Terra Mortis II: The Gathering
By Dwayne MacInnes
The snow lightly floated down from the heavens as Carl Rogers hiked his way down the pine-forested mountainside. Although he was an accomplished outdoorsman, he had rarely climbed as high as he had in the last few days. Finally, he was working his way back down the other side of the Cascades. The cold air bit at his cheeks and the crunching of the snow was the only noise he could hear. His frosty breath came in even puffs as if he was some old steam engine chugging its way over a mountain pass.
"If only I could have used a mountain pass," thought Carl. "This would have been a lot easier."
Nevertheless, the mountain passes across the Cascades had been shut down since the incident last summer at the Marysville ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Soldiers now staff every possible means of passing over the mountains with the orders to kill whatever tries to pass over them. Minefields had also been laid out and the passes had been further reinforced by connecting barbed-wire and concrete barriers. Not since the Maginot line has there been a continuous string of fortifications stretching across land to barricade the rest of humanity from the threat on the other side.
Therefore, Carl had to take a more indirect and almost impossible route to get over the Cascades. Fortunately, he was familiar with the weather conditions of the Cascade Mountains. Like all mountains, the Cascade's weather was unpredictable at best. A clear summer day could suddenly transform itself into a thunder or snowstorm. The inverse was true as well. Even now during the middle of December with the temperature below freezing on the eastern slope of the Cascades a Chinook wind could swiftly swarm in and warm the air over 70 degrees.
Carl had been making his trek over the mountains for several days now. It was imperative that he get over the mountains unnoticed or he would be shot. It was hard to believe that the hardest part was behind him and yet the most dangerous in front. An odd paradox when one analyzes it, and analyze it Carl had done numerous times over the last few days.
"What's an old man like me doing out here anyway," Carl continued his inner dialogue. "It's cold and I'm hungry and I'm supposed be to be retired and done dealing with this crap!"
Carl was fifty-five years old and a retired FBI agent. He still had contacts and that did give him a certain benefit that the average American didn't have. The average American didn't know about the Marysville incident as it was called. These weren't diseased people running around out there; they were in fact the dead. They are walking dead, or zombies as those in the know are calling them. One bite and a human being is infected. There is no cure and the only way of killing one of these undead was to destroy the brain.
Carl stopped and kneeled down to make sure that his .38 snub-nosed revolver was still holstered on his right calf. Even though he carried a hunting rifle over his shoulder, the feel of the pistol strapped to his leg always comforted him. Maybe it was from the thirty odd years in the service with the bureau that made him feel naked without carrying it. It was the only constant partner he had over the years and none were more trustworthy.
Carl looked up at the sun, and it was starting to set behind the trees to the west. He stood back up, readjusted his straps on the backpack, and started to continue his trek. It wouldn't be much longer before the light was gone. He would need to find a clearing if he wanted to sleep in a tent otherwise he would be sleeping under the stars again.
The thought of waking up under a blanket of snow again wasn't an appealing one for Carl. He never cared much for winter camping even though he did relish the challenge of pitting himself against nature. It was just that freezing one's ass off wasn't his idea of fun. But then again he wasn't out here for fun.
Carl was just resigning himself to the idea of breaking out the sleeping bag and finding some form of natural shelter when he saw it in the fading light of dusk.
A small tendril of smoke was snaking its way heavenward behind a line of trees. That meant humans, living humans. Now was the moment of truth. Would they be friendly or hostile? "Only one way to find out," Carl reckoned.
Carl started to walk quietly towards the smoke. "I hope that they are friendly and won't shoot me," Carl inwardly prayed.
The sun was nearly gone when Carl broke out from the trees into the clearing. In his quick survey, he noticed that the smoke came from a lone white Ranger's cabin in the mountains. There was a green army two-ton truck and a yellow school bus parked outside. But what finally made Carl expose himself to the potential of being shot were the two smiling snowmen outside the building.
Light spilled out of the curtained windows of the log one-story building. Carl couldn't see inside, so he approached the door and knocked. As he rapped on the door, the lights suddenly went out and muffled voices could be heard on the other side of the door.
After a couple of minutes, the door opened up and a flashlight blinded Carl as it was shone into his face.
"What do you want?" growled an unfriendly voice.
"Ah, George, don't be so rude. He obviously means no harm or he wouldn't have knocked, eh?" a man's voice with a Yiddish accent responded from deeper inside the cabin.
Under the hand that he was using to shield his eyes, Carl noticed that a rifle was pointed at him.
"I was just looking for some shelter. I don't relish the idea of spending another night in the cold. But if you want I'll move on," Carl responded.
"Put the gun down George. The man only seeks shelter and we can surely offer that to another human being. There certainly aren't that many of us left on this side of the mountain," another voice added.
Carl smiled. He had finally made it and had contact with some friendly people on the west side of the Cascades.