EARTH’S SURVIVORS: PLAGUE
Copyright 2016 Geo Dell all rights reserved.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Geo Dell
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EARTH’S SURVIVORS: PLAGUE
September 15th year one
Mike sat quietly on the stone ledge, feet dangling over the edge, watching the sunrise. Patty and Candace were both on post and Mike expected them to come down from the top of the pass in just a few minutes. He sipped at his coffee as he waited for them.
He was midway up the ledge, just below the wider ledge that fronted the cave, before him the valley spread out in all directions. You could see the mountains where they blocked one end and sent the valley into a long right hand curve, but even that was several miles distance from where he sat. It was a huge expanse of land, and it was only a small part of the land that was available to them.
There were three large metal barns within sight, constructed from the steel buildings they had bought in with them. There were two smaller steel structures, one that housed the school, the other their small power plant.
That building sat next to the stream, further down the valley, and held the power generator they had bought, and two large diesel engines from two of the flatbed trucks.
It had taken three days to get the trucks down there. Using a winch on the pickup and the third stake bed as an anchor, but, they had done it. The two diesels were soon to be hooked into the main power supply line so that when the wind power was not enough they could run the diesels for supplementary power. The stream itself generated power, but the current was not fast enough, or strong enough to fill their needs. Coupled with the wind power it was more than enough. Backed by the two diesels to turn the generators, they would be fine year round
They intended to add solar panels eventually to provide on demand power and to take the load off the water turbine on sunny days. The power that wasn’t used could be stored in a bank of batteries. Another item that was needed. Items, Mike corrected himself. Plus wire, lots and lots of wire. Because, although the power plant was working, there were only a few lights here and there and only very close to the plant, most of the other dwellings, and the cave, were without power.
The other dwellings were made of stone. Like the power plant, they had Tim’s remarkable mind to thank for the stone and concrete walls. He had read about the power plant and put it together. He had read and understood the formula for cement and made it.
The first few batches were not the best, but they worked well enough, and after that he had shown Ronnie, Patty, David and Mike how to mix the batches. The stone buildings had gone up fast after that.
It took the longest to build the roofs, they were nearly all wood and they had not thought to bring a sawmill, although Bob was sure there had been a fairly large portable one at the farm equipment store.
They had remembered chain saws and oil, and Tim had used an illustration in a project book to build a small Sawmill using one of the larger chain saws. It worked well enough, but ate into their gas supply, which was very low. Even so it had allowed them to build dwellings, another barn, milk house, slaughterhouse.
The concrete had allowed them to build a long stone wall that sat at the edge of the ledge that fronted the cave and the sheer drop off to the valley below. They had built a chimney for the smoke hole, as well as another wall at the front of the cave to close it off and protect it from the rain and snow they expected. Rain for sure, they had already seen that. They would know more about the snow in just a few months. Mike hoped to be back by then.
He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote… “Base type radios.” He then tucked the notebook away. The notebook was the only way to do it, otherwise he would forget too many things and…
“Hey, babe,” Candace said. She and Patty walked side by side down the pathway from the top. They were both showing, at nearly six months along, and that was the main reason that he and Ronnie would be going along with Nell, Molly, Tim and Annie on the re-supply trip, and Candace and Patty would be staying behind. He stood quickly so she would not try to bend to kiss him. Candace was even larger than Patty and already uncomfortable. He kissed her and held it for a moment.
“Any more of that coffee,” she asked.
“At home,” he smiled. “All you want… Patty?” He offered.
“Nope,” she stood smiling. “I’m going home to my man. With you two leaving tomorrow I have forbidden him to go anywhere else today or tomorrow. I don’t want him to forget me,” she said. She smiled but couldn’t quite hide the worry in her eyes.
“I had the same idea,” Candace said. “Believe me,” she said, kissing Mike again. “He’s not going to forget about me.”
Patty laughed, “You guys,” she said. The three of them continued down the path to the valley floor, past the pool and on down the flagged pathway to the stone houses.
They left Patty with Ronnie, and headed to the next house in line. The inside was still only sparsely furnished and smelled of the fresh cut pine that had been used to build the roof and wall studding. They had to make everything they owned, and it took time. Another thing they had not thought of, furniture. A few simple chairs or beds. They would remember this time though; they were on the list.
Candace stayed on the front porch while Mike went in and started the coffee. The flowers in her little garden were in bloom and the fragrance was strong on the morning air. Mike came back out to find her sitting on the long porch swing he had built for her, fashioned from heavy rough cut planks and sanded smooth with sandstone, watching the sun continue to rise.
He handed her, her coffee, and then carefully sat down beside her so she wouldn’t spill it. She was quiet.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Mike said.
“You don’t have a penny,” she said smiling.
“Well, you know, if I did,” Mike said.
“I’ve been thinking about you leaving. I wish I was going, but I’m also glad to be pregnant with our baby, still I’m going to worry about you while you’re gone,” she took his hand and held it.
“A month, month and a half tops, and we’ll be back. I wish you were going too, but to be honest I’m glad you’re not. Bouncing around those trucks, you and Patty both? No, not at all. Sandy was right to say no. So, I’m gonna miss you, but we’ll be back with a bunch of stuff to keep you busy through the winter and probably the next few years.”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Which reminds me, computers.”
“Computers,” he asked.
“Yeah, it would be so helpful to have a few. For the farm, school, teaching the kids. The power project, but also for my music. You did that right… Computers? Used to program them,” she asked.
“Yeah, and I didn’t think I’d see them again, but you’re right they would be useful,” Mike agreed.
“Can you program,” she asked. “You said so, right? Can you write a program like Tim wants for the powerhouse?”
“Well, I’m okay with HTML, C, Java, but not so hot with C++. But, I don’t have to be, Janet is,” Mike told her.
“Janet,” she asked.
“Yeah, she worked as a data processor. But she wrote several data base programs to do specific work. Not like macros or scripts you write for databases, but real programs,” he said.
“Babe, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but will you get them?” Candace smiled.
Mike smiled and pulled out a notebook. “How many were you thinking,” he asked.
“A few dozen. A little more maybe and the stuff to hook them together?” She said.
He wrote it down and then re-pocketed the notebook. “You got it, Babe. And I’m sorry for the tech-speak,” he smiled and kissed her. “Now, didn’t you say something about spending time with me, before I left?”
She leaned over and closed his mouth with her own. “Come with me,” she said softly, pulling him from the porch swing and into the house…
There was no head of what they had named ‘The New Nation’ and then immediately abbreviated to just ‘The Nation,’ instead they had chosen nine members from among themselves and formed a representative panel. There were also no formal meetings, but when something needed to be decided or discussed the nine of them got together and hashed it out.
They would be down to six, losing Mike, Ronnie and Nellie to the expedition, but they decided there was no real reason to appoint someone to take their places while they were gone. It was so rare for them to even meet that there should be little reason for that to occur while they were gone. “And if it did?” Patty had asked.
“Well,” Bob had said. “Six could decide every bit as well as nine could.” And that had been the end of it.
Instead of remaining in the dark ages as some had been concerned about, Bob and Janet had been all for nearly any and every modern convenience they could find. Bob had balked at telephones though when Tim mentioned how easily it could be done.
“We have radios. I for one don’t want to have to answer the phone so young Tim here can sell me a subscription to the local paper,” he had joked. But the point had been made, even with Tim, and he had immediately turned his attention to radios. Base radios. More power. No Batteries. Radios, Phones, they were the same thing to Tim’s mind. A cell phone could fit in your pocket. The clunky radios they carried now could not. Bob would come around once he saw how much easier a cell phone would work. They were nothing more than a glorified radio anyway. Tim decided not to mention his argument to Bob though. Maybe later.
One of the first decisions the panel had made was to use the cave for a meeting place, clinic, and storage. There were several dry, cold storage areas. The passages went on forever it seemed. The ridge that lead away into the distance, and formed a natural border for the valley, was honeycombed with caves. Most of them connected to the main cave. At least the ones they had explored. Probably, Mike had opinioned, they all did. It was just a matter of exploring them and mapping them out.
There were also underground rivers, steep narrow passages that went deep into the ground. They had blocked off anything truly dangerous within the first few months.
Sandy and Susan had decided to build their own home into the stone overhang. It only made sense, Sandy had said. The clinic was in the cave. The herb racks. The medicines. They were both working their way through several books to learn as much as they could about herbs and the natural healing properties of the trees and plants around them.
Tim and Annie had chosen to live in the cave too. Tim needed the space for the projects he had going. He moved from one thing to the next. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on a few computers, and he was sure he could easily learn whatever Mike and Janet were willing to teach him.
Sharon was learning to nurse from Sandy. She was also finding her background as a veterinarian’s assistant in demand. She was fascinated with plant and herb medicines and was as eager as Sandy and Susan to learn it.
Cindy had stayed in the cave because of Sharon. She was like a mother to her. Whatever had needed to click had. Cindy was impressed with the veterinarian skills Sharon had, and eager to learn from her.
Cindy’s other hero was Molly, who could do just about anything to a motor or any other mechanical thing. She was learning mechanics from Molly and animal husbandry from Sharon. It filled her days up. Made her feel useful. And she rarely thought of her old life any longer.
The large main room in the cave was used as a gathering place by all of them whenever they wanted to get together. It was this space that had been closed in with stone, and a heavy, solid plank door protected the interior from the elements.
Down in the valley, two of the barns held most of the animals, several head of cattle and bison grazed in the valley. They were still fed grain to keep them dependent and close by. The others, mothers who were through nursing their calves, were moved to a separate part of the barn and joined the milking team. They now had twenty-four milkers, and a steady supply of milk, cheese and butter.
The other half of the barn held chickens and rabbits. They had separate areas in the same space, and both reproduced very quickly so they had a constant supply of fresh meat. Some weeks more than they could use. But It was easy to use the far, colder reaches of the caves to keep the meat cold. The cold storage was not enough to keep the meat frozen during the summer but it did keep it cold enough to keep the meat fresh a few weeks at a time. A permanent smoke house existed farther down the valley and took all the excess meat and turned it into dried meat. Highly concentrated protein that could be stored for months. They were working on pemmican so that it could be stored indefinitely, as long as it was kept dry.
The egg supply was also constant with fresh layers coming along all the time. The beef cows were free to graze the valley floor. A short section of stone wall had been erected to close off the exit at the far end of the valley where a second, longer valley ran for several miles, eventually opening into untold miles of grazing lands past the mountain range.
That closed in several miles of the main valley. The sides of the valley climbed to ridges that were far too steep for any animal besides a mountain goat to climb. The area that held the houses and the ledges that led up to the caves was fenced off.
The horses shared the valley. They tended to prefer the closer proximity of people. Several horses were stabled in the second barn along with oxen teams. Some of those horses were used for field work along with the oxen, but there were about a dozen horses that were used for riding and herding the beef cows.
Spread out in the valley there was a small herd of moose and another of deer. Both by-products of the cow chow they had used to lure the cows and horses. An even smaller herd of Bison had stayed in the valley. The question in everyone’s mind at first was whether any of them were cross mate-able. Because the moose bulls were constantly chasing after the cows when they came into heat. They took the questions to Sharon.
“Moose and Cow, No,” Sharon said. “Cow and Bison, yes.” She had laughed it off. But soon after that they were blessed with the first Beefalo calf, and more, she suspected, were on the way.
The third and fourth barns in the valley were used for storing grain and hay they would need to get through the coming winter.
Angel was pregnant, but not by The Dog. The Dog had no fear when it came to chasing off the Wolves and Coy dogs that came down into the valley on occasion. Even the occasional mountain lion. They usually came for the deer, the cows were too large for them. But the calves were not. And they had lost five calves to them. The Dog may have had no fear but at fifty pounds he had been no match for the wolves.. The smallest coy dogs were close to eighty pounds, the smaller wolves closer to a hundred, and the larger ones bigger by far. Most often The Dog ended up on the bad end of things. Torn up, but still game for the next fight. The problem, as Sharon saw it, was that they needed a much bigger dog.
Angel was also a mix, but a much bigger dog. Some sort of Saint Bernard mixed in, Sharon thought, and then crossed with either a Malamute or a wolf. Malamutes were close to wolves in size, some even bigger. They had been bred as freight dogs in Alaska back in the early 1950’s, and had actually come from breeding domestic dog breeds back to wolves.
Sharon had not come up with the solution, Cindy had.
They had both been present when one of the larger male wolves had tried to take down one of the nearly full grown calves they had bought into the valley with them. They were nowhere near as big as a full grown cow, but they were very nearly.
The wolf had been no match for the calf or the calf’s mother who had been nearby. The mother had hit the wolf from the side and broken its spine. She had also delivered a few well placed kicks before herding the calf off. They had checked the calf over and used some antiseptic cream on its belly where the wolf had tried to rip it open, and then let it return to its anxious mother. That was when Cindy had noticed that the wolf was still breathing. Very shallowly, probably not for much longer, but it was alive.
They had, had Angel tied up to keep her away from The Dog who was making a general pest of himself because she was in heat.
“Too bad,” Cindy had said, “We didn’t get him to mate with Angel first.”
Sharon had smiled. “Cindy, you’re a frickin’ genius!”
“How so,” Cindy asked.
“Well. He’s not dead. Everything is working… We can make it work.” Sharon had said.
Cindy looked down at the wolf. “Hold him up?” She was trying to imagine how it might work.
Sharon laughed. “Okay. I take it back. You’re not a genius… How did I show you to do it with the bulls?”
“Oh…” Cindy smiled as it came to her. “You think it will work,” she asked.
Sharon shrugged her shoulders, but continued to smile. “Go get the gloves. Let’s find out.”
“Eww,” Cindy said. “I’m not too good with that part.”
“Time to get better, my dear,” Sharon laughed.
As it turned out it did work, an unconscious wolf or not. A little help from a turkey baster and a few weeks later Angel was pregnant.
The lions were another problem. Sharon had no doubt that a few more crossbreedings would produce dogs big enough to keep the wolves at bay, but they would be no match for the mountain lion, or lions, whichever it turned out to be. Bob had done some tracking and he was convinced it was at least three different lions they were dealing with.
And the problem with that was the children.. The lions seemed only to come around at night, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t come around during the day. So they had set a trap, leaving the fresh remains of a beef cow, and Candace along with Tim had sat up most of two nights in a row. The second night had been the payoff.
Two of the big cats had come down to feed on the cow’s carcass. The cats had been nervous and so they had let them both settle in for a few minutes before they had brought both of them down. They had had no other trouble since then. The furs along with all the other game they shot went up to the cave to be cleaned, stretched and turned into usable leather and fur.
Janet had both Tom and David learning how to prepare and tan the hides. She herself had only ever done it on a small scale, so it was somewhat of a learning process for her too. But there were already some wearing leather vests, pants. Janet herself wore nothing but leather now. Tom and Lilly both had begun to wear only leather, and that had convinced Annie, who was very close to Lilly to try it too. Arlene had already been wearing leather and Janet opinioned that in a few years they would all probably be wearing leather.
Candace and Patty were hoping to build a loom or a spinning wheel long before that. Or have someone build it for them if they couldn’t do it themselves. But both of them had already begun wearing leather. In all truth, Candace told Patty, she liked the way the leather felt on her. It was completely different from cotton, and she wasn’t so sure that Janet was not right. Patty had laughed, but a few days later she had been wearing a leather shirt top that Janet had made for her, and extolling the virtues of leather herself.
In a little over five months they had made the valley into a home. All the prejudices that some had had about living off the land, going back to nature, or simply staying alive, had gone by the wayside. The fields they had cultivated would be ready to harvest in just a few weeks. Corn, beans and other vegetables. And there were acres upon acres of wheat fields to harvest.
The power station, although doing nothing more than powering a few lights right now, would soon be powering their homes and the main meeting area in the cave. Lights along the pathways. Once they had wire they could make it work for what they needed. The hard work to wire it all would willingly be given as it had been to build what they had so far built. They were all behind what they were doing. They were behind each other.
They had found that the gradual slope of the stream down to the pool made an excellent water slide. Children and adults alike enjoyed it. It had been used daily through the long, hot summer months.
Candace and Tim, along with Molly, Lilly and Cindy had put together a little band. Guitars and hand built drums as well as a flute that Lilly had gotten Ronnie to make for her from a pattern in a book. They got together a few times a week and provided music for the shared evening meals on Saturday and Sunday.
The shared weekend meals had been organized by Lilly. She had also set apart an hour on Sunday morning for a church service. It had started with just she and Annie, and now encompassed most of the people. It was like no service in the old world. Lilly would simply read something from her bible or something from some other spiritual book she had. Bob, Sandy and Janet would speak a little about the Creator and the Great spirit. Ronnie explained a little about the Qua-ran and the Muslim faith. Not really sermons, they would point out, just food for thought.
Janet would make a huge group breakfast that just happened to coincide with the end of their service. That had been the beginning of their day together. And it turned into a weekly service.
From there it had seemed natural to Lilly to plan an afternoon community meal together. It was simply easier for everyone than planning many separate meals. Everyone was so busy throughout the week that they rarely had time to sit down together and talk. Sometimes they didn’t see each at all.
Not everyone made it to the community gathering every week, but no one missed more than one week unless something unusual was going on. It was the one time where no one had to do anything except relax and talk. Enjoy each other’s company. Catch up on projects and ideas.
The musicians played, or sometimes Annie, Lilly and Tim would play music they had collected and bought with them. But with the power as yet not hooked up and batteries getting scarcer and scarcer, most often it was live music.
A dozen groups of people had found their way to the valley and joined them. They monitored the CB, FM and VHF bands and spoke with other groups on a nearly daily basis. They also kept up with the news in the outside world. How bad the cities had gotten. The plague of the Un-Dead that seemed to have swept what was left of the country. It made them grateful for their growing community and the safety they had within the stone ridges of their valley.
Time was flowing by, and everyone was beginning to find their place in that flow once more. The community they had envisioned was becoming a reality and evolving as it grew.
Mike and Candace lay in the big bed in their bedroom. He had one ear up against her stomach listening, trailing his fingers lightly across the swell of her stomach he did.
He had felt the baby move a few times in the last couple of weeks. It was something that choked him up inside. So much emotion he didn’t know how to express it. But that was only his thoughts. Candace could see the love spread across his face and color his eyes. It showed in his smile, in the way he touched her, in the way his eyes misted over.
The baby kicked him in the ear.
“Holy cow,” he said lifting his head up quickly. “Did you feel that?”
“Yeah, Baby, I did.” She laughed and smoothed one hand across his hair as he lowered his head back down to her stomach again.
“That was so… Cool… This is one of those times, Baby, that you never forget,” he told her in a voice that was hushed and filled with awe. He went back to lightly trailing his fingers across her belly, over the swell and back down the other side. It was something Candace had told him relaxed her. And it did this time too. She fell asleep stroking his hair.
Nellie lay with her head on Molly’s shoulder. She rubbed her flat stomach with her palm as one finger drew imaginary circles around her belly button. “I’m trying to imagine this with a bump,” she told her.
“Well it will be soon, Honey” Molly told her.
“Are you afraid? … Nervous?,” Nellie asked.
“A bit. They say you forget the pain right after. So…” Molly said.
“I’ll bet it was a man who said that,” Nellie said.
Molly laughed. “Janet says it’s like that. But you want to kill every man in the world for a little while… While it’s happening,” she said.
“She said that,” Nellie asked.
“Yeah. Just like that. Said she would have kicked herself in the ass for letting Bob do it, but she wouldn’t have been able to get up to do it.” Molly told her. They both laughed. “But afterward? She didn’t care. Like right afterward too. She saw her daughter and she said the rest just didn’t matter anymore. You know?”
“I can guess… I can’t get pregnant… Or, I never did,” Nellie said.
“It’s our last night alone,” Molly said. Her hand slid down the length of Nellie’s body.
Nellie let her own hand trail off of Molly’s flat stomach and onto the bed. She pushed herself up, straddled Molly’s stomach and kissed her slowly.
“I love you so much,” Nellie told her. She kissed her again.
Ronnie pulled Patty to him and held her as they both allowed their breathing to slow and their hearts to quit pounding.
“I don’t think pregnant ladies are supposed to be… Uh… To be that… Active,” Ronnie said.
Patty smacked him on one arm. “You… This one is,” she said.
“Are you going to miss me… Really miss me,” he asked.
She smacked him again, leaned her head down and bit him lightly on the chest. “Do you want me to show you again,” she asked.
“Jesus! You’ll kill me, Patty,” Ronnie told her.
She rolled off him and curled into his side. “How did you feel about becoming a daddy?” She asked him. His hand was tracing patterns across her stomach.
“Babe, you know how I feel.”
“No, you… The other child that will be yours… Molly’s?”
“Oh… I… I guess I feel kind of weird. I don’t know exactly how I should feel. When they asked I wasn’t sure. But when you were okay with it, I was okay with it. But it was an abstract, you know? It wasn’t really real until I did the thing for Sandy and she did whatever she did with it… Then… Then it was different… That’s part of me, Babe. I mean really part of me. I don’t know how I feel… Proud? Nervous times two? Looking forward to it? Wondering how I will feel when I see that child and know that it is part of me,” he finished quietly.
Patty rubbed one hand across his stomach. “They said the baby will know,” she said. “It probably won’t feel so weird once you’re used to it.”
He nodded and touched her belly. “But this baby? This one will be spoiled rotten… A man who had nothing just a short time ago, and now, soon, I’ll have two little people who are part of me to love and be loved by.”
“The babies,” Patty said.
“That makes three. I was talking about you and our baby. We’re one, you’re part of me and I’m a part of you. Old testament, New Testament, Qua-ran, they all say the same thing. We become one. So, there’s you, a part of me… And the baby, a part of us… And the other baby that is part of us as well… A lot of love for a man who had nothing at all.” He let one hand travel over the swell of her stomach and downward.
“And what exactly are you doing now,” Patty asked.
His mouth planted little kisses on her stomach as he worked his way down.
It’s the night before the six will leave to go back to the outside. I think of it that way… The outside. This place is something I have never had. So much love, so much caring, it overwhelmed me for the first little while. That and the other. Having to kill a man. But it was worse for those who stayed behind when we made our way to this place. If they had not stayed to fight the rest of us would not have been able to get away. David told me what it had been like for them. They had to kill too. They had to kill children that were controlled like puppets. Deadly puppets to be sure, but a puppet is a puppet… a slave.
And now we’re sending them back out again into a world that can’t be any better than it was. It’s worse in some ways. We didn’t have to deal with the dead. The radio tells us they have taken over most of the bigger cities. I just can’t imagine it. But We’re sending them out tomorrow, and all so that we can live a little better. Nothing that we absolutely have to have. We have everything we could ever need right here. But to live better.
To live better we need other things. It makes me wonder if we have changed all that much after all. I hope it is not a move toward the old society. I really hope not. Enough negativity though. They’re going. I voted yes too, and there are things they will bring back that I asked for too.
On a lighter note I think almost every woman in the Nation is pregnant. I guess that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Me, Patty, Candace, Lilly, Annie. Jane, Alice and Amber are pretty sure. There are so many more people here. It seems almost like we grow every week. Maybe we do, come to think of it. Oh and now Molly too, and I wonder who the father is? But how would I ask Molly without sounding too nosy or even insensitive? Babies and more Babies, and thank God for them. They are our real crop. We joke about that, how in a few weeks it will be time to bring in the corn and that’s our crop, but our real business, our real crop, is babies.
Sandy and Susan are thinking about it too, only they both want to get pregnant. They’re trying to decide who goes first. God bless them.
Sometimes I think I am a long way from my roots. In another respect it seems to me that I have spent my entire life trying to get to this place… This condition… And I am so glad that I am here.
May God go with ours tomorrow as they go back to the outside. Keep them safe. Bring them right back to us.
I am as big as a house. Seven months, two to go and I cannot really believe it because I am so big. How much bigger can I get?
Tom dotes on me bad. I mean he waits on me hand and foot. I am still teaching day times, but I take it easy late afternoon and evenings.
I would have never believed that anyone would want to leave this and go back into the world. I think of this place as set apart. Out there is the other world… The old world with all of our garbage still there. I only hope and pray they have a safe trip.
Ouch! This kid kicks like a football player!
Our life here is good. So good. Thank you, God.
Watertown, New York
They came from the hill. They came from the many graveyards that dotted the city where they had hidden in fear. They came from the surrounding countryside and made the journey to the small northern city. The wolves followed them from the tree lines, shadowy alleyways and doorways of abandoned buildings, but they kept their distance. More and more they turned and made their way out of the city, leaving it to the dead.
He led them, his limp was gone entirely. His body had finished the major changes that being un-dead bought with it. He had come from the barn outside of the city, looked down at the blackness of the valley that the small city lay in, and he had known it was time.
Miles away another lead a similar group, beyond that another, and another, across what had been the United States and beyond. Across the lands, the oceans, the continents. The living were through. The dead were the inheritors of this world now, the living squatters hanging on to something they had no claim to.
He scented the air while his gathered around him. Over one thousand, and nearly that on the other side of the city waiting for his command. He knew the numbers exactly, eighteen hundred seventy-three, but the numbers were unimportant, the time was important. Their time. The end of the old time. It was on the air. In the air. He took a step forward and those behind him surged, only to stop once more when he stopped, careful to leave him space. Careful not to bump or jostle him. For such a large crowd they were nearly completely silent.
He scented the air. There were hundreds of the breathers hidden away. Hundreds that believed they were safe. He knew where they were. He knew what they considered safe. But it was safe because he had allowed it to be safe. The time of safety for the living was at an end though.
He knew he would lose some of his own, but he knew those he took would raise to join him. It was ironic really, if the breathers could only look at it that way they might be able to see it in an entirely different light. A gift. And a gift was really what it was. How often did you wish you could live forever? How often had he wished it? So, here it was and they were running from it. Afraid of forever or afraid of passing through death to get to forever?
He looked over the dark city. The breeze that passed his face told him about those hiding. It also told him winter was on the way. Bad for the breathers, but not for them. Cold was life. Heat was the enemy. Cold was something to be embraced, longed for, fought for, striven to attain. Heat was the destroyer of that life. The coming winter would be good for them, they would come together and move to the larger cities.
He took a step, another, and began the walk down the hill toward the darkened city. The thousand behind him moved as one, following him down the hill. No fires burned. No lights shone. He could smell the stink of the breathers. It repulsed him and yet it drew him at the same time.
He could smell smoke on the air. The breathers needed their warmth, but it would only lead his to them more easily. They had their fear of fire, but they had a bigger fear of him. A fear of what he would do if they did not succeed. There was another death. Another death that was permanent. He had set examples, and he could set more, but the deeper into the process they were the more in tune with him and his needs they were. They did not need examples. They knew the consequences and they understood them completely.
The walk down the hill was pleasant. The air became even cooler as they descended into the valley that held the small city, the scents of the living clearer. He stopped near a crumbled store front on the outskirts of the city itself. A crossroads, or what had been a crossroads. The others stopped behind him. Waiting.
The main road stretched away into the city itself. To the left and right the buckled and overgrown blacktop stretched away, finding alternate ways into the city. He said nothing, but those behind him began to divide into groups, some to the left, some to the right. A few minutes later, the cold blue moonlight shining off the cracked and tilted roadway, they started on their individual ways. A few minutes after that the intersection was empty, as though they had never been there at all.
She ran from the doorway of a falling down building, one of the several that sat at the crossroads, the children under her arms and pressed closely to her. They were really too big to carry, and she would not be able to run for long, but she had to put as much distance between herself and the dead ones as she could, and the kids could never keep up with her…
She had not heard them come but she had sensed something wrong, the way any mother will, and she had crept to the front of the crumbling building and peeked out the shattered window, hiding herself in the shadows as she did. They were everywhere. She had nearly screamed aloud in her fear, but managed to reign it in because she knew it would lead to discovery. They would come for her, and if they came for her whether the kids hid or not they would be finished. They couldn’t survive without her. She had clamped one hand across her mouth and faded back further into the shadows.
At first she had refused to look. Afraid that they would somehow know she was watching. But she couldn’t stand not knowing where they were and what they were doing. Were they, even now, creeping toward the building? Was one peering through the shattered glass and into the shadows where she was hidden? Her eyes flew open. No. But, she had nearly convinced herself that it was true. They had stood motionless in the road. A vast group. Several hundred. Maybe more than a thousand. Maybe more than that.
Some did not look dead at all, they seemed almost as alive as anyone else. The differences were there though. You could not put that many living people in one place and maintain absolute silence. Humans… Living humans, she had amended… Were these still humans, she had then asked herself? She pushed her own question aside. She didn’t really care. The point was humans… Her kind of humans, would not be that silent. Would not be able to be that silent.
This crowd had stood stock still. Hands dangling at their sides. They looked stupid, but she knew they were far from stupid. She had been watching. They were not smart, far from it. She had watched them stand still and wait while someone lined up a rifle or pistol and shot them. Wasn’t that stupid? To her way of thinking it was. But when she had thought about that she realized it had been some time since she had actually seen that happen. No. They were smarter than that now. Not as fast or smart as a human… There was that word again, but didn’t it mean that there was something about them that she didn’t consider human? Something in them that bothered her so much that she could not look at them as humans? Something…
She had watched, careful not to make any noise. The children were in the back, in an old freezer room. A heavy steel door closed and locked with a padlock. Even now they could be calling out to her and she would not know. But, that meant that the Zombies also would not know. Could not know. She hoped that they were not upset. Not worried. That they had not missed her. But she had been relieved that she had thought to close and lock the freezer door. It had occurred to her though, that if anything happened to her they would die in that freezer. No one would know they were there. No one would come for them. They would be frightened, scared… She had pushed it away and watched the dead where they stood, hands dangling, faces blank. They looked stupid. They looked stupid, dammit, and they should be stupid! But they weren’t.
She had watched from the shadows as a few minutes later they began to move away. No words passed between them. They made very little noise even in their leaving. Feet scuffing against the roadway, their clothes rustling slightly. No more than a whisper on the wind, and she had wondered what it was that had bought her from her steel prison in the first place… Intuition. Had to be.
She had waited a few moments after they were gone. The moonlight was cold. Her breath fogged lightly on the air. She was terrified, she found. Still terrified she corrected. She had taken to doing that. Correcting her own words as if she was someone else. She had worried at first that it could mean she was going crazy. But she had decided that it didn’t matter if she was crazy or not, didn’t matter in this world because the entire world was crazy. So what was the problem with a little more crazy? None, she had decided. She could go on correcting herself forever. Her heart still hammered in her chest. Hard… Bam… Bam… Bam… it’s a good thing they had not been able to hear it.
She had looked out at the roadway. Empty. Not a sound, but something bothered her about it. If they knew she was here they would come back. They would. And if they were gone it would be best to leave right now. Not wait until they came back and found her… Killed her, she modified. Yes… Killed her. And the kids… Or leave them to starve to death in the old freezer… Or… Could they figure out the lock mechanism? Could they? They were smarter, but were they that much smarter? Maybe they were. Maybe…
She had turned and ran to the freezer. Panicked. Knocking aside a stack of boxes as she went. The sound loud in the silence. More than loud. Overwhelming. Sending her into a frenzy. She nearly snapped off the key getting it in the lock. Her breath coming hard and fast. Creating pain behind her rips. That sharp pain she associated with running too hard for too long. And her breaths were unsatisfying, she couldn’t seem to get enough air. And then the key had slid home, she had twisted the padlock, shot it from the door and let it fall to the floor.
The kids had been sleeping, but they had come awake quickly as she pulled them from the floor and began dressing them.
“But mommy, I’m sleeping… I’m tired,” Danny had complained.
Jessie had just stared blankly. Blinking her eyes and looking around.
“Honey,” she had told Danny, “We got to go… We got to… Don’t fight me, Baby. Give me your foot.”
“Is it the dead guys,” Jessie had asked quietly, her eyes serious. She had held Jennies eyes and refused to let them go.
“Yes, Baby. Yes. Now come on. Get yourself dressed for mommy… I have enough with your brother. Get dressed, we got to go.”
Jessie had nodded and began to dress herself. She had turned to Danny as she dressed “‘member them dead guys?” she had asked him.
He had stopped squirming and looked seriously at his older sister. “Yeah,” he had breathed.
“Well they might get us if you don’t hurry up… Making mamma take too much time… They eat little boys first too.” She had turned away and began to tug on her sneakers. Danny had stopped fighting and had actually began helping.
“Wrap your arms around Mommy and hold tight,” Jennie had told them. She had been a big woman just a few months ago, now she was maybe a hundred pounds. Maybe it would make her faster, but she didn’t believe her own words, and the little voice inside her head continued to chatter along about running in boots, and she should have changed to sneakers, and… She had shut it down, peered out through the shattered window at the still and empty street. Jessie had reached down and turned the knob on the door for her, and she had stepped back and the door had swung inward. A minute later and she was running through the shadows at the edge of the road. A deep stitch in her side.
He came from the shadows and chased her down. It was so easy. One of the things that had been slow to change but amazing once it did, was strength and endurance. There seemed to be no real limits or end to his energy. Something in the way this body used energy as opposed to the way the old body had. It was exhilarating, and thrilling too, as he nearly instantly outpaced her and came up alongside her. The fear, the stench of living flesh. It was overpowering. It could drive him crazy if he allowed it, but he would not allow it. He reached out, enfolded her in mid stride, and threw her to the ground.
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