The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Tinderbox
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:49 pm

Food wasn’t a problem and wouldn’t be, according to Lucas’ estimate, for at least another ten months. Water wasn’t a problem; Icy Hand Creek diminished in the summer, but flowed year round, keeping the well filled. Safe shelter, for the time being, didn’t seem to be a problem. But Michael found that settling back and relaxing in the comforts and security provided by Goodnight House was still something of a problem.

It wasn’t only the coyotes who would serenade him at night. Yips of terror and slurred words of warning surfaced out of nightmares and worked their way through the house on an almost nightly basis. Kat proved that her vocal chords still functioned with her usual three shrieks in a row. Mundy spent his nightmares desperately searching, his mumbling growing louder until ending in tearful words of sorrow. Lucas would call out disjointed words such as “where?” and “don’t!” before lapsing into hyperventilated breaths, as though running to or from something. Lux would simply weep softly for ten minutes at a time.

Though they all tried hard not to let it show, none of them could completely leave behind the world at the bottom of the mountain.

No one ever went alone to gather firewood or to check on the water pipes. When one of them drove a load of trash to the dump site, another went along whose only task was to keep a 360-degree watch. Only Mundy had violated the rule, slipping away on his own every once in a while to walk the edge of the mountain road in search of footprints that didn’t belong there, though Michael suspected it was partly just an excuse to get away on his own for a short while. Some people just needed their alone time. Until recently, Michael would have included Lucas in that category, except that since Lux Cordis had joined them, she and Lucas had become inseparable.

“Limberjack,” she’d said, noticing his t-shirt on her first full day at Goodnight House. “They sucked.”

“I know,” Lucas had replied and their relationship was off to a running start. They didn’t talk much but it seemed a lot went unspoken between the two. When he was with her, he didn’t seem so hollowed out inside. When she was with him, she wasn’t quite such an angry teenage girl. And considering the skill she’d displayed with her pistol, that seemed to suit everyone present.

By the time April turned to May, Kat had become much more than the barely flickering light Michael had first brought to the house. Though she could still be found zoned out and staring off into space and though she was still as silent as ever, one look into her eyes made it clear she was no longer lost and adrift. Sometimes Michael thought she feared what she might have to talk about if she should ever talk again. And so, she left the words to the rest of them.

Of all of them, Mundy seemed most determined to force-feed himself on the tranquility of their surroundings. Not a sunny day went by that he couldn’t be found spending some part of it basking on the deck, a cup of lukewarm instant lemonade in hand.

“This,” he said more than once, raising the cup with a grin, “is for every worthy soul out there who longs for rest, but who finds it out of reach.”

Michael suspected that the man had Nadia Guerra on his mind when he said it, but not wanting to reopen old wounds, he never asked.

They had finished unloading the semi trailer and scavenging the truck for everything they could use. Mundy never quite gave up on the idea of unhooking the truck and driving it “bobtail” the rest of the way to the house, saying that the sleeper cab might make a nice guest house for the next stray Michael brought home. Michael examined the thin aluminum side walls and roof of the trailer and asked how hard it would be to disassemble the sheets and haul them to the house.

“Hitomi mentioned growing things in raised beds,” he said to Mundy. “Bend the sheets into box shapes and poke a few holes in the bottom…”

“And haul five tons of dirt up from the meadow,” Mundy replied with a grimace. “Find me some tin snips and we’ll see what we can do. What’s the growing season like at this altitude, anyway?”

“No idea,” replied Michael. “We’ll just have to guess.”

The haul of food took up all of the space in the garage that had been taken up by Michael’s truck. The pantry shelves, the living room and even one wall of Michael’s bedroom were filled with boxes and shrink-wrapped cases. Far from being in the way, Michael thought the clutter was a reassuring feature, though he wondered how it would feel to watch the bounty slowly dwindle. When the food had been stored, Mundy brought up another project.

“I do sleep better with the wire around the house,” the man mused, “but I keep thinking something a little more substantial would add another fluffy layer to my peaceful baby dreams. I don’t mean anything like what they had down in Gravel Pit, but something a little sturdier than what we have now.”

“You do the math,” Michael told him, “and figure out what we need and we’ll see if we can find the building material. Just keep in mind, that giant palisade down in Gravel Pit didn’t save them in the end.”

“No,” the man said with a thoughtful look. “No, it did not.”

May became June and every patch of dirt on the side of the mountain that wasn’t coarse and sandy or forever drowned in the shade of the pines erupted in a carpet of green dotted with wildflowers. In all the time that passed, the five of them did little more than maintain their isolated existence.

On a few occasions, Michael and Kat braved the mushy ground and mosquitoes of the meadow to lure a few small cutthroat trout out from under the bank of the meandering stream. Lucas and Lux studied the downloaded material Michael had transcribed and supplemented their dinner every few days with local plants: young dandelion greens, watercress, cattail stems and shoots, huckleberries. After a few mouthfuls, they decided as a group to pass on the rest of the salmon berries until they became more desperate for food. Mundy was the most industrious, scouting for young pine trees of just the right size and shape, felling them and dragging them behind the damaged and rough-running Forest Service truck to just outside the fence. When he had amassed fifty of them, he began to dig.

“Three feet deep,” he said. “That’ll leave eight feet above the ground. After that, I’m going to have to head down into what’s left of Garnet Bend for as much barbed wire as I can find.” He showed Michael the page from the local business directory left at the house by the rental company. “There’s a farm supply store there.”

“There was one,” Michael replied.

“Yeah, but barbed wire doesn’t burn.”

Michael had seen Mundy’s sketches for the tall fence. The thick crisscrossing barbed wire between the posts made him think of a World War Two concentration camp.

“Another trip down the mountain?” Michael asked in a hesitant, hushed voice.

“Unless you want to spend a month playing lumberjack to make a solid frontier fort fence, we need wire,” Mundy replied with a sigh, “and nobody delivers anymore.” He read the look on Michael’s face. “Don’t worry. You can sit this one out.”

Once, the septic system became clogged and Michael and Lucas shouldered the stomach-turning burden of cleaning it out. Neither of them had much in the way of an appetite for days afterward. Another time a large grizzly bear worked its way through the meadow below the house, causing an afternoon of animated discussion followed by a week of jitters whenever they had to go outside the wire perimeter. Once, Lux swore she heard a plane in the distance. Though everyone gathered outside and stood in silence for long minutes after, no one else claimed to hear anything. But apart from those instances and a few others like them, routine reigned in and around Goodnight House.

Then, on the evening of June 16th, they all gathered on the deck outside the living room and listened to the faint and distant sound of gunshots rising up the mountain.

“Semi-auto,” Mundy commented. “Something like a 9mm.”

“Those other ones are…a shotgun, sounds like,” Lucas added.

“It’s coming from way, way down there,” Michael said in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. “Maybe even from Crags. There’s nothing to do about it now. We’ll take turns watching the road tonight and, when it gets light, we’ll sneak down for a look.”

While the others drifted back into the living room, Mundy spoke close to Michael’s ear.

“You really think the shots came from Crags?” he asked.

“No,” was Michael’s answer. “They sounded like they were coming from at least a little ways up the mountain road. Better get some sleep. I’ll wake you later for your watch.” He became aware of how he was nervously tapping his trigger finger on the deck railing. “And then we’ll head back down the mountain again.”

Michael remained out on the deck for a while after everyone else had gone inside. Among the many thoughts in his head, one kept echoing: When they left the mountain, people died.


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


Michael got a total of three and a half hours of sleep that night. No matter how he tried to empty his mind of thoughts, he kept revisiting the images of what he’d seen on his trips down the mountain. Dead bodies, empty human husks reanimated for one purpose. A landscape of devastated towns, ruined structures and derelict cars, host to people who had either discarded civility or who had it stripped from them.

When first light crept into the sky outside his bedroom window, he got up and dressed. Lux was at the kitchen table cleaning her carbine and her pistol over an old terrycloth towel, something she did once a week, though she had fired only one shot since they’d met. He’d even seen her polishing her cartridges one by one.

Hitomi would have killed any of us she caught cleaning guns at the kitchen table, he thought.

It was unusual to see her up so early. Michael guessed that her sleep had been interrupted by thoughts similar to his own. She glanced up at him through a spill of dark hair as he entered the kitchen and he considered how her skepticism of him and the others had never really been tamed. Lucas, of course, was the exception; the two of them had pegged each other as kindred spirits from the outset. But of Michael, Mundy and Katrina, she seemed always to harbor a small remnant of mistrust.

“You’re up early,” he said.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“You fully supplied with 9mm?”

“Got it covered.”

“Water on?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You know you’re staying up here at the house today?”

“Damn right.”

“Not eager to go along, huh?”

“Does…Lucas have to go along?” She asked the question softly, as if in confidence and without looking up from the task of lightly oiling the slide of her pistol.

Michael looked across the living room where Lucas could be seen through the windows, walking the deck on his watch. “I don’t see why he would need to. We’re just going down the road to have a look around. Mundy and I can handle it.”

“He said he had to go along to help out,” she said, “on account of you being old.”

Michael’s mouth hung open for a second or two before he spoke. “He said that? Well…he’s mistaken.” The indignation he felt must have been on full display in his response. Lux sighed, as though burdened by having to explain.

“He wasn’t being mean. He likes you; Mundy and the cheerleader, too. He might not go on and on and gush about it. I think he feels like he’s always going to owe you for letting him stay here.”

“No one owes me a thing,” Michael replied. “I was up here all winter by myself. It got to be a little lonesome. If you all benefit from being here, I benefit from having you here.”

“I would have loved to have been in this place all winter by myself,” she said softly, as if thinking out loud.

Michael thought about mentioning how the isolation had weighed heavily on him and how it had become a struggle to get out of bed and face yet another cold, gray day. He had only to piece together what little he knew of the way his companions had spent the winter for him to recognize the wisdom of keeping quiet.

“Anyway,” he said, “Lucas can stay at the house, as far as I’m concerned.”

“We already talked about it,” Mundy said, rising from his sleeping place on the couch. “It’s me, you and Lucas.” He ran his fingers though his hair, trying to smooth it down. “Don’t worry about it,” he yawned. “The kid’s a warrior of the wasteland.”

“Michael said Lucas didn’t need to go,” Lux protested, “that if it’s just to go look around, you and he could handle it.”

“That’s because you made Michael feel insecure about being a full ten years older than the next oldest person here, which happens to be me. If we put feelings aside for a minute, it makes sense for all three of us to go. You and Katrina can close the storm shutters and guard the house just fine. Lucas needs to come along to help deal with any unforeseens.”

Lux said nothing more. She just gathered her reassembled weapons and cleaning tools and glided darkly from the kitchen like a brooding spirit.

“That is one sweet, intense and weird relationship they’ve got going there,” Mundy commented when she had gone back upstairs. He shuffled sleepily toward the stove. “Is today a coffee day or a tea day?”

***

The sky was a rich blue and the surrounding peaks were bathed in bright sunshine but the side of Destitute Mountain that they traveled was still set deep in cold shadows. Roughed up and pierced by a total of nine bullet holes, the Forest Service truck had become a rumbling rattletrap. The obliterated driver side window had been replaced by three horizontal wooden slats screwed into the window frame with decking screws and covered by a double sheet of semi-opaque plastic secured by yards of duct tape. With its three bullet holes, the windshield was hardly any easier to see through. With every bump in the road, Michael expected it to shatter and cave in on them. With Lucas’ help, thirty yards of nylon rope and some imagination, Mundy had attached a six foot-long, six inch-wide log across the front of the truck on a two-by-four frame to help it better handle collisions with corpses.

“It’s supposed to knock them down so they go under the truck,” he had explained. “We want to run them over, not run them through the radiator.”

The going was slow. Careful not to let the sound of the truck broadcast their presence to anyone farther down the road, they stopped every half mile and scouted ahead looking for tire tracks or footprints. Holding the M4 carbine at the ready, Mundy took the lead with Michael and Lucas taking turns accompanying him. With the truck engine off, they stood still and listened but heard only the whispering of the pines and the harsh scolding of the occasional blue jay.

At a spot where the road hooked around a broad ravine, Mundy and Michael headed off to scout ahead from the cover of the trees. With a carpet of pine needles to cushion their footfalls, they crept quietly to where the road could be seen on the other side of the bend and stood looking for any sign of danger. Without speaking, Mundy pointed through a gap in the trees at movement down the road. Four ragged figures shambled and limped along the edge of the dirt and gravel.

“Zeroes,” Michael said, doing hardly more than breathing the word.

“No, I think…” replied Mundy focusing his binoculars on the group “…I think they’re alive.”

Michael squinted at them through his own binoculars and saw what Mundy had seen: as they stumbled and dragged themselves along, every so often one of them would cast a backward glance. The reanimated dead didn’t do that.

“They look a little worried about what might be behind them,” Mundy said. “That worries me a little.”

“I don’t see any guns,” Michael said.

“Doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Mundy countered. “Whoever they are, they’re likely dog-weary and desperate. I think you should get back to the truck and let Lucas know what’s coming ‘round the bend. Let them come to you and be your friendly self.”

“And you’ll be where?”

“In the trees with the rifle aimed at their heads.”

“Mundy, they look exhausted, not dangerous.”

“And as soon as they show themselves to be only the former and not the latter, I’ll come out and be as friendly as a fuzzy pup.”

Cutting back through the trees to the truck, Michael informed Lucas of Mundy’s plan for greeting the group.

“I’d rather be off the road like Mundy,” Lucas muttered, looking down the road. “People you meet these days can be really damaged. Keep an eye on them. Don’t let them get behind you.”

“I wouldn’t worry. They looked to me like they were ready to fall over.”

The group of four people were so beaten down and intent on negotiating the rocks and ruts in their path that they didn’t notice the truck until they were very close. Michael stood in front of the vehicle while Lucas took a more guarded position behind it. The man in the lead looked up and let out a terrified breath, the sound drained by his weakened state. The rest of them, two men and a woman, staggered to a stop behind him.

“You…alive?” His eyes were glassy, his face washed of color and glazed with sweat. The man clasped his right arm to his side with his left and walked a few steps closer. The puffy down jacket he wore had once been yellow and black but was now coated in gray grime. Even from a short distance, the group smelled musty, like a damp clothes hamper and ripe with body odor.

“We’re alive,” Michael answered. He picked up two bottles of water from the hood of the truck, walked forward and passed them to the two closest people. “Are you alone?”

“They’re…” said the man as he uncapped the water “…they’re behind us.” He gulped from the bottle. “They swarmed us back in that town. You never go through a town after dark, but Karen insisted we had to. By the time we got to the bridge, we…only nine of us…”

“How many of you were there before?” Michael asked.

“Six…sixteen. The Toyota must…must have blown a tire against a curb…or something. Deshawn said Rain tried to keep driving on it but she crashed into a parked car. The truck didn’t make it much farther. It died at the bridge and Karen tried to block the way with it. But it didn’t work. She and Fariba got surrounded. John just started screaming like he’d totally lost it and blew his own head off. They got Deshawn a little while after we started up the road and they got Vince a little farther on.”

“You led them up the road?” Mundy said to him, visibly startling all four of them as he appeared from the bushes alongside the road. He held the M4 pointed in a neutral direction, but his tone of voice revealed his displeasure at the news. “Now that they’ve seen you come up here, they’re just going to keep coming.”

“We walked all night in the dark,” said another member of the group, a small woman in her late twenties or early thirties. She took a turn at one of the water bottles. “We thought we would lose them. But when we stopped, we could hear them behind us.”

“Deshawn had a hurt leg,” the first man said. “He just sat down in the road and wouldn’t get back up.”

“After Deshawn, we heard Vince get attacked,” the woman added, her voice quivering. “In the dark, we didn’t even notice he had fallen behind.”

“Do you have a camp or a cabin up here?” asked a third member of the group, a man in his mid-thirties. “Will you help us?” The man studied Michael, Lucas and Mundy with eyes that didn’t share the hunted look of his companions. Michael noticed that he had refused a turn at the bottle of water. “You must have a cabin. You don’t look like you’ve been roughing it in a tent all this time.”

“We have a place,” Michael told him.

“Which is now in danger because you led who-knows-how-many of them up here,” Mundy said, the anger in his voice plain for all to hear.

“You’re right, you’re right,” said the final group member, a short, lightly built man. “He’s right, Henry. We’re asking them for help when we’ve put them in danger.”

“We just…we were only thinking about getting away from them,” the first man said, shrinking in on himself miserably. “We didn’t even know there was anyone up here.”

“Okay, okay,” Michael said. “Let’s get them to the house and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do about…” Michael became distracted by the look on the face of one of the men. The man who had seen that they were too well-kept to be roughing it darted his eyes and gave a slight nod toward the first man, trying to get Michael to notice something about him. “…what we’re going to do about the zeroes.”

“Folks,” Mundy said to the four of them, “not to be unfriendly, but no one’s going anywhere until you drop your packs and take off your coats so we can see who’s armed with what.”

Three of them moved to comply quickly enough. “The only gun we have is Marlon’s,” said the woman as she unzipped her duct tape-patched nylon jacket. “Karen, Fariba and John were armed. Deshawn had a sawed-off shotgun but he ran out of shells and broke it over the head of a zero. We heard him shooting his pistol…but…we were running…”

“And mine,” said the small man whose name was Marlon, “is out of bullets.” He handed over a black Beretta Neos and one extra magazine. “Funny how fast a thousand twenty-twos will go.”

They each had a knife. The woman and the man named Marlon had twelve inch-long kitchen knives secured to their belts with sheaths fashioned from cardboard and duct tape. The only one of the four who hadn’t done as Mundy had requested was the first man. He stood slightly hunched, staring at the ground.

“Zach?” said the woman. “Come on. They just wanna see that we don’t have machine guns hidden up our butts.”

“What’s wrong, Zach?” said the man whose name was Henry. “You don’t look so good.” The tone of his voice along with the warning signals he’d given told Michael he knew very well what was wrong. “You look a little unwell.”

“Zach, is it?” Michael said. Behind the man, Mundy had raised his rifle. Though he couldn’t see him, Michael was willing to bet that Lucas had done the same. “Zach, when were you bit?”

“When…when I went back for Fariba’s gun,” said the man, unzipping his yellow and black coat to reveal a polymer framed pistol tucked in his belt. The man’s collarbone was visible through his ripped t-shirt, the skin raw and torn. His chest was soaked dark with blood. He pulled the pistol from his belt and held it loosely at his side. “Three of them pulled me down. I was…lucky to get away.”

“Zach,” the woman mewled sadly.

“Damn it!” snapped the lightly built man in a high-pitched voice. “When were you going to tell us? Before or after you died and came back?”

“I’m sorry. I just…I didn’t wanna be eaten,” the man told them tearfully. “I know I’m dead. I already got the fever. I wanted to get away from them. I was gonna go off into the trees and use the gun on myself but…ohhh, I hurt. Every part of me hurts. Like my bones. I knew it hurt, but I never knew how bad. I don’t wanna be eaten or…or turn into one of them.” He looked at the gun in his hand and held it out to Michael who took it as the man started to sob. “But I can’t do it.”

No one said anything for an uncomfortable few seconds.

“I’m Michael. That’s Mundy and that’s Lucas. You’re Marlon, you’re Henry and you’re…”

“Lena,” answered the woman in a tiny voice.

“Okay, we have a house up the road a ways,” Michael told them. “Lucas will take you there. Sorry, but it’ll have to be on foot. I think we’re going to need the truck. Zach…uh, you…” Michael knew what had to be said but not how to say it.

“Zach’s going to stay with us and help us deal with the zeroes,” Mundy said firmly. “He’s going to help us make sure that everyone at the house, including his three friends here, remains safe.”

Zach didn’t answer out loud. He stared at the ground in front of him and nodded. Then one by one, his three companions started up the road. They left him behind without any parting words, their eyes averted and their heads bowed. When they had gone, Lucas came around to the front of the truck and Michael gave him the polymer-framed pistol that Zach had handed him.

“How many zeroes are coming?” he asked Zach.

“Lots,” the man shrugged. “Deshawn made an awful racket. Vince, too. They love the sound of screaming.”

“And they’re going to just keep coming?” asked Michael.

“They’ve got a one-track mind,” said Mundy. “A few of them might see a chipmunk run across the road and get distracted but most of them will just march on. They saw food go up this road. They’ll keep coming unless they see food go back down.”

“Then that’s what they’ll see,” Michael said without thinking. “I’ll take the truck down the road and hopefully they’ll turn around and follow me back down to the highway. Lucas, you head back to the house with our new friends. Mundy, you stick around here for a little while and watch to see if they all follow me. Once I’m back on the highway, I’ll lose them and come back up through Garnet Bend.”

He turned to see Mundy shaking his head at him. “Selfless, Michael, very selfless. But reckless, too. If you go around a bend and find thirty of them clustered in front of you, both you and the truck are likely going over the side of the road. You just might need someone armed with a semi-automatic rifle to clear the way.” He paused and took a deep breath of the clean mountain air. “Lucas, Michael and I are going to play pied piper to a bunch of undead rats. With any luck, we’ll be back at the house by bedtime.”

Lucas looked at the two of them, his face expressionless. “Why don’t I go with you? Those three can find the house on their own. It’s just…I mean, I’m supposed to tell Katrina I let the two of you charge headlong into a herd of zeroes? No thanks. She’ll bust me in the face like she did to Lux.”

The mental image of it along with Lucas’ deadpan delivery was enough to set both Michael and Mundy to laughter. It was Mundy who recovered first.

“Nice try, Lucas,” he chuckled, “but you can come along on the next half-baked plan to selflessly save the day, I promise. When you get close enough to the house, radio ahead and give them a head up so Lux doesn’t shoot you all by mistake. Keep those three outside the wire until we get back. And tell Kat not to worry: There’s not a sane man alive who wouldn’t fight his way through hell to get back to a beauty like her.”

“Mundy,” Michael said in a low, warning tone.

“What?” he replied with an innocent look. “Selflessness is one thing, but having a little extra motivation doesn’t hurt.”

Lucas collected his backpack from the truck and began jogging up the road to catch up with the three newcomers. Michael looked around at the mountainside and at the sunlight now filtering its way down through the pines. Gradually, it settled into his head that he would soon be heading straight into a pack of reanimated dead bodies on purpose. As plans went, it was totally devoid of cunning. But then, he thought, so were the reanimated dead. All they needed to do was to turn them around and get them moving in the opposite direction; that and survive the encounter. Conspicuously absent from the plan was what to do about the man with the bite wound.

“Zach,” said Michael. “How’s some hot food sound to you? I’ve got a camp stove and a can of soup in the truck.”

“A last meal?” the man replied hoarsely. “Thanks but it’s too late. I’m too sick to keep it down. My stomach is all cramped up.”

Mundy said something under his breath and shrugged out of his backpack.

“More water then?” Michael said to the man, noticing out of the corner of his eye as Mundy pulled out a heavy wool shirt.

“Please,” Zach responded, turning away from them and lowering himself to his knees with a groan, “just don’t let me turn into one of them. I had a wife and a little girl.”

Mundy drew one of his revolvers and quickly whipped his spare shirt around it, loosely wrapping the muzzle, the barrel and the cylinder until only the hammer protruded.

“Yeah…” Michael said, distracted by the sight of what Mundy was doing “…yeah, uh, Zach, it’s okay. We’ll…we’ll take care of it.”

“I shot them both,” Zach finished in a whisper.

Even though Michael knew it was coming, the shot still made him jump. He supposed that the wool shirt wrapped around the revolver kept the sound from traveling far across the mountainside, but up close it was still loud. After Mundy ejected the spent shell from the smoking gun, pocketed it and replaced it with a fresh round, they took turns dragging the man’s body off the road and into the trees.

“Perfectly good shirt,” Mundy grumbled as he fixed it over the dead man’s head. He did a quick search of the man’s pockets, finding nothing of use but a magnesium fire starter and a pocket knife with a broken blade. He stood, holding the man’s Arizona driver’s license. “Fernando Zacharias Weller,” he read. “All the way from Yuma.” He flicked the license at the body and turned away. “Back to the truck. Let’s see how many zeroes Mr. Weller and his friends led up our mountain.”
"...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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URBAN ASSAULT
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by URBAN ASSAULT » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:25 am

Brutal.

-urban
"When under imminent Predator attack, try to act all Thalidomide-y till they go away".-me
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by WendyPlains » Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:00 am

Uh-oh! More trouble coming. So, 3 more people to feed and house. Or, 3 more people to defend the place. Problem is, what are they going to eat when the food runs out? They need some kind of sustainable food source.

For now, I'm waiting to see what happens with the incoming zombies.

This is my favorite story on this site. Great work, Tinderbox!

PS-what state is the mountain on?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Mister Dark » Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:05 am

I cant decide if Mundy is a good guy who lets himself be brutal, or a bad guy who lets himself be good. I would NOT want to be on his bad side, in any event.

Keep up the awesome work!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Mr. E. Monkey » Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:40 am

Mister Dark wrote:I cant decide if Mundy is a good guy who lets himself be brutal, or a bad guy who lets himself be good. I would NOT want to be on his bad side, in any event.

Keep up the awesome work!
Yeah, as handy as he's been to have around, he does raise a few questions, now and then.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:11 am

WendyPlains wrote:
PS-what state is the mountain on?
I've tried to make up the local place names in the story to keep things from getting pinned to any map, but I will say that I lived in Washington State for a time growing up and I still have a fondness for that neck of the woods. Let's just say it's in the western-ish, northern-ish area-ish... :wink:

Also, I'm relieved no one has complained so far about the most recent turn in the story. I seriously considered posting a pre-emptive “I promise, this is the last time you’ll have to say WTF! They’re going back down the mountain again?!:) :) :)
"...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 Manliest » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:04 am

New peeps are bad news, methinks.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Redsky » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:30 am

Wow.
TinderBox,

Truly enjoying the story. I really like how you bring the story to life.
Lux is a great character. She's tough. As for the newbies, we'll have to see.
“Next time go faster! Fulton who the fuck told you that you could choke out a stenchie? Jesus!

Do I have to do everything?” he yelled at the squad staggering to his feet again.

“Oh he’s fine. He’s back in asshole mode.” Erica said

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Barnabus » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:15 am

I'm not even a fraction of the way finished with the first post, and I gotta say I love it.
"If you are prepared for a shambling horde of walking corpses that are trying to eat you alive, you will be prepared for just about anything."
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Yeti » Mon Jun 10, 2013 12:49 pm

I think I might have had Lucas walk them to the old Ranger building since it had been cleared already instead of the house.
Yeti

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:22 pm

The truck started reluctantly and they crept down the road over the blood-stained patch of dirt that marked the spot of Fernando Zacharias Weller’s last breath. He had been as good as dead, Michael knew. The man himself had known it. But he hated how familiar they all were with death and the casual manner with which they dealt it out in mercy.

The first reanimated corpse they encountered was listlessly trudging the loose gravel of a switchback. Dressed in the remains of a bright orange jumpsuit, it walked with its head down, swinging its arms like a despondent child but the sound of the truck brought its gaze up from the road. Even from a distance, Michael saw its eyes widen and its mouth drop open. Thankfully, they were spared from having to hear the sound it made.

“Right,” Mundy said from the passenger seat, “one point if you only knock it down, five points if you paralyze it and ten points if you KT the SOB. Not too fast now.”

The log fender that Mundy had rigged to the front of the vehicle struck the dead man in the chest, knocking the body off its feet and under the truck. The sound it made between the road and the underside of the F550 was a quick gruesome grinding. Michael slowed to let Mundy out and kept his eye on the road ahead where more corpses approached.

“We’ll call that three points, Michael,” Mundy said as he got back in. “It was having trouble getting back up, but it would have – ”

“I really don’t feel like keeping score,” Michael interrupted.

“Okay,” Mundy relented. “It was a poor attempt at levity. You see all the prison jumpsuits?” Up ahead at least half a dozen of the dead walking their way wore the same grime-spattered orange outfit. “During the Fall they organized prisoners into burial details. Not the smartest move. Easiest thing in the world for a convict to disappear into all of that chaos. These ones didn’t even have a chance to ditch their peels.”

Michael drove at a speed fast enough to knock down the scattered dead bodies they met but not fast enough to smash them against the makeshift log fender. Whenever they had a safe few seconds, Mundy would jump out, grab a spear from the back and KT the zeroes that still moved. It turned out that running them over was a good way to incapacitate them, but it hardly ever put them down permanently.

“We’re messing them up something fierce on the outside,” Mundy told him, “but only a few so far have taken a knock hard enough to destroy their brains stems.”

On a bend in the road ahead, they saw the first real concentration of them appear. They were gathered around a bloody pile of bones that had been one of Fernando Zacharias Weller’s companions, but at the sound of the approaching engine, they began to advance.

“Time to switch strategies,” he told Mundy. “We can’t run them all over.”

“Now we turn them around and lead them down,” Mundy agreed, slowly nodding at the sight of them through the cracked windshield. “Take it slow enough so that they get good and interested in following us. You have the Glock where you can get at it?”

Michael unzipped his jacket and patted the pistol where he had it secured just below his heart with the wide elastic first aid bandage.

The following two hours were an exhausting stop-and-go during which they were almost overwhelmed twice. With razor’s edge timing they would bump and swerve their way through the thickest concentrations of corpses and come to a brief stop where the dead staggered in groups of three or four. Mundy would drop them with carefully aimed shots from the M4 and then they would move slowly onward before the rest of the dead could catch up to them. Every once in a while they had the chance to look back through the binoculars.

“What does it look like?”

“It looks like we’d better not stop to admire the view,” Mundy reported. “I think every zero we passed has turned around and is following us back down. Just keep – ”

The Forest Service truck had begun to shudder.

“No, please,” Michael said with an edge to his voice. “Not a good time. Not now.”

Mundy froze for a moment, listening to the engine make dying sounds. He opened the door and looked back at the road.

“Yep, we’re trailing all sorts of fluids,” he said just as the engine spluttered and died. The dashboard displays lit up with red and the truck’s tires ground to a halt. The resulting quiet was as piercing as a scream. They were on a somewhat level portion of the road, so there wasn’t even the option of coasting the truck any farther. “Well, at least we’ll be running downhill.”

It took them a mere twenty seconds to gather everything from the truck. Mundy had his backpack, the M4 carbine and a MOLLE vest with three extra magazines and every pouch stuffed with 5.56 ammunition. Michael had his own backpack, the Glock 17, two extra magazines and one hundred extra rounds. He’d left his shotgun and his revolver at the house, entrusting them to Katrina with a look that said he hoped she wouldn’t need them. Both Michael and Mundy carried a spear.

“Four miles,” Michael said, beginning a slow jog. “Four miles before we reach the highway.”

“Downhill,” Mundy reminded him. “We can do that.”

“With dead people trying to eat us along the way,” Michael added morosely.

“No, no, no,” Mundy countered, determined to shine the best light on their dark situation. “Most of them are behind us. The ones still coming up the road – the ones we’ll meet – are the stragglers, the ones with broken legs and such. We can handle them, no problem.”

Michael laughed, despite already feeling short of breath. “You need to try harder to lie better.”

***

When they came upon a solitary zero, they ran around it, if possible, or dispatched it using one of the short spears. When they met the dead in small numbers, they fired their guns into their heads at close range. But when a group of around fifty of them cluttered the road ahead, they chose a defensible place and let the dead come to them. They needed to rest by then anyway and the wrecked RV, the one that had blocked Michael’s path on his first post-apocalyptic trip to Crags, provided a suitable platform. Though it seemed to teeter on the edge of the steep bank, neither of them hesitated to climb it.

“Unless they get right up next to the sides,” Mundy said as he lay prone atop the vehicle and took aim, “don’t waste a shot.” He had removed his MOLLE vest and had it folded up in front of him as a rest for the rifle. “And keep an eye up the road. We don’t wanna get caught in between two groups.”

Michael’s head was pounding, his chest burning and he felt like he’d torn something in both of his knees. He sat and put his fingers in his ears as Mundy began to fire. The man was in no big rush and almost every shot resulted in thick clots of greenish-black gunk exiting from the rear of a zero’s skull. Five minutes and one magazine change later, the road ahead was paved with KT’d corpses. Only three had made it as far as the side of the toppled RV and Michael was feeling inordinately proud to have used only three bullets to deal with them. One of them had been very fresh; another one of Zach’s former companions. With most of his flesh missing from the waist up, the recently reanimated man walked with a palsy-like shake and his intestines trailing behind him.

They left the top of the RV and continued down the mountain road. When they reached the highway, they stopped. Michael doubled over, his hands on his knees. The sweat from his face dripped to make small craters in the dirt. Longing for a splash or two of cold river water from just across the road, he tried to spit the metallic taste from his mouth and said, “Now…what?”

“Dunno,” Mundy replied with a small shake of his head. “I didn’t…think we’d make it…this far.”

“Will they keep coming back down the road?”

“Most, if not all,” panted Mundy. “Oh, joy, there’s some now.” He gestured to where a cluster of five zeroes led the march back down the mountain. “They saw us come back down. Unless they’re distracted by something else that they see as food, they’ll follow.”

“Then we’ve done everything we can do?”

“In my professional opinion, yes,” answered Mundy.

“Then we can think about saving our own skins now?”

“Yes, we can stop being selfless.”

“Good,” Michael said, trying to hide the stabbing pain in his knees. “There’s a truck at the end of that bridge up the road. Let’s go see if it will run.”

***

Water still gurgled down the rocky riverbed but the Shady River was not the wild torrent he’d seen on his first trip to Crags. The truck, an orange and white, medium-sized U-Haul, was parked at an angle across both lanes of the bridge in a feeble attempt to block the onslaught of the dead. Along with six KT’d zeroes, the remains of three people were strewn over the asphalt. One had committed suicide with an under-the-chin blast from a pump-action twelve gauge.

“Junk,” Mundy reported as he examined the shotgun. “Two shells left, but the thing’s ready to fall apart.”

The other two corpses had been so stripped of flesh and muscle before they’d reanimated that they were hardly more than bloody skeletons, unable to do much more than twitch and gnash their teeth. Michael KT’d both with quick thrusts from his spear. The pistol lying near one of the corpses was empty and chambered for .357 SIG, ammunition he knew they didn’t have. Still, he put it in his backpack.

During the two minutes it took Mundy to check out the truck, corpses had begun to make their way across from the town side of the bridge and Michael saw what three months had done to a few of the horribly burned bodies he’d seen on his trip into Crags. They walked stiff-legged, like wind-up toys, their blackened skin now veined with an amber seepage, crusted over and hairless.

“I don’t know what they were running it on,” Mundy said, “but the tank is dry now. This thing isn’t going anywhere.” He looked back in the direction of the mountain road where dozens of zeroes were pouring out onto the highway. “We need to get going.”

“Yeah, about that,” Michael replied with a wince of pain, “I can’t run. I blew out both my knees coming down the mountain. You go on ahead. I’ll bring up the rear.”

“This selflessness thing of yours is really starting to get annoying,” Mundy sighed. “Like I’m supposed to tell Kat that I just left you behind? No thank you. She’ll smack me in the face like she did to Lux.”

“Well, how ‘bout you carry me then?” Michael said with exasperation. He started walking toward the highway, his steps bent-legged and small. “Look, I’m not going to give up and let them get me. Just…you go on and scout ahead.”

“We’ll both walk,” said Mundy, slinging the carbine and adjusting his holsters. He took the worn out shotgun, too, though he avoided touching the gore dried along the barrel.

“Damn it, I’m not – ” Michael began but was interrupted by the heavy sound of an engine.

The wheel loader came into view on the town side of the bridge, chugging around a corner from a side street and colliding with an old car parked in a sea of weeds on the gravel edge of the road. The zeroes heading for the bridge crumpled underneath the front end bucket and then were twisted and broken under the massive wheels. The loader was a rust-streaked faded yellow with CAT emblazoned over its engine compartment and a single person within its glass enclosed cab.

The corpses already on the bridge slowly turned to look as the heavy vehicle smashed into the guardrail and barreled forward, knocking them down, skinning them and crushing them. Mundy and Michael watched open-mouthed as the wheel loader chugged across the bridge and only barely avoided injury as the rusty bucket impacted the front of the U-Haul, skidding it out of the way. With a torturous shriek of metal on metal, the wheel loader squeezed between the truck and the guard rail and made a clumsy left turn onto the highway. It lurched to a halt and the cab door opened to reveal a young woman who glared at them down the barrel of a pistol.

Caught without cover, Mundy sank to one knee and sighted his rifle on the woman. Michael supposed he should do the same with the Glock, but he was having trouble tearing his attention from the sight of the skinned and broken zeroes crawling toward them over the bridge and the others pouring from the mountain road and quickly converging on them.

For a second or two nobody moved. Then Michael hobbled his way toward the idling vehicle using the spear as a crutch. She kept the handgun aimed at Mundy and his M4 carbine even as Michael approached.

“‘Scuse me, but if you’re headed down the road,” he yelled over the sound of the engine, “do you mind if we hitch a ride for a mile or two?”

“I’m looking for the people who were in that U-Haul,” she replied as her lank brown hair whipped in the wind. Michael saw her eyes flicker to the three human remains. “Any that made it.”

“Three made it,” Michael told her. “We’ll take you to them. Only, you’ll have to give us a lift and we have to take the long way around.”

“Better hurry,” she said, lowering the gun and climbing back into the cab. The engine growled and the wheel loader began to move forward. Stumbling forward, Michael was just able to grab onto the metal ladder. Looking back, he saw Mundy right behind him. Behind Mundy, nearly one hundred reanimated dead had taken to the highway, each one focused on consuming their flesh.

The woman opened the door a crack and yelled “Which ones made it?”

“Uh, one was Henry,” Michael answered, trying to recall their names. “The others were – ”

“Lena and Marlon,” Mundy shouted from behind him.

“Sorry,” Michael told her, “they were the only ones.” But the woman wore a hard look on her face, one more of fierce determination than of mourning.

“Tell her we need to stop in Garnet Bend for barbed wire,” Mundy said. Michael ignored him, reading the expression on her face as the look of someone who shouldn’t be bothered at the moment. He glanced back as the distance between them and the crowd of zeroes increased at a steady twenty miles per hour and was content to let her be.

***

As it happened, it wasn’t necessary to request a stop at Garnet Bend. The wheel loader ran out of fuel three miles short of the town.

“I’m amazed you got it going to begin with,” Mundy muttered as they left the machine behind and began to walk the highway. Overhead, the sky was growing overcast with interweaving cirrus clouds, turning the sunlight into a hazy glow.

“It was in the shed I hid in,” she answered flatly. “Someone must have babied it before the Fall.”

The woman’s name was Rain and she had been driving the car that Zach said had blown a tire and crashed while traveling through Crags. He had also said that the group had numbered sixteen before trying to make it through Crags after dark, making the number of passengers in the car with her six. Michael didn’t ask about any of them and the woman volunteered nothing as to their fate. It was safe, Michael figured, to assume the worst.

“Where were you all coming from?” Michael asked, trying to divert his attention from his injury. He limped along, trying to keep up. While the ride had given his knees some rest, each step was still filled with teeth-grinding pain. He was hot and tired and wanted nothing more at the moment than to rest. But with the dead following them, rest wasn’t an option.

She hesitated for a moment, as though reluctant to speak at all. “East of here,” she finally said.

“What’s east of here?” Mundy asked.

“Nothing,” was the woman’s gruff answer.

“Okay. Where were you headed?”

“West.”

“West to where?”

“Nowhere.” The woman looked at him with an expression dark enough to extinguish any further questions. “You’re taking me to them, right? Lena and Marlon?”

“And Henry,” said Michael.

“Yeah, Henry,” she mumbled. “He’d only been with us a couple days, though.”

“Don’t worry,” Michael told her. “We’ll get you reunited. It’s going to be a long walk, though.”

“Wheels are hard to come by,” Mundy said. “Anything that was in Garnet Bend was burned to the ground.”

“But you still want to go shopping there?”

“There was a farm supply store there,” Mundy answered. “It was in that local business directory back at the house. And barbed wire doesn’t burn. What’s this place?”

The sign up ahead read Famine Creek State Fish Hatchery and just beyond it, a paved lane split from the highway to lead to a long low building behind a row of tall poplars.

“Do we check it out?” asked Michael. He desperately wanted to rest his knees but he was unwilling to say so.

“The fire didn’t come through here,” Mundy replied. “There might be a car or a truck in a garage. But, even if there is – ”

“If there is, I’ll get it working” the woman interrupted. “And then you’ll take me to the others.”

***

The fish hatchery reeked to high heaven and hummed with clouds of flies. Inside the low buildings, vats of scummy water sat festering with the liquefied remains of thousands of fry. Outside, long concrete tanks of stagnant water foamed with the putrification of thousands of dead fingerlings and mature fish.

“Still smells better than a zero,” Mundy commented.

“No cars in the parking lot or parked behind the buildings,” Rain said. She pointed to a metal building near the riverbank. “If there’s any transportation, it’s gonna be in there.”

The roll down door wasn’t quite closed and Mundy wasted no time in banging on the metal and then stooping down low to see if anything came to investigate the noise. After a few moments when no gray-skinned hands came clawing out through the gap, Rain hauled the door upward and they surveyed the interior.

“Lots of nothing,” Mundy said, noting the bare shelves. “All the good looting is over and done with.”

Up on blocks on one side of the concrete pad was a utility vehicle, like an over-sized golf cart, with “Field Car” written across the rear cargo bed. It was the kind of two-seat vehicle that hatchery workers would have used to haul small loads across the grounds. Because its wheels were off and a few small parts had been removed from its engine, both Mundy and Michael had dismissed it as being of any use, as had every looter who had passed through. But Rain approached it slowly, her eyes studying the job ahead of her.

“What? Can you fix it?” Mundy asked.

Rain uncapped the fuel tank and sniffed at the diesel fumes. She examined the engine and the disassembled parts for another moment before replying.

“I can fix it. Did you see the solar panels on the roof of the office building? Find out where the batteries are and if they’re regular lead-acid car-type batteries,” she told them in a distracted voice. “Those aren’t the best ones for a solar power setup, but they’re cheap and some places like this use them. If you can find me a charged battery and if the fuel in the tank is still any good, we might just have ourselves a ride.”

Michael and Mundy found that the door to the office building had been unlocked with a crowbar some time ago. Michael stopped just inside and called out “Hey! Anybody here?” but they were met only with silence. The offices were dark and the air hung with the tang of sodden plywood. The desks and work areas were still cluttered and, except for the rodent droppings, had the eerie appearance of having been abandoned abruptly.

“Once they stopped pretending the pandemic wasn’t real,” Mundy said, “government-run places like this shut down pretty fast.” In the hallway beside a restroom, he used the muzzle of the M4 to nudge a half-open closet door. “Yep, they took all the toilet paper.”

Michael glanced at a Time magazine on a desk: “Much Ado About Gwailo” read the cover. The issue was dated a week before the day he had left his home for the house on Destitute Mountain.

In a room at the end of the hallway with a bare concrete floor and unfinished sheetrock walls they found a bank of six batteries set inside some plastic Rubbermaid bins below a wall-mounted panel with a few glowing green lights.

“There was a truck dolly back in that closet,” said Mundy. “I’ll go get it while you start unhooking one of the batteries. And if the lady still can’t get that cart to work, we’ll strap you and your bad knees to the dolly and haul you up the mountain like Hannibal Lecter in that movie.”

***

Rain had been working for the better part of an hour using the few rusty tools Mundy had scrounged from the building. Michael sat on a box in the open doorway, the binoculars to his eyes, looking back down the highway. The dead had seen them come this way. Michael knew they would be coming and he watched the point where the road disappeared behind the trees for the first sign of them.

Mundy paced the concrete floor of the garage and checked the M4’s magazine for the third time. “You okay?” he asked Rain. “Need a hand?”

Michael wasn’t sure how many times Mundy had asked her the question, but he was sure Rain knew. She stood up and scowled at him as she wiped her hands on her jeans.

“There they are,” Michael said. The first few zeroes had slogged into sight. “One, two, three – the rest of them will be right behind.”

“Time…” the woman said “…to see…” as she leaned over the steering wheel “…if the fuel is still any good.” Something under the hood clicked. A second or two later the engine sputtered and the UTV shook. “C’mon,” Rain growled.

“They’re going to hear it,” Michael said, the binoculars still focused on the emerging herd of corpses. “We’re going to have to get moving one way or the other.”

Rain tried the engine again and this time it erupted into a series of rough chugs before catching and filling the entire garage with acrid white smoke. The swirling cloud exited the garage door, signaling their location to any reanimated corpse with working eyes.

“I think they know where we are now,” Michael coughed.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Mundy said. “Michael, take the passenger seat and get that Glock ready. Rain,” he added, climbing into the small cargo bed and hooking his arm around the roll bar, “just warn me if we’re about to hit any big bumps.”

The dead were already making their way down the lane leading to the hatchery so Rain opted to cut diagonally across the overgrown field. Their course put them ahead of the zeroes, but not by much.

“I’m flat out at fifteen miles an hour,” said Rain, anticipating the question. “It’s gonna have to do.” They hit the embankment beside the road as Mundy was aiming the worn out shotgun at the approaching zeroes. Mundy was nearly thrown from the back and the shotgun fell from his grip to the ground.

Frickity… ” he choked, clutching tightly at the roll bar “...frackity!”

“Bump,” Rain said quietly.

***

Garnet Bend had been located near where Wood Devil Creek emptied into the Shady River. At the collection of sandbars and rocky banks marking their confluence they could see how the fire, pushed hard by winds from the northwest, had dropped from the mountains above the creek and had blowtorched the town. Nothing was left of the wooden structures but the concrete pads they had rested upon. Here and there the shells of cars and trailer homes sat rusting. Green weeds and grasses grew knee-high among the ruins, but the trees remained blackened, twisted and bare.

They encountered only four reanimated corpses. With no town left, they were easy to spot. Harder to find were the remains of the farm supply store Mundy was looking for. And even harder still was the task of convincing Rain to stop long enough to scavenge the items Mundy needed.

“We have maybe half an hour on that herd that’s following us,” she said. “If you don’t want them to see us turn off the highway and head up that mountain, I’d suggest you find your precious barbed wire within the next ten minutes.”

“Maybe,” Mundy said, “you’d like to help me look.” He wiped the greenish-black fluid from the tip of the spear on the grungy coat of the zero at his feet. Across the street a sign lay flat on the ground that read Moortgart Home & Farm Center in faded and scorched red block letters. “It’ll probably be in the fenced area in back.”

The woman answered with a slow shake of her head. “I just want you to take me to the others.”

Michael started to pull himself from the passenger seat.

“Stay there, Michael,” Mundy said with an edge to his voice. “The longer you can rest your knees, the faster they’ll be back in use.” He turned and made his way into the storage yard behind the burned out store.

“If you and your group decide to stay with us,” Michael said to her pointedly, “it’ll be in your own best interest to have a nice strong barbed wire fence around the house.”

If me and my group decide to stay?” she echoed, her tone incredulous. “What are you doing asking strangers to stay with you? What’s your fucking deal?” She shook her head as if to dispel the insanity of it. “Just take me to the others.”

“Found it!” Mundy shouted. He kicked at a length of chain link fence hanging from a post until it let loose and stepped out carrying a tightly rolled bale of wire. “Heavy suckers. One of the only things back there that didn’t burn. Back up the cart. I’m getting three more.”

By the time they hit the highway the afternoon sun had slipped behind a screen of hazy white clouds. Though each of them in turn stared back down the road, there was no sign of the herd that was following. Michael knew they were there, though, a short distance back, trudging mindlessly along in the direction that they last saw their food go. The incinerated remains of Garnet Bend passed by and Michael and Mundy began to talk of how cold it was going to be spending the night outside.

“A mile or so up,” Mundy said. “We’ll find a nice place to hide where we can see the road and have something to eat. We should’ve packed sleeping bags. We should always pack sleeping bags.”

“And mountain bikes,” added Michael.

We’re stopping for the night!?” Rain exclaimed. “All I want…” She gripped the steering wheel hard and let out a growl of frustration. “Is it so much to ask to just get me to the others?”

“As soon as we know that nothing is following us up,” Michael answered as evenly as he could. “I understand you want to meet up with your friends. Your group loyalty is duly noted. But we spent the whole morning getting the dead people off the mountain. And there are bad guys to consider.”

“It’ll be getting dark,” Mundy added, “and we can’t chance the headlights being seen as we climb the road. Sorry. But, hey, if it’s any consolation, dinner is going to be Italian-style wedding soup.”

“We’ll have you back with your friends in the morning,” Michael told her. “You may be a tight knit bunch, but I’m sure they can survive another eight hours without you.”


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


It had not been a restful night. The lean-to Mundy had built helped trap the small amount of heat from the Dakota fire pit and the pine boughs they spread over the ground insulated them a bit, but it was still cold and every tiny sound from the surrounding forest made them sit up and stare into the darkness. When dawn came, Michael scanned the mountainside below through the binoculars as Rain stirred inside the shelter.

“Satisfied?” she asked.

“No bad guys,” Michael replied, still gazing through the binoculars. “No zeroes.”

“Just mild hypothermia,” Mundy griped as he rolled to a sitting position.

“Can we go now?”

“Yeah,” Mundy replied with a yawn. “I’m with the lady. If we go now, we’ll be back in time to shower and sleep all day on a nice soft couch.”

The only thing that happened on the way back to the house was that Michael felt his blood pressure return to normal. The time they spent off the mountain was time spent with the specter of death hanging over them. The forest on either side of the road was a considerably more dangerous place than when rangers and mountain rescue teams were on call, but Michael felt it in his bones: these days, the wilderness around him was a lot kinder than the settled areas of the world.

At least, he thought, no one had died this time.

The UTV’s fuel tank went empty a mile short of the house and they walked the mountain road in silence, casting wary glances into the trees but seeing only the flits and darting of harmless wildlife. Michael’s knees were better, but still felt fragile. When they finally spotted the sign nailed to the stump, Michael took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

“Home: twelve hours late, but home. You think Lux has thrown out all my stuff and moved into my room yet?” He felt the tension lift from him and saw Mundy grow visibly more relaxed. The woman, though, seemed to tense up as they came into sight of the house.

Lucas was keeping watch from the deck as they came into sight. He raised his hand in greeting and then turned to knock on the living room window, alerting the others inside. By the time Mundy, Michael and Rain had reached outer the wire, Lucas and Kat had come out to meet them while Lux watched from the deck above.

Lucas had allowed the three newcomers to spend the night in two tents inside the barbed wire fence. As Michael, Mundy and Rain were let in, Marlon and Lena emerged from their tents, still wearing the same clothes as before, still dirty but appearing fed and a little less haggard. Henry trailed behind, stepping into the sunlight and squinting with an annoyed looking frown.

“Rain,” Marlon said, wide-eyed and mouth agape. “Holy shit!” Beside him, Lena also looked amazed to see the woman.

“Yeah, holy shit,” Rain growled as she pulled her pistol and shot Lena through the eye in one fluid motion. Lena twirled gracefully in a cloud of her own blood and fell to the ground. Marlon had time to hold up both hands and take one step backward before Rain fired three times, hitting him twice in the chest. Henry hurled himself back into the tent before the woman could aim in his direction, but by that time, Lux had released the safety on her carbine and, from her vantage point above, fired five times at the woman.

In the five seconds that it took to happen, Michael, Mundy, Kat and Lucas had done little more than cringe.

“Get her gun!” Lux shouted from the deck, her weapon still aimed at the woman lying on the ground.

“What the hell just happened!?” Mundy yelled.

Lena was dead. Marlon had been shot twice and lay propped up on his elbows, breathing fast through his clenched teeth and pushing himself back over the gravel covered ground with his legs. Michael bent to pick up Rain’s pistol and saw that, though all five of Lux’s shots had hit her in the chest, she wasn’t dead. Her body tensed repeatedly and she struggled to speak.

“I promised her I would kill you…and I did,” she wheezed with bright red blood foaming on her lips. She turned her head to see Lena’s body and then cast a glance at Marlon. “You left us behind. You…fucking shot out…our tires and left us behind as bait so you could…get away. I told Chrissy I’d…kill all of you for it. I told her…as she was…bleeding out.”

“Wha…?” Marlon sputtered, holding his hands over his wounds. “What? We…we were in the back of the truck. We couldn’t see what was happening. We were just holding on. We didn’t…we couldn’t have shot at you. We were in the back! The door was down!”

“Get one of the medical bags!” Michael shouted.

“I told her…” The words were Rain’s last. Her body briefly convulsed and her breathing stopped. Finally, a gurgling sound came from her throat and she was still.

“We…we didn’t…” Marlon gasped.

Mundy returned from the garage with one of the medical bags they’d put together using the supplies from the plane. “Here,” he said, holding it out to Michael, “but I don’t know how to treat a gunshot.”

“Direct pressure on the wound,” came a voice from the tent. “Find out if the bullet went all the way through.” It was the voice of Henry who had dived back into the tent to avoid the gunfire. “If those supplies are military, there might be some sort of chemical hemostat in there. You’ve got to pour it into the wound to help stop the bleeding.”

“You have medical training?” Michael called through the door.

Henry appeared. Crouching in the tent opening, he looked like he was trying to think of a way to deny it.

“Some,” he finally admitted.

“Well, now’s the time to put it to work,” Michael told him. “Come on.”

Reluctantly, the man knelt beside Marlon. He stripped the packaging from multiple gauze pads and had Michael hold them over the two holes in the man’s chest. He rolled Marlon halfway over and made a soft noise that sounded like “ugh-uhhhh.” The gravel beneath the man was soaked with blood from the exit wounds in his back.

“He had a blanket,” Henry said to Mundy. “Could you get it for him, please.” The way he said it and the nearly concealed look in Henry’s eyes told them that Marlon wasn’t going to live.

“Seriously,” Marlon said when he was returned onto his back, “we were in the back of the truck with the door down. We heard them shooting, but we couldn’t see anything. Deshawn said they hit something and blew a tire.”

“Sounds like a real mess,” Michael said to him as Mundy covered the man with his blanket, “but that’s all over and done with.”

“Henry can tell you. He was in there with us.”

“You’re right, Marlon,” Henry said, his face impassive, “we didn’t shoot at anybody.”

“Fariba hated Rain,” Marlon went on. The small, lightly built man closed his eyes but kept speaking. “She hated what Rain and Chrissy had going on. But the McNabbs and Reilly and Lola and Rob; they were all in the car, too. I can’t…can’t believe…”

“Shhh,” Michael said to him. “It’s okay. It’s fine.”

“A month hiding in a church basement,” Marlon said weakly. “Four freezing cold months at the mine. Three months on the road.” He swallowed hard. “I should’ve stayed in Minot.”

Marlon, whose last name none of them knew, was silent for a few minutes and then spoke once more before dying. “Roast beef, mom,” he said in a clear voice, a snippet of memory flashing through his blood-starved brain, “I could smell it…even before I opened the door.” And that was all. His body quivered and his bowels let loose, something everyone but Michael had dealt with before.

Michael backed up a few steps and turned away, affected by the man’s final pathetic moments.

Roast beef sprinkled with rosemary and surrounded in the oven by potatoes and carrots: the thought of it brought Michael back home to his parents’ house for Sunday dinner. The aroma was always right there as he opened the door, even during the summer when the windows were all open. On those nights, no matter how old he got or how far he had to drive to get there, he was always at home. For a moment, he envied the dead man for the comfort and peace of his final vision.

“Watch it,” Lux called from the deck above, knocking him from his reverie. “The shooter lady’s body is starting to twitch already and the guy might not be far behind.”

***

“Obviously, she was sure she had been betrayed,” said Henry Dhawan, “that they had shot out the tires to buy themselves time to escape. And, you know, it’s completely possible.” The plate in front of him on the kitchen table was empty of ziti and marinara sauce and he sipped at his tea as he spoke. “I was only with them for five days and I didn’t know any of them very well. None of them were very sociable. But it seemed they all had more than a few issues.”

The way the man talked told Michael that he had missed much of the end of the world. He spoke of the scarred behavior of his former group like an outsider would, not like someone who had known the same traumas they had. His manner was too free of stress-induced tics and quirks. And Michael recognized it because of how much the man reminded him of himself from a few months ago.

“Rain said the group was heading west,” Mundy mentioned, “but she didn’t say where to or where from.”

“They had the idea that they could find an island off the coast.”

Lux made a spitting sound. “Good luck.”

“Yes, well, I was not in any position to go destroying the notions of desperate people.”

“So you knew that the islands were a bad idea?” Mundy asked.

“I…it stands to reason, I think,” said the man. For a moment, he seemed to struggle between wanting to speak and not wanting to say too much.

“It may seem strange to hear it from someone whose parents came from such an overcrowded part of the world, but I said it a thousand times, even before the pandemic: too many damn people. Back then, I usually said it while stuck in traffic. But the point became even more valid when the dead started to walk around: there were just too damn many people. No matter what survival plan you decided upon, a thousand – two thousand – ten thousand other people thought of it, too.

“Case in point: Catalina Island, off southern California. When the time came to evacuate, a million people throughout southern California all thought the same thing: grab a boat, cross twenty-two miles of water, and wait out the pandemic in safety. Maybe ten percent of them had the means to do it. Maybe half of them actually made it. Within two weeks, the island’s population was ten times what it was normally. Within four weeks, everyone on the island was walking around dead.

“Name a refuge: a big, indoor shopping mall, a warehouse food store, a gigantic sports stadium, Disneyworld? The pattern was the same with every one of them; people poured into them, they fought over them, dead people came shuffling out of them. Why there aren’t people camped all over these mountains, fighting each other, willing to kill you for all of the food you have, I don’t know.” He looked at Michael, a strange expression on his face. “You must be an extremely lucky bunch.”

A moment passed during which they reflected on their luck, how it had brought them to the present moment and how it had failed the others in their lives.

“You say you were only with the group for five days,” Mundy said. “Any idea where they were coming from?”

“Some talked about Chicago and places in Michigan. The rest seemed to be from all over the Midwest.”

“They made it all that way,” Michael said in sad wonder.

“And where did you meet up with them, doctor?” Mundy asked.

“I doubt that the place had a name,” said Henry Dhawan with a shake of his head. “It was really in the middle of nowhere. It must have been a wheat field before – ” He stopped suddenly and his eyes darted nervously. “What makes you think I’m a doctor? Just because – ”

“You are a doctor,” Mundy said. The way he said it left little room for the man to deny it. “What kind of doctor are you?”

“Not the useful kind,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “I…I did research. My medical skills are limited. You practically saw the extent of them earlier. It’s just that when people these days hear that you are a doctor, they get very excited. They expect miracles. And, like I said, destroying the notions of desperate people can be…hazardous.”

“Too bad,” said Michael. “With all of those medical supplies we salvaged, you could’ve opened up your own clinic.”

“People need more than antibiotics and morphine,” said Henry Dhawan. “They need…” The man lowered his head and inhaled the steam coming from his tea.

“What were you going to say, Doctor?”

“Please, not doctor,” said the man. His mouth stretched itself tightly over his teeth in an attempt at a smile. “Just Henry will be fine. I was going to say that people need a cure, but…”

“Perko told me most people think that when you come down with Gwailo, the virus stays in you and comes back when you die, like with chickenpox and shingles.”

“That’s somewhat oversimplified,” said Henry, “but, yes, that’s kind of the theory.”

“Then yay for me;” muttered Lux, “I never had the Gwailo. Guess it’s safe for me to die.”

“You never had Gwailo Fever?” Henry asked in a very interested tone. “And how long have you been exposed to the others here?”

“Hey, I managed to steer clear of it for six months,” Michael said.

“That’s because you were up here all by yourself,” Mundy told him. “You were lucky not to have caught it before you came up here, but once you started taking in strays, you had yourself a nice little bout of it. I had it. Lucas had it. Kat, did you ever have Gwailo Fever?” The girl nodded slowly in response, her blue eyes swimming with the memory. “We’ve all had it. Lux has been here for two months and hasn’t caught it.”

“No big deal,” said Lux, growing a little uncomfortable from the attention. “I’ve been around a lot of people who’ve had it. One night early on, I shared the inside of a broken down Subaru with a mother and her two kids who were all sick with it at once. Not a fun night. One of the kids was dead in the morning; then, pretty soon, not so dead. I figure, if I haven’t gotten it by now, I’m not going to.”

“Well, we all knew you were special,” Mundy teased. “Not only are you immune from the Gwailo, you’re also the only girl on the planet who still puts on makeup every day.”

“It’s just eyeliner,” she shot back. “It helps my aim. Like the way I kept the rest of you from being shot earlier by that psycho bitch? You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Not to mention,” Mundy went on with a slight smile, “keeping that streak of red in your hair. Most people would choose to carry an extra can of food with them in place of that bottle of red hair dye, but you – ”

“Piss off,” Lux said to him, in a not altogether pissed off tone. She stood and took her coat from the back of the chair. “I’m going out to listen to the coyotes.” Lucas rose and went with her.

“So I’m guessing you’ve never met anyone who’s immune before?” Mundy inquired. “I know I haven’t.”

“Hmm?” he said. “Uh, no. No, she would be the first.” The man gazed across the gathering dark of the living room. “Lucky,” Henry Dhawan said in a quiet and thoughtful voice. “Very lucky.”
"...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 Redsky » Mon Jun 10, 2013 6:23 pm

Nice work! Revenge should always be a hotdish! Lux is a badass!
“Next time go faster! Fulton who the fuck told you that you could choke out a stenchie? Jesus!

Do I have to do everything?” he yelled at the squad staggering to his feet again.

“Oh he’s fine. He’s back in asshole mode.” Erica said

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by WendyPlains » Mon Jun 10, 2013 6:38 pm

Boy, your characters don't last long, do they? :) My heart was in my mouth the whole time. Can't imagine anything more scary than spending the night out on the mountain. Now, I wonder what Henry is hiding? Is he a research scientist who had something to do with the Gwailo fever? Was it something man-made? Looking forward to more!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Murphman » Mon Jun 10, 2013 6:41 pm

Did we just stumble upon the man who created the virus, drawn out of hiding due to lack of supplies?

This story is fabulous.
"If you are prepped for pandemic flu, you are more than prepped for Ebola. And pandemic flu is hella more likely, that's the one that scares me, personally." - Duodecima...and she's a freaking doctor. What are you?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by TODP » Mon Jun 10, 2013 6:55 pm

Volume 2 of this story will be:

"How to get Lux and Henry to the last remaining medical research facillity on the continent."

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by MaconCJ7 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:00 pm

Long time reader, first time poster. Digging the story. You're a good writer, keep after it. I know you just posted up this section, but ... MOAR!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Qasim » Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:28 pm

Maybe the best installment yet?

I'm thinking "please let them do one mission without a KIA, please, please" Oh, and then Rain goes homicidal on her return. Harsh.

The commentary on the futility of Catalina Island and other bugout plans is trenchant. Tinderbox seems to have quite an imagination, and seems to have done a lot of thinking about the topic.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by MaconCJ7 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:49 pm

Qasim wrote:I'm thinking "please let them do one mission without a KIA, please, please" Oh, and then Rain goes homicidal on her return. Harsh.
I expected it. The second time she asked about them, I expected someone to get shot. She had a sole focus. Not on surviving, but on getting to them. It was the only outcome I could expect. The quick response was a welcome surprise, but also fitting. If unknown someone goes nuts shooting everyone else, they need shot as well. If Michael came up shooting the new guys, meh. But new girl coming in shooting other new folk. It was addressed properly.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Mr. E. Monkey » Tue Jun 11, 2013 5:30 am

“You are a doctor,” Mundy said. The way he said it left little room for the man to deny it. “What kind of doctor are you?”
Check and see if he has a sonic screwdriver. :mrgreen:

MaconCJ7 wrote:
Qasim wrote:I'm thinking "please let them do one mission without a KIA, please, please" Oh, and then Rain goes homicidal on her return. Harsh.
I expected it. The second time she asked about them, I expected someone to get shot. She had a sole focus. Not on surviving, but on getting to them. It was the only outcome I could expect. The quick response was a welcome surprise, but also fitting. If unknown someone goes nuts shooting everyone else, they need shot as well. If Michael came up shooting the new guys, meh. But new girl coming in shooting other new folk. It was addressed properly.
I half expected the 3 survivors sent with Lucas were bad folks, and Rain was going to tell Michael and Mundy about all the horrible things they do to other survivors. Glad to see the home team came out alright, anyway.
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by selen » Tue Jun 11, 2013 6:49 am

Well I didn't expect anything :|

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Steve Nuns » Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:36 am

Awesome story. Can't wait for the next instalment.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Barnabus » Tue Jun 11, 2013 4:46 pm

Tinderbox, have you picked a pen name for when you get published ? This is the best online zed fiction I've read since Adrian's Undead Diary http://adriansundeaddiary.com/pt/September-21/blog.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; , and I really want to know when I see your stuff in the future.
"If you are prepared for a shambling horde of walking corpses that are trying to eat you alive, you will be prepared for just about anything."
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Tue Jun 11, 2013 6:31 pm

[quote="Barnabus"]Tinderbox, have you picked a pen name for when you get published ? quote]


No, but I'd be open to any suggestions. It would be interesting to have a cool name for once in my life. :lol:

Thanks to all for the comments!!!
"...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 WendyPlains » Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:05 pm

Barnabus, AUD was the first zombie story I read. It was a very good read except for the ending. I thought that was total crap to be frank but otherwise it was quite entertaining.

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