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River of Night: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 19:23 EDT



    In the months since they arrived, Paul and Kendra had been a sometimes item. It began as two people with a lot in common finding simple comfort in each others’ company. She’d been scared and lonely and he had been lonely and, well, horny. Paul recognized that crises and catastrophes can stir human emotions and that he was as susceptible to it as the next man. So he decided to embrace the possibility that something might be there. He’d been delighted to find that he’d guessed right.

    Since the meeting where Kendra had unexpectedly briefed the group on behalf of Kohn’s big picture, that had ended. Up to that point, Paul allowed himself to feel closer to her. That made her decision hurt all the more.

    They’d built a habit of sitting together before breakfast. They hadn’t shared a bed in almost a week, but this ritual persisted, though the picnic table was damp and uncomfortably hard.

    “How can you work for her, Jonesy?” Paul said, squeezing Kendra’s hand as he spoke. “She’s running a scam that will end up with her in charge, that’s all!”

    “Someone has to be in charge, Paul,” Kendra said, her face miserable. “You won’t do it. She will. She says that she can help us all work together. She’s already figured out how to get the townies to genuinely contribute.”

    In the week since the initial acknowledgment that both central management and a plan beyond “wait for others from the bank to show up” was needed, Kohn had suggested and the council approved changes to their routine. One detail was to begin to carefully scout their immediate area, avoiding contact with anyone, but noting the location of possible supplies and other survivors.

    “Once we are properly secure in our own right, we will again look to help as many others as we can.” Kohn had proclaimed. “But first we must reestablish our own civilization.”

    “What about the bank, the long term plan?” Paul replied insistently, squinting into the first orange rays of sunlight. “We’re supposed to plan ahead. To be ready to rebuild.”

    “Bank?” Kendra said, yanking her hand away. “What bank? The bank that we last saw on fire?”

    Stung, Paul reared back.

    “The people that vaccinated you,” he pointed out. “The people that evacuated you!”

    “You mean the people that murdered plague victims and extorted me?” she replied, just as angry. “Oh, those people. That bank.”

    “I never exto-” Paul began.

    “‘What do you think Train Smith will do to someone that puts his plan at risk?'” Kendra said, not quite sing-songing his much earlier words back to him. “I didn’t forget your warning. You shouldn’t forget it either.”

    They stared at one another for a moment before Paul looked away.

    “Yeah, I said it,” he said, more softly. “And it was right. It was true. Then. If you’d tried, Smith would have locked you inside the building and no lie. And you powered through. You survived.”

    She didn’t reply but scooted a little bit further away from him.

    The gray dawn was lightening faster and around them the camp was stirring. The breakfast crew was neatly stripping the prepacked meals from their containers and sorting them according to desirability. Condiments were placed in communal bowls to avoid wastage. The pots of water were waiting to boil.

    Paul reached towards her lap, laying his hand top of hers, without grabbing.

    “I’m sorry that I scared you.” he said, trying to reconnect. “I’m sorry that all this terrible stuff happened. Even the best possible decisions were sometimes not particularly good. But I know this…”

    He struggled to find words as Kendra looked up into his face. The St. Joshua medallion that he’d given her swung from a chain he’d shortened for her, and caught his eye with a silver twinkle.

    “When we are together, really together, I feel better.” he said, attempting to finish his thought. “I don’t want to lose that. You want to work with Kohn, well, okay. We’ve been working with her all along. But, you have to be careful about Kohn. She is… not right.”

    He tapped his own skull with one spatulate finger, emphasizing his point.

    “Not right how, exactly?” Kendra said, sweeping a wing of hair back over one ear. “I know that she was involved in the vaccine production, but so were the cops, the bank, everyone.”

    “I mean, not quite right in the head,” Paul answered. He slicked one hand over his scalp, self consciously. “She has a record. She was convicted as a juvenile, but she did some terrible things. She doesn’t really care about other people and I know that she’s capable of cold-blooded violence. That’s part of why she worked with Smith. He agonized about harvesting human spines. It bothered her not a whit.”

    “Do you have any proof?” replied Kendra. “She’s always rational when I’m around her.”

    “I didn’t say irrational,” Paul answered, and then immediately regretted it. Every time they argued, Kendra would end by telling him that she was tired of him contradicting her. “I mean, being dangerous and being rational aren’t mutually exclusive. Besides, there’s no proof of anything anymore, not here at least.”

    “Then I should get the chance to judge what you think happened,” Kendra said curtly and then stood. “And even then, she has a plan to find a way for us to survive with what we’ve got. That was good enough when it was ‘Train’ Smith making life or death decisions. Now that it’s Kohn, you have cold feet?”

    Paul didn’t answer immediately because there was someone approaching.

    The lean blonde woman was another New York City survivor. Smith had collected her from the disaster at Last Concert and offered her a seat out. Her boyfriend hadn’t made it out of Washington Square. An oversize BotA sweatshirt hid most of her spare frame.

    She stopped a few steps away and shot them a quick look from under her hood.

    “Hi,” she said, somewhat diffidently. “Ms. Kohn asked me to find you, Kendra. She asked if you could come see her after breakfast.”

    “Sure, I can do that, Christine,” Kendra replied brightly as she held out her hand to the newcomer. “I was just going to go eat now. Join me?”

    Paul watched them walked away, arm in arm.



    Tom Smith squinted through the windshield and then back in his side mirrors. Both Chevys were a light metallic blue, and Durante was keeping the second vehicle an easy fifty meters back from the lead truck. The sun shone in the driver’s side window as Tom headed south on the first leg of the trek, skirting Petersburg.

    The group in the car was silent, looking at the wreckage of the civilization that lay along their route.

    “Remember, keep your eyes peeled for a book store or a Walmart,” Tom said, raising his voice over the stereo. They’d indulged the younger set on their music initially, and Tom was beginning to regret the decision.

    “What?” someone asked from the back seat.

    “I said,” Tom said, twisting the volume knob down on the singer who was caterwauling about tanks and bombs and more bombs and guns. Once he was sure he could be understood, he repeated himself, “Check any strip malls or businesses you see for a book store or a Walmart.”

    Giving the passengers something to do would go part of the way of taking their mind off the depressingly common human carrion that littered the roadside. “We can use some paper maps.”

    “We’ve got that GPS, don’t we?” replied Katrin, gesturing to a functioning Garmin handheld sitting in its dash cradle. “Can’t we just use that?”

    Katrin had continued to stay engaged with the adults of the party. All of the kids were missing their families, but Katrin and her sidekick Eric were bouncing back the fastest.

    “Yeah, I know how to use my dad’s,” offered Eric, wistfully eyeing the stereo right next to the Garmin.

    “I’m kind of with her, boss,” said Fat Ralph from the very rear most seat. “Let’s just get to your bank site, ASAP.”

    “I’m not going rely solely on GPS if I don’t have too,” said Tom, stretching and rolling his shoulders as he drove. “Frankly, I am not sure why this thing is still working.”

    “Why not?” asked Risky, riding shotgun. “The satellites have solar power, yes? They will run till they wear out.”

    “It isn’t the satellites that I am surprised about, exactly,” Tom said, glancing over for a moment. “The accuracy of each GPS satellite relies on getting precise clock updates and occasionally ephemeris corrections. Those come from ground stations. If the accuracy drops below a certain threshold figure, the receiver rejects the satellite.”

    He gestured with his chin at the GPS receiver, keeping both hands on the wheels as he smoothly dodged around a stalled school bus. He carefully avoided looking inside as they passed.

    “That thing says we have a five-satellite fix. So, at least one or two of the ground stations is still up and manned by uninfected people. Places like Colorado Springs have stations, but also island bases like Kwajelin and Ascension. I am betting that is the answer. Whoa…”

    He added that last as another naked infected loomed from behind a stopped big rig. It stretched for the SUV even as Tom adjusted their course to drive on the shoulder.

    “Uggggh!” exclaimed Eric. “Can’t we just, I don’t know, shoot them or something?”

    “Are not enough bullets anywhere that I know of for us to shoot all the zombies,” Risky said as she looked over her left shoulder towards the teen who was craning her neck to see out the back window. “We must save bullets for emergencies.”

    The secondary road had plenty of stopped cars, but they maintained a comfortable twenty mile an hour pace and the infected quickly lost interest, disappearing in the rear view mirror. Durante stayed in his wake.

    Tom had spread his cadre of shooters across both cars and was driving the first shift personally. The car was tightly packed, and although the kids and teachers took up little room, the fully equipped adults were very bulky in their armor, festooned about with pouches and weapons.

    “Um, Mr. Smith?” Dina Bua’s voice came from the very rear of the vehicle. “Can we stop soon? I have to use the ladies’.”

    Before Tom could answer, someone else’s voice rang out.

    “Are you serious!” Cathe Astroga said, jumping in. “We haven’t even been driving for forty-five minutes and everyone was told to go just before we left!”

    “I didn’t have to go then!” snapped Bua. “Besides, its different, women-“

    “You can take a leak when I do, lady!” Astroga said as she pulled a taser from her MOLLE. “Remember my leetle friend? She says you can wait another forty-five minutes!”

    “Smith, are you going to let her keep threatening me!” demanded the irate school teacher. “Besides, you have to pull over now! I’m not even kidding!”

    “Can’t stop just now, but I’ll watch for a suitable place,” Tom said as he kept his eyes on the road. However, he reached for the handheld to let Durante know about a pending stop.



    “Butchers?” wailed Bua, unfamiliar with Australian slang.

    Risky unbuckled and turned around so she could look straight at complainer.

    “Look at me,” Risky said very calmly. “I’m not driving for the next four hundred miles with you behaving like this. Your student is fine. I’m fine. Private, sorry, Specialist Astroga is fine.”

    “All of us are women,” Risky continued “You’ll wait. And if you make Smith pull over, I’ll ensure that you regret it.”

    “Yeah!” Astroga said, waggling the taser.

    Tom hung his head just a minuscule amount.

    Four hundred miles.

    Eric stretched his arm out and turned the volume back up and the music filled the car again.

    “What’s in your head, in your head, zombie-zombie-zombiee-ee-eee!”



    The town was quiet and the forty or so survivors were clustered on the steps of a local Civil War monument. They stood under the guns of the Green’s crew, quietly looking around the security ring. The infected presence had been almost entirely shot out, and scores of naked, bloody corpses were in view. As ever, the stench of decomposition lay heavily on the square, adding to the oppressiveness of the southern humidity.

    Eva O’Shanessy stood on the steps leading up from the bust of a long dead Confederate general. Her black outfit was dirty and there were some drying, red splashes on a heavy, long coat that she was experimenting with as improvised protection against bites. She’d learned that a coat was no protection if you weren’t wearing it, so it stayed on despite the warmth of the day.

    “Listen up, you primitive screwheads!” Eva said, holding the megaphone in one hand. “For those who haven’t figured it out yet, there’s new management here in the town of…”

    She looked nonplussed for a moment, then leaned down towards Loki.

    “Where are we, again?” she said, whispering.

    “Gatlinburg.” Loki answered impassively.

    “The town of Gatlinburg,” Eva said, addressing the audience again. “We’re gonna be organizing things from now on. More people are on the way to live and work here, at least for a while. You’re going to work here too. Mr. Green…”

    She gestured to the slightly built, armored man already stalking the edge of the group of townsfolk. Green was inspecting the nervous crowd like a farmwife simultaneously eyeing her chickens while testing the edge on a carving knife. There was the usual distribution of survivors. They ranged from a superannuated grandmother type down to a few small children who sheltered in the arms of an attractive middle-aged woman whose blue die job was growing out, revealing golden blonde hair.

    “…has decided to place this town under his protection, and you’ll benefit in the following ways.” She started ticking off points on her fingers. “One. We’ll kill all the zombies. Two. We’ll protect you against anyone that tries to take your stuff or harm you. Three. We’ll improve the food and medicine situation. Four. Shit, three is enough, don’t you think?”

    One man, braver or perhaps stupider than the rest, called out.

    “What’s it going to cost us?”

    “I’m glad that you asked,” Eva replied, smiling at the questioner. “Nothing’s free in this world. We’ll take what we need from whoever we must to in order to carry out Mr. Green’s promises to you. So, some of your personal belongings might be gleanings, see? Helps everyone stay alive. Share and share alike, right?”

    “That’s it, you just want some stuff?” the objector said, sounding pretty relieved. “There’s all kinds of stuff. More stuff than people, in fact.”

    He wasn’t wrong.

    Everywhere that Harlan Green’s growing raider parties went, they found a surfeit of durable supplies. Many, indeed most people were reaped by the zombie virus before could eat all of their supplies or burn all of their fuel. Those that had lived long enough to exhaust their supplies usually died when looking for more. In long term cases, food seemed to go first, then ammunition and fuel. Consumables weren’t rare, but they were increasingly scare.

    But so-called valuables such as gold, jewelry or luxury cars? No one could eat diamond engagement rings or McLaren sport coupes. Help yourself. Take as many as you like. Cash? Mostly litter.

    The circle of security included six of Green’s lieutenants and another two dozen low ranking gunmen. These were early converts who were still on their best behavior. They had come from towns where the Gleaners had already passed. Their low numbers were offset by their armament, mostly consisting of break-open or pump shotguns. They lacked the full protection and armor of Green’s inner circle, but their armament sufficed to clear low densities of zombie areas and intimidate other survivors.

    Most pertinently, their shotguns weren’t a real threat to the full plates that Green had already scavenged for his immediate staff, who also carried military grade weapons.

    “Stuff? Well, about that,” the sole female Gleaner said, drawling out her words. “What Mr. Green really needs is your work. So, he’s gonna need you, personally.”

    She stabbed a gloved finger at the survivor and then people standing close to him. “And you, and you and…”

    She searched the group of thirty survivors more closely, and picked out a rosy cheeked pre-teen boy.

    “… and especially you.” Eva smiled evilly.



    “No, we are not listening to an extended didgeridoo solo!” Durante yelled, pounding his fist on the steering wheel.

    “It’s my turn to pick,” answered Astroga, smirking. “And I pick this.”

    “A fifteen minute set of didgeridoo noise does not count as one song,” Durante said angrily.

    “Well, we could go back to ‘Hey Jude'”, the Specialist replied.

    “Oh-my-God, Astroga!”



    “Do you think that Risky holds a grudge?” Ralph said, whispering to Sacks. “She might think that we were backing Joey T. over the Boss.”

    The convoy had pulled over, inside a little copse of trees. The survivors had learned to take advantage of every stop to use the bathroom. Or in this case, the slit trench.

    “Does the pope wear a funny hat?” the second former Cosa Nova shooter replied. “You dumbass, of course she holds a grudge. Hey, pass me that bag.”

    Sacks gestured to a kit bag from which a roll of TP printed with pink bears was peeking out.

    “Sure, but I was just laying there, bleeding,” said Fat Ralph, protesting. Fat Ralph was actually about thirty pounds lighter than he had been at the start of the boat ride. “It’s not like I was Two-Tone, what lit up the dock with the machine gun, or Lugnut, what drove the boat.”

    “Yeah, you was practically a victim, right?” sneered Sacks. “The New Thing is dead. What we got here is a chance to go straight.”

    He glanced over the screen of bushes that screened the latrine area that Durante had designated for the stop. No one seemed to be interested that the two of them were taking their time.

    “We’re on probation, see?” Sacks said, chopping the air with his good hand. “The next screw up and we aren’t gonna get probation, if you know what I mean. Me? I’m gonna put out, get me a new name. This Smith guy is way smarter than Joey T.”

    He glanced over the bushes again.

    “Yeah, but what if she gets, you know, mad? I don’t want to get the chop like those other assholes what she blew away with that fucking RPK. I didn’t even know she could shoot!”

    Sacks glared at him and then looked over the hedge to see if anyone had overheard. 

    Risky was talking to Tom and the scary guy special forces dude named Durante. The three were standing in a building courtyard looking at bullet holes in the side of the second truck.

    Sacks looked back at Ralph.

    “Shut your fucking pie hole,” he said. “How fucking stupid are you? She spent weeks with that Smith guy, rolling around in the BERTs. She made it through the fight with the cops. At least now you’re smart enough to know not to piss her off.”

    He glanced again, and then shook the toilet paper at his companion.

    “So don’t fuck this up, capisce?”



    Risky was making a point of listening into the impromptu war councils, and no one was objecting.

    “We got lucky, Tom,” Durante said as he ran his finger across the small hole in the front fender. “Small caliber. Poked a hole in the exhaust manifold, which won’t stop the engine. That one…”

    He pointed to a starred hole in the passenger’s window.

    “Even luckier. Six inches left or right and it’s a head shot.”

    “No way to avoid it, Gravy,” Smith said, rubbing his chin. “No road block, no warning shot, no signs, just the first impact and a few second later, the window.”

    “We need a plan for losing a vehicle,” Risky said. “We need to know what we do if we get hit again. We need extra parts. The average distance per day is less than we expected.”

    She wrinkled her nose as the slow breeze brought the odor of decomposition from inside the adjacent structure. Their vehicles had remained outside, engines running, while the clearance team had swept the farmhouse, barn and sheds. There had been a medium sized family forted up inside, at least until one had turned and the rest had suicided. The compound made a nearly ideal lay up point, screened from direct observation and yet equipped with adequate sight lines and internal space. There was even a hand pump fed well.

    Kaplan was supervising Sacks and Fat Ralph as they used garbage cans to move the human remains into one room.

    “I know, Risky,” Tom said. It was the first time he’d her nickname and she carefully concealed her reaction. Tom went on. “I really wanted another Suburban, but it isn’t like we can go car shopping at the Chevy dealer.”

    The former residents of this farm had left behind several vehicles, including a Winnebago, a Volvo wagon and a really rusty Chrysler sedan. So far, no one had found the keys, not that the older cars’ ignitions presented a real obstacle to hot-wiring.

    “We want to get to our next SAFE as fast as we can.” He held up one hand and began folding down fingers as he listed option. “So, do we drive the shortest route, probably with more risk? Do we look for more equipment or even people so mitigate that risk? Do we go in whatever direction we have to in order to push risk as close to zero as we can, and accept a longer route and more time on the road?”

    He paused at the approach of Kristen, Eric and Cheryl, each walking awkwardly under the weight of a full five gallon water can. Astroga walked at the end of the line, her rifle slung but with one hand on the pistol grip. She smiled as they drew near but didn’t interrupt.

    “We’re not a war party,” Gravy said as he patted the fender. “Lots of civilians with us. Slow and steady wins the race.”

    Risky didn’t contradict him, but she didn’t agree either.



    “Let’s get settled and then we can have a group meeting tonight before we turn in,” Tom said and then faced the teens. “Hey, kids, can I give you a hand?”



    Camp chores had to be completed before nightfall in order to avoid creating any light that would betray their presence to any hunting packs of infected.

    Prior to last light, Smith called in the entire party.

    “Okay everyone, we’re having a quick briefing on how things went today and what to expect tomorrow,” he stated. “After today’s sniper, it’s obvious we need to be ready for additional incidents. I asked Gravy and Kapman to put their heads together and come up with a balance of simplicity and efficiency. Both of them have worked extensively in the field and we’ll all have a role to play.”

    He paused and looked at Durante.

    “Things we did right,” Durante said. “We didn’t stop in the danger area and we got off the X when the sniper took his shots.”

    “What X do you speaking of?” Risky asked. “Like intersection?”

    “The X is the spot where the enemy tries to pin you,” Durante replied. “Special operations types, shooters in general, use the term to refer to the focal point of any ambush or attack.”

    “So get off the X means be anywhere but where enemy wants you?” Risky said. “And maybe the place where you want enemy to be?”

    “Right, but you want to do it on purpose,” Durante answered. “Today we got lucky, and while I’ll take lucky over good any day, freaky stuff can happen in a fight. Luck always plays a role. Guns jam, engines stall on a bit of bad fuel or someone loses their mind and charges into the middle of the action. This time, luck means that the bullets didn’t disable the Suburban or one of us. However, you can’t always count on luck, so teams usually practice, a lot, to remove random change from the equation as much as possible.”

    “Like RN-Jesus?” offered Eric, wrinkling his nose.

    “Who- what?” replied Durante, looking at the formerly chubby teen.

    “He means ‘Random Number Generator – Jesus’,” Astroga said, translating for Eric. “Kids and gamers use it to describe random weird stuff that happens in video games. The RNG part of the game creates a gotcha factor, and when it happens in your favor, it means video game Jesus, RN-Jesus, was looking out for you. Man, who doesn’t know that?”

    For the benefit of the kids, she silently mouthed “Old Dude” while pointing at Durante.

    “Um, riggght. Moving on, we don’t have the time or a place to practice,” the tall security specialist said. “So the focus will be on having quick attach and release tow points rigged to drag a truck if we need to, spread loading both our weapon types and shooters and ensuring that we fill the driver spots with the most qualified people.”

    “What does that mean for us?” asked Emily “I mean Dina, the kids and I don’t shoot and we don’t drive.”

    “Everyone’s a spotter,” Durante replied. “The kids have great eyes and during the morning drive, the drivers will explain how to call out directions from the trucks. Tom, Kap, Worf and I will rotate through the left seat. Risky, Astroga, Ralph and Sacks – sorry – Vinnie, will rotate at shotgun. We’ll spread the remaining people among the trucks.”

    “That’s it?” asked Vinnie. “I mean, no disrespect an’ all, but we used’ta do more coordination that that just to drive into da’ city, back with Matricardi.”

    “Like I said,” Durante said, exasperated. “No. Time. To. Practice. The goal is to get to the next safe place as safely as we can. On a good day, we could be there in a few hours. With this mess…” He tossed his head to one side, indicating the world in general. “we’re going to keep having to backtrack. It’s worse than I expected, and so it’s going to take longer. That means more gas. More clean water. And we need to keep our eyes open for maps because this digital crap isn’t giving us any useful detail.”

    “We’ll be considering a scavenging stop tomorrow,” Tom said, punctuating Durante’s comment. “If we see anything worth the delay.”

    Then he looked to Sacks. “Everyone is going to pull their weight,” Tom said.

    The swarthy Sicilian held his hands up, deprecatingly.

    “Anything to add, Kap?” Tom said, looking back over to Kaplan.

    “Nothing special,” the shorter man said, shifting a toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Everybody use the honey hole first thing in the morning. Last person fills it in. Keep your eyes open. Less useless yapping. Sing out if you see something.”

    Tom looked around the circle but no one signaled a desire to speak.

    “Okay, then,” he said, tapping Durante again. “Gravy has the watch schedule. Two awake at all times. Keep noise to a minimum. No unshielded white light. Everyone should get some rest while they can. No way to predict how much you’ll get during the day.”



    Jason Young ignored the faint, ever present waft of rot. Ditto, biting insects. Hard won practice also allowed him to ignore the physical discomfort of perching immobile in a tree for hours. The hunger was harder to suppress and threatened his focus. He’d learned that of all the difficulties of the Fall could be navigated if you had clean water and a full stomach. Almost everything else was a luxury. Thirst and hunger drove hasty decisions and clouded judgment.

    A single bad call could mean death, especially to a man traveling alone.

    Jason, formerly a cop with the Williamsburg PD, had been traveling alone for a long time. He’d thought that the absence of human contact would bring peace, would allow him to forget some of his choices. But lately he’d begun to detach from reality a bit too much. Questioning why he was bothering to survive was one symptom.

    Taking chances was another.

    He willed the distractions away and focused, watching the end of the hunt.

    They’d been at it for almost an hour.

    Not far from his tree, two zombies continued to growl and snap at each other as they circled a third, which was crawling very slowly across the dry, crunchy grass in what previously had been a nicely groomed tot lot. The good news was that since no other infected had come to see what the fuss was about, these two were probably alone. The bad news was that they were between him and the buildings he intended to scout. Smaller towns were safer than larger cities, offering much easier routes in and if need be, out. However, zombies liked being indoors too. A few times, he’d stumbled across singletons and small groups and very quietly snuck away. During periods of quiet, they seemed to lapse into torpor unless roused, making them hard to detect until it was almost too late. Jason had stopped looking through ruins at night as a result.

    Scouting the darkened interior of a building and waiting to see if you surprised a nest was… contrary to survival.

    So far, the best way to check empty buildings seemed to be to watch them at daybreak. Generally, infected stirred at first light, some instinct tying their hunt to an older rhythm. Usually no movement meant no active zombies.


    These foragers were unusually lively. One would charge a few steps, often earning a swipe from the prey, and then retreat. The second would ape the first. Lather, rinse and repeat. If one infected stopped to dispatch the weakening cripple, it would be vulnerable to the third.

    The cycle had persisted longer than Jason expected.

    “Way too much energy for anyone to have before coffee.” He thought to himself. “I dub you hyper-gits Thing One and Thing Two.” It was a rare bit of post Fall humor for the lone man.

    A few times Jason had wondered why he kept pushing in this God forsaken land. He turned his back on duty, everyone had, why keep fighting? It would be easy to let go. He still had some ammunition. He even had some rat poison that he used to salt the occasional fresh corpse, reducing the zombie population by a little more. He didn’t have to eke out this life for… what? He couldn’t say.

    Yet he couldn’t help pushing, every step taking him farther away from D.C. and the crawling suburbs which spread all around it. Every day further away from the horror. At first, he had tried to help, here and there. Early on he had joined a missionary caravan as a guard. He narrowly escaped when it disintegrated in the middle of the night. He’d watched families turn, brother killing brother, like Cain murdering Abel. After that, he avoided other survivors. Mostly, he walked or cycled. In suburbs, there were plenty of bikes.

    His calf throbbed. He ignored that too. Salvage from big hospitals was a no-go. He sampled smaller hospitals and clinics, eventually giving up. He told himself it was because the infected density was too high. Still, he tried not to think of the gruesome scenes where zombies had made kills in rooms with bed-ridden patients.

    On the playground, the two hale zombies had decided to share the rations, but skipped the nicety of waiting for their prey to fully expire. He shut his ears to the sounds of the feast. Usually zombies were quiet, but when provoked they grunted, howled or roared inarticulately. They were still human animals. They could still scream. Especially when they were in pain.


    He considered his options. Use two of his remaining rounds and risk drawing zombies from further away? Wait these two out and hope that they didn’t lie up nearby? His stomach growled.

    One of the big changes of the Fall was how quiet everything was. No motors, no air conditioning hum, no car stereo, no aircraft overhead, no muted freeway rushing in the distance, no TV droning through an open window.

    Just the silence of a dead civilization. And the screams of the zombies’ prey.

    As the screaming tapered, Jason was startled by the sound of a car engine. Though it sounded surprising close, habit prevented him from jerking his head around. Sudden motion drew attention. Carefully, he used his eyes to scan for movement, but the foliage obstructed his view. The vehicle drew close enough that he could hear tires licking pavement. A car door opened.

    “Just these two?” A man’s voice, clear as a bell.

    Below, Thing One lifted a blood stained muzzle, growling over its meal.

    “Gimme a sec. I’m looking.” Another man. “Yeah, all I see are these two.”

    “Dump them, and we can scan for survivors from those trees up the hill.”

    Two muted bangs, and Thing Two looked up angrily as its erstwhile partner slumped across the eating area. Moments later, its head flew apart messily.

    “Who’s a good zombie?” cooed a new voice. A woman.

    Jason held very still as cars doors slammed and the vehicle moved a short distance away before shutting down.

    He considered his options.

    These three seemed… competent.



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