The Nation begins to rise from the ashes of the old world…
The attack came fast when it came. Mike only remembered the details after the fact.
Molly had the right side, Tim the left, Mike had taken a lead of fifty feet or so right up through the middle of the tall grass. It left him blind, for the most part. The grass was higher than his head in most places, unless he walked right on the hump in the middle of the old road, and that was not an easy task. He found himself spending too much time concentrating on the next footfall. So he came down off the hump and walked slowly beside it. Watching for darker shadows within the golden brown of the grass.
He turned his head to look over to the right and Molly when his eye had caught movement in the trees just over her head. There was no time for thought. He swung his rifle up and fired. He had no time to register what he had accomplished. He dropped his eyes from the woods, alerted by a yell from Tim on the other side of him and the Zombie was on him just that fast. Afterward he realized it must have been hidden in the tall grass and had sprung at him as soon as he was distracted by the movement in the woods.
He was out of position to fire so he reversed the rifle’s stock smashing it into the forehead of the zombie that had sprung at him. She went down but she was back up just as quickly. Mike kicked her hard in the stomach as he bought the rifle barrel around. He squeezed off a quick burst as she was falling from the kick.
It seemed as though the entire world turned into a solid wall of noisy gunfire. On both sides and front and back.
The zombie hit the ground thrown back by the force of the bullets. A huge section of her side blown away, one arm gone, but she had no sooner hit the ground than she was twisting to her side and rising to her feet, hissing and snarling as she lunged at him again.
The shock nearly kept him from firing. He had never expected her to get back up. The rifle barrel rose on its own as he fired blowing holes through her chest and finally taking her head from her shoulders. She staggered a few more feet and then collapsed in a heap.
In front, somewhere beyond the cars and trucks that blocked the road, the firing continued. Mike looked left to right. Both Molly and Tim were gone. He got his feet moving and started off through the tall grass.
The gunfire fell off abruptly. He reached the beginning of the cars and trucks and began working his way down the length of a pickup truck when he caught movement on the opposite side of the truck out of the corner of his eye. He swung the rifle up fast, finger on the trigger, squeezing as it came up. The only thing stopping him from firing the uncertainty of what his peripheral vision had caught, when his eyes finished the split second trip he nearly squeezed the trigger anyway when Tim’s face came into sharp focus.
“Christ,” He breathed. Tim’s face was streaked with blood. Pasty white under the scarlet. Tim nodded and swiveled his eyes behind Mike, he turned to find Molly peering around the edge of a van fifty or so feet beyond his own position. He motioned both of them over.
Small bands of survivors are joining together, making their way across the devastation of America…
The morning turned to early afternoon before the four trucks pulled up out of the field together, followed the service roadway back onto route 3 and headed toward Clifton. Cammy studied a map as Bear drove.
“It’s hard to believe this is as far as we have got in over a month together,” she said as she studied the map.
“We had no real direction,” Bear supplied. “It’s not like we had decided on a place and headed toward it.” Bear watched the sides of the road. They were traveling along at less than twenty miles an hour, weaving down into the median, and off onto the service roads that paralleled the highway when they had too.
There were too many cars abandoned next to the road, in the road, even across the road, to be able to keep track of all of them at one time. A large mall came up on the right and Bear slowed at the interchange to look it over. Billy’s truck rolled up, the window dropped and Beth leaned out.
“Looks okay,” she said, breaking the silence of the quiet afternoon.
“Except it’s quiet,” Bear agreed. “That’s always been bad news.”
Beth held up her machine pistol. “We need what we need.”
Bear nodded. “Let’s go then… We stay together though.”
Beth nodded, Billy shifted back into drive and waited for Bear to pull away. He pulled in behind him and followed.
There was a thick line of trees behind the shops that Bear didn’t like. It seemed like the perfect place for the dead to hide away. He drove slowly into the first Mall area, past the trees and into the second lot. The trees were not as thick up close, but he could still not see through them, and it bothered him. Anything, or one, could be hidden within them. He turned the truck and pointed it back toward the entrance road and shut it down.
Billy, and then Mac, pulled down, turned around, and stopped next to Bear’s truck. They shut down too and the ticking of cooling motors filled the silence of the parking lot. Bear looked around the lot, but saw nothing that seemed out of place.
Abandoned cars and trucks. The front doors to a discount store were shattered, the aluminum frames twisted, pushed open wide and pinned against the faux brick front with carts. Bear had left the windows up. He didn’t like the idea of having to start the truck to roll them back up. It was better to roll them up before he shut down. He levered the door open, and stepped down to the pavement. Beside him, Billy, Beth, and Mac stepped out of their own vehicles too. The doors chuffed closed, and the silence came back heavy.
Bear scanned the parking lot but saw nothing. He looked over at Beth. She shrugged and looked back over at the wood line Bear turned away and started toward the shattered front entrance, the others fell in behind him.
The front of the store was destroyed. They stayed together, walking aisle to aisle looking for the dead.
The smell had hit all of them when they crossed the threshold into the store. The dead were there: Where they did not know. They walked slowly forward into the huge building. Silent. Safeties off their rifles, waiting.
The survivors are on the road looking for a place to begin again…
Mike awoke before dawn. He lay quietly, feeling the heat from Candace’s body where it pressed up against his, and thinking about what the future might be.
The first thing he had thought was that whatever had happened to the world would be made right. That somewhere there was someone still in charge, and eventually that person would get everything back on track. The world would be fun again. Television, phones, electricity, the Internet, the mortgage on his house, all of it. That turned out to be a pipe dream. The whole idea had dissipated quickly. Even so, when they had finally started out, he had held out some hope, and they hadn’t come far, but Jeff and his people had, and it was the same everywhere. There was no man sitting in an office somewhere waiting to get everything back in shape, and if there was, he would have to be a complete idiot, because he’d be waiting an awfully long time.
The dead woman Jeff had told him about bothered him a great deal. He had remembered a day he had gone out, after things had fallen apart. He had heard airplanes in the night. In the morning, there was some sort of blue liquid they had sprayed all over the city. He had wondered about that. Why? What was it? And the bodies in the market… Had it been dogs? Had it been dogs that had been… eating them? There was no nice way to look at it, or put it.
If Jeff was crazy… But he wasn’t. He seemed as sane as any of them did. No. He couldn’t write it off to crazy or not crazy. He obviously believed what he saw. He had to mark it down to… To what? He asked himself. To…
Candace stirred and pressed closer to him, and then settled back down. Gray light began to creep into the room. He could see the outline of her body.
The movement, the light seeping into the room, sent his thoughts along an entirely different line.
For the last two days he had found himself thinking in an entirely new direction. All the old shit is gone, and that’s okay. He didn’t care at all if he never saw electricity again. In fact, he’d rather not have it, and even if there was a way to fix it all, he didn’t want to go back. He was positive, in fact, that they couldn’t go back, none of them, was positive he wouldn’t be able to live that way again, when less than a month ago his entire life, his entire focus, was wrapped up in the old way. Hadn’t he been watching the countdown show for the end of the world? Reality TV every night? The big party for the end of the world? And really, that had simply been a joke.
Nobody, at least most people, didn’t believe the world was going anywhere. It was just another thing to occupy the head. Even the terminology, World Ending, was bullshit. The world did not end. We think so highly of ourselves that we believe that the end of society means the end of the world, and I guess it did for us… some of us. But the end of the world? No. The world will go on and on when we are nothing at all but dust upon the ground.
Now it really was gone, and not only didn’t he miss it, he didn’t want it to come back. He didn’t want to chase across half of what had been the United States looking for some semblance of the old world. His mind was at rest; he was happy. He allowed one hand to stroke the length of Candace’s body. Very happy, he decided. Candace stirred again. One of her own hands came down his side, across his abdomen, searching.
The end has come for most of the world’s population. Small groups of survivors are picking up the pieces… Learning to live again…
When the sun began to peek over the top of the ridge on the opposite shore of the Black river, everyone filed out to the two remaining trucks. It had been decided that Mike and Jan would stay behind while the others went in search of the stolen truck. They switched on and tested two sets of F.M. radios.
“The range is normally only about two miles or so, but it’s not like there’s anything to interfere with them anymore,” Tom said. “We’ll take three with us, and you keep the other here to monitor us, or if they come back here,” Tom finished.
“Do you think that’s a possibility?” Janet Dove asked.
“I doubt it, Dear,” Bob told her with a reassuring smile. “It’s just to be safe.”
Mike walked over to Candace. Her eyes met his. He kissed her softly, and her arms slipped around him.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered, “I’ll be careful. And I’ll make sure they’re careful.” She kissed him and pulled back.
Mike stared at the face of the two-way radio for a long second and then watched her get into the Suburban. Bob got into the front seat with her. Her eyes met his once more, and she smiled reassuringly, then started the Suburban and fell in behind Tom as he drove the big State truck out across the pavement.
Mike and Janet stood quietly as the two trucks drove away. Neither of them wanted to go back inside the cave. The sun was up and warming the old asphalt of the road where it passed in front of the cave, and what little snow remained was already beginning to melt.
“Left here,” The radio squawked. It sounded like Lydia.
“Behind you,” came an answer that sounded like Bob.
Mike shifted the 30-30 Deer rifle he held in one hand and thumbed off the strap that held his Nine Millimeter in his web holster. Janet Dove grimaced and then thumbed the safety off the shotgun she was holding. A short clip protruded from the base of the shotgun, just forward of the trigger. She had two more clips in a small pouch on her side, as well as a fully loaded Three Eighty in a tooled leather side holster she wore.
What must we look like, Mike thought. Aloud he said, “They’ll be fine.”
“Really?” Janet Dove asked. “I truly hope so. I truly do.”
The next twenty minutes went by slowly. Occasional squawks of directions came from the radio, and in the distance the sound of both trucks could still be heard. The silence broke all at once.
The radio squealed in Mike’s hand. One word jumped clearly from the static… “Jesus!”… Mike couldn’t tell from whom. A crashing sound accompanied it, and in the far distance gunfire erupted in the still, previously quiet morning air.
The squeal from the radio abruptly cut off and it fell back to low static. In the distance the sound of gunfire continued for what seemed like ten minutes, but was probably no more than thirty or forty seconds in reality. Mike keyed the radio, “Candace,” he screamed. “Candace?”
Gunfire broke out again in the distance. The fast… POP, POP, POP of semi-automatic gunfire, but the sharp crack of a heavy rifle too. No answer came back over the radio. Janet Dove made a small strangled sound in the back of her throat and a low sob slipped from her mouth. “No, God, no,” she whispered. …