Brady West was trying to relax at the family summer cabin deep in the Cascades. The sun was shining for a change, a nice change from Washington's usual rainfall. He often came here to get away from the busy and hectic life in Seattle. This cabin has always been a place of comfort in Brady's life and now was a time when he really needed some comfort. Especially when he would have to tell his parents that he had just flunked out of college.
Three years of aimless academic pursuit finally culminating in failure. "Yeah, the old man is going to flip over this one," Brady thought to himself.
His parents always wanted Brady to be more responsible and make something of his life. Finally, his father proposed that either he go to the University of Washington or join the military. Brady chose U of W over the military. He wasn't too anxious to be sent to the Middle East to either kill or be killed in some remote desert town. "Hell, the old man even promised to pay for everything if I would just get a degree in anything," Brady mused.
Nevertheless, after borrowing over a hundred thousand dollars for school, Brady failed. This failure meant more than just another lecture from his successful surgeon of a father, but also the entire cost accrued during those three years. There was no way his father was going to pay for his failure once again.
Well, it would be another couple of months before his parents would even notice that he was no longer at school. They seldom kept in touch save for the occasional email. In the meantime, he could stay at the family summer cabin. It was more than the usual summer retreat that most well to do families had in this area. In fact, this cabin was built by his great grandfather as a year round residence. There was an old water pump in the rear and deeper in the woods was the old outhouse. The trail occasionally had to be cut back because of the rapidly encroaching foliage. Fortunately, the cabin had been upgraded with modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing. The old wood burning stove was still the only source of heat though. The cabin offered a great deal of seclusion being off a rarely used gravel road on thirty acres of land.
Brady's grandfather had added a lot onto the original cabin after he retired from the railroad and had decided to spend the rest of his life up here away from the sprawling city. As a lonely widower Brady's grandfather found the seclusion welcoming. The cabin sported two stories. On the ground floor was the living room in front of the kitchen/dining room. Windows lined the wooden walls letting in a lot of natural sunlight. There were a set of stairs that ran up to the second story balcony. The balcony itself led to the two bedrooms and the bathroom on the upper stories. Across from the balcony high on the wall over the living room were the mounted animal heads from the various animals that Brady's grandfather loved to hunt.
This cabin had many amenities; there was a well-stocked pantry, a radio, television, and even a telephone. If he wanted to access the internet, he could use the dial-up modem for his computer. His father never believed in getting Wi-Fi or a cable modem for the cabin when one was supposed to be getting away from it all. It was quite a big deal when the television was brought into the cabin. Of course, there was no cable or satellite; there were just some local stations that he could tune in with the old aerial. It was far from the lifestyle Brady was used to but it was far better than living on the streets, which may very well be his future after he was disowned by his father. So until the time when everything came crashing down around his ears, he would enjoy one last summer as a hermit.
Being alone wasn't something new to Brady. He was an only child to a father who was always at the hospital and a mother who ran her own flower shop. Brady's mother used to bring him to the shop to watch over him before he entered kindergarten. He would always play in the back of the shop with his toys. Rarely was he able to play with the few friends he had as a youth. From grade school through high school, he tended to stay to himself. Of course, being one who tended to spend his free time reading outside or in the school library studying there was a lot of teasing and being bullied. College was better because it was very easy to get lost in the crowd. It was seldom that he would have more than one class with the same person.
The college courses weren't hard for Brady. He was actually a very bright young man. However, finishing anything wasn't something he did. The simple task of just turning in homework was beyond him. This would infuriate his professors to no end. It was obvious that Brady was intelligent from the very high test scores he received, but the lack of turned in work assignments would force the professors to give him marginal at best grades. This finally ended up with Brady winding up on academic probation and finally in flunking out of the university.
The cool breeze flowed in through the open window bringing with it scents of green leaves, budding flowers, and the sounds of chirping birds. "This is a life I could get used to," thought Brady.
Once again, he remembered the letter informing him of his being kicked out of college and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. It was too late now to go back and turn in his homework. "If only I would have just turned in those stupid assignments," Brady thought angrily.
He shook his head and sat down on the couch. He needed something to take his mind off his problems if only it was for a few hours. Kicking his feet up on the coffee table, something that would get him a disapproving look from his mother, and grabbing the remote he flicked on the TV. There was some old sitcom on. Usually he didn't care for these shows but it was better than getting an ulcer worrying about his fate. After a few minutes, Brady found himself chuckling to himself over the antics of the unfortunate castaways on some deserted island. Brady had totally forgotten his troubles when a breaking news report disrupted the broadcast.
The reporter was an attractive middle aged woman sitting behind a desk with the image of a flame with the word "fire" superimposed on the background blue screen. She began, "Sorry, to interrupt your scheduled programming but a terrible fire is burning at the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. We have Terry Lang on site to bring you more information."
"Thank you, Miranda," a young man in white shirt and red tie standing in front of burning complex surrounded by rescue vehicles replied. "I am now in front of the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Authorities have reported that the fire started in one of the test labs at around 6:00 this morning. This fire then spread quickly throughout the building and has been burning through much of the morning. Firefighters are trying desperately to get the blaze under control. Authorities haven't released any names, but they believe there were only a few people inside the building when the fire broke out. I have no information as to whether anyone has gotten out. The firefighters will try to determine the cause of the fire after it is under control. Back to you, Miranda."
The newsroom once again filled the screen. "Terry we at the news desk have heard that this lab was the target of the Animal Liberation Army. Is there any evidence that the A.L.A. may be involved?"
"There was an initial report of a possible break in before the building caught fire, but so far the police and the spokespeople from ColTech are denying this. We know that there had been many protests over ColTech using test animals in the past couple of weeks. Though ColTech denies..." suddenly behind the reporter, a small group of firefighters are seen bringing out a struggling and screaming girl in her twenties. "Just a minute Miranda, there appears to be a young woman being brought out by the firefighters. She looks to be in a lot of pain by the way she is screaming and struggling."
A police officer approaches the reporter and his crew. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to move back."
"Officer, can you tell us what is going on?"
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to move immediately."
Behind the reporter and the police officer, a fireman jumps back holding his arm. "Damn bitch just bit me!"
"Restrain her!" yelled another firefighter.
A paramedic runs over to the firefighter and starts looking at his arm. Another paramedic starts working on the restrained and still struggling and screaming woman. "Get another monitor over here," yells the paramedic bent over the woman, "this one isn't working."
The momentarily distracted police officer turns back to the reporter, "I'm sorry, but you will have to move back now!"
"Miranda, as you can see from the drama unfolding behind us, we'll have to relocate. We'll reestablish contact at our new site."
"Thank you Terry Lang," responds the newscaster back in the newsroom. "Let us recap the facts as we have them. Around 6:00 this morning a fire broke out and quickly spread throughout the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. There may or may not have been a break in by the A.L.A at the plant at the onset of the fire. There were a few people working at the plant, but it is uncertain as to if any are now still in the building. We have just seen one individual brought out and she is now receiving first aid. She has been badly burned... what's that?" Miranda is holding a hand to her ear to help her hear the tiny earphone that is in it. "We will now take you back to the scene with Terry Lang."
The scene returns to Terry standing now much further forward of the rescue vehicles. "Well, Miranda, there is much going on now. We have been asked to move further away from the scene. But as you can see, we can still see the paramedics working on the young woman. She has just been strapped down onto the gurney. She appears to be trying to bite the paramedics and firefighters." The paramedics are seen lifting the gurney to its fully extended position and begin quickly wheeling it to an ambulance.
"Get her to the hospital immediately, these signs have to be wrong!" yells a paramedic, "Her signs are all screwy. She has no pulse and the equipment says that she is DEAD!"
The rain lightly drumming on the roof woke Brady up. It was hard to tell how late he slept-in this morning due to the overcast skies. His hand fumbled around the top of the nightstand trying to grab his watch and in the process knocking his glasses to the floor. "Damn," mumbled Brady.
Finally grabbing his watch, he pulled it close to his face. 11:36 A.M. the watch proclaimed. It was not quite as late as Brady initially thought. He then strapped the watch to his wrist and then gently began searching the floor with his hands for his wayward glasses. If he accidentally broke them, he would be practically blind. Fortunately, it was not long before his glasses were recovered with nothing worse than some fingerprints on the lenses.
Brady took a long shower and then began scrounging around the pantry looking for something that would appeal to him for breakfast. Instant oatmeal was about as much time he wanted to spend cooking. His father absolutely refused to have a microwave at the cabin. So it'll have to be some old fashioned hot water boiled in the coffee pot on the electric range. As the water was starting to heat up Brady turned on the radio. His father loved the oldies so it was still on K-98.5 home of the 50's and 60's.
"This is news on CNN radio, the fire at the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant in Marysville, Washington has been put out. In yesterday's blaze it has been reported that six firefighters are missing and it is feared that they may be trapped inside the plant. Only one person was retrieved of the nine people reported working at the plant. She was reported as suffering from convulsions probably brought on by some of the chemicals in the plant. This is news on CNN radio."
The CNN music died out as the ads started playing. Brady found some instant cocoa and started adding water to a bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate. The CNN music piped back in and the reporter started reporting the news from around the world. After ten minutes of news, the music started playing. It was an old Stones' piece. One thing that Brady shared with his father was a love for classic rock music. They both loved the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Doors.
"Well, I guess something of my father rubbed off on me," Brady thought to himself.
Brady didn't really have ill feelings towards his father. He loved him very much. It was that there were so many regrets. Dr. Herbert West was always at work or on call. It was only two weeks a year that the West family got together and spent the time at the cabin. A time that with increasing frequency was spent with Brady's parents lecturing him and lamenting his seemingly lack of goals and accomplishments. They just didn't understand him. Brady really didn't understand himself.
As the last song died off the announcer started reading the news. "It is 65 degrees here in the downtown area. The rains will continue throughout the day with a 35 percent chance tomorrow. The woman taken to the Marysville hospital yesterday from the ColTech fire has been identified as a local student and a member of the Animal Liberation Army. Her name is being withheld. She is reported to be in critical condition and is in the intensive care unit.
"In other news, a family of five in Marysville has been brutally murdered. Police believe that this is the work of a cult. There doesn't appear to have been a weapon involved and the family members have been partially consumed.
"Now that is sick! We all hope that the person or persons involved are quickly apprehended. If you have any information please call your local police department or call us here at the radio station, K-98.5 your home of the 50's and 60's classic rock."
"Man," thought Brady. "It appears I got of town in time."
After finishing his breakfast, Brady opened up his laptop and plugged the modem into the phone jack. After the annoying electric handshake and the agonizingly slow dial-up connection was complete, Brady accessed his email. About twenty pieces of spam were quickly deleted without a further glance. Another email about his new status or rather lack of it at the University that was also quickly deleted. The last message was from his mother.
"Brady, how are you doing? Your father and I are doing quite well. Maybe you can drop by for dinner sometime this week. I'm sure they can't beat a home cooked meal there on campus. Well, we hope that your summer classes go well. Love, Mom and Dad."
Brady briefly responded saying that he'd be tied up all week with lab and fieldwork. That sounded official enough and should buy him some time before he'd have to make another excuse. He hoped that he could keep them from figuring out his stalling tactics until he could find some way of breaking the news of his failure to his parents without them killing and possibly eating him. "Damn, that wasn't funny," Brady thought.
The announcer's voice broke over the station again. "Hey people! this is not a joke. I've had four people call in claiming that they saw eight people, three of them in firefighter's uniforms leaving the murdered family's house last night. How sick can you be? The tragedy of the fire and this murder isn't something for you people to be joking about. So please get your friends to stop calling in. You are keeping calls with potentially real information from getting into the station. Now, here is Snoopy versus the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen."
Brady turned off the radio. It was getting too depressing listening to it. He was already grappling with his own personal depression without having to deal with the sad state of the world adding its own crappy load to it.
Grabbing a book in his backpack Brady started to lose himself in ancient Roman history. For some reason he had always found history particularly fascinating, especially Roman history. Brady knew more about dead Roman emperors than he did about U.S. presidents from the last ten years. Politics never interested Brady. His parents had differing opinions on this one thing. His father tended to be more conservative and his mother more liberal. Brady supposed it was because that his father came from a well off family where as his mother grew up on very little. Brady's mother every once in awhile would comment on how she got her Christmas presents from the Salvation Army or that her parents would skip a meal so that she and auntie Jane could eat.
The fading light outside made Brady aware that he had spent the last six hours reading his history book.
"I guess I should make some dinner. There should be some mac 'n' cheese in the pantry and I brought up some milk along with the other groceries," thought Brady.
As Brady was getting dinner ready he decided to watch a little TV. He grabbed the remote and hit the "On" button with his thumb. Brady stood there staring at the TV from the kitchen/dinning room while he was preparing dinner.
As the screen warmed up the image of a reporter outside a hospital and in front of a police cordon came into view. It was already dark out and the flashing lights and sirens made the scene even more eerie.
"The hospital has been sealed off," huffed the rapidly speaking reporter, "There have been tales of unspeakable horrors from within. The 911 call from the nurse's station claimed that there was a group of naked and half-clad people butchering and eating the patients from within. Two SWAT teams have taken up position around the hospital and another team has gone in to try and subdue these Cult Killers as they are being called."
Suddenly shots were heard coming from within the building. Brady could only stare transfixed to the screen. "What the hell is going on?" asked Brady. The police in the background started sending in more officers as the fire intensified. Flashes from the muzzles of the guns could be seen in the hospital's darkened windows.
T"here appears to be some sort of gun fight going on. From the intensity of it, this matter should be resolved in short order. We all pray that there will be a minimal number of innocents..." Suddenly, a group of people dressed in hospital gowns staggered out of the front automatic doors. Their arms were outstretched, all appeared to have been wounded in some manner by the Cult Killers.
"It looks like we have some patients leaving the hospital now," the reporter continued.
The gunfire in the hospital was more sporadic now as the police outside started opening fire on the patients leaving the building.
"OH MY GOD!!!" screamed the reporter. "The police have open fire on the patients. Don't they know what they are doing?" The reporter turns around and starts running towards the cordon. "Stop firing! You are killing innocent people!"
As the police begin firing into the mob leaving the hospital, it starts to become evident that their bullets are having no effect. Shortly, the patients start grappling with the police closest to them.
"Get back!" yells a police officer. "They're breaking through!" The officer is grabbed by an old man in a gown from the back. The old man's grey hands grab the police officer's hair and pull back the officer's head as the blood stained teeth sinks into the unsuspecting victim's neck.
The camera operator drops the camera as the mob overwhelms the police cordon. Before the camera hits the ground and static fills the screen, the sound of gunfire has all but stopped and the carnage is rapidly spreading.
Brady is unaware of the hissing water boiling over onto the stove instantly turning into steam as it hits the burner. All he could do was stare at the TV.
"Damn it!" screamed Brady as he slammed the phone back into the cradle. He had been trying for the past five days to contact his parents. But all the phone lines were busy and there hadn't been an open line since the quarantine. Without the phone line he couldn't even check his email.
The TV had been playing nonstop since the hospital incident in Marysville eight days ago. The news had been constantly reporting a strange and growing number of gruesome murders by an insane mob. The latest speculation was that a terrorist organization had poison the water supply with some sort of waterborne disease that was causing its victims to go insane. The governor had called out the National Guard to help control the panic and take control of the situation. So far to no avail.
Marysville, Seattle, and even Tacoma have been quarantined. The Bremerton naval base had been evacuated. It was reminiscent of the last days before the fall of Saigon. People were trying everything to get out of the cities. The president had called up federal troops to enforce the quarantine. There had been a no fly zone instated and any aircraft that violated it was instantly shot down. Oregon and Vancouver had their borders closed down so no one could get in or out. Any ship or boat that tried to leave the coast or Puget Sound was instantly destroyed by the navy and coast guard. There would be no rescue attempts.
During the State of the Union on the previous night, the president declared the western half of the state of Washington off limits in order to try and contain the growing and seemingly incurable disease. Martial law was in full force now. All the passes in the Cascades had troops manning the blockades with orders to shoot anyone attempting to cross them.
Brady kept thinking to himself that this couldn't be happening. Not here. Not in the United States. The whole thing was happening too fast. Everything looked to be out of control.
"The governor still encourages people to lock themselves into their homes and to stay off the streets. Troops of the National Guard and the army are sweeping through the streets to clean out the diseased mob that seems to have taken over many neighborhoods. Hazmat teams are investigating the cause of the sickness and so far they have no ideas as to source or even if there is a clue to the cure. Once again please stay in your homes. If you have any personal weapons have them at hand incase the mobs start to move into your neighborhood. But once again stay in your house and do not try to confront the mobs on your own if it can be avoided."
The reporter sitting at the desk had obviously not slept in a long time. His hair was in disarray and he hadn't shaved for awhile either. His shirt's top button was undone and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
"There have been several calls to the station stating that these people are not alive. This of course, is not a substantiated rumor. But the one piece of advice that is being offered is to shoot them in the head. It appears that only head damaged will kill these diseased people.
"Remember do not try to leave the city. All people approaching the checkpoints will be shot. We are still under quaran..."
Just then the room in the cabin went completely black. It was about 11:30 p.m. when the power went out. The sudden darkness and complete silence started to work on Brady's imagination. He found himself starting to hyperventilate. Calm down, calm down. Brady told himself.
He slowly walked to the closet where he knew an oil camp lamp was stored. Brady thought for sure he could hear the sounds of someone walking around outside. What was that outside the window? "Calm down you are letting your imagination get the better of you," Brady told himself.
Brady made it to the closet and a couple of minutes of rummaging around he found the lamp and some matches. As the lamp flickered to life and the darkness evaporated so did the imaginary sounds. "I now know why man invented fire," Brady thought.
He did a quick inventory of his food stores and supplies. Brady still had plenty of food and oil for the lamp. The water could be obtained from the old pump in the back. A thing better left for the day light.
"Wait a minute!" yelled Brady, "Grandpa always had his shotgun up here." Brady rummaged around the various closets in the cabin. He found the old 12 gauge Remington in the master bedroom's closet along with a box shells. "Thank God, it was buckshot instead of bird or I'd only annoy the suckers if they ever made it this far. Let's see... it can hold five shells if I remember right," thought Brady.
Brady used to do some hunting with his grandfather when he was still alive. But Brady hadn't even held a gun in a good seven years. He sure hoped that he could still shoot as straight as he used to. The gun was quickly loaded and Brady carried it and the lamp back to his bedroom where he crawled into bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
It was the third day after the loss of power that Brady had a dream full of thunder with the earth shaking about him. Suddenly Brady woke up. That wasn't thunder! It was the sound of engines, large aircraft engines and so many of them that the cabin was shaking as if in a moderate earthquake. It was only 1:47 a.m. according Brady's watch. The sound soon receded to the west. Brady tried to turn on the light only to remember that the power was off. He was awake now but there wasn't anything he could do. The TV was out and the laptop only had the power stored in its battery. Brady tried the phone only to find out that it too was still out of commission. Brady found his portable radio and turned it on. All it picked up was static. There hadn't been anything found on AM or FM since the power loss. It was obvious this was a complete blackout.
This was total isolation. Brady felt truly alone for the first time in his life. He was quite content in being a loner and getting away from people for weeks at time wasn't new to him. But to be totally cut off from civilization against his will was not something he was used to. Brady turned off his radio and the lamp and fell asleep on the couch.
He couldn't have been asleep long when the sound of thunder started crashing down from the west. Brady ran out of the cabin not even thinking of taking his shotgun. Off to the west Brady could see that the skyline above the trees was lit up. It was as if the sun was starting to dawn in the west. The thunder still rained down in the west, northwest, and even the southwest. Brady watched until the real sun rose in the east. But the thunder still came rolling up the mountainside. This continued until about seven in the morning.
Brady stood transfixed, he hadn't moved for hours. He just watched the skyline not comprehending what was going on. Then it hit him. They were bombing the cities. "Mom, Dad... NO!" screamed Brady.
Brady ran into the cabin barely aware what he was doing. Brady emptied out his backpack and started stuffing it with boxes of food, and water bottles. The radio, lamp, the box of matches and some spare oil was also crammed into the pack. He grabbed the shotgun and his jacket and ran out to his motorcycle. He put on his helmet and jumped onto the bike and sped off down the dirt road.
The dirt road down the mountainside was empty which was not surprising. Most people were still in the cities. Brady drove like a mad man. He pushed the bike to the limits of his ability to control it. When he hit the main road Brady pushed the bike even further. He had never driven so fast. Nor was he really aware as to the speed. All that consumed his thoughts were that his mother and father were stuck in Seattle. Probably at home if it hadn't been bombed. With that thought Brady looked up and noticed the entire horizon to the west was filled with smoke.
A gas station was just a few miles further down the road and Brady desperately needed gas. He only had a quarter of a tank and that would barely get him to the outskirts of Seattle. As the bike sped down the road Brady realized that he hadn't seen a single person. Certainly he should have passed someone either going to or from the west.
The gas station was soon on the horizon. Brady started to slow down as he approached the station. He pulled up to the pumps and stopped the bike. Brady laid the shotgun against the bike as he lifted the pump and put it into the tank. He tried to insert his credit card but the machine wouldn't work. Then Brady remembered that all the power and phone lines were out. There was no way for him to get any gas short of stealing it from another vehicle. Brady quickly looked around. Damn! Not a car to be seen. He threw the pump handle to the ground, grabbed his shotgun and retied it on the back of his bike. Then Brady jumped back on his bike and sped off hoping that he'd have enough gas to make to the checkpoint at least.
It didn't even occur to him until he was miles down road that he had not even see anyone at the gas station. Or for that matter at the speed he'd been driving there wasn't even a law enforcement officer trying to pull him over. He was making good time. It could only be about 10:00 in the morning. The cloud of smoke was growing ever closer as Brady raced on.
It started to rain again and Brady had to slow down. It would do him no good to crash his bike and break his leg. The delay was agonizing. As the rain poured down even harder Brady had to slow down even further. It soon became so bad that he had to pull off to the side of the road to find shelter. Brady pulled his bike under some sheltering trees to wait out the storm. Real lightning and thunder started crashing all around him.
The wait was insufferable. Brady finally broke down as he waited. He started sobbing and sat down at the base of a tree. Brady knew that he shouldn't take shelter under a tree during a thunder storm, but he didn't care. All he could think of was for the first time in his life he realized how much he really did love his mother and father.
"Please God, let them be all right. I'll make something of myself I promise. I'll take things seriously from now on." Brady prayed.
Two hours passed before the storm finally abated. By that time Brady had finally come to grips with himself. He slowly remounted the bike and resumed his trek. Driving now more slowly Brady started thinking things out more thoroughly. He knew he had to somehow get past the checkpoints. He didn't know how. Maybe they'd let him in even if they wouldn't let him out. But he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
As the sunlight started to recede Brady realized that even despite the violent storm the horizon was still lit from the burning of the cities. Even now as the motorcycle slowly approached the suburbs he still hadn't passed a single person. Hell, he hadn't even seen a real person since he went up to the cabin.
The last of the light showed that there was a major road block on the road ahead. Brady stopped his bike. He dismounted grabbed his pack and shotgun and slowly approached the jumble of vehicles. Brady noticed that there were a medley of military vehicles blocking off all the entrances and exits from the suburban community.
"Hello?" called out Brady. "Is there anyone out there?" Only silence returned his question. Brady continued walking toward the vehicles.
He noticed that there was a tank, some HumVees, and a Bradley fighting vehicle stretched across the road. "This is strange," thought Brady. "There should be someone out here to man the checkpoint."
That's when Brady noticed a man sleeping behind a HumVee. Brady approached the man, noticed that he was a soldier and shook him. The man was drenched. He should have changed his clothes after the storm thought Brady. The man was still just lying there. Brady shook him again a little harder.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Brady shook him a third time and when he didn't respond he turned him over. That's when Brady realized the soldier was dead. The stiff body rolled over and the dead eyes stared straight up. Brady jumped back and fell onto the side of the road. As he looked past the roadblock Brady noticed miles of vehicles. They stretched endlessly down the road. The blood colored sky bathed the landscape and revealed the countless bodies stiffly lying among the vehicles. In the last couple of minutes before the sun exited the horizon for the night, Brady saw movement.
Brady just sat there stunned. His mind was overwhelmed. He couldn't think of anything. Not even to scream. He just watched as a body slowly picked itself up from the human debris spread out in front of him. The man stiffly stood up and jumbled over towards Brady. Then another body stood up and started approaching.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," was all Brady could get his brain wrapped around. "This wasn't right."
Then the stench hit him. The wind must have changed direction blowing the reek of death towards him. Brady started to gag. The smoke from the burning city started to blow into his eyes. The bodies silhouetted against the burning cities approached closer. Brady just sat there with his eyes watering. The shambling diseased bodies slowly and stiffly approached arms outstretched.
The closest reeking man was only an arms distant from Brady. Then Brady closed his eyes. That was all he could will his body to do. The man's hands started to tighten around his leg. My God he has a strong grip. "This is it," thought Brady.
BLAM! BLAM! The night air exploded with the sound of the gunshots. Brady opened his eyes to witness the head of the man grabbing his leg was blasted apart. The hand released his leg. The shots brought Brady to his senses. He stood up in time to see the second man's head jerk back as another shot echoed in the night.
As the second body fell lifeless to the road a small person ran up behind Brady. Brady took a quick glance as he jerked back in surprise at the leather clad person with a riot helmet and a smoking automatic pistol that appeared to be pink in the soft glow of the burning city.
"Come on", called a female voice "let's get out of here!"
Brady awoke to the sound of birds chirping and the smell of food cooking. It must have all been a dream. Mom must be cooking breakfast.
"Good morning," greeted the same female voice that was in his dream last night. Brady shot straight up and opened his eyes wide to stare at the small figure of a girl cooking over a fire. It wasn't a dream there was the girl. She was a girl of Asian descent, not much over five feet tall, and dressed in black leather. On her slim waist was a military webbed belt and holster holding a pink automatic pistol with the picture of "Hello Kitty" on the handle. "Oh God! I must still be dreaming," Brady said to himself.
"Hungry?" the girl asked.
"Umm...yes. Thank you." Brady responded.
The girl turned towards Brady with a plate of food in her hand. She handed Brady the plate with what appeared to be eggs. The smell was too inviting, and without further talking, Brady started to devour the food.
"Wow! You'd think you haven't eaten for a while. Oh, sorry you may not have." The sadness filled the once cheery face as the girl remembered their circumstances. "I'm Noriko Fubuki. My friends call me Nori though I'm not a dwarf." Noriko laughed.
That stopped Brady. He looked up with a quizzical expression on his face.
"You obviously never read the Hobbit."
"Uh, no. I guess I never got around to it. I'm Brady West. Thank you for saving me last night."
"Oh, I just shot the second zombie. You need to thank Ronnie. He shot the first one. He's off with Coop gathering some more wood."
"What do you mean zombies?" Brady enquired.
"Zombies. You know Night of the Living Dead?" Noriko sat down next to Brady.
"I guess I never read that either."
"It's a movie, silly. Well, Ronnie can tell you more about that. But what I do know is that those are not diseased people walking around out there; unless you consider being dead a disease." Nori continued.
"Dead? I don't get it. I remember on TV there being some talk about that. But the dead can't come back to life."
"I hate to tell you this, but that was a dead man who had you by the leg last night."
Brady was going to continue his question when he saw a tall, stocky black man in his forties with a young boy walking from the woods both with their arms full of wood. The black man could have been a linebacker by the size of him. He was dressed in a military uniform and stood over six feet tall. There was an M-16 on his back. The boy looked to be about 10, dressed in blue jeans and a matching jacket. He had a blank look on his face and his short blonde hair was a mess.
"Hi. Look who's finally awake." Noriko jumped up.
The soldier dumped his load of wood next to the fire. The young boy did the same and then sat down staring at the flames. The soldier then walked over to Brady and extended his hand.
"Hello, I'm Master Sergeant Ronald Greene." The big man's hand grasped Brady's and pumped it with a strong and firm hand shake.
"Man, the man is strong," thought Brady.
"Uh, hi," muttered Brady. "Thank you for saving my life and all."
"No problem. Though, you did walk right into that one. You are lucky that there weren't more out there."
"Yeah, Ronnie, I was telling him all about those zombies." Nori interrupted.
Ronald looked sourly at Noriko. "Please, call me sergeant, Sarge, Ron, or even Ronald. But not Ronnie."
Brady watched the exchange and couldn't help but smile.
"Sorry, Ron. You know how I am..."
"Right, anyway what is your name, or should I call you 'hey you'". Ron continued.
"I'm Brady West, and you can call me Brady. I was trying to get to Seattle to find my parents." Brady replied.
"I've got some bad news for you son. Seattle is gone. No one is getting in or out alive. I mean that. If anything survived that fire bombing it was those creatures."
"NO! NO! They have to be alive," sobbed Brady, "they must be alive."
Brady put his face in his hands and started crying uncontrollably. Nori sat down by Brady again and put her arm around his shoulder. "I know how you feel. I cried for two days straight after I lost my family." Nori consoled.
Ronald went over to the fire and started tending it. The boy just sat there lost in the flames. After about half an hour, Brady regained his composure.
Nori looked tenderly into Brady's face. "You know Ronnie saved my life too." Nori began talking again hoping to take Brady's mind off his loss. Ronald shook his head when Nori said the name Ronnie. "Oops, sorry Sarge. Anyway, I go to, or I should say used to go to a Catholic school. Father Henderson believed that he could get us students and our families out of Seattle. So he loads us all up in these school buses. How he did it I don't know. But anyway, we left the city proper and had just hit the checkpoint. Oh, yeah, this was just before things really started to hit the fan, so there weren't too many people fleeing yet. But as we stopped, Father Henderson stepped out to talk to the soldiers manning the checkpoint. He gets no further than in front of the bus before one of those big machine guns on one of those tanks starts to shoot him. His blood hits the window and everyone starts screaming. That was when the machine gun started hitting the buses. I was near the back and the last thing I saw were my parents being shot up. The emergency exit door opened up behind me and I was pulled out. It was Ronnie...er, Sarge. He pulled me out and covered my mouth so I couldn't scream. Through the chaos he got me away, and we hid in the woods. I think I cried for the entire night. I don't remember too much after that." Noriko fell suddenly silent as she relived the death of her friends and family again.
"I was part of the army Rangers." Ronald started picking up the story, "we had orders to shoot anyone coming out of the cities because they were carrying a highly contagious disease with no cure. At first they were calling in only soldiers with no family, but as the situation progressed the Special Forces and active duty soldiers were called. We had a few skirmishes with the National Guard units. They knew better than we did of the situation and were also trying to leave the city. In any case, the night before Noriko's party showed up, we stop this black car. We do our business and send in volunteers to burn up everything that could be contagious. So I volunteer. I'm given an NBC suit and approach the vehicle. In the back seat there is this man in a business suit. He's hit pretty bad and he's clutching a brief case. He keeps saying that he needs to get out of Seattle. Well, I think he is raving from the disease so I finish him off. I was about to torch the car and everything when I decided to save the briefcase. I don't what made me do it, but I did. I tucked it under my suit and then started the vehicle on fire." Sergeant Greene began staring in the fire like the little boy.
"Well," continued Ronald, "I picked the case open when my watch was over and find all these documents and a CD-Rom. The documents are from Columbia Technologies, the parent company of ColTech pharmaceuticals. I started reading about this project of theirs that is supposed to help Alzheimer's victims by creating a drug that'll regenerate the brain tissue. Unfortunately, the drug kills the patients after it brings certain more primitive parts of the brain back to life. But not life as we know it. This tissue lives on its own. It doesn't need oxygen or anything.
"The military gets wind of this so they start funding it for a super soldier formula."
"Super soldier formula...wasn't that something that Captain America was given?" interrupted Nori.
Ronald resumed his story without paying attention to Noriko. "So now ColTech is trying to make the unstoppable soldier. Unfortunately, they can't test on animals. This drug, PZ60 only works on humans. So ColTech secretly starts abducting homeless people. Now, Washington, D.C. knows all about this and in fact encourages it. So ColTech has this room with all these people tied down on tables with the drug being tested on them. They are all dead, but the regenerated brain tissue reanimates their corpses. Imagine the A.L.A.'s surprise when they broke in to free test animals and instead find a bunch of people being tested on. You can guess how the story goes from there."
"Well, I decided I can't be a part of what was going on any more. I made my plans to leave the next chance I could. That was when Nori's bus convoy showed up. I opened the emergency exit door grabbed the first person I could find when things were getting pretty hot. Nori and I hid in the woods for two days until the military checkpoint was overrun by the fleeing people and later the zombies. It was a mess."
"Yeah, Sarge gives me this gun. A P-14 he calls it. It can hold 14 bullets and has a bit of a kick. But Sarge has been teaching me how to use it. It was kind of an ugly black, so I decided to make look better. I was going to go to art school next year after I graduated. So I painted it pink and I thought a 'Hello Kitty' would look cute on the handle." Nori piped in.
"I, uh, had some things on my motorcycle." Brady started to offer.
"Oh, don't worry! I grabbed your shotgun and backpack. I even grabbed your helmet; you may need it when we meet zombies again." Noriko replied in her usual chipper voice.
"We're going to need to get you outfitted out here if you are going to survive." Sarge started saying, "First, you need tough close fitting clothes. If one of those things bites you, you will get sick and then be a zombie yourself. So leather is the clothing of choice. Gloves, boots, and a helmet with a closed face are also a requirement. You have a motorcycle helmet and your jacket is leather. The rest we'll get when we start back to town tomorrow. You have a shotgun, that's fine. But zombies can hear and they know shooting is the also the sound of food for them. So we'll need to find you a silent weapon. Can you use a sword?"
"Ok, we'll get you a bat." Sarge continued after Brady shook his head no.
"I used to take kendo, so I also carry my father's katana." Noriko pointed to a bundle that was all wrapped up in a blanket. "Oh yeah, we went back to the bus after everything. Well, I should say Ronnie...er, Sarge did. I couldn't go back. He brought me my sword and found some of my personal effects. That's when he found Cooper." Noriko pointed to the boy who impassively stared into the fire.
"Coop was locked in a car. Somehow he had survived all the carnage that had transpired at the checkpoint. But he was catatonic and covered with filth. I got him out. He wouldn't respond to my questions so I found the car's registration papers. It belonged to a Franklin Cooper. I returned to camp and Noriko and I cleaned him up. He's better than he used to be. He'll follow orders and will stay out of trouble, but hasn't said a word since I've retrieved him." Ronald offered.
Brady then told them his story of hiding out in the family cabin until the fire bombing. How he drove his bike down here and his experience with the dead soldier.
"Well, after you and Noriko finish the dishes you both will begin training." Ronald said. "Welcome to the army."
Brady laughed for the first time in over a week. He laughed so hard he started crying.
"What's wrong?" Nori asked.
"That was something my father always wanted me to do. I went to college so I could escape the military and it looks like it found me."
Nori and Ronald looked at each other. Ronald shrugged and walked off. Nori just put a pot of water on the fire.
After the dishes were done Ronald took Nori and Brady out to the edge of the woods. He had three M-16s leaning against a tree. There were several clips lying on the ground.
"Now your shotgun will be good at close range, but if you need to get one of those things from a distance you are going to have to learn how to use a rifle. This here is an M-16A2." The sergeant stated as he picked up the rifle. "This has four settings; safety, semi, burst, and automatic." Ronald showed them the selector on the side of the M-16. You will want to only use semi to allow it to fire as a semiautomatic weapon. In other words one shot for each time you squeeze the trigger. Burst and automatic will just be a waste of bullets on these guys. We need precision. The head is a tough target to begin with so stay on semi! Now this is not just the M-16A1 you see them use in the movies where you can spray bullets until you let off the trigger. On M-16A2 you also have the burst option which will allow to fire three bullets with one squeeze. But as I said only use semi!"
The sergeant began instructing them in the use and care of the M-16 and by noon they were already taking practice shots at some targets that the sergeant had carved in the trees. Brady was surprised how quickly he was able to recall his unused shooting skills after about fifteen minutes of practice. Ronald was impressed.
They broke for lunch. Ronald had prepared an MRE for each of them over the fire. They weren't the best tasting things in the world but after all that had transpired over the last couple of weeks they tasted like manna from heaven.
"There's a small town back that way," pointed Ronald, "which must have been evacuated. It is where Nori and I have gathered some supplies a few days ago. We'll start heading there tomorrow morning and get you some stuff. We don't stay in towns because they are the most dangerous places right now. We have bombers blowing everything to bits, zombies walking all over kingdom come, and some renegades that have taken advantage of the chaos to wreak their own havoc. It is total anarchy."
After lunch Ronald started instructing Nori and Brady in martial arts. Nori was quicker at learning self-defense than Brady was. But after a long day of working out they all enjoyed a good dinner. When the sun set, Ronald kicked out the fire.
"We can't alert our presence to anyone. Your best bet is to share body heat. The three of you sleep under these blankets. I'll take first watch. Nori you take second, and Brady you have third. If you see or hear anything, I mean anything, silently wake us up." With that the sergeant walked off into the darkness.
"Now don't you get any funny ideas," Noriko whispered, "I'm a good Catholic girl and there'll be no hanky panky unless we get married. I don't think we'll find any priests out here so we don't have to worry about that either." Nori chuckled as she slid under the blanket between Cooper and Brady. It wasn't long before all three were asleep. It was the best night of sleep Brady had in a very long time despite the hard ground and the cool night.
Brady watched the sun rise in the west during his watch. Everything seemed so peaceful. There was a light fog hugging the ground that gave everything a slightly otherworldly feel. The birds were chirping away unaware of the changing world around them. Brady contemplated waking the others up, but decided that a few more minutes of sleep wouldn't hurt. He looked back at the camp and noticed that Nori was sitting cross legged with a book on her legs. Nori looked up and noticed Brady looking at her; she waved him over to sit next to her.
"Good morning." Nori greeted.
"Good morning. Watcha reading?"
"The Bible. Remember I'm a good Catholic, but with there being no more mass or churches, so much of the burden of my religious obligations fall upon me. I've been reading the 23rd Psalm. It's very comforting, especially seeing as how this could literally be called the valley of the shadow of death," smiled Nori.
"I've never read the Bible. My family wasn't very religious. The only time I've ever prayed was when I was in trouble. I feel that God has deserted us." Brady looked down at the ground fighting off another bout of sudden crying as he remembered his parents. "How long will it be before the pain subsides?" he thought to himself.
"Oh, no! He's still with us. Maybe this is one of those tests that Job went through. But think about it, you were pretty close to becoming zombie chow if Ronnie and I didn't find you."
"Ron, Sarge, Sergeant, Mr. Greene, but please not Ronnie," Ronald said behind them. Nearly scaring them both to death. "I see we are all up. Coop and I'll grab some wood. It'll be a little damp with the dew but I can still get something going. You two can make breakfast. Oh yeah, keep an eye, ear, and nose out, especially the nose in this fog. You can smell those ripe bastards miles away. If anything smells like real bad cabbage or brussells sprouts give out a yell."
With that Sarge and Coop disappeared into the green woods. Nori started rummaging through a pack and pulled out a bag of powder eggs and a water bottle. She then pulled out a small pan.
"We've got plenty of dry goods. So we'll have eggs again today. At first they taste a bit like rubber, but when you are hungry you'd probably eat a tire and think it was a gourmet meal," laughed Nori.
It was hard to be down for long around Nori's bubbly personality. Before long, there was a small fire going and breakfast was served. Brady did the dishes and Nori repacked the backpack. As usual Sarge kick out the fire and Cooper just stared at the dying embers before Sarge poured water on them. When they were fully doused out, Sarge distributed the supplies amongst the backpacks. Sarge, Nori, and Brady each grabbed an M-16.
"Well, let's get going," ordered Sarge as he shouldered a backpack. It was military pack that was much larger than Brady's school backpack. Nori had a framed hiking pack and Cooper carried a school pack much like Brady's. They all looked a little odd carrying their weapons and packs. Brady was amazed that Nori could carry her pack, an M-16, and her sword. Sarge led them down a dirt road that didn't seem to lead to anywhere.
It was about noon when the sounds of chopping cut through the air. It was helicopters and lots of them. Sarge waved them all into the underbrush.
"Keep your face down!" yelled Sarge, "They are more than likely looking for vehicles or large groups. But we shouldn't give them any chance to notice us."
The helicopters flew over head and continued on their way without noticing them. As the sound receded the small party crawled out from under the foliage and resumed walking on the road.
"Looked like some Cobras and Apaches," Brady said.
"That's pretty good. You seem to know something about military hardware," responded Ronald.
"Yeah, I know a little. But why didn't they nuke Seattle instead of fire bombing it? I mean one tactical nuke from an artillery unit would have been easier to do than sending God knows how many B-52s with incendiaries," continued Brady.
"You're probably too young to remember Mount Saint Helens' eruption in 1980. After that explosion, enough ash was thrown into the air that parts of western Montana had to close businesses and schools. There was even some ash falling further east. So you can guess why they didn't nuke it. Radiation doesn't know or care about borders."
"Do you think things will ever be back to normal?" asked Brady.
"I don't know, son, I don't know."
They took a small break and ate a quick lunch and then continued their march. Brady noticed that his feet were starting to kill him. His backpack straps and the M-16 sling were also starting to bite into his shoulders. The shotgun in his right hand was like carrying a lead weight. When Brady started limping and fell behind the party, Sarge called a halt.
"How's your feet, son?" asked Sarge.
"I think I've got some bad blisters on them." Brady responded.
"Same thing happed to me when I first met Sarge. I think he forgets that 17 year old girls are not veteran soldiers," Nori laughed.
"Well, you seem to be coming along anyway," Ronald smiled. "We'll camp here. You're no good if you can't walk."
Brady removed his tennis shoes to see that his sweaty socks were also stained with blood on the heels. Sarge removed Brady's socks and then poured some lukewarm water onto his aching feet. The water was quite refreshing. The sergeant then began wrapping a bandage around Brady's wounded feet.
Ronald looked up at the blood red sun burning through the smoke filled sky. There were some threatening clouds starting to form up.
"I better get a shelter set up over in those trees. Coop you stay with Brady. Nori you come with me and help out."
The Sarge then pulled a tarp out of his pack and gave it to Nori. After that he grabbed his large combat knife and started hacking at some branches on the evergreen trees. After stripping the smaller branches free of the bows Ronald started fashioning a lean-to over the tarp that Nori had laid onto the ground. The tarp was large enough that Ronald was able to pull the extra length of it over the sloping side. Nori then helped Sarge lash down the tarp. Ronald then covered the new roof with the small striplings he had cut off from the branches he had used for the frame of the structure.
It wasn't five minutes before everyone was in the new shelter when another Washington rainfall had started. It wasn't as heavy as the storm Brady drove through, but it was a steady rain. The four of them huddled under the blanket to keep warm. Brady had always liked the rain. It was what made the Pacific Northwest so green and beautiful. From the ferns that covered the ground to the tall pine trees that hovered over them. But now after being in it for hours Brady was starting to see why many people didn't like it. Even though they were all in a lean-to and under a blanket they were still a bit damp and that wasn't really all that comfortable.
"Why don't you have a leather outfit like Nori?" Brady asked sergeant Greene.
"Well, these fatigues are lined with Kevlar. It won't stop a mortar, but it'll stop a zombie bite. I could have tried to have found Nori an outfit and you for that matter, but I don't think you'd like to wear something straight off a dead man. Plus, trying to find something in Nori's size would be nearly impossible," Ronald replied.
"Hey, you found this helmet," Nori pointed to the police riot helmet on the ground next to her.
"Fortunately, those are adjustable," Ronald responded.
"Is that why you cut my hair?" Nori asked.
"Well, no. The last thing you want is to give a zombie something to grab onto. The shorter the hair the better."
"Great! You'd have us all shaved bald just so we'd look like you," giggled Nori.
Ronald laughed and pulled off his helmet and ran his hand over his bald head. "Really? I think it'll be all the rage."
The rain pelted the shelter all evening. Though the lean-to kept out most of the water some still got in. "Man, I don't think I've ever been so miserable," Brady complained to himself.
There were only the three of them in the shelter after Sarge went to take the first watch. It would be the same rotation as the previous night with Brady taking the last watch before dawn.
It was about 10:00 p.m. when the rain finally stopped. The wind rustled through the trees dripping droplets of rain water from the overhead branches onto the shelter. It was much like a dog shaking himself dry. It may have been sheer coincident, but at the moment a spine chilling howl split the night.
Nori, Brady, and even Cooper all shot straight up from their various states of sleep. They looked at each other showing on their faces an ancient fear none of them knew before. The first howl was then taken up by a second and then a third. "Oh God, they are close," thought Brady.
Nori was starting to scramble for her gun when Ronald skidded around the shelter. "Everyone up!" He whispered.
With Sarge's order, everyone went into action. Nori and Brady reached for their weapons. Coop ran over behind Sarge who himself was engaged in trying to start a fire.
"Damn wood is too wet," Ronald cursed. "Brady, give me your backpack."
Brady tossed over his pack without a second thought. Sergeant Greene started tearing through it. Another howl broke into the air not far behind the shelter. Nori had her pink pistol in hand. Brady had his shotgun at the ready. Another howl answered somewhere in the woods in front of the shelter.
"Damn things have us surrounded," muttered Sarge as he continued his work.
"We need light! I can't see a damn thing!" screamed Nori.
Brady was focused on the sounds emanating from the woods around them. He thought for sure he could hear snarling and panting. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to accurately shoot at anything until they were right on top of them. There was the sound of movement in the underbrush near Brady. Suddenly the sound of something charging at them came from the woods. Brady swung his shotgun in the direction of the noise knowing that if he fired into the darkness he'd be lucky to hit his target even with the shotgun. He started to squeeze the trigger of the Remington as the charging beast closed the gap.
Light bathed the area around them to reveal a huge shaggy black wolf running towards them. Brady adjusted his aim slightly and fired his gun at the beast just as it started to pounce. The wolf froze in mid air as the 12 gauge's projectiles canceled out the forward momentum of the wolf. As the huge beast fell dead to the ground Nori fired her pistol randomly into the woods. The rest of the pack retreated in quick order.
Ronald and Cooper stood near a small fire. "Thank God you had that lamp oil," smiled Sarge.
"Looks like those wolves had enough of us tonight," Nori added.
Brady stood there trying to catch his breath looking at the black shaggy beast. "Wait a minute," he thought.
"There are no wolves in this area!" Brady exclaimed aloud.
Sarge stooped over the carcass and ran his hand over the neck of the dead animal.
"Not wolves," he said as he pulled off a chain with a metal tag on it, "dogs that have gone feral."
The next morning the party resumed its usual morning routine. Nori and Brady started preparing breakfast while Sarge and Cooper gathered some dry wood. The wood gathering took longer than usual because the rain last evening had everything pretty much soaked.
"I've been thinking a lot lately," Nori started in an unusually serious tone.
"Yeah?" Brady replied.
"If I'm attacked by one of those zombies..." she stopped a moment before she resumed her thought. "If I'm bitten I don't want to become one of them."
"Understandable," Brady replied before he caught on to where the conversation was going. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed as it sunk in.
"No, please hear me out," Nori continued. "If I'm bitten I'll die. There's no known cure. Sarge has that in writing in that briefcase. So I'm asking...No, I'm begging you that if you are able please...uh." She stopped again fighting back the urge to cry.
"I can't do what you are asking, Nori. Please, don't ask me that," pleaded Brady.
"You have to. I can't. Killing myself is a grave sin. But I'll be dead for a while before I turn. That's when you do it. No, please listen to me. It's not murder! I'll be dead. I don't want to hurt you, Sarge, or Cooper. So I'm asking you to do it because I trust you with my life... and death."
Brady couldn't bring himself to answer verbally. He kept his eyes glued to the pan he was working on as he slowly nodded his ascension.
"Thank you," Nori said as she leaned over and kissed Brady on the cheek. Brady hardly noticed as the tears filled his eyes.
After Sarge and Cooper returned with some wood, the small group finished preparing breakfast. The meal was unusually quiet. Ronald noticed how Nori and Brady couldn't look at each other. Under different circumstances he'd have different ideas, but he knew what transpired. Even Cooper looked up at the two for a second. Concern quickly flashed across his face. Sarge noticed this too. "Well, maybe he's starting to come around," Sarge thought.
It was another two days before the small band finally reached the outskirts of the tiny town. Brady's feet were starting to heal, and he found that though he was still pretty sore, things were getting easier to carry. Nori didn't seem to have any problem at all keeping up with Sarge and Cooper followed along silently as usual. The trip would have normally taken only two days, but with Brady's unconditioned body and tender feet they all had to take a slower pace.
The town wasn't really so much a town. It contained fewer than a hundred buildings including residences. There was a sign at the town's entrance the name had been spray painted off with the words "Terra Mortis - Pop: Dead."
"I don't know how correct the Latin is, but I have a feeling that it is an appropriate name for this entire region," Sarge offered.
"So everyone has been evacuated?" Brady asked.
"Everyone the military could reach in the limited time they had available. Of course, you are living proof that more remote regions couldn't be reached in time. They even drove as much livestock as possible over the passes before closing them down," Ronald answered.
"There's an outfitting store down there. We'll get as much supplies as possible. Then we can head for that cabin of yours. It's pretty remote and should be hard to find by zombies, the military, and crazies. Maybe we can hang out there until things are calmer. I just hope that they'll start letting people across the barricaded passes again," Ronald continued.
The four travelers spread out as they entered town. No one said a word as Sarge led them down the main road. They cautiously walked along looking from building to building for any signs of trouble.
Sarge walked up to a large one story building with the words "Murphy's Outfitters and Sporting Goods" painted on the side. He glanced through the dirty windows into the dark interior. Ronald then motioned for the others to stay back and low. Brady, Noriko, and Cooper crouched down in the middle of the street. They all took a different direction to keep watch.
The sergeant opened the front door to the store and then disappeared into the darkened interior. Brady kept his ear tuned for any sound of a struggle. Though the sergeant had been gone only for about two minutes it seemed like an eternity as the small group waited anxiously outside. Eventually, Sarge reappeared and waved them into the building.
After they were all inside, Ronald shut the door. The only light in the place came from the windows. It was enough to see that the store had saddles, boots, fishing poles and other sporting goods throughout.
"Everything looks clean," whispered Sarge.
The Ranger then started looking over different clothing. Brady went over to the boots. He knew what he was supposed to look for. They had gone over the plan for the last couple of days on the way over here. It wasn't long before Brady was wearing leather pants, new boots, gloves, and had a framed backpack like Nori's.
"You look good," smiled Nori.
"Thanks," replied Brady, "Doesn't it get hot wearing this leather all day?"
"Sometimes, but the alternative is much worse. Hey, where's Sarge?" Nori asked.
No one had noticed that Ronald had left the room. Coop was still there looking over some paintings of cowboys on the wall. But the sergeant had silently slipped away while Brady was putting on his new clothes.
"I'm over here," Ronald reappeared from a back room carrying a .30-06 Savage Model 111F hunting rifle with scope and a PASGT helmet much like the one Ronald himself wore. "I think this helmet would be better than your motorcycle helmet." Ronald tossed Brady the helmet.
"Why don't we get Coop something to wear?" asked Brady as he adjusted the straps of the helmet to fit his head.
"There doesn't seem to be any leather outfits in his size. His denim jeans and jacket will work fine in a pinch. Plus, if things go wrong I want him to run. We can fight effectively, but he's too small. If it comes to it, we will fight to the last in order to buy him the time needed to run to a safer place," Sarge responded.
"I also thought we could use a weapon with a bit more range on it." Ronald changed the topic. "This rifle will be better for hunting than our M-16s. Here's a P-13 for you. It's like Nori's P-14, Para-Ordnance .45, but a little smaller and has a 13 round capacity." Ronald passed the black automatic pistol in holster and two full clips over to Brady. "There are a few other things I want to get. I'll gather everything up with Coop. You and Nori head over to the doctor's office and find some medical supplies."
Nori and Brady quickly located the doctor's office. It was a smaller white building with the words "Doctor Williams" written in the window. Fortunately, the door was unlocked so they didn't have to kick it in. Brady seriously doubted that he could have kicked it in anyway. He probably would have had to break a window.
As Nori and Brady entered, they noticed that the interior was a lot brighter than it was in the outfitters. The front office appeared to be in perfect order. It looked like the receptionist had just stepped out of the room.
"I've got the list of supplies that Sarge wants us to gather. I figure everything will probably be in the back." Nori said.
Brady nodded and leaned his shotgun against the receptionist's desk. They were going to have to use both hands for this work. Nori slung the M-16 over her shoulder and then led the way into the back.
The hallway was almost pitch-black. The only light came from a tiny round window down the end of the hallway. There four doors, two on each side of the hall.
The first was a bathroom and the one across from it was a supply closet. The next two down should be the examination room and Dr. Williams' actual office. They started down the hall towards the next two doors. "Man, this place is musty," thought Brady, "it stinks. They must have forgotten to empty the trash before they left. Yech!"
Nori opened the door to the examination room. Light bathed the room from the window next to the open cabinets. Everything was in disarray. There were cotton swabs and bandages strewn across the room.
"Looks like they had to hurry before they left and just threw everything they could into a suitcase or something," observed Nori.
"I hope they left us some things of value," Brady said as he started gathering some bandages and other medical supplies. He began throwing them into his backpack.
Nori started checking things off the list as Brady loaded them into the backpack. It was obvious that the prescriptions were not stored in the examination room. After they got everything they could, Nori started for Williams' office while Brady started closing up the backpack.
Brady had just shouldered the backpack when he heard Nori scream. Brady rushed out of the examination room. In the office across the hall Brady could see Nori struggling with a dark man shaped figure. They were crashing around in the cramped office. Brady watched as Nori's helmet was knocked off in the struggle. Her hands were caught in her assailant's strong grip. Brady could smell the man from where he was. It wasn't the trash! It was him.
Brady unconsciously ran towards the figure whose back was to him. "Damn it," thought Brady as he ran. "The zombies have made it here already."
Nori was doing all she could to avoid the slavering mouth. The fear in her eyes drove Brady to a madness he had never encountered. Brady jumped onto the attacker's back wrapping his arms around the thick neck.
A strong arm reached back and threw Brady off its back. Brady slammed into the hallway wall behind him. He just sat there stunned as the foul smelling creature smacked Nori's head against the desk knocking her unconscious. Her limbs went limp as she lay across the desk with the abomination stooping over her.
Everything slowed down as Brady fumbled for the pistol at his side. He had rudimentary training with Nori's gun over the last few days. But he wasn't sure if he could remember everything. He pulled the pistol out of its holster and thumbed the safety off as the beast lowered his head towards Nori's helpless body. Brady squeezed the trigger as he was instructed. The pistol barked in his hand slightly kicking. The bullet whizzed by the creature's head shattering the window across from him.
As the beast turned its head towards Brady the gun barked again. In the fraction of a second before the bullet shattered the zombie's face Brady saw blood dripping from the mouth of the creature. "No!" Brady's mind screamed, "Oh God, no!"
Brady scrambled up from the floor and ran into the office. It felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. This couldn't be happening. She's got to be OK. Brady stepped over the bleeding body and looked over Nori.
At first glance she seemed fine except for a nasty bleeding head wound. "Sarge can fix that," Brady thought. He continued searching her for wounds. As his left hand pulled down the collar of her jacket he saw it. At the base of her neck where it meets the shoulder were a set of bleeding teeth impressions.
"NO!" screamed Brady. Then he remembered his promise to Nori. Brady looked down at the still smoking pistol in his right hand. Brady started to cry as he lifted the automatic and put it against Nori's head. His finger started to squeeze the trigger.
"NO!" cried Brady as he flung the pistol into the open medicine cabinet behind the desk.
Brady leaned over Nori and took her in his arms and started sobbing uncontrollably as he rocked her back and forth.
Brady sat in the old farmhouse's kitchen at the table with his face buried in his hands. He had been crying all night hardly aware of anything that was happening around him. Sarge had to pry Nori's body out of Brady's arms when he and Cooper came running over from the outfitters. The last night had been a complete blur as Sarge led them all to a secluded farmhouse outside of town. Brady did remember Sarge quickly looking over the situation and assessing Nori's wounds after he entered the office and saying that he would take care of everything and everything would be all right.
Brady was totally lost inside himself. He kept reliving the whole attack and cursing himself for not being more cautious. The "only ifs" and "what ifs" kept replaying themselves as he sat at the table. He was only able to snatch a few hours of sleep before he'd awaken from a nightmare of Nori turning zombie with her lifeless eyes locked onto his.
"Brady," a soft voice said next to him.
Brady quickly looked up thinking that it was Nori. Instead it was only Cooper. Brady started to put his head back into his hands to hide his bloodshot eyes when he shot his head up again.
"Coop?" Brady asked stunned.
"Sarge says everything will be OK," Cooper quietly replied.
Brady didn't know what to say. Cooper talking and Nori's condition were both fighting to be the first question out of Brady's mouth.
"Nori's OK," Coop said softly. "It wasn't a zombie."
"What!?!" Brady asked even more surprised.
"Sergeant Ronald said it wasn't a zombie, just some stinky crazy man." Cooper said.
Brady found he still did have tears and they started to flow uncontrollably down his dirty cheeks.
"Don't cry. Nori is going to be fine." Cooper said concerned.
Brady looked up at Cooper with a big smile on his still crying face. He reached out and grabbed Cooper and pulled him into an embrace. Cooper hugged him back.
"I'm glad to see you are coming around," Sarge said as he entered the kitchen.
Brady looked up at the sergeant smiling. Then he pointed at Cooper and said, "Sarge, I'm not the only one."
Ronald was astonished to see Cooper turn and embrace him around the waist. Then he started to laugh. They all started to laugh. After a few minutes everyone regained their composure and seated themselves around the kitchen table.
"How'd you know he wasn't a zombie? He sure smelled bad," Brady finally asked.
"Well, if he was a zombie there would be little if any blood from a head shot. The blood has to still obey the laws of gravity. Now if you shot a zombie in the foot... Well, that'd be a different matter. Plus, the blood was warm and uncongealed unlike what you'd find from a rotting corpse.
"It appears that our friend stayed behind to help himself to the contents of the medical cabinet. Nori surprised him when she walked in on him. He's probably been high the entire time everyone was evacuated. In any case, you can guess as to what his design was for Nori before you let something else enter into his head." Ronald said with a slight chuckle.
"Sorry, a little gallows's humor. Now Nori has lost a lot of blood and is still unconscious. She'll be bed bound for a few days. So we have to get this place prepared for anything. I've rounded up the supplies we'll need. Plus, I also found an old Dodge truck in the barn out back that still runs. I've everything loaded in it in case we need to make a hasty retreat," Ronald continued.
"One last question before we get started. What's your name Coop?" asked the sergeant.
"Thomas Cooper, you can call me Coop if you want," smiled the young boy.
The three of them went to work on boarding up the house after a quick breakfast. The farmhouse had shutters on the window that Ronald and Brady closed up and then nailed down. They then gathered some spare planks and doors off rooms inside the house to further reinforce the windows and back door from the inside.
The upstairs' rooms were left relatively intact. Sarge wanted the party to be able to use them for observation and defense if need be. Every once in a while someone would check on Nori. She still slept soundly in the clean bed. Her head was neatly wrapped in a bandage and color started to return to her face. Her breathing and pulse were returning to normal.
While Sarge took care of the unpleasant chore of emptying Nori's bedpan Brady went about preparing lunch with the help of Coop. They had to eat a cold lunch so as not to attract any unwanted attention that a smoking chimney would provide. With the shutters closed up, the downstairs was lit with a single candle.
After the lunch was prepared, Brady and Coop brought the food upstairs to the bedroom that Nori was recuperating in. Sunlight lit up the room from the window overlooking a large green lawn. Sarge was in the process of washing his hands in a washbasin.
"How is she doing?" asked Brady.
"Still unconscious but her vital signs are strong," Sarge replied drying off his hands.
"How is it that you know so much about medicine?" Brady returned offering Sarge a sandwich.
"Every soldier knows how to do battlefield first aid," the sergeant responded as he sat in a chair next to Nori's bed and started to devour his sandwich.
"I've taken Advanced First Aid in college and we never covered half this stuff," Brady continued.
Sarge let out a long sigh and looked down at Nori's sleeping form as he began speaking. "My wife used to be a nurse. Now, don't be so surprised that I'm married. At least I still consider myself still married."
Brady looked at Ronald with confusion clearly evident on his face. Coop just sat at the foot of the bed concentrating on eating his own sandwich.
"I suppose a little bio is in order of the Master Sergeant Ronald D. Greene. I fell in love with Dora in high school and she with me. After school we were wed. I joined the army and she went to school. It wasn't easy for her having to move all the time and transfer to a new school in order to stay with me as the army moved me from base to base. But she did. It was the type of person she was.
"She finished nursing school and was an RN. That's where I've picked up my expertise in bedside manner as well as some pointers on patching people up. It has come in handy over the years for me to know these skills.
"For eighteen years our love never failed. We had a daughter, Julie who was the spitting image of her mom. They were my life. Julie would have been 16 this year. Pretty close to Nori's age," Sarge started to choke up and momentarily stopped his monologue before he continued.
"It was two years ago that I lost both my wife and daughter in a car accident to a drunk driver. Man, I miss them both."
Sarge fell silent and Brady noticed that Sergeant Greene's eyes were misting up. Silence filled the room. The only noise came from the birds singing outside, Coop eating, and Nori's steady breathing.
Brady was about to say something that he hoped would be comforting when Coop softly began to speak.
"My big brother Frank was going to get us to our aunt and uncle in Spokane. Mom and dad made us go. They wouldn't come with us. It was after all the dead people had taken over most of the city.
"Frank always said he was a good driver. He used to deliver pizzas so he knew all the back roads to take to get out of town. We had to stop when the car got a flat tire near the barricade.
"It looked like the army men had left and there were dead people all over the place. Frank told me not to look. He said I was supposed to stay near the floor of the car while he fixed the tire.
"Frank got out of the car and screamed. I looked up even though I wasn't supposed to. There were some of the dead people coming to get him. Frank opened the door and told me to get back down. Then he locked the door and slammed it shut. He started yelling and waving his arms as he ran away from the car.
"He left me alone in the car by myself. He ran away!" Coop started to cry.
"Now, now, son," Sarge said soothingly as he sat next to Coop putting an arm around him. "Your brother didn't run away. He led those zombies away from you so that they wouldn't get you. He did that so that you could live."
Coop buried his face in the sergeant's big arms and began sobbing.
The sun was in the process of setting when the sergeant walked into Nori's room that they all slept in. He walked over to Brady.
"Here's that present I promised you," Ronald said as he held out a wooden Louisville Slugger.
Brady took the bat and hefted it. He had taken softball as a P.E. course at the U. It felt familiar and good in his hands.
"Glad you like it," said Sarge "this will be your weapon of choice for anything that breaks into this house. We have too many people to be firing guns indiscriminately in here."
Then the sergeant pulled a hunting crossbow off his back and sat next to the window watching the sun dip below the still smoking horizon.
"I'll take first watch and you have second. Try to rotate between the windows of these upper rooms. You can't have any light at all. So be careful.
"Now, the door is barricaded downstairs so there is no reason to go downstairs. If you hear anything, wake me up. If those zombies get inside we'll have to tear up the stairs. We can try to escape out the east bedroom window. I have a rope already prepared for that. We head for the barn and drive like mad. It'll be extremely difficult because of Nori's state so I'm going to have to put some more pressure on you."
Brady nodded his head in understanding. Then he stretched himself out onto the blankets he had prepared for sleeping in. The room was bathed in an ominous blood red light as the twilight began to die out.
Sarge quietly woke Brady up for his watch. Brady gathered himself and stood up and quietly walked over to the window. The waning moon offered some light onto the strangely gray landscape. The stars were out and there was just a faint glow from where the city of Seattle used to be a thriving and living metropolis. It appeared that the fires were finally starting to die out. The city would continue to smolder for days yet to come.
As dawn started to approach Brady made another circuit of the rooms looking out each window. The surrounding farmland was turning from the moonlit gray to the predawn blue. A lone rooster was starting to crow. Birds were beginning their morning songs. It was as if the land itself was awakening.
Brady returned to the wooden chair by the window in Nori's room. As the sun began to creep over the mountains behind them the land started to brighten up. That's when he noticed them. First it was one then it was two until Brady made out the shape of what looked like four men walking towards the farmhouse. He peered out the window. They were soldiers. He could see their helmets on their heads. Two had M-16s slung on their backs and one held his by the barrel dragging the butt on the ground.
They were obviously foot weary. Exhaustion permeated from the way they staggered along. "Good God, how long have they been out there," Brady thought. He quickly moved over to Sarge and woke him up.
Sarge shot up instantly awake with his Savage rifle in his arms.
"What is it?" he whispered.
"Looks like soldiers approaching. I don't know if they are friendly or not. They are just out the west window here."
Ronald pulled out some binoculars and approached the window. He focused the binoculars on the staggering soldiers.
Brady smelled it just as Sarge said, "Not soldiers, zombies."
"Give me the crossbow. If we stay quiet we may be able to dispatch them without attracting attention to ourselves," Sarge said.
Brady pulled over the crossbow. Ronald set it on the floor next to him as he began to open the window. The smell was now even stronger. It filled the entire room. "Thank God no one had breakfast," thought Brady.
Coop shot straight up from his bedrolls and looked over at Brady and Ronald. He knew what was going on and crept over to the window's edge. Then Coop retreated to Nori's bed.
"Coop, get all our stuff gathered up. Brady, there are some Molotov cocktails I made in that closet. We'll use them as a last resort," the sergeant said in a cold calculating voice.
The sound of a low moaning now could be heard emanating from the undead soldiers. The noise was very disconcerting. Brady pulled the Molotov cocktails over to Sarge.
"Brady, get Nori to the east bedroom. That's the one closest to the barn," Sarge ordered.
Brady went over to the bed and wrapped Nori in a sheet and lifted her up. He had never actually carried anyone. She was a lot lighter than he expected. He then carried her to the room as he was ordered. Afterwards Brady returned to Sarge.
Ronald was crouched in front of the window with the crossbow against his shoulder. The sergeant was taking careful aim at the closest zombie. Slowly the sergeant squeezed the trigger. The twang of the released string reverberated in the room. Brady watched the lead zombie crumble to the ground with a bolt sticking through its head.
"Got him!" Sarge exclaimed.
Brady smiled. There were only three more of them. Maybe they could just finish them off or leave now and avoid them all together. Certainly, the latter choice would be the wiser one.
Coop came running into the room.
"Sarge, we're surrounded. They are all around us."
"How? There were none when I last looked," Brady asked.
"I think their moan alerted every walking dead in the area," the sergeant said with a forced calm.
"But how did they know we were here?" Brady continued.
"Same way we know they are there. We smell their death and they smell our life. It was one of the theories in the briefcase," Sarge said as he got up and started heading for the other rooms.
The situation was worse than the sergeant had hoped. There were about thirty of them around the house. Unless, they could clear them from the east and keep them occupied no one would be able to make it to the barn.
"Brady, break out the guns. We no longer need to use stealth. Coop, you are getting your first lesson with an M-16."
Brady did as ordered. Sarge showed Coop the fundamentals of using an M-16. Brady went to a window and took careful aim at a zombie's head. The first shot was right on. The zombie dropped as if it were a puppet that suddenly had its strings cut.
The small band started firing from their improvised fortress. But the number of zombies grew. They couldn't drop them fast enough. It wasn't long before the undead were beating at the walls and trying to pry the boards off the window.
"Conserve your ammo," Sarge ordered. "We'll need it later. Brady, start tearing apart those steps."
Brady grabbed a nearby crowbar and went to work on the bottom step. It was very unnerving to be working downstairs as the sound of the dead moaning and banging on the walls filled the darkness. After the first step was removed, Brady worked on the second slowly retreating up the stairs. What felt like hours was actually only fifteen minutes of work.
The party remained upstairs as the zombies continued to hammer on the walls outside. The sun rose to its zenith and then started on its way back down. Sarge kept the boys busy with different orders to help them get their minds off the zombies. Nori lay unconscious throughout the ordeal.
There had to be close to one hundred zombies as the sun was setting. They had been under siege all day. There were zombies outside each window effectively cutting off all escape routes. Sarge couldn't think of any way to get the zombies away from the east window facing the barn but one.
"Brady, give me a couple of those cocktails," Ronald said as he shouldered his Savage. He then grabbed another rope from his backpack.
Brady handed two bottles with the volatile liquid to Ronald who stuffed them into his belt. The Sarge tied the rope off on newel post at the head of the stairs. He then grabbed the crowbar. Before Brady could stop him Ronald had jumped down the demolished stairs to the ground floor.
"Get ready to get Coop and Nori out of here when the way clears!" shouted Sarge.
Ronald then ran to the front door and pried off the boards. The door began groaning in protest as the zombies pushed on it from the other side. The sergeant then retreated to a back room.
Brady lost sight of Ronald and watched as the door finally burst in with an explosion of slivers and splinters. The downstairs flared into light as Ronald lit the first cocktail and threw at the lead group of zombies. The undead instantly flared up. Some of the closest zombies to the inferno tried to retreat from the fire but still others continued to push their way in, shoving more zombies into the spreading flames. The other cocktail flew into the burning room adding its fuel to the fire. Flames spread across the floor and up the walls. Yet, more zombies pushed their way into the burning building. Their moans filled the house with the sound of the crackling fire.
Brady ran to the east room. He glanced out the window. The zombies were all gone. Brady didn't know how long Sarge could hold off the zombies, but he had to take charge. Brady quickly lowered the rope to the lawn outside the open window. He motioned for Coop to go down first.
"Keep a good eye out Coop. If you see anything heading towards us you run towards that barn and get into the truck, OK?" Brady explained.
The small boy nodded. Coop scrambled down the rope and crouched low with an M-16 at the ready. He then looked up at Brady and gave the OK sign. Brady quickly tied the rope around Nori's arms. He tried to secure the sheet onto her as best he could but this wasn't a time for modesty. Nori then was lowered down the side by Brady. Coop instantly went to work of untying Nori and dragging her away from the wall.
The smoke now filled the upstairs. Brady could hardly see and began coughing. Working by feel he hefted his backpack onto his back. With one last glance toward the hall he saw flames starting to scale the walls. Brady started his climb down the rope. He could see flames seeping out between the boarded up windows on the ground floor. The climb down was actually more of a barely controlled fall. Thankfully the gloves he had grabbed at the outfitters kept him from getting rope burn. As he hit the ground he motioned for Coop to run towards the barn. Brady quickly grabbed Nori and picked her up. Then he threw her over his shoulder as he ran with the shotgun in his other hand. He didn't even look back as the fire lighted their path towards the barn.
Brady ran through the barn doors and grabbed Coop's pack and ushered him into the old red truck. He then deposited Nori onto the seat next to Coop. Brady then added his backpack and guns to the already full truck bed. He jumped into the driver's seat slamming the door shut beside him. "Damn," Brady thought, "a manual. I've never been good at driving these things."
Brady tried to start the truck, but it wouldn't turn over. Coop and Brady were so concerned with starting the truck that they didn't notice the arm that reach out of the darkness and pulled open the door. Brady turned in surprise. Coop screamed as he tried to bring his M-16 up.
"Stand down, Soldier!" Sarge yelled as he climbed in and took over starting the old truck.
Brady put Nori in his lap and Coop rested his M-16 on the floor in front of him.
Out of the windshield flaming figures began shuffling out the backdoor and towards the barn. The old farmhouse was now completely engulfed in flames. The truck still refused to turn over. More zombies started walking in from the field toward the barn. Brady could see the rotted faces of the dead. Their mouths open, their lifeless eyes staring at them. It was if they could see right into their souls.
Finally, the truck roared to life and Sarge stomped onto the accelerator. The venerable Dodge rocketed out of the barn hitting two flaming zombies. Sparks flew into the air along with a limb or two. Sarge turned out onto the main road leaving the rest of the moaning zombie herd behind them.
"What's going on?" Nori moaned softly as she regained consciousness.
Despite their very close brush with doom; Brady, Sarge, and Coop began to laugh.
Sarge drove the truck through the night on the deserted road. He risked using the headlights figuring it would be better than smashing into a tree. Brady gave the sergeant the directions to the cabin.
Rain started pelting the windshield around midnight. The moon disappeared behind some clouds. It was eerie driving down the deserted road with the rain splashing onto the windshield. The even rhythm of the wipers added their own music to the night. Occasionally, the eyes of some unidentified animal reflected the headlights' glare from the woods.
Coop was sleeping with his head against the door's window. Nori had resumed her sleep in Brady's lap. Sarge just stared ahead into the darkness looking for road signs that would lead them to the cabin. Brady felt his eyelids get heavier with each passing second. His head would begin to drop and he's snap it back up awake again. But sleep would not be deterred. Brady started snoozing with his chin on his chest.
The truck pulled up to the cabin in the early morning. The rain had finally stopped. As Sarge opened the driver's door the fresh clean smell of the forest rushed into the cramped truck.
"Looks, like we made it," Sarge pointed out.
Brady just nodded his head as he helped a weakened Nori out the driver's side. Coop opened his door and jumped to the ground. Brady then slid out next to Coop. Everyone took a minute to stretch-out their tight cramped muscles.
Brady fumbled in his pockets for his keys. He couldn't remember if he had locked the front door or not. After fishing out the keys Brady walked up to the cabin's door. It was already partially ajar. "Great," he thought, "I forgot to close the door. There are probably raccoons all over the place."
Sarge and Coop began unloading the truck. Nori sat in the driver's seat smiling at everyone.
Brady pushed the cabin's door completely open. The inside of the cabin was dimly lit by the light shining in through the windows. Brady stepped into the interior and walked over to the couch. Everything lay as he left it. The laptop was still on the coffee table, as were the remote and the phone.
A door creaked open upstairs. Brady quickly turned his head looking up to the balcony. That's when he saw them.
"Mom! Dad!" Brady yelled.
He ran up the stairs to their outstretched arms. He was so happy that tears started to flow down his cheeks. They had somehow gotten out alive. He couldn't believe it.
As he hit the top of the landing it hit him. The smell of decay shot through him like a bullet. He stood there stunned as the two undead parents grabbed their son. Their moaning echoed through the cabin. They drew Brady ever closer to their awaiting yellow teeth. "No!" Brady thought, "this cannot be happening."
"NO!" Brady screamed as he jumped up in the seat.
"Whoa, take it easy kid," Sarge advised as he started shifting down with the gears between Nori's and Brady's legs.
It was still night. The rain had stopped and they were now on a gravel road heading up a mountain. Coop and Nori were both awake now.
"Pretty bad dream, huh?" stated Sarge.
"Yeah," Brady responded.
"Well, if I followed your directions correctly we should be at the cabin in about an hour. That should bring us in about the time the sun rises," continued Ronald.
"I can spell you if you want. I can get us there," offered Brady.
"Nah, I'm alright. After we scout out the cabin and make sure it's secure then I'll take a nap."
"Sarge, how was it that you escaped anyhow?" Brady asked.
"I almost didn't. We sealed up that back door pretty damn tight. Thank goodness, we only boarded up the interior or I wouldn't have been able open it. As it was I only made it out a step or two in front of the zombies. Man, a burning zombie is something no one should every have to smell," smiled Ronald.
"Brady?" Nori asked weakly.
"It was nothing. I did come pretty close to killing you, you know," stated Brady sadly.
"Sarge told me all about it. First, of all you didn't and secondly, you were only following my last wishes. But please next time check to see if it is a zombie first that bites me," Nori laughed.
Her laugh was still fresh and bubbly. Brady couldn't help but laugh himself. Even Cooper and Sarge started laughing.
The sun had already broken over the mountain top as Sarge started pulling the truck up the private road to the cabin. Trees lined both sides of the road as it slowly wound its way to the secluded dwelling. Before the cabin came into view, Sarge pulled the truck to the side of the road. As the brakes squealed a bit, Sarge turned off the engine.
"I'm going to scout it out. No use walking into a structure that may be already occupied," Sergeant Greene said as he climbed out of the truck.
"Brady, you are in charge until I get back. If I'm not back in say an hour. Take this truck as far as possible from here."
Brady nodded and climbed out after Sarge. Nori and Coop were both out of the truck soon afterwards. Everyone started stretching and trying to bring life back into their legs that had fallen asleep from poor circulation.
Sarge reached into the back of the truck and pulled out the crossbow and Brady's bat. It was the first time that Brady really looked into the back of the truck. It was loaded with various boxes of supplies. There were lots of canned goods, ammunition, and medical supplies. There were also some books, games, and tools. A couple of jerry cans obviously filled with gasoline and other crates, boxes, and bags of stuff that Brady could only guess at. It looked like Sarge had tried to haul as much of the little town away as possible.
"I believe that stealth will be in order for this operation," Sarge smiled before he disappeared into the woods.
Brady grabbed his shotgun out of the back as well. It had been rained on all night. "I better clean it as soon as we get to the cabin," Brady thought.
Then he remembered his dream. What if it wasn't as secluded and secured as he had hoped? What if Sarge didn't return to the truck? That would mean the mantle of leadership fell upon him.
Brady looked over at Coop and Nori deep in conversation. He smiled to himself. "Well," he thought, "if he had to be a leader he couldn't have had a better group."
Coop did exceedingly well last night and Nori had saved his life at the roadblock. They knew their stuff and with Sarge's training over the last week Brady felt comfortable enough to know that he could do it. He did have a great example to follow.
Brady watched as Nori approached with the sheet still wrapped around her small frame.
"I have one question," Nori said as she walked up to Brady.
"In all of the commotion that went on last night did you happen to bring me any clothes or was I to just dance around the rest of my life wrapped in a sheet?" she laughed.
Brady smiled and pointed to her backpack in the back of the truck.
"Everything should be there."
"Good if you don't mind, I'm going to change into something a little less comfortable." With that Nori grabbed her pack and climbed into the truck's cab.
"Now you peeping toms just keep a look out and not in while I'm changing," Nori yelled out the open door.
Nori jumped out of the truck just as Sarge was returning. She had her usual pink .45 belted around her waist and was in the process of strapping the katana to her back when Sarge walked up to the group.
"It looks all clear. I couldn't see much through the windows and the doors were locked so I could get a good look inside. But it looks pretty good," responded the sergeant.
"I guess I did lock the doors," Brady murmured to himself.
"What was that?" asked Ronald.
"Nothing, just thinking to myself."
"Say son, how is that a cabin? The thing's two stories tall, hardly the one room structure that Lincoln grew up in," Ronald joked.
The truck pulled up to the front of the cabin. Everyone bailed out of the truck anxious to set up a more permanent residence Brady fished in his pockets for his keys and handed them over to Sarge. The sergeant walked up to the door and unlocked it. He motioned for them to wait outside while he checked the interior.
Ronald slipped into the cabin. Brady watched through the door and could see Sarge move around inside as he searched the premises. Ronald disappeared from view as he entered the kitchen.
Suddenly Brady smelled it. It was the smell of rotting death coming from the cabin. He was at a dead run for the doorway when he heard the sergeant yell out.
"OH MY GOD!"
Brady ran through the doorway and into the living room. He looked over into the dining room/kitchen area to see Sarge closing up the freezer on the refrigerator.
"Son, the next time the power goes out throw out the meat."
Brady started laughing. In all the excitement he had totally forgotten about the two pounds of hamburger that he had brought with him to the cabin.
It was now fall and the snow would soon be falling on the cabin. The small party had fallen into a routine. Though they had never been assaulted or discovered at the cabin they never let down their guard. Watches were rigorously maintained. The sergeant continued to train them in small arms and hand to hand combat. Brady and Sarge would sometimes go hunting for fresh meat.
It was still late spring when they reached the cabin in early June. So their first priority was to plant a small garden. They had a small yield, but the next year with a proper planting schedule and larger garden they hoped to increase that.
The food supply was still good. Sarge had brought a lot of canned goods for them to consume during the winter months. These were stored in the small root cellar amongst some preserves that Brady's mother always kept down there. They even found a small stash of Herbert West's fine imported wine.
The cabin was fortified having the lower story windows boarded up. Sarge suggested that they cut down the trees leading to and around the outhouse. This meant that the outhouse would be more visible from the cabin and therefore less dangerous to use. A small palisade was erected around the lawn and the outhouse. A watch tower was added to the roof of the cabin. It could be accessed only from inside the cabin. Fire wood was chopped and stored all summer for the wood burning stove that would heat the interior of the cabin and serve as their cooking appliance.
That Thanksgiving the small group had a lot to be thankful for. The table was full of game and their own grown vegetables. A good French wine was the drink of choice. A pumpkin pie was cooling for desert. Nori read from the book of Psalms.
"You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:11-12. Amen," Nori concluded
The rest of the group raised their heads and began passing around dishes of food. The sound of laughter and clinking dishes resounded throughout the interior of the cabin as snow started to softly drift down from the skies.