Here you go.... short, but the build up is nice....
The school was nothing. Speculation was that since the students of the high school were older and many could drive, they had all left as soon as it had become evident that things had taken a turn for the worst. The crew breezed through the massive building, putting down the handful of undead they encountered and found the cafeteria, taking everything that they could, including the pots and pans and some of the things that were nailed down. The kitchen had a big floor mounted mixer which Emma insisted that they load into the truck with everything else. It too three of them a lot of swearing to move the mixer, and by the time they were finished, the men were covered in flour dust. In addition to the items in the cafeteria, Emma had them grab as many of the reference books from the library that would fit into a van along with selected fiction works and the libraries stash of CD tutorial. From the rooms they took school books on mathematics, history, English and science. She even had them take the French, Spanish and German language books, explaining that someday, they might need them if for nothing else, reference material. Due to the time involved, Kyle talked her out of punching all the lockers.
They had succeeded in getting several of the school-marked trucks and vans in the parking lot started; the vehicles were the handicapped transport and band vehicles, thankfully the keys to them were either in the ignition or had been in a box in the school office. Whoever had been in charge of the keys had kindly labeled each set to the vehicle. Those were loaded with the books and foodstuff to be driven back to the Lodge by members of Cole’s group. He made mention that it seemed Emma was trying to get rid of his people and she just smiled, telling him that some one had to drive the stuff back.
As Cole watched the two trucks and the van laden with goods drive off, he felt a sense of relief that he would not be responsible for those particular drivers. Turning back to where Owen was petting the dog, Cole nodded to where the rest of the crew was getting ready for the assault on the town. They had just heard from the group responsible for leading the undead out of the town, and they were slowly driving south on Route 3, honking their horns and gathering as many of the staggering monsters as they could.
“So you think that we’ll have an easy go of it?” asked Cole.
“Nope, it’s gonna be a cluster fuck from the word go,” said Owen, ruffling the dogs fur around the animals neck. George shook his head to straighten the mussed hairs and gave Owen a reproachful look.
“We wanna hit the granary, then the restaurants down the main drag, then the grocery store and the doctors office and clinic,” listed Owen. “Too many places an’ too little people to get it all done. We don’t even know if there’s folks left alive in town, holed up and waitin’ for someone to come along an’ rescue them.”
Considering this, Cole looked at where Emma and her bunch were working on a final vehicle to drive; a big dually truck like the one that had been at the gun shop. As he watched the thing roared to life amid the grins and shouts of the crew. Emma came over to them and looked at the two men who were waiting on her to give the order to move out.
“So you ready?”
Owen gave the dog a last pat and stood. “I reckon I’m as ready as I can get.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Emma, recognizing that Owen had something to say, frowning and crossing her arms to wait for the answer.
Owen sighed and went through his litany of their goals again, finishing with; “We just don’t have enough people.”
Cole could see that Emma was just managing to hold in the frustration that she was feeling. She let out a long sigh that was accented by the cold air. “So, hotshot, what would you do?”
“Leap frog,” replied Owen. “Some of us hit the granary while the others go into town and clear the restaurant, diner, the pizza place and the bar. We meet them, move ahead to the grocery store and than they can hit the doctors office and the clinic. It keeps people together and the numbers are on our side—if something goes bad the other group is just a few minutes away. We’ve got radios, we need to take advantage of the technology we have.”
Emma nodded. “Fine Owen, who are you going to put in charge of what?”
“Put Kyle in charge of the forward stuff, the down town raid, let him pick his crew.”
“I’ll do it, but let’s make this fast, shall we?” Emma waved a hand at the air. “The temperature is dropping and it feels like another storm. “ She began to speak into her mike, summoning Kyle to her and giving him instruction as she spoke. The group of highlanders began to move as she spoke, their Boss directing them to the adjusted plans. Cole was surprised at how quickly they adapted to the change in direction which left his own people standing silently by as the first wave of attack vehicles and personnel left with Kyle in the lead. The tanker truck followed them since the first group’s stop also held a gas station. Originally the plan had been to fill the tanker at the first station, but they had not been able to fill the big tank all the way with the first stop. Emma motioned for them to get into the big trucks and once Cole and his crew were aboard, they too roared away toward the town.
Watching out the window as Billy drove, Cole could see that not all the undead had been drawn to the other side of town as they had hoped, small clusters of the things were staggering out from behind buildings and the tree line, bumping into fences and other obstacles, only to fall or lurch off in another direction to free themselves from the barriers and continue in their mindless quest for the warm blood which was driving away. He had once read a fantasy story about a zombie outbreak where the undead had been frozen in place by cold weather—obviously the author had no clue as to the real-life capabilities of the monsters. All the cold did was make it more uncomfortable for the living; the dead were unaffected by the change in temperature.
The granary loomed over the trees; the four silos jutting above the leafless hardwoods providing a direction and a beacon to the small fleet of vehicles which roared down the two lane highway. There was a break in the trees and the white buildings appeared off to their left, the gravel lot covered in snow which had not been disturbed since the last fall, Cole winced as the big rig of Emma’s crew bounced off the roadway and into the lot, the tires pushing snow to the side as it slid to a halt, the trailer fishtailing slightly until it came to a stop near the store front. Other of her crew in the hummers and trucks darted between the buildings, the chatter of the radio calling out the absence of the zombies. Billy sent the truck plowing after the tractor trailer, skidding to a halt just as Emma and her bodyguards jumped from the cab into the snow. They wasted no time in crashing open the doors to the farm store.
The tractor jerked ahead so that the trailer was even with the doors and more of the highlanders began to form a loading line, grabbing at the goods that were starting to be passed out the doors.
“They don’t waste any time, do they?” muttered Cole.
“Can’t afford to,” answered Owen as he shouldered open his own door, “Did you see those things starting to follow us? We need to get moving and get out of here as fast as we can.”
Cole jumped from the cab and told Billy to wait in the truck for a fast get away if needed. He followed Owen into the store.
Inside the store were the usual things that might be found in a farm supply store; jugs of heavy weight oil, tools, boots, clothing—all of it being cleaned from the shelves and passed to the trailer. Emma and two of her guards were standing by the stock room doors and talking on the radio. She saw Cole and grinned.
“Good news, there’s a tractor trailer already in the back lot with a grain trailer on it. We’re going to dump a load of corn, oats and wheat into the sections and take it to the Lodge.” She motioned to the feed and seed grain already on display. “We’ll find the stock of this stuff and get as much of it loaded as we can. I saw a couple of abandoned pickups in the lot too; we’ll try and get those to run so we can use them.”
“We’re starting to run out of drivers,” mentioned Cole.
“We’ll use you people first to get the stuff back,” shrugged Emma. “As long as we have enough room and people to get the clinic and the doctor’s office, we should be good.”
“What about the grocery?”
“We’ll have room,” assured Emma. “My people know how to pack.”
She directed a couple of her people to grab two generators which were sitting in a corner and then to check the offices of the building. Nothing was left unturned.
They all looked at the wall in the direction of echoing gunshots. Giving them a tight smile, Emma explained that that must be her rear guard. The radio crackled, bringing with it the gunfire amplified. Emma cursed. She told the speaker to repeat.
“We’ve got a couple of cargo vans headed this way.”
“What the fuck?” she muttered. Cole leaned closer to her to hear the radio. Emma asked if the trucks could be identified.
“Negative, unknown, not from the Lodge.”
“How does he know?’ asked Cole.
Casting a weary eye at Cole, Emma explained in a curt tone the reason. “We spent the better part of a day looking over the Lodges vehicles; we’ve got them pretty much memorized. If my guy says they aren’t ours or yours, you can bet the bank.”
She turned away from Cole and began to bark at the microphone. “Are they hostile yet? What action have you taken?’
“We can see gun barrels, but no action by them other than a slow roll to keep ahead of the dead.”
“Who was shooting?”
“We were at the undead until the vans came rolling up.”
“Run up the flag, I’ll be there.”
Once again, Cole looked at Owen for clarification. He shrugged. “I don’t know about that, I just joined up a couple days ago.”
“We’ve got a flag we fly when we’re claiming salvage.”
“A flag?” asked Cole.
They stepped into the cold air and Emma point to the top of the trailer where one of the Highlanders had erected a pole on one of the pill boxes atop the trailer was a white and blue pennant. Emma explained its purpose as they marched to a Hummer that had pulled up next to the trailer. The gunner at the top of the hummer was swinging the long barrel of the .50 caliber machinegun toward the road. “It’s a diving flag, it means to steer clear, we have a diver below. I figured that it might be a good signal to use in this case. Maybe it’ll catch on.”
“I hope this doesn’t last long enough for it to catch on,” muttered Cole.
“Me either, but it’s always good to have a plan.”
They swung up into the relatively warm cab, the crew inside making room for the three new comers. The driver of the hummer spun the massive machine back toward the direction they had just come from. Cole was surprised to see just how many undead still roamed the small town. He wondered how many people were left in the world. If the population of the Lodge was any indication of the percentage of living to dead, he’d have to bet that eighty percent of the earths population was now either deceased or walking dead. With the amount of snow so early in the season, Cole speculated there would be an number of people who would not see the coming of spring.
Ahead of them, the Hummer that had been providing rear guard was now sitting crossways in the road, it’s M240 pointed at two vans that were taking up the road about a half mile away. Cole could see several people with rifles standing behind the doors of the vans and the behind the vans themselves. Their ride stopped and Cole followed Emma out of the HumVee along with Owen and her two body guards. One of the Highlanders ran up to her and began to report.
“Yeah, so like, Boss, we saw them coming and put ourselves in a block and they stopped.”
“Pretty straight forward,” commented Emma. Looking at the vans she seemed to Cole be thinking out her next move. “You made any kind of contact with them?”
“No, Boss, we just called and been waiting for you.”
There was a series of shots from the rear of the van and a small group of undead dropped in the roadway. More staggered to take their places. Assessing the situation, Emma nodded to the vans and the number of Zombies that were starting to appear in the wake of the engine noise. “Let’s get out there and met them. Own, Cole, with me, you others form a skirmish line and be ready. If they start shooting, take out the engines with that .50.”
Emma started walking forward, her M4 hanging loosely in front of her. Cole shrugged and followed. Owen stepped off to one side, following at a distance, his MAC draped in front of him as his eyes searched the distance for threats. Cole wondered if he would ever be that aware of what was going on around him. He started looking around for the obvious things he should be looking for and narrowing it down from there. Cole was surprised again at the number of undead which seemed to have come out of the wood work.
A bundled up shape came toward them with two guards of its own close behind, As the person came closer, Cole struggled to place the gait and the figure, He seemed to recall seeing the person in the past--.While he watched a stray wisp of dark hair flutter from under the stocking cap. The woman stopped a few feet away and snarled at them.
“It figures that it would be you—“ she snarled on seeing Cole.
Emma glanced at Cole with a raised eyebrow. “You two know each other?”
“We’ve met once,” He told her, gazing through the cold at Marshall’s wife.
“Auspicious meeting then?” Emma did not wait for his response; she turned her full attention back to the woman. “You’ll have to wait until we’re finished, we’re flying the salvage flag and we have the right of first choice.”
“Who the hell do you think you are, telling us that we can’t get food to feed ourselves?” demanded Marshall’s wife.
“I’m not saying that you can’t get food, we just have first pick.”
“Because you’re flying a flag?” the woman snorted. “That means nothing out here; it’s just something you made up.”
Emma shrugged. “Maybe, but we’ve got the firepower to back it up too. You can stay here or come up under the protection of our guns; either way you wait until we’re done.”
The woman eyed the two HumVee’s and the firepower and Cole could tell she was running through the weapons they possessed by themselves. Emma alone carried more weapons than three of Marshall’s wife’s people. She sighed out a long breath of air that clouded her face from view. Another rifle shot range out in the cold air, followed by several more. Cole pulled at Emma’s sleeve.
“Time to go, no matter.” He pointed out at the surrounding buildings and trees. “I think we’re going to have a lot of company very soon.”
Nodding, Emma began to back away. “You have choice—all you’re doing is wasting ammo, and I doubt you can afford to do that.”
“Hell, with it, we’ll hang back with you,” snapped the woman, finally making a decision. She turned her back on them and stalked back to the van with the men scrambling to keep up. Emma began to move as well, Cole and Owen stepping backwards to cover her as the zombies began to fall to the roadway, stumbling at the change in terrain, the snow and ice making them lose footing as if they were in an old silent comedy. There was nothing funny about the groans that emitted from their thin lips once whatever sense they used locked on the warm flesh of Cole and the others. He saw Owen raise the MAC and two of the undead fell with holes tearing apart their faces as a puff of gunsmoke appeared in front of the weapon. Cole managed to see another which had managed to get too close to them and fired Hannah’s AR at it. It dropped to the ground, dark blood oozing from the mess that had been its head. Suddenly they were all over the road.
The white vans roared up to the roadblock, the drivers honking the horns with impatience while Cole and Owen fired at the approaching monsters so that Emma would have time to get into the Hummer. Owen waved Cole into the truck and followed, barely breaking stride in his shooting as he climbed into the cab and the big vehicle growled a wide path through the snow in the street and bounced up over the curb and down, making them all grab for hand holds and swear at the driver.
“These fuckers don’t turn on a goddamn dime,” snapped back the driver as the M240 began a controlled chatter above them.
The vans fell in behind the Hummer and the tailing HumVee took up the last position, the .50 firing single rounds at selected targets, the massive rounds taking entire torsos apart, leaving the parts to fall where they may. Emma turned in her seat to look at Cole.
“You wanna give me a quick run down on that woman?”
“She’s that guy, Marshall’s, wife. The one that had all those people living at their farm in tents and stuff, where Billy came from.”
“And where would her husband be right now?”
“I don’t know, with any luck he got eaten after trying to kill us.”
“Be careful what you wish for—she doesn’t look like a woman who would put up with much crap and she seems to be one to hold a grudge.” Emma turned back to the front and picked up the mic that was attached to the dash. “Highlander’s get ready to move out. We’ve got a shit load of Zed on our ass.”
Cole glanced behind them at where the vans were keeping in close to them. “How much stuff do you think we’ve got loaded?”
“Most of it,” replied Emma. “My people are good.”
“Are we still headed into town?”
“It depends on what Kyle has run into—Birdy, any word?”
The driver shook his head. “Not a thing from what I’ve heard, so it must be going pretty good for him. Shit.”
Looking through the windshield Cole could see the grill of a semi tractor bearing down on them. Birdy wrestled the Hummer over to one side as the rig rumbled by with two pickup trucks loaded down followed in its wake.
“There goes the first of the food consignment,” said Emma. The undead following them were caught by the massive grill of the tractor, falling away from it as the wide bumper knocked the beasts aside, clearing a path through the undead that happened to be in the roadway. “That should take some heat off.”
The undead left were momentarily confused by the motion of all the vehicles going in different directions. Many of them stood in the road or beside it, staring seemingly torn as to which direction they themselves should take. A few of them began to wander off; whatever connection that had been drawing them to follow Emma and the others, seemingly broken now that they had too many choices to make. As many continued to follow though, once the momentary distraction was gone.
The radio crackled and Kyle’s voice filled the tiny speaker. “So much for our attempt at pulling the things away from town; they are all over.”
“Can we hit the clinic and doctors office?” asked Emma.
“We need to go in fast, it’s just getting thick.”
“Roger that. We’ll take the clinic, you get the doctors office. Did you get the tanks drained at the gas station?”
“The truck and cover crew is still there.”
Looking ahead, Cole could see the tanker and the cover crew at the station as they approached the four way into town. The highlanders were on foot and working in teams to keep the undead away from the tanker, their Sgian Dubh hammers covered in gore and the rifle backups attempting to keep the numbers from overwhelming the crew.
“This doesn’t look good at all,” muttered Cole.
Emma shot him a withering glance. She keyed the microphone. “The tractor stays with the tanker. We’ll call them up if we get the grocery breached. Kyle, head for the doctor’s offices.”
“On the way.”
“Jay,” spoke Emma again into the mic.
“That grain loaded?”
“Nearly. We’ve got the grain truck and a big dump truck loaded up. There’s two old pickup’s being lashed down with seed even as we speak. The Zeds are coming out of the woods.”
“Understood. As soon as you’re done, send the grain back to the Lodge. You follow the Trailer to the station and provide more cover. Wait for my call to move up. Break.”
“Go a head.”
“There’s two van’s following us. Let them do what ever they want. Not part of our salvage. If they want at a pump, let them.” Emma unkeyed the mic. “Might as well help keep the living, living, even if they don’t like us.”
Jay gave his message that he understood and the Hummer fell silent.
“What if they head to the grocery first?” asked Cole, worried that they might not come up with enough food to help the Lodge make it through the winter.
“They can’t take everything, we’ll let them have what they can get,” responded Emma simply. Above them, the gunner fired into a mass of undead. “Survival isn’t just about us, if we as a race are going to make it, we need to help out where we can.” As the gunner fired again, Emma shook her head. “I didn’t know there were than many people in this town.”
“Tourists,” answered the until now silent Owen. “With all the camp grounds and canoe liveries around, you have to figure that on a bad weekend, the population probably goes up by a third. With all the undead showing up in the cities, they might have thought it would be safer in Loudonville than there.”
The new information made everyone fall silent as the Hummers big tires dug through the snow toward their destination. Cole rubbed a spot clear of frost on the window next to him and stared at the old downtown flashing by, the brick buildings empty and dark. He absently wondered it anyone had gone into the Native American shop and if so, if they had picked up any of the CD’s there. He liked the gentle sounds of the World Music, his own collection had contained several artists from the stores shelves. He laughed quietly to himself at his random thoughts, wondering if things would ever reach a state of normalcy again.