High Ground - repost

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High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Thu Mar 05, 2020 10:45 am

Howdy, folks. After I published on Amazon, I deleted the story from ZS, but since I deleted the novel from Amazon, I figured it could come back to the place where it was born. It probably needs a rewrite, and I might edits bits, but it will be substantially the same as before. If you are rereading it, thanks for coming again. If you are reading it for the first time, I hope you enjoy it.

It has two completed parts: House of Adair and Acts of God. There is a third part half-done and languishing in a file called The Key to the Kingdom.

House of Adair ~ Chapter One

From the west walked a dark-haired man, lean and worn from travel. Dressed in faded army pants and carrying a backpack and canvas shell bag—a shoulder bag the kind in which duck hunters carry shotgun shells—he was also armed with a hoary-looking and rust-stained war club, an antique carbine with wooden furniture, and a big, curved knife. His hair fell past his collar—he wore it long in the fashion of his trade in the time before the outbreak. His twelve-week beard was new to him, and he scratched it.

He touched his sternum through his shirt and felt the key which hung from a sturdy cord around his neck. He gazed across a broad river valley from the western rim. In the distance, across the river and an expanse of dead, festering city, a small mountain rose from the plain. He didn’t need to set a bearing. He knew the way and the path would not likely be direct. His lips moved as if speaking, but he voiced no words.

The man adjusted his gear and straightened his back. He set to walking down the steep Millville Pike, into the shadow of the valley, humming a bluegrass tune, “I’ll Never See My Home Again.”

He had been traveling east toward the sunrise. He had walked from Clarksville to Nashville to Manchester with a stream of music in his ears—not from any electronic device but from his extensive mental songbank. You don’t play in bar bands without at least being able to fake your way through a number.

His eyes saw his path. He watched for the threat that had been constant since he stepped out of the woods at the end of a long solo camping trip, since he stepped into the end of the world, this cinematic plague of horror. He saw the path; he watched for the dangers. But his mind’s eyes saw another place: his birthright (he believed). It was the homing beacon that drew him east across the plateau. It was the reason he had not remained in the haven of the commune in the Sequatchie Valley. He saw the place in his mind, and he savored the details.

It is a large hill—or a small mountain—separated from its parent limestone ridgeline by a creek that runs north and then west across ancient terraces to the river that flows down the great valley, prehistoric floodplains now blanketed with a quilt of subdivisions, food joints, office parks, old mills, newer factories, and ubiquitous warehouses, floodplains now threaded with boulevards and highways, freeways and offramps, stitched together with wires, wires and more wires on poles, poles and more poles.

The large hill—or small mountain—is forested on its steep slopes with fine oaks and hickories, tulip poplars, sweet gums, and dogwoods. It is more or less flat on top, and on its pinnacle sits a little township, with its own grocery, post office, diner, firehouse, and water tower. The slopes are steep-shouldered and bouldered. A paved serpentine road leads up the east side from the creekbottom to the hilltop, and it is the only ingress or egress for vehicles.

The road crests the hill. To the right is the post office, to the left the firehouse, next to that the grocery, and the diner across the street. Lining the street beyond on both sides were homes of various sizes and shapes—Arts & Craft bungalows, Tudors, California Spanish Revival, the odd Victorian gingerbread and even a few modest cottages, and a single split-level brick ranch. Their back yards walk up to the bluffs to overlook the river valley to the north and south. At one time, the nighttime view from the patios and decks was of a carpet of glittering diamond streetlights and houselights, with neon rubies, sapphires, and citrines.

On the west end of the street, facing east with a view of the length of the avenue, is a large, rambling Art Deco mansion built of limestone block and roofed with an unusual green glazed ceramic tile. Within the rambling structure are enclosed courtyards and rooftop verandas. It is topped with a cupola with a commanding view. Descending the western bluff from an iron gate in a back garden wall is a hewn stone stair, nearly hidden by English ivy, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy, leading down to a spring near the bottom that trickled over a bluff and feeds a stream leading to the creek.

The township has no school, for the children—when there were children—attended the private academy; there was no church, for the faithful—when there were faithful—attended the big moneyed church downtown, a downtown whose glass and steel edifices are yet visible from this hilltop during the daylight hours.

If I were to stand now (he thought), well after sunset, on the upper veranda of the mansion—once the home of a textile baron—under the green tile eaves facing west toward the river at night, I would see no neon jewels. I would see no glowing skyscrapers or white steeples. I would see only black velvet, perhaps mist rising from the pearlescent river, and the silhouette of the plateau marking the western boundary of the river valley.

I would hear no horns or sirens, no susurration of cars on the highways sounding like water flowing over rocks. I would hear, perhaps, the sound of the waterfall at the plunge pool down at the creek. I would hear tree frogs, crickets, and katydids; owls of the barred and screech variety, and whippoorwills; the tittering of bats; and the mewling of cats. Oh, the cats!

These things his mind saw, but his eyes saw a battered-looking figure with mottled flesh and lips encrusted with blackened blood stagger from a privet hedge along the curve in the road he walked. The thing hissed and lurched toward the tall, lean man. James Adair—of the Adairsboro Adairs, prodigal son, session musician, barfly, raconteur, trust-fund bum—pulled a faded blue bandana up over his nose, swung his club, and stove the ghoul’s head right in. The revenant fell in a heap on the pavement, cold flesh on warm asphalt.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Thu Mar 05, 2020 10:55 am

Chapter Two

The soup simmered on a hissing flame on the dual-fuel camp stove in the kitchen. It didn’t have much to thicken it, and the ingredients weren’t in many cookbooks. A cheap Chinese kerosene lantern gave thin light to the room. Cindy stirred the pot absently while the baby fussed feebly on a pallet on the floor. Caleb and Janey argued half-heartedly over the rules of checkers, played with plastic bottle caps on a board Cindy had drawn with felt marker on a piece of an old box.

Cindy was resourceful that way.

“When’s Daddy comin’ back,” Janey stated flatly. It was phrased but not inflected as a question.

“Soon, I hope, honey.”

“That means she doesn’t know,” said Caleb.

“It means Daddy is coming back and I hope it’s soon.”

Caleb scooted his chair back and it made a hollow grating noise that rang out like a shout in the silence. Cindy gave Caleb a reflexive sharp look.

“Sorry, mama.”

“It’s all right. We just need to remember to always practice being quieter, okay?”

“Okay. May I go look out the window?”

“Let’s go look together from the bedroom upstairs.”

Cindy turned off the camp stove. She picked up the baby and the lantern and climbed a short flight of stairs to a hallway. The children followed and they entered a bedroom whose floor had been converted into a great bed, with pallets and blankets and pillows. The windows wore blackout curtains.

She laid the baby on the bed and gave him a toy. She turned the lantern flame down to a dim blade of light.

Cindy, Caleb and Janey pulled the curtains aside and peered out into the twilight. The street was empty as far as they could tell, but the house sat back further from the street than its neighbors and it was near the end of the street, next to the Big House.

“Mama, there’s a light on in the Big House,” said Janey.

They had a carelessly animated moment with the curtain before their eyes all settled on the light glowing in the foyer of the Adair House. It wasn’t bright, and it wavered—like a flashlight.

At first she thought: Rob! But he would have come straight here to the caretaker’s house. Immediately, her mind demanded to know how they (They? How many?) got in. And what did they want? And would they look here?

[“Who is it, mama?” “Is it Daddy?”] heard Cindy through the cotton of panic in her ears.

“No no no,” is all she could say. Then: “I don’t know.”

The light faded until they weren’t sure if they could see it or not, and then they were sure it was gone; and had the three of them not all seen it, they might not have been sure if they had ever seen it at all.

Please, Rob, get back here soon.

In the last of the twilight, they saw a cat race the breadth of the front yard. Cindy thought of her next soup.

Cindy went to the kitchen and brought the pot of soup back up to the children. She spooned portions into cups and gave one ach to Caleb and Janey. Cindy ate some of the thin stock herself and then lay down to nurse the baby. Her milk was drying up too soon. They weren’t getting enough to eat. There was some forage and small game to be had here, but they had run out of packaged and canned food.

The grocery down the street was a vacant shell and all of the houses were completely empty. The last residents had moved everything out when the county acquired Adair Village in some sort of complicated buyout in order to turn it into an architectural and historic park. Only the big house was furnished, a museum dedicated its former owners, particularly James Ian Adair, Textile Magnate and Patron of the Arts. But there was no food.

In the caretaker’s house, there wasn’t much. The electric stove was useless for anything but counter space, and the refrigerator only kept vermin out of the food. The packaged processed foods they brought with them had been consumed fifteen days ago. They were living on condiments, zippy-mart junk food, wild onions (one of the few edible plants she could identify) and some of the more trusting cats when Rob left three days earlier to find supplies.

He had taken the Explorer. They all drove down the hill to the gate together. Rob unlocked it—he had the key because before all this happened he had been the Euchee County Parks caretaker—soon to be Park Ranger, a sworn peace officer—of this site. He had keys to the gate and to every house and building on the hill except the Big House, whose keys were kept at the county office. The Big House was only opened for special events due to funding issues.

Rob had parked the Ford on the bridge and walked back to the gate. He kissed his family and then locked them inside the fence, binding the gate chain so tightly that even a child could not squeeze through the gap. He touched their fingers through the chain link.

“Stay inside the house as much as possible,” he told them, “but you’ll be safe in here. Nothing will get inside this fence.”

“When are you comin’ back?” Janey looked up at him, her mouth adorably slack. Rob squatted and held her little fingers that poked through the wire.

“As soon as I can, honey. I have to go to Uncle Dave’s because there is food and other things that we need at his house.

“Why can’t we all go to Uncle Dave’s?”

“Because it is safer for you all here, and safer for me to travel by myself. Okay?”

“Okay.” She looked at his hands. “But you’ll be back tonight, right?”

Rob laughed sadly and closed his eyes for a second, then looked again at her. “No, hon, it’s at least two days there and two days back the way things are. So four days at the soonest. A week—that’s seven days, remember?—at the most.” He stood up and addressed all of them, almost the way he did when he had tour groups or visiting officials. Cheerful, courteous and informative.

“When I come back, I’ll have Uncle Dave with me, and food, gas, tools, weapons,” he ticked them off tapping his right index finger on each finger of his left hand, then closed his fists and gave two thumbs up, “and toys!”

“Yay!” The kids cheered, but in a trained whisper, so their voices didn’t echo in the valley.

Rob climbed into the Ford and drove across the creek and north past the park along the base of Butler Ridge. He was out of sight within a minute and out of earshot soon after. The valley became very quiet. They could hear the creek, the blue jays, and the wind.

And then they had walked back up the steep road to the little ghost town on the hill which sat in the middle of a big ghost town that stretched for miles. No, not a just ghost town; it was a town of living corpses. But it had at least one speck of life moving through it, working its way north and west, toward the dam and beyond, in a pea-green Ford Explorer.

The kids kept peeking out the window at the big house. With Cindy’s permission, Caleb opened the window (no monsters could get to them on the second floor) a few inches so they could hear the sounds outside. They could hear the katydids and the tree frogs and the cats. The cats were scariest because they had voices like people—like babies crying.

They watched the house for any sign of a light. They listened and thought they heard singing but they couldn’t be sure because the noise of the night creatures was full of hidden voices.

Janey said she was tired and lay down next to mama. Caleb kept his eye to the window through a chink in the curtain until his eyes fluttered closed of their own accord.

Cindy wore her calm on the outside only. Three days Rob had been gone; he said he could be gone a week. But she had hoped he’d be back in four days. He said there could be poles down, roads blocked with cars—who knows? He had a winch and a come-along, and other gear in the county truck to deal with obstacles of that nature. And he had an aluminum baseball bat for self-defense.

But now there was someone—wasn’t there?—in the big house, and they were locked inside the fence with him or them. She just wanted morning to come so she could go check it out in the light of day. Earth couldn’t rotate quickly enough for her on this night.

She got up and tip-toed out of the room. She crossed the hall in the dark to the back bedroom and peeked out the window. She could see black treetops and the sky full of stars—never had so many stars been seen in this country since before the TVA lit up the world, and that was well before Cindy’s lifetime. She crept down the hallway. The front door was barred with a serviceable combination of repurposed shelving brackets and a two-by-eight board. Plywood was screwed over the side panes, both inside and out. The living room windows had been modernized with shatterproof multi-paned energy-efficient windows and were covered with insulated blackout curtains. Everything was tight and secure.

They would have to get water tomorrow. The water tower still had some water in it, but it no longer supplied the homes, which had been connected to municipal water a decade earlier. There was a valve at the base of the tower where she could fill the jugs and bring them back to the house in Caleb’s Radio Flyer wagon. They pooped and peed in a bucket in the basement.

Cindy peered through the front window up at the Adair place. She thought she saw a light again, this time in the library at the southwest corner of the second floor, over the side courtyard. She pulled the curtain open about twelve inches. She sat cross-legged on the floor of the empty living room and watched the library windows. The light wavered for a little while. And she was sure she saw in the window a person standing and looking out for a long time.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by 91Eunozs » Thu Mar 05, 2020 11:16 am

Sweet! Welcome back... I’m pretty sure I bought both for my Kindle; will be interesting to see if they’re still available.
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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: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Thu Mar 05, 2020 12:51 pm

91Eunozs wrote:
Thu Mar 05, 2020 11:16 am
Sweet! Welcome back... I’m pretty sure I bought both for my Kindle; will be interesting to see if they’re still available.
Thanks for being a paying customer! I made literally dozens of dollars on these books, but at least my five or six reviews were 4 stars and up. :awesome:

I am curious to know if it is still on your Kindle. I unpublished but didn't delete it, but after a certain period of inactivity, Amazon removed it, I guess.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Thu Mar 05, 2020 1:01 pm

Chapter Three

Rob sped down the two-lane road through flickering bands of shadows from the trees. There were shamblers in the park and they were watching him go, but they were no worry. He knew the area well from before the outbreak, and previous forays had instructed him where the road was blocked and where some of the danger zones were. Beyond a couple of miles, though, only his tools, his ingenuity, and his knowledge of the city from before the outbreak would help him.

He had a winch on the county truck. He had a chainsaw and a come-along and an axe. He had a breacher bar and a sledgehammer. A blowtorch. A can of gasoline.

He passed a car that had slammed into the trees off the shoulder. There was another car ahead across both lanes at an angle with the doors open. He slipped past it. Ahead was a four-way stop with a filling station and store. They had been here, too. A lot had been looted, but they found some food. He had had to smack a zombie in the head inside the store. He had checked under the register for a gun, but there had been none. There had been bloody cash on the floor and the register drawer had been open.

There was a small church catty-corner from the filling station. There were three zombies in the gravel lot and they staggered toward the road when they saw him coming. He swerved away and then toward them, sideswiping the three. They rolled, bloody and battered, across the gravel lot the church. One came to rest at the marquee sign, which read: “DO YOU HAVE THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM?”

“Bite me!” he yelled, laughing, as he sped down the road.

Ahead was a light industrial area and beyond that the boulevard that would take him to the highway that led across the dam and up to Wayatewah.
There was a tractor-trailer angled across the road, not wrecked. He couldn’t see beyond it. He drove on the grassy shoulder between the rig and the fence around a warehouse yard. He gunned the engine as he passed, worried that it could be an ambush set-up, but nobody was there. He was slightly disappointed.

He came to an intersection at a four-lane boulevard. The traffic light was out, of course. To the right, the four lanes constricted to two and entered a tunnel that ran through Butler Ridge. To the left, it descended into a boulevard lined with auto dealerships and shopping centers. He could see for miles down the road. All lanes were dotted with wrecks and abandoned cars.

He turned left.

He weaved in an out among the cars, checking them for movement inside, looking for shadows between wheels. He saw “the biggest flag in the city” hanging limply at the Ford dealership. He drove on. There were fast food joints and his stomach growled for a big greasy burger. The abandoned cars were becoming more numerous. Ahead he saw a clogged intersection. He stopped in an open area between wrecks.

He scanned the snarl. There were raised medians on all four roads. The wreckage extended in all four directions. He couldn’t see a way around it without clearing some cars out of the way. He saw something move in the wreckage. A raised head. An arm. A torso and legs. A zombie stood up on the hood of a car and bellowed. Another figure emerged from behind a sport-utility vehicle. A third crawled from under a van. More emerged. Rob turned the Explorer around and punched the accelerator back the way he came. In the mirror, he could see them shambling up the road after him.

Rob stopped the truck at an angle and looked back. Their pace had slowed, but they were still coming. They were spreading out. There were nine of them. Like a ball team, he thought. He picked up his aluminum bat and turned the Explorer around to face the Visitors. He chuckled at his new name for them. Time to knock ‘em out of the park.

Rob was a right-hander who could bat left. A lot of time at the batting cages and a little rural mailbox mischief prepared him for this moment. He waited for the shamblers to spread out and line up. He took his foot off the brake and started a rolling idle. The lead one, the freshest, was trotting up the westbound inner lane. Rob rolled faster down the center turn lane, gently accelerating. He approached the lead ghoul and tightened his grip. He was doing twenty-five when he swung and made contact with a PING! The zombie’s head snapped back and he crumpled to the ground, but then there was another and PING! It was down. A third, too far to the right, went under Rob’s wheels, and then a fourth and a swing and a miss! And he almost loses his bat—this doesn’t look good! And here comes another, right over the plate POW! And that one is over the fence!

There were four more in front of him and one behind. He turned and gunned the truck back up the road. The “strike” was coming back. It was a big one. Rob aimed to the right of the hulking creep and got into position. He swung at the death mask as the thing raised its arms as if to block the blow. The bat struck the face and smashed it in. Rob’s grip failed and the bat spun out of his hands and clanged to the pavement. The ghoul had fallen and was crawling blind and faceless. Rob put the Explorer in reverse and backed over the thing, resting the tire on the skull. He jumped out and ran to his bat. He picked it up and ran back, pausing to wipe it off on the ghoul’s shirt. He jumped in the cab, shifted to drive, spun the tire, and peeled out. Four left.

Rob’s left shoulder was sore from mailboxing that last creep. He decided to bat right. He stepped out of the Explorer, leaving it running. He walked down the boulevard toward the approaching critters. These were the slowest of the bunch. They were straggling in from the outfield. Rob stopped. The one in the lead fixed on him and lurched toward him. Heeyy, batterbatterbatter SWING! Crack! And the windup and the pitch CRACK! And here comes another POW! That one is outtahere!

The last one was a knuckleball, wobbling up to the plate. He swung and it ducked improbably at the last second. Rob spun around with the force of his swing. The ghoul wrapped its arms around his torso and its teeth grabbed a mouthful of Carhartt denim. Rob pounded it in the temple with the knob of the bat. It loosened its grip for a moment and rasped at him but did not release him from its embrace. He hit it again and it fell back. He swung at its head as it descended. Its neck snapped and its skull split. He lined his bat up like a golf club and gave it one more whack to the occipital lobe. Its brains spilled out of the crown like a grotesque cornucopia.

Rob stood in the middle of the hot road holding the bat for a moment. He looked all around. The sun pressed down. Everything was quiet and still. He heard the buzzing of flies. He was alone—for the moment.

He got back in the truck and turned back to the clogged intersection. He pulled close and looked for a clear passage. The parking lots at the corner businesses were mayhem. No cut-through. The sidewalks were wide, but there were poles. There was a place where the roadblock was only one car deep, a sedan straddling the raised median. He could weave his way through if that sedan were moved.

But he’d have to get down in there to do it. He could move some of the other cars first and make a clearer path, but that would take longer. But clearing the intersection would make it easier to come back through, and for others to get through. He got to work with the winch.

He dragged the cars, one-by-one, out of the way. His bat was always handy, but he worked in peace for the time being. He reached the car on the median. He wondered if it would hang up when he tried to drag it off. He thought about flipping it over. But then he had the idea to hook it to the far side so it would tip up and drag over the hump. He was sure it would work. He climbed over the hood, leaned down and started to reach under the car.

A torn face snapped ragged teeth at him. A torso without arms and legs was wedged under the car. Its head thrashed and stretched, trying to reach him, hissing. “Fudgebucket!” he yelled, jumping back. He looked around, checking his six. The coast was clear. He leaned down again and looked at the thing. He could hook the cable to the undercarriage and keep out of its reach. He eased in past its snapping maw and clipped the hook to the frame.

He backed away and walked back to the winch. He started it up and the car pulled off the median the way he expected it to. It dragged across the limbless ghoul, grinding it against the concrete. He hopped into the Explorer and dragged the car out of the way. He unhooked the cable and wound it up, then drove through the opening. The ghoul still twitched in his rear-view.

Down the boulevard was more of the same. Wrecked cars, the occasional shamble of zombies, clogged intersections. Rob’s bat pinged and the winch whirred. It was taking him all day to travel what was once a ten-minute drive with stoplights.

Dusk would come soon enough and he had to decide whether to travel or stop. Rob was pondering this when he saw a wrecker service lot with an impound fence topped with barbed wire. The gate was open and it looked deserted. He pulled in and left the engine running. He jumped out with his bat and did a three-sixty visual sweep. He trotted into the garage bays and found them uninhabited save for an Audi with a missing wheel. The office was empty, too. He trotted around back. The decaying bodies of two dogs lay chained next to empty bowls. There were cars parked in rows. He stood very still. Nothing stirred.

Rob ran back to the gate and rolled it closed. The padlock was open. He didn’t have the key, of course, but he had bolt cutters so he chained the gate and locked it. He pulled the Explorer into one of the garage bays and pulled the doors closed. He searched the building more thoroughly. The main office had a back office. The door was open and the phone was off the hook. A cigarette burned to the filter rested next to an ashtray that had so many butts jammed into it that it looked like a fried onion appetizer from a chain restaurant. There was no bathroom in here. It was outside.
He looked at the wall under the clock at the sign that read “Restroom Keys.” The men’s room key was gone.

Rob stepped outside and around the corner of the building. The restroom doors were on the left side toward the back. He walked slowly to them. The first one was the ladies’ room. The door was slightly ajar. He pushed it with the tip of the bat. It swung open, revealing a sink and a dirty commode.

He backed away and looked at the next door. It was closed. He pushed it with his bat and it didn’t yield. He tried the knob. It was locked. Suddenly there was pounding from the other side, and a scrabbling scratching.

“Dumb mother locked himself in and turned,” Rob said aloud, “and couldn’t get out.” The pounding intensified. He stepped away, realizing it could attract attention. He went into the office and locked the door. He sat in a chair next to a table with greasy magazines and looked out the window. The light was fading in the sky. He wondered if he could get any sleep knowing the thing was in the restroom.

He grabbed a Sports Illustrated and stepped into the garage, intending to lock himself in the Explorer. He stopped at the Audi and looked in. The key was in the ignition. He got in and tried to open the glove box. It was locked. He pulled the key out, hoping it wasn’t a valet key. He tried it in the glove box. It opened. He pulled out the owner’s manual and under it was a nine-millimeter automatic pistol, Italian-made. He took it and pulled the magazine out. It was loaded. One in the chamber. It looked to be in good working order and was a model he had trained with at the police academy.

Rob went to the Explorer and got his breacher bar. He went outside and around to the men’s room. He looked at the door. It was quiet. He pondered. Then he set himself and kicked the door at the latch. It flew open on the first kick, breaking the doorknob latch and the slide latch. The stench that greeted him was terrible. The zombie inside got off the toilet and lunged for Rob. He shot it once in the forehead. It fell back into the restroom and collapsed on the commode. Rob stepped in and smashed its head with the crowbar. Then he shut the door.

“To give you some privacy,” said Rob.

He locked the door to the office and locked himself in his truck. He read the sports magazine until twilight set in, and then he reclined to sleep. He slept well, but with dreams.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by 91Eunozs » Thu Mar 05, 2020 11:55 pm

dogbane wrote:
Thu Mar 05, 2020 12:51 pm
91Eunozs wrote:
Thu Mar 05, 2020 11:16 am
Sweet! Welcome back... I’m pretty sure I bought both for my Kindle; will be interesting to see if they’re still available.
Thanks for being a paying customer! I made literally dozens of dollars on these books, but at least my five or six reviews were 4 stars and up. :awesome:

I am curious to know if it is still on your Kindle. I unpublished but didn't delete it, but after a certain period of inactivity, Amazon removed it, I guess.
Looks like I ordered back in 2014! They were still listed in my digital orders, and I just added them back to my Kindle...though I couldn’t find them on Amazon itself.
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: High Ground - repost

Post by Halfapint » Fri Mar 06, 2020 12:32 am

I’m so excited! I purchased your book when it came out. And I’m excited to have you post this again.

I’ve been a HUGE fan of your work. I can’t coubt how many hours I’ve sunk into your stories over the years. Between you and tinderbox, you’ve saved me many many hours on mass transit. More recently at work as things slow down.

So thinks for posting! Again!

Eta: at least two of your books are still on my kindle as well. And forever they will stay!
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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by idahobob » Fri Mar 06, 2020 10:24 am

Does this mean that you are going to repost the entire story? Yea if you are! I thoroughly enjoyed it before and would enjoy it again! :awesome: :awesome:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Fri Mar 06, 2020 12:16 pm

Yes, I'll post it all, and maybe I will even finish the last book in the series, and the prequel stuff I was writing.
Chapter Four

“This canned cheeseburger’s pretty good,” said the stout, bearded man behind the wheel of a battered Subaru Forester. The car was lifted, with off-road tires; it had steel mesh over the windshield and chain link bolted over the side and rear windows. “What did I say? Just leave it on the dashboard for a while and it heats right up.”

“I’d rather eat dog,” said the dark-eyed and dark-haired woman beside him, “than eat that.”

“Well, fresh meat would be all right,” said the man. “I guess dog would maybe taste like pork.”

“More like mutton,” said the woman.

“You ate dog, Tallulah?” asked the man. “Why didn’t I know that already?”

“Because you never read before posting, Scoots” said Tallulah. “I mentioned it on the ‘what have you eaten?’ thread.”

“Oh, right,” said Scoots slowly, sounding as if he only pretended to remember. “What I could really go for,” he went on, “is a Sonic burger.”

“You said that when we pulled in,” said Tallulah, looking at the derelict drive-in restaurant they had backed into, where girls on roller skates used to bring trays of hot, salty food to happy diners in cars. Grass was already growing high in the asphalt cracks, and the restaurant windows were mostly shattered. Paper drifted in the hot August breeze.

Scoots finished his burger, chewing his mouthful of soggy beef and bun with bulging cheeks. Tallulah slowly and deliberately spooned a can of Cuban-style black beans into her mouth.

“Ready to hit the road again?” Scoots asked.

“Give me a few more minutes,” said Tallulah.

“I’d like to get through Adairsboro as fast as we can,” said Scoots. “I don’t want a repeat of Knoxville.”

“We get through when we get through,” said Tallulah. “You know I don’t like to hurry.”

“You can move pretty fast when you want to.”

“Everything has a time and place.” She scraped the bean gravy from the bottom of the can, licked the spork clean, and tossed the can into a nearby garbage can from her open window.

“Nice shot,” said Scoots. “So where did you eat dog again?”

“In Colombia.”

“Was that South Carolina or South America?”

Tallulah turned and looked at him.

“It was a civil war, but I wasn’t fighting Yankees. What do you think?”

“Oh, right,” said Scoots.

“Did you ever read anyone’s posts other than your own?” she asked.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “Mostly in the Firearms subforum.”

Tallulah made a wanking motion with her hand.

“AK or AR?” she asked.

“Mosin-Nagant,” said Scoots.

“Yeah,” she said, looking at the buttstock poking between the front seats. “Thing takes up half the car. You could at least take the bayonet off.”

“Never know when you’ll need it.”

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s get moving.” She pulled her AR-15 from the back seat and held it at the ready, the barrel poking out her window.

Scoots started the engine and put the car in drive. They rolled out of their spot and out of the parking lot into the southbound lanes of the town’s main street. Scoots weaved among the stalled and abandoned cars, squeezing through gaps, as Tallulah’s eyes darted, on the lookout for zombies.
The town petered out and was replaced by rolling horse farms and woods.

“Hey, stop,” said Tallulah. “Look.”

On a rise in a pasture, they saw a horse running. There was a small mob of ghouls trying to pursue it. Then they saw the colt beyond the horse.

“Horse is trying to keep them away from her baby,” said Scoots. The horse circled back to the ghouls and let fly a kick that shattered a ghoul’s head.

“Damn!” said Scoots. “That was awesome!”

“There are too many of them,” said Tallulah. “They’re going to corner her eventually. Stop here for a minute.”

Scoots pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. Tallulah got out with her rifle and walked through the ditch to a well-made plank fence. She uncovered her optics and rested on the fence. She could see the ghouls clearly through the scope. There were women and men, kids and old people, all with the characteristic mottled flesh and gaping mouths of the undead.

She lined up her sights, exhaled and squeezed the trigger. One down. The horse nickered and trotted away, toward her colt. Then again. Two, three, four, five. Within thirty seconds she had laid to rest in the tall grass nineteen ghouls.

Tallulah whistled. The mare circled and began to trot toward the fence. The colt followed. Tallulah bent and pulled a handful of purple clover from the ditch outside the fence. She offered it over the rail. The mare approached tentatively; her colt hung back.

“It’s okay,” said Tallulah. “Come on.”

The horse, an Appaloosa, stepped gingerly closer, craned her neck, and peeled her lips back to take the bouquet of clover. Tallulah smiled at the soft, vegetative munching sound. The colt shyly watched.

Tallulah looked around and spotted some Queen Anne’s Lace. She stooped and pulled it out of the ground. She offered the root to the horse, who ate it crunchily.

Behind Tallulah, a car door slammed and the horse wheeled and ran, chasing her colt ahead of her. Tallulah turned around. Scoots was standing next to the car, looking embarrassed.

“Sorry,” he said. “I wanted to pet the horsie.”

Tallulah picked up her rifle and swept the muzzle in his direction. Scoots instinctively ducked behind the car. Tallulah fired and a black hole appeared in the forehead of a ghoul that had come out of the woods across the road. The revenant fell to the pavement.

“Holy shit!” said Scoots. “Thanks!”

“No problem,” said Tallulah. “But you’d better grab your gun. Look.”

Among the trees and understory, they saw movement. Ghouls emerged from the green wall. Tallulah quickly changed magazines and started shooting. Scoots drew his sidearm and aimed, taking a shot for every three of Tallulah’s. Zombies fell, but more took their place.

“Shhh!” hissed Tallulah. Scoots stopped firing for a moment. They heard the rustle of hundreds of feet through leaf litter, the woods. The crowd began to surge out of the forest, stumbling through the ditch and into the road. Scoots changed magazines and began to fire again.

“Let’s go!” he cried, opening the driver door and climbing in.

Tallulah calmly fired until she was dry. Ghouls were stepping onto the highway from the trees up and down the road. She got in the car. Scoots jerked the shifter into drive and punched the accelerator. Tallulah reached behind the seat and pulled out two steel mesh screens shaped like car door windows. She hung one of them on four hooks attached to the roof over the window and fastened the bottom edge to the door with wingnuts.

“Grab the wheel a minnit,” said Scoots. Tallulah took the wheel in her left hand while Scoots affixed his screen. She weaved in and out of the shamblers in the road, sideswiping them when she could manage to do so.

The crowd thinned out as the road climbed a hill, leaving the woods behind. At the crest of the hill, they reached a road cut with steep rock walls on either side.

“Stop here a sec,” said Tallulah. Scoots slowed the Subaru to a stop. Tallulah detached her window wire, got out and looked back down the hill. Scoots did the same.

They saw the woods to the right extended a couple of hundred yards east, where they ended at a pasture. Beyond the pasture was a cluster of homes, barns and warehouse-style prefabs. The pasture between the woods and the houses was teeming with ghouls.

To the left was the pasture with the mare and colt, and on its western edge were a large house and a horse barn. They saw that the pasture appeared to be littered with many more “dead” ghouls than Tallulah had shot. The mare had been defending her colt for some time, evidently. But they were still trapped inside the fence. Back down the road, ghouls poured across the two-lane and through the ditch, and clambered through the fence into the paddock. A few shambled up the road in the direction of Scoots and Tallulah.

“Oh, no,” said Tallulah. “We can’t have this.”

“We don’t have the ammo to take out that horde,” said Scoots. “At least, not to have much left over.”

Tallulah looked at the farmhouse. The driveway disappeared around the hill. She guessed its entrance lay down the road a piece.

“No, we can’t shoot them all,” said Tallulah, “and anyway, I think I attracted them with my shooting. Let’s drive ahead.”

They got back in the car and Scoots drove through the road cut and down the hill on the other side. Tallulah saw a driveway entrance with an ornate sign that read: Huckleberry Hill Horse Ranch. There was a bar gate across the paved driveway. It was chained shut.

“Turn in here,” she said.

“It’s gated,” said Scoots.

“I’ll take care of that,” she said. She walked to the back of the car and opened the hatch. She rummaged through a duffel bag and pulled out bolt-cutters. She walked to the gate and popped the link of the chain that held the padlock. She pushed the gate open and waved Scoots in. He did as she instructed.

Tallulah got back in the car and Scoots drove up the driveway toward the house. There were fenced pastures on both sides, and a pond to their right.

“That stock pond is getting kind of low,” said Tallulah. “That colt could get stuck in the mud.”

Scoots looked at the pond and agreed. The mare and colt were trotting across the field toward the car.

“There’s a gate,” said Tallulah. “Stop here.”

Tallulah got out and went to the gate. The mare slowed to a walk, but continued to approach. Tallulah popped the lock and opened the gate. The mare nickered quietly and walked up to Tallulah. She stroked the horse’s nose and rubbed her between the ears, talking softly. The colt stood nearby.

“You’re free to go where you want to,” said Tallulah to the mare. She then turned and got back in the car. “Let’s get going,” she said.

Scoots turned the car around and drove out. Tallulah looked in her mirror and saw the mare and colt trotting down the driveway after them. Scoots made a right turn on the highway and accelerated south. Tallulah watched her mirror. The mare and her young one stepped out onto the highway as a horde of ghouls appeared on the crest of the road behind them. Then Scoots crested the next hill and Tallulah lost sight of them.

“S’pose someone was staying at the house and you just let their horse out?” asked Scoots.

“There was nobody at that house,” said Tallulah.

“How do you know?” asked Scoots.

“No truck or trailer in the shed,” she said. “Owners never came home. Also, the padlock was on the outside of the driveway gate. Outside when away, inside when home.”

“Makes sense,” said Scoots.

A sign on the side of the road read: Adairsboro 20mi.

“Not far to Adairsboro now,” said Scoots, “but it’s getting late. Maybe we should find a place for the night before we get there so we can blast through tomorrow.”

“Okay,” said Tallulah. “But it’s pronounced ‘Adairboro.’” She turned her head and looked out the steel mesh at the rolling landscape.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by FlashDaddy » Fri Mar 06, 2020 2:22 pm


Perfect pre/post quarantine reading!

Thanks DB!
- Flash

Browncoat, food & H2O storing Dad. "I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me."
"Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other people or the majority, it's a right that belongs to all of us."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Fri Mar 06, 2020 3:51 pm

Chapter Five

James Adair walked past an inert carousel, its prancing ponies frozen mid-canter, and gazed across the park grounds toward the river. The Chestnut Street Bridge was bright and inviting, with shreds of festival bunting fluttering in the breeze. But it was crowded with revenants. The field between him and the bridge was dotted with ghouls.

He pushed his hand through his hair and sighed. He retreated to the carousel and squatted on his haunches behind a gilded horse. Sunlight reflected off the grass and up into the gaudy paint and mirrors of the carousel, illuminating the man’s chiseled face with soft color. The reds and blonds lit up in his otherwise dark beard. His dusk-tinted eyes scanned for opportunities. He touched the key on the string like a holy relic and softly chanted a song.

On the day that they lower you, what song will they play? When the Man gives the eulogy, what will he say? Will you leave your mark or just fade away? Will you finish your mission at the end of the day?

He loosened the stained war club from the loop on his belt and he waited.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by Nancy1340 » Sat Mar 07, 2020 12:55 am

Oh I remember this one! One of my favorites. :clap:

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by idahobob » Sun Mar 08, 2020 10:51 am

Since we are self quarantining, this will help to pass the time! :clap: :clap:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Mon Mar 09, 2020 7:48 am

Chapter Six

Rob opened his eyes. All he saw was a blank gray texture and he thought his eyes were clouded with sleep. He focused his eyes and saw the gray texture was his headliner fabric. He was reclined in the driver’s seat and the sun was not yet up. He stretched his arms over his head and then pulled the seat upright. He opened the door and stepped out with the pistol, looking around the garage bays. Everything was all right in here. What about out there? He peered out the windows of the bay door.

There were some shamblers walking in the gray predawn street. They reminded Rob of the early-morning geriatric walkers he would see at the track around the practice field. Except these walkers were aimless and lackadaisical. Their track suits didn’t swish with their strides. He counted them. Five. They didn’t look like sprinters.

He would have to open the gate to get the Ford out. If he opened the garage first, it would attract them, but he’d want the truck ready when he was ready to roll. He pondered as he opened a package of duck sauce and sucked the contents. He walked out of the bays and into the back office. He closed the door and clicked on his flashlight. There was a half-empty cigarette pack on a greasy desk calendar. He looked in the drawers. He found a bag of sunflower seeds and took it. He found a ring of keys. Rob guessed the gate padlock key was on it. He pocketed it. He found an open carton of cigarettes, two-thirds full. He took that, too. He didn’t smoke, but Uncle Dave did.

Rob sat down at the desk. He found a pen and a pad, set his light to one side, and wrote:

Dear sirs,
It was necessary for us to requisition/commandeer several items from your inventory or in your possession. We took:
1. 1 Beretta 9mm automatic from Audi
2. 1 partial carton Parliament Cigarettes
3. 1 package of sunflower seeds

He left it unfinished, as it occurred to him he might want to commandeer some additional items. He searched the office. Cash box—didn’t need it. Clean coveralls, size large, yes. Truck keys. Probably to the wrecker, which was not in the lot. He turned his light off and stepped into the outer office. There were packages of instant coffee. He took those. Powdered creamer, most definitely! He put everything in his truck.

He saw a plexi face shield and put it in the Explorer. He’d liked to have had one with a hard hat, but this would do. He got dangerously close to having zombie gore splatter in his face. He wasn’t nearly as armored as he should be. He was going to have to bring his game up. They had hunkered down on that hilltop long enough. It was past time to get proactive.

He went back to the office and finished the note:

4. 11 packages instant coffee
5. 1 can powdered creamer
6. 1 pr lg coveralls
7. 1 safety face shield
8. 1 pr wk gloves

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. We hope to reimburse you at a future date.
Robin McReady
Euchee County Govt.
Dept. of Parks + Recreation

Then he added:

P.S. We neutralized a threat in the men’s room. We apologize for the mess, and if that was you in there, we apologize for that, too.

And then:

We are sorry for the loss of your dogs. If it’s any consolation, their bodies were undisturbed.

Rob left the letter on the desk and went to his truck. He put on the coverall and then the safety shield over his backward ballcap. He put the pistol in his pocket and got his bat. He looked out the window of the bay door and saw the dawn had come. There were now eight of them in the street. He stepped quietly out the door.

The shamblers appeared to be gathering in the road. More were coming from up and down the street. So far, none had taken notice of Rob. The breeze of daybreak was in his face, and he could smell their reek. He began to get a sickening sense that he would be trapped inside this fence. He slipped around the corner of the building to the back. He double-checked among the cars parked behind the building to be sure there were no creeps inside with him. He noted with disappointment his failure to do so last night, but the cars were clear. There was a strip of weed trees beyond the fence and a parking lot to a run-down shopping center behind. He could see more shamblers in the lot. He did a quick count. More than a dozen. He sighed and slipped back into the office, removing his face shield.

Sitting at the desk, he removed the magazine from the pistol and took the cartridges out, counting. He had fifteen rounds. He had spent one yesterday on the guy in the men’s room. But if he started shooting, more would come. He wondered if his shot last night had drawn them to his hideout.

He pondered the gate. He could unlock it and open it just enough to let one at a time in and then pound them one by one with his bat. The fun had gone out of that game, though, and his muscles were sore. Crashing the gate was not an option—he could damage his truck, pop his tires. He got up and looked out. There were two dozen or more outside the gate now. All they needed was to get wind of him and they would be clamoring to get in. He didn’t think he could wait them out with what he had to eat and drink.

Rob went to the Audi and took the key out of the glove box. He opened the trunk. There was nothing helpful. No extra boxes of 9mm. No AR-15. No flamethrower. Yeah, he thought. Flaming zombies would be just what I need.

The only thing he could think to do was ready the Explorer for a quick exit, open the gate, outrun them and run them over.

Unhappy with his options, Rob put on the face shield and walked into the garage. He pulled the chain and raised the bay door. This got the attention of the zombies. They came hissing and moaning up to the gate, their rotting fingers grasping and shaking the chain link. He got in the Ford and pulled it out of the bay. He stepped out, leaving the engine running and the door open. More were coming down from the shopping center and clamoring at the side fence. He began to doubt his plan.

Rob stood in the parking lot. His bat was in his hand. The ghouls rattled the cage—his cage. They were too numerous now to get a good head count. No way could he open the gate now. His heart was drumming his ribcage. He should have left before dawn.

He wondered if he should just wait until they broke the fence down and then drive out. He could do that. He could wait them out. Maybe he could even unchain the gate to make it easy for them. He jingled the keys. The zombies snarled and pushed on the wire. He was happy to see it hold up so well; it gave him confidence in the fence at home protecting his family on Mt. Adair. He wondered if he would see his family again, or if this was going to be his last stand.

Rob wished the wrecker were on site. He could drive a big truck like that right over the fence and over them, but he knew the Ford wouldn’t make it. He was in a pickle and was going to be tagged if he didn’t make a move. He started to walk toward the gate, toward the gibbering horde.

Then Rob heard a series of popping noises and he saw crania bloom and wilt flowers of gore. He froze. More pops and more blooms. He was bewildered because it seemed as if he heard before he saw their heads pop. He cocked his head and furrowed his brow like a puzzled hound. Then it dawned on him: someone was shooting them from somewhere!

He felt his head turn slowly on a swivel hinge greased with gum to the east. In the middle of the boulevard was what appeared to be an armored station wagon. There was a figure flanking the car on foot, rifle raised, sun at his back. Pop pop pop. The ghouls fell uncomplaining to the pavement. Then he heard, “Step away from the fence, please, sir!”
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by idahobob » Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:32 am

Moar! Needs Moar! :awesome: :awesome:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Fri Mar 13, 2020 8:24 am

Chapter Seven

It was dark when Tallulah woke Scoots. Groggy, he looked around to get his bearings. He was in a bedroom. In a farmhouse. Tallulah was wearing her headlamp, and he couldn’t see her face. The shadows in the room moved as she walked toward the door. Scoots realized he wasn’t wearing pants.

He flicked on his lantern and pulled his pants on. He looked at his watch and saw that the hour matched the light through the window. He just wanted to sleep some more, but he realized he had been the one who wanted to get through the city in a hurry.

Scoots took a pouch out of his pack and opened it up. He pinched some green leaf from a tin and packed it in a small pipe. A couple of puffs and it was ash. He felt relaxed yet energetic. Wake and bake. The best way to kick-start a day.

He rolled up his kit and went downstairs carrying the lantern. Looking around the living room, he didn’t see Tallulah.

“Turn your light off.” Tallulah’s voice from another room. Scoots turned off his lamp and fumbled through the darkness in the direction of her voice. He banged his knee on a piece of furniture.

Tallulah sat in the darkened living kitchen. Her headlamp was off.

“Afraid someone will see us?” he asked.

“I’m afraid of nothing,” she answered. “I’m letting my eyes adjust to the dark. But being spotted is a risk.”

Tallulah had picked the house, a brick two-story with columns and a second-floor sleeping porch. Tallulah slept on the porch. Mosquitoes never bothered her, but they ate Scoots alive. So he preferred to sleep indoors.

“Ready to go?” asked Tallulah.

“Uh, what about breakfast?”

“Eat in the car. I’ll drive.”

“Okay,” Scoots said with resignation.

Tallulah drove in the pre-dawn with lights off, going faster than Scoots thought was safe. He gripped his knees and clenched his sphincter whenever she swerved to miss some darker darkness in the dark. He had spent too much of his life in front of a computer screen and his night vision was terrible. He also hated carrots, so there was that. Scoots was anxious for the world to go ahead a turn a little more so his part of the earth would face the sun.

“Look, there’s the lake,” said Tallulah.

“Where?” asked Scoots.

“To the right, through those trees. There’s mist rising. See the lighter gray through there?”

“No. How in the hell do you see that?”

“I treat my eyes with the respect they deserve,” she said. “So they are happy to work hard for me.”

“Oh- kay,” said Scoots, rolling his own eyes. He looked out the window trying to see the lake. After a while, he thought he might have been seeing it. But he wasn’t sure.

They drove down the highway, skirting the lake recreation area on the eastern shore. Forms took shape out of the darkness like steam rising from black coffee. The world around Scoots went from black to charcoal to gray to blue. The highway was lined with those businesses that occupy the margins of cities: tractor supply and equipment rentals, feed and seed, miniature golf. There was a little strip mall with a nail salon, a tax preparer, and a Mexican restaurant. And the shadows—the silhouettes—he saw—or thought he saw—in the black early hours had bestowed upon them by dawn the familiar features of the revenant ghoul.
The sky burned yellow in the east as they topped a rise and saw the city spread out below them, still in the blue shadow of the earth. Sunlight gilded the plateau to the west, just on the rim, soon to begin the slow dawn cascade down the mountainside, flooding the valley with Day.

There were a few shamblers in the street, and a staggerer heading in their direction with some interest. Scoots consulted a map.

“Straight ahead and down the hill we can go left or right. East through the tunnel or west across the dam. East through the tunnel to Lee Highway and then south to Ooltewah. Once we get there, I have directions and instructions from Dwayne to his compound.”


“Yeah, you know, passwords and signals so he knows it’s us.”

“Yeah, okay.” Tallulah nodded.

A ghoul slapped against the passenger window, startling Scoots into crushing the map.

“Shit!” he yelped. The ghoul scratched and clawed at the glass. Scoots had not affixed his protective mesh screen. Another ghoul was working its way around the front of the car, its eyes on Tallulah. Tallulah put the car in drive and rolled over it. It let out a rasping cry as the tires crushed its ribcage.

Tallulah drove down the long hill to the intersection.

“It’s blocked,” said Scoots. “And look, those cars have been moved.”

“I can get around,” said Tallulah. She pulled into a parking lot, drove over a curb and a landscaped area, tearing out bushes and spinning a tire or two, then along the top of a narrow berm with a fence and a pylon sign on one side and a six-foot vertical drop on the other, and then between two parallel trailers, before emerging on the boulevard.

“Intersection cleared for east/west traffic,” said Tallulah. “I don’t think that was an intentional roadblock. Just where they put the cars.”

“Hey, there’s dead people in the road,” said Scoots.

“Look like deanimated zombies to me,” said Tallulah.

“Well, that’s what I meant,” said Scoots.

“They were dragging the cars out from this side,” said Tallulah, “which means they were going that way.” She pointed west toward the dam.

“Should we investigate?” asked Scoots. “We haven’t seen a living person in weeks.”

“I thought you wanted to get through this city aysap.”

“Yeah, but if there’s someone nearby, they might have news or something. We could just follow their trail for a little bit, see what we see.”

“Hm,” said Tallulah, drumming her fingers on the wheel. “Okay.” She turned the wheel and drove through the gap that had been cleared in the intersection.

They passed bodies in the road. Scoots looked at them as he and Tallulah drove by.

“They all have their heads bashed in,” he said. “No bullet holes I can see. This guy’s a real slugger.”

Tallulah drove through another partially cleared intersection. They passed more deanimated ghouls, all with smashed heads.

“Whoa!” said Tallulah. “Check that out.” She pointed down the boulevard. On the southwest corner of an intersection was an auto shop surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Swarming the fence at the gate was a crowd of dozens of revenants clawing at the wire. Just inside the fence, staring at the horde, was a man holding a baseball bat. An official-looking green Ford Explorer sat in the lot behind the man.

“That must be Slugger,” said Scoots.

Tallulah grabbed her rifle and a tactical vest loaded with spare magazines. She unhooked her window cage and stepped out of the car. She took some shots and dropped some ghouls. The man at the gate looked bewildered. Scoots picked up the CB mic from the dashboard and flipped the switch to loudspeaker.

“Hey, Slugger,” he bellowed through the speaker. “Please step away from the fence, sir.”

The man looked up, startled, and saw them. He backed away from the fence and stood behind the Explorer. Many in the horde turned to the source of the sound and broke away, staggering, shambling, loping toward Tallulah and Scoots. Scoots grabbed his Mosin and jumped out of the car.

Tallulah fired as Scoots shoved rounds into his rifle. Zombies were dropping like folks at a revival receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. Holey spurt, thought Scoots. He fired his rifle and the explosion rang his bell. Forgot my ear pro! Scoots lamented. He slid the bolt and fired again, and again. The crack of Tallulah’s rifle sounded like it was coming through cotton in his ears.

Tallulah swapped magazines, slid the bolt and resumed firing. Scoots reloaded. He lined up three ghouls in his sights and fired. The slug ripped through three rotting crania in quick succession.

“Hah!” he gloated. “Did you see that?”

“No,” said Tallulah. “Shut up and shoot.”

A fast ghoul broke from the struggling herd and loped toward them while Tallulah was changing magazines. Scoots charged it with his bayonet and skewered its face. It rasped and struggled for a moment and went limp. Scoots tossed it to the side as if he were pitching manure. Black-red goo coated the blade. More ghouls turned away from the fence and lurched toward the two zombie slayers.

Scoots drew his pistol and aimed, fired. Tallulah tossed her carbine in the driver seat and followed suit. When they stopped firing, the pavement was littered with three score or more revenants, some incapacitated, most terminated.

Scoots let out a whoop and grabbed his Mosin. He made his way down the road toward the auto shop, stopping to stab zombies in the head as he walked. He made his way to the gate, stabbing every skull within reach.

“A big howdy-do from the Zombie Squad. We make dead things deader. My name’s Scoots. I’d offer you my hand in greeting, but there’s this gate here, see.”

“Oh, sorry,” said the man, who was big, but not as old as Scoots initially thought. The man, wearing garage coveralls, fumbled with keys. “My name is Rob. How did you get here?”

“We followed your trail of bread crumbs right to your door. I’ve been calling you Slugger. Consider me a fan of your work. Mind if we bring our car in your place here?”

“I guess not,” said Rob. “It’s actually not my place, but come on in. Are you going to just drive over them or should we move them?”

Scoots laughed. “You feel like dragging them out of the way?”

“I guess not,” Rob said again. Scoots hollered for Tallulah to bring the car in. He and Rob watched her drive over the bodies. Rob rolled the gate shut and locked it.

“We shouldn’t stay here long,” said Rob. “More will come.”

“Indeed they will,” said Scoots. “Indeed they will.”
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by Zed Hunter » Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:38 am

Just post the damn storey.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:44 am

Zed Hunter wrote:
Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:38 am
Just post the damn storey.
LOL OK. Here is some more.
Chapter Eight

“So,” said Scoots, “what’s your story?”

“I’m heading to Wayatewah,” said Rob.

“That’s a fur piece,” said Scoots.

“And then I’m coming back,” said Rob.

“Coming back into the city?” asked Tallulah. “Why?”

“My wife and kids are in a safe place in the city,” said Rob. “I’m going to my uncle’s for supplies. If he’s alive, I’ll bring him with me.”

“What’s this safe place?” asked Tallulah.

“Well,” Rob began, hesitating. He shifted his weight and looked away. “It’s on a hilltop, with a good fence around the base, and steep bluffs, and only one road up the hill. There’s water, and a good sized creek. You can see the whole valley from the big house.”

“Sounds like a place made for a last stand,” said Scoots. “What’s it called?”

“Adair House,” said Tallulah.

“Oh, you’ve heard of it,” said Rob, his eyes first darting uncertainly to Tallulah, and then locking for the first time to appraise her. He saw a woman of indeterminate age—twenties or thirties?—with a relaxed and slightly amused expression, wearing a combat loadout in an obsolete military pattern, kneepads, chest rig, shooting gloves, and bulging magazine pouches. Was she Hispanic? Rob wasn’t sure.

“Historic landmark in Adairsboro,” she replied. “Yeah, it’s like the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but commercially underexploited.”

Rob laughed.

“That’s what some people were saying. The fight never stopped over that place.” He stopped. “Well, I guess it has now. As far as I know, I’m the only Euchee County employee left alive. I’m the…” he fibbed, “ranger in charge.”

“Ranger?” asked Tallulah. “You got your badge under your coveralls?”

“I am wearing my county uniform, but no, I don’t have a badge. The truth is I was going to be sworn in as a county park ranger. Three weeks after the outbreak was the date. Right after graduation. After the outbreak, I promoted myself.”

“Well, shoot,” said Scoots. “If you’re gonna promote yourself, go for County Sheriff, or Mayor!”

“Those are elected positions,” said Rob seriously. “They require a plebiscite. I just took the job that was offered me anyway, and I’m fulfilling my duties to police the Adair historic site and park.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Scoots. “We’re not going to stand in your way.” He laughed. “We promoted ourselves to Professional Zombie Hunters. We were card-carriers anyway, and we talked about it on the internet, so we figured it was a growth industry now.”

“Are you mercenaries?” asked Rob.

“More like boy scouts,” said Scoots. “We believe in being prepared for any disaster. We’d go camping, go to the shooting range.”

“Gardening and canning and food storage was a big part of it, too,” said Tallulah. “You can only eat a bullet once.”

“And we talked about zombies on the internet,” said Scoots. “We said, ‘If you can survive a zombie outbreak, you can survive anything.’”

“So far so good,” said Tallulah.

“So where are you two going?” asked Rob.

“We were heading down to Grindstone Mountain in Hamilton County,” said Scoots. “We knew—know—some people there, more zombie hunters. We expect to find them in good shape.” Scoots nodded as if to reassure himself they were in fact in good shape.

“That route will take you past Adair House,” said Rob. “You’d be welcome to stay, but you won’t be able to get in without breaking in. Cindy won’t let anyone inside, I’m sure. So I have a proposal. And I’ll make it quick, because more zeds are coming.” Scoots turned around to look. Tallulah had already been looking, her eyes judging the distance between the living and the undead, her finger stroking the trigger guard on her AR.

“Come with me on my trip,” said Rob. “Help me get there and there is more ammo and food in it for you. Then come to the Adair House and rest up on your way to Grindstone Mountain. I realize Ineed some help getting this done. I need to do this and get back to my family.”

“Who has this ammo?” asked Tallulah, opening the driver door of the Subaru.

“My uncle, Judge David McReady,” said Rob. “He has more ammo than you can carry.”

Scoots looked at Tallulah with the question in his eyes. Tallulah shrugged slightly.

“Any ammo I expend gets replenished, I’m happy,” she said. “Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m always good to go.”

“Okay, Sheriff Pusser!” said Scoots, clapping Rob on the back. “We’re in. Now let’s get out of here before we have to use any more ammo. I’ll ride with you. Tallie, you want to take point?”

Tallulah nodded and disappeared into the Forester. The engine burbled to life and she did a quick reverse two-point turn. Rob climbed into the Explorer and Scoots followed suit. They followed Tallulah, each vehicle in turn bumping over the bodies of recently de-animated revenants.

“Wait a minute,” said Rob as he followed Tallulah’s impossible circuit through the obstacles in the streets. “She doesn’t know where we’re going. I should take point.”

“She knows we’re going to Wayatewah,” said Scoots. “That’s all she needs for now. We’ll stop somewhere and you can give her the house address. I’d say she’s a human GPS, but I’m not altogether sure she’s human. I think she’s an alien—or an angel.”

Rob laughed and looked at Scoots, who wasn’t smiling, only nodding sagely.

“What?” Rob protested. “You can’t really believe….”

Scoots let a grin erupt. “Naw, man, I’m just kidding. She burps and farts just like the rest of us.”

Rob relaxed and laughed.

“Of course,” added Scoots, “so did Jesus.”

Rob looked sharply at Scoots, who winked.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Fri Mar 13, 2020 10:02 am

Chapter Nine

James contemplated the large chain link double gate—topped with concertina wire—that stood before him at the end of the bridge that crossed the creek that bore his surname on maps. Beyond the gate, the road snaked up the hillside. Two stone pillars marked the start of the grade. Inscribed in a sandstone plaque set into one of the pillars were the words: Adair Community. The other pillar read: 1925.

The sign on the gate read: EUCHEE COUNTY PROPERTY: NO TRESPASSING. There was a heavy chain and padlock binding the gates tightly together.

Can’t get there from here, he thought, and the old tune by that band from Athens began to play in his mind. When the world is a monster, bad to swallow you whole....

James stepped off the road and onto the creekbank. He followed the perimeter fence—also chain-link and topped with razor wire—around the base of the hill to the north, looking up at the boulder-strewn slope. I've been there, I know the way, his mind chanted melodically. His footsteps fell in the leaf litter in time with the song.

Then he stopped and admonished himself. Habits have consequences. The songs in his head sometimes took over, reducing him to a human metronome, an unaware mechanism tapping out time. He might miss the copperhead lying across his path, the stumphole that could break his ankle—or the lurching anthropoid figure approaching him right now, askew, beyond a tangle of grape vines on the far side of the creek.

James unslung his carbine and dropped to one knee. He peered at the silhouette through his monocular.

Magnified, the face he saw was a horror. It had been a man in his 40s or 50s, judging from his salt and pepper hair. His eyes were milky and his mouth was a gaping raw hole with broken teeth and a swollen, liver-colored tongue. His head swayed on a corded neck, with shreds of flesh hanging like moulting feathers over the collar of a tattered shirt that was black with fluids and scaled with dried mud.

James watched the ghoul pause and lift its head. It appeared to sniff and taste the air, panting. It uttered a breathy bark: “Huh!” and stepped forward into the tangle of grapevines and tripped, pitching forward. Its torso hit a large, twisting vine which held. Its feet flipped up in the air and its trousers snagged in a snarl of greenbriar. It raged pathetically—Huh! Huh! Huh Huh!—kicking its feet like a fly in a web, struggling, only to be further ensnared. For the first time, the ghoul seemed to look straight at James with an expression of forlorn madness.

James stood and reslung his carbine. He resumed following the fence, with one eye on the ragged man, whose gaze followed him as he walked away.
Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! Beyond the tangle and thicket along the creek, James saw the park, its ballfields growing rough with high grass and blackberry briars. Parting the weeds like a team of ghosts, more ghouls slowly walked toward the creek. No more music played in his head, only the skin drum of his heart in his ears.

With the sound of yelps and moans diminishing behind him, James crept quickly west, keeping low, the high chain link fence and rocky bluff to his left, the creek to his right. The ground dropped away before him as he approached the fall line. The stream rushed noisily over rocks now, and he could hear the low growl of the waterfall ahead. The sun was lowering in the southwest and he was in deep shade for now, wading through a knee-high forest of lush, green poison ivy with leaves as big as his face.

Ahead and to his left, he saw the gold-green light of foliage illuminated by the sun, and he could see the outline of the bluff against the sky through the trees. He knew he would reach his goal soon. The rapids were louder and he no longer heard the mournful cries of hungry revenants behind him. The ground became rocky, with a ruin of large cut stone blocks emerging from the bracken—an old mill foundation—and he found himself on a precipice twenty feet high. The creek spilled frothily over the lip of a large, flat rock and plunged into a pool below. Turning slowly in the pool was a rotting human figure, face-down. James looked at it for a long moment, and then he abruptly turned left—south—to follow the fence’s course, walking quickly into the sunlight below the western face of the bluff.

James walked the edge of the stone ledge and looked down at the soft green carpet of poison ivy growing twenty feet below. Beyond the poison ivy, a small stream flowed north into the creek. He walked the ledge to the source of the stream, where the ledge came to a dead end at a grotto. The small stream trickled from a source hidden in a riot of green at the base of the bluff. The high chain link fence continued on, its galvanized posts set with concrete into holes drilled into the rock. It crossed the ledge path and blocking his way to the grotto. Beyond the choked pool was a set of stone stairs leading up. He stood facing the fence with his hands on his hips. He could go no further on this path.

More poison ivy, he thought, considering the other side of the fence.

He wished he could just cut the fence, but even if he had the tools, he wouldn’t do that.

Don’t break what you have, he thought. Build on it.

He bent and gripped the bottom of the fence and tugged it, testing its give. It was pretty tight.

Where the water trickled out, James saw that there was a gap between the fence and the stone, but it was filled with flowing water and choked with poison ivy. There was some wobble to the wire there.

He could squeeze under it. But not with all my gear, he thought. I’d have to throw it over the fence. And then there’s that poison ivy!

James leaned his rifle against the fence and unshouldered his backpack. He sat on the rock ledge, reached into his shell bag and took out a pouch of chewing tobacco. He pulled out a pinch of sticky brown shreds and tucked the wad in his cheek. His feet dangled off the rock ledge and he pondered the fence problem.

James sat there, looking out over the wooded hollow that turned into a privacy-fenced subdivision a few hundred yards to the west. He noticed movement among the trees beyond the stream—a mix of dense pine and cedar, with a rusty carpet of needles and very little undergrowth. A revenant appeared, staggering like a drunk, bouncing from tree to tree, snagging its tatters on cedar sticks and being spun this way and that like a clumsy square dancer. Finally, it cleared the evergreens and paused in the forest of beeches and gums among the big sycamore and poplar trees. It raised its milky eyes and saw James. It cried out in a rasp and loped toward him. James spat and got up quickly, reaching for his rifle.

When the ghoul reached the stream, it slipped on a mossy rock. Its head struck a large stone in the stream and split open like a melon, the contents of the skull fouling the water. The revenant twitched and rasped for a moment, then lay still. James laughed aloud in spite of himself. Another bullet saved for a rainy day, he thought. He spat out his tobacco. Now to get through that fence.

Inside the fence, on a post, was an official county sign: NO ROCK CLIMBING. Penalties for violation of this rule were detailed below in smaller print.
James saw spray paint tags on the cliff face above him. Somebody had been climbing, he thought. Could have been before the fence was put up. Still….

He put on his pack and slung his gun and stepped across the trickle, He held onto the fence, edging his way along the diminishing ledge until he had to search for a toehold. The fence served well for hand- and toeholds, so he scuttled around the promontory, twenty feet above the ground. Around the curve of the rock face was another ledge, and the fence was high enough from the ledge and far enough from the cliff face for him to crawl under and climb.

The rock face was tagged with spray paint here, too. Thank you, brothers, may you rest in peace.

James clipped his pack to the bottom of the fence with a carabiner and crawled under the links, unclipping and dragging the pack behind him. He looked up at the rock and saw that there were a number of good handholds, but he couldn’t climb it with the pack on his back. It would be a tight squeeze past the razor wire, too.

With a long length of nylon cord fastened to his pack—to which was strapped his shell bag and rifle—and looped through the carabiner on his belt, James ascended the rock face.

And the music in his head began again. Tom Petty, this time. We gotta get to a higher place and I hope we all arrive together. A song in his head for most occasions, whether he wanted one or not.

Halfway up the cliff face, James reached the top of the fence, with its ferocious coil of razor wire. He hugged the wall as he stretched for his next handhold, avoiding the cutting edges and barbs. He had nearly cleared the wire when his right trouser leg raked the wire and nearly snagged, pulling his center of gravity just far enough away from the wall for him to panic, but his grip held and his balance steadied. His heart raced for a minute as he clung, still, to the wall, his hands slippery with sweat, mosquitoes droning around his ears.

He heaved himself over the edge at the top after the five-yard climb. He rested on a pale green lichen-encrusted boulder thirty-five feet above the ground, the gray nylon cord trailing out of sight below. He could see over the evergreens to the rooftops of the neighborhood nearby: rolling hills of red, green, gray and brown asphalt shingles. James reckoned the sun was two hours from setting.

He found good purchase and began to reel in the line.
Mostly not here anymore.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by idahobob » Sat Mar 14, 2020 7:02 pm

Keep 'er coming, dogbane! :clap: :clap:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by dogbane » Mon Mar 16, 2020 3:07 pm

Chapter Ten

Jimmy dashed through the great foyer, singing. He loved the way his voice echoed off the arched ceiling. He loved the sunlight filtering through the green glass skylight onto the strangely patterned tile floor. His grandmother shushed him harshly from the dim parlor to the right of the entrance.

You’ll wake your Pop-Pop! she hissed.

Pop-Pop, Jimmy’s great-grandfather, was old as dirt, his mother said. Jimmy didn’t know how old dirt was, because fresh dirt formed on Jimmy daily, requiring baths that he’d rather do without, but he accepted that it meant Pop-Pop was really, really old—older than this big old house, which Pop-Pop had built according to his own design way back in the olden days when men wore top hats and women wore gowns and they danced to music played by people with violins right there in the room and not just on a record or at a concert.

Jimmy was curious as to whether his singing did in fact wake Pop-Pop, who slept all the time now, and who smelled kind of funny, but who, Jimmy remembered, always uttered mysterious sentences to him that sounded like wisdom (Jimmy, it takes a stronger man to build something than to break something) and who had taught him to sing in this room with the echoes, back when he could still walk with a cane and his voice was still strong.

Jimmy crept quietly up the stairs and down a hallway to the room where they stored Pop-Pop now. The room had big arched windows overlooking the city and Jimmy could see all the way to Possum Mountain, with its radio towers that blinked with red eyes at night. It was the library, and it had an electric lift from the kitchen that had been designed to carry heavy furniture and crates of books, and which was perfect for Pop-Pop’s wheelchair, so they moved his great bed into the library, and he lived his remaining days among his books and his view of the city and his mill on the river. Jimmy peered through the slightly open door into the room. Pop-Pop’s eyes were closed.

Jimmy pushed the door open and tip-toed into the room. Pop-Pop’s head turned toward him, but his eyes didn’t open. Jimmy froze, then slowly lowered himself to his hands and knees to the polished wood floor. He spied a wooden box under the big bed. He started to crawl toward the bed.

Jimmy! He froze again. Pop-Pop’s eyes were open, icy blue, looking at Jimmy.

Jimmy, Pop-Pop whispered, was my name, too. A deep breath, eyes fixed on Jimmy who was still on his hands and knees. I was Jimmy as a boy. But then I grew up and everyone called me Mr. James. I want to be Jimmy again. Come here, son.

Jimmy stood up and walked tentatively to the bed.

Jimmy, you want to see what’s in that box under the bed? Get it out for me.

Jimmy slid the box from under the bed. It was painted green, with pale lilies and a woman in a long white dress and long curly hair that grew into flowers. Pop-Pop said, It’s Art Noo Vo, as if that answered Jimmy’s quizzical expression. Pop-Pop opened the box with trembling and uncertain fingers.

Inside were old photographs of young people who were old now, or dead, and letters, a pair of rings, a bone-handled folding knife (Jimmy wanted that!), and other mementos. Pop-Pop’s fingers found a string and he drew it out of the box. On the end was a brass key.

Jimmy, this is my house. And someday this will be your house. Right now, I’m giving you this key, so you will always be welcome in your house. It will open every door, and it’s the only one that will open the secret doors. It's called a “master key.”

Secret doors! Jimmy was excited. Where are the secret doors, Pop-Pop?

I named your grandfather Andrew, after his mother’s father, because I am not a vain man. He named your father Martin—only God knows why. Martin named you James, after me. With this key, I hereby declare you King James the Second, Lord of the House of Adair. This is your house, now, Jimmy.

But where are the secret doors?

There are quite a few, and you will have to find them on your own. I’ll show you one right now. See that part of the wall over there between the two bookcases? See those carved designs? The one on the right turns up to show a keyhole.

Jimmy went to the panel and found the keyhole. He put the key in and opened the panel to reveal a shallow closet full of shelves, and the shelves full of boxes and ledgers.

Put this box away in there, Jimmy.

Jimmy placed the box in an empty spot on a shelf.

Shut the door and lock it. Jimmy did so.

This will be—Pop-Pop paused, looked him in the eye and held his hand out. Jimmy took his hand, which was knobby and shiny and very cool to the touch. This will be our secret, hm?

Jimmy nodded. Pop-Pop shook his hand slowly three times, and then patted him gently on the head like a pup.

Pop-Pop died early the next morning, before it got light. Jimmy was the only one who cried.
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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by idahobob » Mon Mar 16, 2020 7:24 pm

You are such a tease! :clownshoes:
People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by 2T2-Crash » Wed Mar 18, 2020 1:33 am


Loving the story.

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Re: High Ground - repost

Post by Nature_Lover » Wed Mar 18, 2020 2:32 am

Wow. Dogbane, I stopped in for refreshers in pandemic survival techniques, and I saw this thread!
I am thrilled to be able to read The House of Adair again. Thank you for sharing!
(now back to the top, to immerse myself in some of the BEST fiction, and take my mind off the lockdowns and restaurant & bar closings) :)

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