Wilkes County

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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thewickerman
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Joined: Mon Feb 17, 2014 12:12 pm

Re: Wilkes County

Post by thewickerman » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:01 pm

This is a great story, thank you for sharing it with us. Looking forward to your next post.

AeroRat
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Location: Texas

Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Tue Apr 12, 2016 9:27 pm

For the tenth time in as many minutes, Mike crossed and uncrossed his feet. Lying on his back, he looked up at the scuff marks on the toes of his boots and fought the urge to growl, or check his watch, or make any kind of noise that might upset the house of cards in which he found himself.

If he was going to be trapped, he supposed, it might as well be someplace shaded and cool, and the drainage pipe offered that much. Four feet across and fashioned of concrete, it cut a meandering course several hundred yards long beneath Everett, beginning near the railroad tracks that marked the western boundary of Little Mexico and emptying into a flood control culvert north of the highway, not too far from the medical center. His plan on entering the tunnel had been to use it as a means of passing undetected and avoiding the areas of heaviest traffic and the high concentrations of refugees following the asphalt strip west, both on the highway embankment and the service roads.

On paper it was brilliant. Climbing in, he'd found himself alone in his plan to make use of Everett's limited underground facilities. He'd believed his luck was changing until the hit the far end, having duck-walked the better part of a mile only to find the exit blocked by a grate of heavy rebar which, like an idiot, he'd tried to pry loose. His twenty pound hammer, disappeared along with the Exploder, might have done the trick. Instead he'd gained nothing save a strain in the meaty part of his arms, presently throbbing along and reminding him that he'd done dumber things, just not today.

He stopped short of dislocating his shoulders, swore some under his breath, and made his way back to the entrance to find a pair of legs dangling over the opening. The owner sitting above wasn't alone, at least as far as he could tell from the snatches of conversation. Eavesdropping was difficult from inside a concrete sewer pipe. What little filtered down echoed, distorted. As near as he could tell there were between two and five adults, possibly with children. They were without supplies, transportation, or destination, and were unfamiliar with Everett.

So he'd retreated into the shadows where he'd be less apparent to the casual passer-by and squatted. Eventually his legs got numb and he sat down, gradually sinking along the curve of the pipe until he was almost on his back with his feet propped up opposite, head rolling towards daylight and the infernal shoes that unknowingly had him cornered.

As quietly as he could he'd found a rock in the bottom of the pipe and made a chalk mark at the edge of the light. It had advanced noticeably since then. How much time had passed he couldn't say, only that his neighbors upstairs had been there by-God long enough, and they needed to put their transient asses in gear.

He gritted his teeth and rolled his eyes skyward. From one of the bottles in his leg pocket he allowed himself a sip of water.

He'd seen this movie before. Lots of times, staying up late and catching the old war pictures that ran long after the respectable people were off in dreamland. Titles made in the days of black and white film with little budget for talent and zero for effects. The kind made to a formula that a blind man could have recognized, filled with no-names and forced human drama to pad out the run time between action sequences.

Down here, the valiant American submarine crew in the early days of the Pacific war out to draw blood for Pearl Harbor and Wake Island and the Philippines. Up there a boatload of Dirty Stinking Japs riding a tin can - inevitably, stock postwar footage of a Fletcher or a Gearing or a Sumner-class, set to low-rent Oriental string music and a gong.

High speed screws the sonarman would say, the cups of his earphones pressed hard against his head. A heartbeat later - splashes.

The splashes varied. Sometimes they were close. Sometimes far away. Sometimes right on top of the hapless pigboat. Then the wait. Everybody sweated and looked up to the curving bulkheads. A dramatic creak here, a pinhole leak there. Settling and contracting metal. The water outside the hull looking for a chance to get inside the people tank.

Cut to an exterior shot of a generic model submarine. A sharp observer could make out the underside of the water's surface and the sand-covered bottom in one frame, betraying the fact that the imperiled submarine was sailing in a swimming pool. Two simulated ash cans would come trickling down the screen. One forward, one aft. Always passing just this close to the heroes in their silent boat, waiting.

Click-Boom.

Cue stock footage of the fantail of a destroyer - again, American - with a column of white water sprouting from the sea astern. Sometimes it was just the explosion, negating the need for an explanation of why a U.S. Navy destroyer was depth-charging a U.S. Navy submarine. That was the first explosion, the first charge. It never hit. It maybe shook the boat a little. Everybody looked concerned and mouthed words not picked up by the microphone.

The second....that was the kicker.

Click-BOOM.

That one took. Never enough to breach the hull. Just close enough to rattle a few bolts out and prompt flooding somewhere. The forward torpedo and engine rooms seemed popular for that purpose. Cut to a brief scene of watertight hatches being shut and dogged. Sometimes, if there was enough money in the budget, there'd be a scene where sailors in grease-stained dungarees fought the water with braces and pipe clamps. Then a man soaked the skin came forward to report the flooding under control.

Upstairs, the boatload of Dirty Generic Asians scowled and flashed their buck teeth for the camera. All of them looked as if they'd coated their faces in olive oil for their three cumulative minutes of screen infamy. Shouted orders in what may or may not have been Japanese. The destroyer rolled another set. Sometimes they used the same footage.

But sonarman reported that the splashes were moving further away.

Click-Boom.

Click-boom.

click-boom.


Silence. Everybody was visibly relieved. Cautiously optimistic.

Mike chewed a fingernail and shifted his legs. He figured he could wait here a while, but sooner or later something was going to give. He could see it going a couple of ways.

First, and best, would be that the party decided to move on. That they'd pick up their shit and head for more promising territory. Frankly, he couldn't imagine being parked by a drainage ditch in midtown Everett was doing much good for anybody. Unless they had no sense whatsoever they'd be gone by dark. Dark was when the eses from Little Mexico crawled out of the woodwork and, if they were feeling sporty, rode over to start some low-grade shit with the homeboys across town. Even with Reelfoot coming to town he doubted the criminal underground had gone away.

Second, somebody else would show up and distract the new arrivals, hopefully encourage them to move somewhere else. Any engagement there would likely be wrapped up pretty quick, meaning he could wait out any confrontation and make a break for it once they left.

Third, he waited until dark and tried to creep out real quiet-like, regardless of whether the transients were still camped out above his head or not. That was his least favorite, as it involved the greatest risk of detection and therefore contained the greatest odds of him getting robbed or dead. Having sampled the former once already, he had no designs on a repeat performance, and the latter would defeat the whole point of leaving. Presumably he could have gotten dead just as easily back at his apartment.

But no matter how the day panned out he was stuck. All things considered he sort of wished he'd packed a book closer to the top of his pack, as searching through the contents would doubtless make noise. And as he'd learned from several thousand hours of cut-rate submarine movies, noise was death.

Above, he heard children shouting at each other, having struck up a game of tag or hide-and-seek or whatever brand of outdoor delinquency was in vogue these days. No adult yelled for them to cut it out, which he took to mean somebody up there was getting comfortable with their new campsite.

Well, shit.

Without warning the legs at the entrance jumped down. The shoes did an about-face and his blood went cold, certain the owner was going to bend down and look inside. As quietly as could be managed Mike inched his feet down the wall until he was sitting almost upright. He hoisted the bag and crept fifteen or twenty feet back into shadow, out of the range of casual observation.

He might have moved further had the exchange not gone hot.

Though he didn't get every word he discerned the the argument was between a man and a woman. The man - attached to the feet - was making the case for going south. He knew people there, family of some kind, who had a farm. He took that mean they'd have food and guns. The woman, unseen, was having none of it. Over her dead body would she tolerate weapons of any sort around her children, and besides those were his cousins.

Mike dropped his head to his chest, unbelieving. He was stuck in Everett, in a concrete sewer pipe, trapped like a damned rat because two displaced suburbanites were out of ideas.

In a way he felt sorry for the poor bastard. Probably drove a mini-van with those little stick-figure renditions of the Perfect Family on the back windshield, taking kids that may or may not have been his to soccer and ballet and than dragging himself to a nine-to-five at the cubicle farm so he could keep Dearest Harpy in her picture-perfect soccer-mom cocoon.

For the better part of ten minutes it went back and forth.

And then Mike hit his breaking point.

"Jesus Christ, lady," he said, popping up out of the tunnel beside her shocked husband. "Fuckin' quit already. Leave him or kill him, whatever works best, but fucking quit."

The conversation stopped dead. Then she extended an accusatory finger.

"Who are you?"

"The municipal troll," he said. "I live down here and I eat people who piss me off. Now I'm going to crawl down in this hole and finish my lunch, and when I'm done I'm coming back out to look for seconds. I'm going to start with you - " he indicated the woman with the point of the K-Bar.

"And when I get finished with that I'll start on Captain Nutless here, so unless you got a desire to get filleted I strongly suggest you un-ass my neighborhood and take your little soap opera to somebody who gives a shit."

He dropped to his hands and knees and retired into the tunnel.

"Ten minutes!" he shouted at the opening, then added. "Leave your fattest kid."

He counted to three hundred, and when he came out again they had gone. He retrieved his pack and sat for a moment at the end of the pipe, considering the sun and shaking his head.

Ages ago he'd left early, before dawn, hoping to make the most of the weak light to cover his escape. The retreat was slow going at first, leapfrogging from cover to concealment and back again, always waiting between moves to see look for trouble ahead or behind. Never moving when he couldn't find something to hide under, around, or behind. Up until reaching the tunnel he'd been making fairly decent time, all things considered.

Now the sun hung near the middle of the sky. Noon, or thereabout. He'd blown at least three hours, and given that he was looking at traveling in the hottest part of the day he was halfway tempted to retire into his cement cavern to wait for the cool of the following morning.

Time to think about that probably would have been before he outed himself as a gutter-dwelling cannibal hobo, though.

Mike took a deep breath and resettled the weight. Like it or not he was committed now. He made some quick mental calculations and figured his newest best would be to move westerly, keeping to back alleys as much as possible. That would delay his crossing the highway, but he figured if he made it as far as the edge of town he could press on a few miles and then cut through one of the underpasses after dark. The railroad line was a particularly tempting route, and had there been any trains running he might have tried hitching a ride. The prospect of following the rails afoot was a different story.

No, he'd go west and turn north after he'd cleared town.

He kicked a loose pebble and started walking.

This whole sorry affair pissed him off. The reason he'd bothered to prepare - the reason he'd owned a four-wheel drive vehicle with adequate stowage for all his stuff, the reason he'd spent his spare pennies of the last few years collecting ammo and emergency rations, the reason he'd acquired a rifle that was tolerably accurate to two hundred yards and largely indestructible - was so he didn't get caught short with six bottles of lukewarm water and a pair of mystery hot dogs when shit fell apart.

He spat in the ditch and squinted. In the Exploder he could have covered the distance to Cindy's place in under an hour, carrying with him several hundred pounds of supplies and a link to the rest of the world via CB radio. Thanks to the former neighbors he was out all that, restricted to foot movement and whatever he could put on his back or sling around his neck.

He was going to stomp that bastard good if they met again. Manimal, too. He had enough size-twelve jungle boot to go around.

He was fortunate in the respect that Everett had alleys and that most, save the odd cat, were quiet and empty. Most of them were also stacked with waist-high islands of split trash bags, but he wasn't complaining. More than once he dropped into the meager concealment offered by an overflowing garbage can when gunfire sounded in the distance. In one notable instance it was a long, ripping burst, which he took to mean the national guard - or at least some of their hardware - was still present and operational in the city. Later, it occurred to him that there were no helicopters.

At the juncture where semi-respectable Everett faded into old-money Everett he halted at the edge of an overgrown lot, squatting in the shade of a mesquite tree. Across the street was a small, neat house with a green lawn and a couple of pieces of lower-middle class yard art. In a later addition someone, presumably the occupant, had nailed a quarter sheet of plywood to the telephone pole out front.

NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH sprayed on the street side in uneven lettering. LOOTERS SHOT ON SITE. A piece of dark cloth was tacked to the lower corner. On second inspection he made it to be an article of bloodstained clothing.

He also noted that the front door was kicked in and any panes of visible glass were broken.

So much for the neighborhood watch.

Even so he diverted south for a block, where he stopped again to reassess. From the new angle he saw that the marked house was streaked with soot under the eaves, and that a rear corner had burned and now lay exposed down to the rafters and blackened studs. He crossed to the other side, advancing at a low crouch behind cars parked along the curb.

Within a few streets it became readily apparent that gentrified Everett hadn't weathered the surge as neatly as the rough side of town. More homes were burned here, more wreckage in the road as he progressed. Cutting alongside an abandoned house he chanced to hear voices and halted, getting low to the ground and waiting, trying to get a rough bearing on the source. He was in a corridor, closed in on both sides by a six foot privacy fence and a five foot cinderblock wall. Spent casings crunched under his feet. He stopped both to catch his breath and listen.

The cinderblock was pockmarked and punched through in places. As he squatted against the fence it occurred to him that the holes were all straight through, not the kind of gouges that would suggest a glancing impact. The blocks were spattered and a dark smear at the foot suggested the unfortunates had been dragged away. Something didn't sit right, though - something he couldn't put a finger on. Gradually it dawned on him the unlikely nature of a lateral fight across an alley maybe fifteen feet across. Like both parties would have had to draw abreast of each other, turn, and fire. He also noted that there were no corresponding holes in the privacy fence.

He wasn't looking at the scene of an exchange. Rather, he'd blundered onto the site of an execution. Possibly several. The footsteps drew closer until he could make out two distinct voices, if not every word.

"...near the ...."

"...yeah, but there's...."

"...supplies..."

"...not here, they didn't....shot..."

Flies buzzed in his ears. He stayed frozen in place. As near as he could guess they were behind him and to the left, likely within one of the fenced yards. Very carefully he advanced, placing each step so as not to give himself away.

"...hot out here..."

"...going to do..."

A screen door squeaked and clapped shut. He held.

No splashes. No high-speed screws in the water.

In the next half hour he reached the city park. The sight was at once depressing and promising; a broad expanse of grass burnt golden-brown since the sprinklers cut off, dotted with playground equipment and seemingly abandoned makeshift campsites, it nevertheless meant the edge of town was near. A couple of blocks. Forty-five minutes, an hour tops, and he'd have cleared the first major hurdle to seeing tomorrow.

From his temporary shelter in the lee of a wrecked pickup he surveyed the park. Though comparatively distant from the start point at his apartment it was also more treacherous in some ways than Everett's suburban quarters. Concealment, where available, was thin and broadly spaced. Any other day it would have been a five-minute jaunt across, following the gravel walking trail. Less than that if an enterprising soul cut straight across, opting to vault the snaking lines of low retaining walls and wade through the fish ponds choked with duckweed.

Loaded down as he was, he wasn't vaulting anything. He wasn't following the path either, as doing so would keep him exposed for the duration. No chance - he hadn't picked his way through four miles of early-apocalyptic wasteland to get his ass shot off now.

South.

He'd divert again, keeping to the hedges and small buildings until he he reached the brushy thicket where the local youth populace went to smoke dope and play stink-finger. A couple of hundred yards west with the treeline would drop him out at the youth league baseball diamond. Across the fields, past the bleachers and field houses, and the only thing between him and the boonies was a sagging chainlink fence.

The route would add considerably to the distance he had to travel. It would also drag out his departure, something he strongly wished behind him. He glanced to the sun, mentally marking its passage across a cloudless sky. The great conundrum; he wanted to get to Cindy's place at first opportunity, but this was one situation where patience would pay better dividends than speed. He was going to get there, yes, and he was going to do it in one piece. He felt the nagging tug of impatience and mentally shoved it aside.

Yes, he'd been in Everett too long.

Yes, he was sick of it.

No, he wasn't going to get stupid now.

He set off along the row of shrubs on hands and knees, pausing often when his gut warned, always listening. Always alert for the next thing that could kill him.

He thought back. Back before it was Second Lieutenant Duncan, back to his early days as a cadet. Of field exercises, late at night after the day's training was finished and the youth were turned loose to amuse themselves until informal lights-out.

The game of choice was capture the flag. Two cadets designated as guards went to their separate hidden bases, each entrusted with the keeping of a bandanna on a stick. Whoever was left split into teams, usually in the charge of a middle-grade cadet NCO, and at the notification of a senior member drawn in as referee the two teams set out on the hunt. The first trick was finding the hiding place of the flag. The second was getting up close enough to claim the colors.

Rather than a game of action, it was a test of patience and observation. The unhurried cadet - the kid who could sit still for ten minutes at a stretch, who paid attention, who didn't mind low-crawling through a hundred feet of brush after dark - was the one with the odds on his side. It didn't hurt if he had a couple of friends on his team who were willing to half-ass it, to allow themselves to be spotted approaching from another direction and draw the attention of the color guard. Running, screaming like a retard, and waving cyalume light sticks like Michael Jackson on crack were also acceptable, though too obvious after a fashion.

The game lost a lot of its luster when there were no sacrificial distractions, no time-outs, and the color guards were mobile and armed. Then again, he supposed there was something to be said for winning more than bragging rights. He also supposed that he should have invested in a decent set of gloves and knee pads. Coarse gravel was painful on the best of occasions. Piling thirty-some pounds on his back didn't improve that.

At the end of the hedge line he picked up and hustled it to the trees, where he stopped for a short break and a drink. Pushing on - moving faster, now that he had at least a degree of cover - he reached the edge of the ballfields in short order.

Somewhere behind him he heard a distant shout. He snapped his head around to see a light truck tear around the corner onto the road paralleling the park. It snarled to a halt and a man in the back rose, presenting a shotgun. The twin reports rolled across the open spaces as he fired down into the line of low foliage. In the same instant a human form sprang up and took off running, not zigzagging, but making a beeline flight.

To Mike.

The attempt was short lived - the driver gunned the engine and cut around, and with two more thudding discharges the runner pitched forward - but the damage was done; Mike knew he'd been spotted. The motor revved and the truck came slaloming through the knee-high brush. The shotgun barked in succession again, the reports carrying further than the pellets.

Faced with certain death or probable death, Mike didn't linger. He turned and hauled ass for the nearest cluster of buildings, ducking and threading through the baseball complex, around the bleachers, past the restrooms, the closed concession stand, a small outbuilding of indeterminate use. Not far away, just the other side of the chainlink, the truck dropped to growling idle.

"Get him!" somebody shouted.

He ducked behind the closest concealment and listened to the pounding footfalls draw closer...and pass him by. Shucking his pack, he unsheathed the knife and rolled the leather grip uneasily in sweaty fingers. What he needed was someplace nice and quiet, preferably dark if he could manage. With infinite caution he eased around the corner. The truck was still running, and for that he was grateful. Chances were somebody had stayed with the vehicle. It would cover some of the noise he made, besides.

By sheer dumb luck he made it to the entrance to the men's restroom and slipped inside and around a plywood divider that seperated the washstands and a bank of urinals. At once he was sorry; the air within was thick and damp, stinking of hot waste, and his shoes stuck to the concrete as he searched in vain for a better hideout. Should have gone to the concession stand.

He knew at once he wasn't alone. He felt the other presence a split second before the infected stumbled out of the middle stall and walked into bank of sinks and made a right face to line up with him, the intruder. Then the hunter burst in, likewise oblivious - there was a brief hesitation, and he laid its guts open with two blasts from a sawed-off double barrel.

The smell of burnt gunpowder filled the foul air, vying with the sharp stench of beer-smelling piss. Mike didn't move as his pursuer moved up to get a better look. The hunter and his trophy on this most miserable field of battle. The new arrival shook his head and chuckled, stepping over the fresh kill to check the last stall.

Mike didn't hesitate. Leading with his shoulder he charged from his hiding place, striking between the shoulder blades and throwing the newcomer hard against the wall, feeling the breath forced out of the man as he put a beefy forearm across the back of the neck, the knife already in hand and waiting as he angled the blade up from his waist and shoved. There was a cry, muted, against the painted cinderblock.

He buried the knife up to the hilt, not thinking. He yanked it free and rammed home again. He didn't need it; the whole thing had been over and done the first time - the opponent unexpecting of a fight and incapable of offering one when the time came. An inch of the blade would have done the trick. Drawing blood in any amount would have been enough.

But he stayed with it, feeling a warmth running down his fingers as the convulsions lessened. When they stopped altogether he stepped back and let the body fall. Face up, so he didn't see the bleeding slits in the lower back. His doing. His handiwork.

He was panting hard and he didn't even realize. He leaned back against the bank of sinks, disturbed by the spectacle but somehow unable to look away. When the pounding in his ears subsided he wiped his fingers and the knife on the dead man's shirt. Thumbing the release on the tang he broke the shotgun open and picked out the empties. A brief search of the body gave him five new shells and he dropped two into the waiting chambers and snapped the gun shut. Wouldn't have been his first choice, but what the hell. Sometimes a man couldn't be picky.

"Hey, you get him?" A man's voice. Outside.

Mike hefted the shotgun. The prior owner had trimmed some each end. Down to a rough estimation of a pistol grip on the back, still proud of the forearm but enough on the front for a nice all-expense-paid trip to Club Fed if the neighborhood-friendly ATF man happened by.

"Yeah," he rasped. "I got him."

A laugh. The sound was too much. A couple of minutes ago, tearing through the park with a couple of good ol' boys on his tail, it hadn't been so funny. Mike choked up on the shotgun and walked outside. The other half of the duo stood facing away, taking a leak against the side of the concession stand. Hitching his pants, he happened to glance over his shoulder, and at once he recognized that things had gone awry. Faster than Mike would have imagined he grabbed for the machete propped nearby and spun, dropping into a fighting stance.

Mike regarded him with disbelief. Unbidden sprang to mind the afterimage of Styles racing up out of left field, baseball bat cocked. The last time he'd let himself get distracted. A failure to anticipate, a failure to act, and the consequences which followed.

Mike gave him both barrels.

As Good Ol' Boy Number Two slid down the wall with a surprised look on his face he walked down by the bleachers and shouldered his pack. On the return he paused, taking a rough measure of what medium birdshot could do at close range. Glassy eyes followed him. He dumped the spent hulls and reloaded, figuring he ought to keep out of trouble seeing as the last three probably wouldn't get him far. But with any luck it wouldn't come down to ordnance - not fifteen yards distant the pickup sat idling with the door hanging open.

Mike raised his chin by way of salute. "Thanks for the ride, shithead."

The dying man reached weakly for a pantleg. Above his labored breathing Mike could barely make out the words.

"....leave ...me...don't le...leave me."

Mike shook his head, offering instead a smile that carried no warmth. Some people just didn't get it, he supposed. A man got into a game and staked life or death there was no room left on the table for mercy.

More pressing now were the dark shapes that stumbled from the beneath the bleachers. Drawn by the gunfire, maybe, or the sound of the earlier pursuit. Mike pointed with the shotgun and the dim eyes floated sluggishly over. In an instant they were fixed again on him. The head shook faintly. The lips moved over words that did not form.

"Ask your new friends."

Over the sounds of deepening panic Mike climbed into the truck and took stock. Stick shift. Lift kit. Lights on the roll bar. Pretty solid looking brush guard on the front end. The needle for the gas showed just over half. The radio blared music he didn't know; long-haired tattooed Eurotrash yelling about how he cut himself because mommy didn't hug him enough, probably. He ejected the tape, considered the unfamiliar band name and songs he couldn't pronounce, and pitched it overboard.

The infected were still a couple of paces from their next meal when he put it in gear. He came around, studied the open expanse that waited beyond the limit of Everett proper. Smoke hung over the city in the rearview mirror. A shitty end to a shitty couple of years.

A scream rose from behind the concession stand. But by then there was no more sign of Mike Duncan. Nothing but a set of fresh tire tracks torn in the grass and a wafting cloud of black exhaust fast rising to join the artificial overcast.

Sheriff McClelland
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Tue Apr 12, 2016 10:27 pm

Mike's got wheels . Hell yes , solid upate :!:
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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91Eunozs
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Apr 13, 2016 10:39 pm

Thanks!

Great entry... Seriously.

I actually :lol: at this one:

"Ten minutes!" he shouted at the opening, then added. "Leave your fattest kid."

Pure gold right there...

Pure.

Gold.
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Wed Apr 13, 2016 11:46 pm

Gutter-dwelling cannibal hobos, man. Gutter dwelling cannibal hobos.


...I'm here all week. :awesome:

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Tue Apr 19, 2016 1:47 am

Even before she set foot in the Calhouns' house, Evelyn knew what she was going to do. Alighting from the truck she grabbed her range bag and carbine - the lightest articles in the cab, the most readily identifiable as hers, and the few she was most concerned about leaving unattended - and walked up onto the porch. Danny was inside, sitting in the living room with a pad of graph paper. He was scratching out measurements when the screen door clapped behind her.

"Company!" she called from the foot of the stairs. As she mounted the steps with Ranger clicking along behind her she heard the springs in the sofa creak, Danny's footsteps move to the window, and then a half-suppressed "Shit."

Evelyn, meantime, had other objectives. Chiefly, the upstairs guest room. She pushed through and paused, studied the battlefield, and dropped the range bag. As far as she could discern there was a land grab on the horizon, and she had no plans to get stuck sleeping on the couch. For the time being diplomacy would have to fall by the wayside; she'd ask Danny later and hope for the best.

Her new claim lay at the upper corner of the house. Windows opened to the south and west. The furnishings included one iron-framed twin bed, a small closet into which she nevertheless imagined she could fit the entirety of her wardrobe, and a curious sort of triangular shelf backed into the corner, mostly empty. Left of the desk, tucked into the other corner, was an antique oval floor mirror. She stood for a moment, arranging things in her head, and went downstairs to get another armful from the truck.

The uninvited guests had followed her at a distance. When she'd driven up and parked in the shade of the oak they'd hung back, halfway down the driveway. In her brief absence they'd gotten over the uncertainty, if not wholeheartedly. As she stepped from the porch onto grass a the white minivan was creeping abreast of the fence. Danny was already heading that way, waving them off with both hands. Evelyn felt a a rush of mild embarrassment. Her doing, this. She'd never been great at thinking on her feet. When feeling threatened she was even worse.

She was feeling pretty damned threatened today. First the infected, then a band of displaced suburbanites. In hindsight she should have lied through her teeth - told them she didn't know the man they were after and sent them back up the road. She hoped she hadn't fucked up too bad, but the sinking feeling in her stomach said otherwise.

Couldn't be helped right now. Focusing on the truck, she tried to put it out of her mind.

Next out were the rest of the guns. Then the food. Then the clothes. The heaviest she'd leave for last. She didn't know how she meant to drag something as bulky and awkward as the sewing machine table to the second floor but she'd figured something out sooner or later. Everything else went straight to her room. Without the company she'd have taken the canned goods and preserves to the kitchen. With five newly arrived hungry mouths she felt no great desire to make the edibles available as community property. She'd share with Danny gladly. Anybody else was on their own.

The voices were raised when she came down the second time. By the third it was a full-out yelling match, the wave-off having failed and the new arrivals beginning to unload. The Urchin Twins ran wild in the yard. The Goth hobbled to the porch and sat on the swing, looking sullen. Troy and Danny's ex - Linda, if Evelyn heard correctly - were winding up for what looked to be a world-class shitstorm. Her involvement notwithstanding, Evelyn hoped to sit this one out.

She took the last of her things up to the room. Easing the door shut, she poured half a bottle of water and some dry kibble into Ranger's dishes and went to the little desk under the open window and sat with her range bag, listening to him crunch and slurp until he finished, coughed once, and came to lay beside her chair.

She was doing okay, ammo-wise. Two full boxes of range stuff and part of a third. For hollowpoints she had a mixed bag; forty rounds of new commercial, another fifty that one of her uncle's friends had reloaded. Not ideal - had she known the world was going to end she might have skipped a couple of greaseburgers and tried to pick up some extra, but she didn't really see herself burning through her good defensive stash unless things really went to hell.

The thought gave her pause. Considering she'd spent the night in a barn surrounded by the living dead, it might be time to re-think her definition of things really going to hell.

Opting to split the difference, she thumbed the rounds out of her three magazines and set about reloading those - one ball, one hollowpoint, alternating until she couldn't fit anymore. When those were done she fished out a holster and twin magazine carrier. From elsewhere in her luggage she came up with a belt and threaded the whole affair through the loops on her jeans. She turned left and right in front of the mirror, studying the results.

Ranger watched, bemused. She smiled.

"Are we pretty?" She bent and touched the tip of his nose. "Why, yes. Yes we are."

He followed the finger. Expecting food, probably. She rubbed him between the ears and moved on to take stock of her other accoutrements.

For the Rossi she had three boxes of factory .38, plus another of .357 mag. For the Winchester, a handful of mismatched number seven shot. She put four in the tube and propped it beside the bed. Birdshot wouldn't have been her choice, but at close enough range she imagined it would do the trick. The Mini-14 she'd brought up for the time being; picking rounds out the magazine she counted sixteen. She supposed that was something. A second, taped inverted to the first, held twenty.

She jumped at the crashing of the piano in the living room, a tuneless, joyless cacophony rendered with all the subtlety of a hundred-car freight train sliding off the rails. Ranger raised his head, looking to the door standing ajar. The urchins had landed. Evelyn moved to push it shut, to no real effect. Momentarily after they began shouting in conjunction with the noise. She gritted her teeth, feeling the irregular rhythm thudding through the floorboards.

She stood looking out the window, clenching her hands into fists.

No.

The world might have ended, but she'd put up with thoughtless assholes all her life. They cut her off in traffic driving sport utility vehicles that never been off pavement, festooned across the back with all manner of decals bragging on their little spawns' achievements. They held her up in the grocery store, yelling into their cell phones, oblivious to the harried clerk or the growing line behind them. They treated the little people - the poor dumb minimum wage drones - like teetotal shit and moaned about the death of customer service. Somewhere along the way they raised children to be just like them.

Nineteen years she'd let it slide. This morning she'd killed two infected. Last night she'd slept in a barn. Tomorrow she might be torn into small pieces to become Reeler chow. In her world there was no longer room for stupidity and no tangible benefit to biting her tongue.

She went downstairs.

Ding and Dong the Retard Twins were seated on the bench before the piano, slamming happily away. She moved into their peripheral vision. They carried on, oblivious. She cleared her throat. Nothing. She tapped the nearest on the shoulder.

The playing trailed off. She forced a smile and put her hands on her knees so she was eye level or thereabout.

"Hi," she said. "Could you keep it down, please? I have a headache, and - "

They stared at her. Two creepy little identical blond children with ugly bowl haircuts - always with ugly haircuts - motionless as statues.

"Okaaaaaaaay," the further one said. She smiled.

"Thanks. I really apprec - "

As if on cue they spun to the keyboard and resumed hammering.

"Hey," she grabbed each by a shoulder. The music cut out. "Knock it off, okay? Why don't you two go play the quiet game or something? Go outside, play hide and seek. Count to a million. Just go somewhere else and find something to do, okay?"

Then the little shits laughed at her. Ding touched a single key, the note hanging in the air like a challenge. Dong responded in kind.

"No," she said.

They let off a mingled scream like a pair of banshees being fed into a woodchipper and began beating their hands against the keys.

Evelyn stepped around them and slammed the dust cover down on their precious little delinquent fingers. The racket stopped dead. This time it stayed that way. In unison they turned their heads. The lower lip of the near one began to quiver. The other picked it up as if on cue.

"See?" she put on her friendliest small-child tone. "Stupid hurts. Don't be stupid."

And from somewhere in the bottom of their precious little incorrigible lungs came the first notes of a howl like an old police siren. The wail became a scream. Then in a flurry they kicked over the bench, righted themselves, and fled outside.

She followed them as far as the front porch, leaning against a support post with a contented little smile turning the corners of her mouth. By God, it felt good. To be on the other side. To not stomach the insufferable. To lay the smackdown on somebody deserving. Or a matched set of somebodies, in this case.

She kind of wished she'd tried it sooner.

Ding and Dong tore across the yard, bowling into the trio of arguing grown-ups, grabbing at mommy's legs and pointing to the house. For a moment the argument stopped. The three participants looked her way. Evelyn waved.

Mama Bear split from the ground, urchins in tow. She moved with a purposed gait, already in the act of raising an accusing finger. Evelyn threw out a hip and rested her hand on the butt of the Walther. She broadened her smile.

Bring it, bitch.

Danny's ex broke stride. The two combatants locked eyes, and in the first instant Evelyn read everything she needed to know. She read anger, uncertainty, a brittle nature - and best of the lot, fear. In the space of heartbeat she felt the vindication she'd always missed. There were no consequences. There was none of the pretense of polite society or corporate ladders or school hierarchy. Nothing to keep the put-upon in place. No business owners' sons taking daddy's money under his protective umbrella, no middle management to say the customer was always right, no football captains or cheerleader queens with a get-out-of-life-free pass.

Only a middle-aged suburban princess and a girl with a gun.

Danny's Ex - Evelyn knew her name was Linda, but she preferred to think of her in the past tense - came to a grinding halt. The accusatory finger came up, trembling slightly.

"You," she said.

Evelyn spat off the porch. She stared at the opposition. Hard.

"Come down here and apologize."

"I'm sorry you're a shitty parent."

"I beg y - "

"You heard me."

The Ex stood with her mouth hanging open like she'd been slapped. She didn't expect much trouble with that one. From Papa Bear, however...she cut her eyes to the van. Troy, the new Mister Danny's Ex, hadn't moved a muscle. Though that vein was standing out in his neck again; she took particular delight in that. Good knowing she could still get a man's blood up now and again. Danny, by turns, looked like he was fighting a grin. And behind them...

Oh shit.

Reelers. Two dozen, maybe more. Some were in the driveway, some coming through the overgrown field, visible from the chest up, moving with their footslogging drunkard's walk.

She heard a world in perfect silence. Then the sound came back and she was shouting for Danny to get everybody in the house. Troy was looking towards the road, frozen. The Goth came up out of the porch chair where he'd been sitting, hobbling from their earlier meeting. The Ex turned, saw, and ushered her children up the steps, pushing past Evelyn with a sour look that warned this little incident wouldn't soon be forgotten.

She could give a fuck. As far as she was concerned the whole bunch of them save Danny could sit out here and get eaten. To her surprise, he was the last to react. He took off in another direction, and she shouted after, wanting to know where he was going.

"The barn!" he called back. The answer gave her pause, and she stood like an idiot, halfway down the front steps with a drawn pistol. Then it struck her. The horses. Evelyn hesitated. Then she decided she'd be of little use. She retreated to the living room and threw the bolt behind her. The situation then wasn't much better; the only thing behind the glass windows were lace curtains. She cut them loose anyway and hoped the infected had lousy vision.

"Children, get upstairs," the Ex was saying, shooing her children towards the steps. "Lock the door behind you."

The Goth, the Ex, and Mister Ex moved to the center of the living room. A noise from the back of the house caught them unaware, and Evelyn had the Walther out and her finger finger on the trigger when Danny appeared in their midst. He sank into one of the armchairs, out of breath.

"Guns," Troy demanded. "Where do you keep them?"

"We don't," Danny said. "There was a .22 around here for a while. I haven't seen it in years. There's an empty shotgun out the barn. You can go get it if you want."

"Who doesn't have guns?" the Ex demanded, her voice hushed. "What kind of household doesn't have at least one? This is Texas, for God's sake! Especially out here!"

"You don't," Evelyn said.

"She does," the Goth pointed with his chin from his new perch on the sofa.

All eyes turned to Evelyn.

"I have a few," she lied. "They're out in the truck. All but this one- " she patted the Walther - " and another one upstairs."

"Well bring it down," Troy said. "I used to be a pretty good shot - "

"I never said I'd share."

There was a silence. Mister Ex slowly planted his knuckles on the coffee table. He leaned forward in a posture faintly reminiscent of a gorilla. She thought it fitting.

"Listen to me," his voice was just above a whisper. "There are...things...outside this house. You can play this shit if you want - whatever little girl-power games you can dream up - but you need to realize something. My family? They mean a lot to me. I'm not about to let them get eaten by those...those zombies or whatever the hell because you can't share. I don't have time for games. Now march your little butt upstairs and get it."

""Eat me," she smiled sweetly.

"You bitch," Mr. Ex said. His whole face seemed to be fired from within by some angry light. Here was a man accustomed to having his way, not merely unfamiliar with the alternative, but taken aback at the very prospect of resistance.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Danny shift in his chair. He drew something his belt or a back pocket. She didn't see what.

"Let's not get stupid," he said.

"What do you call this?" Mr. Ex demanded. "The group takes precedence over the individual. That's how society works. I got a family here. My responsibility. You think I'm letting them die because Little Miss Bitch wants to get cute? Try again. Nothing bad happens to them as long as I'm still standing. But I guess you wouldn't know about that, now would you...Danny?"

"Society works how the one with the loaded gun says it works," Evelyn threw back.

"Six against one," Mr. Ex fixed her with a glare that promised all manner of Bad Things.

"Six?" Danny stood suddenly. In an instant she saw the flash of stainless, realized what he'd drawn was a folding knife. Striking forward like a cobra, he struck, leaving the knife stuck by the point in the coffee table. "I think you need count again. Pick that up."

Mrs. Ex gasped audibly.

"Pick it up."

Troy's eyes were fixed on the knife. For the first time since Evelyn had made his acquaintance he said nothing. When he pulled his attention from the blade the uncertainty was plain on his face.

"Good." Danny yanked the knife free. "That's settled, then. You knock off the John Wayne horseshit and I don't set you out to play zombie tag. You'll sit down here quiet and you'll be happy about it. And as soon as we've got this little incident handled you'll leave."

"Danny..." the Ex began.

"No," he said sharply, as sharply as Evelyn had ever known him to speak. "I didn't invite you. I don't want you around anymore than you wanted me. You can wait them out. But that's all."

Upstairs, Ranger barked. All eyes leapt to the ceiling. Something bumped on the porch.

Forgetting for the moment the need for silence, Evelyn raced upstairs to find her dog with his front paws up on the windowsill. She caught him around the brisket and dragged him away, holding him close against her chest.

"Shh - " she rolled the dog onto his back and patted him along the ribs. Ranger looked to her with soft blue eyes, not understanding any of this. The rumble in his chest subsided.

"Quiet. Good boy," she repeated, easing the weight of the dog off her lap. Rising, she grabbed the Rossi and a leather cartridge belt. She could hear the Reelers on the porch. Her mind raced through the alternatives now that they'd moved too close to shoot from the window. Maybe get out on the roof and -

Glass broke downstairs. No time for that now. Throwing the belt over her shoulder, she picked up the two rifles and took the steps two and three at a time, her throat dry and the adrenaline surging once more. The houseguests were clustered at the rear, armed with a variety of kitchen utensils. Closer but none too certain, Danny weighed the odds of facing down an attacking horde with a pocketknife.

"Danny!" she called, and threw him the Ruger. Turning, she saw the broad front window broken, the floor below littered with shards. An infected had high-centered itself trying to navigate the obstacle; unable to clear and pinned from behind by the press of the others, it wiggled, tearing itself open on the jagged edge jutting like saw teeth from the lower window sill. Dark blood ran in rivulets down the wall. The smell was unimaginable.

Evelyn stared, feeling suddenly lightheaded. There was a sharp, violent crack and something hot and metallic clipped her ear. The piece of spent brass danced down her shoulder, running out of steam and coming to light between the meaty part of her thumb and the forearm of her carbine. She cried out and flicked it free, swearing at the sting. But it broke her out of the haze, pushing all uncertainty aside and forcing her to the present.

She brought the Rossi to her shoulder. After her uncle had died, after she'd stopped attending cowboy shooting matches, she'd squeaked out enough money to have the carbine fit with a set of fiber optic sights. At the longest she'd guessed she might be shooting at fifty yards, maybe seventy-five, aiming at wild animals or strays instead of cactus-shaped steel plates at fifteen or less. She'd also counted on marginal evening light, which was usually when the rabid possums and skunks came around. She hadn't figured on shooting her former neighbors at near point-blank in broad daylight.

Nevertheless she put the shaking dots in a neat line over the torso of the next Reeler in line and fired. She saw the dime-sized hole pop out of the chest, the forward slump. It didn't register that it was one of hers. Mechanically she worked the lever -

Green. Red. Green. Shoot.

Green. Red. Green. Shoot.

Green red green. Shoot.

Greenredgreen shoot

Greenredgreenshoot.


- feeling the jumping of the brass buttplate, the measured resistance of the moving parts in the action. She didn't distinguish individual targets. At this range there was no real need. What was gathered on the porch were less individuals than a mob. She saw them falling in slow motion, like the instant before a car wreck when the mind's eye captured it all in high definition at a hundredth the speed of life. Stretching out the heartbeats before everything slammed together and the mind melded it all into a confused and jumbled facsimile of the actual event.

Both rifles hammered, amplified in the echo chamber of the living room. Fleetingly she wished she'd remembered to bring her earplugs.

A Reeler managed to get a knee up onto the windowsill; she snapped left and pulled the trigger. The carbine barked and made a rough hole in the infected's cheek. It staggered, seemed to draw itself upright, and collapsed backwards to be trampled by the herd. Another rose to take its place; Danny got that one, she was pretty sure.

Through it all she registered a sense of displaced horror. The down payment on a more vivid nightmare, to be paid in full later. Perhaps at night as she tried to sleep she would see them, remember their faces, recognize the husks of people she used to know. She threw the lever and fired again.

The riot on the porch was thinning now. She saw slivers of daylight between the infected, then the distinct shapes of individuals. They appeared briefly, boiled down to a single defining characteristic - overalls, a cap bearing the mascot of a local sports team, a pen tucked into the breast pocket of a filthy shirt, the glint of a jewelry on miscolored fingers.

And they went down like wheat under a scythe. The field of fire was too narrow, the range too short for this turkey shoot to go any other way. There were eight, then five, the three. Then there was the open window, marred by the form of the first infected slumping into the living room. Evelyn moved to eject the last casing and found she was out. How long it had been that way she couldn't guess; she felt a flush of embarrassment at having spent part of the exchange dropping the hammer on an empty chamber. Fortunate then that the infected hadn't successfully pushed into the house, though - she imagined she'd have have bigger problems had it come to that.

She didn't want to think too much on the possibility.

She collected the belt where it had slipped from her shoulder and began picking at fresh rounds, thinking. She'd missed the loading gate and fumbled two before she realized her hands were shaking. Danny hove into view, poking the nearest body with the muzzle of his rifle. It emitted a low groan that made her jump.

"That it?" she asked.

"That's it," Danny said.

It seemed an anticlimactic end. She stared at the body draped on the sill. Her stomach turned. From the far corners of the room, the Ex began to scream. It was the last straw. Evelyn spun, jacking the empty rifle.

"Shut up!" she screamed, pointing the Rossi at the woman with hands to her mouth. "Shut up, goddammit! Shut up!"

The scream cut to a whimper. Evelyn couldn't understand it. The time for screaming and terror was past, replaced now with something equally uneasy. What she wanted now was silence. And solitude. The whimper became a soft sobbing.

Disgusted, she picked up one of her spent casings. She drew back and flung it with all the fury she could muster, and Linda clapped a hand to her temple and sank down against the wall. Troy opened his mouth as if to speak. Words failed him and he knelt to attend his wife.

Evelyn felt her jaw locked, her teeth clenched hard together. If she had two rounds left in the gun - two fucking rounds - she'd have crossed the living room and finished what the Reelers had started. Instead she took her rifle and her cartridge belt and went upstairs. She slammed the door behind her and threw her things on the bed. She felt dirty. Stained with something foul and evil that would never wash off. A greasy, gritty feeling that pulsed and seeped and grew under her skin. She could taste it, like biting into a lump of cold fat. It smelled like blood and burnt gunpowder and hot metal and death.

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91Eunozs
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by 91Eunozs » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:04 am

Huzzah!

Thanks for the update!
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by teotwaki » Tue Apr 19, 2016 10:32 am

HUZZAH!!!
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My adventures and pictures are on my blog http://suntothenorth.blogspot.com

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:11 am

The rest of Wilkes County might be burning. Lakeshore Grove was barbecuing. Considering the quality of the neighborhood it was a natural inevitability; the big crash hit, ergo the Grovers celebrated with alcohol and music and dead animals and fire.

Shifty made a late morning. Mostly the result of having made it a late night. Two late nights. The festivities were well underway by the time of his arrival and once it was discerned that he wasn't an interloper or an infected or a cop the partygoers put away their guns and the bunch of them had a fine old time while the rest of the world went swirling down the toilet.

He kicked off the second day by putting on a pair of welding goggles and going to the end of the pier and taking a leak, which in his estimate was a pretty fair way of greeting the day regardless, and when he came back to the shop his uncle was sitting by the old tracked slipway, perched on a cooler and constructing a cigarette.

Woodrow Schipper was a man whose outsized nature was a poor match for his size. He was not a large man. He made up for this natural deficiency by plain not giving a shit. Even into his sixties he was a force to be reckoned with; his dress of choice consisted predominantly of sleeveless undershirts, usually in a shade that vaguely recalled white, and work pants that were more holes and patches than denim. His arms were knotted with stringy muscle and laced with tattoos, and on his head he wore a doo-rag that the neighbors had dubbed his pirate hat. It was not uncommon that he answered the summons of the doorbell wielding a chainsaw.

His stomping ground consisted of a two-acre plot hemmed in by a solid metal fence and scattered with boats, engines, and the carcasses thereof. A broad auction-barn roof covered half the lot, comprising the boat and machine works proper, and stuffed into the corner of this miniature industrial wasteland was the artless pile of concrete and cinderblock that he called home.

These eccentricities were accepted and sometimes celebrated by the Grovers because the Grove was itself a little encampment of fuckups who couldn't or wouldn't hack it anywhere else, and who naturally recognized and celebrated the strange, the trashy, and the batshit insane. But while he was all those things he was also first-rate when it came to things that ran in, on, or under water. Mechanical competence won him a respect among the more socially proper, if only grudgingly.

"You up early," Woody said.

Shifty looked away from the sun and pulled the goggles away from his face. The light that seeped around the edges was searing as a furnace. Still too bright. He resettled the goggles and the world went comfortably dark. He scratched behind one ear and belched.

"No honest man's got any business being awake before noon."

A shrug. Woody finished rolling the cigarette and touched the end with a match. He waved out the flame and pitched it off into the murky water.

Somewhere in the neighborhood an amplified radio was pounding out a bass line that seemed familiar. Once picked up Shifty found it difficult to ignore. An persistent thud that wormed down into his ear and bounced around the inside of his aching head. Jim Morrison, singing about ghosts.

"They going already?"

"They never shut down."

Shifty chewed on that for a minute. In addition to music he now picked up the scent of woodsmoke, which in turn reminded him that his last meal was a good twelve hours gone or better, that he hadn't put down anything more solid than a can of lukewarm beer and a couple of sodas since then, and that in the interim he'd managed to scrape together a pretty fair appetite. Chances were nobody'd cleaned up yet - once the Grove got rolling on a good time nobody bothered putting away dishes until the beer and the last smoked pig parts were at least two hangovers distant.

Smoking pigs was a regular part of the social calendar. Seldom did a week pass where one of the redneck neighbors didn't bag a feral hog at some point. One hog was the norm. Two was a celebration. A three-hog week or better meant the party began at five o'clock Friday evening and didn't end until the dark hours of Monday morning when the locals retired in begrudging drunken stupor to grab a couple hours' sleep before the looming specter of gainful employment reared its ugly head.

This was a three-hog week. That, coupled with the news of the world imploding and the dead harassing the living, meant there hadn't been this much excitement since a tornado destroyed the gas station down at the crossroads and an army of Grovers descended on the wreckage in search of alcoholic plunder. Some of them even got to talk to the news crew and explain what the tornado sounded like. It had been a proud day.

A roach crawled up from a gap in the decking. Shifty eyed it, followed its progress, and scraped it over the side and into the perpetual skim of flotsam and plant wreckage where it was promptly eaten by a mud-colored catfish.

But he wasn't hungry, exactly. And hungover though he might be, he was clearheaded enough to recognize that the sick feeling that had dogged him since his departing Everett wasn't a product of liquor or roasted pork or lack of sleep.

His uncle eyed him from his perch on the cooler. He'd brought out a green twig and his pocketknife and slowly peeled off small curls of bark and apple-colored heartwood. He hadn't asked about Everett or anything prior. He seldom did; Shifty made his own money, worked his own arrangements, and shy of burning down the boatyard or bringing uninvited guests into the shop his uncle was content to let him run his own affairs. Questions were few and far between and seldom of a probing nature unless the elder Schipper harbored suspicions his nephew was pressing the limits of a serious fuck-up.

Shifty made his first decision of the day, skipping chow in favor of another nap. From the spring to the early autumn he kept a hammock strung up under the roof in the yard. He was still there, sleeping off his last round of questionable judgment, when his uncle came and got him.

He cracked an eye and pushed the makeshift slumber mask up on his forehead. Early dusk or thereabout. Still hot, with not a hint of wind.

"You got a visitor," he said. "On the pier."

"Who?" he unfolded himself from the net and eased his bare feet to the ground, feeling with his toes for his shower shoes. He imagined he'd grown a fur coat on his tongue and felt an overall shade of sour. But the prospect of visitors intrigued nonetheless.

"Anybody we know?"

"Girl lives in that uppity subdivision across the lake. The chunky brunette."

"She alone?"

"Her old man's with her."

"Aw, shit." Shifty dropped back across the hammock. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slow, then stood, twisted left and right to work the kinks out of his spine, and shuffled through the gate and outside the ersatz fortress walls. Once on the pier it occurred to him that he might have done well to put a shirt on first, but hell. Too late for that now.

The boat alongside was a red and silver bass number, too clean to be anything but a hangar queen. A man he didn't know sat at the console, surveying the Grove waterfront with what might have been dismay or disgust. Two passengers occupied the bench seat up forward. The first was an older man. Tall, and distinguished if he had a mind to be. The other - the one he dreaded - was none other than Cindy Harris. The princess crossing her private ocean on a shiny new royal barge.

"Cindy," he said. "Mr. Harris."

The taller man didn't visibly acknowledge the greeting. Carlton Harris didn't have much regard for Woodrow Schipper. By blood this extended to all branches of the family tree on both sides. Not a violent feud, but felt deeply enough that the Harrises and the Schippers stayed to their respective shores of Lake Ingalls as a general rule.

"Well," he said when no response was forthcoming. "No point in dicking around with social graces, I guess. What do y'all want? What brings you down to our humble dump? I know it ain't the food or the music."

"Mike," she said coolly. "Where is he."

"I don't know. I figured he was with you."

"Well, he's not. The last I heard from him was two days ago. He sent me a message saying that David Harper was letting everybody go. He said he'd be around in an hour or so."

"Never showed up, did he?"

Cindy gave him a look he imagined she reserved for idiot children. Her mouth was set in a hard line. Most days he'd have taken it for bitchy. Given the circumstances he'd allow her a little more latitude. Not too much, but more than was common in light of the interesting times and the fact she'd ventured to the far side of Ingalls to visit her least-favorite friend-of-a-friend.

"When did you see him last?"

"He dropped me off at my place probably about half an hour after that."

"Did he say if he was going anywhere else first?"

"We didn't do a whole lot of talking. I doubt it."

"And that was it."

"That was the last I seen him," Shifty said. "I tried calling him on the radio before I left. Didn't get nothing. I figured he'd already skipped town. He always did have it pretty well together."

Cindy looked away, at nothing in particular, and some of the starch visibly went out of her. Like she'd taken a particularly stiff hook to the stomach. Her father put a hand on her knee. Shifty hitched up his shorts and wondered where he'd left his last can of dip.

"How was Everett?" she asked. "What kind of shape was it in?"

"Forget it," he said. "You'd have to be six kinds of stupid."

She shot him a go-to-hell look, unconvinced. He tried to explain - refugees piling in from the east, infecteds, no food, no water, no electricity...there might be some national guard presence left, but that was doubtful They'd had their hands full when he left. Not much chance things had improved.

"So that's it. That's all."

"That's all I can tell you."

Cindy drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders, and when she looked up to the pier the old familiar bearing was once again in evidence. She came, she inquired, she found no one of any particular use or worth to justify the trouble.

"Thanks," she said flatly. "I appreciate your time."

He watched the boat draw away and go about, the pilot picking gingerly through the muddy water and floating trash like a man crossing a pigsty in dress shoes. In deeper water the engine rose to a whine and a cream-colored froth boiled beneath the stern. He listened as it faded and the water settled, then went back to his hammock.

He swiped the can of dip off the ground where it'd fallen and stretched out, thinking. Presently his uncle came down with a rifle and briefly opened the gate and looked out.

"Well," he sat on a rusted engine block, the the butt of the rifle planted between his feet. "She got what she was after, I take it."

"Didn't get nothing," Shifty said. The hammock had taken on a faint rolling motion. Usually it helped him think, though just now he couldn't keep a straight thought for shit. He pondered instead his uncle and Carlton Harris and their feud.

Once, not too long ago, it happened that both men occupied the same vicinity. The fourth of July, Labor Day...some celebration in the hot months the significance of which he couldn't recall. Mike had been there - perhaps a Civil Air Patrol function, which was about the only way Cindy would willingly tolerate Shifty's presence - and in offhand conversation surfaced the topic of Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and then Viet Nam, and it was on account of this last that things went altogether to shit.

Harris, a retired air force man, was a believer in overwhelming force and technological superiority. Woodrow Schipper, having spent fifteen months on a fiberglass boat in the Mekong Delta while Harris was in Germany, knew a lost cause when he saw it. The two got along like fire and gasoline. The colonel was a chickenhawk in his uncle's estimate; to ask Harris the elder Schipper was a dirty hippie who'd long since smoked any brains God might have allowed him. Only the opportune placement of several million gallons of water in the form of Ingalls kept them from each others' throats since, and at times the lake seemed an uncomfortably thin margin.

Lost causes.

Shit.

"You got the look of a man fixing to do something stupid."

"Could be." Shifty half-rolled and spat over the side of the netting. The prospect of Cindy going to Everett was certain to end in disaster. A loner, though...somebody who could move light and cover territory fast....maybe not.

"So what's the plan?"

"I ain't got one." Shifty said. "Don't even know where I'd start."

Where would he start? The apartment? Shit, anybody with half an ounce of sense knew holing up there was a losing bet. Only one entrance, no real room to stockpile supplies...multiple windows that one man couldn't cover simultaneously...not to make too a fine a point of being surrounded by people who were going to get hungry sooner or later and come a-looting, especially if they'd ever chanced to pick up on the fact there was a survivalist-type nearby.

No. Nothing in town.

CAP Cave? No, that didn't make any sense, either. Too isolated. Too much real estate to hold without a dozen or so friends, and dicey enough at that. Given Mike's primary bug-out locale was the Harris place he'd have to increase the distance, not to mention putting himself on the wrong side of the nightmare logjam that was the highway.

Airport?

Maybe...but no, probably not. All the problems of the CAP Cave, multiplied. Plus the tendency for the authorities to turn airfields of any appreciable size into hubs for relief efforts. Take away the presence of fuel - as he'd gathered from their few conversations at Seven-Oh Delta - and there went any point. Plus, he doubted Mike was too keen on getting picked up by the powers that be, whoever those were lately, and going back into circulation or confinement.

He rocked back and forth in the hammock. Figuring on how he'd have done it, supposing he had to bail out all over again. He didn't get much; there just wasn't a whole lot to change. Get packed, get mounted, and get gone.

But suppose...suppose it wasn't that simple.

Suppose the car wouldn't start, or the planned escape route was blocked. Suppose the car made it a couple of street and crapped. Suppose the car made it a couple of miles outside of town and, for whatever reason, was withdrawn from the equation. Suppose that from a certain point a man having to leave town was forced to ditch his wheels and hoof it the rest of the way.

Balancing precariously, Shifty reached down and shook his emergency road map from his go-bag, folding the laminated sections until he'd isolated the plate covering the proper chunk of the county. With a grimy fingernail he traced the two major primary roads leading north and west. The rail line bisecting Everett was another possibility, seeing as another branch split off west of town, though it seemed unlikely. Too many people. Too apparent an alternate route for refugees unfamiliar with the local geography.

So. Put this theoretical evacuee on shoe leather. How much could a man in decent shape cover in a day? Alone, unencumbered by gear, maybe around ten miles or so before he gave out in the heat.
Properly hydrated, maybe double that. Without water or injured...Shifty scratched at the corner of his mouth. Without water or injured, afoot in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, a man was fucked.

If he opted to move during the cooler night hours he might conceivably go further - but that assumed a man moved as quick in the dark as in daylight. Figure ten miles, maybe fifteen if the infected didn't get him or somebody holed up at home didn't shoot him by mistake. Give him a bicycle and he could be home in a day, gear or no. Presuming Mike hadn't turned up at the Harris house in the interim, probably safe to assume he didn't have a bicycle, either.

Squinting, he studied the azure band of the afternoon sky.

Were it him out there, Shifty knew pretty well what he'd do. Hole up, wait for the cool, and chance the dark. That one fact didn't help him much. It did, however, give him another idea. With the aid of a golf putter he poked and prodded at the boom box on a neighboring shelf. After a couple of tries it crackled and hissed and presently resolved into the looping disaster reports and warnings. He swung and listened, hunting his particular piece of information.

He didn't have long to wait.




Shifty had visited the Harris neighborhood two or three times before and, with exception to those instances, had never been invited to return. The subdivision itself he liked alright - the houses tended to be older, larger than could be found most anywhere else in the county, but of a style twenty or thirty years gone; for any faults, the region had thus far been spared the McMansion craze. The occupants fell towards the lower end of the upper class - mostly families out of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex or Abilene who were doing well enough to afford a weekend getaway but not high enough on the corporate totem pole for their own private jet. The people who didn't head major enterprises, but who probably had at least a couple of heavy honchos on speed-dial.

For the well-to-do retiree or the corporate up-and-comer Wilkes County had two things going for it; being it the middle of Buttfuck, Nowhere, meant land was cheap and the infrastructure was advanced enough that Spring Break on Lake Ingalls didn't mean a trip to the Third World. Meaning that if a certain social climber needed to do a little ass-kissing, he didn't have to bring the kissee out to some little podunk map dot; the big man could fly in on his private plane, his wife could find enough in Everett to amuse herself, and his brats could have the run of the lake.

Two stone columns rose at the entrance of the subdivision, flanking a suitably rustic wooden sign welcoming all to beautiful Lakeview Estates.

He snorted. Uh-huh. Sure.

All things considered, somebody like him was about as welcome as an outbreak of the clap in the best of times. Plenty of blue-collar work in a place like this - cars and boats needed fixing, lawns needed mowing, now and again somebody would want a stretch of fence or a new pool - but it was just as well understood that the crews needed to wrap up and be gone before the sun went down. A beater work truck drew more attention than a brand-new late model pickup with all the trimmings. A tan was appreciated, but a wetback drew second looks. French wine was alright. The Spanish language was verboten. Lakeview Estates was, put diplomatically, not that kind of place.

"Shee-it," Meatball said around his cigarette.

Shifty said nothing. When he'd pitched the idea his volunteers to ride along had been limited. Meatball - William Clifford duBois, per his driver's license - wasn't a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination; he'd share beer, feed dogs while his neighbors were away, and generally didn't engage in the kind of stupidity that brought an unwanted police presence to Lakeshore Grove.

But be damned if the man wasn't redneck through and through. From his mullet to his naked-lady trucker cap to his worn out steel toes there was no part of him that didn't strike polite society wrong somehow.

Given their present state - Shifty having traded his motorcycle vest for a coyote plate carrier, Meatball in the passenger seat in a sleeveless Lynard Skynard t-shirt under an undone Gulf War-era flak jacket, two bags of ordnance and goodies in the back, and the whole show ensconced in a battered and bondo-splotched Volkswagen T3 van alternately known as The Mystery Machine or The Hack or sometimes That Goddamn Piece of Shit he marked it a minor miracle that the local gentry hadn't lit them up the second they cleared the gate.

Maybe the local gentry didn't all believe in fire superiority the way Colonel Harris did.

Shifty slowed, following the dips and rises of the road that snaked through the subdivision like a main artery. Evidently the panic hadn't come quite this far yet. For all appearances the majority of the houses remained empty. Those occupied, on the other hand, seemed fuller than usual - more cars in the driveway, the odd camper or RV, now and again the dome of a tent in a backyard. More than once he caught the smell of cookfires or heard children laughing and shouting.

Just another weekend on the lake at the end of the world.

"Oh man," Meatball breathed, pointing at a blonde in a tank top jogging alongside the road, headphones on and deaf to the world. "Look at the ass on that one."

Despite his slapping the door and howling the blonde didn't seem to hear. The van passed her by, Meatball hanging out the window and beating the side panels and shouting offers of marriage. She waved him off, shaking her head and rolling her eyes without breaking stride, and he flipped her the bird as they started into the next curve.

"Just remember, man - " Shifty braked, saw the name on the next gate, and accelerated again. "We get to the house, I do the talking."

"Whatever you say, brother." Meatball leaned back in his seat and howled.

And at last there it was - a limestone mailbox with a brass plate affixed to the side - 1103 Post Oak Lane. The Harris residence. Somewhat deeper into the neighborhood than he'd recalled. Shifty braked and eased into the belled mouth of the driveway.

Like some of their neighbors they'd refrained from clearing the entire front of the property, leaving a hundred yards of semi-wilderness to shield the house from the the neighbors and the world in general. Grass stood knee high and the cedars, by and large removed elsewhere, grew wild. Knock down the mailbox and take away the asphalt the unwary passer-by might even be forgiven for mistaking the Harris kingdom for an unimproved lot. Given the years they'd been in residence he guessed that was intentional.

The drive wound through the first two acres and he slowed to negotiate a dogleg which, so no near as he could tell, existed to further block any outside view of the house. Supposing they had their shit together and knew to keep their heads down he guessed they might do alright if things got rough. They had seclusion in their favor, at the very least.

At the terminus the asphalt swung wide to rejoin itself, turning around four neatly trimmed young oaks hung with bird feeders and a concrete water fountain on flagstone pavers. Shifty let the van drift to a halt more or less before the front door.

He was debating whether to honk or knock when the front door opened and the colonel himself stepped out into the sunlight. Tall man, lean and rangy in his youth and developing the beginnings of a minimal gut in his retirement years. Dull gold of an academy ring on his right hand, traces of silver in his hair, and a decently high-end European shotgun in the crook of his arm. An expression of what may have been distaste or annoyance or both crossed his face and he came down from the shaded alcove of the front porch.

"You boys need something?" he asked, shielding his eyes against the sun.

"Cindy here?"

Colonel Harris halted, thrown for a loop. Slowly the recognition dawned. He didn't look too happy at the question - but he didn't go to unlimber his ordnance, either. Good sign. As good as Shifty figured he'd get here.

"I don't think she'll want - "

"What does he want?" Cindy called from the front door. Doubtless she'd heard the arrival. Just as sure as she'd run to meet the visitors, expecting Mike. And doubtless, seeing him instead, she'd be pissed. Unarmed, she appeared no less dangerous than her father.

"Hoo-ee," Meatball said. Shifty popped him across the ribs with the back of his hand.

"I need to talk to you," he said.

With a gait that suggested boundless irritation and world-class dissatisfaction she approached, drawing up short. Upon spotting the passenger she took a step back and her fingers moved to close the top button of her blouse.

"Hey girl - " Meatball leaned forward, around Shifty. "You like Skynard?"

"Look," Shifty said, ignoring the interruption. "I been thinking."

"About?" An ever so slight elevation of the nose. The subtle mark of a good society girl forced through circumstance to deal with her lessors but making clear her disapproval. Shifty felt his face color, looked away. Not embarrassment. Anger.

"Look, goddammit - " he fixed her suddenly with a mask of pure contempt as only proper white trash could manage. Part rebel yell, part invitation to pistols at dawn, part sinister banjo music. The change shook her - she didn't retreat, but her entire posture shifted to one of defense.

"You don't like me. I'm alright with that. Ain't costing me any sleep. But Mike ain't back yet, and whether or not you can get your mind around it he's my goddamn friend, too. You think you can shut off that bitchy face for a minute and we can talk like adults?"

Cindy cocked her head, eyes narrowing. She didn't like him. She didn't need to, and frankly Shifty could give two shits one way or another. But behind the facade of a prissy stuck-up backwater debutante he read something else.

She was afraid. Maybe for the first time in her whole damn pampered life for someone other than herself. Her father moved to intervene; she raised a hand to stay him, swallowed hard, and moved to the open window.

"What do you have?"

Shifty took a deep breath and let it go slow. No matter his misgivings she'd picked up the gauntlet he'd thrown down. The next move was his.

"There ain't but two roads he could take from Everett to here. Seeing as he ain't made it I'm thinking he's afoot. Don't know how or why, but if not he'd have been in by now."

"And?"

"There's two shelters. Not for the refugees coming west. Just for the locals. Old farts, shut-ins, medical cases...they're advertising those on the stations out of Everett but nothing on the AM. Now those won't be too big, I don't think. One's in a church and one's a vet clinic if that gives you any idea."

"You think he'll be there?" she asked, the faintest inflection of hope in her voice.

"Maybe he will, maybe he won't. If he is, great. We pick him up and we're done. If he ain't...two possibilities. Either they seen him and he left, meaning he's somewhere on the road between there and here, or they ain't. Meaning we start looking closer to town."

"Can you find him?"

"I mean to try," Shifty said. "I can't promise much else."

Sheriff McClelland
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:56 am

This is a good one . Thanks for the update .

Hoping moar to follow soon !
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by 91Eunozs » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:05 am

Great update... Thanks!

Love your turn of phrase and the way the character quirks quickly come to the fore; especially with the new cast members.

Now get back to writing, we need to know what happened to Mike the culvert troll! And Evelyn... And, and...

:lol:
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by teotwaki » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:51 am

Better way to start my day than a jolt of caffeine.

MOAR please.
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:43 pm

It's a Very White Trash Apocalypse. :lol:

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by teotwaki » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:24 am

AeroRat wrote:It's a Very White Trash Apocalypse. :lol:
I'm dreaming of a White Trash Apocalypse
Just like the ones I used to know
Where zombie's gory bodies glisten
And children are a cringin'
To hear the zombie moans out in the night

I'm dreaming of a White Trash Apocalypse
With every undead neighbor that I smite
May your days be safer than your nights
And may all your Apocalypses be white

I'm dreaming of a White Trash Apocalypse
Just like the ones the movies used to show
Where the undead are hissin'
And children fearfully listen
To hear their parents start to shoot

I'm dreaming of a White Trash Apocalypse
With every Hillbilly-American that I greet
May your double-wide be well armored
And may all your Apocalypses be white
My adventures and pictures are on my blog http://suntothenorth.blogspot.com

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:21 pm

I'm not certain what's more disconcerting:

a) you just made that up in a fit of slightly-warped brilliance or,

b) you had that sucker on file.

...either way. :shock:

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by teotwaki » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:55 pm

AeroRat wrote:I'm not certain what's more disconcerting:

a) you just made that up in a fit of slightly-warped brilliance or,

b) you had that sucker on file.

...either way. :shock:

Made it up on the fly in order to cajole you into writing MOAR
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Mon May 02, 2016 11:40 pm

Roving criminals or not, she took some comfort in knowing that there was at least a nominal police presence left. From what little attention she'd paid the news before the electricity cut out that was fast becoming a rarity. Some of the larger cities in the eastern United States were reporting absentee rates of sixty percent or better in first responders. More than a few were having trouble with their law enforcement acting as the largest and most heavily-armed street gang in districts rapidly devolving into open turf wars.

For what it was worth she didn't even know if there was still a sheriff's office in Wilkes County. The Longbranch constabulary, an unremarkable agency in the best of times, was long past the point of viability; she'd asked offhand and Bondurant only shook his head.

But despite the thin veneer of the law in her part of the county seemed to be making out fairly well - there was no rioting in town, no buildings set on fire or bricks thrown through glass. Those having the means and motivation to leave having done so early on, Longbranch looked merely empty after their departure. Depopulated, but no more. The town was far enough off the main transportation arteries that even at the end of the world things remained quiet and mostly orderly. Being north of the highway meant nobody was evacuating their way.

She dampened her hands from a bottle of water and cleaned her face as best she could. Sooner or later she was going to have to find some means of getting a bath on a regular basis, because even with Danny doing the heavy lifting she'd sweated like a pig since work began in the morning. A wet washrag and deodorant could only do so much to cover up an admittedly ripe odor she only recently identified as her. She'd never really been high maintenance, but...something would have to give.

Through the open window came the electric whine of a drill. He was still downstairs, going around the base of the house and sealing up those doors or windows that might admit any unwelcome visitors. Doing so also meant cutting off most of the possible escape routes for the occupants but, admittedly, it was a calculated risk.

She dried her face and hung the towel over the footpost of her bed. As close to clean as she was going to get, she picked up her carbine and went downstairs and out onto the porch.

Upon the departure of Danny's Ex and the removal of the dead from the porch, the first order shifted to securing the house. The best way, as he had sketched out, would be heavy shutters overs the windows. By his estimate they had the plywood and lumber to make that happen, though it'd be slow going without power tools. He also needed to check into the hardware involved - hinges, pins, latches, and reinforcing plates. Never having much carpentry skill of her own she mostly nodded along. They'd have to check in town, see if one of the Bellmonts were around, and if so might they be willing to make a few trades.

As a intermediate measure they'd spent the morning measuring and tacking up heavy-gauge chickenwire around the porch columns. Better than two hundred yards of the stuff if she had to guess; him holding up the wire while she zip-tied it to the uprights. The end result was perhaps less than optimal, though she thought it was far and away better than how the house had been this morning and infinitely preferable to spending another night in the barn. She dragged her fingers along the inside of the mesh. The little gaps were too small to allow much purchase. Once properly tied nailed and reinforced the wire would allow them full use of the porch. Equally important, they could sleep with the windows open.

In the meantime it was more of a combination speedbump and alarm. Something to deter the opportunistic and allow the residents time to defend themselves against a determined attack. And, given time, Danny wanted to build some kind of gate where the front steps came up. Until then they'd be stuck using the door in the washroom.

It wasn't bad progress for a day. Some feeble hope remained that maybe someday they could all look back and laugh -

She stopped that thought cold.

When this whole thing ended - if it ever ended - there was no going back to the way things had been before. Before hitting the county line Reelfoot had already killed over a million. Late among those were her aunt, her neighbors....probably a few more if anybody ever bothered to make a full accounting of the missing and the dead. All the people she'd gone to school with, the friends in Dallas who spoke to her less and less as the years went on, her family, her former coworkers.

No, there'd be no laughing if or when Reelfoot went away.

Personally, she'd be starting over from scratch. She guessed the house she'd vacated was hers now, one way or another. Doubtful she could keep it, though - they'd barely been holding on with both her and Aunt Beatrice working, and that was with her uncle's retirement checks still coming in every month. Those would have ended with her aunt, and even if the situation was otherwise she very much doubted benefits and retirement payouts were high on the list once society began piecing itself together. Assuming there were companies left to pay out and postal service to carry the mail. Long odds on that.

The creeping cold returned.

She was alone. Again. There were no further blood relations nearby to whom she could turn for help. The nearest she knew on her mother's side lived in the Carolinas at last count, though she could safely assume all ties with the old-money Vaughns were cut after her mother saw fit to deposit her in Longbranch. Her father - her real one, not the asshole her mother had picked up after the divorce - was in Colorado or New Mexico as near as she knew. Closer, but being over the state line he still might as well have been on the moon.

She sat heavily on the Calhouns' gliding rocker, staring through the little hexagonal openings in the wire and out across a sea of yellow grass.

She didn't feel sadness, so much. Not the kind of grief that prompted wails and tears and the rending of garments. This was worse, somehow. The kind of suffocating breathlessness that came from getting crushed between the proverbial rock and the hard place.

It was the first time she'd really sat down and thought about it. Recently she'd been tuning the world out or, when forced, fleeing the reality she'd done her best to ignore. She'd locked herself up inside her aunt's house and waited for it all to blow over, never once imagining that this storm wouldn't be like the others. Wouldn't blow itself out before the worst reached her. Wouldn't go away.

She was musing on how much worse it could get when Danny came around, drill in hand.

"You about ready?" he asked.

"Hmm?" She looked up suddenly.

"We're still missing a few pieces. I'm going to town."

"Oh, that. Yeah."

"You okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." She tried a disarming smile that felt all too hollow. "Got your list?"

"Everything I could think of. I doubt anything's getting through this" - he rattled the chickenwire from the outside - "but I'll sleep a lot easier when we get something sturdier put together. But yeah, all the doors are screwed shut and the windows are covered. I put some brackets in the washroom for a crosspiece - figure that should hold better than the lock."

She nodded. Not wanting to let on her fear that this impenetrable fortress he was building could just as easily become an inescapable tomb.

But she didn't believe that...did she?

"I'm going to put this stuff away," he said. "I guess we should get going pretty soon."

She mumbled her agreement and went inside.

"You sure you feeling okay?" he asked again when they were in the truck, Ranger muzzled and sandwiched into the middle of the bench seat. The arrangement didn't take; he promptly tried to climb across Danny and stick his nose out the window.

"Fine," she lied.

In truth she was beginning to understand Mrs. Calhoun's last act. Maybe that was the best bet. Maybe the only workable course of action when faced with an unwinnable situation was to go with what dignity could be mustered, on terms of one's own choosing. She always heard it was a coward's way out. Greedy, even. Did that still apply if nobody else got hurt?

Ranger would miss her, she guessed. Unless she took him along. Danny could get along okay without the extra mouths to feed since neither really contributed much. Surreptitiously she brushed a palm across the two bullets in her pocket. Set aside for a purpose she refused to contemplate in the light of day and preferred not entertain in the dark.

"You sure about that?"

"You asked me that," she said. "Twice."

"Well, you're looking a little off."

She shot him a go-to-hell look. She didn't see as he had any room to judge.

She didn't know why she was feeling temperamental so suddenly; she'd felt as good as might be expected this morning, and it wasn't the physical labor of tacking up chickenwire or the hairline cuts she'd received on her arms and across her knuckles. She didn't even think it was Bondurant's news, though that didn't help much.

Four neighbors, dead. Strung up by their feet in what was left on their living room, and the trailer house burnt down around them. The deputy hadn't stayed much longer than was required to share word of that cheery little development; he'd shown the discretion of not pointing out that this had transpired not quite a quarter of a mile down the road. Despite herself she couldn't help throwing a sidelong glance down the intersection as they passed. Nothing to see, naturally - the trailer had been set back from the road, the fire long gone out. Not even a wisp of smoke to mark the scene.

Just...nothing.

Uncertainty, she decided. That was the problem. With a fully functional world out there she was just barely getting by. Take that away...she didn't know what was left. For her or anybody else.

They parked on the side street next to the hardware store. She cracked the windows and put Ranger on his leash; like most of the places in town the proprietor was generally tolerant of dogs in the store, so long as they were housebroken and not destructive. Despite the heat she'd brought a long-sleeved shirt, which she pulled over to cover the bump added by the pistol. She looked at reflection in the window glass. It didn't cover very well.

"You really taking that?"

"That was kinda the plan, yeah."

Out of idle curiosity she wandered to the community center. One street over, it abutted one of the town's two bars. Oddly enough the bar was open. A handful of locals were clustered by the entrance, some of them talking in circles, a few smoking. None seemed to be drinking.

Surprising, all things considered. Evidently there were more people in and around Longbranch than she might have guessed.

Danny announced he was going to look around and see if he could find the man who ran the hardware store. She dismissed him with a toss of the head and took Ranger down the street. She'd let him roam within the confines of the yard earlier, though he'd spent most of the day supervising from the glider on the porch after she'd snapped at him when he wandered too close to the fence.

She felt bad about that.

And Danny, who'd taken pains not to point out what lousy construction help she was, and who she'd yelled at, anyway, before he told her he could finish up alone and she went up to arrange her things and try to get over the alien-ness of the room. Comfortable...but not her home.

She felt bad about a lot of things.

In her younger years her mother had told her that the temper was her side of the family coming through. The Vaughn blood, she'd called it, qualified by the claim that it was the essence of a long line of strong women. A way of asserting oneself when the world just wouldn't get the message.

Which Evelyn thought was bullshit; the Vaughns hadn't kicked out a strong woman anytime in recent history. Not since a general named Sherman and a goodly chunk of the Union Army went tramping merrily through their sunny genteel world, a event that so upset the family's noble blood that they went from raising quality cotton to breeding uptight and brittle progeny with a strong list towards the psychotic, terminally lousy judgment, and generally poor temperament.

Not strong.

Just bitchy.

She'd gotten her face slapped once for saying as much. Around the age of twelve or thirteen, she couldn't remember exactly. Which was funny in a way; the day she'd decided she would reject her genetic inheritance was also the day she jumped the rails and, however inadvertently, began the headlong race to live down to expectations.

Vaughns didn't handle stress very well. That was why most of the current crop were either in prison or the nuthouse or working on it. Only she didn't like to think of herself as one of them. Once she'd moved to Longbranch she'd made it formal, dropping her mother's half of the surname and hoping to bury whatever remained of the terminal fuck-up that was Evelyn Vaughn. Sins committed under another name. Like a mask, she supposed.

"This looks like trouble." Bondurant's voice.

Lost in thought, she hadn't been paying much attention to the course of their afternoon stroll. They'd ventured far enough down the street to reach the constabulary, a square building of beige sandstone. The familiar cruiser was parked out front along with a boxy camouflaged jeep-thing like the army used. A...something. She'd never been big on military hardware. A large sign taped to the wall announced the time and place of the upcoming meeting.

"How's your mutt doing?" Bondurant was standing outside under a small shaded alcove, smoking. He'd dressed for the occasion, too, eschewing the vest with all the pockets for a khaki shirt that was almost clean. Evelyn diverted to the deputy, who crouched and waited while Ranger made his inspection.

"He's okay. I think he missed it."

"That's good." Bondurant offered the dog the back of his hand, then rubbed under the jaw. "Good animal's tough to come by. Keep an eye on him."

"I am. He doesn't go far."

"They don't have to," he said. Then, nodding at the ill-concealed pistol. "Best keep that under wraps. We've got a national guard second john running things for now. Real by-the-book type. Man loves his rules....though I did suggest he might try having a few less."

"How'd that go?"

"He don't like suggestions, either."

"Delightful." She considered the vehicle parked at the curb. There was also a dark green pickup across the way with a rack and light bar and a Texas Parks and Wildlife seal on the side. A game warden. Unusual addition. Bondurant noticed her looking.

"Senior-most state employee," he said. "At least that we could find. We figured he might as well get in on it."

"So who's in charge? The army guy?"

"Well...he seems to think so. Only problem is, he's got no direct superior. Used to be one in Everett - major or a light colonel - but they quit answering the radio yesterday. I think he'd be a little more aggressive if he had the manpower to make it stick."

"What's he have?"

"Well, there's him, his driver, a medic, two grunts and that humvee there. See, those guys are federalized. That's big government. Then you got the game warden - he's state. Small government. Then you got the county - which is me. We haven't found anybody off the city council yet."

Evelyn weighed that, studying the patrol car, the humvee, and the truck. All that was left of formal leadership, she guessed. In this part of the world, anyway. She didn't know quite how to process all that. Not as if government had ever played much into her personal life, but it was strange to think it just all of a sudden wasn't there anymore.

"Word of advice - " Bondurant said. "I don't know what they're liable to ask, but if anybody wants to know anything about who lives where and how much food they good put back, now might be a pretty good time to be homeless and starving."

She cocked her head.

"Look at it this way," Bondurant went on. "This national guard lieutenant...he's got no support outside this county, maybe even outside the city limits. He's in charge, though. He knows he's got to get people working somehow. Working for him. He can't do that with an overt threat of force because no matter how much people in this part of the country respect the uniform, they'd put that down quick. Six men against a town...those are bad odds."

"So what's he do?"

The deputy took a long drag on his cigarette, down to the last, and stubbed the butt against the wall before dropping it in a rusting coffee can full of kitty litter.

"He isolates people who have the kind of supplies he needs to keep a leash on what we've got left. You've got food in your freezer at home or livestock in your back pasture? Kiss it goodbye - you're making a donation for the good of the group. Vehicles in working order? He'll need those, too. At least the gas, anyway. Closet full of guns and two thousand rounds of ammo put back? Oh, you better believe he'll be taking that. He can't afford for anybody to be able to live without his protection. That means he'll steal a handful blind if it means keeping the majority happy and docile. He'll promise safety, and as long as he can deliver for enough of the populace they'll tolerate him."

"He told you this?" she asked, not quite believing.

"No. Didn't have to. He doesn't even know it yet."

"Then how do you?"

Squatting, Bondurant scratched Ranger's ears. From this new angle Evelyn realized the shadows under his eyes and the lines etched in his face. By trick of the light alone he seemed to have aged a hundred years.

"No big trick. Right now he sees himself as a leader and won't hear otherwise. He may be an honest man, he may not be. Maybe he's even diametrically opposed to that kind of behavior. Maybe he's a die-hard libertarian who hates the government down to the bone, but it doesn't much matter because he's set on saving the world and starting from an authoritarian stance. Sooner or later human nature trumps political principle, especially when you couple it to power."

This was not at all the kind of thinking she expected to hear from a lawman, much less one who - she now imagined - could probably readily displace said national guardsmen without so much as a ripple and, if their leader was so evidently disorganized, might do it neatly and with the full backing of other, lesser authorities. In truth he sounded more like an angry college kid. A political science major with a Che poster and a case of molotov cocktails under the bed.

He caught the grin she didn't quite suppress.

"Something funny?"

"I don't think I've ever heard a cop talk like that."

"I wasn't always a cop." Bondurant stood, dusting his hands. "I've done some peacekeeping in places where you can't find peace, much less keep it. There's a lot of people in this country who look at the Third World and the old Eastern Bloc and all they see it violent illiterates living in mud huts. They think because we've got flush toilets and air conditioning we're higher up the food chain. We're not. Take away the toys and the cellular phones and the twenty-four hour gas stations and junk food and we're just like them."

"Violent illiterates living in mud huts?"

"People," Bondurant said. Then, checking his watch - "Looks like it's about that time."

She whistled for the dog and they started up the street. A block from the Elk's Lodge Danny spotted them and crossed the street. Empty-handed, she noted, and visibly irate.

"Couldn't find anything?" she asked. Danny shook his head.

"Couldn't get in. I went over to see if the hardware store was open. There's a national guard guy sitting by the door with a rifle...said that there's no sales to private citizens. Emergency requisition, he called it. Damndest thing I ever heard."

The grin faded. Unwittingly she found herself trailing behind as the two men walked on. Ranger nuzzled her hand and she absentmindedly reached to pet him, stepping up the pace and not quite able to ignore the cold knot in her stomach.

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by teotwaki » Tue May 03, 2016 8:12 am

Thanks!!!!!!!
My adventures and pictures are on my blog http://suntothenorth.blogspot.com

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by 91Eunozs » Tue May 03, 2016 9:05 am

Emergency requisitions....Uh oh.... :ohdear:

Great addition! There are a few folks with Bondurant's experiences on this board who can appreciate his observations more than I, but even from my time on the (mostly) civilized fringes, I really appreciate the insights learned over a 28-year career spent mostly outside the U.S. bubble.

Man, we could use a couple of the stories here as an entertaining syllabus for a mash-up class on history, human conflict and human psychology. Great job!
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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Thu May 05, 2016 2:31 am

What the hell...we'll run two this week. 8-)

***

Gantry, Texas. Population 219...probably a little less in the past week. Just shy of the city limit sign Mike touched the brakes The pickup coasted to a stop and he opened the door to balance on the step, looking downrange. The guys in the van bringing up the rear probably thought he was nuts. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the other driver with both hands off the the wheel and talking to the man in the opposite seat. The universal driving gesture for what is this asshole doing.

Right now he had bigger fish to fry. A dozen or so, in point of fact. Twelve refugees coming up from the interstate. Per the teenage girl with the bloody face who'd come swerving into the ersatz camp at the Drummond Baptist church they were somewhere in the next mile or two, having ditched their failing vehicles and walked to Gantry only to be jumped by a good-sized group of infected. She'd gone left, the others right. She made it the six miles up to Drummond by bicycle. Her best estimate put the rest of the group in the nursing home on the opposite edge of town, assuming -

Assuming a lot of things. Assuming they weren't all dead. Assuming her half-delirious brain had spit out correct answers to the questions posed. Assuming everything in her memory wasn't the mirage of moving alone in a nightmare world both violently alien and eerily familiar.

Trouble was, looking down the stretch of the county road that served briefly as Gantry's main street, he couldn't see much of anything. Eight structures spaced along a quarter mile or so on one side, a dozen on the other. A single intersection roughly bisected the town. There was no stoplight. A few rows of smaller, older houses set back from the main drag, the density of neighborhoods diminishing fasts as the crossroad ran northeast and southwest.

He'd have traded his eyeteeth for a good set of binoculars.

Mike stepped down to the asphalt. A breeze pushed hot air against his neck and the backs of his arms as he walked back, carrying along the scent of something he couldn't quite identify but which he knew was not good. The driver's window rolled down.

"How's it look?"

"Stay here a minute," Mike said. "I'm going to make a run through town, see if I can't draw any Reelers out. If it's a small enough crowd I can handle those then. If it's more I'll try and lead them out south of town."

"Sure thing, Rambo."

"Funny. Here's what you do. You sit right here. If it's clear I'll turn around and flash the headlights your way. If not, I'm going to lay on the horn and stay on. You hear short blasts, don't worry about it - don't move. You hear one long blast, that means I'm going to be hauling ass and hopefully pulling these things away. That means you get in there and grab whoever you can find. Think you can manage?"

"That's not much of a plan," the passenger said.

"Doesn't have to be," Mike shot back. "This isn't rocket surgery. If it's clear, we go in and make our pickup and get out. If not, I lead our friends off and you do the collecting. It's short and simple. The less moving parts the better. Can you do that?"

The driver bobbed his head. By his expression he didn't have a whole lot of faith in the idea. Mike was tempted to ask if he had one better. Instead he returned to his truck and made one last survey in the orange light.

Mike Duncan, panzer commander extraordinaire. Fixing to give Erwin Rommel a run for his money as a tactical genius. Probably get his ass handed back to him, if life lately was any indication.

He slammed the door and checked the double gun. One perk of stopping off at the church - the bear of a youth pastor who was running things had thought to bring his Mossberg to work during the apocalypse, and in the interest of a humanitarian mission had agreed to part with a box of No.4 shot. At some point Mike had hoped he might scrape up a spare handgun, or at least a couple of loose .38 rounds. No dice on that score. He snapped the gun shut.

No time like the present.

Switching on the brights and overheads he put the truck in gear and began rolling down the long slope to town. Abeam the outermost building he got to making noise. Among other things he'd discovered the prior owner had invested in a locomotive horn or near-equivalent. The lowing echoed through a silent town, bouncing between structures and rattling glass with a sound like the vanishing ghosts of the Union Pacific.

Gantry slid by, a panorama of small-town America. He knew towns similar. Little map-dot places seemingly built around a gas station or a no-name watering hole. Always with the same strips of Main Street commerce. Dusty red brick with faded names of dead businesses painted on the sides and awnings with handmade signs and weird strata in the masonry where other enterprises had risen, fallen, or burned alongside. Mostly what he saw here was empty glass windows that looked into rooms full of dust and old furniture.

Midtown, two such buildings with a common frontage and a painted sign - RICK'S POOL HALL, COLD BEER, THURS NIGHT ALL-U-CAN-EAT CATFISH DINNER SPECIAL. Yellowed blinds backed dead neon signs for Budweiser and Miller and Coca-Cola. Double screen doors, a shade of green, stirred weakly. Furtive moments behind the upper facades?

No, he decided. Trick of the eye.

So focused was he on the illusion that he almost didn't get the brakes fast enough. The pickup jerked hard, tires squealing as it stopped sharply, rocking on the suspension. A single figure stood in the middle of the road. Mike squinted, then got out on the step, one arm atop the open door and the other on the roof.

Not an infected, this one. A kid. If he was a teenager he wasn't far along. He stood still as granite, wearing a stained white t-shirt and equally filthy jeans. He carried a shapeless red duffel bag and cinched over his shoulders was a camping backpack near as big as he was, complete with a rolled sleeping bag tied over the top. On his hip rode a tooled leather holster of some kind, what Mike took to contain a toy gun. The face betrayed no emotion beneath a layer of what he slowly gathered was improvised camouflage. A battered machete dangled at his right, the fingers curling and uncurling around the haft.

"Hey kid," he called.

The eyes bored into him. Then, a slow raising of the chin.

"You see any infected around here?"

A nod. The machete swung like a compass needle, pointing down the cross-street.

"Climb in," Mike said. "Show me."

Wordless, the kid climbed up the side. Mike reached over to pop the lock and his new passenger settled in, pushing the backpack into the rear seat and keeping the duffel across his knees. A white tag dangled from the zipper; Mike caught it and read the legend.

"Barry," he said. "That you?"

A nod.

"You're a pretty long way from home."

A shake this time.

"Don't say much do you?"

The kid looked at him with eyes like black diamonds. Not friendly, not hostile. In point of fact, nothing at all. Depthless as polished obsidian and just as lifeless. Barry pointed. Mike decided this wasn't the time to press the issue and they crept onward.

Jesus. A kid out here all alone. The tag on his luggage said Gulfport. Mike didn't know the distance offhand, but he didn't need to, especially. Mississippi's little stretch of Gulf Coast was a long way from Wilkes County. Imagining the circumstances that'd drop a minor so far from his mailing address in the middle of an epidemic wasn't difficult; had he wanted to lay money, Mike would bet his family was part of the surge choking the interstate through Everett.

He offered a water bottle from the half-dozen he'd gotten from Preacher Marv and Barry eyed the offer, taking it warily and never once letting his guard down. Slowly he unscrewed the top, took a small sip, and replaced the cap.

"You had much to drink lately?"

A shake of the head.

"Finish that one," Mike said, setting up a second. Barry swallowed. Around the first bottle his hands shook. He tore the cap off and emptied it down to the dregs and took the next, though he didn't start on it yet.

"Infected," Mike said. "Where?"

They drove slowly past the darkened houses. From under the seat Mike produced a spotlight that plugged into the cigarette lighter and shone the beam into the vacant windows. After a fashion he handed it off to Barry, who did likewise on the other side. He drove as far as the last mailbox and turned around. The situation was no different on the other side of Main Street. Whole lot of nothing. Gantry hadn't been much of a town to begin with. The outbreak hadn't done it any favors.

"Suppose they could have left," he mused.

Barry shook his head, more forcefully this time, but when asked where they might have gone the kid could only shrug.

Turning south, Mike headed for the nursing home, still sounding the horn at intervals. No Reelers came stumbling in response. No survivors, either. Approaching at an angle, he prodded the truck over the curb and drove around on the dead lawn while Barry worked the spotlight over the windows. The fact of the matter was both apparent and troubling. Gantry was dead. Not in the vein of Everett, even now in its death throes with fires and violence and garbage spilling into all the streets. More like the whole of the populace had been collected and whisked away.

On the third circle he caught something. Distant. A kind of keening sound. From back towards Drummond if he had to guess.

Mike cut short the inspection and returned to the county road, pointing north. From far up the slope of the hill the church van came rushing down, headlights flashing like strobes and the the driver laying on the horn.

"Idiots," he scoffed as he threw the pickup in gear and raced to meet the other vehicle.

Misunderstanding? he wondered. No. How was it possible to fuck up instructions so simple? Sure it could be done - but it took effort. He shifted up, engine whining as they encountered the foot of the slope and began to climb. As they slowed to draw abreast of the van the window flew down, the driver hanging out with wide eyes.

"We gotta go, man," he said. "We can't stay here."

There was no time for questions. The van leapt into motion, screaming downhill and leaving nothing but the smell of burnt rubber. Mike glanced to Barry. The kid's fingers clenched death-white around the machete, his attention fixed forward.

"Shit," he breathed.

In the orange glow of dusk he saw the cause for panic. Easily two hundred of them, moving along the road towards Gantry in one great semi-dead herd. Not moving too quick, but hell - with that kind of concentration, who needed to go fast? As he watched more seeped out of the treeline to fall in with the mass. Mike counted his options. Further downslope he would have stomped the gas for a good long running start and made some zombie hash. Trying to accelerate uphill from a dead stop...he had the mental image of the truck covered with infected like ants on roadkill.

Never taking his eyes from the horde, he threw the shifter into reverse and punched it. The world spun crazily, tires squealing through a three-point turn. Gravel rattled like hail as he dropped the rear wheels off pavement, then gunned it again as they thumped onto the blacktop. He blew past the edge of town with the speedometer hovering north of seventy, the stores and houses and power lines blurring into nothing.

Nearing the nursing home Mike tapped the brakes and swung wide. Of the other vehicle there was no sign. Maybe they'd had a sudden outbreak of sense and kept going once they got rolling. Probably not too bad an idea, all things considered.

"You see where they went?" he asked.

A shrug.

"Great." Mike cranked the window all the way down, straining his ears. Only the muttering of the engine came back.

Next big decision for the day. Word was the refugees were camped out in the old folk's home. That was the entire purpose for the visit. Going back empty-handed he might be able to rationalize. Coming all this way not to even bother looking...that one gave him some trouble. He threw it in park and picked the shotgun off the dash.

"You stay here," he said. "I won't be gone but a minute."

The second his boots hit the ground he felt a surge. A second wind. Go in, look around, get out, go home. Nothing to it. No problem.

The feeling lasted until he stepped inside. The smell alone was indescribable - a godawful cocktail of human waste, cleaning chemicals, and age. Keeping the shotgun leveled he moved on, prodding with the barrels and ready to split at a moment's notice. Measuring his steps he kept an ear cocked for the first sound of trouble.

One by one he searched the dozen or so rooms. To the last he found them empty.

Wasn't that some shit. Maybe when things started heading south the locals came to pick up grandma and grandpa. Maybe, in stark contrast to the rest of the world, some small aspect of humanity prevailed here. Mike weighed the odds. Humanity or no, the discovery did nothing to explain the dozen missing refugees. Adopted out with the other residents maybe.

A click. Small and metallic. Ahead, the door of a broom closet bumped in its frame.

Mike tensed, waiting. When there was no follow-up he eased silently nearer and held his breath. Something inside, he was sure, some small noise he couldn't classify. What exactly he couldn't say. Mice, possibly. Or squirrels in the attic. Slowly, he tapped three times with the muzzle of the double gun. The noise died abruptly.

Then, a muffled sob.

Wasting no time, he threw the closet open. Two pairs of wide eyes peered out. The first, a Hispanic man perhaps in his late thirties. Behind him, half-concealed, a girl. For a long moment no one moved. Very slowly, the man stood straight.

"You," he said. "You're not one of them?"

"I'm down here from the church in Drummond. Looking for refugees." Mike breathed easier - but he didn't lower the shotgun entirely. "Should be a dozen or so. Who exactly did you think I was?"

At this the other man relaxed visibly and, turning, drew the girl close to his chest.

"Thank God," he murmured. "Thank God."

And then, remembering Mike, he extended a hand. "Ramon Lorenzo. This is my daughter, Isabella. I'm afraid...I don't think you're going to find the others. Do you have a car? Is it safe to leave now?

"There's a truck outside."

At this Isabella broke from her father. Eying Mike and the shotgun, she skirted both and moved out into the lobby. Ramon moved to follow and Mike blocked him with the shotgun.

"Level with me - "

"Papa?" she asked in a plaintive voice. Ramon smiled.

"Go on," he said. "I'll be out soon."

"You were saying," Mike prompted once she'd gone.

"There were twelve when we arrived. Our van broke down. We were trying to fix it when the things came. So we took shelter here. So we thought."

"They get inside?"

"No, not them." Ramon's face darkened under a few days of uncertain beard growth. "Others."

"Others."

Ramon indicated a second closet across the way, an extra-wide door marked as the kitchen. "You can look if you want. If it's all the same, I'll wait outside. But if you should go in...there is a woman. Would you - " words failed him and he looked away. Once he had composed himself Ramon offered a folded bedsheet. "My wife."

Mike accepted the sheet. Others. He didn't like the sound of that. But what the hell - some perverse part of him said he ought to be sure there were no other survivors. That he wasn't walking out and half-assing what he'd come to do. He waited until the other man was outside, then crossed the lobby. The smell was stronger here, something else mixed in with the usual miasma.

He regretted the decision immediately. On creaking hinges the door swung open to reveal the rest of the party he'd come to save. There were more than twelve, he knew right away. Nearer the bottom of the heap the oldest were turning a sickly gray-green. The fresher ones lay on top, sprawled as they'd been thrown.

Covering his mouth with the sheet, Mike narrowed his eyes and forced a count. The refugees he could account for easily enough. Below them, a day or so older, he suspected to be locals. The bottom of the pile, the worst of the bunch, he guessed to be the the nursing home's original inhabitants. Two or three of the help wore partial scrubs and better than half the others, he realized with growing disgust, wore nothing at all.

His attention caught in the weak light, lingering on a stiffening hand with the third finger missing, and he stepped outside. Only then did he recall the sheet. Standing well away he shook out the folds and took a deep breath. Forcing himself onward, he spread the cover over the heap as best he could, closing off the spectacle on his way out.

He couldn't get to Cindy's soon enough.

On the lawn the pickup waited, the passengers in their seats. They carried no luggage, so far as he could see, nothing more to slow remnants of the expedition returning to Drummond. Pointing, Barry indicated a familiar shape up the street. The other church van, parked in the dollar store lot. What it was doing over there he couldn't begin to guess.

"What the hell," he said, mostly to himself. "Everybody buckled in?"

Murmurs of assent from the backseat. He put it in gear and swung out to the highway. Presumably the great wandering herd was still between them and Drummond, but he could manage easily enough. Get a good running start, maybe lose a little headway on the incline, but aim for the less-dense patches and plow right through.

There was one detour he needed to make first.

He parked behind the church van and jumped down. The rear doors of the van hung open, a couple of cases of water and a dozen good-sized boxes of assorted food items stacked inside. Which made sense, he supposed - there were a lot of stomachs up at Drummond. More than could be filled from the church's stores alone. Strange thought just the same, a church stealing. He gave the contents a once-over and started for the front of the store.

"Hey, you guys about done - "

Mike heard the crack first. He hadn't the time to puzzle out an origin or meaning when a piece of red-hot bar thrust down his left side. Staggering like he'd been punched, he swatted at the sensation.

A second report and a bullet plucked at his collar. He tried to walk and only managed to stagger, the world suddenly reeling beneath his feet. Aiming for the pickup, he drifted off course and instead smacked into a metal dumpster. Distantly he felt himself hit the side, sliding down until he sat with his feet splayed. His left side was on fire. Something warm was dripping down his neck and running over his collarbone. Feebly, he touched the side of his neck and his fingers found the oozy pliability of lacerated flesh.

Mike regarded his bloody fingertips with disbelief. Something else - his shirt felt damp. Had he fallen in something? Further examination found a hole in the side of his CAP blouse. About midway up the left side. The pressing fingers felt the tear and the stickiness and the slick skin beneath -

Oh boy.

At once his thoughts echoed fuzzy and indistinct. On some level he knew this, understood that what he felt now was shock, and that sometime in the dim past he had taken a class on how to manage victims of violently traumatic injuries. But that was dealing with patients, not being one. Fuck. The strange part, though...he didn't feel bad. Not normal, but not terrified or anything. Maybe a little bit seasick. Maybe if he could just lie down for a little while...

Dear God he thought don't let me die in the dollar store parking lot.

Increasingly desperate he looked to the pickup for help. All four doors were open, the occupants scattered. So much for the cavalry. After a fashion he became aware that he was staring off into nothing, his thoughts fading like shaking the Etch-A-Sketch he'd had as a kid. Like looking into a muted blizzard of television screen with no signal. As if through borrowed ears he registered voices, none of them familiar through the static wash.

A pair of boots appeared before him. Mike followed the legs attached to the boots. A bearded man in wraparound sunglasses, carrying a pumpgun and wearing a black tactical vest. For some reason it seemed of vital importance that his boots were snakeskin. Mike's attention drifted down to the upturned toes. Fancy, whoever he was. Shades only shook his head and walked out into the middle of the street.

Then he seemed to hesitate, to twist in place, and he fell to lie with his face up and his arms spread, legs tangled beneath him. The shotgun clattered on the pavement. This development brought another man running from the entrance of the dollar store; as soon as he came even with the pickup he pitched forward as if thrown down by an invisible tripwire, and once down he did not move.

Shades wasn't done yet. Weakly, looking about like Mike felt, he sought out the shotgun. Inexplicably his eyes remained fixed in the direction of the dumpster as if a man shot twice and with no means to return fire had been his undoing. The lips moved to form words unreadable, and as his searching fingers reached the butt of the gun a small red hole perhaps the diameter of a ballpoint pen printed on his forehead. The hole began to weep, the jaw still working even as the life slipped from the eyes. After a moment the whole body relaxed and moved no more.

Fluid as a hunting tomcat Barry slipped from behind the pickup. With all the concern he might have shown in selecting a candy bar he raised a .22 pistol - one of those Ruger-Lugers, this one with a short length of black tube fixed above the barrel. A sharp crack and he thumped another round into the dead man. Then, as thought it was the most natural thing in the world, he dropped the magazine and replaced it from his back pocket.

No fuss, no muss. Just like that.

God Almighty whispered a voice that might have been Mike's better judgment.

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Thu May 05, 2016 10:57 am

Dear God he thought don't let me die in the dollar store parking lot.

Words to live by . :wink:


And don't mess with Barry from Gulfport !
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by 91Eunozs » Thu May 05, 2016 9:30 pm

Hey, that reminds me. Time to pick up another .22 suppressor before the paperwork gets more complicated in June.

Thanks for another great entry!
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Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
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woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by AeroRat » Thu May 05, 2016 11:30 pm

Suppressors is fun. :crazy:

Image

...though Barry's gun isn't suppressed, just scoped. Probably ought to find a better way to get that across.

edit: Holy crap. Just one more installment and this batch is done. Probably ought to get cracking on that now that I can't hide behind my class schedule anymore. :shock:

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Re: Wilkes County

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Fri May 06, 2016 6:55 am

AeroRat wrote: ... Probably ought to get cracking on that now that I can't hide behind my class schedule anymore. :shock:
In the mean time , Friday seems like a good day for that one moar installment .

Thanks :wink:
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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