Archive for September, 2011

Thank you to all of you who submitted and voted. You guys have made our first contest a complete success. Again, we would like to thank Kershaw Knives USA, Sean T. Page, and BAEN Books for their sponsorship and support. Feel free to continue reading the entries and commenting on them. Keep checking back for new content, because we have a lot heading your way.

Thanks for reading
-Eric
ZAI

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So there is a guy out there that was doing something so awesomely crazy, the first time I saw his photos, I knew he was one of us. His name is Aaron, and he is just crazy enough to have done something that I think everyone at some point or another has wanted to do: Take an old car and chop it up and “Mad Max” it into something incredible. Read on:

"1967 American Motor Comp. Hornet Sportabout Wagon.....gone wrong"

Name: Aaron Ewers
Age: 26
Location: Currently Marysville Ca, but in 3 weeks well be moving to Panama City Fl, cross country drive!

Q: What the hell is this thing?
A: It is a 1967 American Motor Comp. Hornet Sportabout Wagon…..gone wrong

Q: Why this car?
A: Well, a buddy (Biggity Bob) gave me the car, for free.  I planned on fully restoring the car.  Upon looking up parts, I found they were rather hard to obtain, and fairly expensive … the hornet isn’t a car you see every day.

Q: Walk us through start to current set up of the project
A: Hum, well, it started with the push bar I got from the guy that gave me the car, at that point I knew where we were going…I found random stuff, and threw it on the car…

No Zpoc rig would be complete without the obligatory Shark teeth!

Q: Is it finished?
A: A “project” car is never finished

Q: List of modifications?
A: Oh boy, where to start…..
Front push bar setup including spikes and headlight protection, a rear bumper made from over 100lbs of steel with spiked for added strength, a roof rack to haul supplies, light bar and siren to attract people stranded and zombies for sport hunting, spikes on the front of the roof rack to protect the viewing dome in fwd motion, caribou racing seats, alpine head unit to rock out to, the rear is lifted with 4 additional springs added to the leaf spring stack for extra height and weight carrying capability, several off-road lights on the front as well as the rear

Q: Power-train?
A:  She currently has the original inline 258 inline six (4.2) full drive line is stock … for now

Q: What have you tried that didn’t work?
A: So far, the spikes on the lower part of the push bar … I’ve ripped off about 6 of 10.

Q: What has worked?
A:  So far everything except the front lower spikes that didn’t work

Q: How long have you been a zombie guy?
A: Since I converted this beast into a zombie hunting machine, March 2011, new to the game

Q: Tell us about yourself and why you modified your car this way.
A: I’m a guy that likes to mod cars … but a little differently than most people.  I modded this car this way because its easier to use items to build a car that are stupid cheap or free versus items that cost a arm and a leg … I cant afford that .. I need all my arms and legs.

Q: How do you suggest handling the fuel issues when zpoc happens?
A: Well…its gonna be hit and runs on gas stations until a additional fuel tank is added, think mad max style, but with more armor.  May convert to diesel…more fuel capabilities compared to gas engines.

The exhaust "stack" has since been replaced with Lakes Pipes.

Q: How about storage? Is there any special storage for supplies or weapons?
A: Well actually, you’ll notice the car has 2 shovels mounted on the front of the roof rack…those slide out quickly for defense, we have the ability to handle 4 different styles of tools (axles, shovels, picks, pitch forks), there is a gun rack in the rear, and AMC gave an option for a under floor storage in the rear of the car, which we have, more weapon storage there, plus the cars huge rear end.

Q: Tell us about some of the special features designed specifically for surviving a zombie outbreak
A: This car is built mainly for strike attacks on zombies.  The front bar is built high to prevent any damage to the front end and the head lights.  More will be added for protection for all glass, but currently haven’t found any material stupid cheap or free … so it’ll wait for a bit.  The rear bumper is for rear end hits … and the spikes on the rear pillars are for impaling on impact.

Q: What special skills did you have to learn to make this?
A: A huge skill has been welding.  I’ve done a lot of welding on this car.  There is some metal working besides cutting pipe and what not, the rear step on the back bumper has an AMC emblem cut into it.

Q: I see a progression in your pictures, how long did this take?
A:  A matter of about 8 months to get this far

Q: Were you able to do this alone?
A:  I’ve done most of the work alone id say, the biggest help is people giving me materials for the car.

Q: What improvements have you made, other than armor?
A:  Interior mainly, nicer seats and stereo.

Note the aggressive stance.

Q: What kind of response do you get from this?
A:  Most people love it, I find people taking pics all the time, lots of thumbs up … whooping and hollering.

Q: Pulled over much?
A: Only once.  I was on Beale AFB during an air show, I had a chest and 2 old military gas cars on the roof rack, they pulled me over for a suspected terrorist … after handing over my military ID, I was let go, laughing my ass off.

Q: I see a coke can on the roof. Aside from Coke being the greatest beverage of all time, what’s that all about?
A: Well … you asked a question about it … so it worked … the point of the can on the roof, 2 reasons … make people go “why” and scare people driving behind me, they think its gonna fall off … people chase me down and let me know so I don’t lose my beverage.

Q: Is this a disease? Like did it start with something small and just escalate?
A: Modifying cars is a disease, I’ve been doing it for 9 years, it started with pin-striping on a car when i was 18 up to a 6 inch chop top on my xB as well as currently stuffing a V8 into it…so yes … it escalates … badly!!   Hi … my name is Aaron and I can not leave a car stock.

Q: Family support? i.e. Have you had to sleep on the couch over this?
A: My wife fully supports it.  She has supported me pretty much every step of the way from cutting the roof off a car not yet paid off … and to this car, she’s only not so supportive when it means slowing me down if it means keeping me from killing our bank account … which I thank her for saving our ass there.

Q: How much money have you put into this?
A: Well … total from registering it to now, Id say between $200-$300, not too bad.  The most expensive item has been a new starter, about $175 if I remember right.

Q: Zombie survival, do you have a team? If so, what is your role? The role of others?
A: It’s my wife and I currently, sitting for 2 people really, the rear seats stay folded down.  Any others are picked up in emergencies or have their own car.

Q: If you had to start over, what would you do different?
A: Nothing at all … I like where she’s at.

Q: What advice would you give to someone undertaking a similar project?
A: Use a simple car, not all the electrical stuff, simple is easy to fix generally.  Use heavy gauge items, thin breaks.

Check out the Zombie Hunter Hornet page on Facebook.

When Z-day gets here, hope to see The Zombie Hunter Hornet coming to get you!

So what do you think, ZAI Nation: Should this be the official vehicle of ZAI?

More To Come

Posted: 2011/09/25 in Uncategorized
Tags:

The Zpoc is just around the corner. Keep reading this page to be ready when it gets here.

 

With the submissions to the contest wrapped up, and voting well under way, we want to move on to more content. Stand by, because more is on the way and I think you will enjoy it. Hopefully you have subscribed to the page, linked the RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook by now. Also, hopefully you have spread the word to all your friends, family, loved ones and strangers on the street*.

We are committed to bringing our awesome fans the best, most informative and entertaining product we can. We love feedback and input, and we love that you guys share our info with others. If someone sent you here let us know in the comments.

Also, we are trying to make our page easier to navigate. Check at the top of the page for links to the contest. You voted, right?

When we opened the voting last week, our daily page visits jumped 1000 percent. Literally. Our daily hits are falling off a bit so we need to keep our content coming. We are planning some guest submissions (If you would like to submit something for publication on this page, drop us a line at zpoc.awareness@gmail.com) as well as some interviews with cool Zombie fanatics like us and more helpful and fun content.

So keep following our pages and keep commenting and sharing. It’s what keeps us going.

Don’t touch that dial!

-Eric

ZAI

 

*Note: If you are going to talk to random strangers, make sure they aren’t zombies first. If they aren’t, please inform them of the impending Zpoc and how our page can help keep their ass alive. If they are double tap to the head**.

**Their head, not yours.

Alright ZAI fans. We are going to open the voting up for the short stories now. Here is how it will work. Go to your favorite story and post a comment on it that just says “1 Vote”

We will only tally comments that say “1 Vote”

I know the rules say voting will start on the 24th, but we have decided to open voting now. Voting will close at 11:59pm PST, September 29.

Feel free to comment and leave feedback on the stories, but the only comments that will count toward the winning submission will be ones that say “1 Vote”

Thank you to all of you who submitted, and good luck. Thank you as well to Kershaw Knives and Sean T. Page for giving us awesome stuff to give away as prizes!

**Side Note: We will still accept submissions for stories if you would like to send them, but only the current ones that are below this post are eligible for prizes and voting. **

Thanks,

ZAI

Roulette

by Raymond Contour

 

 

Moscow Prison, September 8, 1812

                Mikhail crouched on the cot in the corner of his cell shivering.  His arm was numb below the elbow, and his hand stunk where that bastard had bit him.  Bit him!  Now he had an infection from the bastard’s filthy mouth.  The bite was had become a weeping, stinking sore with a speed that horrified and astonished him.  He needed better food to fight the infection off.  Cold borscht and moldy bread was not enough.  At least his cellmate wouldn’t be biting anyone else.

Mikhail had always been strong and healthy, and when that moaning bastard had come at him a second time for another bite, Mikhail had used all his strength to put that biting mouth through the bars along with the head the mouth was part of.  The biter’s head had cracked and he had slid to the floor.  In a rage Mikhail stomped his head until one of his eyes popped out.

Stomach cramps nearly doubled him over.  He considered going over and kicking the body again, but wasn’t sure if he could make it as the room began to spin.

“Help me, I’m sick!” he cried out.  It was quickly getting worse.  He tried to stand, but accidently shit his pants instead.  As he rolled off the bed to the floor he could hear someone coming toward his cell.  He lifted his head, though it took every bit of his strength.

“Ah, looks like we have another.  Hurry, this one is going fast.  If we’re quick we won’t have to gag and tie him.  Come, you will be set free soon.”  Someone entered the cell and grabbed Mikhail by the ankles and dragged him into the hall before he blacked out.

 

 

Outside Moscow, September 13, 1812

 

                Bernard walked toward his tent.  Looking around he was amazed at how few tents remained from only a week ago, before Borodino.  Talk around the camp was that it had been the largest battle fought by the Grand Armee yet.  Supposedly it also delivered Napoleon his greatest loss of men.

Moscowwas in the distance, though.  It wasn’tSt. Petersburg, but when they took the city on the morrow it would certainly deal a heavy blow to the Russian morale.  Scouts had come back with reports that most of the city had been abandoned.  These Russians were no fools.  There was no way they could holdMoscownow that the greatest army in the known world was at their doorstep.  Bernard opened the flap to the tent and entered.

“Dear God, close that quick!  It’s freezing out there,” Jean-Claude barked at him.  None of them had gotten used to the cold here.  Back home it would be not yet autumn with warm days and cool nights.  Here it was freezing every night.

“Kiss my ass.  While you were in here sleeping I single-handedly killed a dozen Cossacks.  The Emperor says he will let us use their heads for latrines.  I am to be promoted to General tomorrow.”  There was no response.  The mood in the tent, and in the entire camp, was melancholy.  No one remained who had not lost a brother in arms atBorodino.  Bernard sat on his cot and began to pull off his boots.  He looked at the center of the tent where three muskets leaned against one another in a tripod.  It had been five.  The oil lamp that hung above them gave off poor light and worse heat.

“Good night, then brothers,” Bernard bid his tent-mates.

“And to you,” Jean-Claude replied.  Henri did not even respond.  They left the lamp on for heat through the night.

 

 

Moscow, September 13, 1812

               

                Petro stood in the abandoned mansion before his ataman, old Boris Ostap, listening as the plan was outlined.  Petro’s was the last unit of Cossacks left inMoscow.  In fact, his unit was some of the last Russians left inMoscow.  Days before the French had arrived outside the city most of the residents had been evacuated.  The pompous French fools believed that they would deal a heavy blow to the Russians by taking the city.  They had no idea what a hollow victory it would be for them.

“Outside in a paddock are several hundred prisoners,” the old man rumbled in his deep voice through his shaggy mustache.

“Yes, I heard them when we arrived.  Their moaning troubles the horses.  They are sick, yes?”

“That would be a great understatement,” the ataman said while rubbing his balding head at the temples.  He looked tired.  “They have some sort of disease that is very horrible.  They pass it to one another by biting.  Once they are bit they seem to almost die.  Their bodies rot and reek.  The process, I am told, is very painful.  Once they have caught the disease, though, they are truly something.  Aside from breaking open their skull, they cannot be stopped and they attack anything alive.  Prince Mikhail Kutuzov believes he would like to see this infection spread through the ranks of the French.”

“What do you require of my Cossacks,” Petro asked the old man.

“Tomorrow morning I want you to lead the diseased prisoners toward the French following the routes on the map I just showed you.”

“They seemed…unruly.  Will they listen to the commands of my men?”

“Hah!  No, Petro.  They will chase you as best they can through the streets.  It will be the job of your men to stay ahead of them while drawing them toward the advancing French.”

“I see.  I will now take some of that vodka you offered earlier.”

“You will need it.  There is more I need to tell you.  This is supposed to be secret from all but a few, but I feel you need to know.  Once the French have fully entered the city, the governor wants to put it to the torch.  Most everyone else thinks he’s mad, but he persists.”  Ataman Ostap poured the vodka into two glasses and slid one toward Petro.  “I fear that he will go ahead with his plan.  Keep track of where you go in the city tomorrow.  To herd the prisoners toward the French, many streets have been blocked.  You and your men do not want to be caught out there if the city does burn.”

Petro took the vodka and sipped it slowly.  It was good, the warmth spreading through his chest.  Whoever had owned this house before them had been of means and knew how to spend.

“I understand.  I will instruct my men and make sure all know where they should be.  I will lead the first group.  I will have Ivan lead the second group.  I will tell him about the fire, though.”

“You can trust him?”

“He’s my starshy uryadnik, if he could not be trusted he would not be such.”

“Ivan was made starshy before you were weaned.  He has stayed there because he is surly.  Effective, but still surly.”

“As you say, it is so.”  Petro bowed slightly, took the map, and turned to leave.  He left the room and made his way downstairs to the ground level.  As he walked through the largest home he had ever seen he pondered what Ostap had told him.  He and his men were almost as much strangers here inMoscowas the French.  They would need to make a second copy of the map for his second group.  Getting lost was absolutely a death sentence.

Petro stood at the front door between the two men set on guard there.  He began to head for the houses his Cossacks has turned into their barracks, but instead turned and made his way toward the paddock which contained the prisoners.  He needed to see just what he was dealing with.

He smelled them long before he got to the paddock.  He’d had a man under his first command take a ball to the thigh years ago.  It had festered and turned black, leaking a greenish pus.  The smell from the paddock reminded him of that leg thrown into a latrine.  He nearly gagged before a gust of wind blew through and weakened the stench.

The paddock was originally just that.  It had been for some princeling or tsar-hopeful to play at riding horses, being a circle several hundred feet across in the middle of what appeared to have once been an open square.  The fence around it had been strengthened and raised.  It was now more than twice his height and nowhere was there a large enough gap for him to stick more than his arm through.  As he studied it, the wind changed direction again and he coughed as the putrid smell made its way down his throat so thick he could almost feel it.

The noise from his cough seemed to stir the prisoners.  Their moaning began and rose in volume.  It had an eerie, pained sound to it.  Petro could see movement through the slats of the fence in the deepening dark of dusk.  Here and there hands were shoved through, reaching out for him.  Before he even gave a thought as to why, Petro drew his sabre.

Petro was not a cowardly man.  He was actually considered almost recklessly brave by his men, but at that moment something about these diseased prisoners drove a knife into soul.  Petro struck out with his sabre, the Cossack steel a blur in the twilight.  One of the reaching arms fell to the ground.

In his life Petro had used his sabre countless times in battle and in anger.  He did not remember a time like this.  The man who lost his arm did not cry out, nor did he even pull back what was left of his arm.  Worse was the blood.  Instead of shooting out bright red in time with a heartbeat, it leaked out in thick black drops.  Petro was stunned.  Every fiber of his body told him how wrong this was, but he needed to know what would be chasing him through the streets in the morning.

Making sure to avoid the growing number of arms reaching through the fence, Petro rammed his sabre between two slats.  He drove it up through the belly of the now-armless soldier, up past the ribs and into the heart.  As he withdrew the blade he twisted it to make sure he did as much damage as possible.  The cloudy eyes of the prisoner could be seen through some slats higher up.  The bastard didn’t even blink.  Petro drew one of the pistols at his belt, cocking the hammer in one smooth motion as the gun was brought up even with those eyes.

Petro pulled the trigger.  In a split second the hammer dragged the flint down the frizzen, sparks hit the pan igniting the flash charge, and the charge fired the pistol blasting a lead ball bigger than Petro’s thumb through the milky eye.  Even through the paddock fence Petro could see the head rupture and the prisoner drop to the ground completely still.

Two guards came running from the other side of the paddock, but Petro waved them away.  Petro holstered his pistol and sheathed his sabre as he walked away from the paddock.  He suddenly had no desire to sleep even in the same city as these monsters.  If this disease were loosed amongst the French, Petro decided, the city would have to burn to destroy them.  This disease could not be allowed to make its way across the motherland.

 

 

Outside Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

                Reveille had sounded not yet an hour ago, but the Grand Armee was already on the move.  Bernard, Jean-Claude, and Henri were on the road leading intoMoscow along with thousands of their countrymen.  For the first time sinceBorodino the mood amongst the troops was almost light.  News had moved through the army that the city was nearly deserted.

“Ah, dawn always looks bright when you know you will be sleeping in an enemy’s captured home come night,” Bernard declared.

“Sleeping on a bed, even a Russian bed, and under a roof will do good for every man here,” Jean-Claude said.  “We’re close enough to the head of the force that we should get a good house to before they’re all taken.”

“I suppose hoping that we find one with some wind is too much to ask for in this shitty country,” Henri nearly moaned.  He had lost his best friend atBorodinoand had been grieving since.

“Cheer up, Henri, we should be inside the city within the hour,” Bernard said as he clapped Henri on the back.

 

 

Moscow, near the paddock, September 14, 1812

 

Petro and his Cossacks stood a short distance from the paddock where the prisoners moaned and pushed against the fencing.  It almost seemed that they knew something was afoot, like they could sense what lay ahead.  Petro surveyed his men.  While the horses were unnerved, his men were doing their best to show no concern.

“Alright, Cossacks, you have your orders,” Petro addressed his men, “you have your equipment, you have your weapons, and you have your horses.  No one in the world can stand against you!”  The Cossacks were always dour before battle.  Today was no different.

“We are the last fifty Cossacks in Moscow.  I offered to the ataman to send thirty of you with the refugees.  I told him that to face forty thousand French twenty of us would be enough.  He said it was not allowed, as Prince Kutuzov feared if you were left loose amongst the refugee women that within two generations Russia would be overtaken by Cossacks.  I believe that was a reasonable fear.  You know what our orders from the ataman are today, and you know what your orders are from me.  It is my hope that we can complete our task and still catch up withMoscow’s women by the evening.  Now throw your asses in those saddles!”

Petro climbed into his saddle and cantered his horse over to where Ivan sat his own saddle.  The old veteran had fought in more battles than any other Cossack Petro had ever met.  The ataman was right in a way, as Ivan was truly surly when he had been drinking vodka.  Sober he was worse.  Certain things could be overlooked, though, when in the saddle charging at the enemy you were a demon.  Visually, a demon might have been preferable.  Ivan’s old face was a battlefield where wrinkles waged a constant war for dominance against his scars.  He kept most of his head shaved save for a long braided topknot of his white hair.  Petro had watched him strangle a man to death for having bad breath once.  Ivan’s company was not for all tastes.

It was behavior like that which caused Ivan to be tossed from commander to commander.  Petro was the first khorunzhy Ivan had served under for more than a year.  What amazed others who had been over him, was that Petro had promoted him all the way up to starshy uryadnik.   Placing men under him was the trick, Petro had found.  Some men would hate him, while some men were amazingly loyal to him.

“Remember, once you finish this, you and your men ride like hell.  Only engage the French if you have to.”

“Da.”  Ivan was not known as a wordy man.

“And be damn careful, between the French, the disease, and fire, there are many ways for a man to die today.”

“And you,” Ivan said after spitting out a large wad of phlegm.

“Men, form up!” Petro called and the Cossacks obeyed instantly.  Two teams of the finest mounted fighting menRussiahad ever produced readied themselves for their task.  Petro took his place at the head of his men while Ivan did the same.

Petro took a deep breath and signaled the guards at the paddock to open the gates.  The guards opened the locks and pulled open the paddock.  Instantly they were both set upon by the prisoners.  Petro and Ivan spurred their horses and leaped forward, their men following.  Chasing them toward the French were the screams of the guards.

Petro risked a glance over his shoulder just before the first turn that would lead them throughMoscow’s streets, and reigned his horse to a halt.  Hooves clattered on the cobbles of the street as his men did their best to not collide with one another.  Petro’s men looked at him and then followed his gaze back to the paddock.

The prisoners had stopped at the gates of the paddock where the guards fell to them.  It was not that they had stopped which caused Petro to stare, but why.  It looked from the few yards away where Petro was that the diseased prisoners were not just attacking the guards, but eating them.

The guards were no longer screaming and the prisoners were ripping and tearing pieces of flesh and guts and greedily stuffing them into their mouths.  Behind the first prisoners who stopped to attack the guards, the remainder of the occupants of the paddock moaned aloud while pushing and shoving to get closer to the fresh kill.  One of Petro’s younger Cossacks vomited loudly, setting the man next to him to the same task.

Petro looked to his right across the square to see that Ivan and his men had stopped as well.  Ivan looked to Petro seemingly asking for orders.  Petro was about to shrug when the prisoners apparently finished the last of the two guards and stood.  They seemed to be searching, more by scent than sight, for their next meal.  Petro had no intention of following the guards to their fate, nor seeing any of his men do so either.  He let out a loud cry to draw the attention of the prisoners, and Ivan followed suit.

The attention of every one of the prisoners that Petro could see immediately was upon either Petro or Ivan.  A cold sweat broke out across Petro’s body as he wheeled his horse and shot off once again at a gallop toward the route he was to lead the prisoners.  From the sound of it Ivan was doing likewise.  The faster his horse ran away from the prisoners the better Petro felt.

His unit had gone three blocks and through a slight bend in the roadway before he once again looked back to make sure the prisoners were following.  Once again he reigned in his horse.  This time his men were ready and the stop was much more orderly.  There was not one prisoner to be seen.  Petro’s men nervously looked to one another and to Petro.  These were good dependable men, but watching a man be eaten by a mob was apparently enough to shake them.

“Sir, where did they go, “ kazak Igor asked.

“I don’t know, perhaps they all followed the uryadnik and the men with him.”  Petro did not like to have his men hear him sounding unsure, but after what they had all just witnessed Petro seemed to be the least unsure of all the Cossacks in the street right now.  Then the wind changed and Petro’s horse suddenly acted as if it had been spooked.  Its eyes rolled around wildly and the beast tried to run farther down the street.  Petro almost lost control of him, but swiftly recovered.  Once he did he could see that his was not the only horse to act that way.  Then Petro caught the scent that had startled the horses.  It was the foul rot of the prisoners, and now Petro could hear their moans as well.

The mob of diseased prisoners was nearly two blocks away when Petro first saw them.  When he realized why the mob had been delayed he swore loudly.  The prisoners moved in a shambling horde no faster than a healthy man could walk.  Petro shouted again at the prisoners to see if they would move any faster, a few of the younger men looked at him as if he were crazy for calling to the monsters.

The prisoners seemed to speed up some, but not enough to make any real difference.  Petro swore again.

“Sir?” Petro was not even sure who spoke.  His mind was almost reeling with what this meant.

“This is bad, my Cossacks,” Petro addressed his men.  “The plan was for us to lead these horrors to the French, as you all know.   The streets down which the French will be forced to travel are blocked and barricaded to take the French to the point where they would be trapped with our prisoners,” Petro pointed down the street at the mob which was now halfway to the Cossacks.  “Look at these poor bastards, they move like old women.  The ataman’s plan was that we would make it to the square where the French are to be trapped with these ghouls just before the French arrive.  That way we, and uryadnik Ivan’s men, can get away down a third street with a barricade ready to fall behind us so that our escape will not be troubled by either the French or the prisoners.”  His men looked at him with no sign that they understood what the speed of the prisoners meant to them.  Most of them in fact were looking over their shoulders at the mob which was now a little less than a block away.  The horses were becoming almost uncontrollable.

“At this speed,” Petro pointed at the prisoners, “we will not make it to the square before the French.”  Realization spread through the men.  “We will be trapped between several hundred diseased madmen and tens of thousands of French soldiers,” Petro continued.  “My intention is to continue with the plan.  Hopefully we can break through the French so that some of us might escape yet.  Now we should get moving, the prisoners are almost upon us.”

“Sir, what’s that?” kazak Igor asked pointing past the mob to a point where the sky could be seen between two buildings.

“Dammit!” Petro cried as he wheeled his horse.  His men were glad to follow, creating more distance between them and the mob.  Petro looked back again.  It was no illusion Igor had seen.  There were three great black plumes of smoke rising in the distance. Moscowburned.

 

 

Moscow, inside the city proper, September 14, 1812

 

                Bernard marched in formation with Jean-Claude to his right and Henri to his left.  They had formed up just before entering the city and even at the reduced numbers following the losses at Borodino the Grand Armee was an impressive sight.  No wonder the Russians had abandoned their city.

The abandonment of the city must have been an unruly thing, Bernard though.  There were wagons and carts and furniture strewn everywhere, most of it blocking the side streets off the main road into the city.  Blocking at least two smaller streets that Bernard saw were piles of what looked like firewood and tipped over ox carts.  The thought of being a refugee in the surrounding fields without a fire for warmth was a horrible thought to Bernard.  The cold here, even in mid-September, was too much for him.  He began to keep track of where the wood piles he had seen were so that after he and his comrades found a home for the night he would be quick to round up enough wood for a roaring fire.  And he’d have to move quickly since they were near the rear now.

The march was easy now, the road being not only straight and flat, but paved also.  The army was almost to the square up ahead where they were to present themselves in formation to Emperor Napoleon as he officially took the city.  Had the sun made its way from behind the clouds Bernard might actually have been happy.  Until Henri opened his damned mouth, that is.

“Well, isn’t that just what this campaign needed,” the glum Frenchman to Bernard’s left said pointing to the distance.

“Fucking crazy Russians.  They’re burning their own city.  No doubt we’ll wind up on fire duty while the officers get the best houses.  We’ll be sleeping in a hovel with holes in the roof and walls freezing our asses off.”  Bernard’s mood could not have gotten any worse until he heard not too far ahead the clatter of hooves coming down a side street.  Between the heads of the men in front of him Bernard caught glimpses of a small group of what appeared to be Cossacks riding into the ranks from the right.

Bernard could hear the screams of men and orders being yelled out.  Gunshots sounded and the air began to fill with the powder smoke.  Bernard’s unit leader called out the order to fix bayonets.  As one the men brought their rifles off their shoulders and attached the needle sharp steel spikes the end of their rifles.

Bernard had seen this tactic from the Cossacks before.  They would ride into the middle of a column from the flank and fight their way through before the men could bring their rifles of bayonets to bear.  Men were reluctant to shoot at the Cossacks for fear of hitting their own, and the Cossacks would ride off after breaking through on the opposite side.  The French were often by that time busy affixing their bayonets and not ready to fire at the fleeing horsemen.

Jean-Claude was on the outside row and was just as familiar with the Cossack tricks as Bernard.  They both left their bayonets in the scabbard and leveled their muskets at the angle where the Cossacks would emerge.  The first one out was an old man with a long, white ponytail braided like a woman’s.  Jean-Claude pulled his trigger but had a misfire, the powder in his flashpan burning quickly but not igniting the charge in the barrel.  Bernard had better luck.  His shot cleanly took the horse out from under the Cossack just before he made it to a side street that was not blocked like all the others.

Now two more of the Cossacks had made it through and were past the dead horse as its rider struggled free.  In the blink of an eye the now-horseless Cossack drew his sabre and charged back at the column.  Bernard lost sight of the crazy bastard then.  More shots rang out, but they sounded not like the French muskets.  Bernard had heard Cossack pistols before and was sure that was what he was hearing.  Jean-Claude had another charge in his pan and was drawing back the hammer as he brought up the musket to his shoulder again.

A large group of Cossacks, what must have been the remainder of the force, broke free.  Jean-Claude’s musket roared and one of the Russian bastards lost a goodly portion of his skull.  Bernard was shocked to see the Cossack without a horse somehow break away from the melee he had entered, collect the riderless horse and follow his comrades down the side street.  A large crashing noise followed from the side street.  Some men ran after the Cossacks to try getting a shot off at them.  Bernard was one of those.

When he rounded the corner to look down the street where the Cossacks had made their escape he was shocked to see a pile of wood and stone debris, some of it still tumbling down to rest, and dust rising.  The Cossacks had obviously set up this ambush well.  There was no way that the French could clear the street in time to make a pursuit of any worth.

Bernard turned back toward his unit and for the first time got a good look at what the Cossack charge had cost the French.  He resumed his place back in formation between his friends.

“The bastards got away.  They had a bunch of wood and rocks waiting to be pulled down or something once they passed a point not too far down the street.”

“How bad is it up ahead,” Jean-Claude asked.

“A quick look is all I got.  I’d guess we lost between twenty and thirty men, dead or dying.  It’s going to be a bit before the column gets moving again.”  Bernard took a few moments to reload his musket and attach his bayonet.  If there was another Cossack ambush, he wanted to be ready.

“My God, they must have wounded more than you say,” Henri said.  “I can hear them moaning clear back here.”

 

 

Streets of Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

Petro and his men continued to trot their horses down the road according to their orders.  The mob behind them continued to keep pace.  Petro had sped the men up initially to give them at least one block of distance.  As they lured the prisoners forth, Petro had gotten a rough count of them.  He was fairly sure that about two thirds of the prisoners had followed his force.  Hopefully Ivan made it with the remainder.  They were only a few blocks from the point where they were to meet the main unobstructed roadway that the French would be using.

Petro had outlined his plan to the men as they had made their slow progress across the city.  Once they were within two blocks of the French, they would draw their sabers and charge the French column.  Whoever the last man through was would use his sabre to knock free the debris deadfall blocking the French from not only following the Cossacks, but also from escaping the prisoners.

Petro signaled a halt.  His men knew what to do without him needing to issue an order.  These were good men.  Some of the finest he had led or fought beside, and Petro hoped most of them would make it to the escape route.  Looking at them now, he was certain they knew how he felt, and Petro felt that to speak it out loud would somehow lessen the sentiment.

The moaning horde behind them was nearing.  Petro drew his own sabre and spurred his horse forward at a trot to the corner ahead, just beyond which was a short two blocks to the French column.  Had these shambling bastards behind him made better time Petro and his men would have pass just in front of the Russians.  But it was not to be this day.

Petro rounded the corner and kicked his horse to a full charge.  He could see the French ahead of him, none of them had heard him yet.  They seemed to be looking back behind them.  Petro had little time to worry about it before he was in among the French.

He and his horse were well experienced at this.  They bowled into the first few rows of Frenchmen.  Petro always found himself enjoying perhaps a little too much the surprised faces of men he caught unawares like this, his sabre moving up and down in a blur.

Frenchmen fell back before him as his horse lashed out with his front hooves.  Petro continued to press forward knowing that the men behind him were bringing up the rear of his charge.  A few of the Frenchmen must have had their rifles ready.  Muskets close by began to fire and Petro had to knock away multiple bayonets stabbing at him.

Petro was almost free of the French when one of the bastards stabbed low with his bayonet and managed to run the damn thing through Petro’s thigh and into his horse.  That’s all the horse needed to panic and break into a run as he passed the last Frenchman, though the damned musket bayonet remained in Petro’s leg.  His horse began to stumble and the bayonet waved back and forth sending explosions of pain through Petro’s entire body.

Petro breaking through the lines must have opened the French up.  Petro’s men were passing him and making it down the street to escape.  The number of French muskets firing now increased drastically, the French no longer afraid that they would hit their brothers in arms.  One of those French musket balls hit his horse and the damn thing tumbled throwing Petro to the ground near the deadfall.  As the horse lay on the ground screaming and thrashing, one of its legs struck the board holding the deadfall in place.  Petro covered his head as broken bits ofMoscowcrashed down around him.

 

 

Somewhere in Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

Bernard, Jean-Claude, Henri, and three others from their unit crouched low in a back room of a building they had broken the window out of and climbed into after the ranks broke.  Jean-Claude and Henri had shoved a table up over the broken window to make sure none of the monsters followed them into the building.  Bernard could still not believe what had happened.

Shortly after the first group of Cossacks had attacked and before the column had begun moving again, a group of Russian madmen attacked the column from the same direction as the Cossacks had.  The French had been made ready by the first Cossack attack and immediately began firing on the filthy men as they stumbled forward at the line.  Bernard saw clearly from where he stood on the opposite side of the column as musket balls hit their targets over and over again, though only a few of the Russians who were hit actually fell.  The mob awkwardly stumbled forward so slowly that the French had time to reload and fire another volley, though the second was no more effective than the first.  By then the Russian mob was upon the French.

Bayonets were no more effective than musket balls at stopping these Russians, and the first few rows of French were pulled down.  Thinking back on it, it seemed to Bernard that the Russians had used no weapons that he saw at all other than fists and teeth.  These Russians were savages.  They fought like dogs and set their own city on fire.

Bernard wasn’t close enough to have seen what triggered it, but suddenly the French broke.  Men were pushing past each other, screaming and falling in their rush to get away from the madmen who were attacking them.  Bernard had been pushed to the ground and would have been trampled had it not been for Henri pulling him up off the ground and dragging him along in their escape.  Somewhere back there where he fell was his musket.  All Bernard had left now to fight off these mad Russians was a long knife at his side.

Jean-Claude stood up and slowly made his way toward the broken window they had climbed through.  He peered out carefully.  Bernard could smell smoke from the fires now.  Jean-Claude turned back to them quickly.

“There are some soldiers coming this way – French soldiers.  I can seem them through the smoke,” he whispered.

“Call them over here and let them in for God’s sake,” one of the other men said.  Bernard didn’t know his name.  Bernard got up and went over to Jean-Claude to help him move the table.  At the sound of them moving it, the soldiers turned and headed toward them.

“Over here,” Jean-Claude whispered loudly.  “Get in here quick!”

Something about the soldiers was wrong.  At first Bernard couldn’t place it.  The soldiers were only a few feet away when Bernard heard one of them moan.  It was the same moan he had heard right before the attack.

“No, shove the table back.  They’re those Russians dressed in our uniforms!  Block the window!”

“What are you talking about, I know that one, his name is, hell I can’t remember, but he’s no damn Russian.”

The French soldiers made it to the window and Bernard drew his knife.  Jean-Claude was extending his hand to help them up when one tried to bite his hand.

“Dammit!  What are you-“

Bernard pulled Jean-Claude back quickly and stabbed the soldier in the eye.  He dropped immediately.  Jean-Claude was up and shoving the table back against the window with the strength of a man in a panic.  Just as the table blocked the window, Bernard saw as some of the smoke cleared that a large group of both the Russians and French soldiers were moving this way.  They had the same stumbling walk that the Russians had.

“We need to get out of this building.  More of them are coming this way. “  This time Jean-Claude didn’t argue.  The six Frenchmen made their way farther into the building.  Near the back was a door that lead to the street behind the building.  The six of them made their way out as quietly as possible.  In the distance they could hear musket shots, screams, and the crackling of fire nearby.  Under it all was the constant moaning.

 

 

 

Ambush point, Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

                Petro awoke with a mouth full of dirt and wood splinters.  He tried to sit up and spit it out, but his arm was trapped under a pile of debris.  He gagged and turned his head just in time to vomit.  While it was as unpleasant as every other time he had vomited, at least it seemed to clear a good deal of the debris from his mouth and throat.

It took a few moments for him to remember where he was.  Part of his confusion was from the smoke.  It was so thick that he thought it was night at first.  When he realized finally where he was he looked around for the French.  There were bodies strewn around the street that he could see and in the distance he could hear voices and muskets firing.

His right side was mostly under the debris from the deadfall.  He managed to get his arm free and then tried to move his leg.  He had to stifle a scream as he remembered the French bayonet.  Petro slowly dug his leg out from under the pile of rock and wood.  Once he was free he tried to stand.  He could hop some, but his leg would not bear enough weight for him to run.

In his belt sash, his scabbard was empty.  Of his four pistols only one was left.  His powder and bullets were kept in a bag on his saddle.  He assumed that his horse was somewhere under the tons of debris.  Perhaps out in the main street there were some additional weapons he could make use of.

Petro carefully hop-limped to the corner and peered out into the main street where the fight with the French had taken place some time ago.  Kneeling in the street was a Frenchman over the body of one of his countrymen.  No doubt he was grieving over a lost brother.  More importantly to Petro was the fact that the Frenchman was armed with a musket and had a long dirk at this side.  Petro slowly took aim at the Frenchman’s back and fired.

Had he the time to consider things, Petro would likely not have been surprised that his pistol misfired.  He also would most probably not have been surprised that the noise from the powder igniting in the flashpan attracted the attention of the Frenchman.  But even on this day Petro was shocked to see when the Frenchman stood that he had not been grieving over his comrade, but instead eating him.

The disease must move quickly, Petro thought, as the French ghoul moved toward him in that shambling way.  Its mouth hung slack, a piece of French uniform caught between two teeth.  Petro flipped his pistol around, gripping the barrel.  The grip of the pistol had a round brass cap made for using as a club.  Petro hoped he could muster the strength needed to crack one more thin French skull.

The madman seemed heedless of the pistol as he lunged at Petro.  Petro assumed that this day was going to continue in the same way it had so far as he felt the diseased cannibal’s body crash into his.  Petro’s injured leg gave way under him and the two of them fell to the ground.

Underneath the reeking body Petro realized that the thing was now a corpse.  He rolled it off of him and struggled to his feet.  A large, round indentation from his pistol butt was clearly visible in the thing’s temple.  Petro carefully reached down and took the dirk from the thing’s belt.  He drove it through the ear as hard as he could, sinking it in several inches.  The corpse didn’t twitch.  It was truly dead.

Petro looked up and down the street trying to get his bearings.  His exposure toMoscowwas extremely limited.  Clouds of smoke moved down the streets making it hard to see more than a few hundred feet in any direction.  That was enough though to let Petro see that up and down the street were men stumbling around singly, in pairs, and even a few large groups.  Petro knew that he would die here if he didn’t get away soon.  As he was backing toward the deadfall, he noticed something across the street.  It was another Cossack horse lying dead.  Petro made his way carefully over toward it trying not to make any noise or draw attention to himself in any other way.  Once at the horse’s corpse, he saw that it was Ivan’s.

Petro allowed himself only a second to hope that his comrade’s death had been quick.  Then he tore open the pouch on the saddle where Ivan kept his powder and bullets.  Petro reloaded his flashpan and stuffed his pistol back in his belt sash.  Then he opened saddlebag.

Petro and Ivan had come up with the decision to burnMoscoweven if the governor didn’t.  Petro knew that they could not let this disease loose on the Motherland.  Burning it down around the Frenchmen was the closest thing to a solution that he and Ivan could come up with the night before.  Inside the saddlebag were several torches, at least two pounds of gunpowder, and a tinderbox.  Petro took all of it and then clambered over the deadfall.  Even if Ivan’s men made it to freedom, they would not have known to start the fires near where the French had moved into the city earlier that morning.  With the fires that the governor had set moving the direction they were, if Petro could set fire to the city near the mouth of Ivan’s unit’s escape, he might be able to send his fire back toward the ones burning now.

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

The six Frenchmen were within a few blocks of where the Grand Armee had entered the city.  Henri had climbed up to the top of some sort of tower and seen that it was so.  He also said that there were fires burning everywhere, but that a large force of Napoleon’s men were heading this way being followed by an even larger group.  They figured if they continued in this same direction they would meet up with the force of their countrymen who were apparently getting the hell out of this nightmare city.

They came around a corner quietly hoping to avoid any of the monsters stalking the city and saw a filthy Russian crouched down near the street where one of the ox carts full of firewood had been tipped over.  He was striking a flint with what appeared to be a French long knife.

“That son of a bitch is trying to set that wood on fire!  He means to trap our men in this burning hell hole with those things,” Bernard growled.

“Hey!” Jean-Claude yelled at him.  Henri already had his musket shouldered and aimed at the Russian.

 

 

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

Petro had found one of the carts of wood near where the French had entered the city.  There was enough dry wood here to get a good fire going.  Petro dumped the gunpowder out in a pile of kindling and laid the torches on top of that.  He was trying to strike the flint with the shitty French knife when he heard someone behind him yell.  He stood awkwardly and turned to see six fucking Frenchmen, three of which had muskets.

Petro dropped the knife.  He had to start the fire and a musket ball in his chest would keep that from happening.

“We have to stop this disease.  Let me start the fire and we can all just go.  If this doesn’t get stopped here, there’s no telling how far it will spread.  Please, if you-“ one of the muskets roared.  Petro for an instant could only see a large orange ball.  Then it felt as though a horse had kicked him in the chest.

Petro crumpled to the ground.  His last thought before everything went black was, fucking French.

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

Bernard watched the Russian fall.  The wood pile behind him was splattered with blood.  Henri’s aim had been true.

“Quickly, we can meet up with the Armee just outside the city,” Jean-Claude said.  The six Frenchmen climbed over the wood in time to see several hundred of their brothers in arms emerge from a huge cloud of smoke.  Some of the men in front saw the six and waved at them to run.

“Get out of the city!  There are thousands of those things,” a man in front screamed.  Bernard and the others didn’t think or talk about it.  They turned and ran out ofMoscow.

 

 

My Birthday Wish

By Kittyana Mitchell

Monday, December 5, 2011. It was my birthday, and I was turning 16.  It was also the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. I remember it as if it were yesterday. . . .

It was extremely humid for a day in December and our air conditioning was broken. “Happy birthday, dear Monett! Happy birthday to you! WOOOHOOO!!!!!” My boyfriend, John, and a few other friends sang loudly. My parents had decided to throw a birthday party for me on Sunday since my birthday fell on a Monday. The party was a success for my sweet sixteen and eventually everyone left except for John. We sat outside and talked for what seemed like hours. As it grew late, I knew he would eventually have to go home too and I would have to hit the hay. I had to get up early enough to have time to walk to school. Even though my mom made it a habit to have the day off for her birthday, I however still had to go to school on mine.

“Goodnight, Monett. Happy early birthday sweetie,” I heard say my mom say from the doorway to my room. I didn’t look up at her. I didn’t want to go through our nightly routine. I didn’t know why. I just felt a little worried for some reason, a reason that I would soon figure out. Eventually, I gave in. I knew she hated the thought of me turning yet another year older.

“Goodnight, Mom.” We hugged briefly.

“What did you wish for?” She asked playfully.

“You know, you aren’t supposed to tell your wishes otherwise they won’t come true but if you must know, I wished to go on an adventure this year.” I replied still hugging her.

She giggled, “Ok my little Lara Croft. We’ll see,” she said squeezing me tightly. I loved to her my mom laugh. She released me from her arms and I kissed her on the cheek and went to bed. Little did I know that this would be our last normal moment together.

Sometime during the night I woke up to what sounded like screaming. I rolled over to look at my alarm clock, 3:00A.M. I groaned maybe I had been dreaming. But then I heard it again and it sounded close. I went to my window, pulled the curtain aside and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim street lights. There was a black figure kneeling over something in the middle of the street. It kept clawing at it and putting its hands to its mouth. It continued pulling more things up from what laid on the ground and shoving them into its mouth. It was an odd sight and by now the screaming had stopped.

I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye and turned to look in that direction. I saw about ten or eleven more figures come bounding up the street towards the spot where the first creature was. They seemed to be trying to get a piece of what it was eating. The porch light of the house across from the creatures turned on. I watched in horror as they moved very fast, breaking through the windows and smashing down the door. There was much more screaming. In fact, it wasn’t even screaming. It was like something or someone was shrieking at the highest pitch imaginable combined with really, REALLY sharp nails clawing deeply at a chalkboard.

It wasn’t until I noticed what the creature was feasting on that I realized I was holding my breath while I watched from my window. I let out a little shriek of my own and put my hand over my mouth to stifle it when I noticed it was the girl from across the street. It seemed as if the creature heard me as it turned its head towards my house. I dropped to my knees, my heart pounding in my ears. “Please wake up, please wake up!” I kept repeating to myself. I pinched myself thinking it was a dream. “Ouch!” I bit my lip as I felt the pain in my arm where I pinched myself. It was then I realized this wasn’t a dream and I was very much awake.

By now my parents had woken up thinking that I was the one screaming and ran to check to see if I was okay. I met them in the hallway as I was rushing on my knees as fast as I could out of my room. I did not want risk that thing outside to seeing me!

“Dad, there is someone or something outside!” I said hysterically as I stood up. He tried to clam me down. “There were these creatures and they were eating…” He didn’t let me finish.

“Calm down sweetie, you were probably having a nightmare.” He said trying to be comforting.

“Dad! You have to listen to me, there was these creatures eating Yvette! I know this is going to sound crazy, but they looked like zombies!”

“Seriously honey, you need to lay off the video games before you go to bed,” he said as he turned to walk away. I grabbed his arm, “Dad!” He shook me loose as he yawned.

I looked over at my mom, she had to believe me. “Mom, I’ve seen these things in all of John’s video games!” She looked at me like I needed some serious help. “Maybe your dad is right, sweetie. No more video games before bed,” she said as she rubbed my arm.

I wanted to scream! How was I going to get them to listen to me? I needed to make them listen and believe in what I saw. As they turned to walk back to their room, I ducked around them and cut them off blocking their way.

“Just hear me out for a second. What if what I am saying is true? I know I may play too many video games but I know what I saw. I saw zombies, infected, whatever you want to call them, eating Yvette! You know the hypothetical theories about zombies. They are these things that eat humans and spread a virus around that’ll soon infect the entire world.” I paused briefly before continuing, “You heard the screams just like I did. Aren’t you at all curious as to where they came from?” I stared at them waiting for an answer.

They looked at each other before my dad sighed. “Alright, if it is all that important to you, I will check on the family across the street. Just to make sure everything is ok,” he replied as he made his way downstairs. Mom and I followed after him. Mom went for her cell phone and I continued following my dad as he made his way to the front door.

“Wait, you are going out there?” I asked in horror.

“Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?” he asked as he reached for the porch light switch. Remembering what I saw and how fast the zombies reacted to the porch light being turned on across the street. I yelled, “Dad, don’t turn on the light!” I slapped his hand away from the light switch.

“Monett!” He said sharply.

“Dad, please! Don’t turn on the light, they are drawn to it.” I pleaded.

Just then my mom came into the room, “That’s odd, they aren’t answering any of their phones.” She looked at my dad with a worried look on her face. As we stood there we heard another scream break the silence. My dad looked through the window on the door. I watched as his face grew white.

“Holy mother of God. . .” was all he said. I looked out the other window to see what he saw. One of the other neighbors hearing the commotion at Yvette’s house had turned on their porch and house lights. What my dad saw was exactly what I had described a few minutes ago. Someone tried running out of the house that had just turned its lights on and they were chased down by zombies who moved faster then we could have imagined. Screams and shrieks continued to come from that house. I know I will never forget the sound of those people screaming.

“Monett, get away from the window!” He whispered firmly as he closed the curtain on the door. He looked around frantically. “Here help me move the couch in front of the door. We have got to block this entry way.” He didn’t have to ask me twice. We continued to move furniture around to block the doors and windows.

“You two get upstairs and get dressed. Get back down here as fast as you can. And stay away from the windows, no lights,” he warned.

I went to my room and changed out of my pajamas as quick as I could. I put on the jeans and tee-shirt I had laid out for school. It was to be my birthday outfit. I reached for my sneakers instead of the boots I had planned on wearing with it. I never understood why they made horror movies with girls running around in heeled boots or heels for that matter. I didn’t have time to dwell on the concept for too long. I quickly tied my shoes, grabbed a hooded sweatshirt, my cell phone and crawled out of my room.

When I reached my mom and dad downstairs they were both on their cell phones trying to call out. My mom was on the phone with her captain and from the sound of it I don’t think he believed her too. My dad was trying the neighbors to make sure they were ok. They both ended their phone calls at the same time and looked at each other. I looked form one to the other, I felt helpless.

I pulled my hair into a ponytail and stated, “Okay. What we need to do is take any thing we have and make it into a weapon. It has to be one that’ll give us some distance between us and the zombies.” My parents gave me that “Thank you Captain Obvious” look. I shrugged, “Just trying to help,” I mumbled.

My dad disappeared upstairs briefly. When he returned he had a rifle in his hand, an AK-47, to be exact as well as a few boxes of extra ammo. “I’m ready,” He stated. I looked over at my mom and she was clipping her gun holster to her belt. She checked her police pistol to make sure it was loaded as well as the one strapped to her ankle. This was one of the rare times I was glad she was a police officer. As my dad looked around for anything else to use as a weapon, she called me over to her.

“I know you have never used a gun before, sweetie. However I want you to take this,” She handed me a mini pistol. “Use this only if you have to. And don’t let your father know you have it. Point and shoot,” she said as she showed me how to turn on and off the safety. She slid it back into its holster and clipped it onto my belt as well as a few extra clips of ammo. She paused briefly before kissing my forehead.

My dad came back into the room. “There are more of those things outside. We need to get out of here and somewhere safe,” he said looking at both of us.

“How are we going to get outside without getting caught?” I asked trying to sound as brave as we were acting to be.

“Well, there is the car which has a full tank of gas. We can try and make it out of here and to the police station,” my mom replied as she looked outside. There seemed to be more zombies and still more screaming as they rushed another family trying to escape.

”Mom! We have to try and save whoever we can!”

“Monett, I know but we need help. We need to know what is going on and how to kill these bastards.”

“You have to aim for the head. You can blow it off, cut it off, whatever. Just make sure that you hit the head!” I was trying not to be afraid but the more I thought about what was outside the harder it was to stay calm.

“Steve, we need to do something.” She looked over at my dad, “Before it is too late.”

While they tried to decided what to do, I decided to call John to see if he was okay. Mom and dad looked quite anxious to see if he was alive as well. ”It’s still ringing,” I said as they kept glancing at me waiting for an answer.

“Hello. John? Are you there?”

“Hello. Monett?” “He answered! “Yes, I’m here. Thank God you’re alive!” Somehow, I was unknowingly crying, relieved to hear his voice. “Can you make it over to my house?”

“Um, we’re kinda stuck inside at the moment. There are zombies trying to get into our house. They are banging on the doors and the wood we nailed onto the windows.” He paused briefly and I could hear faint noises coming across the receiver. “Aim for the head! You kill them by hitting the head! It seems to always work in the video games!” I could hear John yelling to his dad.

“John, please be careful! I’ll have my phone with me. I will call you when we get out. We will come to you.”

“O—ll—-rr—–our—–ssss.”

“Hello? You’re breaking up! I can’t understand you!” The phone line went dead. I stood there staring at my phone. My parents looked over at me as I stopped talking. “The line went dead.” I said as another tear slid down my cheek.

“We will try and go by there sweetie. Right now we need to get out of here. The screams are getting louder and closer, “My dad said uneasily.

“Steve, I am getting something on my radio,” my mom called him over to her.

“—-Reports—-infected—zombies—impossible—–nearest—-military base—–Red River——”

They looked at each other. “That is where we are going, Red River Army depot,” My dad said. Mom ran upstairs real quick and came back down stairs carrying three backpacks as well as three first aid kits. I followed her lead as she put a few bottles of water in each pack as well as the first aid kits, what ever snacks we had as well as fruit in zip lock bags and some canned goods. “You never know, we might need it,” she said as she handed each of us a back pack.

Dad had found some nose and mouth masks as well as extra goggles.” Here, put these on.”

I looked at him, “Seriously Dad? We know that someone becomes a zombie if they become infected. They die from the virus that infects them and they turn into a zombie. These,” I pointed to the goggles and mask, “are not going to help.”

“Monett just put them on, please. We don’t know if that is definitely the only way.” I reluctantly put them on.

Mom, dad, and I opened the curtain we had covering the window that was on the door. “Mom, there are a lot of zombies out there.” Mom was worried and I could tell even though she tried not to show it. I didn’t want to look anymore and just watched my mom’s face as she watched the zombies intently. She watched as another family tried to leave their home and was attacked just as quickly.

“How do they know where people are so quickly,” she wondered out loud to herself. She continued watching the zombies outside. I decided to sit down on the floor next to her while we waited. It was then that I heard a soft bell jingle. I jumped up and looked out the window trying hard to locate that soft jingle.

“Mynx!” I whispered loudly. I tired to open the window to call my cat over to me but my mom stopped me. She turned my head and held me to her chest so I couldn’t look out the window. My mom watched as one of the zombies stopped when it heard Mynx’s bell. Mynx only meowed once and it was all it took. The zombie ran over to her, picked her up and took a bite out of her stomach.

“You don’t want to see this sweetie,” she said sympathetically. But I already knew what had happened. I pulled away from my mom and sat on the floor with my back against the wall facing the window. I pulled my knees to my chest and waited for my parents to tell me what to do. I was angry, sad, and very afraid. I couldn’t get through to John and now a zombie just killed my cat. It sounded very much like I was still dreaming, stuck in an awful nightmare. That was until my mom’s voice broke through my thoughts.

“Steve, they seem to be attracted to noises and smells,” she said as she moved away from the window. “If we stay quiet and move quickly we might be able to make it to the car without being noticed.” She looked out the window again. The zombies seemed to be all over the yards and in the houses of the neighborhood. “I hate to say this, but the next family that tries to run is our cue to move,” she said looking back at both of us.

We quickly grabbed our backpacks and shoved the couch away from the door. My Dad very quietly opened the door slightly so he can look outside, ready to run with the car keys in hand. Mom stood behind me with a flare gun in her hand. Dad looked at her questioningly.

“What? We may be able to signal for help since my radio and our cells phones aren’t working,” she whispered, answering his silent question. We didn’t have to wait long as the next series of screams began to fill the early morning air.

“Go!” Mom hissed.

We hurriedly opened the front door and made a run for the car. In the rush, my dad accidently pushed the button to unlock the doors. It was all it took. The zombies closest to us turned and looked in our direction. They looked as if they were sniffing the air and then fixed their gaze on us. We had to move fast.

“Monett, get in the car!” I heard my dad yell at me. I stood there frozen as I saw the zombies running toward us over my mom’s shoulder.

“Monett!” My mom grabbed me and hugged me quickly before reaching around me to open the car door. “Monett, I am proud of you. Listen to your dad. I love you sweetie,” she said before she shoved me into the car and slammed the door shut. She hit the window and yelled at my dad, “Get her out of here!”

I looked at my dad, “No! Dad you can’t!” I looked back at my mom and then back at my dad. He nodded to my mom and I saw a tear slide down his cheek as he started the car, put it in reverse and stepped on the gas pedal. I was screaming as I watched out the window, “Momma! Nooooo!”

I watched as my mom shot a flare into the nearest zombie but that did not stop it from moving towards her. I don’t think she anticipated them moving as fast as they did.  She was reloading another flare when they closed the gap between her and them. I watched as they quickly surrounded her and she tried to fight them off. The last thing I saw was a flare shoot across the yard and hit the neighbor’s dog. This caused the zombies to rush it and it unfortunately met the same fate as Mynx. I looked one last time and saw my mom lying on the ground. She wasn’t moving.

“Dad, we have to go back!” I cried.

“We can’t, we need to keep moving.”

I slouched in the car seat and just cried. We drove in silence as we passed houses being attacked. There seemed to be zombies everywhere. As we drove through down we can see cars just stopped in random places, fires burning and zombies either attacking people or wandering about. We couldn’t stop and help anyone without the risk of being attacked. I am not sure how long we had driven when I heard the fuel light come on.

“We need to stop for fuel,” my dad said. It was the first thing he had said since we left my mom.

I sat up in my seat and looked around to see where we were. I had no idea, nothing looked familiar. “Over there, Dad. There’s a gas station. It still has lights on inside.”

Dad pulled the car over and into the gas station cautiously. “Be careful and stay close to me,” he warned as we got out of the car. We didn’t see anyone around and the mini mart looked empty.

“Hello?” Dad yelled, “Anyone here?” He looked around for a clerk. “From the looks of it, we aren’t the only ones that have come through here,” he said looking at the half empty shelves. “Here, fill this basket with whatever you can find and make sure to grab some water and Kleenex.” I looked at him funny and wondered why he thought of Kleenex at a time like this but that was my dad.

I quickly grabbed what I could when I heard a noise from the other side of the shelf. I quickly fell to my knees and waited. I strained to hear who or what it was but all I could here was my heart pounding in my ears.

“Hello?” I heard a shaky female voice call out. I tried to catch my breath to calm my nerves and eased back up and peered over the shelf. I saw a women lying on the floor covered in blood, a dead man’s corpse lying in her lap.

“Dad!” I screamed. He came running over with a fire axe in hand. I stepped aside so he can see why I screamed. He knelt down next to the woman.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“Yes, I was just. . .” She didn’t finish as she broke into sobs, hugging the dead body close to her. I looked at my dad and then back at the woman before kneeling down next to her. I nervously put my arm around her as my mom would do to me when I needed a good cry. Well what my mom used to do. I pushed that thought aside as I let this woman cry. Dad worked to move the body away from her. When she was done, dad and I helped her stand up.

It was then we realized she was pregnant. She told us her name was Isabella and that her and her husband was on vacation. They had stopped at a rest stop a few miles up the road when they were attacked.

“He couldn’t sleep in the car. He has insomnia. So he got out to walk around the rest area. He was leaning on the hood of the car staring at the stars when these things just came out of the darkness and attacked him,” she paused briefly.

She continued to tell us how they had gotten away. It wasn’t until they reached the gas station that she noticed something was wrong. Her husband had acted strange when she got out of the car to use the restroom. She was going to return the restroom key back to the clerk when she saw her husband biting and eating the clerk. She had tried not to scream but it was already too late, he had smelled her living flesh.

“There was someone else here,” Isabella said. “He told me to lock myself in the bathroom until he came back.”

“We haven’t seen anyone else since we have been here,” my dad said looking around worriedly. He looked back at Isabella, “You are welcome to come with us. We are trying to get to Red River Army depot.”

“Please come with us,” I said. “We can’t leave you here.” I pretty much pleaded with her.

Dad found an extra shirt in the employee’s locker and brought it over to me. “Take her into the restroom and help her get cleaned up.” I nodded and turned to walk away. He stopped me, “Monett, make sure she hasn’t been bit and help her wash all that blood off her.” He looked at both of us and said louder, “Make it quick it is getting dark and we need to get to that military base.”

Dad finished putting fuel in the car and Isabella and I rounded up what ever else we could find in way of water and food. Isabella found a few blankets tucked away in the back of the store as well as a shot gun. Dad didn’t say anything as we finished loading the car. We got Isabella situated in the back seat and dad and I were getting into the front seats when I got a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Dad,” I looked over at him across the roof of the car.

“I hear them too! Get in!” He yelled at me. He didn’t have to tell me twice. We both got in the car quickly and shut the doors. He started the car and didn’t bother looking back. Isabella was screaming hysterically as she looked out the back window. I looked too. I probably shouldn’t have.

“Dad, go, go, go!” I yelled hitting him as if that would make him drive any faster. He swerved this way and that way to avoid the cars that had stopped on the road. The zombies chased us either running around the cars and sometimes even into them. They caught up to the car as dad was almost pinned between two other cars. He hit both of them and wedged his way through. I don’t know who screamed more, me or Isabella as we watched as the zombies tried to get into the car. Dad finally made it past the two cars and hit a clear stretch of road. He put his foot down hard on the gas pedal and put some distance between us and the zombies, but not before taking a couple with him by driving over them.

I think the only thing that could be heard in the car was the sound of our hearts beating fast. Dad didn’t slow down until he knew for sure we were safe, if that was actually possible at this point. I glanced back at Isabella and she nodded she was ok as she sat back cradling the baby in her stomach.

I slouched back in my seat and looked over at my dad. He was intently staring at the road as the sun began to set. I squeezed his hand gently. I couldn’t imagine what was going through his thoughts at this moment. He glanced over at me and gave me a weak smile.

We drove in silence for several hours before Isabella said something. “Monett, your mom, is she ok? I noticed she isn’t with you two.” I really didn’t want to answer her.

“We had to leave her.” My dad looked at Isabella through the rearview mirror. “It was her choice.” He said before looking back at the road. The car fell silent again.

“Dad,” I said getting his attention as I pointed to a police car on the side of the road. “That plate number….” He slowed down. We both looked at each other. The last time we had seen that particular patrol car it was parked in front of our house. Dad pulled the car over on the opposite side of the road.

“Monett, stay here with Isabella. If something happens to me you get out of here as quick as possible,” he said as he put on his mask and goggles.

“But dad, what if. . .”

“No buts Monett. Jjust do what I told you. Ok?” I nodded. I looked back over at my mom’s patrol car and bit my lower lip. Something didn’t feel right.

As my dad got out of the car, he noticed someone standing at the front of the patrol car, “Leila?” he asked as he slowly approached the person in front of the patrol car. He stopped in the middle of the road as the person turned around slowly.

I watched from my seat in the car and gasped when I saw that it was indeed my mom. I quickly got out of the car, “Mom!” I yelled, relieved to see her.

“Monett, I said to stay in the car!” My dad scolded. “Just stay where you are.”

“But dad. . .” I know if he could look at me he would be giving me one of his stern looks so I stopped where I stood.

“Leila, are you alright?” he asked as he took a small step backwards. My mom didn’t say anything. Her head was hanging slightly to the right and her clothes were covered with blood. I looked at her closely again.

“Dad, I think we need to get back into the car.”

“Don’t move too fast Monett. She will notice and run for you.”

I stood there staring at my mom and dad. As I did, I remembered something my mom had said when this whole mess started. “Use this only if you have to… Point and shoot.” I felt hot tears sting the corner of my eyes. I knew what I had to do. I slowly unclasped the small pistol my mom had given me earlier from my belt. My dad was taking another step backwards as she took another step towards him.

I felt the tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I raised my arm slowly like my mom had showed me, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I love you.” I whispered. I raised the gun higher, I knew I only had one chance and I had to make sure to hit her in the head. I willed myself to pull the trigger.

The sound of the gunshot pierced the night air. I watched as my mother fell into a lifeless heap on the ground. My dad rushed over to me as I fell to my knees crying uncontrollably. I don’t know what hurt worse losing my mom the first time or losing her the second time. He removed the small pistol from my hand and held me close, kissing my forehead, apologizing. My dad was apologizing for this mess but I knew it wasn’t his fault. By now Isabella had gotten out of the car and rushed over to us. She took the place of dad holding me as he removed mom’s body from the street. There weren’t any other zombies around and dad quickly moved mom’s body off the road and over by her patrol car. He covered her best he could and left her badge as a marker incase someone else found her. It was sad we couldn’t bury her but it was the least he could do.

He got back in the car and handed me something. I opened it to find my mom’s locket. I opened it and saw the picture she carried of the three of us. I felt another rush of tears threaten to escape. I curled up in a ball in my seat as dad drove away. I didn’t want to see anymore. I didn’t want to remember my mom that way.

We drove for what seemed like forever but were actually only a few hours. Dad had slowed down as he was turning onto another road. I sat up slightly in my seat as I saw a high barbed wire fence and military vehicles come into view.

“Dad, is that it?” I asked.

“Yes, That’s it. We’re here.”

We drove through the gates and didn’t see anyone about. We parked our car close to the biggest building on the base, put our masks and goggles on and cautiously got out. We looked around and saw tanks were destroyed and small fires scattered about. There were bodies, some in uniforms and others in regular clothes strewn all around. I looked in horror as I noticed many of the bodies where either shot in the head or didn’t have one at all.

I looked at my dad and I wanted to scream. We came all this way and this is what we found. I wanted to yell and curse god for allowing this to happen. I lost my friends, possibly my boyfriend, and my mom to zombies.

We looked at each other devastated “No. This isn’t happening. This can’t be real!” Isabella yelled.

Dad put his arm around her and me as we stood there. What were we to do now? We stood there in silence when we heard someone holler out. “Hey! Over here!” We turned around to see a women in uniform trotting toward us, rifle in hand followed by a few other people who I could only guess were survivors as well.

“Come with us quick!” she yelled. As we followed them she introduced herself as Sergeant Lisa McKenzie of the 109th Zombie Division. Once we were inside the building and the doors locked behind us, I let out a sigh of relief. Dad walked over with Sergeant McKenzie and Isabella was being helped by a few medics. I looked around and thought this is our one chance of surviving. I fiddled with my mom’s locket around my neck and thought, this crazy adventure, the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, that almost seemed unreal was definitely not my birthday wish. . .

Pork Chops

By R. J. Warner

 

This facility is under lockdown.

 

Those words blazed like searing cattle brands into my brain. The barrier that protects me from the outside world also now protects them from my antidotal treatment. When we first were commissioned by the state to discover one of either a vaccination, treatment or cure, little did we know this very process would cost us so many of our own–like poor Ed Dranner. In one way, I feel less sorry for him than the others, as he had no children, wife or lover. Ed was married to his job, and that eternal and oft duplicitous vow of matrimony—‘til death–would unabashedly claim her pound of flesh. That I would be the impounder, the angel of oblivion, made me feel profoundly more sorry for him.

From the very moment the beaker broke we knew it was a capital misdemeanor. The head scientist, our procurator, moderator and muse all rolled into one, laid strict instructions as to the steps to immediately take should a suit be compromised. Here, a nightmare of imaginary scenarios came true, as the cut was deep, the murky fluid spread throughout. The fluid of which one drop is the instant siphoning of the soul was helping coagulate the congealing blood. I saw the brilliant light of charitable humanity and basic social instinct leave Ed’s eyes. Or perhaps nothing had changed in his eyes. Perhaps it was merely the reflection of what he had seen in mine. It frightened him, this instantaneous turn from best friend to mortal enemy. He ran. He was fat and I was quicker. He did not make it to the safe room. He made it to the incinerator, which by some misfortune in engineering was located adjacent, and, for budgetary reasons, fitted with an identical handle. We looked at each other through the pane of glass–remorseless in its silence, turning earnest rationality into grotesque, muffled pantomime. This barrier numbed my humanity.  I touched the button off before I could think about it twice. I turned away as he burned. That is how I lost our head scientist.

The first thing the soldiers taught me before they all left was to prepare myself for my enemy by reducing their humanity with constant affirmations. They are devils. They are not men. No sword can penetrate a shroud of compassion, no bullet escape a grip of empathy. But xenophobia, once heinous and the character flaw of hermits and schizophrenics, has no such untimely scruples. Now it is my greatest tool for survival. Nothing new must break my vigil. Even the old rituals must continually be reviewed for reduction. My circle grows smaller every day, and my filth waxes larger. It is little consolation to believe the cleaning crew may be feeling equally but oppositely the effects of this lockdown. I imagine them standing mops and dusters in hand, awaiting the end of the standoff and with loyal patience cleaning the outside foyer. I hate them too.

I used to visit the infected ward and our poor animals, if they can even be called that. There is some pity I feel yet for the dogs, maybe the rats, but none for the pigs or chinchillas. Yes, chinchillas. By some cross-department chicanery and incredibly pragmatic direction from state authorities with the center for animal control, we received no less than 73 confiscated chinchillas from the clutches of a spinstress hoarder. I didn’t know it was possible to hate an entire species so perfectly and completely. We have them in two consecutive bins with pine shavings and amenities. In one are the uninfected. They scurry about as innocent and domestic as care-bears, concerned with nourishment, grooming, mating and play. In the other is a doddering mass of mute cannibals pressed continually against the clear plastic sidewall in the continual and incorrigible effort to either initiate their brethren, or consume. The circumstances that lead them to initiate rather than consume are what I have been trying to replicate systematically with no success. As I hold one flailing but otherwise healthy chinchilla above the slobbering, matted throng, I observe the mindless clones gravitate in anticipation of their sacrifice like blind moths drawn to dim light, like hatchling robins before a mother bird, with gaping maws and red throats. The strangest observation is that, though they are cannibals, it seems they have pledged themselves to either mutual defense or non-competitive hunting. Though they eat their own breed, they have no interest in their own variant.

Now that one chinchilla bin is empty, I don’t go back. Not even for the dogs. I don’t want to know what has become of them. The pigs simply make me hungry. I haven’t had pork chops in what feels like a month of Sundays. Oh the succulent taste of pork chops. But who could eat a morsel of meat knowing what I know? Who could assuage the gall rising within them with the flesh of God’s creatures, subjugate the nausea with sinewy strands of the very muscle twice proven insufficient to make good the escape from the hunter’s snare? I too desire escape. The RMEs enervate me. There are only three flavors of them in the canteen. I hardly have touched them in a week’s time. I hope to never touch them again.

Far more than food I miss my Love. Oh to feel her moist kisses upon my lips, to caress her hair and indulge my weary eyes by peering into the endless fathoms of hers. But it can never be again. She too is lost forever. Her remains lie crumpled in front of the centrifuge counter. If only the centripetal, magnetic force of my love for her could turn back time, spinning the earth like Superman and also spinning her around in time to leap from the bites that took her flesh and, slowly, her life. I am wiser and more careful now.

A continual and frustrating thought is that the soldiers have not returned. A young sergeant with green eyes and a sallow face told me they wouldn’t be more than two days. Clearly either he had no authority to say or no power to keep this promise against the powerful forces at work outside. On leaving they took my keycard. Ed’s was incinerated, worthless. They took my Love’s, her placard, her dogtags, her gravestone. They took Danny Voort in his entirety, keycard, haz-mat suit, handlebar mustache, surprised look, everything. But before they took Danny, he had invented, or rather discovered something that may be the salvation of this place, this state, this world.

Danny found the antidote. When I told you we were commissioned to find a vaccine, treatment or cure, some distinction between these must be explained. The first prevents a condition, the last reverts it. The middle, the treatment, subverts most of the negative effects. Danny found formaldehyde. As a science lab, we are loaded to the gills with this stuff. Since we are not primarily a teaching institution, preserving anything for posterity is a worthless endeavor, or so we thought. But thanks to the miracle of state funding, we had three five-gallon drums. Most notably, through inhalation, injection and imbibing, the damaging effects on the brain of–well, let’s call it what it is—zombieism–are reduced to nil. Some symptoms and side effects remain, however, as is expected. The parkinsons-like effect, or more correctly, rigor mortis, cannot be entirely eradicated, but its stifling by this treatment is a veritable boon. Gait unhindered and void of the typical shamble or waddle, any given subject should be able to perform most tasks with ease and retain their dignity. From walking to eating to writing and reading, nothing is above the realm of possibility. The rabid desire to bite cannot be removed entirely, but I believe with a second team of scientists I could find a way to supplement the formaldehyde in the correct antipsychotic cocktail.

My one solace is that I know they have not forgotten me. I have complete trust in our government, in our state, and in the hope that springs eternal in the bosom of man. Life will find a way. It will even spring reassurances. Mine are on the observation deck above. From a window I see their shadows. The general, the governor, the second team of scientists, and Danny Voort, his mustache is unmistakable.

So it comes to this, as the doors finally open and my green eyed sergeant returns, with two fellows, his shotgun, and grim determination on his face. They mean to take my antidote but not me. They mean to leave me, as they left Ed and my Love and the dogs. They mean to end the experiment. But I will not back meekly into the incinerator. I am the survivor. I am the victor. I am the master. He has not accounted for my rats. From the vents they swarm him and one of his fellows, crawling up his camo’d legs as though a vacuum lured them. To his exposed, sallow face they climb and attach like leeches. His blasts of shot catch two, but twenty replace them. The fellow farthest from the vents fires, not at the rats, but at me.

I did not need that forearm, anyhow. I can still get you, you tasty, tasty brain bowl. Afterward, freedom is mine!

The world is my pork chop.

Lookout

By Kevin Gillihan

 

Time: Unknown

Date: Unknown

Location: Firewatch outpost #37GiffordPinchotNational forest

Southeast of Forks,Washington

 

It was Sunday. At least that was what Frank liked to think.  Sunday was a day of renewal, maybe even hope.  Set high above the Evergreen tree line, Firewatch outpost #37 was a haven against a storm.  A 360 degree view surrounded Frank Williams but despite this, the same knot in his’ gut told Frank he was far from safe.  For nearly 3 months, Frank had called this tree-top outpost his home.  Although he didn’t mind the solitude, Frank wished (as he did every day) that he could have one decent conversation with another human being.  Of course he had his daily check-in with the local town and resistance just 15 miles or so from his location on his two-way radio but that wasn’t exactly soothing.  It was nearing dusk.  The time Frank dreaded because of the fading light and the approaching darkness.  Darkness, in these times, was not a friend.  Frank set about doing his daily check of supplies at hand; flashlight, various lengths of rope, two 5 gallon gas cans (for the generator), radio with tape player, clothes, and old pick-axe, a few road flares, some canned soups, water, binoculars and a 1911 Colt .45.  Frank smiled to himself as he no longer had any ammo for his beloved Colt.  He still carried it on his side though because it belonged to his grandfather.  I quick scan of the horizon through his binoculars revealed nothing out of the ordinary.  No creeps out tonight, Frank observed.  Perhaps I might even get some sleep tonight, Frank hoped.

If Frank Williams had been a drinking man, these were the times in which he would have drunk himself into a blissful stupor.  As he was not a drinking man, he found that the only cassette left in his ancient radio perfectly fit his somber mood.  Thank God for George Jones, was something he told himself on a daily basis and tonight was not an exception.  In the background of this horrible God-awful scenario, where people died before you could even put a name to their face, George Jones knew exactly what to say.  I’ve had choices, since the day that I was born; I’ve heard voices, that told me right from wrong. If I hadn’t listened, I wouldn’t be here today.  Living and dying, with the choices I’ve made. There never had ever been truer words spoken in the English language, Frank thought.  Complacency was a bad thing for any human being.  Complacency was what got you killed.  Frank knew this.  It was the only rule he lived by.  Not having human contact was what cultivated complacency and Frank was a master gardener in this aspect.  Don’t be soft, his Grandfather used to say.  You get soft and complacent and then you get killed.  Of course Franks’ Grandfather could not have known how his words would ring so true with your neighbor down the street trying to eat your face.  No, he was speaking of his time in the Marines, Frank thought.  He fought two tours of duty and had the scars to show.  Seeing your best friend step on a mine and loose his entire lower body could do that to a person.  As always, Franks’ Grandfather was right.  And with that motivation clearly in his mind, Frank set out checking the watch towers’ meager security.  Windows locked, radio at a reasonable level, escape hatch secure.  Frank sighed to himself every time he did this because he knew that small bits of metal and wood wouldn’t hold for long if it hit the fan.

At one point in his life, Frank had had a wife and children.  Mary his wife, Thomas his son and a daughter named Ellen.  Frank called her ‘Ell’ for short.  Not so long ago (at least he thought) they were his one and only thought in his life.  It’s been 7 years, no 8, since he last saw them, he remembered.  Frank headed off to work at the sawmill and when he returned home, well he didn’t like to think about the details.  They were gone.  It might as well have been a hundred years ago.  Sometimes it felt as long.  Frank had done his grieving a long time ago and although it still hurt, he could not afford to let it occupy much of his thought any longer.  Almost check-in time, Frank reminded himself.  If he could not have much peace himself, at least his ‘all clear from up here’ would do that for the families who depended on his report.  Early on the major cities fell quickly.  It’s amazing what a viral outbreak can do to a persons’ sanity.  In the early days after the attack, you could trust a creep more than you could a regular human being.  At least you knew what the creeps were up to.  The humans that survived began to turn on each other.  Killing, looting and everything else the Bible says is bad.  That’s what separates the humans from the monsters.  Not the creeps but the people who trade their humanity for greed with a side of genocide.  A few years of that and the ‘real’ survivors were left.  Those that still had their sanity intact and knew that in order for humanity to survive, they had to get the hell along with each other.  Frank reached for the two-way radio and thumbed the call button on the side.  Firewatch #37 for outpost 2, come in.  A few seconds of static and Frank heard: This is outpost 2, go ahead Firewatch.  Outpost 2, all clear from up here, Frank stated.  How are things on your end, he asked.  Oh just fineGot a 3-course meal and champagne on ice, the familiar voice chuckled.  Same up here, Frank laughed.  Well don’t get too cozy up there, we got a replacement coming up for you day after tomorrow Frank, the voice said.  Yeah, I heard that one before Ted, Frank joked.  Well this time it’s a sure bet, said Ted.  You take care buddy, outpost 2 outSame here, said Frank.  Firewatch #37 over and out.  With his check-in complete, Frank pulled a blanket over himself and tried to get his eyes to stay shut.

Franks’ eyes slowly opened to darkness.  Man, thought Frank, this is a time when a working watch would come in handy.  He eased himself up to a seated position and found nothing out of the ordinary accept that he had forgotten to turn off the cassette player.  Crap, Frank said himself.  I hope they didn’t hear it.  With deliberately slow movements Frank came to his feet and reached for his small flashlight.  Night in the forest is so completely black that Frank had a hard time even making out the room he had spent 3 months living in.  Frank did not turn his flashlight on as any unnecessary light in this pitch-blackness could be seen for miles.  Instead Frank listened.  For long moments he could only hear the sound of his own breathing.  His head cocked abruptly to his left.  What was that? Frank said to himself.  It sounded far away, or at least very quiet.  A kind of scraping sound that an animal might make.  Again!! but louder this time and much, much closer.  Franks’ mind raced.  I have to open the hatch and make sure Frank told himself.  He eased himself towards the center of the room and bent down to take hold of the lock.  Carefully Frank slid the lock towards the opposite side.  A small squeak and the hatch lifted fully away.  Frank turned on the flashlight and peered over the edge into complete darkness.  The light gleamed down to the forest floor through the rungs of the escape ladder but revealed only slightly brighter darkness.  Frank was about to breathe a sigh of relief and close the hatch when his light touched on something new.  A Foot!! Franks’ mind screamed.  As he moved the light towards what his mind pleaded against but his heart already knew, a grotesque figure came into view.  Frank nearly dropped his light in horror as one, two, three, four, five and dozens more shambled into the yellow light.  NO!!!! Frank screamed in vain.  He slammed down the escape hatch just as several abominations began climbing the ladder towards him.  Despair, anger and fear washed over Frank like a swarm of insects as he paced and began to sweat freely.  What do I? I can’t let them..but the outpost!! Franks’ thoughts rushed at him and pushed at his sanity.  And all at once Frank stopped as a familiar sound washed out the pounding and moaning under his feet.  Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.  Frank smirked to himself as he picked up the radio.  Outpost 2 this is Frank, come in!  A tired voice came on: Frank? This is Ted, what’s going on?  Take everyone and get out.  They’re here! Frank replied.  What?  Asked Ted.  How?  It doesn’t matter, take everyone and go!!! NOW!! Frank yelled.  Ok, ok but you’re coming too right? Asked Ted.  Don’t worry about me just go!!! screamed FrankWith his job done, Frank dropped the radio and turned towards his supplies.  I can’t let these creeps get past me Frank told himself.  The pounding on the hatch turned to splintering and Frank had only seconds to act.  With one hand he gripped the two 5-gallon gas containers and with the other he struck a road flare to life.  Everything on earth seemed to stand still as the music came to Franks’ ears once again.  Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.  Frank closed his eyes and smiled as heat and light filled the night sky.

Shattered Memories: A Beginning

By: Dale K Ostrom

No matter how long it’s been, no matter how many times his eyes closed for the night it came, the enveloping darkness. Within the darkness lay a never ending night mare, forever unfolding like a paper crane. He used to think it would fully shatter his sanity, like glimmering shards of a broken mirror. But the pieces never fell; they only hardened into unyielding steel. Forged of hatred, vengeance, anger, tied like links in a chain. So now the dream played every time his eyes closed, and it was welcomed.

Steven Harper opened his eyes slowly. The room was pitch black; a humid sweat clung to him as he reached for the bed side clock. The blocky blue numbers read 2:15 A.M. What had awakened him? He laid there wondering, his eyes closing to drift back to sleep. But then it came again, a morbid, blood curdling scream. The forceful pain in that scream cut through all thoughts like a razors edge. A child’s scream that tore through the air, a scream beyond any nightmare.

All sense of sleep lost he threw the sweat sodden sheets away and hurried through the darkness. Throwing open the closet door he reached in grasping the cold steel barrel of his father’s Remington 12 Gauge. In hand he raced out of the bedroom, heart pumping rapidly in his chest. A cold pit of dread filled his stomach with a deep leaden weight. Down the hall his bare feet smacked loudly against the cool wood floor. He grasped the stair well banister in a white knuckled grip, listening for the intruder. But the only sound was the drum beat of his heart, blood pounding in his ears like waves against a rocky shore. Somehow that made it worse, the oppressive silence, mixed with the humid summer air made him hasten down the stairs. A raging bull, ripping pictures off the wall, excising a loud moan as he descended.

But he’d fixed that last fall…..

Reaching the bottom, he vaulted right, kicking a stand whit his bare feet. It skittered down the gloomy hallway, creating a loud crash as it came to rest, the porcelain vase that had sat upon it smacked loudly against the door to Sarah’s room. The pain was a forlorn thought that never registered in his mind though, or the broken pieces of the vase that dug into the soles of his feet, tearing at the soft flesh.

The children didn’t like to be alone. Not after their mother had died in a tragic accident a few years back.  Steven couldn’t blame them in that; it was a hard thing for a child so young to endure. It had nearly destroyed him too, but they needed him. Adam, Sarah, Megan; they needed him more than the selfish desires that had crossed his mind. They were all he had left now to live for. Dating hadn’t seemed right after Kirsten had died, now the kids all slept together in Sarah’s room at night. He’d tried separating them, but by morning they were all in there again….

Sarah. Tall and beautiful, with her mother’s tan complexion. She had those soft doe brown eyes, and such full long brown hair. She liked to crawl in his lap during football season and have her hair brushed and put up into braids. The perfect young women! She’d be starting kindergarten come fall; her mother would have had to make a scene, surely.

Then there was Adam. Light brown hair, eyes like a clear morning sky in the Big Horns. Somehow he always held up stronger than he should have for a child his age. But he was smart, always asking questions Steven didn’t have the slightest answers to.  He was always ready for a new journey into the unknown; it helped to remind Steven that there was more to the world beyond their front door.  Adam would be looking forward to Second Grade and making up monster stories with his friend’s.

Finally there was Megan, she seemed the odd one out most time. A head of short blond curls that would never stay down. The biggest blue eyes that loved to twinkle like starts when full of mischief. She had an independent streak a country mile wide, and stubborn to boot, with a fierce lions temper. He always liked to think she took after him the most, but then again she took Kirsten’s death harder than the rest. The counselors added that up to her young age, that she couldn’t comprehend what death meant. But he knew better, she was her mom’s baby. Always clinging to her like a lost puppy whenever they were out. The weeks that followed the accident Megan would wander the house asking “Where’s Momma?”

It tore him apart to look into those big blue eyes, full of innocent confusion and tell her, “Momma can’t come home baby girl.” She still asked on occasion, and cried at the answer he painfully gave her. But she bounced back like a yoyo on a string, and before long her sweet laughter filled the house once again.

They were everything he had left, his life and soul now.

But now he hesitated to open the door. The eerie silence was broken only by an odd moaning, drawn out and sorrowful. It sent a splintering chill down his spine, and Steven was afraid.  It wasn’t fear for himself, but he was terrified at what may lay beyond that door.  In the room where he had kissed them all goodnight, before taking his Ambien and retiring for the night… He didn’t want that to be the last time, it couldn’t be possible. This couldn’t be the end of their smiles, the soft laughter, the tender hugs, yet as much as he prayed he’d open that door and they would all be peacefully sleeping. That feeling in the depths of his dying soul told him it to be a lie. The same felling had come upon him the night the phone rang when Kirsten died, he’d known it would change his life forever, and it didn’t matter a damn bit if he picked up the receiver. They say once fate places you in its merciless clutches, there’s no escape.

So with icy tendrils snaking toward his heart, his mouth dry, feeling stuffed with wool, he reached out with shaking hands. The brass knob felt cool against his clammy skin as it turned open, the door slowly swinging inward.

Then it all turned into an unthinkably savage nightmare, he’d seen cleaner butcher shops.  What waited him on the other side of the soft pink door was chaos. At first all Steven noticed were the curtains flapping lazily in the breeze from the open window. Then as his eyes adjusted to the dim moonlit darkness he found himself in hell. The TV lay broken in front of the window, its screen shattered underneath, the dresser lay mauled on its side, the drawers ripped out and thrown around the room. Blood stained clothes and blankets laid strewn out upon the floor, bloody hand prints dripped wetly from the walls. Oozing onto the saturated carpet. The mattress lay half off the bed as if someone was desperately trying to get at what lay beneath. The sickening coppery taste of blood filled his nostrils even as he felt the bile coming up in his throat.

Leaning over he spilt the contents of their last meal upon a pile of blood speckled toys. Only the shotgun save him, holding him upright as vomit spewed out of his mouth. When he was able to stand again and wipe the sweat and vomit from his face, he saw the first body. Half covered in a blood sodden heap of torn and ravaged flesh in the corner, he felt his mouth go dry as the urge to retch came upon him again. But there was nothing left, Steven could only stare; her soft brown hair was a matted mess of blood plastered to the side of her now pale face. Her brown eyes stared lifeless and empty at the celling. Worst was the gaping hole in her neck, like a savage dog had brutally clamped his jaws around the soft warm flesh and tore it out.

He was petrified, staring at his life as she laid dead on the floor, an overpowering stench of death and decay hanging in the air, mixing with the coppery scent of blood. He stared in a numb daze as the room began to spin slowly around him, the shock hitting him like a torrential river of ice. His whole world was crashing in, like a tidal wave, a wave to wash away the sandcastle they’d built on their trip to the east coast. Each grain of life slipping slowly into the sea, lost forever to the drifting tides.

All hope lost, he hardly noticed when something cold and wet gripped weekly to his ankle. He slowly turned his gaze downward, only to find a small blood soaked hand grasping him from beneath a mass of ruined linen.  Holding in all hope, Steven slowly lowered himself to the floor pushing back the sheets to find big blue eyes staring up at him dimly.  He quickly withdrew the rest of the coverings back to reveal little Megan’s ravaged body.

“Daddy,” she said, smiling up at him weakly.  “The boogey man came.”

He gently pulled her broken body into his lap, holding back the tears he refused to let come. “It’s ok baby, the boogey man’s gone now; Daddy’s going to make it all better.” He tried to sound reassuring, even as her eyes began to fade.

“Daddy, where’s Mommy?” She said.

It was all he could manage to speak beyond the lump in his throat, yet his voice still came out in a choke. “Don’t worry baby girl, you can see Mommy soon. We’ll all be together very soon.”

A slight smile played across her blood stained lips, her eyes glittered with a moment’s happiness. “I love you Daddy! Adam made the bad boogey man go back in the closet.” She said, letting out another shuddering breath, her lungs rasping through the puncture in her throat. Blood slowly trickling out, as her life faded.

“Don’t worry about that now baby; it’s going to be all right. Mommy’s going to come get you now. Never forget how much I love you…” His voice trailed off as he looked away. How could this be real?

“I’m so tired Dad, can I go back to sleep now?” She asked even as the last spark of life left her eyes. Her eyelids came to a gentle close as she took her last shuddering breath of life, leaving him as quickly as she came.

“Goodnight baby… Daddy’s going to join you soon.” He brushed her blood matted curls back as he leaned down and kissed her forehead one last time. “I love you angel” Then the moaning came again, louder than before. It was coming from the closed closet door to his left.

Gently raising her head, he lifted Megan up, and placed her down upon the askew mattress, then turning he walked over to where Sarah lay. He fixed her hair the best he could before laying her down beside her sister, and placing a gentle kiss upon her cold brow.

Picking the shotgun back up off the floor Steven made his way over to the closet door. With a shaking hand he grasped the brushed silver handle, and slowly opened it outward. What was inside defied all rational sense. Inside was a man with wisps of graying hair sticking out from a sunken in skull, the left side of his face was ripped off; his eye was hanging out of its socket by a tendril of red flesh. The stench of rot and decay assaulted him as he watched the man take another bite out of Adam’s small body. His clothes were torn and falling off his body, gashes and bites showed here and there between the tears. A guttural moan came from his throat every time he swallowed a piece of flesh from Adam’s mutilated corpse.

The man had broken off Adam’s right arm, now only a stump remained, raged tendrils of sinew hung from the stump, white bone jutting out. It was a grizzly seen; his stomach had been ripped open, the intestines pulled out. The murderer kept reaching in and grasping at more innards, pulling them to his mouth and devouring without care. Blood covered everything,Adamsclothes were shredded, his eyes stared up at nothing, lips twisted and frozen in a terrified scream, but the dead had no voice.

Steven stared on in mute shock, as the butt of the shotgun was pulled tight to his armpit. His finger wrapped around the trigger, the cold steel feeling warmer than anything in that small room. The creature finally noticed him, raising unseeing eyes up to the barrel of the shotgun that was mere inches from its face, and Steven pulled the trigger. Click. “Shit” he said. He’d forgotten to load it. But there was no time to waste. Grabbing the shotgun by the barrel he raised it back over his head.

“When you get back to hell you son of a bitch, just remember. I’ll be coming to kill you again. You fucking bastard.” With that he brought the butt of the shotgun down with all the force he had left in him. It slammed into the man’s gray top so hard that he heard the audible crunch as his skull caved in. Then he raised it again, and slammed it down, again, and again, and again. Blood and brain matter sprayed the back of the closet with each swing. Chunks of bone breaking free of the pulverized flesh, each hit made a loud wet smack. He couldn’t say how many times he hit the man before his strength left him, but when his weak arms finally dropped the gun. There was nothing left of the man’s head. White and red, shattered pieces of bone were stuck into the butt of the gun, a reddish, gray ooze ran from what was left of the corpse.

With arm’s that felt like Jell-O, Steven forced himself to pick up his son’s small body. Then on shaking legs he brought it across the room to lie next to his sisters, and closed his unstaring eyes. Yet his death scream would never go away, it stayed in a fixed pain filled scream. How he managed to continue was a mystery, his will was broken, his soul destroyed, but he did what he had to.

Steven went to the hall closet and found a clean quilt his grandmother had made him when he was a child. It felt right to him as he ran his fingers over the intricate needle work; the loving care that had made it would lead his children into their mother’s arms. He went back into the room and covered there body’s so the only thing that showed was their faces. If he didn’t look to close at the blood and cuts, the bites, he was able to pretend they were just asleep. He kissed them all once more, and then turned to leave the room. As he reached the door, an eerie moan stopped him.

Steven turned just in time to see the quilt move as Sarah’s body gave a violent shake before she sat upright. His breath caught, disbelieving eyes stared as she turned her head towards him. Her eyes were dead and unseeing, her mouth working up and down in an odd chewing motion. Blood still seeped from the hole in her throat, and then she moaned again.

“NO! You can NOT! Lay back down and rest. I demand it!” he screamed at her. But she wasn’t listening; she climbed off of the bed with stiff uncoordinated movements. Her feet shuffled along the floor as she made her way towards him, the eerie moan still coming through the hole in her throat. “Noooooo!” He screamed at her! “Damn you!!!!” he yelled. Steven wasn’t even sure who he was yelling at any longer but this wasn’t right, had he died and finally gone to hell? But before she could reach him he slammed the door shut, and then held it as she began to scratch against the wood. Why wouldn’t she rest? It was because he couldn’t save them wasn’t it, it had to be!

He started back for the stairs muttering to himself, “I’ll make this right, yes… Yes I will. I refuse to let you suffer any longer. You must rest, and then I will join you!”

Everything became a faded black memory after that. The bedroom, the .45, he made sure to check the clip. Then back upstairs to find all three now clawing at the door for freedom. He yelled at them to go back to sleep, but when they wouldn’t listen, and so he finally raised the gun.  Aiming at the door he imagined them there at head height behind it, and then he closed his eyes. The tears finally came then, they streamed down his face in an unstoppable monsoon that had been held off for too long, it snaked tracks through the drying blood that had gotten on him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“BOOM,”  “BOOM,” “BOOM.”

With a shaking hand, and free flowing tears, Steven turned the gun on himself. Placing it in his mouth he closed his eyes, relishing in the taste of gunpowder of hot steel. He began to laugh as his finger found the trigger, and he pulled it.

 

 

Three years later.

Everything had changed since the night of the outbreak, everyone had changed. It was originally thought to be a mass cult perpetrating multiple murder suicides through-out the U.S.  That thought was quickly dismissed as morgues began to be attacked from within their own doors. Failed surgery patients that had been pronounced dead began to rise, attacking surgeons and patients alike. The outbreak spread like a prairie fire, humanity’s need to distance themselves from infection made it worse. That just led to further infection as those running infected turned, infecting others.  It was chaos the first year, but as humans are opt to do they adapted, learned. The major cities had been hit the worst, and were quickly abandoned by all living occupants that remained. The hordes of population in such metropolitan areas were called “Zombie Stews.” The population that had led to high rises, 1000 unit apartment complexes, it all just fed the fire. That was the first change that people made in aftermath of July, 21st, year 1 PZA, (Post Zombie Apocalypse).  People now lived in scattered tribes, behind new stone structures, they built dry motes, dead falls, anything to slow the advancing horde. The centuries almost seemed to reverse as the world began to look more like a nightmare from the dark ages. Yet, trade still continued, a new government was born, life went on. For some at least…..

 

Gabriel lowered the binoculars, cursing under his breath. The safe house had been compromised; corpses had been piled up a safe distance from the structure and set to blaze.  Someone had drawn them in, and then dispatched them after safely behind the steel enforced door.  He had built this safe house himself a year after the virus hit.  It was never safe to rest in the open anymore; bandits could be just as bad as the undead. The building was constructed of gray cinder blocks, reinforced with rebar and concrete. It was painted to blend in with the surrounding grass lands of theWyomingprairie. A dull brown, with mixtures of tumbleweeds tacked to the walls. It had one main entrance, maid of solid steel, with a reinforced latch bar inside. No windows dotted any of the sides, but a skylight on top let in light, while a rope ladder hung down to gain access to the roof top. He had designed it as simple as possible as not to draw attention. But someone had found it out anyway; last he had come this way there had been enough rations left for a 6 months siege. It was hard to say how long its new occupant had been there. Now it was time to find out who they were, and why they were here.

He raised himself up on one knee to survey the area before making the track down. You couldn’t be too cautious these days; it wasn’t just the bite of a rattlesnake that could take you down. Out here a dozen things could kill you, or worse maim you so that you had no choice but to die in agony. The prairie grass could just as well contain a mutilated zombie that could no longer rise. However unlikely due to lack of population in the region, only a reckless fool would take that chance. As he raised his hand to shade his eyes from the merciless sun that was beating down from overhead, he spotted a dust cloud rising of to the east, coming closer, and fast. Gabriel quickly threw himself back down to the ground lest he be spotted on the rise he was on; from their direction he was an easy spot, with the sun to their advantage. He brought the binoculars up to bear again, training in on the cloud. At first he couldn’t make anything out, and then as he focused in they came into sight. “Shit,” he cursed softly, 3 men riding in a small SUV, there vehicle was in ill repair, junk yard resurrection he determined. It was missing the front hood and the left fender, the sunlight glinted off the broken windows, cancer holes covered the body, and the paint was a cornucopia of bright colors. “Fuck me,” he cursed again, the only thing worse than the undead, were the Raiders. They killed without mercy, taking what they wanted, raping, stealing, murdering. These men had no conscious; they were blight upon humanity. At least the undead would kill you and be done. Raiders tended to enjoy torture, they would use their captives to lure in undead, let them get a few bites. Then they’d watch as the once human being turned into an unthinking, mindless monster. They would then take the fresh turned into encampments that were too large for them to take by force, and let it loose.  Looting became easy after that, the living that escaped would run to the next colony, and the undead were put down. All they needed with little resistance. It was a twisted cycle they enjoyed, yet the new government did nothing to stop it.

So Gabriel laid back and got comfortable, watching as the SUV shambled closer like a rotten corpse, coming to destroy whatever innocence was in his safe house. As he waited, he let his hand reach down and loosened the .45 in its holster, reached behind his back and made sure the Kukri was clear on his belt loop, last he made sure the flash drive was still secure around his neck. He kissed it for luck and whispered a prayer to those lost. Never could be too safe, action came fast, the unprepared died first and fast. He hadn’t made it this far in his mission to die at the hands of Raiders, or of the virus.

The SUV came to a sliding stop in front of the main door, the three men all piled out and began to shout and point at once. At the distance Gabriel couldn’t make out there words, but by the view he got in the binoculars, they weren’t happy. All three men wore tattered clothes, just as mismatched as the rusted bucket they rode around in. The 2 closest to the door appeared to be in their mid-twenties dirt stained faces displayed expressions of displeasure, spittle flying out between missing teeth. The younger two wore no firearms that he could see, only make shift crude cudgels. Crude but effective at close range, the leader carried a small caliber pistol that he was waving around in the air. They were definitely arguing about something, and it appeared what they wanted was in the safe house.  He generally didn’t involve himself in the affairs of refugees; he had his own worries to deal with. Yet as he never let an undead walker cross his path unmolested, neither could he allow these three to leave the area living.

Throwing himself to his feet, Gabriel dusted himself off and checked his weapons again. After making sure they were secure he turned back to his AZAU, (Anti Zombie Attack Unit).  It had taken a six month time frame at a secure safe house up in Gillette to complete, yet he still wasn’t done. Gabriel couldn’t help but take a second to appreciate its destructive beauty.  He’d found a scraped out military buggy out at the old Ellsworth Air Force base in South Dakota on a scouting mission.  But it fit his needs, after all the mechanics had been upgraded, and rebuilt. Everything designed with quick change outs in mind; he’d installed a complete reinforced roll cage, pulled off all the original doors, and placed Plexiglas coverings over the entire cage and underfoot. It gave a clear sight to the ground between his feet, sight was important when traveling in abandoned cities.  He’d heard of people thinking themselves in a safe location, only to exit their vehicle and having a decayed zombie munching on an ankle. Clear sight all around and a third exit out of the top where he planned on placing a turret in case he got surrounded. Vicious blades stuck out of the hubs, a beautiful idea taken from old chariots. Rows of vicious razor sharp spikes gleamed dully in the sunlight off the front and back end of the buggy. He’d managed to find a M134 mini-gun on the old base to mount out of the front window, with a remote firing mechanism. It was a thing of beauty he thought as he pulled open the plexi door, and fired it up.  He flicked the ignition switch and the electric motors whirred to life.  The solar battery’s reading a full charge, while the backup gas generator only read 1\4 tank. He’d need to find fuel soon.

Gabriel threw the AZAU into drive and floored the pedal; it lurched into motion sending him flying over the small hill he had just used to survey the land. He could imagine the look on the Raiders faces as he came hurtling toward them, the PA system screaming out a barrage of old rock. Yeah, it was a thing of beauty in this forlorn land of misery, but everyone had their part to play. What could you do when fate had its hands on you anyway?

He ran full bore down the slope, hitting the brakes and stopping 20 paces from the Raiders location. Three sets of shocked eyes stared at him; one of the younger had managed to stain the front of his patched BDU’s with piss. His lip quivered as nervous eyes flickered back and forth to his companions. Gabriel sat for a minute, letting it all soak in before flicking off the music that beat a screaming rhythm of vengeance. The raiders continued to stare at him uncertainly as he removed himself, with a tedious lack of indifference from the buggy.

The lead Raider, a man into his years, mouth lacking most all his teeth, what remained were yellow and jagged. His mismatched clothes were too big for what remained of his scrawny frame. He wore what might have been once a yellow t-shirt that was now too stained and stiff to be called anything but brown. His brown eyes stared out at him uncertainly from close set brows, his lips tightened into a grimace. A few strands of hair were left on a balding scalp that showed various scars.

The younger Raider with the piss pants finally spoke first, more balls than sense. “What the fuck you want mister? We aint got no business with you, so you should just get on your lil pony and bugger off.”  That earned him a smack from his partner, who got a glare in return.

The leader stepped forward, silencing any further protest from piss pants. “I’m not sure what you’re coming down here like the devils taken a bit out of yer ass boy, but as you’re here now.” He began, “I say we have you outnumbered and your dumbass just lost your ride.” A satisfied smirk crossed his face. Piss pants nodding his head stupidly in agreement.

Gabriel let out a small chuckle at that as he began to pace back and forth, keeping his eyes on leaders’ gun. “Well as to that, I’m going to have to disappoint you, as well as show you the error in your thinking.” The leader began to speak until Gabriel raised his hand for silence. “What we have here in fact is a group of worthless pukes. Such a sorry group to be had as that, so I have shown up just in time it seems.” He said, stopping and flashing an innocent smile.

“Wha-what did you just say?” Piss pants spluttered. “Ima gonna cut your balls off for you and shove them up your own ass, right Mike?” He said, glancing at the leader who nodded in approval.

“I’m going to have to agree with my friend there on that point. Seein as how I pull this trigger here and your eyeballs is gonna be splattered to the back of your skull boy.” He said, raising the pistol at Gabriel’s head.

“Well that’s where you’re wrong,” Gabriel began again. “Cause that pistol doesn’t have a single round in it, the way your hands shaking gives away your lie.”

Mike began to look around nervously at his companions. “Well maybe, maybe you’re right, and maybe we got a little hasty. See where just here to collect someone who’s got a pretty bounty on her head.” He said licking his dry lips. “What say you help us, and we can split the money? Fifty-Fifty, easy as pie, then we can all go our separate ways?” Piss pants started to comment but was quieted with another smack. The third raider just stared, looking like he wanted nothing but to run.

Hmm, so that explains a lot then, Gabriel thought to himself. What could possibly be in there that’s worth sending these goons out after? The new government usually uses there Peace Keepers to track down fugitives, so it couldn’t be them. But who else has authority, power, and the resources to keep Raiders in line? Those questions would have to wait though; it was time to end this. Without another glance at the three, Gabriel pulled out his 1911 .45. The pearl grips fitting smoothly into the palm of his hand as he turned back, leveling it at Piss Pants head. “Boom,” he fired splitting the silence of the prairie like a thunderclap. Piss pants dropped as the back of his head blew apart, sending blood and chunks of brain splattering against the front of the SUV. Just as quickly he followed through on the silent one, while Mike uselessly pulled the trigger of his pistol. As Gabriel finally drew bead upon him he dropped to his knees, a puddle of piss grew around his knees as he began to beg.

“Oh God, please. We didn’t mean it, please don’t kill me. Oh fuck no.” He said, begging and offering up prayers, and his daughters, his wife. This is what Raiders came to; the undead had more humanity than this garbage.

Gabriel looked down at him, as he kept asking for mercy. “God’s not here now, God wasn’t there the night the devil came into my home. The night I lost my soul, and I’m sure God won’t be waiting for you now.” With that he put down the last Raider execution style. “May the devil take your soul so that I can kill you again when my time comes.” He said, repeating his killing prayer.

With the three dead, Gabriel put them out of his mind. They weren’t worth losing an ounce of sleep over anyway. He turned his attention to the safe house and who was inside. Or he thought as he caught a glimpse of movement from above, on the roof. Knowing trying to force his way inside was a pointless endeavor and he could scream all he wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference. Whoever was in there would only make themself known in their own good time. So he turned back to the buggy and sat down with his back against the front tire, pulling out a chocolate bar he’d found a few days back. He began to eat it and hum an old nursery rhyme to himself while rubbing the flash drive he always kept around his neck.

It was well into sunset before he heard anything; the last rays of sun were at the peak of the concrete safe house. Perfect timing he grudgingly had to admit, your backs to the sun and I’m blind. At least this one has some semblance left of intelligence.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” A woman’s voice called out to him, a tinge of fear riming the words.

Gabriel waved up to the sun soaked outline he saw, “Well I was kind of thinking the same thing, especially since you’re in my safe house? Do you know the trouble it was to build this thing all the way out here? Not to mention your enjoying my rations.” He said, a bemused smile coming to him at the prolonged silence.

“I, I, I’m sorry,” she called back. I didn’t realize anyone was using it. I needed a place to rest is all,” She began. “My names Jade, I’d let you in but you killed those three without a hint of regret, how am I to know you won’t kill me too?” She asked.

“As to that you won’t know unless I do, will you?” He asked, “But if it makes you feel any better I’ll leave all my weapons out here. Can’t say I go around looking to hack people up for fun. The undead have that pretty well covered.”

There was a long silence as she seemed to consider what he said. Gabriel began to think the woman had decided against letting him in, but then he heard the screech of metal against metal as the latch bar was drawn from the door. With the tiniest creak a shallow sliver of lamplight came from a crack in the door. It washed over him just enough for whoever was in there to see him clearly.

“Ok like you said, leave the weapons and I’ll let you in” She said, voice shaking with uncertainty. But Gabriel did as he promised, dropping first his Kukri, then his .45, he pulled a knife from each boot, then one hidden up his sleeve. Setting them all in a pile next to the buggy he turned around in the lamp light cast by the door, his shadow growing long across the prairie. “Is, is that all?” She asked.

Gabriel gave her a nod as he smiled, “As long as you’re not infected I don’t see as how I’d need them anyway. Wouldn’t you agree?”  After a moment the door finally opened all the way, and she stepped away, giving him room to come in while staying out of reach.

After his eyes adjusted to the glaring lamplight he gave a look around to re-familiarize himself. The floor was made of bare dirt, with an ample fire pit in the middle of the room. A cot sat against the wall opposite the door with a simple stand beside it. To his right were rows of shelving that held MRE’s, a few were missing, indicating she’d been here awhile. On the next shelf were rows of ammunition cans filled with various calibers. Sitting below the shelf a simple reloading bench sat with used MRE’s packages. The ladder that led through the skylight had been raised again to keep the room clear in case things didn’t go her way. Finally he turned his inspection on the mystery woman.

What he found was surprising; the woman was beautiful to say the least. Her dirty blonde hair was tied back from her face with a red bandana. Her deep blue-green eyes were studying him as he looked at her; a tinge of fear hidden in them, her high cheek bones complemented the sharp point of her nose. Her lips were full with a slightly pouty downturn that somehow made her seem innocent, yet dangerous at the same time.  She wore a tight forming tank top that showed of tanned muscular shoulders, and an ample bit of cleavage poured out the top. She was tensed and standing in a position that would give her maximum leverage should he attack. Her brown khaki shorts showed strong thighs, her right leg pulled back, heel kicked out slightly in dark brown hiking boots. She was ready for something, but he didn’t know what, and he intended to find out.

Gabriel was about to speak when she said, “So, are you about done staring at my tits? I mean honestly you’d think you’ve never seen a pair, now pick up your jaw.” She gave a soft melodious laugh as his face began to burn.

“I wasn’t staring,” he countered. “I was just sizing up my intruder.”

That just made her laugh all the louder, “Well in my defense the door was unlocked.” As if that reminded her, she went back to the door and placed the latch bar back in its place. The muscles on the back of her tanned thighs standing out as she lifted the bar into place. She looked back over her shoulder in time to catch him averting his gaze, small blessing she made no comment.

“So,” he said, “Might I ask why those Raiders seem to think you have a bounty on that pretty little head of yours?” He studied her reaction to the question but she didn’t seem to notice, she just fidgeted nervously at the door…

“Sometimes, people have secrets that other people would rather not be let known.” She said matter of fact. Gabriel kept studying as she turned away and began to clean up the empty MRE packages. “It could be that maybe I was a reporter, ya know, before the virus.” She stopped and moved an empty package back and forth. “Might be I know things that the new Government would rather keep hidden.”

That stopped Gabriel in his tracks. What could she be eluding at he wondered? That the virus was intentional? But that’s what he wanted wasn’t it? It gave his vengeance meaning then right? It was all coming to fast, fate had him by the balls again, and he didn’t like it.

She turned back then, taking her turn studying his reaction, her eyes piercing the shattered husk of his dark soul. “What about you?” She asked. “What are you doing out here all alone, besides saving damsels in distress?”
His throat had gone dry, it took a minute to collect his thoughts and answer again. By then she was looking at him more intently, looking at his flash drive. Without thinking he brought his hand up and grabbed it tightly. Looking away he walked to the MRE’s and said “I have matters to take care of, I owe the devil a visit. He seems to be better at hiding than most though.”

She seemed intent to let that answer suffice for the moment, but if he knew anything about pre-virus reporters…. Well she’d catch him off guard when she was ready.

“Seems a fair enough answer these days,” She said. “What about that flash drive you have? You seem more than protective of it?

Gabriel turned then, looking into her eyes, letting her take what she will from it. “It’s nothing, just some memories that belong to a dead man. He asked me to hold onto them.”

“Well,” Jade said. “I suppose that’s a worthwhile answer, everyone needs their secrets. So now you have yours and I have mine.” She looked at him then her head cocking slightly to the side, her brow raised. “What’s your next move if you don’t mind me asking?”

That took Gabriel by surprise for a moment, but it was his opening. If he could get himself next to her, maybe this Jade would lead him to the Devil? Then he could fulfill his promise, and then rest could come. He smiled then, truly smiled. “Well darling, as it happens I’m in between jobs, and it seems like you could use some help.” He trailed off hopping she’d take the bait.

Jade gave him a sly smile then, “Is that your attempt at being sly? If so then you need to work on your people skills.” She turned somber then, “I could use some help though, and if it turns out you get what you want at the end too. Well I guess we both win. What do you say?”

Gabriel closed his eyes then, offering up a silent prayer to the dead that haunt his dreams. He didn’t open them again. “Where do we go?” He asked.

She turned that smile on him again, “I like a one track man, and we head forBaltimore. I need to meet a contact.”

Gabriel kept his eyes closed then, in the cool air of the safe house. He kept his eyes closed and let the dream play again. Let the memories of a dead man come back to him, of the lives the Devil took from him. Vengeance was coming!

 

 

 

 

 

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