Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Fresh Poison Each Week

“So that's my plan,” Ben said, standing over the maps in the room adjacent to the new school room, set in the northeastern barracks. “Well, my ideas, for the week.

All the residents of voting age were present for the weekly meeting, the children having long lost much interest. At this moment the children were playing in the school room, building a sprawling town of Lincoln Logs and blocks. Occasionally Baby assisted in building, but her skill set lent itself better to the continual destruction of the town. Daria sat in, though she couldn't vote. She was able to speak up if she had a problem with or a suggestion for something being discussed, but she was here today in part because she'd been having contractions now and then, no more than a few a day, but enough that she wanted to be near Dana.

“Amanda and Lila to handle school this week. Tammy and Travis to install solar power for the school room, meeting room, and the bathroom in between so there can be heat and possibly hot water for showers, and access to digital educational stuff for the kids – and adults. Eve and Will to haul books and board games to the rooms near the school and meeting room, making this barracks a community area with a couple rooms reserved for residents, when they come. Ed and Ben to keep an eye on the alpha's group. Dana to continue to run the clinic. Et cetera. Until later this week, when the solar set up is done and running with all the supplies gathered from Home Depot, and then Amanda, Travis, Ben and Ed will go set out the traps gathered from the sporting goods store around the alpha's lair in hopes of bringing down the number of followers the alpha has, and maybe also taking out the alpha himself.” Eve pointed at each line of the list Ben had written on the whiteboard as she went.

“Yes!” Ben said, smiling proudly. “Ben is not merely a mighty ranger, but an excellent planner as well.”

Amanda rolled her eyes.

“I'm just really excited about making a library and community room,” Eve said.
“So on the days I'm not watching the alpha, what am I doing in this plan?” Ed asked. “Sitting on my ass?”

“You should get a day to do that, absolutely,” Eve said. “Everyone should. But on the days we're not doing something according to the list, we could use always use more supply runs with the plow and the truck or the snowmobiles and the sledge. Or hunting down at the state park, where you saw the deer run through yesterday.”

“Lila and me have the same day off there, we'll take the snowmobiles out for supplies. And on the third day off, I'll go down and hunt,” Ed said. “And if I get a deer, I'll share half of it.”

“Fair enough,” Eve said, talking over Tammy whispering “stingy bastard” to Amanda.

“I'll do some more fishing on my first off day,” Ben said. “And I'll take Amanda out with me for supplies on the second, if she promises not to be a butthole the whole time.”

“I don't,” Amanda said. “But I'll go with Ben. We can raid the bookstore some more and the pharmacy we've marked on the map there.”

“Keep an eye out for survivors,” Eve said. “Trust your gut, but bring them back here if it's feasible.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” Ben said, saluting.

“I won't really have days off,” Travis said. “Between the installation, the fiddling, and keeping the quartermaster's place running.”

“Will and I can help with that,” Eve said.

“I am going with Ben and Amanda, if they need me,” Will said.

Eve sighed. “I'm a cool mom. I don't know why my kids don't want to hang out with me. I'm hip. I've listened to the trance music. I know what a pog is.”

“That's probably why,” Ben said. “That whole thing right there. We'll take Will if only to save him from becoming as cool as you.”

“Ok, fishing and helping and teaching,” Amanda said. “That's my proposed week, up until alpha ass-beating time.”

“Fuck yes,” Ed said with satisfaction. He high-fived Amanda.

“I'll help out in the school room and help run the store while Tammy's busy,” Lila said. At this point, while most supplies were stored in the quartermaster's building, weekly supplies were rotated up to the store, and given out according to Travis' strict lists and Tammy's own intuition. Some supplies were “floating supplies”, according to Travis, and could be bartered for with extra chores; Travis included candy in that group, and the kids often did extra chores in exchange for it.

“I don't have any of those big jobs,” Haley said. “I can help move books and games, help out in the warehouse, and help in the store.”

“When you're not in school,” Amanda said sternly. “Same for Will, by the way, Will.”

“I have no idea why I have to know algebra anymore,” Will groused. “Algebra died in the riots.”

“Algebra is eternal!” Travis said.

Ben flicked his finger against the back of Will's head. “How are you going to maintain the electricity if you can't do math?”

“School,” Eve said sternly. “All the collected knowledge of mankind rests on your shoulders, suck it up.”

“Can we vote on it now?” Ed said testily. “I've got a day off to get back to after this.”

“All in favor?” Eve said, though she expected no nays, and this time,there weren't any. Not like the time Ben tried to hand out titles to everyone, though he still used those titles from time to time. “Schedule carried. Have fun,” said Disco Queen Eve.

“Finally,” said Facecruncher Ed.

“I didn't realize we had this many books here already,” Will said, unhappily, carrying his fourth box of the evening in from the porch after dragging them up to the library from the quartermaster's warehouse. Eve gave him an amused look as she sorted through the boxes. Shelves had been dragged in from the hospital, from various rooms around the Fort, and Amanda and Travis had even spent an evening assembling the ones they brought from the Target next to the Home Depot. There were several comfortable chairs, two writing desks, and a wide table with chairs around it all set up in the first room. In the second, where the board games were stored, there were three smaller tables with four chairs around them; the chess table had been left in the store itself, where people stopped in and played Tammy when she wasn't busy. Oil lanterns cast a welcoming glow from the writing desks, the hearth, and the table in the middle of both rooms. A fire muttered and snapped happily in the hearth in the first room, casting enough warmth for both rooms on this relatively mild evening. 
Near the porch door of the library, Eve was setting up a make-shift card catalog and a loaning center to keep track of what they had and what people had borrowed. As she pulled a book out of the box, she made a note of it on the note card for the card catalog, title, author, type of book. The back of the card she left blank for people to pencil in their names as they checked the book out, then they would put the card in the note card box next to the card catalog, the one she'd painted the words “Loaned Out” on. 
After Eve sorted and recorded the books as they came out, Haley and Daria would shelve them. Daria had made signs for the different bookshelves in her neat bubble script, denoting non-fiction, reference, survival, horror, humor, fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, kid's books, and craft and cooking. There weren't enough shelves or yet enough books to need more categories than that. Haley had organized the board games with the kids games on the bottom shelves and the more adult games higher on the shelves, on a deeper shelf near the door that led to the hallway with the schoolroom, meeting room, and bathrooms.

Eve paused for a moment in her work. “This place really makes this seem like a real community,” she said. “Like we are a very small town, something like that.”

Daria sniffled. “I'm so glad we are here. That the baby will be born in a safe place with all these people around. I was afraid she'd be coming when we were hiding in that half-burned out apartment building with Dana.”

Eve hugged her. “I'm glad you're here too.”

“I'm glad I can be the one to haul all these books around while you women hug each other and cry!” Will said, disgruntled. 
“I'm glad you're a big strong man who doesn't complain about helping,” Daria said, sweeping her lashes at him.

Will blushed furiously, stammered for a moment, then hurried out to take the sled to get the last boxes of books from the warehouse.

“Nicely done,” Eve said, raising an eyebrow. “Very nicely done.”

The four worked in silence, setting out and marking the traps with blaze orange ribbons, hurrying to get the entire house surrounded with traps before the sun started to go down and the zombies inside started moving around. The house was a lone building at rest at the end of a long, curving, snow-covered driveway, nestled near the river itself and surrounded by woods. Easy enough to surround with traps.

The group backed off as soon as they'd finished, meeting up near the deer stand.

“Maybe we should have baited the traps,” Ben said in a low voice, worried about being overheard.

“Not this time,” Ed said. “We'll try baiting next.”

“This might induce the alpha to move along,” Amanda said. “That would be good for the fort, but if he does, we should track him and figure out where they've gone.”

Travis climbed up into the deer stand, lifting up the binoculars to view the house lair.

“So far so good,” he said, climbing down and putting his snowshoes back on.

“I really want to bait the traps,” Ben said. “I have some sandwiches in my pack. We could bait a few of them.”

“Jesus, if it's going to help you sleep tonight, fine,” Ed said. “Go on, I'll keep a look out.” He slung his rifle over his back, took off his snowshoes, and climbed up onto the deer stand high in the tree above them.

Ben handed out sandwiches to Amanda and Travis, keeping a couple for himself. 
“Let's focus on the ones away from the fort,” Travis said.

“Good idea,” Amanda said. 
They moved off in their snowshoes, heading for the far side of the house. 
“Go fast,” Travis said. “It's not long before dark.”

They separated, fanning out to each put a sandwich in several traps, hurrying back towards each other afterward. Without talking, they headed back toward the deer stand.

Ed was upright in the deer stand, one knee on the seat, his rifle held up and ready to fire, aiming back toward the house.

“Movement,” he said tersely, just loud enough for them to hear.

“Do not fire that weapon,” Amanda said. “Ed. Don't fire. It will tell them where we are.”

“I told you, movement. Get going.”

“Don't fire until we're farther away, then,” Amanda said. “There's a cave up that way we can take shelter in and defend ourselves from. Give us five minutes.” Ed glanced down at her as she pointed toward the cave and her companions started moving in that direction.

Returning his gaze to the zombie lair, he fired his shotgun.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Over The River And Through The Woods

Travis woke Amanda slowly, bringing her awake with his hands, his mouth, until she woke fully, gasping his name.

Afterwards, he lay catching his breath, his face buried in her neck, her arms and legs still twined around him.

“Good morning,” she said throatily, pleased.

Beautiful girl,” he murmured against her earlobe. “I love you.” He stiffened, his eyes opening, and he hastily scrambled to a sitting position. “I... I mean-”

She sat up too, quieting him by placing her fingertips on his lips. They sat face to face without speaking on her mattress for long moments.

That the sex talking?” she asked, and moved her fingers so he could answer.

Ah,” he said, swallowing. He stared at her helplessly, unable to lie to her. “No. But I don't – I wasn't saying it to get you to say it. I'm ok just-”

She touched his lips again, looking down thoughtfully for long moments again. “I want to talk about it tonight, ok? Before we go to bed?”

Here?” he asked.

She smiled, leaned over and kissed him. “Here. Before we go to bed here. Together.”

“Ok. Sure. Cold fry bread and jam for breakfast?” he asked, relieved. He'd been terrified for a moment that she would break things off because he'd said that so soon. Way too soon, probably, since they'd only been a couple for a couple weeks.

Since Amanda had declared the day a no school day, the children were building snowmen on the parade ground. Val sat in a disc sled scooting himself around and occasionally lobbing snowballs at the other children. Baby vacillated between eating snow, charging snowmen to enthusiastically hug them, and climbing onto Val's lap for a snuggle, which pinned him in place as he couldn't scoot the sled with both of them on it.

Will ran into the quartermaster's storage and came back out with some rope, tying it through one of the handles of Val's sled. He made a loop handle at the other end of the rope and began hauling Val and Baby through the snowmen and across the parade ground. Drawn by Val's laughter and Baby's shrieks of joy, the other children soon joined in, holding the rope, helping them gain speed.

They reached the end of the parade ground near the hospital, made a careful turn, and ran back toward the commander's house, dragging Val and Baby. This time they went too fast as they made their turn toward the hospital, and the two passengers were flung free, Val holding Baby tightly in his arms as they slid sideways toward the porch of the empty barracks.

Baby shrieked in joy.

Dis bad idea,” Val grumbled as they came to a stop just short of the path around the parade ground. His little passenger giggled and drummed her feet on his legs.

Kids!” Eve yelled from the door of the commander's house, leaning out and wiping her hands on her apron. “Tell everyone it's time and come down to the basement!”

Katrin, Owen and Aiden ran to gather the others at the Fort, aside from Ben and Lila who were already down in the basement of the commander's house. Will helped Val and Baby back onto the sled and began to pull them around the back of the barracks and down to the basement door; going straight around the commander's house would require using stairs.

You bad driver,” Val said darkly. “Manda is better driver than you. I like Manda do it.”

Maybe later Amanda can pull you,” Will said. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

No, your face is a butt cup.”

By the time Will and his passengers got down to the basement door, everyone else was there already and being shown into the brick floored basement by Ben. To their right was the kitchen, they were being led into the room to their left. Here was a bright, merry fire and two long tables pushed together with many chairs around them. Near the fireplace a sideboard had been placed and was now laden with pies, cakes, and bread – raised bread, biscuits and fried bread.

Down the middle of the tables were candles, colorful fall leaves, and so much food. At the center of it all were what appeared to be four small turkeys, but there were also sweet potatoes, corn, wild rice, cranberries, fried fish, green beans, baked beans, jam, stuffing and gravy.

Holy shit,” Ed said, and Lila beamed.

Surprise!” Eve said, her hands clasped together against her chest. “It's Thanksgiving today. Come in, sit down!”

They discarded their coats and wet outer things in the entry hall and the group hurried to take seats at the table. Ed took one end, and Lila sat beside him. Eve and Ben took the other end. The children, rosy from playing outdoors, sat nearest the fireplace, with Baby close to Eve and sitting on several thick books.

I didn't realize it was Thanksgiving!” Daria said. She burst into tears.

Oh dear!” Lila said standing up, grabbing some napkins to bring to her.

No, no, I'm happy, I just...”

Hormonal,” Haley said. Several of the group chuckled indulgently.

How did you do this?” Dana asked.

Well, Travis and Amanda got the turkeys. They were running wild near Coldwater Spring. Most of the rest is just canned goods from the quartermaster's stores,” Eve said. “Though, the bread, that's sourdough from scratch. I have more starter too. And more loaves. I made a lot.”

We roasted the turkeys in the big fireplace here in the basement,” Ben said. “Lila fried the fish and organized the order of all the rest of the food being cooked. Eve did the baking, and I made the stuffing and gravy.”

It smells amazing!” Amanda said. “I'm starving now.”

Should we say Grace?” Lila asked. “Ed?”

Good food, good meat, good God, let's eat!” Ed said with enthusiasm.

They ate and ate and ate and laughed all through the meal. Eve beamed with happiness and the pleasure of feeding a group and feeding them well. Val ate nearly an entire loaf of bread by himself, he was so happy to have something other than fry bread and biscuits.

Eve jumped up to clear the table and Haley, Dana and Tammy joined her. Ben and Lila moved the desserts to the table as they did so, setting out clean plates.

My stomach is going to burst,” Amanda said.

Do you not want any pie or cake?” Lila asked hesitantly.

Oh, no, I'm eating more, I'm just warning everyone.”

I am so thankful to be here, safe, having this meal,” Daria said, and burst into tears again. Haley wrapped her arms around her friend.

I'm thankful to have you as a friend,” she said.

I'm thankful these turkeys and the fish showed themselves to us so we could eat them,” Dana said.

By now all were seated again, passing around the desserts and helping themselves.

I'm thankful for Gary, without whom I'd never have found this haven,” Tammy said.

Hear, hear,” said Gary's young friends in unison, raising their steaming cups of tea. “To Gary!”

I'm thankful for the snowplow,” Amanda said. “It's what helps us get to the stores to gather supplies.”

I'm thankful that Amanda lets Ben drive the snowplow so we don't all die,” Travis said solemnly, and Amanda gave him a half-hearted glare, before snuggling up against him, scooting her chair closer.

I'm thankful for all the laughter,” Lila said softly. “It was so fun cooking with Ben and Eve.”

I am damn thankful for leftovers, and I know I'll be thankful for them again and again!” Ed said, and they laughed again.

I'm thankful for Samson,” Owen said. “Did he get a treat?”

We'll bring the pets some leftovers when we go up,” Eve said, smiling.

I'm thankful there was no school today,” Aiden said.

I'm thankful we have so many books,” Will said.

I'm thankful for my cats and my paper dolls,” Katrin said. “And my fluffy boots.”

I thank Sharknado,” Val said. He gave a flourishing bow at the table. “Thank you.”

Valiant James,” Eve said sternly.

Yes, thank you,” Val said with another grand flourish.

You little ham.”

Yes, thank you.”

Are you happy, Baby?” Eve asked the toddler.

Cake!” Baby said with longing, opening and closing her fists at the nearest cake.

I'm thankful for all of you,” Eve said. “I'm thankful we have a little community. I'm thankful we could have this day to celebrate that.”

I'm thankful I don't have to wash these dishes,” Ben said complacently, and Owen, Aiden, Will and Katrin groaned, knowing who would be stuck with that.

I'll help,” Tammy whispered across the table.

Me too,” Haley said quickly.

I want to help but I am falling asleep from being full and happy,” Daria said.

And enormously pregnant,” Dana said.

To us!” Eve said, raising her mug. “Who's like us?”

Damn few,” said Will. “And they're all dead.”

They all raised their mugs, even Baby though she wasn't sure what they were doing, and laughed.

Far, far away, Todd and his group gathered in a historical mansion, fireplaces blazing, and ate just as well. They didn't have fish, but there had been plenty of supplies in the pantry and real vegetables in the root cellar of this place, somehow forgotten and spared when the Red Flu Riots came. Lewis and Todd had managed to bring in venison and a couple of turkeys as well.

Ms Marvie, this is the best I have ever eaten,” Todd said with great solemnity. “I could not have done better. Thank you.”

I know,” she said, and grinned mischievously at him. “And you're welcome.”

Lewis snuck some more turkey and stuffing down to Scout, laying beneath the table.

Can I have some more pie?” Ryan said eagerly.

Can you?” Marvie asked, raising her eyebrow.

May I please have some more pie?” he said, unsubdued.

Baby, we have plenty today, and you are welcome to it,” she said.

Amen!” said Lewis.

Amen,” the others agreed.

We're here,” Donna said. “There's the dam. We made it.”

Let's go get my baby back,” Rebecca said. “I know she's there, I just know it.”

And introduce me to this Marine you mention,” Sherie said, grinning.

Amanda curled up in the darkness of the old Dredd Scott quarters, her mattress tucked against the wall kitty-corner from the fireplace, listening to Travis breathe. Listening to the calming beat of his heart, feeling his strength and his courage and all the things that meant so much to her about him.
Travis,” she whispered.
Mmm. Yes?” he mumbled, half asleep.
I love you too, you know.” She felt him wake entirely up.
I mean... I meant that I am in love with you,” he said at last.
Duh,” she said, snickering, and he pretended to bite her nose. “I'm trying to tell you, that's what I feel too. I love you. You're a big dork, and I love you.”
You're sure?”
Oh, god, shut up and lets just do this, ok? This big in love thing.”
Absolutely,” he said fervently, and rolled onto his side facing her so he could kiss her properly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Can Feel It Coming In The Air Tonight

Ed Bender was in a bad mood until he saw the deer. A group of four meandered through a snowy yard, nibbling at branches, and he watched them through the binoculars from the top of the Half Moon Battery, drooling just a little. He watched them prick up their ears, then bolt as a biter came running after them. This one was alone, either not part of the group they'd been tracking or for some reason off on its own.

He took a moment to describe the sighting in his notebook and went back to watching. At this moment, Tammy The It, as he considered her, was keeping an eye on the house they believed the alpha and its group were sheltering in. Radio silence from Tammy though – they all kept radios off when keeping an eye on the zombies in case the sounds of the radio tipped off some hungry rioter as to where they were hiding, up in a metal deer stand. They'd liberated the deer stand from Home Depot and placed up a tree where an easy and hidden eye could be kept on the alpha's lair. It had a ladder that could be disconnected if the rioters started sniffing around it, keeping whoever was there relatively safe and out of reach until back up could arrive. At that point, the radio would be turned on and used.

Ben and Eve were doing something around the Fort, Amanda and Travis were out foraging, or so they said. Ed suspected they were getting up to more than that, and he wouldn't mind catching sight of that in his binoculars. More Amanda than Travis, obviously. Everyone else was taking care of whatever their jobs were for the day. Ed's idiot wife was sitting in the school house right now overseeing the underage brats while they worked on whatever schoolwork Amanda had set up for the week. Usually it was Amanda who managed the schoolhouse, but today it was Idiot Lila and one of the Teenage Whores.

Ed swung his binoculars around the the west for a bit, just in case he could catch sight of Amanda and Travis. Just in case he was having a lucky day.

Ed woke up earlier than usual the next morning. Today was sort of his lucky day, it was his turn to go out hunting with Amanda. Alone. Ben had the deer stand, Travis was moving supplies up to the shop for people to access. He and Amanda were going to try to find some trace of the deer he'd seen.

He elbowed Lila awake. She held her tongue and stumbled to the the front room, to the area she'd turned into a kitchen with a little kerosene stove, to make him something to eat. They never ate breakfast at Eve's like the younger folks or Tammy did. Too much going on, too noisy, and Ed tended to feel out of sorts if someone else was in charge. Much better to start the day this way, as the man in his own castle and being treated right.

You're a pretty tough woman,” Ed told Amanda as they waited atop a small cliff face, watching for the deer. He gave her the look he considered charming and flirty. She raised an eyebrow, he couldn't discern if it was in interest or disdain.

Give me the binoculars,” she said. “I'm going to see if I can find more tracks.”

He handed her the binoculars and she began scanning the ground farther up ahead. “So you and Travis, huh?” Ed asked. “That's your boy?”

Me and Travis,” she said blandly.

You know you could probably beat him up,” Ed said, with a sneer.
No probably about it.”

I'm here for you if you find yourself in need of an actual man,” Ed began, placing his hand on her arm.

Suddenly he was on his knees with the hand he'd placed on her arm being held up just behind his neck so his arm was crooked like a crippled bird's wing and he couldn't effectively move to free himself. As smoothly, she had his other arm up behind his back by his thumb, one of her feet anchoring the back of his knee down in place. Ed could wriggle just the barest bit without pain, and could not use his strength in this position. She spoke very near his ear.

Hands off, Ed. Never touch me again. In fact, I know who you are.” She shook him a little. “You don't get to put your hands on anyone in the Fort without permission. And you don't get to hurt women while you're there, either.”

He began to protest and she pulled his thumb up farther, making him feel like she was going to break it. Ed swore in agony.

I mean it, Ed. You hurt your wife, you'll regret it. If you put your hands on me ever again, I'll kill you. And I won't feel a thing but satisfaction about it. Do you trust in that? I want you to trust in that.”

He gave a furious, desperate nod.

I don't WANT to hurt you, Ed. I don't want to hurt anyone. But I won't lose a second's sleep if you force this. People can make bad choices, like touching me without permission. But if we have this out of the way, we can be friends. Can we be friends, Ed?”

He wanted to shout at her and he wanted to hold her by the neck until she was sorry, but he couldn't move, just ineffectually waggle his bird-winged arm.

Because if we can't be friends, Ed...” She moved again, so quickly he couldn't track exactly what she'd done, and now the arm yanked up behind him was free, but there was a knee in his back and one of her arms was snug and tight up around his neck, her elbow right below his chin. Her arm tightened just a little and the world dimmed.

Friends,” he muttered, his voice strangled.

She released him as quickly as she'd incapacitated him in the first place, steadied him, even helped him up.

Fuck, bitch,” he began, and it sounded whiny even to him.

That's not how friends talk to each other,” she said. “I mean it. I will let this go if you understand you don't put your hands on me again. We'll be good.”

He stared at her, his heart malignant, considering. There was a pistol on his belt, and they both knew it. Her stare was steady and unafraid. He realized sickly he wasn't sure he could even get it out before she'd have him down again. He wasn't sure even if he got it out and aimed that she couldn't take him down before he could fire it.

Fuck, you're a fucking mean bitch. Fine. Friends.”

I am a mean bitch. Better to have me on your side.”

Oh, yeah,” he said, and groaned, stretching his sore muscles out.

She picked up the binoculars from where she'd dropped them to deal with him and tucked them into one of her jacket pockets. “It's going to be dark soon,” she said. “We have a decent idea where to try to pick up the trail tomorrow. Wanna go have a fucking drink back at the Fort?”

He looked her face, searched it, and saw only a friendly reserve there.

My treat, Ed. I have some vodka, we'll both have a couple slugs, as friends.”

You know what, it's a deal,” he said at last.

I'm glad.” Now she grinned at him. He shook his head, bemused.

Travis found her later, standing in the unused building behind the gatehouse, inspecting the old cells used to lock prisoners up.

Some new kinky game?” he asked.

She pretend-slugged his arm. “Nerd. Maybe. You think we have some locks that would work on these doors if we need to?”

“Probably. How sure do you want me to be?”

“I just want to be ready for anything. Check in the morning for me?”

Anything you ask, little lady,” he said in his best cowboy voice.

Well, in that case,” she said demurely, and took his hand to lead him back to her room.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Some Nights I Stay Up Cashing In My Bad Luck

Todd and Lewis took the snowplow into town to find the pharmacy. “Truck uses less fuel,” Lewis said, pulling a cigarette out of his chest pocket.

Don't you smoke that in here,” Todd said. “Joy is a lady.”

Ain't no lady got two ugly dudes up in her all at once.”

One ugly dude,” Todd corrected him.

Fine, one ugly dude, but you're ugly enough for any three dudes,” Lewis said serenely.

Now, that is hurtful. What would your mother say?”

She'd say you're ugly enough for about six dudes and one hideous lady.”

Give me a cigarette, asshole,” Todd said, failing to keep an entirely straight face. They rolled their windows down and lit their cigarettes. Todd took a long drag. “I think I'd like your mama.”

Lewis grunted. Todd might have liked his mama, but his mother liked just about nobody back.

Joy uses more fuel, but won't take damage if we run down even a crowd of red-eyed people eaters,” Todd said.

Fair,” Lewis agreed. They rode in silence until they hit town.

Fisher Spring, Population 11,346,” Todd read aloud as they passed the sign into town.

Bodies,” Lewis said laconically.

Possibly several whole zombies as well.”

Fisher Spring had burned to the ground in large swathes. Perhaps rain had ended the burning, because the northwestern part of town still mostly stood. Luckily the pharmacy Todd remembered was in that part of town, tucked in between some elderly multi-use buildings and a fifties era gas station. At some point someone had knocked down enough of the multi-use buildings – storefronts with apartments above – to build this large dime store type pharmacy with a big enough parking lot to park Joy Rider comfortably.

Gonna go over there, see if there's gas,” Lewis said, nodding at the gas station.

I'll rummage around in here and get Marvie's meds.” Todd headed for the pharmacy.

Antibiotics,” Lewis reminded.

Good call, good call.”

The sliding doors into the pharmacy were closed, but responded nicely to Todd's crowbar prying them open. Inside looked like it had been tossed, but aside from food, it seemed most things had been left behind. Probably the zombies had been in and out while the power was still on and the doors still worked.

Todd grabbed a couple Coleman coolers with wheels and a handle and dragged them back behind the pharmacy counter, popping that door open with the crowbar too.

He consulted Marvie's list and grabbed the entire supply of each medicine she'd listed for her health problems. He grabbed Ritalin, just in case they found someone who could tell them how much Ryan needed. The rest of the space in the two coolers he loaded up with antibiotics and pain medications.

After stowing those two coolers in the back bin of the snowplow, he grabbed two more, noting six other coolers scattered around. They seemed like expedient storage and like they could be useful, and he suspected they could handily strap them to the top of one of the campers or scatter them between all the vehicles wherever they'd fit.

Thinking about that, he grabbed a bunch of bungie cords and stuffed them in his pockets. Then he cleared out the first aid section of useful items and over the counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. He loaded those coolers in the back of the plow, in the open top bin that usually held salt or dirt or whatever the plow was using to add traction to the road. Before he went back into the pharmacy, he used the bungie cords to secure the coolers shut.

This time inside he started gathering up socks, supplies for Galaxie the yorkie, and underwear. He'd just moved on to coloring supplies to keep Ryan busy when Lewis came bolting in like hell was on his heels. He ran past Todd with a bare nod, grabbed two cans of dog food, and bolted back out of the pharmacy. Todd hurried after him to find Lewis cracking open the cans with his buck knife in front of the open door of the gas station.

Lewis dumped the first can on the ground and backed off a little, crouching down and signaling to Todd to be silent with a finger across his lips.

Slowly, cautiously, a thin hungry hound dog with fur nearly as red as Lewis' bright hair inched out of the gas station building.

Good girl,” Lewis said softly. “Come get some, it's good.”

She whined a little, thumped her tail, and crouched a bit to ease forward until she could gobble up the food he'd dumped out for her. When it was gone she lifted her head and looked at Lewis.

I got more, little girl. See?” He dumped the next can out near his feet.

The hound inched forward again until she could get at the next pile of food. She wolfed that down and looked at Lewis again. Todd could see her fear and hope etched in her posture as starkly as her ribs etched her sides.

Can I pet you?” Lewis asked. He put his hand out for her to smell. She sniffed him, then gave him a long lick up his arm. With that he reached out and picked her right up, standing with her in his arms. She barked joyously.

Todd looked around to make sure nothing heard her, at least nothing interested in attacking them.

Let's go get you a collar and stuff,” Lewis said lovingly.

Who knew Lewis Pentillion was such a softie?” Todd asked in wonder.

Fuck you.”

They got her a collar from the drug store, and a leash, and a dog jacket, since she was so thin. While Lewis stood guard at the front of the store, crouched by the hound and petting her, Todd filled a couple coolers with food for a dog her size. He secured the tops of the coolers with bungies and walked them to the front of the store and handed them off to Lewis, who hauled them out and stowed them, the hound at his side. In this way they loaded up as much of the useful supplies and canned food the zombies hadn't been interested in as they could before dusk began turning to full dark. Lewis had already filled several gas containers and loaded them up in the back of the plow before he'd realized there was a dog present.

The hound sat between them in the cab of the plow, her tongue lolling happily, as they headed back to the camp.

Calling her Scout,” Lewis said. He pulled the unlit cigarette out of Todd's hand and tucked into his pocket. “Can't smoke in the car with her. She ain't well yet. And her lungs are smaller'n yours anyway.” Todd sighed, but fished out the rest of the pack he'd lifted off Lewis earlier and gave it back to the other man.

I like skill names,” Todd mused. “Hunter, trapper, scout.”

Scout like Scout Finch,” Lewis said, sternly.

I didn't know you could read!”


They heard the gunshots well before the rest stop was in sight. Scout stood alert between them, Lewis' hand on her collar.

Todd sped up.

As they came around the corner of the off ramp into the rest stop, they saw everyone was holed up in Marvie's trailer. Two small windows were open just enough to allow gunfire, and a couple of the fifteen million candlepower spotlights shone out of two other windows, probably being held by Marvie and Ryan as it was almost certainly Tim and Kirsten doing the shooting. They could hear the booming report of Tim's .30-06 and the smaller pop pop of Kirsten's little .22 pistol.

Todd stopped the plow to assess, and Lewis pointed to the group of zombies waiting in the shade of an old minivan with broken windows and flat tires, protected from the painful glare of the spotlights.

What the fuck, a group?!” Todd whispered. “They eat each other.”

Lewis pointed again. There at the edge of the wood surrounding the rest stop, shaded from the spotlights by a tree trunk, stood a lone figure, fully upright, watching the zombies and the people. It made some sort of gesture and two of the zombies raced out from behind the minivan and rushed the camper, shrieking at the bright lights.

Shots from inside the camper managed to drop them before they got too close.

Todd switched on his high beams and turned the plow to shine them on the figure in the wood, which stumbled back in surprise, just enough. There was a sharp report from Tim's rifle and the figure fell.

As one the remaining zombies screamed in pain. Shuddering with a horror he barely registered on a conscious level at their eerie response, Todd slammed his foot down on the accelerator and smashed Joy's plow into the minivan, shoving it to the side, smearing zombies all over the pavement. Lewis had his window down by then and slid up to sit on the door, his Colt already out.

Between Lewis and Tim, they managed to destroy any still moving zombies. Cautiously, Tim came out of the RV, his rifle ready, Marvie right behind him holding one of the spotlights. After a quick but careful sweep of the area, the adults all congregated around the fallen body of the figure in the woods.

Marvie held the spotlight on its lower setting on the figure.

Don't look like a zombie,” Lewis said.

He's fully dressed,” Tim agreed, uneasily. “His clothes are dirty, but they're not torn to shit. And his eyes aren't red, and his skin isn't flushed.”

He's definitely dead, though,” Marvie said with relief.

This guy was commanding the others, I'm sure of it. He was gesturing at them when those last two ran out to attack,” Todd said.

A man who can control zombies? Did he train them?” Tim asked.

Worse'n that,” Lewis said sourly. “Ain't going all X-files or nothin', but those Hoosier fucks couldn't see this guy when he gave orders, and I don't think he made a noise.”

Todd felt the hair raise on the back of his neck. “Well, shit.”

Let's have another look around, then take turns keeping watch, 'cause we gotta move out in the morning,” Lewis said. “Sooner we get to Minnefuckingsota the better.”

I knew I'd convert you,” Todd said. “You'll be a real Minnesotan in no time. You and Tim got patrol so I can grab Marvie her meds?”

Got it, boss,” Lewis said, and Todd glanced at him, surprised to find no sarcasm there.

Got it. Make sure we're clear, set up watch, get the hell out of here in the morning,” Tim said.

Make it so,” Todd said.

Goddammit,” Lewis sighed.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

They Just Seem A Little Weird

Percy took the first step onto the basement floor, Donna right behind him. Their flashlights flicked on at the same moment. In another situation, Percy would have recommended continuing carefully in the dark, but bright lights tended to cause the rotters to flinch away, and that was useful.

Donna swept to the right with her beam of light, Percy swept to the left. They'd become naturally coordinated over the last couple of weeks. Percy had training, Donna had good street smarts and a willingness to learn.

Percy never spoke of his training, despite the obviousness there had been training. He never spoke much of his life Before at all. That first night he'd found Donna and Sherie huddled together in an tiny multi-use office building in a tiny backwater of a town, he'd simply said he could help keep them safe and would offer them no harm. He'd proven himself in the night that night, hearing and responding to a hungry rotter long before the other two had heard it coming. The quiet, competent man had also been the one to find Rebecca after the caved in building disaster that had separated Rebecca from her daughter, Georgie, and Aimes, the former Marine trying to get the mother and daughter safely to the Hoover Dam.

At first Percy had been reluctant to escort Rebecca to the Dam, feeling the farther they all stayed away from the military presence there the better. “Have you seen what happens when some former military asshat puts himself in charge of a bunch of desperate civvies?” he'd asked, but said no more against it when Rebecca made it clear that was her best chance of reuniting with Georgie.

“All right,” he'd said, simply. “I'll get you there. And I guess I'll get you back out if we have to do that, too. With the kid.”

Now Percy took point as he and Donna crept through the basement. He pointed out daylight spilling into the basement from around a corner and the far end. Between them and that corner were several dark rooms with closed doors and one on the right with a broken door. As they moved, silently, he tested each door knob.

All were locked and secure.

At the broken door, he swept the room with his light, then motioned to Donna to guard the door while he had a closer look. “Just some supplies. Nothing we can use, mostly cleaning and paper supplies,” he said, very quietly, as he came back to the door. “Some animal nesting. Probably rodents.”

“Blech,” Donna said softly with a shudder. He pointed at the corner with the daylight filtering across the floor and wall and they headed that way. Donna felt her hackles rise. If there was an open window or door to the outside down that way, anything could have come inside.
They eased around the corner, shutting their flashlights down. Beyond the corner was a heavy, broken door leading into a boiler room scattered with debris. The sunlight came from a small, broken window on the wall opposite the door; it lit up enough of the hall and the room for them to see, but the sunlight created shadows that cast much of the room into murky darkness. It was just big enough that a human being – or something human sized – could have wriggled through.

Donna stilled, unable to tell if the darkness held motion or if her eyes were playing a nasty trick. After a moment, Percy motioned them forward again.

They moved slowly, silently. Every nerve ending Donna had felt a hard pinch of caution.
Percy reached the window and a screaming shadow lept for him from behind the boiler to his right.

Donna screamed in response and had her Louisville Slugger up before a conscious thought could even have passed.

“Donna, stop!” Percy shouted, trying to fight off the snarling shadow.

I'm not-” she yelled back before realizing he didn't think she was attacking him, he was telling her to hold off.

With a final cry, Percy managed to dislodge the shadow and Donna saw it clearly. A terribly thin cat, clearly a nursing mother, yowled angrily and sternly at them. The two shaken humans slowly backed away from her.

She feinted a lunge, shrieking again, and Donna tripped over some of the debris, twisting her knee and falling backwards, smacking the side of her head on a thick boiler pipe. The world went blurry.

Somewhere, far away, the airhorn blared.

She heard Percy curse. “Go,” she said, urgently. “I'll... I'll catch up. Go!”

He vaulted over her and was gone. The mama cat retreated behind the boiler.

“Smell you,” hissed the voice on the other side of the classroom door, and the doorknob began to jiggle violently.

Rebecca smothered a yelp with both hands.

“SMELL THAT,” the harsh voice growled. A barely human face pressed itself against the narrow window in the classroom door, and Rebecca recognized the boss rotter they'd run into earlier, whose followers they'd taken out before seeking refuge here in the school.

The creature gnashed its teeth against the window and jimmied the door, pounding on it with one hand. Its eyes bulged and were blood red.

“You can work the doorknob,” Rebecca whispered, watching the doorknob turning side to side in horror.

“You,” the boss rotter hissed. “Smell you. You die.”

“You can talk!”

“Rebecca!” Sherie said sharply from inside the closet. “Airhorn and get the hell in here!”

Rebecca scrambled to do just that. She blasted the airhorn a couple times, and the creature snorted in pain, dropping down below the door window and out of sight. Quickly grabbing the backpacks and a chair, Rebecca hurried into the storage closet, shutting the closet door. She wedged the chair beneath the knob, grateful that the door opened into the closet so she could effectively wedge it this way and not risk them being locked into the closet as if they would be if she'd had to lock it from the outside.

Percy whipped around the corner toward the classroom, club hammer cocked up and back and ready. He noted in that split second the boss rotter, the damage it was doing to the classroom door, that the door was about to be broken open, that it was alone in the hallway.

It noted as quickly the danger it was in. With a final, snarling shove, it slammed into the breaking door and splintered it around the handle, breaking inwards to the classroom.

Percy was inside the doorway just as it scrambled up, disturbingly fast, scrambling to find purchase to leap towards him. He brought his left knee up and pumped his leg out toward the creature, kicking it backwards into a sprawl across the floor. His left foot came down and he used his momentum to swing himself forward. Using the leverage in his shoulder, elbow, and wrist as he brought the hammer sweeping down, he lunged in and smashed it across the jaw, dropping onto its chest with his other knee.

It made a wet, huffing “hhchchooorkh” sound as its chest forcibly deflated beneath his weight, blood spattering upwards from its damaged face. Percy reversed his hold on the hammer, bringing it up so he could smash it down full force on its forehead, hopefully ending the struggle.

Somehow it managed to get a hand up to deflect his dropping arm, brushing the hammer to the side just enough that it only struck a glancing blow. It gripped his arm with fierce strength and raised its head up just enough to bite his arm, sharp teeth sinking deeply into his skin.

Asshole!” he snapped. He shoved his forearm further into its mouth, pushing its head back against the floor, forcing its jaw downward to apply pressure to the hinge of its jaw.

It gagged and struggled against him. He grabbed his hammer in his left hand and repeatedly smashed it into the rotter's face with all the force he could muster at that angle, continuing relentlessly until the rotter's face was obliterated and it was still beneath him.

Oh my God, Percy,” Rebecca said, and he managed to push himself off the creature and turn to face her. He wobbled a bit and she rushed to help him into the rocking chair. “You're bleeding.”

Yeah,” he said, dropping the hammer, helping her get his long sleeved shirt off his injured arm. Clinically, he noted it was not a life threatening injury and would not cause permanent disability, as long as it did not become infected. “Grab the first aid kit.”

Donna sat beside him as he lay in the supply closet on the bed originally made for Sherie.

We've got the truck secured and loaded. We have the maps we need to get us to the dam. We're ready, Percy.”

“Good,” he whispered, his voice thin and raspy. “Do not hesitate to kill anything that gets in your way.”

We won't,” Donna promised.

You could still come with us,” Sherie said, leaning against the doorway, looking in at Percy as he rested.
Can't,” he said, as sternly as he could manage. “Something is very wrong inside. Losing coherence. Losing me. Don't know what will happen when I am all gone.”

We can get more antibiotics,” Rebecca said. “Different ones. Something. Just because the ones we had didn't work...”

Not an infection. Not like that,” Percy said. “You know that.”

And it was true – his arm had healed over the last week, better than they had expected, even. There was no sign of infection at the wound site.

Write it in the book,” he told Rebecca. “Make sure people know. Boss rotters have something bad in their bite even if the normal ones just have germs in theirs.”

We will,” Donna said. “We could come back and check on you, maybe.”

No. You won't like what you'd find.”

She nodded slowly, understanding. Rebecca assumed – hoped - he meant how he'd have changed by then, but the other two women knew he intended to end his life as soon as the women were out of sight so he couldn't become something that would endanger them. It was also why he refused to let them stay with him any longer.

Get to the dam. Get to the kid. Keep an eye out,” he said. “Be bad ass. You are bad ass.”

I promise,” the women all said, as one.

Donna kissed his forehead as if he were one of her children, and they left him there, alone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Right Here Waiting

“She's in the building with us,” Rebecca said in a whisper. She fiddled with the arm of her glasses, the right lens cracked along the top. Her warm sweater hung on her, she'd lost so much weight over the last month. Donna was worried about her; there was enough food since the rotters didn't take the canned stuff or anything packaged well enough that it didn't smell like food. The younger woman was simply unable to bring herself to eat often enough. Rebecca had become separated from her daughter and the former Marine who had been looking after the two of them shortly before Donna found her; their secondary goal as a group was to get Rebecca back to her daughter and hopefully bring the former Marine into their group. The primary goal, of course, was living long enough to do so.

Are you sure?” Donna asked. Shorter, more confident, fierce in a fight, she had become a bulwark for the other two women and the de facto leader of their small group. Percy, though he avoided leadership moments, needed less emotional support and was usually content to do his own solitary work. Right now Percy was scouting out the school the small group had holed up in, making sure it was safe enough and checking for food and supplies.

“I heard a door open back that way,” Rebecca said, gesturing to the west of them. “Percy's that way.” She gestured in the opposite direction.

“They can't open doors, can they?” Sherie asked. Freshly bandaged, having been injured in the fight with the strange flu rioter they were currently hiding from, she was sitting in the reading corner rocking chair with her wounded leg propped up on a tiny desk chair. Her hair fell into her face. Usually an endless font of humor and dirty jokes, Sherie looked worn out and the pain of her injury was clear on her face.

“We've got this door pretty secure,” Donna said, giving the chair they had wedged beneath the doorknob a pat. “I've never seen them open a door before, but this rotter is weird. It had a following and it was giving them some kind of orders.”

Percy had been the first of the group to start calling them rotters, originally because he'd been so tired he'd slurred the word rioters one late evening. The name had stuck.

“That was creepy,” Sherie muttered.

“Well, it doesn't have a following now,” Donna said, fire in her voice. “It's alone. We will be just fine.”

“I'm going to write this down while it's fresh,” Rebecca said. She opened her backpack and pulled out her ragged journal. “It's new, it needs documenting. Boss rotters and follower rotters.”

“Thank you, Rebecca,” Donna said. “Anything, any information, we can give the soldiers at the dam is going to be helpful.”

Was planning to get to Vegas sometime,” Sherry said. “Kinda pictured way more strippers and naked ladies in general when I get there, though.” Donna pulled a blanket out of her backpack and covered the other woman up. “Thanks, beauty,” Sherie said.

“Nap,” Donna said. “I'm going to go find Percy and warn him.”

Rebecca looked up in alarm.

“Wedge the door shut with the chair after me,” Donna told her. “If the rotter starts messing with the door, use the airhorn to warn us, and we'll be right here to take care of it.”

Rebecca nodded and set her journal down, moving to do as Donna said. Donna's belly clenched as the door shut between them, her in the hall, the other women safely in the classroom, and she heard the chair being wedged beneath the doorknob again.

Rebecca walked around the classroom, searching for vulnerabilities and supplies. The windows were low and operable as a fire escape, but sturdy and locked. She wasn't sure if the boss rotter was capable of planning to break the windows, so she closed the shades to make less of a target, reasoning she could peek around the shades to keep watch. There was a small, narrow window in the door to the hall, she left that uncovered so she could watch for Donna or Percy.

She found warehouse store sized boxes of granola bars, fruit leather, and cheddar crackers shaped like fish in the teacher's storage closet. There was also a pile of floor cushions and some small fleece nap blankets; she spread out some of the floor cushions to make a mattress and a raised spot for Sherie's foot, then helped Sherie into the closet to stretch out.

“This way we can barricade ourselves in here if the boss rotter makes it through the door before Donna and Percy get to us,” Rebecca told Sherie. “And you can really rest. There's snacks here, and little bitty water bottles. Gonna leave the door open unless there's trouble, though.” She covered Sherie with a couple of the small fleece blankets.

“Keep the airhorn with you,” Sherie reminded her. “Love ya, girl, but it's naptime for me right now.”

“Will do,” Rebecca said, and returned to the main classroom to walk between the windows and the door, watching for trouble.
Percy swept from room to room, silent, eyes adjusted to the interior darkness, club hammer in hand. He had several guns on him, but guns brought attention, both from the rotters and from human survivors, and he preferred to be the one doing the finding in both cases. This hammer lacked the sharp edges of his shingling hatchet, but it was heavier and more easily cracked skulls. Cracked skulls wouldn't always kill a rotter, but it would knock them silly long enough to finish them off.

The old movies used to always say kill the brain, kill the zombie, but that wasn't completely true now that the walking undead surrounded them. You had to kill the creature enough that it couldn't heal before it died, and they healed fast. He'd seen plenty of rotters around missing limbs or with caved in heads. You had to make them dead enough that in the before world, they'd have died before an ambulance arrived.

It's not like they healed in front of you, just that if they didn't immediately die, they'd go hide somewhere until they did heal.

Parts of the school looked absolutely destroyed by fire and smashing damage. The cafeteria was wrecked, tables strewn about with visible violence. Enough of the building stood untouched, though, that locked up, it would be a fairly safe hidey hole for now, until they could move Sherie, had a working vehicle, and built up their supplies again.

He heard soft, careful footsteps behind him and ducked into the deeper shadows of an alcove with broken drinking fountains in it. Carefully, he edged up enough to look toward the footfalls, and saw Donna warily inching along the wall, clearly looking for him.

“Hey,” he said quietly, and she jumped, then hurried to the alcove where he stood.

“Rebecca heard a door open up that way,” she said, as quietly, pointing to the west. “They're barricaded into the class room. I came to let you know, and so we can go check it out together.”

“You don't have to come with,” he said.

“Yeah, I do,” she said, smiling, though her tone was sharper than her expression. “Teamwork, and also not leaving us wondering what happened to you. If she got you, I'd still have to come out to find you.”

“You're the boss,” he said, mildly.

“I guess you're the Enforcer,” she said, grinning.

“The Enforcer is my middle name, actually,” he said. “It was my mother's name.” He glanced down, confirming Donna held her Louisville Slugger. “All right, let's go see what we see. Everything's locked down and empty this way. I blocked any doorway that couldn't be locked that offers entrance into the school from the outside.”

“Anything in the kitchen for supplies?”

“Not at a glance, but there's a couple store rooms yet. I just made sure they didn't open to the outside, I didn't inventory them.”

She nodded, then moved behind him so they could begin the search to the west of the building. Donna felt a moment of gratitude that the building was a small enough elementary school that there was no upper floor, just the main level and presumably a basement.

“Basement secure?” she whispered. He gave her a look over his shoulder, reminding her he'd taught them whispering was easier to hear than careful, quiet speech.

“Haven't run into the basement yet.”



Sherie napped, exhausted, snoring lightly. Rebecca crouched near the door of the classroom, listening. It sounded to her like something was moving around a neighboring classroom, pushing furniture around, making soft noises that could be speech.

She hoped it was Donna and Percy.