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Re-Railing

The train came to a shuddering, violent halt.  The three men in train car rolled to their hands and knees. The floor was sloped at a steep angle, which made it almost impossible to stand.  They crawled to the door and rolled to the ground.

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Ratton

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Lacey showed up at the saloon at noon the next day, looking disgusting again.  Charlotte let her in and got her some basic supplies.

“We all put together a few outfits for you.  Taylor wants to give you a haircut, and Ashley wants to see how you can dance, and give you some general pointers on handling the marks that come in here.”

“I got thirty minutes of sleep last night.  I can barely function.  I was hoping that I could get a shower and a few hours of sleep, like we talked about.”

“Sure, honey.  I didn’t mean you have to do all that now.  I was just letting you know how excited we all are that you’re joining us.  Do you remember where the shower is?”

“Yep, top of the stairs, on the left.”

“Good.  Knock yourself out.  Try to keep it under three minutes.  Then you can sleep in my room, until we can find another for you.  The only empty rooms we have right now are the boys.  Brian’s room smells like a high school locker room, and Andy’s smells like a gun store.  The rest of them are worse.  Normally I’d put you on the couch, but I think you’ll sleep better in a real bed.”

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“Any time, hun.  If you’re ever looking for someone to wash your back, you know where to find me.”

“Uhh, thanks.” Lacy turned red and ran up the stairs.

Charlie spent the afternoon deep in inventory, setting the night’s specials based on what they had the most of, and of course, putting up the bounty of the week.  This week it was sheets and towels.  Anyone who brought in sheets, towels and other linens that were not worn out got double credits on everything they brought in.

One of the shop’s best suppliers, Jacob Weis had been receiving double credit for months.  He never talked about where he found anything, but he was definitely her best finder.  Every Friday, he came in with four or five hard looking men.  They drank all they could, tipped well, and were generally well behaved.  She didn’t expect tonight to be much different.

At five, she went upstairs to wake Lacy.  Charlie heard something odd, and listened at the door for a moment.  A faint buzzing and heavy breathing came from her room.  She’d left her toy basket out that morning, and Lacy was apparently enjoying  herself.

Charlotte waited until he was finished, gave her a minute to catch her breath, and then opened the door.  “Hey Lacy.”

The girl pulled the sheets up quickly.  “Good morning.”

Charlie sat on the edge of the bed.  “No reason to be shy.  We all do it.  In a few hours you’re going to be naked on stage.  Get up, we have work to do!”

Lacy sat up, just as Taylor and Ashley walked in.

“Damn, lazy! Get out of bed.  We’re going to make you beautiful, little girl!”  Ashley called every girl little girl.  Probably because she was six feet tall with a wingspan to match, and always wore platform heels that made her tower over anyone.

Taylor tossed Lacy a towel.  “Go get your hair wet, be fast, we only have an hour.”  Lacy ran across the hall, and less than a minute later was back, shivering and wet.

She quickly put on a pair of sweatpants and a thin white tee shirt that were sitting in the chair and then Taylor got to work. Lacy’s hair had almost four inches of dead ends, which Taylor removed before she added layers and shaped it up.  When she finished with her hair, she started with makeup.

“Remember you’re on stage.  Stage lights do terrible things.”

On the small table in front of her was the most makeup Lacy had seen in a very long time.  Before everyone got sick, she would occasionally shop in the makeup store close to USC when she was in college.  She had learned a few tricks and picked up an expensive foundation one time, but that was nothing in comparison to the sheer volume of products that sat in front of her.

As Taylor worked, she explained to Lacy what the different products would do and why they were important.  Concealer to hide the dark circles under her eyes, foundation to even her tone, blush to give her face some color, contouring to shape her face and highlighter to accentuate her cheek bones and the bridge of her nose.  Taylor had clearly done this before and worked the products with ease.  Lacy was simply overwhelmed.

“Darlin’, we gotta make those honey eyes of yours pop!” Taylor winked at her and swirled her small makeup brush in pan of cobalt blue shadow.

“Uh…are you sure?”

Taylor grinned at her.  “Absolutely.”

Fifteen minutes later, Lacy’s eyes looked to be five times larger than they were before.  The bright blue she was worried about blended seamlessly into a dark brown.  Her eyeliner went out into a wing and her lashes looked enormous.  As she blinked, she couldn’t even tell they were fake.

“Kinda like a modern Marilyn Monroe.  Whatcha think?” Taylor asked, jutting her hip out to one side.  She looked pleased with herself.

Lacy stood up and leaned into the mirror.  “Wow.  I never…  I haven’t…  I’m speechless,” she said.  Lacy spun around and hugged Taylor.  “I don’t know what to say.”

“Get dressed,” said Taylor.  “You can thank me later with a lap dance.  I’m claiming the first one.”

“Oh, I.. I mean, you’re really beautiful, and all.  But I just.”

Taylor leaned in close to her ear and whispered softly, “You’re just what?”  Her breath was hot in Lacy’s ears.

“Oh shit,” Lacy said.

“See,” said Taylor. “It’s not so hard.  No one knows how to show you a good time like another woman.”

“I just can’t.” Lacy was firm this time.

“I’m sorry, darlin’.  You just get dressed and go on down to Ashley.  She’s going to show you some moves.”

“Thank you.  Really.  I’m so sorry.”

Lacy pulled on a black g-string, and a tiny pair of black shorts, then put on a floor-length black coat.  The entire front of the coat was made up by a three inch zipper between her ample breasts.

“Damn girl, you look hot,” said Taylor, slapping her on the butt.  “Go on down to Ashley.”

Lacy went down stairs, and Taylor and Charlotte sat down on Charlie’s bed.

“How long do you think she’ll last?”

“I give her three days,” said Taylor.  “If she comes back tomorrow.”

The pair heard the music start up.

“I don’t think she’s going to come back tomorrow,” said Charlotte.

“You know, we have a few minutes,” Taylor said softly.  She leaned in towards Charlie and kissed her softly.

Forty five minutes later, the pair looked up.  “I’ll go see what’s going on,” Charlotte said, pulling her pants back on.

She made it to the door when she heard gunfire, and then screams.

“Shit. Fuck, shit,” She whispered.  “In the headboard, grab the pistol, Tay.”  She pulled a short barreled scatter gun out of her closet, and put a handful of shells in her pocket.

“I have to get to my room.”

There was shouting from the room below.  “No time, we have to go.  Stay close behind me.”

Charlotte opened the door to the hall and walked halfway down the stairs.  She stopped, and shouted, “Who the fuck is shooting up my god damned bar?”

“I apologize for the gunplay, Ma’am,” called Jim Ratton.  “It was a misunderstanding at the door.”

Charlie strode down the stairs.  “And why exactly are you in my bar? We don’t open for another forty five minutes.”

“I hold, here in my hand, a writ.  You are hereby ordered closed, and all assets to be seized by order of the New Vegas council.”

She strode up to Ratton and pressed the barrel of her shotgun into his chest.  “We’re not in New Vegas.  You have no authority here.  I’ll appreciate if you would leave the writ here though.  We’re running a little low on toilet paper.”

Ratton puffed his chest.  “We will cut off all citizens of New Vegas from visiting this establishment.  We’ll see how well you do without any patrons.”

“You aren’t going to do shit, Ratton.  Except, you’re going to turn your fucking ass around and walk out of this bar.”  She pulled the shotgun back and punched him in the chest with it, knocking him a step back.

Two of Ratton’s men pointed their guns at Charlotte.  Taylor stepped forward and put her gun in the face of one.  Lacy pulled a small derringer from between her tits and put it to the temple of the other.  “This gun ain’t big,” she said, “But it’ll splatter your brains all over the governor there.  You put that gun down.”

“This isn’t the last you’ll see of me.  You hear me?”  Ratton was practically screaming.  “This place is shut down! No one is allowed here.  Anyone caught coming or going will be staked to the wall overnight.”

“You’ll have riots in less than three days and a new council by the end of the week. Enjoy your time there, Governor.  Get the fuck out of my bar.”

“Next time, I’ll bring an army,” Ratton said, turning to walk out.

“Next time, you better.”  Charlotte stood her ground until Ratton was gone.  Then she went to the bar and poured herself a whiskey.
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There Was a Firefight

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The trip to Henderson Veterinary was uneventful.  Andy pulled up in front of the vet’s office and killed the engine on the buggy.

“Aww, baby, tell me they didn’t hurt you,” Brian said as lept out to inspect their buggy for any damage.

Andy knelt at the front door and put his flashlight in his mouth.  He slid the key he found before they left into the lock and applied a slight pressure, trying to turn it.  Then he tapped the back of the key with his flashlight.  In less than a minute he had the bolt unlocked, and the door open.

“How’s she lookin’?” Andy called back to Brian.

“Ain’t a scratch on her.  I don’t think they fired a shot, dumb sons of bitches never even knew what hit ‘em.”

Brian grabbed an empty backpack out of the back of the dune buggy, pulled a small flashlight out of a pouch on his belt, and he and Brian entered the office.  “Don’t look like nobody’s been in here.  Let’s grab some shit and go.  I wanna get back and finish them fuckers off.”

The pair loaded up the bag, plus everything they could carry and headed out.  Andy reached the door open as Brian was coming up the hall.  Tiny specks of light lit up the floor through the holes in the shuttered blinds.  Brian split them with his fingers to see the headlights of a pair of trucks shining in the front of the building.

“Andy, no!” shouted Brian

Andy moved with incredible speed, diving behind a couch that was backed up to the outside wall.  Brian dove behind the reception desk and hoped none of them had high caliber rifles.

The second after the door moved, bullets flew.  The front windows shattered, spewing glass and debris all over the inside of the office.  The shades were torn down, allowing moonlight to filter into the room.  Andy and Brian lay curled up in the fetal position, butt and feet towards the incoming bullets, protecting their heads and core.  Both were well trained.

“Wait for them to come in,” Brian shout-whispered.  The hail of led stopped and Brian, quieter this time whispered, “You shot?”  Andy shook his head.

Brian un-holstered the pistol at his waist, and saw Andy do the same.  “Wait as long as you can,” said Andy.

Seconds later, the door screeched open, grinding glass shards into the linoleum floor.  Four men poured in the door.  Andy and Brian lay perfectly still.

“We got ‘em, boys!” yelled the first man.  The two friends heard a cheer from outside.

The four marauders split into pairs, one heading for Andy and the other for Brian.  Almost simultaneously, the marauders poked Brian and Andy with the barrels of their rifles.  Both men quickly rolled over and fired twice, killing all four marauders.

Andy stood up and looked at Brian before yelling in a perfect impression of the marauder, “Double tapped those motherfuckers.  Come on in boys, let’s clear this place out.”

Brian and Andy backed down the hall and waited.  The remaining men poured through the door into the moonlit lobby and were cut down where they stood.

Less than a minute later, the entire office was full of gun smoke.  The smell of blood and burned powder filled their noses.  Brian let out a low, “Fucccccccck you, bitches!”

Andy ran up and kicked one of the dead men.  “You don’t fuck with us!  We’ll lay you motherfucking sons of bitches dick in the motherfucking dirt!”

Outside, one remaining marauder ran off, jumped over a concrete wall into the back yard of one of the vacant houses and kept running.

Brian and Andy loaded the supplies into the buggy, along with everything valuable they could scavenge from the dead marauders.  One of them had a decent pair of boots, another had a leather jacket.  Andy started it up, while Brian headed towards the best looking of the two marauder trucks.

“Let’s go finish ‘em off.  Wonder if they left anyone back there?”

“Probably not.  But we gotta be careful anyway.  They surprised us once,” replied Brian.

“Grab the keys outta that other truck. We’ll come back for it later,” called Andy.

The marauder barn was, in fact, empty.  The two parked their vehicles and cleared the building before loading up a few useful items .  The marauders had food, water, a massive supply of ammunition, and the barn was a treasure trove of tools.

“We ain’t never gonna get all this shit back to Nykos.  It’s gonna take us a dozen trips.”

“Nyko came here for that track plow, right? To get all the sand off the tracks?  What if we use that to pull one of these boxcars?”

“We gotta get these meds to Nyko though.  We should drive home, then we can come back with some help to load it all up,” said Andy.

I like the way you think, brother-man,” replied Brain.

When they pulled into the garage it was nearly seven o’clock.  Charlotte came striding through the warehouse to meet them.  “Where have you been?  Andy, you were supposed to be on the door an hour ago.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” said Andy.  “We went to get Nyko some antibiotics, and ran into a little trouble.”

“We got a bunch of medicine though,” said Brian cheerfully.

“You should have let me know where you were going.  Not only were we short staffed, which I could have covered if I’d known, I was worried about you.”

“We’re sorry,” the pair intoned together.

“What did you get?”

“Andy found a book in the vet’s office.  It said gut wounds need some C –E – F antibiotics.” Brian spelled out the letters.  “We grabbed everything that started with C-E-F and everything that ended with ‘cillin.”

“Good job, boys.  Let’s go check on our patient.”

When they got up to Nyko’s room, he was awake.  Sweat beads dotted his forehead.  “Hey, Charlie, boys.” He said weakly.  “What happened?”

“Your intestine was ruptured.  I sewed you up.  You’ve been asleep for almost twelve hours.”  She laid her hand on his forehead, he was burning up.

“You have a fever, which tells me you have an infection.  The boys just raided a vet’s office and brought you a bunch of medicine.  I’m going to change out your IV now,” she said.  Brian and Andy were impressed by her authority.

“Thanks, Charlie,” Nyko said.  He smiled up at her.

“How’s the pain?” she asked.

“Feels like someone stabbed me in the gut.”

“Boss, me an’ Andy here wiped all them fuckers out.  We checked out that barn, it’s got everything we need.  We just needed to get these meds to you before we loaded it all up and cleared our way back here.”

“Nice work, fellas.  Thanks for getting me all fixed up.  I need to chat with Charlie now.  Can you go cover the saloon for a few minutes?”

“Sure thing, boss.”  Andy and Brian grinned from ear to ear as they left.

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5.05 Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.03 Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you gonna do about water?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the service of Max, Nathaniel Rotelle.

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

5.01 Gander Acres

Kris never let go of Alicia’s hand as they disappeared from the desert. They traveled through space and time in an instant and once Kris opened her eyes, she found that they had safely reached the front yard of the main house on Gander Acres. All of the air in her lungs rushed out of Kris in a loud WHOOSH.

“We made it,” she laughed, shaking her head.

“I told you we would,” Alicia said with a smile. She brought Kris’s hand up to her lips and placed a kiss on her soft skin. The two women locked eyes for only a moment before Alicia gestured up to the house. “Let’s go check on Markus.”

They trotted up the hill and pushed in the front door. Kris was immediately put at ease with the familiar, safe feeling of the house. The smell of boiled potatoes, green beans and ham filled her nose and Kris realized that it had been a long time since she had anything real to eat. Even though she had been here only yesterday, her stomach had been in anxious knots and she hadn’t eaten anything the whole day. A wave of comfort came over Kris and while she didn’t dare to hope for a change, she couldn’t help but believe that maybe, just maybe, this place would become her new “normal.” A new life was possible here if she was willing to give it a shot. The faith that Kris had in Alicia made her truly believe that really living was possible. As Kris thought about all of the potential for her life, a huge smile spread across her face. It was time to breathe.

The two women rounded the corner into the kitchen. Liam was sitting at the kitchen table, pouring over a map of the farm and the surrounding area.

“Hey Liam,” Alicia said.

The curly-haired redhead jumped in surprise as he looked up. “Holy hell, you’re back!” As he stood, he almost knocked the table and the chair to the floor. He launched himself across the room and warmly embraced Alicia. As he pulled back from the embrace, he looked at her carefully. “We were worried you wouldn’t come back.”

Alicia laughed. “Why wouldn’t I come back?”

Liam shrugged. “You know the folks here. Paranoia is their way of life.”

“How’s Markus?” Kris asked.

“Conscious most of the day now. I don’t know what happened, but he managed to outgrow and break his bed overnight,” he replied as the small group walked up the stairs and then down the hall to Markus’s room. They stopped just outside the door as Liam continued. “And he’s eating everything in the house and then some. He looks like he’s healed, but he’s still really weak.”

“I can hear you, you know!” A voice called from inside the room.

Alicia smiled broadly and opened the door. Markus was already laughing and she leapt onto the bed, hugging her brother close to her. “Good Lord, Markus. You’re huge!” The siblings shared a laugh as Alicia poked Markus’s now bulging muscles. The brother and sister rapidly spoke to each other, explaining what had happened the night Markus was bit and where Alicia had been for the past day and a half.

Liam tapped Kris on the shoulder and gestured for her to follow him back to the kitchen. The two of them made their way downstairs and sat down at the wooden table. Riley was in the kitchen now, large spoon in hand, stirring the pot of potatoes. The ginger pushed the map he was looking at towards Kris. He didn’t have a very happy look on his face.

Before he should speak, the tea kettle on the stove began whistling ostentatiously. Liam stood up, grabbed the kettle, a smaller stoneware tea kettle, and three cups. He placed the cups in front of them and sat back down. It would take a few minutes for the tea to fully steep. The silence between them seemed to stretch on forever.

“I wish I had good news, Kris,” Liam finally said. He reached towards the teapot and poured all three of them a cup of earl grey tea.

Kris held the mug tightly in her hands, breathing in the sweet smell of the dark tea. She shook her head and softly replied, “Shit. I was afraid you’d say that. I had a feeling that things had been too easy.”

“We always have someone watching every square inch of this farm. And if they’re not watching the farm, someone is watching the everything else.”

Kris nodded, taking a short sip of the tea.

“There’s a whole group of zombies on their way here as we speak. And we’re so unprepared. There’s no way we have enough ammo to take them all out.” He pointed to the map on the table. “From what we can see, they’re coming from where we were almost totally burnt out from the fires.” Liam saw the look of confusion on Kris’s face and then clarified. “North east.”

“Right,” she paused again, deep in thought. “So what do we do?”

A smirk moved across Liam’s face and he glanced over to Riley. The older man was smiling broadly. “It was Riley’s idea. It’s a little risky, but I think it’ll work.”

____________________

It was Neil’s shift to watch the main road. Given that the farm was so massive, they had developed a system to always have someone watching almost every square inch of the farm. He was perched up in a hand-built treestand, slowly smoking the last of his tobacco. Neil had hand-rolled his cigarettes with his own home grown tobacco since he was 16, just as his father before him had done. To his left, Neil had his hunting gun loaded and ready. It had been around a week since he had to fire a single shot, but he was no fool to think that “the end” was over.

He had spent the majority of his time outside, working on a farm of his own. It had been in the family for five generations. All of that was lost the day that the military came through, thinking that bombing the area was the fastest way to destroy the undead. All of his hard work and everything that he had ever called “his” was burned to the ground. The plan to burn the zombies had dramatically backfired; instead of destroying the zombies, they had only destroyed farmland and forest. It had taken a week for the fires to burn themselves out. Once the ash had cleared, there were at least a 100 people that had nowhere else to go.

Alicia and Markus had saved them. Neil had no doubt about that. Markus had showed up in a huge truck and offered them all a chance to survive on Gander Acres. Everyone had agreed. The siblings were well known in the town and highly respected. Now, they were more than respected. They were revered.

The horde was covering ground slowly but steadily, pushing towards the farm. Neil shouted encouragement over to Joey, who was digging pits with the backhoe. They had a large amount of diesel, but it was still a precious commodity. “You’re doing great, Joey! Keep it up, don’t burn that ‘hoe up, replacement parts are going to get real rare!”

Neil looked through his binoculars, counting the zombies. He knew there was no way he could count them all, but he knew every parcel of land on this farm. If he knew how many could fit in an area the size of the farmhouse yard, he’d know roughly how many there were. After some quick figuring in his head, he called out to Martin “Looks like about 225 of em. They’re coming slow and steady, we got about half an hour. Run fetch the kubota and that spool of wire. I’ll ride the ford. We’ll run out a trot-line and wrangle ‘em into Joey’s pits. If we get lucky, we won’t have to fire a shot tonight!”

Neil squinted into the sun, the finely lined crows feet stood out at his temples, the product of years of working out in the bright summer sunlight. His favorite old John Deere cap sat atop his head, the bill worn threadbare from years of being stuck in his back pocket when he went inside. No real man wore his hat inside. He worried about the two boys he loved almost as his own sons. The three men had been working the land together since they were small children. They were good men to have around though. Solid, sturdy framed boys, rugged from an outdoorsman’s life. Both could grow anything, and Martin was the best hunter and tracker Neil had ever known. Neither boy had been much for school, all either of them wanted was to be outside working. Both had quit high school as soon as the local constable would allow, and hadn’t gone much before that.

The sound of the new kubota running up the hill woke Neil from his memories. Martin had the front bucket low to the ground and full of a scoop of dirt to offset the weight of the barbed wire on the back spooler. “Pull up next to the ford,” Neil yelled over the sound of the diesel engine. “I’ll attach the wire to the PTO, and we can run off about 100 yards, then run it back. When we have six or eight wires running between the tractors, I’ll use the tractor’s PTO to spin them all together into a barbed cable.”

Martin looked over at Neil, “Ya reckon’ this is gonna work?”

“Of course it’ll work, Martin. Just like runnin’ a net through the lake. Some few stragglers might make it through, but they shouldn’t be too hard to mop up. We need to thin the herd, taking them out one at a time is too long.”

“What if it’s some of them fast ones?” yelled Joey.

“Then we’ll deal with them, like we have before. No way of knowin’ so we might as well follow the plan until we have to abandon it. You boys know there ain’t no sense in bein’ worried about somethin’ we can’t control.”

“Yes sir,” they both said at the same time.

Joey dumped one more scoop of dirt, then backed the tractor over the rise. A few seconds later he came trotting over to Martin on the big Kubota tractor and got straight to work. The three of them were so practiced at working together, none of them really needed instruction. Joey attached the barbed wire to the back of the Ford. Martin took off, looped it around a tree, then back to the Ford. Joey cut the wire, attached the looped end and a fresh wire to the PTO on the tractor, and Martin was off again. In no time, eight lengths of barbed wire stretched between the tractor and the tree. Neil cut the wire against the tree with his hatchet, and attached those ends to the Kubota.

The Ford’s PTO was powerful, designed to spin huge cultivator blades through hard dirt. The wire was no match for the engine, it spun into an inch-thick cable with deadly, flesh ripping barbs sticking out at every angle. The three men shut down the tractors and waited, wondering if the sun would set before the zombies got to them. It was always worse fighting them in the dark. Neil reached into his back pocket and pulled out a smooshed sandwich.

“Might as well grab a bite, boys. Gonna be a fair piece before we get somethin else to eat,” he said as he bit into his sandwich.

The three of them ate a small supper standing between the tractors and waited. When they were done eating and had all taken a long pull from the water jug, they mounted their tractors and started them up.

“Martin, you take the inside arc, I’ll swing out and come through the middle. It’s going to take a couple of trips. The three men pushed their tractors into their high gear and started off towards the horde, ready to lasso them and drag them into the pits.

Just over the grassy hillside at the edge of the field, two zombies lay on their stomachs watching below.

‘They’re smart, this group,’ said one.

‘We are stronger,’ said the other.

4.06 Alicia

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

She wasn’t out of this yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

But Jeff wanted to watch it. So you did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You got it, Alicia,” one said.

“We’ll get it done,” said another.

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

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