December 21, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady sat on the water’s edge looking at the spring’s morning sunlight sparkle off the surface of the lake like a million gems. He inhaled the myriad of fragrances from the plant life awakening from its winter slumber. The birds singing and the insects buzzing with the wind rustling through the trees were like the sounds of a fine symphony to his ears.

"Life," Brady mused inwardly. "This is life."

It was hard to believe that only eleven months ago, death had taken over the land. Now with the sights, sounds and smells of spring in the air, it was hard to believe any of it had happened, but it did. In fact, death was still running rampant. There were pockets like this old summer camp converted into a safe-haven where death was held at bay.

The camp didn’t resemble a summer camp anymore. It looked more like an old colonial fortified town. The log palisade surrounded the twenty plus cabins and various administrative buildings. It looked like pictures of colonial Jamestown out of the history books.

The Pastor and Rabbi motivated their small band to begin converting the barrack like log cabins into individual homes. Doc and Gloria had found the medical building and set up making it into a small clinic. Fortunately, there were plenty of the basic pain relievers and first aid supplies on hand. Everyone ate in the dining hall of the main lodge that the Pastor and Rabbi had also utilized as a meeting hall.

Brady, Nori, and Coop were kept busy with gathering what supplies they could from the military depots on the map that Carl had picked up from the helicopter. Ronald, himself escorted Carl back towards the border so that the FBI agent could complete his task. Carl was optimistic that he could sneak back over the barricades with the information he was sent to get. The old agent figured that his chief would be surprised by how quickly he had finished his mission.

The night before Carl set off, the entire community held a going away party. There wasn’t a dry eye as Carl and Ronald departed. This would be the last time the group from the Ranger cabin would see Carl. Over the last couple of months, he had almost always been with them, and they had all become very close.

Chief Warrant Officer Greg Smith was also proving his worth. He limped around because of his broken leg, which never healed correctly due to the lack of proper medical facilities. Nonetheless, the Apache gunner threw himself into any task with full gusto. It was as if he was trying to work off any sin that may have been attributed to him because of his association with Lt. William Jones.

Over the winter as Brady, Nori, and Coop began gathering the supplies from the abandoned depots, they ran across other pockets of survivors hiding out in the wilderness. Almost all were on the brink of starvation when they were found. The scavenging party would then gather up the survivors and escort them back to the summer camp. By winter’s end, the camp had grown to over one hundred souls.

The sole exception to the starving survivors was an old farmer that Ronald came across after he returned from his escorting mission. The sergeant was now helping with gathering supplies from the military depots when he ran across a farm a few miles south of the old summer camp.

Ronald at first couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that there were cattle and horses grazing out in a field of thawing snow. Ronald stopped the two-ton military truck and just stared for a couple of minutes. After gathering his wits, the sergeant decided to drive up the muddy road to the farmhouse.

Ronald wasn’t even out of the truck when he was greeted by a graying farmer who must have been in his early sixties with a shotgun in his hands.

"Whadya want?" enquired the old man leveling his shotgun at the sergeant.

"Whoa, slow down. I’m not here to cause trouble," Ronald responded raising his hands to show that he wasn’t a threat.

"You’re with the military and you're going to shoo me off my land," shouted the excited man as he pumped a shell into the chamber. "It didn’t work last time and it won’t this time!"

Sergeant Greene’s eyes widen in surprise as he instinctively raised his hands even higher.

"I’m not here to take you off your land. In fact, I’m kind of stuck here myself!"

The old farmer looked at Greene quizzically and lowered the shotgun a little.

"I don’t know what you're talking about," the farmer replied. "I’ve been in the dark after the power went out."

With that, Ronald quickly spelled out the situation and began to tell the tale of his and his companions’ adventures after the quarantine. The farmer in turn introduced himself as Henry Rhodes. He had refused to leave his land or let the military take his livestock when they were evacuating everyone. After that, Henry didn’t leave his land. He was pretty self-sufficient and had been able to run the farm on his own.

The two men talked and discussed their various problems well into the night. Henry confided that he was low on fuel and would likely need hands to help farm his land if he had to use traditional methods. Ronald promised him help if he would feed the growing community to the north. An agreement was struck and Henry was soon in charge of farm hands and a few men acting as security for the farm.

Now spring was in full bloom. Sarge had set up a local militia that included everyone over the age of fourteen. Every militia person had a rifle and sidearm for which he or she was responsible. Some with prior military experience were in charge of the heavier hardware. They were constantly in a state of training, which was included into their daily chores. Only a certain number of the militia was activated at one time on a rotating basis, but if there was trouble, they all could be called up in a moments notice.

By now, many of the depots that hadn’t been destroyed by the military were now stripped of everything of value. Much of it was now being stored in various buildings at the camp. However, Brady, Nori, and Coop were still being sent out on gathering missions. Now they would be looking for other supplies. Supplies one can only find in towns. Towns that could be occupied by trigger happy survivors, power hungry gangs, and/or the dreaded undead.

"Hey, Brady!" yelled Nori as she ran up to Brady as he was sitting on the lake’s bank.

"Yeah," responded the young man as he craned his head around to look at Nori.

"We’ve got work to do you know," giggled the Japanese girl. "We are supposed to head down to that town and raid the library."

Brady shuddered. That town was the very same one they entered less than a year ago. This was the same town where Brady feared that a zombie bit Nori. He came very close to killing her that day. The only name that Brady could remember was the one spray painted on the welcoming sign that said, "Terra Mortis, pop. Dead."

Brady was driving the 1955 Red Dodge truck. He was now much better at driving a stick now. He took pride in how he could now shift gears without the annoying sound of him grinding the gears. That was something that would get him a dirty look from George whenever the mechanic heard it. This was then generally followed by a lecture on how scarce spare parts were for old trucks.

Coop sat in the middle between Nori and Brady. The young boy, now eleven, was as valuable to the team as anyone was. Brady and Nori insisted that Coop be allowed to come along on their scavenging raids when at first Ronald suggested maybe Coop should stay behind. This, of course made Thomas Cooper beam with pride as he was beginning to feel ostracized when he was constantly being left behind to "baby sit" Greg at the cabin. Consequently, Coop and Greg became pretty close. Greg reminded Coop a lot of his big brother.

Nori, as usual chatted about anything that came to her head on the drive to the town. As they passed the charred remains of the old farmhouse where a large group of zombies attacked them nearly a year ago everyone fell silent. Brady unconsciously slowed down to look as they passed.

The old farmhouse had burned itself down to its foundation. The old barn still had its doors open, but the most surprising thing was what wasn’t there. There were no human remains. Brady, Sarge, and Coop had killed scores of the undead and there should have been something of their remains even now. Not even scavengers would touch the tainted remains of a zombie according to the report that Ronald had retrieved. Only humans could completely dispose of all the remains, which meant living people had been here after them.

That wasn’t surprising seeing as how they found so many people hiding in the woods this last winter. However, that meant that the town may be occupied and that called for greater caution. There was no telling what kind of reception they could expect.

"Nori, keep a sharp lookout. You too Coop."

Everyone in the truck kept his or her eyes pealed as Brady continued driving down the abandoned road. Brady slowed down so that they could spot trouble before they ran into it. He glanced down at the fuel gauge; he had plenty of gas. Gas was strictly rationed at the camp for use only on scavenging raids. Even Henry Rhodes would have to use his horses to pull the old plow he still had in his barn.

"Look over there!" shouted Coop as he pointed down the road.

Brady and Nori saw it almost as quickly as Coop. There hanging off a telephone pole along the side of the road was a person crucified to the crossbeams. Brady stopped the truck and everyone jumped out. As they approached the pole, they noticed that further down the road was another body this time hanging from the neck slightly swaying in the wind. There was another further down; this one also hanging and another. The ravens were already starting to peck the decaying flesh from their bones.

Brady was aghast as he counted about twenty people hanging from the telephone poles. Only one was crucified and that was the one above them. All the victims appeared to be young men and women all in their twenties.

"Brady this one is alive!" Coop shouted as he pointed up at the crucified young man.

Brady looked up and could see that the young man was struggling to breathe. He would eventually die from fluids filling his own lungs. Brady studied Roman history and knew all about their torture methods. Crucifixions was a tortuous death, and it could take days to die. This one must have been the leader, and he was meant to watch his companions die from strangulation by being hung.

Quickly Brady scrambled up the steel pins pounded into the pole’s side that were to help utility people climb for repairs. He doubted that any repairperson would have thought a year ago that these very poles would be used for a barbaric execution.

As Brady reached the top, he could hear the man’s laborious breathing. At least he was breathing and that meant life Brady noted.

"Everything is going to be all right," Brady consoled the man as he began to tie a rope around the young man’s torso. He tossed the other side over the crossbeams.

"Coop, Nori grab the rope and prepare to lower him down after I untie his legs and arms," ordered Brady.

After five minutes, Brady was back down on the ground next to the young man. Nori and Brady lifted the young man into the bed of the truck. Nori and Coop climbed into the bed next to the barely conscious man.

"What’s your name? What happened?" asked Nori.

"Nathan Perl," the young man hoarsely choked out. "It was the hoard."

Posted by deg at December 21, 2005 7:21 PM

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