The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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91Eunozs
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Thu Nov 28, 2019 7:24 pm

Sittin’ home watching football with a nice adult beverage after a great meal with the family...hoping Mundy and Kat, Lex, Lucas, and all the rest are enjoying a nice holiday meal as well.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours TB... Hope to see you return to the board soon.
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Thu Nov 28, 2019 8:46 pm

Happy Thanksgiving to all !

Coincidentally I started rereading this one about a week ago .... for maybe the 4th time .... keep hoping I'll find the ending :wink:
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Johan » Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:07 am

Sheriff McClelland wrote:
Thu Nov 28, 2019 8:46 pm
.... keep hoping I'll find the ending
Sheriff you HEATHEN!!!! :twisted: :wink:

We definitely do NOT want TB to end this amazing story, but instead keep writing perpetually!!!! :clap: :clap:

(Although a little moaar frequent uppdates would be much appricated!!!) :mrgreen:
Firepower...
-Is One Bullet that Hits!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Sheriff McClelland » Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:10 am

Sorry Johan , but I'd take anything at this point :wink:
"Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up. "

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by jdavidboyd » Fri Dec 13, 2019 9:16 am

Maybe we'll all get a Christmas present.....
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Sat Dec 14, 2019 6:15 pm

Hey Tinderbox, what say you come out of your self-imposed exile and give us a long-overdue update? Show some Christmas spirt, brah. MOOOOAAAAAAARRRRR, dammit!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:09 pm

Moar Zombie Michael’s wishing Mundy, Kat and the gang a very Merry Christmas.

Image

Hope to see an update whenever life allows TB... Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by akraven » Thu Dec 26, 2019 12:44 am

Almost a year since he last update. Has anyone heard anything from him about he is doing?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Thu Dec 26, 2019 8:11 pm

akraven wrote:
Thu Dec 26, 2019 12:44 am
Almost a year since he last update. Has anyone heard anything from him about he is doing?
Yes, a couple months back... Not comfortable discussing without his express consent, but he’s focused on the right priorities right now.
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by akraven » Thu Dec 26, 2019 11:06 pm

91Eunozs wrote:
Thu Dec 26, 2019 8:11 pm
akraven wrote:
Thu Dec 26, 2019 12:44 am
Almost a year since he last update. Has anyone heard anything from him about he is doing?
Yes, a couple months back... Not comfortable discussing without his express consent, but he’s focused on the right priorities right now.
Thanks for the update 91Eunoz. Glad to hear he is doing ok and I am not wanting to pry into his life. Hopefully some day he will be in a good place and can add some more to the story.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Atar » Thu Jan 09, 2020 2:46 pm

Hi there, I guess I an one of those MOAR zombies that is hidden underneath a load of leaves and doesn't get active unless you step on them. I have been reading this story for oh about three years now as a lurker. I must admit I am a bit ashamed to only just now come out and say: this should be published! Much better than anything else in the genre. Top notch!

Also, has anyone made this into a single file? I will own an Eink Smartphone soon and would love to read it again from the beginning. Without interruptions of MOAR zombies , funny as they might be.

Anyways, extremely grateful for this amazing piece of fiction and wishing the author well!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by jdavidboyd » Fri Jan 24, 2020 4:06 pm

The way things go, he'll probably post the next update 30 seconds before a giant killer asteroid hits - we'll have time to realize there's a new update, but no time to read it.
When we die, we'll be whimpering "More, more...."
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Sun Feb 02, 2020 9:17 pm

jdavidboyd wrote:
Fri Jan 24, 2020 4:06 pm
The way things go, he'll probably post the next update 30 seconds before a giant killer asteroid hits - we'll have time to realize there's a new update, but no time to read it.
When we die, we'll be whimpering "More, more...."
Well said... :lol:
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by demonskull » Sun Mar 15, 2020 8:43 pm

Relatively new to the forum but just completed the story to date. I can see why we all feel we know TB a bit and just want to say, love the story. What ever happens in your life take care and know you have many people wishing you the best.

Thank you,
Pete

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:52 am

’Gone’?” True asked between sips of water. “What do you mean ‘gone’?” She pressed her palm to her forehead. Hangovers were an old acquaintance of hers, but the apocalypse had put her usual remedies out of reach: no candied ginger, no sleeping until three in the afternoon, no hour-long hot showers, no greasy McDonald’s food. According to Peachey, even the ranch’s aspirin supply was considered too valuable to waste on something so non-life threatening. Barring a little hair of the dog – something not allowed under the ranch’s Happy Hour rules – the only things available were water and some of the camp’s metallic-tasting coffee. “You mean, like gone gone?”

“Yeah, I mean, like, gone gone,” Peachey said to her. “The guy…the guy, um, didn’t want to go, but…but…”

“He just left?” The news was just beginning to sink in to her aching head. He’d left her there. Abandoned her. Ditched her, she thought, like a one night stand – without even the fun of the one night stand. The deep pain she’d felt after leaving behind her home and her family was back and sharper than ever.

“Lucas, you know, apparently has some…some conflicted feelings going on and – ”

“He took the car?” she asked.

“ – and he – yeah, he took the car – and he felt like he had to go on without you in order to, um…in order to resolve things and – ” Peachey looked as though he’d rather be almost anywhere else doing almost anything else than explaining to True that Lucas had left without telling her.

“He took the fucking car?”

“Well, he left all your things. You know, your clothes and…and your gun and…the rest.”

“He left without saying anything?”

“He wanted me to tell you, uh, that he…he wanted me to say – ”

“Whatever it is,” she interrupted, “it had better be good.”

“He, uh, said you were awesome and that he couldn’t trust himself around you and had to go so he could, you know, remain true to…to the other one…” Peachey finished weakly “…whatever her name is.”

“Lucas said that?” she asked skeptically.

“More or less,” he shrugged.

“Lucas didn’t say that,” she determined. “I don’t think Lucas is capable of saying anything like that.”

“Yeah,” Peachey said, “well, it’s what I figured he meant by…all of the things that he, you know...didn’t say.”

“Shit,” she said, squeezing her aching head between her hands. “Where’s my stuff? Where’d he leave it?”

“I brought it all here,” Peachey explained, relieved to be moving on to another subject, “every last bit of it; your clothes, your gun, your big, scary-looking logging thing with the black stuff and hair still stuck to it.”

True rose from her seat, leaving the warmth of the stove and dragged herself to just inside the entrance of the building where her belongings were stacked. Going to one knee, she sorted through the things. “It’s not here,” she said. “There was a black nylon zippered bag. Not big. The size of a small purse.”

“I swear,” Peachey told her, “that’s everything they unloaded from the car before they took off.”

’They’?” she asked. “Who’s ‘they’?”

“Oh. Yeah. Mike Ruskin went with him,” he explained. “You saw him last night at dinner. He’s been trying for months to get someone to take him to where he used to live in Marbletown. I’m pretty sure he helped Lucas find Shenk’s gasoline cans since Lucas wouldn’t have known where to find them in the dark. Probably made a deal with him; the gas for a ride.”

“So he took this Ruskin guy, but not me.”

“Marbletown’s this little dot on the map. Not too far away. A couple of hours on the road and Lucas would be on his own again.”

“Shit!” True said, tossing aside the last article of clothing in the pile. “It’s not here. When they unloaded the car, they didn’t check under the front passenger seat?”

“I…I guess not,” Peachey shrugged. “I don’t know. What was there?”

“Personal things,” True explained with an unfolding sadness, “photos, old notes from my dad, my mom’s necklace… They’re all still there underneath the passenger seat.” She wore a pained expression. “Lucas had me wound up so tight with all of his talk about people attacking us on the road and stealing our shit that I stashed them there.”

“Well, that’s…” Peachey said. “I’m sorry. It’s a real shame to lose those things, but in the end they’re just things. You still have the memories. You can’t lose those, right?”

True pictured her father’s face, her mother’s face, the face of her sister and her brother; the memory of how they looked, how they sounded, the little things that they used to do, they were all still fresh in her mind. But, she wondered, how long would they remain that way? Her grandmother had died when she was eleven and now it was hard to recall her face, her voice, the details of the moments they had shared. The idea that the same thing would happen to the memories of her parents and siblings brought a stab of fear to her heart.

“You know,” Peachey said, guessing her thoughts, “Ruskin wanted one of us to give him a ride to where he used to live, but no one was willing to risk it just so he could put the bodies of a couple loved ones to rest. We tried to tell him that it wasn’t worth it, that a hundred things could go wrong out there. So, what I’m trying to say is – ”

“You’re trying to say it’s not worth going after a few old photos and things,” True said irritably. “I get it.”

“It really isn’t,” Peachey insisted. “You know how dumb it is for Lucas to be going out into all of this looking for someone who he’s almost certainly never going to find. It’s the same for Ruskin and it would be the same for you.”

“Yeah,” True said. “Yeah, I know. It just…it just sucks, is all.”

“Yes,” Peachey agreed. “Yes, it does. But on the bright side, you’re here. We have an awesome new member of our little community.”

“Yeah,” she said, but even to her own ears her response lacked enthusiasm. Being left there by Lucas made her feel worthless. The feeling churned inside her and she was desperate to bury it as deep as she could. “So, your happy hours kick ass, but what else do you guys do around here?”

“We keep ourselves busy.” He gestured in the direction of the farm house. “C’mon. I guarantee you that Evelyn already knows you’re staying. Word travels fast here. She’ll have to give you her usual orientation speech. You got the short version of it last night: Pull your own weight, blabbity-blabbity-blah-blah… Now you have to suffer through the longer version.”

They found Evelyn in the farmhouse kitchen feeding grain into a hand crank grinder. “Like it?” she asked as they entered the room. “Snagged it out of a little museum at a historic site not too far from here. Same place Shenkle got his still. So we have ourselves a new neighbor here in El Rancho de los Vivos.” She spared True a quick glance before returning to the grinder. “Sorry to hear your friend skipped out on you. Guys will do that. But at least he left you here and not out there somewhere.”

“Yeah,” True said, unable to come up with anything more on the subject.

“And he left you your stuff;” the woman added, “a gun, even your share of food. Those canned pears – Shenkle would probably give his left nut to use them in his next batch of everclear.”

“Evelyn,” said Peachey, “Miss True Brewer would like to know what she might do around here in order to be a contributing member of our little community.”

“Well,” said the woman, “I don’t know. What exactly do you bring to the party?”

“I…I don’t know,” True replied. “I’m not sure I…I mean, I’m no doctor or anything…so…”

“Look,” Evelyn said after an awkward moment had passed, “we’re just a bunch or regular people here. There was nothing special about any of us before all of this started. We had a guy once who showed up here who had zero skills. I mean, he was useless, a real burden. It was a miracle he survived long enough to make it this far.”

“What happened to him?” True asked.

“He’s standing right next to you,” Evelyn said. “So if Peachey can serve a positive role around here, I’m sure you can.”

“Hey,” Peachey responded, “that’s…mildly insulting.”

“There was nothing special about us before all of this started,” she repeated. “Now we’re special because we’re still alive. So what can you do to help us stay that way?”

“I don’t know. I know horses. We had chickens once. A couple of pigs, too.”

“Sorry,” Evelyn shrugged, “someone – I figure the army – came through and cleaned out all the livestock from the area. Unless you know where to find some…”

“She knows how to take care of animals,” Peachey put in earnestly, “and doesn’t have a problem working with her hands. She could, you know, help collect wood ash for soaking the corn. No one else seems too enthused about doing that. I think given the chance True could learn to do just about anything around here.”

True remained quiet. She was thankful for Peachey’s advocacy, but she couldn’t help but recall that it was she who left the chicken coop open, allowing the coyotes to get inside and it was she who neglected to give the pigs their medicine which probably led to them dying. And in both cases, she shirked those responsibilities so she could sneak into town and get high with her friend, Brandi.

“Okay,” Evelyn said. “We’re going to try growing some things when spring rolls around. We’ll need lots of help for that. But until then – ”

“Until then I could…” True struggled to picture herself doing anything productive. “I…could help scavenge things from, you know, the area.”

“Hey,” Peachey said with a thinly cloaked hint of alarm, “you just got into town. You don’t have to go back out there so soon.”

“Sorry,” Evelyn told her with a shake of her head. “We’ve hit every place within twenty miles. It’s all been stripped bare. All the cupboards are empty. We couldn’t even get the cars we found to work.”

“I…I know where there’s a car,” she said. “It’s out of gas, but I’ll bet…I’ll bet it’s in working condition. It’s about an hour away in the direction that we came from.”

“A car?” Evelyn said with a spark of interest. “Well, we could use another vehicle. And you think it’ll run?”

“It’s where I got that gun,” she explained. “The guy…the guy who owned it shot himself just as we drove around the bend. It looked like he’d run out of gas just before. I mean, the car wasn’t all dust-covered or anything like that. Give it a little gas and I’ll bet it’d start right up.”

“Okay,” Peachey said, “a car. A car’s good. But, you know, you don’t have to be the one to go out there. You can just mark it on the map and a couple of us could – ”

“No, I’ll…I’ll go,” True told him, not really sure why. “I know right where it is.” Peachey looked like he had more to say on the matter, but he closed his mouth and remained quiet.

“Right, then,” Evelyn decided. “We’ll do it today before someone else comes across it.” Her mouth formed a brief, barely noticeable smile. “Nice to have you with us, True.”





With the exception of her pistol, True left her belongings inside the green dome tent and made her way across the ranch. With no holster for the Sig Sauer, she checked to make sure the chamber was empty – No accidentally shooting your ass off, idiot, she told herself – and tucked the gun in her waistband. The extra magazines and ammunition went into her coat pocket. The ammunition felt uncomfortably heavy, but she could almost hear Lucas telling her that bringing all of it with her was the right thing to do. She’d decided against bringing the logging pickaroon. Ever since her former companion had used it on the dead guy on the bridge she had become certain that she’d never be able to do the same. She would risk making all the noise in the world with the gun before reliving that sickening baseball bat-smashing-watermelon sound she’d heard when Lucas had hammered away at the corpse’s head. Besides, she thought, no one had cleaned it since it had been used and she didn’t even want to think about peeling the plastic bag from around the business end of it.

As she approached the box truck with Ripple Hills Dairy written on its side, True found six people gathered there. The youths who had met them at the railroad bridge the day before were assembled in a semicircle in front of Peachey and Evelyn and as she grew close she could hear them complaining.

“It’s pretty much our truck, Peach,” whined the eldest, the young man who had given his name as Xálish the day before. “We’re the ones who originally found it.”

“And,” Peachey said, trying to placate them, “we just need to borrow it for a few hours, Xal…um, sorry what was…what was the name again? Xalsh or…or…?”

“It’s Thompson again,” Summer mumbled shyly with a barely noticeable smile. “He said people were making fun of the other name.”

“No,” the young man protested. “It’s ‘cause no one could pronounce it right.”

“Anyway, Thompson,” Peachey went on, “you’ll get the truck back good as new.”

“But we should be going,” said Thompson.

“We can handle ourselves better than…” Ted stepped closer to Peachey to say the rest in a confidential half whisper “…better’n some people here.” He glanced meaningfully at the three others approaching. “Some people might be a little, you know, under-educated in what it takes these days.”

“Rick and Freida drove up here through Nevada and Oregon,” Evelyn said to them. “They saw plenty along the way. And anyway, they’ve agreed to go.”

“They agreed ‘cause you told them to,” Summer countered, “’Cause you told them it was their turn to go. That don’t mean they’re best at it.”

“You guys aren’t going,” Peachey said with a note of finality. “Sorry.” With a smoldering sullenness, the four youths retreated a short distance to grumble among themselves.

“So,” True said, walking up to Evelyn and Peachey, “who is going?”

“Mack,” Evelyn said with a nod at the man who had taken up a position at the hood of the truck. “He says he used to drive that stretch of road often enough before things fell apart. Freida and Rick will round out the party. That’s two people for each vehicle on the way back.”

“And they haven’t been out there much?” True asked.

“No,” Evelyn admitted with a sigh, “but who can blame them? Freida said they managed to make it all the way here without having to fire their gun once. You get lucky like that, you don’t wanna risk too much. But you say this abandoned car is only an hour away?”

“Once you get to the other side of the river,” True told her, thinking about the thousands of dead people lining the opposite bank.

“They’ll be fine,” Evelyn said.

“You run into anything that looks too big to handle,” Peachey said to her, “you turn around and you head back. Will you promise that?”

“Yeah,” she answered, realizing for the first time from the look in his eyes that he had more than a casual interest in her. “Yeah, no problem.” So, she told herself as she turned away, you’re not such a wreck that you can’t still pull in the guys. The thought pleased her, but there was also an uncomfortable aspect to it, something that made her feel…confined? What would happen, she wondered, if they did hook up and it didn’t work out? There would be no avoiding each other in such a small camp.

While Evelyn and Peachey did what they could to assign the kids chores that would take them to other parts of the ranch, True approached the man leaning against the hood of the truck. In his hands he held a small pocket knife and a shotgun shell. True watched as the man sliced the shell’s red plastic casing.

“You’re Mack, right?” she asked. “What are you doing?”

“I,” the man replied with only a quick glance up from his work, “am making a cut shell. See, you make a cut almost all the way around right where the wadding is and when it goes off, the whole end of the shell shoots out the end of the barrel. So instead of the shot spraying out in a pattern, the plastic, the shot and the wadding all stay together and hit like a big ol’ fat bullet.” Finished with the first one, he placed it on the hood of the truck and began to work on another. “We’re all out of buckshot and rifled slugs. We got plenty of birdshot, but birdshot doesn’t work too good on flesheaters, not unless you’re right up close. And who wants to get right up close? Am I right?”

“Right,” True replied, remembering her close encounter with the dead in the roadside store.

“Of course, you can only really use ‘em in breach loaders – you know, double barrels and single shots. And there is the possibility that they’ll overpressure and your gun will explode but, hey, what are ya gonna do? All the sporting goods stores are closed.”

Peachey approached, hiding his worry behind one of his grins. “You know,” he said, “you could still sit this one out. No one would say anything. I mean, you just got here, after all.”

“I’ll be okay,” she said, though she wondered why she was so willing to make the trip. She suspected it had something to do with Lucas leaving her behind. Maybe, she thought, she was afraid the people at the ranch would think Lucas had ditched her because she was useless. Maybe it was as simple as wanting to keep busy so she wasn’t sitting around and dwelling upon being abandoned by the guy she had crushed on so hard.

“Make sure of it,” Peachey said to her.




Mack Wagner was amiable and balding with thick gray stubble across his face. He’d been many things in life: potato farmer, delivery driver, road crew flagman, KFC restaurant manager. Freida McKenzie had once been the friend of the best friend of the most popular girl in high school, the assistant to the assistant manager at her hometown office supply store and had married the second most perfect man she’d ever dated. When that hadn’t worked out, she met Rick Zielinski, an insurance salesman whose best friend was a police deputy. It had been a confidential warning from Rick’s cop friend that had made the couple aware of the seriousness of things and prompted them to stock up on food and gasoline. While Rick and Freida rode in the back of the truck, Mack drove while grilling True about the things she and Lucas had encountered while on the road. They were things True didn’t really want to revisit, but Mack was not the sort of man who picked up on subtle signals.

“I mean,” he asked, “of all the dead people you saw, which one was the most messed up while still being able to move around?”

“I…I don’t know,” True reluctantly replied. “They were all messed up.”

“But which one was the most messed up? Like, this one I saw on the highway had been run over so many times that it was totally flat from the chest down. Like, cartoon flat. Like Wile E. Coyote flat.”

“I don’t know,” True said again, looking out the side window. When they had crossed the railroad bridge an hour before, she’d had ample opportunity to gaze down at the dead people massed there. Each one of them, she’d thought, each set of gnashing teeth and clawing hands was a mortal threat. And there were thousands. The sight had given her a sick feeling in her stomach. But the man sitting next to her hadn’t seen them as a threat. He’d marveled at their numbers, saying things like “Whoa! Look at ‘em all!” and “Good thing they don’t like swimming, right?” True could tell that Mack Wagner had never been inches away from one of them – inches away from being bit.

“I just don’t get how they can keep moving around after being so messed up,” Mack was saying. “I guess if they’re even just a head, they can still move – like their eyes and their mouths. Before everything went dark, I saw this video that showed – ”

“We’re coming up on the place, I’m pretty sure,” True reported, grateful for the fact, relieved that the man’s nonstop gabbing might be coming to an end. They rounded a bend and in the distance they could see a green car on the side of the road. “There. That’s the one.”

“Well, no one's taken it yet,” Mack said. “That’s good. Now, you said the guy shot himself in the head, right? So he’s not going to be walking around here, right?”

“He shot himself,” True told him.

“But in the head, right?” asked the man. True nodded while thinking that for a man so fascinated with talk of messed up corpses, Mack was suddenly acting a little nervous at the prospect of actually encountering one.

They pulled up close to the green car. True got out of the truck with her pistol in her hand. Hearing Lucas’ voice echoing in her head, she immediately chambered a round. “You never know what you’re going to find,” he’d told her. Vaguely annoyed, she walked cautiously toward the car. With his shotgun raised, Mack crossed in front of her, moving half crouched and with sideways steps in a slightly comical imitation of the way he’d seen soldiers move on TV and in movies.

Freida and Rick slid from the truck and made their way stiffly at first, complaining about their ride in the back of the vehicle. “Hey, Mack,” Rick called out, “you might wanna go back a little ways. I think there was one pothole you missed.” They walked casually, seemingly unconcerned about being so out in the open.

“Where’s your twenty-two?” Mack asked them.

“The gun’s in the truck,” Rick answered with a hint of annoyance.

“Well, get it.”

“Mack, there’s nothing out here. Nothing we can’t see coming from far off anyways.”

“We’re going to need the gas can,” the older man replied. “You mind?”

“Sure,” Rick huffed as he turned back to the truck, “but I’m not carrying the gas can and the gun.”

The rest of them moved around the green Toyota. “One dead guy,” Mack said as stared at the remains of the man.

“Oh, eww,” Frieda exclaimed, turning away from the sight. “You never get used to it.”

The corpse was not where True had seen it laying as they had driven past. Neither was it in one piece as it had been. “Coyotes have been at him,” Mack went on. Keeping his distance from the body, he studied the torn clothing and gnawed bones. “Maybe just dogs. Who knows?”

“If he’d been one of them,” said Freida, sneaking a peek before turning away once more, “the animals wouldn’t have touched him.”

“Says who?” asked Rick, coming up behind them with a can filled with the last of Shenkle’s gasoline.

“Says every one of them we saw shot through the head on the way up here,” Freida replied. “Remember that one stretch of highway where we had to swerve around a hundred of them?”

“More than a hundred,” Rick said grimly. “I still think the army must’ve blasted those ones. Remember all the empty shell casings?”

“They’d been there for days, maybe weeks, and nothing had touched them.”

“Can’t blame ‘em,” Rick said, opening the driver’s side door and reaching in for the latch that popped open the lid covering the Corolla’s fuel cap. “They stink worse’n...well, worse’n today’s breakfast.”

True watched the man and remembered Lucas warning to always check that a car was empty before opening the door and reaching in. It made her feel a little uneasy realizing that she might know more about survival than the people she was with.

“Let’s just get this thing gassed up and get back home for dinner,” Mack told them, looking around warily.

“Maybe…” True advised in a soft voice “…maybe only put a little in until we see if it’ll start. You know, no use wasting the gas if there’s something else wrong with the car.”

The three of them looked at her for a second. “Good point,” Mack nodded. “Toss in a gallon, Rick. Then we’ll see if she’ll fire up.”

“Right,” the man said, still sounding faintly annoyed, “okay.”

While Mack and Rick fueled the car, True stared at the dead man on the road, something Freida noticed. “You said you actually saw this guy blow his own brains out?” she asked.

“Yeah,” True replied. She raised the Sig Sauer P226 in her hand. “With this.”

“Yuck.”

“He left a note,” True continued. “It said ‘Bury me beside them.’”

“Who’d he mean?” Freida asked, but True only shrugged.

“There was a shovel,” she explained, “so I guess…” She gestured with her pistol to the sagebrush and bunchgrass at the side of the road.

“Maybe we should bury him now,” Freida suggested. “I mean, what’s left of him anyway.”

“Maybe,” True replied, but she knew it wasn’t something they should waste time on. Turning to gaze up the empty highway, she recalled Lucas’ words; He’s dead. It doesn’t matter.

Bored with watching Rick and Mack trickle gasoline into the Toyota’s tank, Freida walked to the other side of the car. Thinking about the dead man’s last message, she crossed the shoulder of the road and stepped up the small bank into the sagebrush, scanning the sandy soil for evidence of any burials.

“That’s good,” Mack said, tipping the gas can upright and twisting the gas cap back on. “We might have to jump start it, but – “

“Holy shit!” Freida called from the roadside. Her voice came from close by, but the height of the bank and the sagebrush hid her from view. “Rick, come see! This is the grossest thing – ” A fraction of a second later, her voice had become shrill with panic. “Yeeeee!” she screamed. “Ahhh! No! Help! I need help! Owww!”

“Freida!” Rick shouted as he ran toward her voice. Mack dropped the gas can and grabbed his shotgun, running up the bank and into the bushes. True hesitated for a second or two and then followed.

Past the screen of sagebrush there were three shallow depressions in the sandy soil. One was adult sized and the other two were each large enough for a child. Two of the holes were now only half filled with the earth that had once covered them. The third grave held the half buried remains of a thin, dark haired woman whose corpse was struggling to free itself the rest of the way. The reanimated body writhed and its dirt-caked mouth snapped at the air, but its lower half was held fast in place not only by the soil and rocks still covering it but also by scraps of clothing that had been twisted and knotted into makeshift ropes. Similar scraps were scattered about the two smaller empty graves. At a glance, True realized that the man who had dug the shallow holes for his dead wife and children had been brave enough to shoot only himself in the head, not his loved ones. Instead, he’d tied them up and buried them, thinking that would be enough to keep their reanimated corpses in their graves. But he had been wrong.

Rick was dragging the writhing remains of a dirt-covered girl from Freida’s neck while Mack struck at the head of a second dead girl with the butt end of his shotgun. Both children had been around six or seven years old when they’d died. Each now wore a dried mask of soil around their eyes and mouths, giving them an even wilder, animalistic appearance. Ignoring the blows, the second corpse crawled toward Mack’s leg. Mack made a strangulated sound and hurriedly backed up, reversing the shotgun and firing it from the hip. With a deafening explosion, the shot missed the dead child and sent a geyser of sandy soil into the air. He cursed, put the shotgun to his shoulder and fired again, using his last cut shell. The shot struck the corpse in the arm, nearly severing it at the elbow and causing it to fall face down in the dirt. “Motherfuck!” Mack whimpered, breaking open the shotgun to reload. He fumbled for more shells from his pocket but dropped them to the ground. “I…I could use…a hand,” he pleaded.

“They’re babies,” Freida cried, holding her hand to her neck. There was a chunk of flesh still in the mouth of the little girl Rick was dragging from her, a chunk of flesh that had, until a few seconds ago, belonged to Freida. The way the blood flowed through the woman’s fingers told True that a major blood vessel had been severed.

True stepped around Mack. She heard Lucas telling her to forget who or what a reanimated corpse had once been. She’s dead, she told herself. It doesn’t matter. As it raised its face from the dirt, True aimed at the thing that had once been a little girl and squeezed the trigger. She felt nothing as the small body fell limply to the ground, nothing except a faint pride that she’d hit her target and a dull satisfaction that the child’s remains were now at rest.

“Oh, sh-sh…oh, shit!” Freida stammered, trying to stem the gush of blood staining her entire left side. “It craw-crawled out and wrap-wrapped itself arou-around my l-leg.”

“Don’t worry,” Rick said, still dragging the body of the first girl away from Freida. “It’s okay. You’ll be okay.” He had the dead child by the collar as it clawed and scrambled wildly to return to the bitten woman.

“A-and I…I fell and…and the second one was right there a-and…”

“Don’t talk,” Rick told her as he continued to struggle with the small corpse. “Save your – ” But the rest of what he had to say was cut short when the dead girl he was dragging realized there was a perfectly good meal behind her. She twisted, caught hold of Rick Zielinski’s hand and bit down on the side of it. “Fucking hell!” he yelled, trying to shake the dead girl loose. “Ow! Get off!”

Before True could do anything, she heard the sound of Mack’s shotgun snapping shut. She turned her head as the man raised the gun to his shoulder and took aim, the muzzle of his over/under 12 gauge perilously close to her head. True ducked and the shotgun punched the air around her, stunning her momentarily. When she regained some of her hearing, she heard Rick screaming in a high-pitched voice. The shotgun boomed again and True dropped to her knees, trying to make herself the smallest possible target. Turning her head, she found herself at eye level with the dead woman still struggling to free herself from her shallow grave. True looked the corpse in her gaunt, filthy face and wondered if the dead woman had even the slightest spark of appreciation for the tragic comedy playing out in front of her.

For a handful of seconds – though it seemed like a much longer time – there was only a steady ringing sound and the smell of burnt gunpowder. Lifting her gaze, True saw Rick lying on the ground, propped up on his elbow, staring at a point high up on his thigh. In front of him, sprawled on the sandy soil, were the permanently dead remains of the first little girl, her head shattered by Mack’s second load of birdshot.

“I got it,” Mack was saying as he walked slowly around her. “I got it with that second shot.”

“You shot me,” Rick said, spittle spraying as he talked. “You shot me in the fucking leg.”

“No, I – ” Mack began, sounding dazed. He shook his head. “No, I…I couldn’t have.”

“You shot me, you motherfucker!” Rick repeated, his voice rising in pitch. The bite on his hand forgotten, he stared at his groin as dark blood soaked through his jeans. “You shot me! Oh, shit, I’m shot!”

“Rick,” Freida said weakly. The blood was still spurting from between her fingers, but the flow seemed to be lessening. Her eyes were heavy lidded and her face had become ashen. Crying out in pain, Rick crawled toward her, leaving the ground painted with a wide blood trail of his own.

“You didn’t say there were any flesheaters here!” Mack yelled, turning on True fiercely. He knelt beside Freida and tried to keep her from slumping to the ground. “Why didn’t you say there were fleasheaters? Why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t know,” True said, sickened at the sight of the blood pouring from between Freida’s fingers. “The note…the note just said he buried them. ‘Bury me beside them’ is all it said. I didn’t know he didn’t put them down.”

“Well, he didn’t,” Mack grunted. “We need to stop that bleeding. Freida, hon, keep pressing on it until we can get something.” But the woman’s eyes were already starting to glass over.

“Get the…get the first aid kit from…from the truck,” Rick said as he came to a stop beside the woman. Agony distorted his face. “Oh, it hurts. It hurts like a motherfuck! You…shot me…you total dickhead!”

“No,” Mack said, shaking his head again, trying everything within his power to deny making the mistake. “I wasn’t – ”

“Rick,” Freida said, her voice dry and reedy.

“Right here, babe,” said the man through clenched teeth “Right here.”

“Go!” Mack shouted at True. “Go get the kit!” It was clear to her neither wound was going to be fixed up by a mere first aid kit. But because it meant being able to escape the pathetic scene – if even just for a minute – True wove her way through the sagebrush and back to the highway. It seemed like only a few seconds before she was back at the green Toyota with the kit, but by then Mack was sliding down the sandy bank at the roadside, his face blank. “It’s not going to do any good. She passed out. Rick’s going too.” He fixed her with an angry look. “You brought us out here. Now they’re both dead. We go all this time without losing anybody and now…” He rammed the stock of his shotgun against the green car, denting the Toyota’s hood. “You didn’t say anything about there being flesheaters here. Nothing – at – all!”

Not knowing what to say, True climbed the bank and found the two lying side by side. Freida was indeed unconscious. The blood no longer gushed from her neck. Now it only seeped. Rick lay with his eyes closed and groaned in pain. Most of his blood seemed to be soaked into the sand beneath him. She unzipped the nylon case in her hand and looked at the first aid kit’s pitiful supplies: adhesive bandages, gauze, iodine… She realized that even if there had been a qualified paramedic on hand, they had both been bitten. And nothing cured what came from being bitten.

At that moment, Mack pushed his way through the sagebrush, his shotgun exchanged for the .22 rifle belonging to Rick and Freida. Still looking dazed, he looked at the man and the woman, as if trying to figure out which one to shoot first. After a few seconds, he turned to the dead woman still half buried in her shallow grave and took aim at her head. He fired once and hit the corpse in the forehead, instantly stopping its struggles. Then he fired again. With the corners of his mouth turned down like he was on the brink of tears, he fired five more times at the dead woman’s head. When he was done, he turned back to his companions and once again took aim.

“Don’t,” True said to him in a quiet voice. “They’re not dead yet. Not…not yet.”

Mack turned to her with a furious look and shoved the rifle into her hands before stomping angrily back to the road. Left alone with the two dying people, True wondered why it was so important to wait until death claimed them before shooting them. Would Lucas have waited? she asked herself.
She knew Mack’s fury was just his attempt to deny his own guilt, but that wasn’t going to matter. He was going to blame her. And something forged with such hot emotions wasn’t going to break apart any time soon. True wondered how it was going to play out once they got back to the ranch. It didn’t matter that Freida had wandered into danger on her own. It didn’t matter that it had been Mack who shot Rick. She was the new girl. She had just shown up and now two of their people were dead.

It took another ten minutes of waiting before she could convince herself both Rick and Freida were dead – or very, very close to it. Then she extended the inexpensive little semi-automatic .22 rifle with one arm – as if trying to put the maximum distance between her and the still warm bodies – and fired one shot into each of their heads.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Thu Mar 19, 2020 1:11 am

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!!!!!!! ITS HAPPENING!!!!!! ::SCREAMS::
JeeperCreeper wrote:I like huge dicks, Halfapint, so you are OK in my book.... hahaha
Spazzy wrote:Tell ya what... If Zombies attack and the world ends I'll hook tandem toddlers to a plow if it means I'll be able to eat...

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Thu Mar 19, 2020 1:23 am

True felt the need to do one thing before starting off down the highway in the green Toyota. She reached into the back and removed the collection of kid’s toys scattered on the floor. She left them sitting on the edge of the road and regretted the one glance she gave them in the rearview mirror.

The drive back to the ranch was uneventful. Mack had finished pouring the gasoline into the Toyota, tossed the empty gas can into the back seat and went back to the truck all without saying a word to her. She had wondered if the man would want to bring the bodies of Rick and Freida back with them, but he’d done little more than fix her with a quick, angry glance as he took back the .22 rifle. He drove ahead of her at a speed that plainly said he didn’t much care if she followed or not. The hour behind the wheel had given True time to think through what had happened and to come to some conclusions.

When they came to the railroad bridge, Mack opened the barrier and drove through first. He looked away as she drove through, still intent on blaming her for what had happened. True’s conclusions had solidified as they continued slowly across the bridge. It didn’t matter, she decided, that it hadn’t been her fault. The others at the ranch would blame her. Some, like Peachey, might not say it out loud, but they would harbor the thought in their heads. To some of them, she would be the one who got their friends killed. At best, she would be The Fuck-Up to the rest – like she had been to her father; the daughter who couldn’t do a damn thing right – the daughter who had gotten her mother killed.

She risked a quick look down at the river below and the gray mass of dead bodies gathered along the northern bank. Thousands of them. What would happen, she wondered, if the upcoming winter was a particularly bad one? The region’s rivers froze over every so often. What if it happened this winter? Lucas had been right; the people at the ranch were only one giant herd of dead people away from being wiped out.

They bounced along the dirt road leading to the ranch until the first few outbuildings came into view. When Mack steered the truck to one side and braked to a stop, True drove the green Toyota slowly past. As people emerged from doorways, sheds and pole barns to greet their returning friends, True wove her way slowly through the survivor’s camp. When she saw Peachey standing beside the road watching her approach, she kept on going. The grin he wore faded and fell from his face as she drove past and in that moment True was pretty sure that the man knew she wasn’t going to stop – not for him, not for her clothes, not for the small pile of food that even a sane person might kill for these days.

The road led her right through the ranch and out the other side and though she felt many things – fear, regret, resentment – it was a feeling of relief that rose above them all.


*************


If you don’t wake up, you’re going to die; that’s what the voice in the back of Lucas’ mind kept telling him. It had started as an annoying buzz, a noise as irritating and monotonous as the blare of the car horn. More than anything at the moment, he just wanted it to go away. But the buzzing persisted until, with a small groan, Lucas opened his eyes just a bit, just enough to see the wreckage around him. He’d crashed the car. That much he remembered. It was bad, he told himself, but at least there was no fire. Even though the steady bray of the horn rang painfully inside his skull he could just close his eyes again for a little while and –

If – you – don’t – wake – up, the voice in his head insisted, you’re – going – to – die. It was enough to make him open his eyes again and look to his right. There was a dead body in the passenger seat; dead, but beginning to move.

Twenty-two minutes after Mike Ruskin’s heart stopped beating his eyes had slowly opened. They stared blankly at the shattered windshield and deflated passenger side airbag as his arms and legs began to twitch like a sleeper in the middle of a nightmare. The outer parts of his brain no longer functioned, leaving only the core, the part that sparked reflex motor actions to satisfy the most basic of needs. The corpse had no memory of ever being Mike Ruskin. It had no real memories at all, just vague impressions associated with what it could see and hear. The steady wail of the car horn, for instance, told it that it should move its head and look around; food did things that made such sounds. And eating was pretty much the only desire still generated by the corpse’s brain stem.

Injured and dazed, Lucas Locke was watching when Ruskin’s head began to wobble about. When it turned and saw him, its jaw dropped open and it exhaled what breath it could hold in its lungs given that a wooden pole had rammed through the side window and pierced his chest. Dark blood foamed from its mouth as the corpse began to gnash its teeth at him. The pole, however, kept the dead man pinned a foot or so from Lucas’ face. With great effort, Lucas drew his head and his right arm away from the reanimated corpse and, with those parts of his own brain not overloaded with pain signals, he began to take stock of things.

The car was on its side. He was caught between the driver’s seat and the steering column. There was a reanimated corpse in the passenger seat reaching for him and gravity was trying everything it could to pull him down toward it.

His head ached. So did his chest. His arms and legs felt like they weighed hundreds of pounds. His nose was filled with the smell of motor oil and engine coolant. His mouth was filled with a coppery taste. His eyes stung from the white dust that had filled the car when the airbags went off. To make things worse, the car horn was like a hammer to his skull, adding to his misery.

But you’re alive, said the voice from the back of his brain. Now stay that way. And in order to do that he knew he had to either get out of the wrecked car or deal with the corpse in the passenger seat.

At the time of the crash he had been wearing his gun belt looped over one shoulder and across his chest with his revolver holstered beneath his left arm. Summoning all his strength, he moved his right arm – Ow – Tired – Sore – Everything hurts – but his fingers found the holster empty. Moving only his eyes, he looked down at the items strewn across the passenger side of the car. There were cans of food, tools spilled from the tool box, a few articles of clothing, but he couldn’t spot his revolver anywhere. Nice, the voice at the back of his head mocked. There was a time when you had a gun and a backup gun and a backup for your backup gun. Now you can’t lay your hands on just one?

The dead body trapped in the passenger seat was reached out with its left arm, dragging its fingers across his cheek. He jerked his head away, grunting in pain as he did so. The corpse’s hand gripped the collar of his jacket and tried to pull him toward its bloodstained teeth. Immune to pain, it strained against the seat belt while a wet sucking sound came from where the wooden pole had penetrated its chest.

Fighting panic, Lucas batted at the dead man’s grasping hand while at the same time reaching into every jacket pocket, searching for anything he could use to defend himself. But the only thing he could find was a small folding knife with a two inch blade. Awesome, he thought, disappointed that, of his several knives, the pocket knife was the only one he could find. He looked at the corpse in the passenger seat and knew that even if he could strike with enough force to make it through the skull – which he couldn’t – there was no way the blade was long enough to reach the active part of its brain.

The dead man’s hand clawed at his face again. Opening the small folding knife with his teeth, Lucas stabbed at the corpse’s palm. Though its flesh was pierced, it didn’t care and continued its attempts to grab him and pull him close enough to tear at him with its teeth.

Lucas tried once more to free himself from where he was caught between the seat and the steering wheel. A sickening wash of pain rolled over him, threatening to take him into unconsciousness again. Giving up, he turned his head to the dead body beside him. He struck weakly at the corpse’s reaching arm and looked the dead man in the face.

“You’re…not going to stop, are you?” he said to it in slurred, exhausted words. “And I can’t…I can’t get out of here.” The sound of his voice seemed to animate the corpse even more and it clawed even more vigorously at his face. “Cut it…cut it out.” But the dead man just made a gurgling sound as it tried to hook its fingers around his arm. Using what strength he had left, Lucas caught hold of the corpse’s wrist with his left hand and held it. “This,” he told it as he pressed the pocket knife against its ashen flesh, “is nothing personal.”


*******************


It was late afternoon when True saw the two dead people slouching along about fifty yards ahead. She slowed the Toyota on the rough dirt road and calculated how she was going to get around them. She was a little surprised to see them there out in the middle of nowhere, but there were only two of them. Lucas, she thought crisply, wouldn’t have given them much thought. He would have threaded in between them in the Forester, maybe giving one or both of them an expert bump in the process to make them tumble to the ground. But True didn’t want to come in contact with them at all. The Toyota was her lifeboat in a sea of wide ranging dangers and she didn’t want to risk any hurt to it. And anyway, Lucas was a jerk.

Over the past couple of hours, she had taken to adding that last part to every thought having to do with Lucas Locke. Every time she found herself considering a course of action and weighing it against the things Lucas had taught her, she would make her decision and cap it off with And anyway, Lucas is a jerk. Topping off her sour attitude was a growing regret about leaving behind all of the alcohol at the ranch. Shenkle’s Palouse Punch had been the second worst rotgut she’d ever tasted, but it did what it was supposed to do and it did it well. She wished she’d been able to take a few gallons with her. For medicinal purposes, she thought wryly.

To her surprise, the two corpses in the distance angled toward the side of the road and stumbled over its rocky edge. Glad that they were out of the way, but curious as to what might have drawn them off the road, True moved the car slowly forward and put the window halfway down. The sound of a sputtering car horn met her ears. When she neared the slight bend in the road she caught sight of the wreckage in the ditch down below and immediately knew.

Stepping from the Toyota and looking carefully around – another of the things Lucas had taught her – the jerk – True checked to make sure there was a round chambered in her pistol – just like Lucas the Jerk had taught her – and walked cautiously to the where the roadside had been washed away. There below was the Forester on its side. The two corpses had recovered from their tumble down the slope and were pawing their way around the wreck. That didn’t mean there was anything alive inside it, she told herself. That didn’t mean that at all. She knew it was possible that she was going to have to put down not only the two dead people she could see, but also anything dead inside the crashed car. That thought sent a ripple of cold through her.

She was going to have to shoot Lucas Locke in the head, she thought – or at least his reanimated remains. She thought about the small, zippered nylon bag of family mementos underneath the passenger seat, but the consolation of getting it back wasn’t quite enough to offset the trauma of having to shoot someone she’d had the hots for, even if he had been a bit of a jerk.

Movement on the road ahead caught her attention and she squinted into the distance to see three more corpses making their way toward her. “Really?” she breathed. Out here with miles of nothing on all sides? It’s the sound of the horn, she told herself. Who knew how many more dead people were on their way, drawn to the sound of it?

“Okay,” she whispered, “if we’re going to do this...” Careful not to fall or make too much noise, she descended the slope into the ditch and approached the wreck. The smell of gasoline filled her nostrils and she realized that no matter how many corpses she was going to have to shoot, there was another thing she’d have to do. The Toyota was almost out of fuel. The Forester was on its side with the gas cap underneath. She was going to have to puncture the tank and collect whatever fuel was left. That was something that Lucas had showed her how to do – the jerk.

Holding her pistol at the ready, she rounded the front of the car where the two dead bodies had gathered. “Hey,” she said to the one closest to her. With grotesque, rubbery movements it turned to her and dropped open its mouth. Once upon a time it had been a woman in her forties. Now it was a set of ragged remains that looked like it had been run over by a truck. It took a plodding step in her direction and True lined up her sights on the corpse’s forehead. The pistol split the air around her and bucked in her hands. The first round hit the dead woman in the upper lip and rocked her backward. When she regained her balance, she resumed her approach as shattered teeth dribbled from her mouth. True’s second shot dropped her to the rocky ground just as the second corpse – a dead man of about fifty – came close. The corpse’s throat had been torn out and the dry, hacking noise it made reminded True of the sound her cat used to make when it coughed up a fur ball. True aimed, fired and the man’s reanimated remains twisted to the ground.

Taking a big breath and letting it slowly escape, she turned to the hood of the Forester and was tempted to empty the pistol into the engine in hopes of silencing the car horn once and for all. But something behind the shattered windshield moved.

“Lucas,” she said in a voice nowhere near loud enough to be heard over the sickly sound of the horn, “are you alive or dead?” Finding a rusty metal fence post lying nearby, she poked the end of it into a hole in the laminated glass and worked to enlarge it. Chunks fell away. The first thing True saw was Lucas pinned between the steering wheel and the driver’s seat. He was pale – paler than usual – but as she watched, he lifted his arm and managed a weak wave. His hands, she saw, were covered in dark, syrupy blood. Something else was moving behind the ruined glass. Repositioning herself, she saw a corpse in the passenger seat reaching for Lucas, a dead man whose face she vaguely recognized with an arm that flopped loosely at its elbow, hanging on only by the joint, its flesh and muscles severed in a series of sloppy, uneven cuts that circled the limb, exposing the bone. The hand was completely missing. Clutched tightly in Lucas’ right hand she saw the blood-smeared silver blade of a small pocket knife.

“You’re lucky he lost a hand in the wreck," she said to Lucas, but after pausing for a second, it occurred to her what had really happened. “Oh, yuck. You cut it off? That’s so gross.” And, she saw, he had tried to sever the arm at the elbow, too.

He wouldn’t stop grabbing at me, Lucas wanted to say, but he lacked the strength required to form the words.

“All right,” she said just as the car horn finally died. In the deafening silence, she aimed and fired at the corpse in the passenger seat, pleased that her first shot hit its mark. “Let’s get you out of there,” she went on, forgetting to add the words “you jerk” to the sentence. “There’s more of them coming.” Ears ringing from her gunshots, she kicked at the remaining chunks of windshield. “You are the luckiest – ” she started to say, wanting to make sure he knew exactly how grateful he should be. But she left the rest unsaid. Climbing up on the side of the car in order to pull back on the driver’s seat and free him, she had a good view as, in quick succession, the three dead people she’d seen approaching on the road topped over into the ditch about thirty yards from where they were. “I’m going to have to shoot them in the head,” she told him gruffly as she worked. “And don’t give me any shit about making noise. Your car horn did enough of that.” Pausing for breath, she chanced to look out at the sagebrush covered landscape. From her vantage point atop the Forester she was able to see more dead bodies weaving slowly through the sagebrush, converging on their location. “Shit,” she said, counting seven lurching, swaying figures before she gave up. “There’s more coming than I thought.” A spike of fear shot through her. Was there a huge herd of them nearby, one like the mass of corpses gathered on the other side of the river? “Get ready,” she said to him, feeling the car seat starting to move. “You’re walking to the car – or crawling or whatever – ‘cause I’m sure as shit not carrying you. And,” she went on, “you’re also going to clean off your hands. I don’t want some dead guy’s blood all over my new car.”
Last edited by Tinderbox on Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Thu Mar 19, 2020 1:45 am

When Lucas woke it was dark. Rocks and gravel crunched and popped beneath the tires and he could tell they were moving at a slow pace. He was lying in the back seat, but he couldn’t quite remember how he’d gotten there. He vaguely remembered crawling toward the green car on limbs of jelly. He moved his legs and found he had a surprising amount of space around him. But hadn’t the Forester been jam packed with stuff: food, water, tools and other supplies? You wrecked the Forester, said the voice from the back of his mind.

“Where – “ he began, but his throat was dry and the sound that came out was barely a whisper. “Where’s…where’s all the stuff?” There was a plastic gas can on the floor next to him, but that was it. This car, he thought blearily – smaller than the other one – should be packed with stuff.

“You’re awake,” True said from behind the wheel. “Good. I wondered if you were going to die from some internal bleeding or something.” She cleared her throat and continued. “I didn’t want you to croak back there without me knowing and…well, you know.”

“Where,” Lucas asked again, “is all the stuff?”

“The stuff from the other car?” True replied. “It’s back there still in the other car. I mean, I got a few things.”

All the stuff?” he asked. “Everything? It’s all back there?”

“There was a ton of stuff and it was all over the place. The car was on its fucking side!”

“My gun? Lux’s guns? Everything?”

“Look, the car was a mess and there was a fuckload of dead people coming; ten, twenty, who knows?”

“Everything?” he asked again, still trying to come to grips with the news. “My revolver?”

“Sorry,” she replied, becoming increasingly defensive. “You’ll just have to find a new gun.”

“That one saved my life more times than I can count. And both of Lux’s guns, the ones I carried all this way?”

“I didn’t feel like getting surrounded back there in that ditch. I had to get you out and get whatever gasoline I could get. By that time, they were right on us. It was your car horn that drew them in. So, yes, I did save you from that wreck. Yes, I did risk my life for yours. Yes, without me you would still be back there being torn apart by who knows how many dead people. And yes, I left everything back there – everything but your life,” she concluded, silently adding “you jerk.”

Lucas was quiet for a few seconds as he digested this latest turn of events. “Okay,” he finally said. “Whatever. Thanks.”

Wondering if that was the first time she’d heard Lucas say that word to her, she mumbled a slightly puzzled “No…no problem.” After an uncomfortable moment, she asked, “So how are you feeling?”

“Like…ten miles of bad road.” It was something he’d heard Mundy once say and he’d always wanted to use the saying for himself.

“Anything broken, you think? Punctured?”

“I don’t…I don’t think so. But I’m not going to be good for much…for a little while.”

“Yeah, well, be glad you’re still alive enough to feel like shit. How did you crash? You’re the one who told me to drive slow on these roads.”

“I was trying not to get shot. It turns out the guy in the passenger seat wasn’t…wasn’t of good character.”

“Oh yeah?” True said out of the side of her mouth. Did he ditch his partner? Leave her among a bunch of strangers and drive off without her?

“Is this…is this the green car from back on the highway?” he asked. “The one…”

“The one whose previous owner blew his own brains out? Yes, it is.”

“How’d you get it?”

“Long story. I am about to fall asleep at the wheel,” she continued with a yawn. “But I don’t like the idea of stopping out here in the open. Those dead people back there where you crashed appeared from out of nowhere. I don’t like to think about how many more might be wandering around out here.”

Lucas shifted slightly and had to bite back on a groan of pain. He wouldn’t have relished the idea of spending the night in the Toyota’s cramped back seat even if he hadn’t been banged up and bruised. “Got a map?” he asked.

“Yes, I have a map,” True answered.

“Where’s Marbletown?”

“Marbletown?” Something about the name rang a bell. She recalled Peachey telling her that Lucas’ passenger, Ruskin, had wanted a ride there. “Isn’t that where your friend lived?”

“Not a friend,” Lucas told her. “He was going to shoot me.”

“Serves you right,” she muttered.

“Yeah,” Lucas muttered in reply, “I guess. But check the map. Ruskin said there was a place on the outskirts, an auto body repair place called…uh…Castle’s or…Castillo’s, I think.”

True braked to a halt and checked the map by the Toyota’s dashboard lights. “Castle’s or Castillo’s isn’t gonna show up on the map.”

“Just find Marbletown. It can’t be that big.”

“Do we really want to go that close to a town?” she asked while searching for the destination.

“There might be stuff there, stuff for us,” Lucas explained. “’A doomsday shelter’, that’s what Ruskin said. He said it was at the garage.”

“Oh, Ruskin said that,” True replied with a biting tone. “The guy who was going to shoot you told you this?”

“He…thought he…was talking to a dead man,” Lucas said, exhausted and feeling himself slipping again toward unconsciousness. “He…didn’t care if…I knew.”

Having spotted Marbletown on the map, True craned her neck to look at him. “Lucas? Lucas?” Receiving no reply, she turned back to the road ahead and began driving once again. “Okay, Castillo’s garage on the outskirts of Marbletown,” she said to herself. “Even though towns are bad news. Even though you must’ve told me that a million times.” Her eyes flickered to the rearview mirror which she had adjusted so that she could see him in the back seat. Just don’t die and leave me out here all by myself, she added silently, punctuating the thought with, you jerk.





The dashboard clock read 9:27PM when the Toyota’s tires hit the asphalt of Polyandrium Road. True had learned to take the accuracy of car clocks with a grain of salt in the post-apocalypse, but figured it was at least close to being the right time. Though an obstacle course of tumbleweed drifts, the road’s paved surface felt as smooth as glass after so many miles of dirt and gravel and it was sweet relief to every bone in her body. Before night had descended she had seen how the countryside had opened up into flat agricultural fields with rolling hills on the horizon. Now, shrouded in pitch black, she worried how far the car’s headlights could be seen in the distance. Driving carefully, her attention focused on the small cone of light cast ahead of the car, she noted the regular passing of telephone poles, speed limit signs and the occasional abandoned vehicle. Once she passed a series of grain silos and the remains of a weathered clapboard house that looked like it had been picked up and dropped to the ground. But as hard as she concentrated on driving, her body’s demand for sleep was creeping in around the edges of her senses. When her blinking eyes remained closed for a second too long and she accidentally drove through a ten foot-high pile of dried up tumbleweeds, she gave up. Shortly after passing a sign telling her that Marbletown was two miles up the road, True pulled off the blacktop at a place where the ground appeared solid and the roadside weeds looked like they had been recently burned away.

She woke hours later without any memory of turning off the engine and closing her eyes. Dawn was beginning to break and the world outside the Toyota’s windshield was just barely visible in several tones of gray. She leaned forward and looked through the windows on every side of the car searching for danger, but saw none.

“Arewethereyet?” The question dribbled from Lucas’ mouth in a mash of syllables.

“What?” asked True, turning her head toward the back seat.

“I said,” he repeated with some effort, “are we there yet?”

“Two miles,” she replied, “according to the last sign we passed. I was tired and I didn’t like the idea of driving into a town at night. Someone once told me that was a bad thing to do even in the daytime.”

“It is,” Lucas answered, “but we need…we need to check it out. There might be gasoline. There might be food and water. Guns. Who knows?”

True glanced at the Toyota’s fuel gauge. Even with what she salvaged from the Forester it was still only on a quarter tank. “Okay,” she said, but only because the idea of walking through the apocalypse didn’t appeal to her in the slightest.

Lucas’ body suddenly went stiff. “The GPS direction finder.”

“What?”

“The GPS direction finder. It’s back in the Forester.”

True paused for half a second before replying. “What if it is?” She waited for Lucas to continue, but after a few seconds it became clear he was more interested in dwelling silently on the sad fact than talking about it. “I told you I got as much out of the wreck as I could. There were dead people coming in.” She was quiet for a few seconds, but Lucas still made no reply. “Shit,” she said, feeling guilty and resentful. “You don’t even need it. You can just follow your heart,” she mumbled sarcastically. “You have one of those, right?”








Marbletown was a one hundred and fifty-eight year-old whistle-stop that had once boasted a red-painted wooden grain elevator that was the tallest landmark for many miles, but which had been destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s. Its east-west avenues only went up to 4th Street and its north-south streets only went up to G Street. Four signs rose high above the dusty avenues on the edge of town, high enough to be seen from some distance up the highway. The first sign advertised the presence of a Fred Frosty Dairy Mart, the second was for a gas station and the third was for a motel. The fourth sign had been shattered ten months before by a burst of machine gun fire from a small National Guard group dispatched to clear the town of the dead. Having lost two men in the previous town and one in the town before that, the guardsmen settled for firing their vehicle-mounted fifty caliber from the highway, raking Marbletown’s buildings and shattering half of the remaining windows before moving on.

“No Castillo’s,” True reported as she focused the binoculars. The place certainly looked like a ghost town. All of the buildings she could see had a sad, abandoned look with huge mounds of tumbleweeds accumulated in doorways and jammed into corners.

“Ruskin said it was on the outskirts,” Lucas said, propping himself up on one elbow and wincing from the pain. “Maybe it’s on the other side of town.”

“Maybe this is a really, really bad idea,” True whispered, but even as she said it she noticed a white cinder block building with an arched Quonset hut-style roof and a single roll up door on the front. “There,” she said to Lucas. “If it’s any of those places, it’s that one.” The door windows were brown with caked on dust and a slope of dry tumbleweeds was piled up against one side. “If that’s it we can probably get there without making too much noise.” She put the car in gear and moved slowly forward.

They had to pass by a series of storefronts on the way; a Laundromat – its windows blown out – a tax attorney’s office, a barber shop and a bar. It was the last one, the one with the tinted window – still intact – painted with the name Honey-Eater’s Bar & Grill, that grabbed True’s attention causing her to wonder if there might be anything left in the building. Maybe, she thought, there was a single bottle left forgotten in some dark, dusty corner or on some high shelf covered in cobwebs. She put the thought on hold as they drove the final fifty yards to the white cinderblock building. She parked near the back, shielded from most of the rest of the buildings in town and their blank, staring windows. On the side of the structure above a plywood-covered window was a neon sign – now home to birds’ nests and wind-blown debris – that read Castillo’s Auto Body.

“There you go,” she said to Lucas. “This is the place.” She leaned forward in her seat, inspecting the building. “Now how do we get in? Through the big door in the front?”

“Not if we can help it.” Sitting up with great effort, Lucas looked at the gray metal security door on the side of the body shop. “I had a crowbar,” he said, “in the Forester.”

“Holy shit,” True said, pounding the palm of her hand on the steering wheel. “I didn’t crash your stupid car.” She heaved a sigh, inspected the chamber of her pistol and opened the car door. “Let me check. Maybe it’s open.”

“It’s not open,” Lucas replied, grunting as he moved. “Ruskin said he locked it up when he left. I’ll come with you.”

“You’re all beat up,” True said. “Stay with the car.”

“I’ll come with you,” he repeated. He sucked air through his teeth as he opened the door and attempted to stand. “There…there are probably two dead people inside.”

“Two dead…” she started to say. “Okay, you didn’t mention that.”

“One’s a woman,” Lucas told her, moving hunched over and with a slight limp, “and the other’s a kid, a little boy.”

“That’s what Ruskin said?”

“He said he shot them, but not in the head.”

“Fuck,” True said. She looked around, suddenly nervous. “Is this…I mean, do we really have to…”

“We’re here,” he said to her as they approached the building, “and we have a murderer’s word that there are supplies in there.”

“Yeah,” she muttered, “what more do we need?”

“Let’s get the plywood off that window. If we can get it off in one piece, maybe we can put it back in place once we get in.”

The plywood was attached to the cinderblock wall with screws set into metal shield anchors. Not surprising, Lucas thought, for a guy who had a disaster shelter in his garage. Probably, he thought, the guy had the holes drilled and the anchors installed long before the dead started to walk around and attack the living.

“We can get the screws out,” he said, “if we can find a screwdriver – and if we have half an hour to work at it. I don’t suppose there are any tools in the car.”

“I punctured the Forester’s gas tank with a screwdriver,” True answered. She’d found the tool along with a bent pair of pliers and a roll of electrical tape under the passenger seat wrapped in a plastic grocery store bag. “I’ll get it. I assume,” she added as she walked back to the Toyota, “that since you’re hurt I’ll be doing all the work.”

“Not all of it,” he said, attempting to stand straight. “You’ve got to save your strength.”

“Because I’ll be the one crawling in through that window?” True guessed, her tone grim.

“Yeah,” he replied.



Lucas had equipped himself with a rusty car jack handle he found in the gravel parking lot. He took a second or two to scan the town’s empty streets and hope that they would stay empty. Then he raised the piece of metal in his hand and struck it against the auto body shop’s roll down door, tapping out a rhythm to a song he’d once liked. It took half a minute for the corpse of a woman, lured away from the window they’d broken, to show up behind the dirty roll down door. When it did, he watched for a second one, much smaller than the first, to appear. It took the body of the little boy a minute longer to join the remains of his mother. Lucas turned his head to where True stood at the corner of the building and nodded.

Her heart thudding, True tried to put aside her fear and just do what she had to do. Hoisting herself up onto the sill of the window, she swung her legs in through the opening and dropped to the concrete floor as quietly as possible. She wasn’t supposed to use her pistol. “If a town full of dead people hear it,” Lucas had explained – unnecessarily – “we could wind up stuck in here.” But she held it at the ready anyway. If it came down to making some noise or getting bit, she was going to make all the noise she had to.

The shop was a jumble of metal racks, air compressors, acetylene tanks and other equipment. There were two vehicles inside the building, a red Chevy truck with its engine partially disassembled and a classic car up on the lift stripped of its doors and most of its interior. The limited light leaking in through the windows gave the place a depressing murkiness. Floating above the petrochemical laced air was the all too familiar musky roadkill odor that meant the undead were nearby. True switched the pistol to her left hand and pulled the screwdriver from her coat pocket. Though a good twelve inches long, the tool felt ridiculously small, nowhere near big enough to do the job of piercing the brains of two reanimated corpses. “It’s a mechanic’s shop,” Lucas had suggested. “Maybe you can find something better once you’re inside.” The Chevy was positioned so that it blocked her view of the front of the shop which was fine with her; if she couldn’t see the two dead people pawing at the building’s main door then they couldn’t see her either. As she crept forward she glanced around looking for something she could use as a weapon, something bigger than the screwdriver in her hand. On a wheeled red metal toolbox she found a long handled ball peen hammer and although she felt sick at the thought of using it on the corpses at the front of the shop, she figured it would be better than the screwdriver.

The sound of Lucas rapping on the door covered any noise she made as she approached the front of the shop. She rounded the Chevy and got her first glimpse of the two corpses. The woman was small, a head shorter than True with arms like sticks. It wasn’t going to be hard to take care of her, she figured. But the sight of the dead little boy next to her, scratching at the door while staring blankly up through the window at Lucas – that sight froze her in her tracks. How, she asked herself, was she supposed to bring the hammer down upon the dead child’s skull? True glanced up and saw Lucas looking at her through the dirty window. He could see her hesitating and in that split second she decided to act. Don’t let yourself think about it, she could almost hear him say. Don’t let yourself think that they were ever anything but dead.

True raised the hammer, stepped quickly forward and brought it down just as the dead woman was turning toward her. The blow struck the corpse’s temple which knocked its head violently to the side. It slowly raised its head and dropped open its mouth as it took an unbalanced step toward her. Her heart skipping a beat, True raised the hammer once more and let it fall with all of the force she could muster. The dead woman’s eyes, already sunken and lifeless, rolled back into her head. She fell to her knees and slumped against the door, smearing a thick vertical line upon it in greenish black bodily fluids as she slid to the floor. True’s mind went blank. It only lasted a second or two, but by the time she’d recovered the corpse of the little boy was already three feet away. It had its arms outstretched as it toddled toward her in grotesque resemblance to a child who only wanted to be picked up and held. She felt the weight of the hammer in her hand and knew she couldn’t use it. She backed up a few steps and laid the tool on a mechanic’s protective work pad draped over the Chevy’s fender. The pistol passed from her left hand to her right and she raised it at the approaching corpse.

“No,” a voice came from behind her, “no, no.” As Lucas limped past, he grabbed the hammer and the heavy work pad from the Chevy. Swiftly wrapping it around the dead child, he dragged the swaddled corpse to the other side of the truck. Even though it was out of her line of sight, True turned her head and closed her eyes as the sound of the dull hammer blows filled the shop. She was still standing there, staring at a random spot on the wall when Lucas returned.

“You got in here quick,” she said, her tone flat.

“It hurt. A lot,” he replied in a constricted voice as he clutched his ribs. “But it looked like you might need a hand. It’s hard when it’s kids.”

“I could have done it,” she told him, but even to her it sounded like a lie. “Anyway…” She blinked and tore her gaze from the wall. “I could use a drink.”

“Ruskin said the owner of this place had a doomsday shelter hidden in here somewhere.” He swept his gaze over the interior of the building. “Wouldn’t be much of a shelter without water.”

“I guess,” True said, but it was a different kind of drink she wanted.

“It’s got to be in the back,” he said, nodding toward the auto body shop’s office area. “As soon as we get the plywood back up over the window we’ll look for it.” Still holding his bruised ribs, Lucas moved toward the window they’d broken to gain entrance. “Hey, there’s going to be one more dead body around here somewhere. Ruskin said he shot it in the head so – ”

“So no big deal,” True said, following behind. “One more dead body;” she muttered, “no big deal.”






There were four red metal jerry cans along the shop’s inside wall filled with gasoline. Using a length of plastic tubing, Lucas drew out a small amount and set it alight on the concrete floor. “It’s good. That’s worth the trip right there,” he stated, tightening the cap. True merely watched. Her mood had become as gloomy as the building’s interior with its coiled, tangled shapes all morphing into the shadows. Twenty gallons, she thought; enough to get them out into an even more remote spot before running out of gas again.

They found the remains of the man with the name “Castillo” embroidered on his blue work shirt on the floor of the back room. Having died from a bullet to his brain his body hadn’t reanimated. Since his corpse had grown cold before the murdered woman and boy had risen to wander the building they hadn’t eaten his flesh. His body had stiffened, bloated and partially liquefied, staining the concrete floor around his remains. It was a gruesome thing, but the worst of it had happened some time ago and on the world’s current scale of horrors it ranked pretty low. No big deal, True thought as Lucas pulled a paint spattered drop cloth over the former owner of the auto body shop.

The plain, gray metal door beside the rest room opened on a narrow, windowless space that was part storeroom and part survival shelter. “Huh,” Lucas had said as they shined a flashlight through the doorway. Past stacked cardboard boxes stuffed with financial records and invoices were two cots and some camping supplies next to three metal shelving units.

“A little…underwhelming, maybe?” True ventured.

“I…I guess I was expecting something a little more impressive.”

“Well, there is food,” True said, moving into the room, her breath fogging in the beam from the flashlight.

“Maybe…maybe two weeks’ worth,” Lucas estimated, following behind. “Not exactly five gallon buckets of rice and beans.”

“Holy junk food,” she said, taking stock of what was there. “I’m thinking maybe this guy wasn’t exactly Prepper of the Year.” The shelves toward the back held items that looked as though they’d been plucked from the aisles of the local dollar store. While there were a few small cans of fruit, vegetables, meat and soup, they were greatly outnumbered by the bags of potato chips, boxed snack crackers and packaged jerky. “Hey, Twinkies,” she said, spotting a stack of three boxes. “Those are supposed to stay good a long while, right?” The camping equipment included bottles of propane, a camp stove, two cots and three sleeping bags. True noted one of the sleeping bags, a small one, just big enough for a little boy and decorated with cartoon superheroes. She quickly tore her eyes away and concentrated on the contents of the metal shelves. “There’s your guns,” True pointed out. On one of the shelves lay a scoped Mossberg bolt action rifle with a dark green synthetic stock. Beside it rested a semi-automatic pistol finished in brushed stainless steel. “No AKs,” she said, “no M-16s. Just one varmint rifle.”

“No rust,” he said, inspecting it. “Chambered in five-five-six.”

“That’s M-16 ammo, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied. He pried open a plastic ammo box. “There’s about two hundred rounds here.”

“And,” True said, picking up the pistol and reading the printing on its side, “a Smith and Wesson Victory. Woo-hoo.” She returned the .22LR handgun to the shelf. “I’ll keep my 9mm, thank you.”

Lucas rooted through a second ammo box. “There’s six hundred rounds for that one.”

“Great. So if we’re attacked by six hundred undead gophers…”

“If you hit the dead square in the skull,” Lucas said, putting a fingertip to his forehead, “a twenty-two will mess them up just fine.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, unconvinced. “We came all this way for a survival bunker stocked with food and guns and this is all we find?”

Lucas limped forward to the shelves holding the food. “You take what you can get,” he replied, peeling the cap from a gallon jug of purified water.

“A back room,” True muttered as she tore the top from an envelope of flavored tuna, “with cinderblock walls and no way out in case of an emergency.”

“Yeah,” Lucas agreed, wincing in pain from the effort of lifting the gallon jug to his mouth, “but at least it’s somewhere to stretch out and sleep. That cot,” he added with a nod at the camping equipment, “is going to feel good.”

“You planning on staying? You? Mr. Gotta-Go-Find-My-Dead-Girlfriend?

Lucas gave her an emotionless stare. “I’ve got bruises on my bruises.”

“Fine,” she relented. “We’ll hang out here for a while.” She took another look at the claustrophobic room. “It’ll be…fun.”
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

akraven
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by akraven » Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:20 am

Awesome addition to the story TB!!!!!!!!!!!! Was really happy to see the pop up from ZS saying you had posted. I hope things in your life are getting better for you. Thank you very much for the new chapters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Tinderbox
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:31 am

The air inside the building was cold but neither of them were up to the task of firing up the shop’s waste oil heater. Neither knew how much noise it would make, anyway, and neither wanted to risk drawing attention to their newfound place of refuge. Lucas had groaned as he’d inserted himself into one of the sleeping bags. Within minutes of settling in on one of the cots, he was asleep. True was awake only a short while longer. Though exhausted, she felt the restless need to take a walk through the building. Trying to ignore the woman’s dead body, still unwilling to look in the direction of the little boy’s body, she peered through the dirty windows of the shop’s main door. Outside, nothing had changed; the streets of the town were still empty, the buildings and houses in the distance were void of activity. She cracked open the door on the side of the building and stared out through a two inch gap. The Toyota was still there, looking pretty much as dusty and abandoned as any other car around. Making her way back to the narrow, windowless room in the rear of the shop, reason told her they were as safe there as any other place within their reach. But as she locked the door to the back room and folded herself into her sleeping bag, she couldn’t help but feel uneasy.

They had food and water, she considered. There was gasoline for the car. But where were they going? Off to find Lucas’ girlfriend – the girlfriend who they would never ever find and who was surely long dead? And here she was, she continued, along for the ride, paired up with the only straight guy in the world who didn’t want her sharing his sleeping bag. By the light of the flashlight she glanced over at Lucas’ sleeping form and indulged in a five second-long fantasy where she quietly packed up the car and left him behind like he’d left her. And I might, she told herself before she snapped off the flashlight, if I wasn’t so tired.

As darkness filled the room and sleep settled itself over her, she thought about the night she’d spent at the ranch. There were people there, she mused, people who made some kickass moonshine. And there was plenty of it. As much as a girl could want. And there was a guy there who appreciated having her around. She recalled the look on Peachey’s face as he’d watched her drive by. He’d wanted her to stay. The others there, they wouldn’t blame her forever for what happened to their friends, would they? What if, she wondered, she returned to the ranch with a car full of food and other supplies? She sank into unconsciousness thinking about the burn of Shenkle’s moonshine as it spread its magic through her body, blunting the sharp edge of things, making her forget – at least for a few hours – how bad the world had gotten.



************************



True jolted awake from a nightmare in which she was driving her little sister around in the Forester. Every minute or so her sister would lean toward her to take another bite out of her face and True, apparently not thinking this behavior so odd, would just let her. Eventually, the highway ahead of them became so crowded with dead people that she had to stop. As corpses crowded around them, peering in through the windows, she recognized certain pale, torn and decayed faces: her friend Brandi, her tenth grade math teacher, the guy who used to buy her vodka when she was sixteen, Freida and Rick. The mob of dead people surrounded the car and their sheer numbers began to rock it side to side with increasing violence. When the car began to turn on its side she woke with a gasp.

She found the flashlight and snapped it on, checking to see if her pistol was still beneath the cot where she had left it. A few feet away, Lucas stirred but did not fully awaken. True pushed herself up from the cot and placed her feet against the cold concrete floor.

The water in the restroom toilet had evaporated long ago leaving behind a yellow stain on the white porcelain. Still, it was the most reasonable place in the building to relieve herself. When she was done, she felt compelled once again to take a walk around the inside of the auto body shop. Stepping gingerly, careful not to make any noise, she guided herself with the flashlight in hand, letting only a sliver of light shine through her fingers. The daylight outside the building’s main doors told her that she had slept most of the day. She stared at the empty streets of the town and began to wonder if all of the houses she could see really did hide hordes of dead bodies like they feared. It was tempting to believe they were as empty as they appeared, but she knew better. She pressed her cheek to the window and looked up the street at the storefront they’d passed on the way into town. Honey-Eater’s Bar & Grill, she thought, recalling the name on the window – the intact window. No one had smashed their way into the bar, she told herself. The back door might be hanging off its hinges, she reasoned, and it could be as picked clean as every other place, but who knows? Letting the thought of a bottle of vodka or bourbon or even schnapps smolder in her mind like a tiny spark of hope, she backed away from the door and returned to the rear of the shop. While Lucas continued to sleep away his injuries, she opened a package of peanut butter crackers and slowly chewed them while staring into the dark, thinking of better times.

She slept again, waking only to hear Lucas groaning in pain as he shuffled his way to the bathroom and then back to his cot. That was the routine for the next forty-eight hours: sleep, eat, venture silently out to the front of the building in a groggy haze to peer through the windows, crack open the side door to see if the Toyota was still there, then return to back room. But the time came when she felt she couldn’t sleep anymore.






It was dark outside. True guessed that it was somewhere around midnight, but it was just a feeling and she really couldn’t be sure. There was a moon somewhere up above the clouds and enough of its light was leaking through to make objects barely visible in the night. A person, she thought to herself, wouldn’t be able to see far, but they’d be able to see enough to walk around without tripping over every little thing. And, she continued thinking, the dead – if there were any out there – probably wouldn’t even notice you if you were quiet. With restlessness turning to recklessness, she made her way to the building’s side door and opened it a crack. Fresh air poured over her face and she let temptation drive her actions. She went back into the auto body shop for the large screwdriver she’d wielded when they’d first arrived. Then, tugging the Sig Sauer from her waistband and checking the chamber, she turned the doorknob.

She knew she should be scared, but as she slipped through the building’s side door and closed it silently behind her the feeling that enveloped her was a familiar one. Pistol in hand, she put her back to the cinder block wall and stood like a statue, looking and listening for signs of danger. It was so much like it had been before the world ended, when she would sneak out of the house after dark. She’d been scared back then, but only scared that she’d get caught and earn even more scorn and disapproval from her already disappointed parents. Like back then, what drove her forward despite her fear was the need to satisfy something deep inside. Alcohol could do that for her, as could a number of other somewhat harder to get substances. Thrilled with desire, elation and a deep down thirst, she stepped away from the wall and walked quietly into the dark.

The trick, she remembered, to sneaking out of the house at night was to wait until she thought no one was watching and then move swiftly, silently and with purpose. Back then she would make a straight line through the trees along a well worn path to the road where her friend’s car would be waiting. “I could use you now, Brandi,” she said to the girl who was most certainly long dead. True relaxed a little as she reached the paved street where her footsteps would be less likely to make a sound. She stopped beside the nearest telephone pole and, holding her pistol across her stomach, she again looked and listened for any sign of danger. The mounds of dead, dry tumbleweeds heaped up against the houses and buildings in the distance broke up their angular outlines and gave them an unsettling appearance. But as far as she could see, nothing in the town moved. A sudden breeze whirled around her, coming out of nowhere – a change in the weather, she told herself. Walking another twenty yards to the nearest building, she stopped again. In this manner, growing more confident every time she stopped and discovered no danger, she made it all the way to her destination.

The wall in back of Honey-Eater’s Bar & Grill was stacked with plastic milk crates and mushy piles of old cardboard boxes. There was a trash dumpster and a large recycling bin. To her chagrin, the back door appeared much more formidable than she’d imagined and the screwdriver in her hand suddenly seemed utterly insufficient for the purpose of prying it open. Without thinking much about it, True reached out and turned the doorknob. When the door opened she was elated. But, she thought, if it’s unlocked, there can’t be anything left inside.

She pushed the door inward and stepped back, pistol half raised. No dead bartenders or waitresses stumbled out of the darkened doorway. She poked her head in for a quick sniff; no musty roadkill smell. Calculating the risk, True stepped into the building and quietly shut the door behind her. Taking the flashlight from her pocket, she held it level with the Sig Sauer’s barrel and swept the beam around the back room.

Metal shelving lined one wall of the narrow space. A quick inspection showed the only remaining items were things like boxes of paper napkins, a few plastic pitchers and cleaning supplies. From the wooden pallets on the floor, the other wall appeared to have once been stacked high with things, but all that remained were a few cardboard boxes, empty except for one which held shallow plastic trays still nestled in their original packing material. The next room was the kitchen, but where there had once been restaurant-sized containers of condiments and bins filled with food there were only empty stainless steel cabinets and countertops. The doors of the large refrigerators hung open and a message scrawled across a wall-mounted white board read “Everyone: Closed tomorrow til this thing is over.” Moving out into the bar, True cupped her hand over the flashlight, allowing only a sliver of light to shine through.

Not surprisingly, the shelves behind the bar were empty of anything interesting. There were ashtrays and boxes of matches and glasses and stacks of towels, but nothing in the way of alcoholic beverages. One bottle lay shattered on the floor, its dried contents nothing but a sticky stain. For a fraction of a second, True pictured herself licking the floor around the shards of glass, but glancing up at the counter she spotted something that caused her heart a momentary flutter of hope. There was a single bottle there. The flashlight showed it was mostly empty, but there remained two inches of amber colored liquid at the bottom. The bottle sat on top of a note written on a white napkin. “Harv,” it read, “Left you some --- if your still breathing that is. Me and Dil drank up most of it but the place aint the same w/out you, bro. Gone to Micks place up in the Blues. Find us there. Wes.”

“Wes,” True said in a voice just above a whisper as she unscrewed the cap from the bottle, “I’m not Harv, but I appreciate you leaving me a taste.” With four mouthfuls she drained the remaining contents, luxuriating in the warmth, but feeling nowhere near satisfied. “You couldn’t have left him a little bit more?” she asked the man who had left the note. Her grip tightened on the neck of the bottle and for a moment she contemplated smashing it against the mirror behind the bar. Instead, finding the ballpoint pen that the man had used, she scribbled “Harv is dead” on the white napkin and turned to go. Almost as an afterthought, she grabbed two paper-wrapped boxes of matchbooks from behind the bar. Just to have something to show for sneaking out, she thought to herself; just in case Lucas catches me sneaking back in.

A gust of wind whirled around her as she stepped through the bar’s back door. It made a faint singing sound as it blew through the town’s chain link fences and sighed among the bare branches of its trees. The first hint of dawn was filtering through the overcast sky, surprising her. Sleeping so long, she thought, inside a windowless room, it was enough to mess up anyone’s internal clock. Clutching the boxes of matches to her chest, she had every intention on heading straight back to the auto body shop. But emboldened by the lack of danger she’d experienced on the way to the bar and not looking forward to another twenty-four hours cooped up inside Castillo’s, True decided to take a slightly longer way back. Who knows, she thought, tossing reason aside, maybe there would be a liquor store around the block.

The wind picked up strength as she walked, whistling loudly around the guy-wires on nearby telephone poles. She froze in her tracks as something came bounding up behind her out of the early morning gloom; a wind-driven tumbleweed. The dead plant bounced past her, on its way to join countless others lodged against the town’s buildings. The slight jolt of fear it caused was enough to make her quicken her step. She was taking an unnecessary risk, she told herself. She was being stupid. “There ain’t no liquor in this town,” she breathed aloud, thinking back on the lyrics to the old song that Doc, the 300 pound weed-selling ex-biker dude, would sing when drunk. “I’ll pawn you my shoes for a little bottle of booze. I’ll drink it down and lay right down and die.”

True rounded a corner and nearly tripped over a pile of debris. “Shit,” she exclaimed in a whisper, stumbling a bit. When what she had taken for a simple heap of trash moved, her mind tried to blame it on the wind. But when the movement spread and individual shapes began to separate themselves out of the darkness, she gasped and backpedaled out into the street. There she tripped over a scraped and dented plastic front end fender that had been shed long ago by a passing car and fell on her back. On her way down, her finger tightened on the trigger of the Sig Sauer and a single gunshot echoed down the street. Stunned by the impact as well as the muzzle flash – and the realization of the huge mistake she’d just made – True still was able to distinctly hear the croaking, belching sound of rotten air being forced out of six pairs of long-dead lungs.

They rose from where they had been slumped against an empty storefront. The musty roadkill smell of them swirled on the wind and filled her nostrils. Four were still intact enough to hoist themselves stiffly to their feet. The other two crawled from the shadows on broken bones. But, excited by the motion, the loud noise and the bright flash of light, they all moved toward where she lay.

It was a moment before she could gather her wits. By the time she’d caught her breath and blinked away the stars in her eyes, she looked up at the first two corpses faintly silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky and decided that the screwdriver in her coat pocket was not going to get her out of the situation. She raised the pistol, aimed at the closest figure and squeezed the trigger. Even in the dim light she could see the bits of skull and dead flesh explode from the back of the corpse’s head. The first figure fell backward and the next one leaned in to take its place. True fired three times before the second figure fell face down on the dirt-coated asphalt, nearly landing on top of her. Ears ringing, she kicked her legs and scooted backwards until she had room to get to her feet. Two remaining corpses reached for her and two more crawled close behind. Straining to find her targets in the low light, she fired twice at the next one before it went down. She sent one bullet into the display window advertising Mead’s Boots and Leather Works. Her next round ricocheted off the brick face of the local Moose Lodge. Cursing, forgetting everything she’d ever learned about marksmanship, she yanked on the trigger, firing wildly and repeatedly, stopping only when the slide locked back and the magazine was empty.

“Fuck,” she said, breathing heavily and shaking her head at her momentary loss of hearing. She’d put down the six corpses that had come at her from the dark. But even with her eardrums still recovering, she could still hear the sound of air being squeezed out through rotting throats constricted by excitement. The noise made by the dead wafted on the gusting wind and seemed to come from everywhere around her. Her eyes readjusted from the flash of the gun and began to notice movement in gaping doorways and shattered windows. Figures lurched around corners and emerged in slow motion from dusty, dark recesses. Nine corpses slid from the front door of the Moose Lodge alone.

Every rule, True thought to herself turning a slow circle in the middle of the street. You’ve broken every rule. She corrected herself: Almost every rule. There was still the one about not leading the dead back to your hiding place. She could still do something about that one. Picking up the two cartons of matchbooks she’d taken from the bar – and in her panic not quite knowing why she bothered to do so – she chose a direction away from Castillo’s and started to move as Marbletown’s dead began to converge on her.

Her strategy was simple: lead them away and then, when she could do so without being seen, double back to the auto body shop. The problem was that she’d made so much noise emptying her pistol that the dead weren’t just emerging from where she’d been, they were emerging all over town. She sprinted, then walked, then jogged, then ran some more. At a corner she found a string of four dead people blocking her way. Zigzagging to keep away from their outstretched arms, she dashed down an alleyway and came out across the street from a small schoolyard. In the overgrown field on the other side of a chest-high chain link fence thirteen corpses stumbled through the tall brown grasses. At the sight of her they belched the air from their lungs and started dragging their way toward her. Trying to hide herself behind a row of dust covered cars, she hurried up the street, but a glance ahead showed half a dozen dead people shuffling across an intersection, each searching the early morning murk for the thing that had made the loud noises – the kind of loud noises that food made.

True veered left and after half a block, attempted to jump a picket fence along the edge of a weed choked yard. She caught her foot on the top of it and landed on her side in what had once been a very tidy flower garden. Scrambling to her feet and knocking two blue glass gazing balls from their pedestals, she plowed her way through a decorative miniature windmill and a vine-wrapped wishing well on her way around to the rear of a small house where she hid herself on the back porch and tried to catch her breath. Beneath a sliding glass door with a spider web of cracks from a single bullet hole at its center, the porch was lined with sun-faded garden decorations: smiling frogs on toadstools, a pensive plaster mermaid atop a rock, a St. Francis statue, its cement head and hands weathered by decades of rain, snow and sun. An extruded resin red fox holding a small lantern stared back at her from beside the cracked sliding glass door, smirking at her.

“Fuck…you,” she gasped, irritated at the statue’s attitude. “I’ve…got…this.” She just had to wait until the dead passed by, she told herself. Then she could double back to the auto body shop. Looking around, she saw she was near the edge of town opposite Castillo’s. Maybe, she thought, she could just run the remaining distance and head out into the surrounding scrubland. She could make a wide circle, she told herself, and come back in on the far side of the town. “It might work,” she whispered at the red fox, but the statue just continued to smirk at her as if to say Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. True was still trying to psych herself up for the run to the edge of town when the first few corpses rounded the corners of the house.

They lurched along, excited for the first time in months, a single thought flickering in what was left of their brains. Stifling a yelp at the sight, True scooted up against the house, her back pressed against the cracked glass of the sliding door. She huddled there and kept as still as she could, hardly daring to breathe. Keeping her head motionless, she counted the dead as they appeared in her peripheral vision: four, six, seven…

It was then that she realized she still had the two unopened cartons of matchbooks clamped to her chest on her left. In her right hand she still gripped the Sig Sauer, its slide still locked back, its magazine still empty. She had two full magazines for the pistol in her coat pocket, but until now she hadn’t thought to reload the thing. Funny, she thought, how the brain disconnects when things get really bad. Like back in high school, she recalled, when Gwen Bunderson overdosed on the pills she’d taken from her mother’s nightstand and her friend Brandi stood shaking the phone in her hand repeatedly asking “What’s the number for 9-1-1? What’s the number for 9-1-1?” Admittedly, True thought, they had all been completely stoned, but really.

One of the corpses plodding through the overgrown yard bumped into a metal arbor, sending a collection of tangled wind chimes and bird feeders crashing to the ground. The sound made True cringe. Just – stay – still, she told herself. But a quick series of dull sounds from behind her brought an almost involuntary turn of her head just in time to see the drapes on the other side of the sliding door being whisked aside. The corpse of a woman in her sixties stood there clad only in a bra. She had purple painted fingernails, a lopsided bird’s nest of hair dyed henna red and a small caliber bullet wound to her chest. When she saw True, the dead woman’s eyes got huge and her mouth opened with a gargling croak. Lunging mindlessly forward, the woman smashed through the weakened glass door, showering True with shards and falling on top of her.

For True, that was it. The time for well thought out action was over. Screw strategy! her mind screamed. Screw it all! With a high pitch cry, she flailed wildly to get herself out from under the dead woman. She kicked and swore loudly at the gnashing corpse, heedless of the fact that every other corpse in the yard had turned and was now slouching toward her. Had she not been so panicked, she would have been proud of the dexterity with which she ejected the pistol’s spent magazine, exchanged it for a full one and let the slide ram forward, chambering a round. She fired five quick shots at the henna-haired corpse, walking the rounds from her purple-mottled chest on up to her skull where a final bullet tore through the dead woman’s brain stem.

A corpse wearing a bullet-stitched type B hazmat suit reached for her from the edge of the porch. Distantly aware that the man couldn’t bite through the respirator still fixed over his mouth, True spent a second or two returning the corpse’s dull gaze before almost casually taking aim between the dead man’s eyes. She fired as the man’s gloved hands were almost on her, sending a 9mm bullet through the clear plastic of his face mask. As the corpse in its protective suit smashed facedown between her feet, she looked at the others coming toward her.

Struggling to stand, nearly tripping over the assembled lawn ornaments, she ducked around the side of the house and directly into the arms of a dead deputy sheriff. The corpse’s eyes opened wide as its mouth dropped open and it tried to take a bite out of her face. True yelled something unintelligible and twisted herself free. She raised the pistol and fired nearly point blank at the corpse’s face. Then, not waiting to watch the dead man fall, she began running back the way she had come. As she reached the street something thick and sticky began running across her forehead and down her right temple. She lifted the hand that gripped her pistol and it came back from her hairline smeared in blood.

Not bit, she told herself. Cut. Broken glass. Run. Just run.

Though the sky had begun to brighten, darkness still pooled in the town’s streets and around its buildings. The dead emerged from the shadows between houses, tramping across overgrown yards and rounding brittle mounds of heaped up tumbleweeds. Running headlong into the wind, True sprinted when she could and dodged around outstretched arms and grasping, clawed hands when she had to. A bear of a man with a pair of shiny scissors sticking out of his neck tried to lock her in a deadly embrace. A woman, her face almost completely eaten away, grabbed her arm, but was shaken off. True was able to maneuver around them, but as she grew more tired, the dead came closer and closer to catching her. Skidding to a halt, she saw the street ahead blocked by too many corpses. Running between houses, she found the next street blessedly clear and ran as fast as she could back toward Castillo’s.

She was only one block away from the auto body shop when she stopped beside the smashed window of a pest control business to vomit. Wiping the tears from her eyes and smearing her cheeks with blood from her head wound, she peeked around the corner. Six corpses, hobbled by various leg injuries and separated from the rest of the town’s undead population crept down the street. If they saw her, she thought, they would track her to Castillo’s and the rest of the dead would eventually follow. She looked at the pistol in her hand and immediately discounted it. Tired as she was, taking them on with the screwdriver also seemed out of the question. She had to distract them, she decided, and she had to do it before the rest of Marbletown’s dead caught up.

Looking down at the two cartons of matchbooks cradled in her left arm, she decided that she could sacrifice one of them. A nice flare of light in the early morning gloom would attract their attention and she could make her way to the auto body shop without being noticed. Stuffing the pistol into her jacket pocket, she tore open the white paper of the carton and removed a single book of matches. Lucking into a lull in the billowing wind, she struck a match and tucked it back among the others so that when it burned down it would ignite the rest – hopefully, she cautioned herself. True put the matchbook back into the carton and, just as the unlit matches began to flare, she tossed it Frisbee-style across the street. She aimed for a bare patch of sidewalk, but the carton – orange flames blossoming and white sparks beginning to spit into the air – landed instead beneath a small mound of dead tumbleweeds piled up in a doorway. As dry as any tinder, the tumbleweeds burst into a crackling flame that raced skyward. In a matter of seconds the dead plants were nothing but glowing embers.

Okay, she told herself, if that doesn’t get their attention…

But the wind chose that moment to blow in from the surrounding countryside with a force that made the town’s wooden structures creak. Sand and grit swirled around True as she watched the incandescent pile of tumbleweeds break up and soar downwind. Most of them disintegrated into ash, but a few landed among other heaps of tumbleweeds set against other buildings and, in the powerful wind, a chain reaction began. True watched with fascination as one blaze set fire to another before the blowing sparks were carried to another and another. With a sizzling sound the tumbleweed mounds flared bright orange, leaving behind glowing skeletons.

“Shit,” True breathed. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Carried on the wind, the flaming tumbleweeds sailed over rooftops and down Marbletown’s abandoned streets. Sparks made their way in through smashed store windows and cascaded into living rooms to land on curtains, couches and bone-dry debris. While the tumbleweed mountains continued to explode into flames, small fires began burning inside the houses and the wind, like a giant, invisible pyromaniac, urged them on.

True stepped over the broken glass of the pest control company’s front window and concealed herself behind its bent and twisted venetian blinds. Transfixed, she watched through the metal slats as fires began to flicker inside two of the closer buildings. Farther on where there was no shortage of dead, overgrown lawns and sun baked, wooden structures, a faint orange glow tinted the air. One by one, the six hobbling corpses she had originally intended to distract came slowly around the building. They wobbled a crooked path around the front of her hiding place, but their focus seemed to be on the street ahead of them. They limped and scuffed along, grinding their broken bones, in mindless pursuit of warm, living food. She waited until they were far enough away before leaving the storefront and continuing on toward the auto body shop, now wondering what she was going to tell Lucas about accidentally setting fire to an entire town.

Fuck-up, she thought bitterly. She was a fuck-up. She’d been one before the apocalypse and now, nothing had changed. She walked slowly, glancing back at the burning town, self loathing rising inside her. They were going to have to go, she realized. They couldn’t continue to hide inside the auto body shop when a change in wind direction could mean being roasted alive. Something particularly flammable inside one of the stores behind her exploded with a dull, huffing sound and a ball of black smoke billowed into the air. She turned to watch the oily red flames rising from the building’s roof and noticed something moving down the street. Silhouetted by the rising flames, the dead she’d tried to leave behind were coming.

Her shoulders slumped. She’d gone from one end of town and back again – for nothing. She’d accidentally torched the place and, for all of the flaming tumbleweeds, flying sparks and houses igniting, the dead still found her. “Couldn’t have the decency to just burn up, huh?” she said aloud. “No, you just have to keep coming. You just have to keep doing what you always do. Never changing. Never stopping. Always fucking things up.” In the far recesses of her mind, it occurred to her that maybe she wasn’t talking entirely about the dead. “You think you’ve got it all together, but whatever you try, it just turns to shit.” She tossed aside the remaining matchbook carton and began walking back toward the approaching corpses. “Always doing the stupid thing. Always messing things up.” She adjusted her grip on the Sig Sauer P226. “Well, let’s be stupid then. I mean, if we’re going to do it, let’s be really stupid.”

She met the approaching corpses in the middle of the street. Backlit by the spreading flames, their rotted, mutilated faces remained in shadow until they were almost on top of her. When the first one was no more than ten feet away, she raised her pistol and fired. Gore flew from the back of its skull and it slumped to the street. “Come on,” she said to the next closest one. “If I can’t do anything else right, I can at least do this.” She shot the dead man in the head and stepped around his remains. “One bullet per customer,” she told a corpse wearing a sweatshirt bearing a John Deere logo. Despite being only a few yards away, it took her three shots to make it drop to the ground. Her hand, she noticed, was shaking badly causing her aim to suffer.

The wind roared at her back and dust stung her eyes. The corpses making their way through the burning town were now coming at her with smoldering hair and clothes, making them look all the more like a parade straight out of hell. Five shots more and True was forced to pause and reload. “You’re just not…going to stop coming… are you?” she said to the dead as she fumbled to insert her last full magazine. “You’re going…to make me…run out of bullets and…you’re still not…going to stop coming.” Releasing the slide and chambering a new round, she took three steps toward a pear-shaped dead woman in tights and a tank top and shot her from a foot away. Fourteen rounds later, the Sig Sauer’s magazine was empty and True found that she had waded dangerously deep into the approaching dead. “Shit,” she said to herself, looking around like someone coming out of a trance. She began backing away from the smoldering figures in front of her, her mind on the green Toyota parked beside the auto body shop. The keys were under the driver’s side floor mat, but the tank was just about empty. She would lead them away, she told herself, lead them out of town and down the highway until the engine sputtered to a stop. And then…and then what? she asked herself.

Moving unusually fast, the dead body a teenage girl came at her from her left. The girl had died the year before when a fifty caliber round fired from a National Guard M2 machine gun had ripped through two houses and the town’s municipal building before finding her hiding place in the bathroom of her family home, removing her right arm at the shoulder. The dead girl, her remaining arm outstretched, rammed into True and knocked her to the ground. True kicked at the corpse, but each time the girl rebounded with a rubbery resiliency and resumed trying to bite her. “Stop it,” she told the dead girl. “Cut…it out.”

Her strength almost gone, True was able to get to her feet just as the corpses began to encircle her. Legs trembling, she floundered through the only gap left in the converging crowd and began a slow, limping retreat back to the auto body shop. Except for being in the lead, she looked a lot like her pursuers: stumbling, leaning to one side out of exhaustion, half of her head a sticky mask of blood.

“Just…” she pleaded, her voice stolen by the rushing wind “…let me…make it…to…the car.” But when she rounded Castillo’s and saw the Toyota just ahead, something seemed out of place. Lucas was there standing on the other side of the Toyota, his head bent down at an angle. True didn’t even have time to wonder what he was doing there before the first rifle shot cracked the air around her. He had the Mossberg resting across the roof of the car and as the dead appeared around the side of the building, he found them in the crosshairs and fired.

Her energy spent, she let her legs collapse beneath her and sank to a kneeling position. She laid the empty pistol on the ground in front of her and stuck her fingers in her ears as Lucas fired the Mossberg nine more times. She didn’t even look up as he reloaded. Two more shots from the rifle and then there was only the sound of the wind.

“You okay?” she heard him ask as he walked towards her.

No was the correct answer; No. Most definitely I am not okay. But instead she just swallowed her tears and nodded.

“You’ve got blood – ” he began, but she was quick to speak up.

“Glass,” she told him, her voice as dry as the wind. “I got cut. On the head. It’s…it’s fine.”

“Uh-huh,” he replied, unconvinced. He looked up at the flames consuming the town. “The wind’s pushing the fire away from us, but we should still get moving. A whole town burning; it’ll attract attention.”

She looked up, heartened by his use of the word “we,” and ready to volunteer to load the car with whatever supplies it could hold, only to notice that the car was already stuffed with the contents of Castillo’s woefully inadequate survival shelter.

“Were you going to leave without me – again?”

“I heard your gunshots,” he answered evenly. “I didn’t know who would show up first: you or a town full of dead people. Either way, I figured it would be a good idea to gas up and load the car.”

True bit back on everything she wanted to say and instead said “Good. Okay. Sorry I…sorry I wasn’t here to help.”

“Well,” Lucas replied as he reloaded the Mossberg’s magazine, “I guess you were busy.”

“Sorry,” she told him. “Sorry. I’m a…” A fuck-up, she was going to say, but didn’t.

“Whatever,” was his reply. “Doesn’t matter.” He paused before continuing. “I owe you for getting me out of the Forester. I…I wasn’t going to get myself out of that one. You didn’t have to do it, but you did. So I don’t expect you to go all the way back to the wreck with me. But, depending on which direction you plan to go, could you drop me as close to it as possible?”

“What?” she asked, thoroughly confused. “Why…why go back? It’s wrecked. We don’t need the stuff out of it. We have this stuff.”

“The GPS direction finder,” he explained. “It’s still there in the Forester.” He shrugged. “I need it. If I don’t know which way to go, I…I don’t have any reason to go in any direction. No reason at all. So…I need to go back for it. I filled a backpack with food and stuff and, if you don’t mind, I’ll take the twenty-two pistol. Once I get to the Forester, I'll find my gun and Lux's guns. You can have the rifle. And the car is yours. You went back to get it. It’s yours.”

Part of her was totally exasperated. Part of her wanted to shout at him. But with a sigh, she surrendered. “You don’t have to go back to the wreck,” she said. She rose on shaking legs and made her way around to the passenger side door. “I had a bag,” she explained as she rooted around beneath the passenger seat, “a little black zippered bag with family things in it: photos, mementos. It was under the seat in the Forester when you took off with it. When I was looking for it in the wreck,” she went on, holding up the black nylon bag, “I found your GPS thing. Don’t ask me why, but I brought it along.” She held out the GPS direction finder and handed it to him. Lucas took it and switched it on.

“It still works,” he said, staring at the arrow that had appeared on the tiny screen. “Thanks.”

She shook her head. “Why is it that a guy who’s so cold about everything has to be hot on one totally impossible thing?” She paused to look over her shoulder. A few streets away, Marbletown burned. In the gusting wind, the deep orange flames curled over rooftops, sending sparks and flaming debris flying. “Anyway, you’re welcome. No problem.” A wave of dizziness came over her. Her scalp had begun to sting from the cut on her head and she wasn’t sure how much longer her legs would support her. “Can you drive?”

“I can drive,” he nodded.

“Just let me get my things.”

“They’re just inside,” he told her. “Just in case you showed up, you know, before...”

“Right,” she said, wobbling her way toward the auto body shop’s side door, “got it.” When she emerged, however, she not only carried her things, but also a cardboard box.

“What’s that?”

“Get us back out on the highway and I’ll show you,” she replied. Minutes later, Lucas brought the Toyota to a stop and True heaved herself out of the passenger side. She took a can of white primer spray paint from the cardboard box and shook it. “There’s a whole case of these,” she said. Limping out ahead of the car, she sprayed three ten foot wide letters across the asphalt – L-U-X – along with an arrow pointing in their direction of travel. “You said you had friends who might be coming up behind you,” she explained as she got back in the car.

“I suppose they might,” Lucas mumbled.

“We’ll leave a sign every so often. You never know.”

“Okay,” he said, putting the car in drive as a herd of tumbleweeds rolled across the highway in front of them.

True turned the rearview mirror toward her face and grimaced at her reflection. She patted her hair where her blood had made a sticky mat. “I tell you, the very first lake, river or stream we come to, I’m going to wash myself off."

"That's liable to be a pretty cold bath," Lucas said absently.

"I don't care," she replied. "I don’t care how cold it is. I can take it.”
Last edited by Tinderbox on Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

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Tinderbox
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:52 am

Hey. Sorry for the prolonged absence. In the way of an explanation...

My Dad's health took a rapid nosedive last summer and he passed away toward the end of July. The day after the funeral my wife gave me the news about her cancer diagnosis. She'd been keeping it to herself during my Dad's final few weeks so as not to add to the sadness. Overachiever that she is, it wasn't just in one spot, but in several widely scattered spots. She's gone through a lot - I mean, A LOT - in the time since and her treatment is ongoing. So far, there's no good news to report, but whatever we have to do to win this fight, that's what we're going to do.

That's all I'd like to say on the subject. If there's good news to share, believe me, I'll share it. And I will do what I can to keep pecking away at the keyboard and get this story to some degree of conclusion. Thanks for reading.

You are all AWESOME! :awesome:
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Thu Mar 19, 2020 4:41 am

Spent the better part of the evening reading in joyous revelation. Then comes the last entry and I’m saddened by what’s happening to you and your family.

I lost my father to pancreatic cancer 5 1/2 years ago. It was a slow process and it was one of the hardest things I’d gone through. If I can tell you this, your story, this very one you just updated was my life line. It was the anchor I needed to continue.

If you need anything reach out, no judgement, no questions, no anything other than an ear to listen to YOUR problems. I’m here. I can say we are all here for you.
JeeperCreeper wrote:I like huge dicks, Halfapint, so you are OK in my book.... hahaha
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by akraven » Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:59 pm

No worries TB. Family comes first in all things. I am sorry to hear what a tough time you have this last year. Thank you for taking the time to write and post this. IT has been a great surprise. Don't feel the pressure of the "moars" when you have important family things to take care of. Good luck and best wishes for your wife to battle through this. Take care Akraven

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by FlashDaddy » Thu Mar 19, 2020 4:57 pm

Halfapint wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 4:41 am
Spent the better part of the evening reading in joyous revelation. Then comes the last entry and I’m saddened by what’s happening to you and your family.

I lost my father to pancreatic cancer 5 1/2 years ago. It was a slow process and it was one of the hardest things I’d gone through. If I can tell you this, your story, this very one you just updated was my life line. It was the anchor I needed to continue.

If you need anything reach out, no judgement, no questions, no anything other than an ear to listen to YOUR problems. I’m here. I can say we are all here for you.
I agree. We are all here for you. We are all coming up behind you. Wishing you all the best and sending you and yours our positive, healing thoughts. Hang in there!

Edit: p.s. That was a kick ass installment! True, in spite of herself, is becoming a wasteland warrior.
- Flash

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