The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Mon Jul 06, 2015 9:51 pm

Thanks for that taste of MOAR.... It was delicious but such a small morsel.

And maybe I'm crazy but I don't want this turned into a book, just so straight to the feature film, a trilogy would be great, with watch part broken into two 2hr films. Just a thought!
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Tue Jul 07, 2015 5:30 am

Thank you!

And thanks for your consideration re: getting published... This story and your writing deserves to be out there.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by selen » Tue Jul 07, 2015 6:14 am

Thank you for the update TB 8-) May be you can divide the story and publish the first part. That way you can keep writing here :)

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by BadLands_Shooter » Tue Jul 07, 2015 6:20 am

So glad I didn't discover this story until 2 years after it was started. I'm only on page 23 and therefore have yet to become a member of the walking moar. :awesome:
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Tue Jul 07, 2015 8:26 pm

Thanks for the update, TB! Now don't make us ride you like Zero to keep the updates coming and the story fresh.
Halfapint said: And maybe I'm crazy but I don't want this turned into a book, just so straight to the feature film, a trilogy would be great, with watch part broken into two 2hr films. Just a thought!
You are crazy indeed. I can't wait to order a hardcopy of the book and loan it to friends. Although a feature film or even a TV series would be awesome.
Badlands shooter said: So glad I didn't discover this story until 2 years after it was started. I'm only on page 23 and therefore have yet to become a member of the walking moar. :awesome:
(Absinthe Beginner shakes head sadly in knowing recognition): Most addicts refuse to acknowledge their addiction…they tell themselves they can quit at any time…it's just a habit, that's all…brother, let's face facts here: you'll soon be wracked with the craving for MOAR just as soon as you get caught up. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt…not judging my friend, just here to supply some brotherly accountability and empathy to a fellow moar junkie. 8-)

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by D_Man » Fri Jul 10, 2015 7:42 am

Thanks for the update.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:16 pm

They were passing more and more green electrical utility boxes and dirt driveways that disappeared into the trees. Probably vacation homes, he thought, figuring that they were getting close to the lake he’d seen on the map. In normal times, a lot of them would’ve already been locked up and vacant when the pandemic really started to rage at the end of the previous summer, but he supposed many of the owners would’ve tried to shelter in them, away from more populated areas. He wondered how much food those people had thought to bring with them and let his imagination run wild just for a second or two, picturing a secret, unlooted basement store room stacked high with boxes of junk food.

“We’ve been through every one of them,” Joel said, reading his thoughts. “They were all picked clean a long time before we got to them.”

“We got a few things:” Carlos countered, “some forks and spoons, two wood stoves, some clothing…”

“Any shoes?” Mundy asked, trying to elevate his ankle.

“What’s wrong with those?” the man asked, nodding at the vintage military boots on his feet. “They look practically new.”

“They’re just a little big,” Mundy replied. “A lot of walking in them could make that a real problem.”

“When we get back,” Carlos said, staring at the boots, “you can see what we have. Maybe you’ll want to trade.”

“If you ladies can postpone your shoe shopping,” Joel interrupted, “we’re getting close.” As if on cue, the truck began to slow.

“Right,” Carlos replied, readying himself. He noticed Mundy’s questioning look. “Two of us drop off before we get back and keep watch for a while to make sure no one’s following. Today, that would be me and Joel.” He turned to the other two and spoke first to Brett. “When you get back, go tell Faye she has a patient,” he said, indicating Mundy. “And make sure she doesn’t get all carried away and try to cut that boot off him. And you,” he said to the girl with the shotgun as the truck slowed to a crawl and he prepared to jump off, “don’t shoot him unless, you know, you have to. And if you do – ”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said in a bored tone as he jumped to the road along with the other man, “I know, don’t hit the boots.”

The two men waved to the woman behind the wheel and made their way to the trees at the edge of the road. Once they were there, the truck slowly accelerated.

“Dude,” Brett said with a grin, “he really likes your boots.”

“I guess,” Mundy replied.

“If you want, I’ll trade you my gun for that AK of yours. Let me know.”

“Not…too likely,” Mundy told him.

The young man shrugged and smirked contemptuously. “Just thought maybe you wanted to go for a whole cowboy theme with those revolvers of yours.” He tapped a finger against the lever-action rifle’s sixteen inch stainless steel barrel. “It holds eight .45 Long Colts, plus one in the chamber. Makes nice big holes in things.”

“My revolvers are forty-fives. If you have any ammunition you want to trade, let me know. But I think I’ll hang on to the AK.”

“Whatever,” Brett said, trying to hide his disappointment. “Hold on. We’re turning.”

At the young man’s words, the truck made a sudden turn onto a well worn dirt road and wound a twisting path through a few acres of tall pines. When the trees suddenly thinned, they emerged into a cleared space. There was a sign that read Vanquish Creek Sand and Gravel Supply that now served as the roof of a cramped, cobbled together guard station. Mundy guessed the sign had originally been out at the side of the highway but had been taken down to help conceal the site. The woman standing beside the guard post carried an old, antique-looking rifle and appeared as though she was in her fifties or early sixties. She wiggled her fingers in greeting to her returning friends, but did not smile.

The quarry shone a pale yellow in the weak sunshine, the scraped clean ground standing out vividly against the darker colors of the surrounding landscape. There was an M1083 National Guard truck with a camouflage canvas cover arched over its back. There were various pieces of earth moving equipment sitting near the base of an excavated hillside, a holding pond filled with jade green water and huge mounds of rock, gravel and sand. There were two metal equipment sheds and a small corrugated metal office trailer clustered together along with several camping tents of various sizes and shapes. Sections of scavenged chain link fencing stretched from the corners of the buildings, providing some security for the tents. About one hundred yards from the edge of the quarry lay a sizable lake. Mundy stared out across it at the tree-lined shore on the far side.

The truck ground to a halt and Brett jumped off. “I’ll tell Faye we’ve got a gimpy one.” He caught the eye of the brown haired girl. “Remember, we’re swimming before lunch, unless,” he added playfully, “the water’s too cold for you.”

The girl gave him a smile and her middle finger. She grabbed her things and noticed Mundy looking out over the lake. “Pretty, isn’t it?” she said, a mocking tone buried in her words. “Lake Sunshower. Of course, if you have an old map from way back in the seventies like the one I found in a garage up the road, one from before they started building all these houses out here, you can see it was once named Drowning Man Lake, which I like a lot better. But I guess they figured more people would want to buy property around Lake Sunshower.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dominique, coming around the side of the truck and giving the girl a slight smile. The facial expression brought the scars on the woman’s face to Mundy’s attention for the first time. They were thick and dark and ran from the corner of her mouth down to her right jaw line. “And what was your name before you changed it to Tempest?” The girl jumped down from the truck bed, spared the woman a withering look and then marched off toward the metal equipment sheds. “Come on,” the woman said, offering her hand to help Mundy down. “Let’s have Faye take a look at your ankle.”

Perry was sitting in the open passenger side doorway, making notations on a map. “What do you think of the camp, Mr. Mundy?” he asked without looking up.

Mundy glanced around at the open area and felt a sense of unease. “Could use some walls,” he replied.

Dominique walked awkwardly beside and a step behind Mundy as he limped toward the cluster of buildings and tents. Mundy could see she was fighting the urge to help him walk, trying to ignore his pain. He knew as well as anyone that all too often in the post-pandemic world, a person had to be able to make it on his or her own, no matter the difficulty.

“I gotta ask,” he said as he hobbled along, “why you’re all camped out in the open in a quarry when there are probably a hundred empty houses lining the shore of this lake?”

“It’s weird,” she answered. “The rotters are drawn to the houses. Something about the sight of a house sparks something in what’s left of their brains. We think they associate them with food. Whatever it is, they always seem to pay a visit when they stumble on a house.”

“But not an old quarry, I guess.”

“Perry figured they wouldn’t,” she replied, “and I guess he’s right. Not one of them has come in since we set up camp here.”

“So he knows what he’s doing?”

“I suppose. He’s got a record of success.”

“Success at what?”

“At organizing survivors like us,” the woman answered. “At getting them set up in defensible locations so maybe we can start working together.”

“Ohhh,” Mundy said, suddenly ill at ease, “he’s…he’s a man with a plan, is he?”

The woman saw the expression on his face and chuckled. “Don’t worry. Perry’s not one of them FEMA camp messiahs or some wannabe warlord. I wouldn’t be here if he was.”

Mundy remembered the way the man had shot one of his group members in the leg and left him behind. “Then what is he?”

“He’s the guy who just gave you a lift. He’s the guy who’s buying you dinner tonight. He’s the guy who’s giving you a safe place to sleep. And if you decide you want to take off in the morning, he’s the guy who’s gonna say see-ya-bye.”

The woman who met them at the door to the office trailer was in her forties and dressed in clothes whiter than any Mundy had seen in a long time. Her blond hair was in the process of turning silver and it fell to just past her shoulders. Like her clothes, it was cleaner and better cared for than any head of long hair he’d seen for a year. She looked appraisingly at Mundy.

“You actually found someone this time?” she said to Dominique. She looked at his rifle and his revolvers before catching and holding his gaze for a moment. “Another mouth to feed, huh?

“Cliff’s gone,” Brett told her as he passed by the trailer carrying a plastic bin filled with washed and folded clothes. “It all evens out.”

“Cliff’s gone?” the woman repeated. She looked to Dominique who nodded in confirmation. “Well, then the trip wasn’t a total waste. What happened?”

“He honked the horn,” Dominique recounted in a sour tone.

“He honked the horn?” Faye repeated in disbelief.

“Um-hmm. To get this guy’s attention. Then the rotters came out and…and Mundy’s friend didn’t make it. Perry left Cliff behind with a bullet in his leg.” She glanced at Mundy. “Sort of a tit-for-tat kind of thing.”

The news seemed to shock the woman. “He shot him?”

“We could all see that Mundy here was a little mad at the way things happened,” Dominique explained. “I think Perry wanted to…soften any hard feelings.”

“And did it?” she said, glaring at him. “Did it make you happy?”

“I can’t say it did,” Mundy replied quietly.

“Well,” she said, recovering her composure and glancing again at his rifle and revolvers, “with all your guns, I’m surprised you didn’t just mow down all the rotters and save the day.” She motioned him up the steps. “Let’s take a look at your foot.”

“It’s…” Mundy told her, grimacing as he hopped up the steps and into the trailer “…just a sprain. If I could soak it in some cold lake water for a while…”

“Uh-huh,” she muttered, pointing to a cot. “Sit. Maybe take your guns off.” She watched Mundy struggle with the electrical cords he was using for boot laces. “I bet someone here has some spare shoelaces…if you’ve got anything to trade.”

“I’m hoping to trade in the boots.” He peeled away at his sock. “That guy, Carlos, seemed interested.”

“Yeah,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “See if you can get some new socks in the deal. Your ankle’s swollen like a grapefruit. No wonder, with the weight of all those guns and bullets.” She glanced to where his SAM7 rifle rested against the wall. “How many times have you shot and killed people with those guns of yours?”

“No idea,” Mundy lied – he could clearly recall each and every one. “I prefer to keep track of how many times they’ve kept me alive.”

“Yeah, I remember guys like you from at the beginning,” she said, picking out a bottle of ibuprofen from among a scant supply of medicine in a cardboard box and twisting open the top, “happy to the point of giggling, finally able to take all of their toys out of their closet and put them on, waltzing through the end of the world like kids at a playground.”

“I do very little waltzing.”

“The world wouldn’t be half so empty of people if guys like you hadn’t run crazy during the Fall shooting at everything that moved.” She shook loose a single tablet of ibuprofen and pushed it into the palm of his hand.

“I don’t remember running crazy,” Mundy replied, growing agitated, “just a lot of running and hiding.”

“But now you’re a big, bad gunman. Is that what you are, Mr. Apocalypse?”

What the hell, lady?” he erupted. “Have we met before? Did I do something bad to you that I can’t recall now? Because, if not, I can’t quite figure out why you’re treating me like the guy who stood you up at the prom.”

She stared hard at him, looking like she had a lot to say. After a moment, though, she settled for “I was just wondering if you made a habit of shooting people. That’s all.”

“Your leader, Perry, does he make a habit of shooting losers like Cliff in the leg and leaving them behind for the dead?”

“No,” she answered, the unsettled look returning to her face. “That thing with Cliff, that was the first time I’ve heard of him doing anything like that.”

“Well, he’s the guy in charge,” Mundy said. “He does what he wants, right?”

“That’s…” she shook her head “…not how it is.”

“Okay, so tell me how it is.”

“Perry picked us up, starting with Carlos and Joel. He found them stuck in a rest stop bathroom, surrounded by rotters. He found me on the road, trying to make it to the coast. If he hadn’t, I… All sixteen of us, we’re only here because Perry pulled us together.”

“Purely out of the goodness of his heart?”

She narrowed her gaze at him. “Would that be so hard to imagine?”

“No,” Mundy replied. “I actually knew someone like that. He’s dead now.”

“Perry’s put together a chain of safe locations, a string of them to the south covering over a hundred miles, like the frontier outposts they had back in the Old West. We’re the latest one. When there are enough sites linked up and working together, we can start overlapping security, sharing resources. We can start producing and trading instead of just consuming what little is left. We could even start working together to corral the dead and destroy them in an organized, methodical way. It’s…not a bad idea...”

“It’s a fantasy,” Mundy said bluntly. “It’s wishful thinking. There aren’t enough people left to fight the dead. Not enough people. Not enough bullets. Not enough of anything.”

“People need something to keep them going. They need hope. They need the promise of…something.”

“They need to stay alive until the dead wear themselves down to nothing,” Mundy said. “Have you seen a crowd of them lately? They may not be rotting away very fast, but you can see they’re headed that way.”

“So how long is that going to take?” She stared at him and when he didn’t answer, she nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. And meanwhile, what keeps us going?”

“Not false hope and promises.”

“Perry’s the reason we’re together,” she said with a note of finality in her voice. “The food we eat, the fuel we use, he brought it in that big truck out there from the last outpost he set up. And when we find more people, he’ll set them up in the next outpost. And so on and so on. Like links in a chain.”

“Until the chain snaps and the dead swallow you all up.”

The woman glared. “I’ve only known you for a few minutes and already I don’t like you. Go soak your foot in the lake. And while you’re at it, clean the rest of yourself.” She walked to the doorway and called out. “Dominique, do me a favor and get this guy out of here.”

The other woman quickly appeared with a look on her face that said she’d overheard their exchange. When they were far enough from the trailer, Dominique spoke in a low voice.

“Faye’s husband and kids were shot and killed early on by a bunch of carjackers.”

“Pretty sure I wasn’t one of them,” Mundy grumbled.

“She just…goes off sometimes. You know, about guns and about the kinds of people who are making things so hard. The dead are bad enough…”

“She’s not dealing with things the way they are,” Mundy said, his anger ebbing a little.

“Yeah,” replied the woman, looking at the ground. “It’s hard to blame people for that.”

“Are you on board with this whole Perry’s-got-a-plan thing?” he asked.

Dominique inhaled deeply, as if measuring her answer. “You’re a guest here, Mundy. You don’t have to buy it.”

He stopped and took a deep breath of his own and nodded. “But I shouldn’t crap all over the lady’s rainbow.”

The woman smiled, revealing two broken teeth. “I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping tonight. Then we’ll get you down to the lake. The water’s cold as ice. Should do your ankle some good.”



****



After a quick visit to a spot inside the chain link fencing where he was told he could set himself up for the night, Dominique showed him to a particular pile of rocks which stuck out into the water and descended into the lake in a series of steps. “It’s a good place for a bath,” she said before leaving him, “and to sit and think.”

Mundy peered into the deep, clear water. “Looks like it would be a good place to fish, too.”

“It would be,” she replied over her shoulder as she walked back toward the camp, “if the people in all of those lake houses hadn’t fished it out…before they all starved to death.”

He sat with his pants rolled up to his knees and his feet immersed in the cold lake water. His rifle was within arm’s reach leaning against a rock. His gun belt was folded next to him and he had one revolver in his lap. The breeze drove ripples across the water. Staring out across the lake, Mundy felt the weight of the day’s events catch up to him and press down like a heavy hand. Without wanting to, he let some of Martin’s last words out of the dark shadows in the back of his mind and listened to the pitiful sound of them echo through his head.

I…just don’t think…I have it in me,” the man had said.

How many times, he wondered, had he gone to sleep thinking the very same thing? Where did it come from, he asked himself, this energy to go forward? “Should’ve been dead a hundred times,” he whispered so softly that the breeze stole the words. The world had ended, he told himself, and you’re still acting like there’s a tomorrow.

His morose thoughts were interrupted by the sound of water splashing a short distance away along the lake shore. Gripping his revolver and craning his neck, he could just see two figures – Brett and Tempest – swimming naked about thirty yards away. He sat back, giving the two a little privacy. Funny, he thought, how much they reminded him of Lucas and Lux.

And where were Lucas and Lux? he wondered. He felt the urge to return to where he’d left his backpack and pull out the GPS location finder Lucas had given him. He wanted to turn it on and watch the arrow appear on the screen, showing him the way. He heard a brief sound of laughter and more splashing and felt the funereal gloom lift from him. He recalled Martin’s very last words – “It was…worth a shot” – and decided that they would serve well enough as a motto for the end of the world.

For those two dumb kids playing around in the water, it was worth a shot. It was worth a shot for sweet Hyacinth, beautiful Katrina, awkward Miles – even Rory. It was worth walking out into nightmares for Lucas and Lux. He heard Martin’s voice one last time before sweeping the memory back into the shadows. “That’s the thing,” he’d said. “That’s what a man needs: a reason to go on.” Michael used to say something similar, he recalled, something about how you should keep living until you no longer have a say in the matter, but Mundy felt he’d disturbed enough shadows for one day and let the memory rest.

His ankle felt better as he limped back to his designated spot inside the chain link fencing and he felt confident that with a good night’s sleep, he could move on in the morning. While one or two of the camp’s inhabitants looked on, he unfolded his tarp, tied it to the fence and fashioned a serviceable shelter for what he hoped would be a dry evening. He noticed that Carlos and Joel had returned from their watch out on the highway.

“Nothing?” Dominique called to the two men from the back of the M1083 National Guard truck.

“Of course, nothing,” Joel called back.

Mundy spotted a short, balding man moving slowly through the clustered tents, making small, unnecessary adjustments to tie ropes and moving other people’s water jugs and plastic buckets in an obsessive-compulsive manner and asked him where he could get some hot water. He tried to ignore the smell of lunch being cooked while he shaved, not wanting to assume that he’d be included in the meal. But when the call went out, Dominique caught his eye and beckoned. Mundy dumped the water he’d been using to shave and brought the large metal cup with him.

“It’s rice soup,” she told him as he approached.

“It’s always rice soup,” complained a man with dense, gray stubble on his face and thick glasses with chips knocked out all around the edges of the lenses.

“Soup stretches,” commented a woman wearing a lost, faraway look.

Mundy received his ration of thin broth and rice and looked around at the motley collection of survivors as he sipped. Roughly half of them, he decided, were only barely there. There was the wandering, obsessive-compulsive man, the lost-looking woman, a girl in her late teens with a beaten-down remoteness to her, a painfully thin man whose hands trembled…

“Perry picked them up,” Dominique confided in a low voice. “Some of them…are having a little bit of trouble.” Mundy shook his head. It was only a slight movement, but the woman caught it. “What? He couldn’t just leave them.”

“No, that’s not what I…” He shook his head again. “Never mind.”

“What?” the woman insisted.

“You,” Mundy said. “You all. You don’t know me, but you let me in. I could be an escaped…an escaped whatever. I could be the worst murderer any prison ever held. You don’t know. But you brought me in and you’re letting me stay right in the middle of you. I’m just amazed that any of you are still alive.”

“If you were the worst murderer in the world, I don’t think you’d raise doubts about us bringing you in.”

“Yes, I would,” Mundy argued, “right before I killed each and every one of you and took all your stuff.”

“See,” she said, stirring her soup, “right there, a distinct lack of murderous imagination. The worst murderer in the world wouldn’t just kill us and take our stuff, he’d tie us up. There would be rape. He’d make us watch as he tortured our friends, letting us know our turn was coming. He’d use us all up and kill us only when there was nothing left.”

“Okay,” Mundy said, stepping back a little and eyeing her sideways, “now I’m a little uncomfortable.”

“I wasn’t always with Perry and the others,” she said with a twitch of her mouth. “I saw how bad people can be. But since joining up with the group, it’s been better. It’s like Perry says; we stay alive and we do it without becoming animals.”

“The guy sure sounds like one of them FEMA camp messiahs,” Mundy muttered into his cup of rice soup.



****



A short time after Carlos and Joel had left their watch on the highway and returned to camp, Katrina quietly pedaled by on the bike. There was nothing eye catching about the dirt road that led off the highway, through the trees and to the quarry. She’d passed many such roads already that day and as she rode past this one, she didn’t even give it a glance.

It was getting late and that worried her. In all her hours of riding along the highway, she’d seen no sign of the truck with Mundy in it. Each time she rounded a bend she’d hoped she see it up ahead, stopped at the side of the road like she’d seen it that morning. But time and again she was disappointed. Having her hopes raised by spotting him earlier only made losing track of him once more all the harder.

As she neared another bend, Katrina heard noises coming from up ahead. She slowed, recognizing the distinctive sound of dead hands and arms thumping against a car body. She steered the bike toward the edge of the highway and into the trees, wondering at her brain’s ability to tell the difference between sounds made by the living and those made by the dead.

Stashing the bike and cutting through the trees, creeping up quietly, her steps cushioned by beds of damp pine needles, she saw the wrecks of two cars that had collided. By the look of it, the northbound Sonata had crossed into the southbound lanes and had struck the Fiesta nearly head on. Now, many months later, the wrecks stood on islands of dead leaves and twigs encircled by a sea of silver windshield glass. A man stood on the roof of the Sonata behind the crumpled front end and swatted ineffectually with an ax handle at the eight reanimated corpses surrounding him. He was tall and thin, wearing a blue shirt and khakis and he looked exhausted, like he’d been fending off the corpses grabbing at his legs for hours.

Katrina knew what she was supposed to do. She steadied her rifle against the trunk of a tree and told herself she was supposed to quietly slip away from the scene before her. She didn’t know this guy, she thought as she looked down the sights of the M4. She didn’t know how many more zeroes might be in the vicinity, she added, flipping the fire selector from safe to semi. She was all by herself. She needed to be careful. She should really go. She tightened her finger on the trigger and the suppressed weapon thumped against her shoulder, sending a 5.56 round cracking through the air and into the skull of a reanimated corpse. Fixated on the man, the other seven dead people did not turn as the first body slumped into a puddle of its own bodily fluids, but the stranger stopped his tired dance atop the vehicle’s roof and looked around in surprise. One of the zeroes grabbed his ankle and threatened to pull him off his feet. Katrina aimed over the roof, put the dead woman’s forehead in her sights and squeezed the trigger. With the carbine steadied against the tree, she was able to destroy the brainstems of five of the six remaining corpses.

Her marksmanship made her bold. She stepped out onto the side of the road and let herself be seen. The last reanimated corpse, a woman in rags with black hair that fell past her slumped, bony shoulders in a tangled mess, left the side of the smashed car and lurched toward her, mouth agape. Katrina aimed and pulled the trigger only to find that the rifle, long overdue for a cleaning, had failed to fully eject the last cartridge. She turned the M4 on its side and saw the brass casing half sticking out of the ejection port. Ice water flooded her body as she released the magazine and pulled back on the charging handle, trying to get the cartridge to fall free. When it finally did, she hastily reinserted the magazine and released the charging handle. She aimed at the corpse, now dangerously close to her, and tightened her trigger finger. Once again, the rifle failed to fire.

The dead woman’s insides were visible through a blackened gash running from her hip to the bottom of her ribcage. As she walked, the motion caused a dry sucking sound to come from her abdominal cavity. The sound embedded itself in Katrina’s mind as she fumbled for the pistol at her side. Too loud, too loud, too loud, she told herself. The pistol would be too loud. But now the dead woman was right in front of her. Katrina could see its yellowed teeth and the tattoo of an anatomically correct human heart inked on its sternum. There were two names written within the tattoo: Tracy and Tyler.

She drove the rifle’s bayonet into the corpse’s tattooed heart and shoved with all of her strength to knock the dead woman to the road. The corpse clawed the air in front of Katrina’s face, but soon lost its balance and fell. Once it was on its back, Katrina yanked back on the rifle, lined up the bayonet and plunged it into the dead woman’s eye. The woman’s hands trembled and rotated upwards, turning from grasping claws into something that looked more like a gesture of supplication. Then they went limp and fell to her sides.

Katrina pulled the bayonet free, wiped it on the remains of the corpse’s clothing and reseated the rifle’s magazine, making sure that she saw a new round being chambered when she let go of the charging handle. Then, heart still pounding, she looked up at the man standing on the roof of the wrecked car, certain that if he hadn’t known she was no one to mess with before, he knew it now.

At the sight of the rifle now pointed at him, he dropped the ax handle and raised his hands. “Okay,” he said, trying to rewet the inside of his mouth, “thanks for that.” He glanced at his backpack lying on the road. “I suppose whatever you want to take is yours. I’d just…appreciate it if I could keep my life.”

“If I was going to kill you, why would I have wasted the bullets?” she called out.

“Time,” the man replied without missing a beat. He pointed a shaky arm at the KT’d corpses. “They would’ve taken some time to kill me. Could be that you’re in a hurry.”

Katrina considered checking the contents of the man’s backpack. It wouldn’t be so far out of line to take payment for saving the guy’s life. He looked thin, but not starving. Maybe he had food to spare. But then, she thought, who in the world had food to spare?

“If you have food to give me in exchange for those eight rounds I had to fire, I’ll take it. Otherwise,” she said, taking a few tentative steps away, “stay where you are until I’m out of sight.”

The guy blinked, as if in surprise. “I have some food. It’s nothing much, just a can of corned beef and a can of peas. I was saving them for a special occasion, but I guess having my life saved is a special enough occasion.” He looked around. “If I can lower my hands and move, I’ll cook it up and split it with you.” When Katrina only stared at him he added, “I don’t have a gun, just an ax that broke at a really bad time. The head flew off somewhere over there.” He shook his head sadly. “I’m going to miss that ax. I got pretty good at using it.” He looked back at her and gave her a handsome smile. “Got to where I could crack their melons and not even get any goop on me. Now…I’m going to have to find something else.”

When he smiled, it struck her how good looking he was, like one of those guys who used to model in magazines for clothing companies. She thought he might be the best looking man she’d seen since the world ended.

“Where are you coming from?”

He tossed his head in the direction she was heading. “Back there.” He raised his eyebrows. “If you’re headed in that direction, I can tell you everything I’ve seen for the past two weeks. Might be handy to know what to expect. All I ask is to get down from here and split my dinner with you. What do you say?”

“Did a truck pass by here a little while ago?”

“Look, I’m hungry,” he replied in a pleading tone. “I just had to watch my life flash before my eyes and I was thinking how much I’d enjoy eating one last time. Plus, I haven’t had anyone to talk to in a long, long while.” He lowered his hands and held them out at her. “What do you say? Can we talk over some food?”

Katrina thought for a moment and then lowered her rifle. It was getting dangerously close to sundown. She wasn’t crazy enough to make camp for the night with a stranger, even a good looking stranger like the man in front of her, but she could share a quick meal, get the answer to a few questions and then move on up the highway to camp.

“I’ve never had corned beef,” she said. “What is it?”

“Well,” the man said, climbing down, “there’s corned beef and then there’s canned corned beef.” He stepped around the KT’d corpses toward his backpack. “And there are different brands of canned corned beef; not all created equal.” He bent over and slipped a hand inside his backpack. “This particular brand, I think, is the best.” When his hand came out of the pack holding nothing but a can, Katrina’s grip on her rifle relaxed little.

“Don’t unpack just yet,” she said. “We’re not staying in the middle of the road.”

The man nodded. “You call it.”

“That way,” she said, motioning with the muzzle of her rifle, “up those rocks, far enough into the trees so no smoke can be seen from the road.”

“I’m going to fry the corned beef so it gets a little crispy on the outside,” he said, savoring the idea while putting on his backpack, “and serve it on a bed of peas. If you see any kindling on the way up, grab it.”

Katrina let the man walk a good distance in front of her as they moved off the road and into the trees and kept her rifle ready, but he made no move to elude or threaten her. She believed some of what the man had said. She believed that if he’d had a gun, he would’ve used it instead of the ax he’d broken in fighting the zeroes. But she didn’t trust him. His shoes were cheap box store sneakers that would have fallen apart if he’d done much walking. The cuffs of his jeans weren’t frayed. His face had been recently shaved and his hair was too neat and recently washed. The man wasn’t just some road rat. But she was shaken by having seen Mundy only hours before and having already lost track of him. She wanted to hear what the man had to say about the road ahead.

“I’m Evan, by the way,” he said when they reached a small patch of level ground shielded from the road by the trees. “Evan Talbot.”

“Katrina.”

“Just Katrina?”

“Katrina Van Kooten.”

“That’s a cute name. Well, Miss Van Kooten, thanks again for taking care of those rotters back there. When I ran out of gas, I had the feeling I was going to be in for some trouble. They came at me from a side road and I let them get too close, figuring I could take care of them with my ax.”

“Ran out of gas?” she asked. “Like, with a car?”

“Yeah,” he said with a dimpled grin. “A lime green Chevy Spark; a real doomsday machine. It got decent mileage, I guess, probably because all the pieces that fell off of it made it nice and light.”

“How far back is it?”

“About half a mile, but it doesn’t matter. The tank’s dry. I was surprised I got as far as I did.”

Katrina put the subject of the car on hold for the time being. “Where were you headed?”

“Oh, you know, here and there. Hither and yon. I travel from town to town, helping people solve their problems, defending the defenseless with my kung fu skills and then I move on to help the next group of people.” He waited a beat and then glanced up at her expressionless face. “Not buying that, huh? Okay then, I was heading anyplace where I could stay alive for one more day. You know anyplace like that?”

“Uh-uh,” was Katrina’s reply.

“Yeah, they are getting harder and harder to find.”

“You said you’d tell me what’s up the road. Did a truck pass by you earlier today?”

Evan shook his head, but he broke eye contact with her when he did and gazed at the ground. “People are getting harder and harder to find, too.”

“I’ve been looking for my friend. The last I saw, he was riding this way in the back of a truck.”

“Sorry,” he said. “Must’ve turned off somewhere. How’d you get separated?

Katrina couldn’t mention that Mundy had tried to leave her behind in a nice, safe place. The man would want to know all about it and the existence of the log fort beside the Craving River had to stay a secret. She shrugged and that seemed to be enough for him.

“It’s hard to find friends nowadays,” he said absently as he arranged stones for a fire circle. “Was he a good friend? Always there for you?” He drew out the words sarcastically, as though they were the most ridiculous notions. “Ready to lay down his life for yours?”

“Yeah,” she answered softly, making Evan look up in surprise.

“Really? Huh, I didn’t think people like that existed anymore.” He began to arrange kindling within the stone circle. “Well, all I can say is if you two happen to reconnect, don’t lose him a second time.”

The conversation dwindled to nothing as the food cooked. Katrina’s stomach contracted painfully as the smell of the canned meat filled the air. When they ate, every morsel was like the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted. But it was gone too soon, even with Katrina supplementing the meal with two pudding cups from her own supplies.

“One of these days I’m going to make it to the coast,” Evan was saying. “I know a lot of people headed there, each of them looking for that magical island where they’d be safe. But maybe they’re all dead by now. I figure if you found one of those islands where everyone had died and you anchored just off the beach and made a real racket, any rotters would come down to the shore and, bang, you could shoot ‘em from the boat.” He placed a few more sticks on the crackling fire. “Yeah, I think I could live on fish and mussel stew for the rest of my life.”

“We had a girl in our group,” Katrina said, blinking slowly and suddenly feeling very tired. “Her family had a house on an island. Refugees came in on a big ship and chased them off of it.” She began to grow a bit lightheaded and figured it was from the richness of the meal. “That’s what we’re doing; we’re…going out to find her.”

“Another one?” Evan said, his voice like a low hum inside her head. “You do make a habit of losing track of your friends.”

“She was…she was kidnapped by…some guys.” Katrina had been drunk once in her life and tipsy a few other times, but she suddenly found herself alarmed at the intensity of the feeling now coming over her.

“Kidnapped?” Evan said, looking up from the small fire between them. The charming smile had fallen from his face. “Yeah, you gotta watch out for things like that these days. Females are in high demand, especially young, pretty ones.”

Katrina felt her limbs become heavy and her thoughts begin to thicken. There was an explanation for what she was feeling, she just knew it. But she couldn’t quite make the connection. As if from somewhere far away, she saw the man on the other side of the fire rise to his feet, walk over to her and take the rifle from her lap. It occurred to her that stopping him from taking it was the thing she ought to do, but the thought was fuzzy and, in any case, she didn’t feel as though her arms would respond. He took the Glock 19 from the holster at her hip and the knife from her belt and then pushed the rifle butt against her shoulder, causing her to slump sideways.

“First off,” she heard him say as he tucked the pistol into his waistband and started going through her backpack, “I don’t want you to blame yourself. You did everything right, except for not watching me like a hawk when I cooked your food.” He pulled something silver from his jacket pocket and held it out so she could see it. “Rohypnol. I only gave you one. You’re such a little thing, I didn’t want to mess you up too bad.” He fanned the mosquitoes from his face with the sheet of dark green pills in their foil backed bubble pack. “People should really clean out their medicine cabinets. The expiration date on these is fifteen years ago and since then they’ve been exposed to heat and humidity and who knows what else, so I wasn’t sure they’d still be good. But I guess they are."

He tore open a package of food he'd taken from her backpack and tipped it into his mouth.

"I actually took one of these back in my college days," he said in a matter-of-fact way while he chewed. "I remember feeling drunk, then totally shitfaced drunk and then it was like all my muscles took a little vacation. It was almost like being paralyzed, but my eyes were open and I could still see and hear. And then – poof – no memory. Complete blackout. They used to call it the date rape drug.” He crouched down beside her, took her chin in his hand and turned her head so that he could look her in the eyes. “But you don’t have anything to worry about from me. I get paid a lot more if you’re delivered fresh and in good condition. Anyway,” he said, letting her head fall to the side, “I didn’t want to fuck you up too bad. I owe you that much for saving me.” He pulled the spare magazine for the Glock from the pouch on her belt and chuckled as he stood. “I was in such a rush to get around to this side of the lake that I miscalculated how much gas I had left. The fuel gauge in that car hasn’t worked since...well, one of the guys got all shitfaced on the wine that I sold him and put some bullets through the hood.

"See, the guys – that’s a group of real party animal types that I deal with whenever I have something to sell – the guys are going to attack this survivor camp in an old quarry down the road. They’re gonna be crossing the lake all Navy SEAL-like and I wanted to be waiting on the highway when they did. I figure, any females that try to get away – and I heard there are some – I’ll be right there to snap ‘em up. But then my car died and I figured I was out of luck…until you showed up.”

Evan hooked his hands under her arms and dragged her a few feet so that her head rested against a fallen log.

“I really scored with you. Most of the girls I find are a little worse for wear, but you’re…you’re in very good shape. I might just survive this winter because of what they’ll pay me for you.” He brushed the hair back from the side of her face. “Too bad about those scars, but you’re still a real beauty. Not that you have much competition these days.”

He walked back to the other side of the fire, rooted through his pack and returned to stand over her.

“So here’s how it’s gonna go:” he said, holding up a roll of duct tape, “I’m gonna tie you up and leave you here. We’re far enough off the road, so I wouldn’t worry about any rotters coming by, unless you struggle and make a lot of noise, that is. As soon as the guys hit that camp, I’ll be waiting for any girls who hit the highway running for their lives.” He paused, gesturing to where he’d placed the M4 and patting the pistol he'd tucked in his waistband. “And thanks for the guns. They’ll make things a hell of a lot easier than my ax did. But afterwards, I’ll be back to get you. You should almost be back to your old self by then.” He looked up into the trees in thought. “It’s going to be tough transporting you, not to mention any other girls I might grab. Maybe I can convince one of the guys to loan me a gallon of gas for the car. Of course, in exchange, he’ll probably want to sample the goods. That’s you, by the way; the goods. That won’t be ideal. I mentioned how it’s much better to sell you in…unspoiled condition. Anyway, we’ll make it work. And then you’ll be off to your new life. Cooperate and you’ll be fed and sheltered. Make a pain in the ass of yourself and…well, they are a spirited bunch. I wouldn’t piss ‘em off if I were you.”

He took her wrists and raised her arms over her head so that they crossed behind a thick branch sticking out from the top of the fallen log and then spent an entire minute looping the duct tape around her wrists and the branch. Again, she thought she ought to be fighting him, but her body seemed a million miles away from the idea. After he was done tying her wrists, he did the same to her legs just above her ankles.

“Now, I’m not gonna gag you in case the Rohypnol makes you throw up. Can’t have you choking to death on your own puke, can I? But just in case you’re not completely out of it, remember what I said about making noise. You really don’t want to draw the rotters in when you’re all tied up.”

He slung her M4 over his shoulder and began to walk away toward the highway, but paused for a moment. “Come to think of it, that friend you mentioned, he might be at that camp. And you passed right by it on the way here without even seeing it. Sorry, though. The guys will kill everyone who’s not female, and even with the ladies, they’ll kill any they don’t think they can use. So, shhhhhh and have a good blackout.”
Last edited by Tinderbox on Mon Jul 13, 2015 12:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Sat Jul 11, 2015 4:29 pm

Holy crap! :shock:

Great chapter...thanks!
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Sat Jul 11, 2015 7:26 pm

Man ! Tb you've got a grip on us readers that won't let go .
Awesome edition , thanks 8-)
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by bodyparts » Sat Jul 11, 2015 10:27 pm

Holy crap! :shock: indeed !! way to leave us hanging there tb !! well done !!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by BadLands_Shooter » Sun Jul 12, 2015 5:42 am

absinthe beginner wrote:
Badlands shooter said: So glad I didn't discover this story until 2 years after it was started. I'm only on page 23 and therefore have yet to become a member of the walking moar. :awesome:
(Absinthe Beginner shakes head sadly in knowing recognition): Most addicts refuse to acknowledge their addiction…they tell themselves they can quit at any time…it's just a habit, that's all…brother, let's face facts here: you'll soon be wracked with the craving for MOAR just as soon as you get caught up. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt…not judging my friend, just here to supply some brotherly accountability and empathy to a fellow moar junkie. 8-)
Whatever Man....I can quit anytime I want...I haven't even read for 3 days. :awesome:
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by WendyPlains » Sun Jul 12, 2015 6:41 am

OMG, TB what a pickle you've left Katrina in! :shock:

Now tell me again why you're not out in Hollywood writing screenplays for decent movies instead of that crap they put out? :clownshoes:

Great update, thanks so much. Can't wait for the next one.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Sun Jul 12, 2015 7:51 pm

Now THAT was an update. And another vivid illustration of the sorts of malevolence that are going to flourish in the PAW.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by akraven » Mon Jul 13, 2015 1:37 am

Wow hanging on the edge of the cliff now!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by ZMace » Mon Jul 13, 2015 11:22 am

Great update! Evan briefly turned into a Jordan though?

Minor nitpick, keep up the great work!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Zimmy » Mon Jul 13, 2015 11:31 am

Good stuff with these new bad guys.

These SEaL types are going to have hell with our sixgun blasting hero, though. :evil:
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Mon Jul 13, 2015 12:42 pm

ZMace wrote:Great update! Evan briefly turned into a Jordan though?

Minor nitpick, keep up the great work!


Argh! Where? Where?

I did that once before when I decided to change the name of a character! I should have searched the document for "Jordan" before I posted it!

I'll fix it. Thanks, ZMace.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Mon Jul 13, 2015 4:01 pm

TB if you hurt jay I will hunt you down and do terrible unspeakable things to you.....


On a lighter note, I was riding my bike and saw a road here in WA called "Mundy Lost Rd" I wanted to take a picture of it and post it up here but I was in a hurry to get to Mt Rainier. I'll swing by and take a pic one of these days. Thought it was funny it was called Mundy Lost Rd, seeing as how this story is about Mundy losing everything again and again.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by teotwaki » Mon Jul 13, 2015 4:44 pm

Halfapint wrote:TB if you hurt jay I will hunt you down and do terrible unspeakable things to you.....


On a lighter note, I was riding my bike and saw a road here in WA called "Mundy Lost Rd" I wanted to take a picture of it and post it up here but I was in a hurry to get to Mt Rainier. I'll swing by and take a pic one of these days. Thought it was funny it was called Mundy Lost Rd, seeing as how this story is about Mundy losing everything again and again.
Mundy "Loss" Road in the Buckley area.. Nice find just the same! i like it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by BadLands_Shooter » Mon Jul 13, 2015 5:06 pm

Page 35....Marnie needs to die...on to reading moar.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by BadLands_Shooter » Tue Jul 14, 2015 2:53 am

91Eunozs wrote:
WendyPlains wrote:
Halfapint wrote:I would be up for a large block of text as an "alternative ending"
I would be up for not killing off Michael..... :wink:
Ditto...

That said, I can't see how the story would work...or at least work as well...without him dying. Without reading too much into it, for me personally Michael represented everything inocent and his death coincided with the death of innocence. For me his death and sacrifice was the "dead" at Destitute Mountain.

Re: a sequel, a natural extension would be the remaining team 1) finding a safe home for Hya and 2) tracking down Lex.

Just my $.02...

Again, great, great story and I'd buy this today if available...read a lot worse on my Kindle!
I agree heavily.

Outstanding story work as always, TB.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Tue Jul 14, 2015 8:56 pm

That said, I can't see how the story would work...or at least work as well...without him dying. Without reading too much into it, for me personally Michael represented everything innocent and his death coincided with the death of innocence. For me his death and sacrifice was the "dead" at Destitute Mountain
Here's the thing: a story is more gripping if you know EVERYONE is at risk, and their deaths might not be noble or necessary. Especially in the PAW, where life will be nasty, brutish, and short, to quote Thomas Hobbes. The death of Michael removed the central character, in fact - and a thoroughly likeable one at that. If such a good, decent soul could be taken out, no one is safe. And that is a necessary precondition for a good story, if you remove any assumption that your favorites are somehow immune. That said, most readers become particularly attached to one or two characters - I think Katrina is definitely a fan favorite - and the loss of such a one might cause the reader to basically detach from the story since they're less invested in the others. So far I think TB is striking a good balance - we've all read fiction or seen movies where it was pretty evident almost immediately who the designated "dead meat" characters were, while other main characters were almost boringly assured of making it all the way to the conclusion.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Tue Jul 14, 2015 11:11 pm

Personally after going back and reading this again, I don't think Michael was the center or "main character. Originally? Perhaps since the story started around him, and the death of his wife. But as soon as the other characters arrived, it became less of Michael. I actually think the main character has always been Mundy. He's been the most flawed character in this, this the one that the story always comes back to.

Michael was the character that made you like the story. But he wasn't THE story. It's been Mundy, Kat, and to a lesser extent Lucas and Lux.

Might I add that I think this is fucking awesome how this story has us talking about stuff like this?

H/T Tinderbox
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Wed Jul 15, 2015 6:02 am

Halfapint said: Michael was the character that made you like the story. But he wasn't THE story. It's been Mundy, Kat, and to a lesser extent Lucas and Lux.
True, dat. Michael was the original catalyst and moral compass who was necessary for the nucleus of the group to form around. But Mundy, flawed, conflicted, dangerous, but trying to do the right thing in spite of himself, has emerged as the guy carrying the fire, with seeing Kat and Hy through as his reason for being. But the complex relationship between Mundy and Kat, post-Michael and amid a rapidly evolving group dynamic, has become what keeps the story moving along and compelling. As such, both are indispensable characters.

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