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Phoenix

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Brian and Andy shared the contents of Brian’s flask, grimacing at the rot-gut moonshine with every sip.  Just after midnight, Brian locked the doors of the train and crawled into a hammock strung up in the caboose.

Less than an hour later, long enough to fall completely asleep, the first thunk sounded against the train car.  A few minutes later, there was another.  It was another half an hour before Brian’s consciousness returned enough, hastened by the need to pee, to hear the constant thump, thump, thump from all four sides of the caboose.

“Fuckin shit, Andy.  Wake the fuck up man.”

“What?” Andy said sleepily.  Then sat up in his hammock so quickly, the entire thing spun around dumping him on his head.  His gun skittered across the metal floor.  The noise seemed to have an effect on the banging on the outside of the car; it increased in tempo and fervor.

“Sounds like infected,” whispered Brian.  His voice low and raspy.

Andy crawled slowly towards his rifle.  “Get up the ladder.  Open the hatch.  We gotta get eyes on.”

“Wish I had me some fuckin’ night vision goggles.”

“Just take a flashlight.  I don’t think we’re getting out of this without some killing.  If a cure hasn’t come by now, I don’t think it’s going to, buddy.”

“I know all that.  I still hate killing them.  I wouldn’t want someone killin’ my Mama. My Daddy’s been dead, thankfully. He ain’t have to live through this shit.  But I’m sure Momma’s been infected.  She couldn’t get ‘round too good.”  Brian uttered his entire monolog in a hushed whisper as he climbed the ladder to the roof hatch.

Andy gathered his rifle, and still in his socks and green plaid boxer shorts, climbed the ladder behind his friend.

“Hooooleeeeeeeey fuck.” Brian whistled.

“What?”

Brian spun around as Andy climbed out onto the roof.  Surrounding them, as far as the beam of his flashlight would go, the infected were packed shoulder to shoulder.  They swayed back and forth in a synchronized movement, like the crowd during a ballad at a concert only they could hear.

“Oh shit.”

“Yeah, man.  The fuck they come from? I ain’t never seen so god damn many.  We ain’t got enough bullets, and it’s too many to do hand to hand.”

Andy started back down the ladder.  “Nothing to do now.  Maybe they’ll be gone in the morning.”

“You think we’re gonna be okay?  That many; might be able to push over the car.”

“Nah.  Come on. Can’t do shit.  Get some sleep brother.  It’ll look better in the morning.”

Brian pulled the hatch closed behind him, and flipped the lever to lock it.  “Everything looks worse at two in the morning,” he said.

The pair of men slept fitfully for the next few hours.  “What do we have in the cabinets in here,” Andy said finally.

“I dunno man. Some shit. Food n shit, I guess.  It’s gonna get powerful hot in this metal box today.”

“Where’s the reloading kit?”

Brian stopped for a minute.  “Might be in here.  But I think it’s up in the storage that went with the boss.”  He resumed his pacing, timing his foot-falls with the rhythmic thumping on the sides of the train.  “Fuck!” He yelled.  “I can’t fucking hear my goddamn self think!  Shut the fuck up out there!”  He banged on the doors with his fist.

“Stay chill, man.  The cavalry will be back any time.  We just gotta hold out in here.  We got plenty of water, it’s gonna get hot, but at least we can open the roof hatch.”

“What if they’re gonna be a week?  How are they gonna save us? They can’t spend that many bullets either.  Can’t fucking push us cause the tracks are blocked and the locomotive ain’t got no hookup on the front to pull us back.”

They sat in the train car for most of the morning, until the temperature inside was too much to bear.  Brian climbed the ladder and unlatched the hatch.  “Andy. You gotta come see this man.”

Andy climbed out onto the roof of the train, and sat down.  Surrounding their two cars for three hundred yards in every direction, the infected swayed back and forth.  Hands outstretched towards the men.

“You think we could jump to the buggy?”

“Then what? They’d be on us before we could get it started.”

Brian’s voice cracked as he spoke.  Andy could tell he was nearing panic.  “What if we blew our ammo clearing around it; then jumped for it?  We might be able to buy some time.  Then I could clear the path with the gun.”

Andy put his hand on Brian’s shoulder.  “We’re fine, Brian.  They can’t get in.  We have enough food and water to get us through the next bunch of days.  Let’s get out of sight, be as quiet as possible, and hope that the noise of the locomotive coming back draws them off.  For now, we just need to keep calm. You got that, soldier? We just keep our heads down, maintain absolute silence and they’ll go away on their own.

Both men laid in their hammocks and tried to be as still as possible.  For two days.  On the morning of the third day of sitting in the sweltering metal box, Andy couldn’t take the smell anymore.  He rummaged through the cabinets on the train, looking for anything to help.   Finally he pulled out a tub of bleach soaked kitchen wipes and started scrubbing himself down.

When he was finished, he tossed the can to Brian.  “Feels pretty good man, cooled me off a little bit.  Just don’t get it in your eyes or mouth.”

Brian did the same, then the pair sat back and prepared to spend another day being quiet.  They napped for a while in the morning, and woke to nothingness.  It took Andy a moment to figure out what was gone.

“Brian,” he whispered.

“Shut up.  This is the first decent sleep I’ve had in three days.”

“Brian.  I think they’re gone, man.”

Brian sat up in his hammock and waved dismissively at the ladder up the rear wall.  “Guess you better go check then.”

Andy snuck up the ladder and poked his head out of the hatch.  “Holy shit! They’re gone!  And the train’s coming back!”

“Whoo hoo!  All of em?”

“Every one. What the fuck?”

Brian unlatched the back door of the caboose and stepped out onto the platform.  The locomotive was several miles away and chugging towards them.  Andy swung down over the edge and flipped down onto the platform with Brian.

The train stopped twenty five or so feet from the caboose.  Nyko and Jonas climbed down out of the cab.

“You boys been on fucking vacation?  I left you here to clear that shit off the god damned tracks.  What the fuck have you been doing?”  Nyko looked furious.  “One god damn thing to do.”

“It ain’t like that at all,” said Brian

“So, what the fuck is it like?”

Brian relayed the story.  Andy added in a few missed details, and some color commentary, specifically in the area of how bad Brian smelled.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Jonas.  “We haven’t seen that many infected in more than a year.  And why would they spend two days banging on your train car and then just leave you alone?”

“No idea.  Look around.  Follow the tracks.  They were here,” said Andy.  “And then something drew them off.  That’s all there is.  The question is where did they go.  I’d like permission to follow the tracks.  They can’t be more than half an hour away by buggy.”

“So you can draw them back? They’re gone.  Let them stay gone.  Get that fucking track cleared. I have rails and ties.  Jonas has the welding equipment.  I want to cross the patch before sunrise,” Nyko said.

The blockage on the track was made up of several junked cars buried under a pile of concrete, rocks, and dirt.  It took the men four hours to clear the wrecks, before Brian and Andy dragged them away with the buggy.

The rest of the day, they worked at filling in the hole behind the blockage and setting the ties.  The sun was setting as the men heaved the rails into place and checked the levels.  Three of the ties were out of alignment.

Brian complained loudly as he heaved the rail off into the sand.  “I fuckin told you that shit was slaunchwise man.  You wouldn’t fuckin’ listen.”

“Just shut up and lift this fucking thing,” grunted Terrel.

“Someone’s coming.” Shouted Jonas as the last of the light faded.

“What is it,” yelled Nyko.

“On foot.”

“They’re coming back,” yelled Andy.  “Get to the train.”

All the men ran for the train, except Nyko, who walked backwards, looking at the oncoming herd of infected.  The moon was not yet up, and the sun had passed the horizon.  In the fading light, all he could see was the dust trail they were leaving.  It had to be thousands.

An hour later, the train was surrounded, and the rhythmic thumping began.  This time, there were windows.  The infected stared at the men in the train through the window.  When one of them would move, their hands would stretch for a few minutes, reaching towards the movement inside.

After a while, they would lower again, and the swaying would continue.  Over the next five days, the men sat in the train.  Every hour, Nyko got up, checked the train and then sat back down.  Andy and Brian passed their time playing cards and drinking.

At the evening meal on day six, Nyko asked again, “They just fucking left? Six days we’ve been sitting here.  Delayed ten days by a bunch of fucking infected.  If they aren’t gone by tomorrow, I’m gonna shoot ‘em all just to get moving.  Can’t stand the fucking stink of you sons of bitches.”

“Holy shit! That’s it.  Boss, Me and Andy wiped down with them bleach rags and went to sleep.  When we woke up, they were gone.”

Nyko slammed his hands down on the table.  “Six fucking days and you just now mentioned this shit?”

“Well man, ain’t really think about it.  Ain’t no one would have thought a few bleach towels would run off a whole herd of ‘em.”

Everyone on the train wiped themselves down with a can of bleach wipes and waited.  By midnight, the infected had all gone, continuing their direction of travel.  Nyko dismissed the crew to get some sleep.

The repairs started at dawn.  They reset the ties, making sure they were level, plumb, and straight.  Jonas was like a kid with a new comic book reading the manual that came with the welding rig, and bounced with joy as he lit the thermite.  Within seconds, molten steel ran through the form, welding the replacement rail.

At ten minutes after six, they hooked the caboose and boxcar to the buggy, and slowly Andy dragged it back up the track to the siding, so they could get the locomotive back in front of it.   The sun was fully down by the time the exhausted crew finished reconnecting the train.  Nyko didn’t want to show up in Phoenix in the middle of the night, so he sent everyone to bed after making sure they wiped down with bleach once again.

On the fifteenth morning of the trip, a trip Nyko had expected to take a couple days, they started on the final leg.  In three hours, they covered the last twenty eight miles.

The train topped a small rise, heading between two massive sandstone buttes, the gleaming white-walled city of Phoenix came into view.

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So Close

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Nyko watched the scenery unfold in front of him.  In the course of half a day, the landscape went from rocky canyons to tall mesas, then to scrubby desert.  The first saguaro cactus appeared, standing nearly ten feet tall; it hadn’t sprouted any arms yet.

He was admiring the cactus, a plant that thrived in the harshest conditions when he was thrown forward in his seat.  He stood up and moved hand-to-seat up the aisle.  The train was moving slow in an attempt to conserve fuel as well as check out the integrity of the tracks.  By the time Nyko made it to the end of the car, they were at a dead stop.

The boss stepped out to the platform between cars and looked towards the front of the train.  In the distance through the low, scrubby brush he could see something the tracks. Jonas was waving frantically.  Nyko stepped down to the ground and walked up towards the locomotive.

Nyko heard the sound of roar of Andy’s buggy flying across the desert, coming towards them, but he was on the other side of the train, out of sight.

He finally got close enough to hear Jonas over the roar of the diesel engines.  “Boss! Marauders!”

“Fuck,” Nyko said to himself and broke into a trot up towards the locomotive.  He reached the steps and heard the first shots ring out from the crow’s nest on top of the tanker.  It wasn’t the machine gun, but a steady staccato of rifle shots, half a second apart.  He bounded up into the engine and winced at the pain in his side.  “How many?”

“Lots.  Fifty maybe?”

Nyko stuck his head out the window.  Andy was heading for the train, followed by six trucks about three hundred yards away.  Behind them, men were running.  Another shot from the crow’s nest sent a dark shape tumbling out of the bed of one of the trucks.

“Is that Terrell in the Crow’s nest? Damn that fucker can shoot.”  He bent over the bench in the locomotive, opened the seat and pulled out two rifles.  Jonas’ rifle started off as a police issue Sig-Saur MPX, a small pistol-like sub machine gun.  Brian added a modified, shortened folding stock, a red-dot scope, and a flashlight under the short, six and a half inch barrel.  Brian called it the T-Rex gun; It was so short even a Tyrannosaurus Rex could shoot it.  It fit Jonas perfectly.  A curved thirty round magazine arced out of the receiver.

The second was a stock version of the same gun.  Inside the bench were half a dozen magazines, and ten boxes of .40 caliber Smith and Wesson ammunition.  They had enough bullets in the locomotive to kill a small army, if they made them count.

Andy pulled up beside the locomotive and stopped.  “More than a hundred.  Coming this way.  Four trucks and two big armored trucks in the rear.”

Brian vaulted over the back of the rail buggy into the gunner’s position.  “Let’s go wreck them motherfucker brother!” He shouted, strapping in.

“Be careful.  Let them come to us.  Swing wide and come at them from the back.  If you can, take out the two armored trucks first.  That’s probably the leader.  This is what we built this train for.  Heat this son of a bitch up.”

Jonas idled the engines up to the eighty percent mark.  “Generators at one hundred percent, captain.”

“Dude. Was that supposed to be a Scottish accent?”

“Aye Captain.  I don’t know how much more she can take.  Dilithium crystals are almost at maximum capacity.”

“Damnit, Jonas! I need more power!”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I’m already givin’ ya all she’s got.  Maybe if I could adjust the fuel injection I could give you another twenty percent.”

“Do it!”

Jonas grinned as he turned the dial the rest of the way up.  The engines hummed, vibrating the entire train.  “Captain, I don’t know how much more she can…”  Jonas quote was cut off by the sound of bullets pinging off the metal exterior.

“Sound the horn,” Nyko ordered, stepping up onto the wooden platform inside the locomotive.

Jonas sounded four blasts, long, short, long, short.   “Now we wait.”

The marauders in the trucks stopped, and seconds behind them the running group passed, swarming the train.  Nyko flicked up a little red switch cover, revealing two plastic toggles underneath.

“You ready?”

“Ready.”

Nyko flipped the first switch.  “Charging.”

Jonas looked out the window.  “Wait for it.  Ten more seconds.”

Nyko counted down to three in his head, then said “Three.  Two. One.  Now!”  He flipped the second switch, sending five hundred thousand watts of power generated by the train’s diesel electric generators along massive cables to the external plating of the train.

Small arcs of lightning lept from the train to anything nearby electrocuting the attacking marauders instantly.

Nyko flipped both switches off and stepped down off the train and walked back to the first passenger car.  When he stepped up, a marauder lept through the doorway at him.  Nyko fired two shots from his sub machine gun and kept moving forward, stepping on the corpse in the aisle.  He crouched and moved his way back through the cars, killing two more marauders as he went.

Both the crow’s nest and one of the two rear miniguns spun up, the sound of ten thousand angry hornets amplified a hundred times.  The sound was the sort that rumbled in the chest and reverberated throughout the entire train.

Nyko cringed at the amount of ammunition being used.  Each minigun fired four thousand rounds per minute from its six rotating barrels.  Every thirtieth round was a bright phosphorus streak, a tracer round that helped the gunner aim the storm of lead.

Nyko stopped between the last sleeper car and the caboose to watch.  This wasn’t a fair fight, it was carnage.  Dead marauders carpeted the ground beside the train, three of the four trucks were burning, ignited by the two thousand degree trader rounds.  From the top of the train, Derrick was pouring rounds into the second armored truck.  Nyko watched him walk the bullets from the rear tire to the front, and then concentrate several thousand rounds in the engine compartment before the truck started smoking and stopped.  Brian and Andy spun sideways beside the truck, coming to a rest facing the driver’s side door.

Brian held something to his mouth, then tossed a small bundle under the truck.  Andy reversed the buggy quickly, and seconds later a huge explosion lifted the truck off the ground, flipping it onto its side.  Andy deftly brought the buggy around facing the back doors, and parked.

Both miniguns stopped firing.  Nothing moved on the field.  Jonas sounded a quick wah wah on the massive locomotive’s air horns, indicating the all clear.  On that signal, Andy and Brian returned to the train.  Nyko could hear Brian as he made his way through the caboose.

“Shit man, you see that motherfucker!  Whoom! BLAM! Blew that motherfucking truck right on its god damn side!  I swear to god I thought that shit was going to knock me off the buggy! Shit!”

Nyko hopped off the end of the train.

“Boss, you see that? Holy shit!”  The word holy came out as four or five syllables.

“Yeah.  What the fuck was that?”

“Me an’ Andy made up a whole rack of pipe bombs outta some old plumbing shit we had layin’ around.  Them sumbitches got some serious power!”

Nyko shook his head.  “You two are gonna get yourselves killed.  What’s that on the tracks?”

“The tracks are done, Boss.  They’re going to have to be replaced.  Looks like they blew them up, then piled a couple old train cars and trash on them.  The whole thing’s a setup to try and derail anyone coming down the track.”

“How far ahead is Phoenix?”

“I think I saw it in the distance from a bluff about five miles up.  Wait until you get a glimpse of it.  If that was Phoenix, it looks a lot different than it used to.”

“How so?”

“The whole place is surrounded by a huge white wall.  Practically glows in the sunlight.  I’d guess I can see about fifteen miles out here, so maybe twenty miles away?”

“Any chance of repairing the tracks?”

“We’ll have to dig up and replace the ties, weld the new rails in place, and grind the track smooth.”

Jonas reached the end of the train as Andy was answering.  “We found all the stuff to do that in the barn, but I don’t have any experience welding like that.  We’ll have to creep across the welds the first few times, to make sure they can support the load.”

“I don’t suppose you found a manual?”

“Well, yeah.  Everything had its documentation, but welding is an art,” Jonas replied.  “We can do ‘er, but it’s going to take some time, and we’re sitting ducks out here.

“Here’s what we’ll do.  There was siding about an hour back.  We’ll run back there, and drop the last two cars in the siding, then pull behind them and push them back here.  Two men stay here and get to work on clearing the damaged sections.”

The look on the men’s faces was one of dread. They had to have known they were going to come up on stretches of damaged track.

Nyko continued, “The rest of us will run back to a pile of ties and load a dozen or so.  I haven’t seen any since the bridge, but I haven’t been looking.  There’s got to be a stack somewhere between here and there.  We’ll pull up a siding if we have to and use that rail.  Who wants to stay?”

Brian and Andy looked at each other.  “We’ll stay.  We can use the buggy to pull most of that shit off the tracks.”

“Good men.  Let’s get to work.  I want to be on the other side of this mess in three days.”

Dropping and repositioning the two cars took less than half a day.  It was late evening by the time Andy and Brian parked the buggy beside the caboose and freight car and watched the rest of the train disappear back the way they’d come.

“Wonder how long until them sons of bitches get back.”

“Which?” asked Andy

“Which what,” said Brian, pulling a flask out of his thigh pocket.

“Which sons of bitches?”

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Iron Jack’s

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A new free web story by Kirk Allmond

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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2.01 Cleanup

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Prologue

The zombies came in the spring of 2011. In one day a wave of stumbling, rotting, fetid corpses spread over the earth, ending life as we knew it.  Some of them were smart, some of them could pass for human, and some of them were super human.

I’ve seen zombies that could fly, teleport over short distances, run with incredible speed, zombies that could lift thousands of pounds, and even zombies that could read the intentions of humans. They didn’t all have the same powers, there seemed to be a hierarchy among them.  The more powerful the zombie, the higher it was in their pecking order.

My name is Victor Tookes.  I’ve spent the last 12 years of interrogating every smart zombie we can catch, trying to piece together what happened on that day.  Here’s what I know: the infection started on a small research ship outside of Baltimore, Maryland.  An asteroid landed in the ocean, and the US government had sent a group of deep sea reclamation experts to retrieve it.  That asteroid had contained trillions of microscopic parasites; my son Max calls them “bugs”.  Those parasites work in groups to take over the brain of the host, which kills off all remnants of the original occupant of that body, and gives the parasite full control the body.

I also know that this is not the first time these parasites have tried to take over the human race.  About 30,000 years ago, they came for the first time.  A few of us humans developed immunity to them, and we were eventually able to wipe out the infection.  Those ancient humans were genetically mutated by the parasites, but were unable to be taken over or controlled.  My family is descended from those original humans, and we carry that immunity.  Leo and John also carry the gene that makes them able to defeat parasites that invade them.  If those few of us who are immune survive the infection process, which invariably involves being bitten by a zombie, those of us with immunity sometimes gain special abilities.   I believe, although I don’t know this for sure, that the parasites reconnect pathways in our brains to areas that our species doesn’t normally have access to.  I also believe that the stronger the infection or the more parasites an immune person receives, the more of those pathways are reconnected before our bodies kill off the bugs. I don’t know if the corpses of the parasites themselves act as the pathways, or if they just ‘turn those areas on’ before they die, but I hope it’s the latter. I don’t particularly like the thought of parasitic corpses living in my brain.  What I don’t know is why they want my son Max so badly, but I will find out.

All of my ‘team’ have some special abilities.  John never misses.  Whether its thrown, shot, fired, catapulted, lobbed or any other manner of projectile weapon, I’ve never seen him miss.  One time I watched him kill a zombie with a rock from 200 feet away, and he routinely takes the wings off flies with stones.  I guess it’s more of a challenge than just killing them.   Maybe he’s trying to invent a whole new race of flightless flies.

My brother Marshall is astoundingly strong, and never gets tired.  I’ve seen him pick up a car and throw it at a zombie like it was a baseball.  When we’re fighting zombies, he favors 20 lb sledge hammers, and almost always has a pair of them with him, strapped in an X on his back.  Woe unto the zed that comes into Marshall’s circle of death, for their un-death shall be ended quickly and violently.  Despite his huge size, standing at almost seven feet tall, Marshall might be the nicest guy left on the planet.  Unless you cross him; 40 pounds of hardened steel on the end of a pair of hickory shafts will give you an extreme headache.

Leo, is fast.  She can move faster than the human eye can follow, and even claims, although I’ve never seen it, to be able to outrun a bullet.  Everything about her is fast; she heals extreme wounds in hours, and minor ones in seconds.  She is the deadliest hand to hand fighter I’ve ever seen.  She moves like flowing water, gracefully ending the miserable existence of anything that dares to stand in her way.

My name is Victor Tookes.  I suppose I’m the leader of this community of around 350 people, probably because I can read people.  I see colorful auras surrounding them.  Those colors give me clues about the mood or intentions of the person.  I can see those colors from very far off, farther than my normal vision would allow, sometimes as much as 100 miles.  I’m the only one I know who can definitively tell a living person from a smart zombie, because zombies don’t have auras.  I can also see the effects of my decisions, and the decisions of others.  If I’m thinking of two possibilities, I can literally watch the outcome of those decisions.  I can follow decision trees infinitely or at least several years into the future, but every time I look at the next step, the number of possibilities is exponentially more complex.  Missing one small piece of information can lead to disastrous results, so in actuality I’m seldom able to go more than two or three decisions forward with any reliability.

And then there is my son Max.  Max was three and a half years old at the time of the outbreak.  Or invasion, however you choose to look at it.  He has abilities that none of us can fully comprehend, and he’s never been able to explain them.  He can sense zombies from vast distances.  He can hide our presence from them.  He can kill zombies with a thought.   That ability is the conundrum of my life.  You would think it would be easy to parade a huge group of zombies in front of him and ask him to kill them.  It would be easy to ask him where they are and how many of them there are.  But as a father, my goal is to protect him, to shelter him, and to provide a safe place for him to be an innocent child.  I would die myself before asking him to kill a horde of zombies.  It is true that he is the one that ended the battle on our doorstep, but as far as he was concerned, he was just saving me.

No one else knows it was Max that killed all those zombies.  Without being able to see auras the way I can, they couldn’t see that wave of Max’s energy killed every parasite it encountered, they just know that the zombies that were eating me flew off of me, and every other zombie within 2 miles fell down, never to move again.  I have managed to convince them that since I was busy being eaten alive at the time, and have no idea how or what I did.

Shortly after we arrived at my family’s farm near Culpeper Virginia, a massive horde of zombies attacked us.  All told, we killed 12,653 zombies that day.  We kept count to honor them, the people that they were before.  We kept count to remember who we are, and what we’re doing this for.  We used pickups and tractors to dig a massive pit in the middle of the field where we’d killed the largest part of them.  We piled the bodies in that pit, and used the last of our diesel to light it.  It takes a lot of fuel and a lot of time to burn human bodies.  We used 4 full trees over 6 days to fully cremate the dead.  Many of the survivors in our camp knew these people.  It was a very hard time.

The days immediately after that fight were both a celebration of our victory over the horde, and a period of mourning for the dead, for the friends and family members who were taken from us, perverted to serve as mindless rotting instruments of death.

Chapter 1
Unwelcome Visitor 

The morning after the fight, we received a visit from Colonel Joshua Frye.  He showed up that morning in force, rolling with six military Humvees, two of which had very intimidating .50 caliber cannons mounted in an armored gunner’s turret on the roof.  He had 12 soldiers with him, and they were armed for conflict.  Four of them were flanking Frye, lined up in an arc behind him, the four were in the driver’s seat of their Humvees, and the last two standing up in the gunner’s turrets of those two desert sand colored trucks.

The gate guard radioed up to the house to let us know something was coming down the road.  There was never any traffic on the road these days, so we all got up from the breakfast table and headed down to the end of the driveway. By the time I got down to the front gates with John and Marshall, Frye was standing at the gate with his men behind him.  It did not feel like a friendly visit.  Leo had beaten us down there by several minutes.

“Colonel Frye, you look, surprised to see us.” I said, noting the flashes of yellow in his aura.

“Not at all, I’m surprised at the mess though.  What are you hiding in there?  How did you kill that many zombies?” His tone reminded me of law enforcement.  It carried an expectation of answer.  These days, the law was what you could defend.  This was my land, and these were my people.  His tone was the final straw in a long series of short straws.

I opened the gate down at the end of the half-mile driveway and stepped out in front of Frye.  He was a head taller than me, easily six and a half feet tall.  I had considered all of my options on where to punch him. Walking through the gate, shadows shot out of me, each one landing a blow.  The gut punch ended with me breaking a bone in my hand, hitting body armor with a bare fist is never a good idea.  The shot to the nose was the least damaging to me, and was the option I chose.  It ended with him shouldering the rifle hanging from his chest rig. The shadow fist that punched him in the nose solidified, shortly before my flesh and bone fist connected with his nose.

I felt a satisfying crunch as my middle knuckle broke the cartilage in the bridge of his nose.  Frye staggered back a couple of steps and drew his weapon, blood running down his face and dripping off his chin.  I knew he was going to draw down on me.  Immediately after hitting him I stepped inside his range and put my favorite pistol, my Sig Saur .40 caliber, to his head.  John and Marshall both shouldered weapons.  John had an H&K short barreled fully automatic carbine pointed at the farthest man in a gun turret, and Marshall sighted down the barrel of a 12 gauge shotgun at the other.  Those two men operating huge chain guns were clearly the largest threat.   At my first move towards Frye, his men shouldered their weapons, standard combat issue M-16’s.

“Colonel Frye,” I said, ice running through my voice.  “You have not been honest with me.  You have tried to play me from the minute you found out there were survivors here.  You have acted magnanimous.  You acted like you wanted to help, but you with held vital intelligence until it suited your own purpose.  I will not allow you to continue to be a threat to me or my family.”

“Victor, I did not…” He started.  The red slashes in his aura already indicating that he was going to lie to me.

“Frye.  I don’t know what you’re about to say, but it’s a lie.  I strongly advise you against testing me.  You will lose that test, I promise you that.”

“Mr. Tookes, We did…”

“Josh.”  I said as I pulled the hammer back on my pistol.  It was an unnecessary step in a double action pistol, but significant in its message.  “Josh, this is your last chance.  If John sees my finger even quiver on this trigger, all of your men will die and we will gain several nice rifles, some functional body armor and 6 well outfitted Humvees.  There really is no drawback to this for me.”

Frye stood up straight.  “This conversation is over.” He said flatly as he started walking back to his truck.

“That’s the first honest thing you’ve ever said to me, Frye.  To all you men,” I said gesturing to the men in the trucks. “You are following a man who has lied to me, who has endangered my family and the lives of everyone living here.  You are not welcome on my property as long as you follow him.”  I added a pause, letting the idea of not following him sink in.

“If you continue to work towards the Colonel’s interests, you are not welcome to within 1 mile of my property line.  I claim the full area within 6 miles of where we stand.  If I catch you within 7 miles of this house neither I nor my men will not hesitate.”

Frye was the only one who spoke.  “Tookes, you do not have domain, or the right to claim that much land.”

“Frye, you keep operating under the assumption that the United States Government still exists, or that you have some authority because you’re wearing a uniform.  I can claim that land because I can defend that land.  I can claim it because that’s the amount of land required to feed the number of people in my care, and I can claim it because there’s nothing you and your 12 soldiers can do about it.”

With that, Frye got in his truck and they all drove off, bouncing and hopping over the piles of rotten zombie corpses lying in the road.  Each time a tire crossed a new zombie; they burst open like over-full bags of meat, exploding gore and bits of rotten flesh all over the trucks.  The popping sound was enough to turn my stomach, and the smell of fetid corpse was overwhelming.  We needed to get this mess cleaned up quickly.

“Holy shit Tookes!” said John.  “You really pissed him off this time.  What was all that cock swinging about?”

“Every word he’s ever said to me was a lie or a manipulation.  I’m not afraid of him, but I’m tired of playing the game by his rules.  I thought I’d try my hand at changing the game.”

“We need to have a staff meeting,” I said, “We’re low on supplies.  We need ammunition, fuel, and food, and I have some ideas.”