission.  Get in and get out, no noise, no attention.  Grab the assets and go.  You leave in 5 minutes.  Do you understand?”

“Sir, yes sir!” shouted M3’s team members.

“M3, take the two explorers, grab your gear and go.  Dismissed!”

“M5, your orders are as follows.  Breach and clear the plastic surgery center on the corner of 1st and Market St.  Obtain medical equipment, including diagnostic imaging equipment that can be transported, sutures, IV bags and kits, and any drugs you can find.  We’re setting up a clinic here, so make it complete boys,” said Bookbinder.

“Sir, yes Sir,” chorused the men of M5

Bookbinder continued, “Mission parameters are the same as M3, no gunfire unless absolutely necessary.  You’re one block off the center of downtown Culpeper, the highest population density area for fifty miles.  Do not draw attention to yourselves.  Breach gently, make sure you can lock the place up securely when you leave.  We may need that clinic in the future, and we may need it fast, I don’t want to have to re-clear the building if we have a wounded man bleeding out.  Once you secure the premises, remove any corpses, and haul them away from the building.  We don’t want it to look like anyone’s been there. M5, do you understand your mission?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the members of M5 replied in unison.

“Good.  Take the Ford Dually and the white F250.  You know Tookes loves that white pickup, don’t wreck it.  M5, you leave in five minutes, dismissed!”

“M2, ready yourselves for homeland patrol.  You leave when M4 gets back.  Dismissed!”

When everyone was gone except Bookbinder’s own team, he continued with the orders.

“M1.  Our mission is two-fold.  Command has directed us to recon the state police headquarters.  They’ve also tasked us with keeping an eye out and being ready to back up any of the other teams as required.  Our mission at the headquarters is to acquire police assets, vests, weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, and vehicles.”

“Men, The Four are heading to the propane depot.  Their mission is to secure cooking fuel for Mrs. Tookes.  They’ve got the most open area, and they’re a little cocky.  We’ll need to back them up if they get in over their heads.”

“We leave in five minutes also.  Get to it men, dismissed.”

Charlie headed quickly down to his room in the grooms cottage to gather his stuff.  He’d taken the small one room cottage for himself.  He let anyone to use his bathroom at almost any time, his door was never locked.  Inside the small, cozy cottage he knelt down at his foot locker, unlocked it, and retrieved his weapons.  He almost never openly wore even a side arm on the property, both as a show of respect for the children in the area, and to show that he was confident in their safety.  He did carry a small frame 9mm handgun concealed in the rear waistband of his pants; he’d been carrying that weapon for 15 years, and just didn’t feel right without it.

He strapped on his desert camo combat vest, and slid in the armor plates.  The chest strap for his HK g3 attached to D-rings on his vest.  The H&K was .308 caliber carbine.  It was almost as powerful as the rifle Tookes called Sammie, and just as accurate at ranges out to a hundred yards.  It had a collapsible stock which allowed it to be more effective indoors and an ACOG scope for faster target acquisition.  Bookbinder carried six 20 round magazines in his combat vest plus one in the rifle, Charlie alone could handle a small horde of infected.

He walked out of his cottage ready to do violence.  His men were there waiting for him, already sitting in the explorer.  Charlie knew they’d be bringing additional vehicles home, so they were riding packed tightly for the fifteen miles up through town.

They arrived at the police station in no time, the place looked deserted.  The building itself was steel, Dalton Reineer exited the front passenger side of the vehicle and advanced on the 8 foot chain link and barbed wire fence.  He pulled a large pair of collapsible bolt cutters from his pack and unfolded the handles out to their full twenty-four inches.  These cutters were military issue, and easily cut through the padlock that was holding the fence closed.

Reineer removed the chain, looped it through one side of the fence and opened the gate, motioning Hostetler to drive through.  On the way to the police station, they’d discussed entry points, it seemed most logical to breach through the back door near the giant roll up doors.  There were a dozen police cars parked inside the chain link fence; two of them were explorers with full bull bars and inside prisoner cages.

The team approached the rear door in a formation that they’d practiced in the yard on Charlie’s cabin door a hundred times.  Hostetler, Reineer, and Garrett on the handle side, Johnson on the hinge side.  Charlie stepped forward with a large Halligan style pry-bar.  He drove the forked end into the crack between the latch and the frame, and pried out and right, sending the door flying open to the left.

Johnson caught the door, giving Charlie room to step to the side between Hostetler and Reineer to recover from the prying outside the line of fire from the room.  Hostetler and Reineer stepped forward as Charlie was stepping between them in a well choreographed dance.  Charlie holstered the Halligan and shouldered his rifle.  The two underlings cleared the entry way.  They started way back from the door, taking small sections of the room.  They stepped up, each step towards the doorway giving them a larger view into the room.  They knelt on either side of the door, as Charlie stepped through to clear the blind corner just inside the door.

“Well done boys, that was textbook.  Keep your wits about you.  Garrett, tell me what you sense.”

“Nothing has been in this room in a long time.  No tracks in the dust.  I don’t hear anything walking around, Sir,” said Garrett.

“And what else Johnson?” Bookbinder quizzed the men.  He never missed an opportunity to drive home their training.

“I don’t see anything moving through the windows.  I think we’re good.”

“Dammit Johnson, use your nose.”

“I can’t smell anything.  My nose is stuffy,” replied Johnson.

“You should quit smoking, it kills your senses.  Would you smoke if it clouded your vision?” He asked again.

“Yes, Sir.” Said Johnson, “I mean no Sir—I mean, I should quit, Sir.  I would not smoke if it clouded my vision, Sir.”

“Alright,” Bookbinder said.  “I smell rotten meat.  I smell stupid zombies in here.  They’re not in this room, if they were that smell would have assaulted our noses, but they’re in here somewhere.”

Once the lesson was over they moved as a unit through the building clearing room by room.  After the first room when it became clear that the building wasn’t full of infected, Charlie let his rifle hang and once again drew the halligan.

They’d come in via the police entrance, not the front door of the building.  Charlie opened the door to the hallway and took a long smell.  The stench of months old flesh was stronger in the hallway.  Five steps down the hallway there were doors on the right and left.  Charlie held up two fingers, and then pointed to Reineer and himself.  He pointed to Dalton, Hostetler, and Johnson and pointed at the door across the hallway.

The team split into two groups and on Charlie’s mark each quietly turned the knob and opened their door.  Charlie stepped into the gloomy room to see a corpse in a police uniform turn its head towards him.  It was wearing glasses and still had its patrolman’s hat on.  Its eyes locked on to him.  They were milky and white but the hunger stood out in them.  The creature walked forward into its desk and fell face-first onto a pile of folders.  With the zombie bent over the desk like that, Charlie quickly closed the distance and lodged his halligan into its brain.

Reineer pulled an old office chair away and sent it rolling over towards a giant metal book case that ran the length of the side wall.  The mostly empty shelves were painted the same beige color as everything else in the building.  A few trophies, a couple awards and a family picture were the only things on the first half; Charlie noted a small selection of paperbacks filling about half of a single shelf towards the end of the room.

The two of them laid the patrolman down on the blue carpet-tiled floor and went to work.  Reineer removed the utility belt from the officer, putting a Kimber 1911 frame .45 caliber pistol and four magazines into his backpack.  Next he removed a pair of handcuffs from the rear pouch, and slid a Maglite and collapsible baton off the belt, still in their holsters.  The flashlight, and baton and hand gun holster went into his pack.

Charlie poked its stomach with his finger.

“Cheap body armor.  This is the everyday wear stuff; it’ll stop a three-eighty, but won’t do anything for seven-six-two.  Plus, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get the smell out.”  Go check on the others, I’ll poke around here and see if there’s anything useful.

When Reineer was gone, Bookbinder set to work checking the man’s pockets.  He found a set of keys in the front pocket.  The keychain said “World’s Greatest Dad”, and it held a house key and two car keys, one for a Toyota and one for a Chevrolet.  Two keys were for Master Lock padlocks, and the last key was to his handcuffs.

Charlie rolled the corpse over, removed the officer’s drivers license from his wallet, inserting it into his back pocket without even glancing at it.

Bookbinder stood up and walked into the hall.  The rest of the team was there, ready to move on.  “Be sure to take their keys, and get their driver’s licenses.  LEO’s often have sizable gun collections at home,” he said, using the common military slang for law enforcement officers.

There were three other doors in the hall, two other doors on the right led to empty restrooms.  The third door at the end of the hall had long, narrow vertical glass windows, embedded with chicken wire.

“That door up there will lead to the common area.  We’re likely to see greater numbers of infected up there.  Stay sharp, stay focused.  Hand to hand wherever possible.  Move forward on my signal.”

Bookbinder moved swiftly and silently, pressed against the wall until he was at the door.  He peered through the window, exposing as little of himself as possible to anything that may be on the other side.

The room on the other side of the doors was the main lobby of the state police barracks.  It took Bookbinder almost a full minute to count the walkers in there.  They were all in a pack in the center of the room, facing inward.  Men and women, inThe pack was, as a whole, swaying gently side to side.  Each zombie had their arms spread, resting on the shoulder of the corpse beside them, their heads down, tucked into the smallest space possible.  Charlie waved to his man to stay back, and then crept back to them, pulling them backwards to the first room.

“Alright, I counted fifty-two in the lobby.  They’re huddled together in a tight group, standing in the middle of the room.  There are two seating areas under the big windows in the front, but other than that, the room is mostly empty.  I couldn’t see anything to the left, but I think that’s where the receptionist would be, probably behind some bullet proof glass.”

The four men with Charlie looked afraid.  This was a major operation, bigger than anything they had experienced yet.

“We won’t let you down, Sir,” said Dalton quietly.

“Son, I’m not the least bit worried about that.  We all keep our heads and remember our training; we’re going to walk out of this place feeling unstoppable.  Here’s the plan.”

Charlie laid out the plan to the group.  When everyone understood, the five of them cleared the rest of the building, leaving the huddle until the end.  They moved as a unit, encountering only two undead, both of them dispatched via halligan soundlessly.  When they got to the last room of the second hallway, Bookbinder pulled the men together.

“Alright, silence from here out.” Charlie whispered.  “This is the room where the receptionists sat.  The end of this room has thick bullet proof glass, with a hole cut out for speaking through.  The three of you stay here.  Creep up on that glass, on your bellies if you have to, do not let them see you.”

Garrett, Hostetler, and Johnson nodded their understanding.

When you hear Reineer and I firing, open fire through the speaking ports in that huge window.  When they’re all down, Reineer and I will step in and finish any with our halligans, you three stay in your position and give us some cover.

Reineer and Bookbinder backtracked down the empty hallways to the first set of double doors, creeping the last ten feet sliding along the wall.  The doors opened into the big room by a breaker bar.  Bookbinder held up three fingers and pantomimed kicking the breaker bar.

Reineer nodded his acknowledgement and both men put their earplugs in.  Bookbinder started the countdown.  One finger, two fingers, and on the third finger, both men kicked the doors open and opened fire.  Bookbinder thumbed his weapon to single shot, and aimed each bullet through the ACOG scope.  That scope was designed to be fired with both eyes open, allowing him to acquire targets much faster than with a regular scope.

Reineer opened up on full auto, cutting the zombies down.  According to their training, the four men with Bookbinder were to lay down rotating heavy suppression fire.  Zombies had no fear, but if you put enough bullets into their spine, they did lose the ability to stand upright.  A slow dragger was easier to handle than a walker.  That bought time for Bookbinder to pick them off one by one with headshots.

At the end of the firing, the room was filled with the smell of gun smoke, and the cluster of zombies was dead, shredded from the volume of bullets pumped into them.  At the sound of the doors being kicked open, they wheeled around to be met a hail of bullets.  Bookbinder only missed one shot, but silently chided himself for wasting that one bullet.

“Great work, men.  You’ve earned your combat stripes today,” said Charlie.  “Let’s meet back at the first room”

When the other three arrived in the first room, Bookbinder handed out the orders for the second part of the mission.  “Garrett, Hostetler, make your way to the roof, and see how hard it will be to remove the radio tower, then report back.  Reineer, you’re with me, we’re going looking for keys, guns, ammo, and vests.”

“What about me, sir?”

“Johnson, you’re on corpse duty.  Glove up and search those bodies out there.  Haul the corpses from in here out to the lobby.”

“Yes, Sir,” replied Johnson, somewhat less than enthusiastically.

“Yes Sir!” the other men said, as they all went their separate ways inside the building.  Charlie knew that the door to the garage was in the next room over.  He’d had to breach the door with the halligan the first time through; whichever officer had the keys decided not to leave them on a hook for him right by the door.  This time the door swung easily open, and led them into the garage where the SWAT truck was parked.

“Reineer, find the keys to this van please.  You might check with Johnson in a few minutes to see if he’s found them,” Bookbinder ordered.

Reineer started searching the garage for the keys while Bookbinder headed for the weapons locker on the far side of the room.  Bookbinder’s halligan made quick work of the lock on the arms locker and he stepped into the walk-in closet sized police arsenal.  Charlie’s eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when he entered the locker.  Along one of the walls were rows of rifles and shotguns.  The other long wall was all handguns, with 30 Heckler-Koch g36K assault rifles standing in racks along the middle.  The same gun that Bookbinder himself carried.  These super short barrel folding stock assault rifles were perfect for close quarters combat.  They were designed for short range accuracy, and substantial rate of fire.  At the back was the ammunition locker, which was unlocked.  Inside it held 8500 rounds of 5.52×49 ammunition for the assault rifles, various rounds for the shotguns and rifles, including nearly 2000 double-ought buck shot.

Bookbinder left the weapons cage and went to find a cart to load this on in the event that Reineer was unable to find the keys to the swat truck.  On the way by the truck Bookbinder looked in the window, and saw the keys hanging in the ignition.

“Reineer!” Bookbinder yelled, a grin on his face.

Dalton Reineer came running in, “Yes sir?” he said, skidding to a halt.

“The keys are in the ignition.  Don’t overlook the obvious,” Bookbinder said, clapping the man on the back.

“Sorry sir.  I found keys to a bunch of vehicles outside too.”

“Nice work then.  Help me load the armory into this thing.  I want the central racks too, and every round of ammunition in the cage.  Load and save four of the HK’s and four extra mags for each.  I’m going to sweet the perimeter and check on Johnson on corpse duty.”

Bookbinder walked out of the garage, back through the lobby of the police station.  The door leading outside was standing open.  Bookbinder saw Johnson with his weapon drawn, crouched behind a car.  The only reason he’d take cover would be if someone had a gun.  That meant humans.

Bookbinder shouldered his H&K, and started edging out the door until he could see what Johnson was looking at.  Frye and six of his men had pulled up in two Humvees and were mounting their .50 caliber on the turret.

“Frye,” Charlie called out in his best command voice.  “We have you outgunned and out-manned!  You have no cover, and we have superior weapons.  Stand down.”  This was not a suggestion, it was an order.

“Charlie? Is that you?  Come outside and let’s talk.”

“Stand down Colonel.  Weapons down.  I will fire.”

“Ok Charlie.  We’re at ease.  Come on out.”

“Johnson!  We clear?”

“Clear Sir.  I have Frye.”

Charlie walked out, watching 1 eye through the ACOG scope, the other focusing on targets.  If any of them moved, it would be their last move.  Charlie walked in a near crouch, sideways to present the smallest target, keeping Frye in his sights.

“What are you thinking? We’re on the same side here,” said Bookbinder.

“We didn’t know who you were, we were just protecting ourselves,” he replied calmly.

“Johnson, did you discharge your weapon?”

“No sir, your orders were last resort only.  When I saw Frye’s men watching us from the road across that field, I waved to them.  At that, they mounted up and came at me weapons hot.  Seeing as I was by myself out here, I thought it wise to find cover.  That’s when you came out.”

“Frye, get in your truck.  Turn around, and go back to your base.  If you approach another of my men with weapons drawn, they have orders to fire.” Bookbinder ordered. “Johnson, did you hear that?”

“Sir, yes sir. Fire at will.” replied Johnson.

“Go now Frye.  You may come by the farm tomorrow at noon if you’d like to discuss this incident with my command.  Do not make the mistake of spying on us again.”  Charlie backed away from the fence as Frye and his men got in their truck, backed out of the spot and took off.

“Garrett, Hostetler, stand down!” Bookbinder called without turning towards the building.

“Sir, yes sir.” Garrett and Hostetler stood up from their prone positions on the roof.

“What’s the situation up there boys?”

“Radio amplifier and broadcast antenna are disassembled, ready to be lowered down, sir.”

“Nice work fellas.  Really top notch work here today,” replied Bookbinder.

“Johnson, did you see anything else out of the ordinary?”

“Sir, we had attracted a few zombies, 10 or 15 standing at the fence.  No real worry, none were near the gate or making any move to go.  About 10 minutes before I saw Frye, they turned their heads and started walking off that way.”

“That’s the propane depot,” replied Bookbinder.

“Men! Double time!” yelled Bookbinder, running inside to grab the swat truck.  Frye showing up, zombies heading towards Tookes and crew.  His soldiers sense told him something was wrong.  A few seconds after that, he heard Tookes’ voice in his head say “There are 200 more coming, and maybe more behind that.  I suggest we go to weapons and end this.”

Bookbinder broke into a run, heading for the swat truck.  When he got there, Johnson right on his heels, Dalton Reineer was just finishing loading all of the weapons, ammo, and racks into the truck.  Bookbinder hit the garage door opener, hopped in and started the engine.  He backed it three quarters of the way out of the garage bay and put the truck in park.  He climbed up the ladder on the back of the truck as Garrett handed him the first piece of the antenna assembly.  Bookbinder then it handed down to Johnson on the ground.  They handed the six pieces of the assembly off the roof, then Hostetler and Garrett jumped down onto the roof of the truck.   Reineer backed out of the shop with them on the roof, when they passed the Explorer they came in, he stopped the truck so they could jump off the roof.

They parked about a hundred yards from the propane depot.  While they were jogging towards the gate, they heard a big truck engine roar to life.  They passed a huge group of zombies, maybe 1000 or more coming from way off in a field below the depot. They crossed the last few yards to the propane depot and saw the four of them, the group they called “Command” lined up like a group of super heroes making their last stand.

Leo was a joy to watch.  Marshall was fearless, wading into groups of zombies, keeping them at bay with those massive hammers he carried.  John was the best gunman Bookbinder had ever seen, and of course Tookes.  Charlie hadn’t quite figured out how Tookes was still alive, but he’d gotten the best of Watley and the best of that teleporting zombie at the battle on the front lawn, so he had to have something.  He was a good leader and Bookbinder respected him.

M1 advanced in the sideways crouch that they’d practiced.  They walked in a straight line.  At twenty five yards they took aim and fired. From then it was just aim, fire, aim, fire.  They killed all the zombies before they made it up to Tookes’ team.

“There are at least a thousand more that all turned their heads this way right before we heard that first engine start up.  We need to get out of here,” said Bookbinder, noting they had both big trucks running now.

End of the Sample

If you enjoyed the sample and would like to continue reading, What Zombies Fear: The Maxists is for sale ($2.99) on Amazon

2.04 Sniper

We loaded up in the trucks, Bookbinder and his crew in the swat van, Marshall in the disgusting rotting flesh propane truck, Leo in the other.  John drove the pickup truck full of equipment, and I led the way in the yellow jeep, and headed for home.

We drove slowly through town; I wanted to get a feel for how things were in Culpeper.  There were occasional pockets of undead, and as we passed, they would look up and start shambling our way.  We watched behind us, for the most part they stopped coming after us when we were half a mile or so ahead of them.  That was good to know, I was slightly worried they’d follow us all the way to our house.

On two occasions, the undead were blocking the road.  Both groups were around a dozen in a tight pack, walking down the middle of the road.  It was interesting to watch them, they seemed to mostly stick to the roads or sidewalks.  It was very seldom that they went through yards or grass, unless they were directly chasing something to eat.  Maybe the pavement was easier walking, I don’t know.  We were trying to save ammunition, and since we had both teams together, we were killing them with hand to hand weapons.  I was pretty confident in my “charge, sidestep, hatchet to the head” technique.

The stupid zombies never did anything differently.  They had one attack plan.  They walked towards you, grabbed at you, whatever part of you protruded or they could first get their hands on.  Last they tried to get their teeth into you.

Marshall, on the other hand, had adopted a smash and smash technique.  He smashed their hands with one hammer and then came across the temple with the other.  The corpses he left with his short handled sledge hammers all looked the same.  Mangled arms, smashed temple.

Leo of course was a dervish, she bobbed and wheeled around, slicing with her short swords, she seldom killed with a single strike, but she also seldom fought a single zombie.  She preferred to take them on in groups, whittling then down slice by slice as she weaved in between them.  John had collected all of the knives he found in the warehouse, just cheap case knives, but he could throw them from fifty feet or one foot away and put them in a zombie’s eye.  He worked the hardest to maintain the slightest distance, I’m sure he was deadly in close quarters, but he liked to have some room to work.

The surprise of the day was Bookbinder.  He moved with grace like Leo, and strength like Marshall.  He used a machete and a tire knocker, which looked a lot like a small wooden bat.  This small club was about 18 inches long and solid oak.  Charlie used it to steer the zombies, lining them up, controlling them.

On more than one occasion I watched him jam the miniature club in the mouth of a corpse and drive it to the ground, following that up with a quick thrust from his machete, which he’d ground to a point, instead of the usual rounded tip.  He was a normal, unaltered, every day human, but he was every bit a lifetime, career warrior.  All of my advantages, being able to read auras and being able to consider and see my opponent’s next move make me probably equal to Bookbinders natural combat prowess

Almost all of M1 carried the same weapons combination, and all of them fought with the same style, clearly Charlie had been training them.  Control first, kill second.  They all used their club as a blocking, driving almost shield like weapon.  On more than one occasion I saw them jam it in the mouth of a zombie at the last moment, saving their arm or a comrade’s arm from a bite.  These men were not immune, or if they were they didn’t know it, and yet they fought with the same fierceness, almost abandon with which the four of us did.

We stopped at the gas station before leaving town.  They had gasoline tanks buried in the front of the store; this was one of those mega convenience stores with 30 gas pumps and 10 diesel pumps.

“I just want to see what they have for now; we’re going to have to make another run out here.” I said.  “But first I’d like to figure out some way to store a large quantity of gasoline back at the farm.  I don’t want to have to make trips out here every couple of days.  And I don’t trust that others won’t either take all the gas or wreck it so no one can use it.  Let’s take an inventory of what’s here, I’ll be right back.”

The front doors of the convenience store had been blown apart, maybe by shotgun blasts or maybe from a vehicle, it was hard to tell from the mangled mess.  I stepped through the doorway crunching on broken glass.  Just inside the doors was a zombie with an ornately carved African looking short spear sticking out of its head.  On my way by, I yanked the spear free, and walked down the aisles carrying it like a walking stick. In the 2nd to last isle, I found what I was looking for, the M&M’s.  Max loved M&M’s.  He’d be thrilled to have some.  I took every bag of every flavor M&M, emptying the boxes of candy into my backpack.

I opened the refrigerator, and took a diet Mountain Dew off the rack.  It was hot.  Not just not cold, but hot.  I grabbed 3 more and added them to the top of the pack, before returning to the front of the store.  Behind the cash register, I grabbed three cartons of cigarettes, filling the rest of my pack with every flavor of menthol cigarette left on the shelves.  I walked back out in the late afternoon sun to see Marshall and John talking animatedly.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” I asked.

“Marshall says there’s ten thousand gallons of fuel here, across the 3 grades of gasoline you blokes have.  I don’t see how he gets to that number, by my calculations, there’s 38,000 liters.”

“John, that’s 10,038 gallons.” I said after a second’s calculation.  I grinned “We’re in America, use imperial measurements, the metric system is flawed.”

“Don’t make me beat you within 2.54 centimeters of ya life.” He replied with a smirk.

We all laughed, and we loaded back up in the trucks.

At the edge of the business section of town was the library.  It had been built only a few years before, during the housing boom of the early 2000’s, when tax revenue was high and the town felt like it had all the money in the world.  They’d spent $16 million dollars on that library, something that had disgusted me at the time.  Now I was grateful that it was there.  A huge 3 story stone building with triple pane UV protected bullet proof glass, surrounded by giant stone planters with huge trees growing in them.  The stone planters were big enough to stop a large truck, modeling the architecture of post 9/11 Washington DC.  The knowledge of mankind was safe in that building, and there it would stay, in the most protected place, until we were ready to go retrieve it.

The outside of Culpeper was ringed by residential neighborhoods. When the town had living people in it, the locals knew to cut through one neighborhood to get from the main road through town over to Route 15.  That route was my habit, and I instinctively turned into the neighborhood that day.  We were almost through that neighborhood when I heard a blood curdling scream.

Simultaneously all of the trucks came to a halt.  I grabbed my new spear as Leo and I dismounted the jeep and ran a hundred yards to see a man in shorts and a tee shirt get tackled to the ground.  He was screaming, trying to get away from what was left of a woman.  Six months ago she would have been a reasonably attractive girl.  She was wearing little tiny shorts that said PINK across her ass.  The pink shorts were stained brown, and she had a little bit of a white tee shirt left on.  Most of the shirt had been ripped away at some point, exposing her from the neck down.  Almost all the flesh was missing from her neck down, the bones of her rib cage shone in the last of the daylight.  Based on the amount of missing flesh around her midsection, I would say she’d been turned by several zombies feasting on her.  The tee shirt neck was still intact, and one sleeve.  The rest of it hung down her back, like a cape covered in dried blood.

We ducked back around the corner of large house with pale blue siding.  I stopped behind some prickly bushes, to take stock of the scene.

Leo started to charge in, but I grabbed her hand and stopped her.  Something didn’t seem right.  I quickly studied the scene.  There were no weapons on the ground nearby; the man had no back pack on.  ”Who would be smart enough to survive this long, and then leave the house without weapons or a pack?” I whispered to Leo.  ”Something is wrong.”

“He could have dropped them when he ran,” she said softly.  “He could have lost them.  He could have been asleep and they surprised him.”

“Sure, but something doesn’t feel right.  Do you feel it?” I whispered

“No, I see a man that needs help,” she whispered fiercely.

“Leo, he was dead the minute he got tackled.  There’s nothing we can do now except put him out of his misery.  This is wrong.  My gut tells me something is wrong.”

Into the throat mic, I whispered “Bookbinder, check out our position, head around behind the house, there’s something wrong here.  Have John and Marshall move up past the yellow house to our left, but circle over a block before coming up this way.”

Leo and I stood there, transfixed by the man’s screams.  ”Help!” He yelled as I poked my head around the corner “My name is Andrew Zione, Help!  I’m humaaa”.  His cries left off into a gurgle of screams as the zombie bit into his crotch, ripping meat from the inside of his leg, I could hear its teeth scraping Andrew’s thigh bone.

The thing pulled its head away dragging tendons with it like floss between the festering corpses teeth, blood spurted from Andrew’s leg wound.  The zombie chewed twice and swallowed the hunk of thigh meat.  The next bite the zombie took was Andrew’s manhood, ripping it away from his body, chewing slowly.  The screams raised several octaves and became louder, as the zombie dove in for a third bite, peeling the flesh away from his belly, allowing Andrew’s guts to slide out like links of raw sausage onto the grass.

“Fuck, how is he still alive?” I said.  The screams still haunt me.

“Vic, I… We… We can’t… This can’t go on.” Leo stammered.

“Leo, there’s something very wrong.  This is a setup, I can feel it.”

I considered running in there, a shadow shot out from my body.  When shadow-me got two feet from Andrew’s decimated body it’s head exploded, and it fell over sideways.

“There’s a sniper somewhere.” I whispered into the mic.

“Sir, M1 is breaching the houses to the south.  Marshall and John are heading around to the north.  We’ll find it.”

I tried to speak quietly using my subspace voice, focused entirely on John’s aura in my mind, attempting to speak only to him. “John, there’s a sniper that’s got us pinned here.  I can’t see him.  We can’t move.  Find him and take it out.

“Leo, did you hear me just then?”

“I didn’t hear a thing.”

“Yes, I was trying to talk directly to John.  I hope he heard me.”

Andrew kept screaming.  This girl was definitely being controlled by something, I’ve only seen a few zombie attacks like this one, mostly on that first day, but those zombies were ravenous, they bit and ate whatever parts came near their mouths.   These bites are being chosen to inflict the maximum pain without killing the victim.  The zombie girl moved upwards, leaving a trail of his guts lying on the grass.  She sat on his chest and took a bite of Andrew’s face, ripping his nose off.  Fresh blood spattered the ghoul’s face, as she sat up and slowly chewed, looking directly at us.  Andrew’s screams became wet, gurgling moans of pain.  He was writhing under her, but her knees held his arms pinned securely.

The rancid corpse turned around and put her ass on Andrews face as she reached into his belly and pulled out a rope of thick slimy guts.  I’d swear she looked directly at me and smiled before she bit his intestine in half.  Stinking bile, so strong we could smell it from our spot hiding under a bush leaked out of the intestine, down her chin, dripping into the man’s stomach cavity.

Andrew’s moans became quieter, muffled when the zombie sat down on his face, smothering his anguished cries.  Almost all of the undead we’d encountered had shit themselves, and of course they’d never bothered to clean up the natural release at death.  At least Andrew had no nose with which to smell the 6 month old rotting feces covered ass that was smothering him to death while the zombie ate his guts.  Finally the muffled moaning stopped completely.

At last, we heard a shot ring out from the south, followed by Bookbinder’s voice on the radio “Sniper terminated.  All clear sir.”

I stepped around the corner of the house, sig in my hand ready to put both corpses out of their misery.  When I get in sight of the bloody mess on the ground, there are no zombies to be found.  No footprints in the grass, no blood trail, no nothing.  Just a bloody, mashed down spot in the long grass, and a bit of intestine lying on the lawn.

“What the fuck?” I swore to myself.

Leo sobbed into my shoulder.  The horror of what we just saw was too much for even the tough Spartan woman.  I turned and hugged her tightly for a moment before we walked back to the jeep.

The ride home was quiet.  We saw no more zombies as we sped down the highway, paying no attention to the speed limit signs we passed.  It wasn’t likely we’d ever pass another car.

We spotted a herd of nine deer off to the side of the road.  In the rear view mirror I saw John point his pistol out the side of the truck he was driving.  As he did, I slowed the jeep.  He fired two shots, and two deer dropped over sideways where the stood.  The jeep bounced easily over the edge of the road and down a small bank.  The rest of the crew kept going the last two miles to the house as I pulled up to the two dead deer.

“Help me load these.” I said, hopping out the driver’s side of the jeep.

Leo stepped down off the other side, and said “Poor deer, never had a chance.  At least when I hunt I give them a sporting chance, I run them down.”

“Leo, these deer died to feed us.  They were never afraid, they never felt anything.  I’m grateful for the meat.  There is no sport in you running down a buck.  You can run 100 times faster than it can.” I chided.

Leo looked hurt, her face scrunched into a frown.  I stepped towards her, wrapping her in my arms.

“I’m sorry darlin’. I’m a little out of sorts from watching that guy Andrew, but I couldn’t risk your life for him, he was infected by the time we saw him.  I couldn’t risk you.  What if that sniper had been as good at shooting as John?  What if he shot you? I buried my head in her shoulder, and hugged her for a long time.

We loaded the two carcasses up on the hood of the Jeep, and headed for home.  It had been a long day, I was tired, and I still had to find out how The CVS and Clinic raids went, dress and process these two deer, and find some time to be a father to my little boy, who I missed very much at that moment.