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 Post subject: Hannah repost
PostPosted: Sun Nov 04, 2007 6:46 pm 
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Do to several PM's I've received, I've decided to repost Hannah. This is still unedited, so bear with me. I'll just[ put up parts at a time, rather than the whole thing at once. Enjoy, again.

Doc





Hannah wondered if anyone else was alive.

God, she had been sick. She thought at first that she had gotten the Avian Flu, that thing that was tearing through the world, killing whole populations, making the world a place of walking dead. But she had recovered, after three days of puking up her guts and running a fever that made her think she might explode like the drummers for that fictional band, Spinal Tap. Day four rolled around and she was able to crawl to the shower and wash the sweat and puke off her body and out of her hair, than managed to turn on the news and saw the riots; People looting the stores, people killing each other and people who had been killed, walking.

The media had tried to down play all of it at first, trying to convince the audience that it was isolated, but then even they could not hide the dead that broke into studios, attacked the crew, then wandered off, leaving only the empty image of the news room desk, papers strewn across the top and onto the floor. She had seen the dead wander in front of the camera, at first, then after a day, there was nothing moving. The radio was still on, according to the DJ, they were trapped in the station and were vowing to broadcast as long as they could. They kept giving updates as they could get them, first from the AP wire service and phone calls, then from the phones when the wire went down. The only thing left working at the moment were cell phones, somewhere, phone lines had been taken down, probably the result of an accident tearing the lines from the poles.

The DJ’s kept telling people to shoot them in the head. They called them Zombies. Headshots killed Zombies. The walking dead stopped only when shot in the head.

It was nice to know this, but she didn’t have a gun. Instead, Hannah had taken her largest butcher knife and had taken to carrying it from room to room in the small apartment.

The water pressure in the apartment was starting to get low, and she had gathered up all the containers she could find to fill with water. Milk jugs, old water bottles that had been lying around the apartment and the empty pop bottles. She had emptied out the chemicals for cleaning and the laundry detergent jugs and the cleaning buckets then filled those with water for flushing the toilet. The bleach had almost been emptied, but she remembered that an ex-boyfriend who was into extreme camping had told her that bleach could be used to purify water, so she kept the bleach. Hannah filled up the bathtub after taking her last shower, but it was slowly draining from a faulty plug.

Food was a problem. Since she had been sick for three days, and not well enough to move much for two more, she was down to cans of soup and the pasta mixes in the cupboard. She had some dried milk, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and enough baking goods for a half dozen loaves of bread and a couple cake and brownie mixes. There were no eggs, so she was trying to figure out what she could use in their place in the mixes. Grape Nuts cereal and Captain Crunch were what she was eating at the moment, trying to stretch the supplies for another couple of days. When all that as gone, Hannah knew she would have to start searching for more, maybe breaking into other apartments. She wondered if the hammer she had in the tool kit her father had given her was enough to break down a door.

Hannah wondered if her father were still alive.

Shaking those thoughts from her, Hannah eased the sliding door open and cautiously stepped out onto the balcony of her apartment. She was on the third floor of the apartment building, one of five buildings in the complex. The pool was at the far end of the parking lot, below her was her Pontiac Sunfire, but it might as well have been a hundred miles away. She had seen several Zombies roaming the parking lot over the past couple days, and from the tattered clothing, they were all the same ones she had been seeing, kept in the lot by who knew what force. There had been no movement in any of the other apartments. Hannah did not know if that meant there were no other people alive in them, or that they were staying away from the windows. The DJ’s had mentioned this, stay away from windows, bar the doors, shoot them in the head. Hannah knew she should as well, but she also knew she needed to be able to smell the fresh air and see what might be happening around her.

Often time, in the distance, Hannah could hear gunshots, the sound of cars moving, but never anything close to her. She had heard the sound of people walking in the halls, the mindless thumping of the undead on the other side of her door, and had even seen them through the peephole in the door. She had been revolted by the decaying condition of their flesh, they way it sagged on them, the gray skin, sunken eyes, festering wounds crawling with maggots and covered in flies. She smelled them and had shoved towels in the cracks around the door then pushed the heavy china cabinet of her grandmothers in front of the door. Every now and then she could hear them moan on the other side of her door.

Hannah counted fourteen of the undead in the parking lot today. That number was up five from yesterday. She was going to have to do something. She couldn’t do it with only a butcher knife. Cautiously, Hannah peered over the railing at the balcony of the apartment below her. The sliding door was open and the curtain moved in and out in the breeze. Hannah wondered if a Zombie lurked in the depths of the apartment. She wondered how she could find out, short of jumping down on the balcony. Hannah began to puzzle a way to get onto the balcony. She was going to have to explore soon, if for nothing else for food. She needed to do this before there were so many Zombies in the parking lot, that she could not do anything at all.

She looked again at her Sunfire. If she could make it to the car, she had three-quarters of a tank of gas. Slowing going back into her apartment, Hannah began to plan. She searched the apartment closets for items she knew were buried there. Hiking boots, heavy brush pants from the camping boyfriend and the North Face backpack sized to her small frame. He had left a length of repelling rope in her apartment, too short for repelling, but long enough to reach balcony below. Hannah began to tie knots in the length, and sawed the handles off the broom and mop with the little saw from her tool chest to create ladder rungs that went into the knots. She taped them from slipping with masking tape and duct tape she had found in other drawers. Clothes line would be used to lower the backpack to the balcony, tied off and then pulled up with the full backpack attached. A life time of movie watching was starting to come in handy, thought Hannah.

According to the radio, the Zombies attacked and bit people, and that was how people turned into Zombies. Hannah had a leather jacket in her closet, a heavy winter one that might protect against Zombie bites. She had gloves that were fairly thick as well. They would also help climbing up and down the rope. She just hoped that she was strong enough after being sick to be able to pull herself up and down the rope. The stick rungs would help, she hoped. Hannah changed into the pants and boots, left on only a sports bra under the jacket and tied her hair back. She grabbed up the knife, trying to figure out a way to carry the long blade. It had come with a plastic cover over the blade. Hannah ended up duct taping the cover to the left bicep of the jacket, that way she could reach across and pull it down and out of the improvised sheath. Hannah practiced this a couple of times, pretending to swipe the blade across the neck of an imaginary Zombie. The last thing she did was to shove the hammer into the belt of the pants.

Going back out to the balcony, Hannah took the backpack with her, gauging the activity of the Zombies in the parking lot. They were still just wandering, not paying any attention to her three stories above them. Hannah carefully lowered the backpack over the edge and dropped it below the bottom of the balcony so that it swung over the balcony below her. On the apex of the inside swing, she let the pack fall to the balcony where it landed with a soft sigh of canvas crumpling. Hannah drew back from the edge of the balcony for a moment before peering over again. The parking lot freaks were still unconcerned with her actions. The rope ladder was next.

Hannah had secured the end of the rope to her couch, hoping that its mass would keep her from plunging to the ground. She had pulled it across the sliding door opening, wedging the ends against the wall on either side and lashed the rope end to the middle frame support. It had been a couple years since she had done any kind of climbing, three boyfriends ago to be exact. She smiled at that thought; it was funny how people kept track of the events in their lives. Usually people kept track by traumatic events, like break-ups. She wondered what had happened to that one boyfriend, then dismissed the thought as being useless, it was better to think on the task of climbing, at least she had learned something useful from him.

With a deep breath, Hannah eased over the railing to stand on the edge with her feet between the rail supports, one hand gripping the rail, the other gripping the rope ladder she had made. Carefully, Hannah placed her feet on one of the rungs. She was disappointed to learn that while it had seemed like a good idea, the rungs were only good as long as both feet were on them. When she tried to step off one to another, the one under the remaining foot dropped away from her foot, making her have to catch herself from falling. Hannah pondered this for a moment. She would have to lock her legs around the rope like she had in gym class, then she could use the knots for her hands to pull herself up or lower herself down. The rungs that she thought had been such a good idea were now going to be in the way as she tried to slide her legs on the rope. There was going to be no help for it, so she locked her legs around the rope and let go of the railing.

The flu and lack of wholesome food had made her weak. She almost pulled herself back up, but knew that another day of her limited diet would only weaken her more. Slowly, Hannah eased herself down, letting the rope spin her as she left the edge of the balcony behind. Thankfully it was not far to the edge of the rail below her. Hannah slid down the rope, her arms tense, her legs squeezed around the slim line. Sweat poured from her, running under the heavy coat, soaking her back and chest, matting her hair to her forehead. When the rail touched her boot heel, Hannah almost let go with relief, but managed to make sure she had a firm footing before she lowered herself to the balcony and let the rope swing away from her.

Hannah paused to catch her breath, and while she was doing this, she smelled it. It came from behind the curtain with a groan, a man, or what was left of him, staggering towards her with clawed hands, the curtains catching at it as it moved. Hannah grabbed the butcher knife from her sleeve just as she had practiced. The blade hummed through the air to cut at the things neck, her vision coming to life with striking clarity. She heard herself give some kind of yell, a battle cry perhaps, and the blade struck the neck as the arms reached for her, fingers clutching dumbly for purchase. Hannah was surprised at how tough the neck was. The blade hacked into the muscle with a shock that jarred her arm and wrenched at her elbow and shoulder. Her wrist bent on the impact and the blade stopped just as it reached the far side of the neck. Hannah struggle for the briefest of seconds with the knife, trying to pull it free, then she gave up as the Zombie staggered aside from the blow.

Taking the opportunity to side step the beast, Hannah pulled the hammer free of her belt. While the Zombie was still staggering to regain its focus on her, Hannah brought the claw hammer down on top of its head, crushing at the skull. The blow knocked the Zombie to its knees, but it still tried to lurch to its feet. Hannah hit it again and heard the skull snap under the blow. A third hit opened the skull and buried the hammer head into brain. The Zombie stiffened and fell to its face, taking the hammer with it. Hannah let out a small squeak and backed away, stumbling into living room of the apartment. She heard a moan behind her and turned to see that the door was open. In the hall was another of the undead, shuffling towards the opening. Hannah sprang to the door and slammed it shut, throwing the bolt as she did so. On the other side, the Zombie let out a long hiss. Hannah let herself fall against the door and slid to the carpeting. A sob escaped her throat. A blow on the door made Hannah scramble away. She dragged a heavy chair in front of the door, wanting to scream for the thing to go away.

Taking time to collect her thoughts, Hannah grabbed a baseball bat that was leaning near the door and quickly looked through the rooms to be sure there was nothing else waiting for her in the apartment. All else was empty. Hannah went back out to the now unanimated body on the balcony. Using a kitchen towel, Hannah grabbed the hammer and tugged it free of the splintered skull. She wiped the hammer head free of gore before sticking it back in her belt. She did the same with the butcher knife, tugging until it came free of the neck, cleaning it and replacing it in the plastic cover at her sleeve. Hannah considered dumping the body over the edge, but she did not want to draw the attention of the gathering dead below. While they still did not look up at her, they seemed to be agitated by the noise of her battle, and were starting to move towards her building. Hannah picked up the backpack and the baseball bat, then moved inside away from the balcony.

She sat on the couch for a second and took stock of the apartment. The layout was identical to hers. The occupant had been male from the contents displayed. Hannah wondered if the body on the balcony was the tenant as well. She felt depressed at the thought. Before the whole process could drag her down, Hannah stood and began to search the kitchen. She pulled the canned goods from the cupboards, delighting in the things she found, even pausing to open a can of peaches and eat the contents and drink the sweet water that they were packaged in. More pasta, cans of SPAM, tuna and shredded chicken were found. Cautiously, Hannah opened the refrigerator, afraid of what might be spoiling. The smell, while rank, was not over powering yet. Hannah managed to salvage a bottle of orange juice, some of the vegetables and cheese. She took the six pack of beer and the eggs and margarine, packing the eggs in some Tupperware she found. In the freezer were frozen pizzas, TV dinners and a gross of burritos; bean, beef and chicken. Thankfully, since the power had not gone off yet, all were still good. Hannah ate the ice cream from the carton as she worked, loading up the olive oil and canola oil, flour and spices. Under the sink was a case of liter bottle of water, a case of Coke, a bottle of Jim Beam, a bottle of vodka, and a bottle of rum. Her backpack was nearly full when she finished, and it was growing dark, the sun was setting, casting long shadows across the parking lot.

Hannah moved into the bathroom, taking the toilet paper and soap, clean towels and the medical supplies. In the bedroom, Hannah found the gold.

There was a .22 rifle in the closet with a banana clip stick out the bottom. Hannah knew a little about guns, once again from a boyfriend who was a Sheriff Deputy. She recalled that he’d had one and showed her how to use it. Hannah sat on the bed and puzzled out the action of the rifle, drawing from what she could remember him telling her. She finally deciphered the short rifle and was able to remove the magazine and work the bolt, flick the safety off and on, and peered through the two power scope. Beside the .22 was a single barreled shotgun that broke apart at the hammer. Hannah read that it was a 12 gauge. She almost left it there because the last time she had shot a 12 gauge it had hammered her so hard she nearly dropped the thing. She took it out anyway.

On the shelf above was a bag holding two more of the banana clips, magazines she remembered being corrected, a little square clip (magazine), a cleaning kit with rags and solvent and oil and some bullet holders for a revolver. Hannah recalled they were referred to as speed loaders. She pulled down the boxes of ammunition that were stacked against the back of the shelf, reading the labels as she pulled them down. She packed these into the bag and began to look for the revolver that went with the bullets.

She found it in a holster hanging from the head of the bed. Hannah saw that the belt the holster was one had bullets in loops. The revolver was all black, right down to the rubber grip on the gun. Hannah refrained from taking it out of the holster; instead, she slung the works over her shoulder like a bandolier, since the belt was much too large for her. A quick search through the night stand unearthed another partial box of ammo for the revolver and two more full speed loaders with black tipped hollow points. Also in the drawer were the owner’s manuals for the firearms, which she put in the bag with the ammo and cleaning supplies to be read later. Hannah found a medium-sized back pack and a length of rope she could use to tie to her own back pack.

Dragging all these items to the balcony, Hannah made sure that all the things were secure in the back packs, and strapped the rifle and shotgun to the lash points on her North Face. It was going to be heavy, and so rather than trust it all to the clothes line, Hannah tied the pack to her rope ladder. The found back pack with the bottled water and other extras, Hannah tied to the clothes line. The cleaning bag with the ammo, she tied to the rope she’d found in side, and lashed it to the bottom of her North Face, leaving enough slack so that it would not tug at her load until she was ready for it.

Hannah paused in her labor long enough to gauge if the Zombies were aware of her. They still wandered around the parking lot, and some had come over to where she worked. They did not seem to know she was there, but they were agitated and drawn by something, most likely her movement, although they had not yet started to look up. Hannah took a deep breath and climbed on top of the railing. She began her assent; glad she had eaten the peaches and the ice cream for the quick energy it was giving her. Amazingly, Hannah made it back to her apartment without much terror just as the last of the suns rays were blazing across the parking lot.

Hannah slowly worked the loaded back pack up, pulling it hand over hand, cursing herself for not dividing up the contents among other carriers; she had enough rope to do so, but had been in a hurry to finish. Once the North Face pack was over the rail, Hannah raised the other back pack with little trouble as it was not nearly as heavy, then pulled up the cleaning supplies and the ammunition. It was heavier than it had seemed below, but it all made it safely. Moving quickly, Hannah took it all inside, stowing the frozen food so it would not thaw, then turning on the oven to bake one of the pizzas. For background noise while she worked, other than the groans of the undead, Hannah put in a CD and turned the volume low. While the pizza cooked, she stripped the leather jacket off, cleaned the hammer and the knife more thoroughly and inspected the revolver and rifle. The shotgun she left off to one side, her past experience with that type of weapon made her wary of even being in the same room with the thing.

Hannah read the owners manual for the rifle and the revolver while she ate pizza and drank one of the beers. According to the rifles manual, it was a Ruger 10/22, which meant about as much to Hannah as saying it was a Holly 454 double-pumper carb, something she remembered as being a big deal on a car. As for the revolver, it was a Smith and Wesson M19, once again as meaningless to her as Esperanto, but she deciphered that the gun would take two different kinds of bullets; .357 Magnum and .38 Special. Hannah seemed to recall that the Magnums were more powerful than the .38 Specials even though the .38 sounded bigger. While she read the instructions on shooting, sighting at targets, cleaning and the parts to the weapons, Hannah ate her way through two of the pizzas. For desert, Hannah ate another can of peaches by the soft glow of the lamp by her couch.

As she sat, Hannah saw a flash of light in the building across from her. Hannah grabbed up the Ruger and turned off the light. On a second story balcony of the building stood a man, holding a flashlight and blinking it on and off. Hannah flipped on her light and turned it off. The man seemed to wave, then disappeared. She watched for another hour, but the man never reappeared.

Hannah, sat back on the couch as the moans from the undead drifted up on the night air and wondered who the man might be. She wondered how she would find out, but more importantly, she was glad she was not alone. There were other people alive. Hannah closed the sliding door and latched it. She took the rifle, revolver, shotgun and baseball bat into her bedroom, then slept soundly for the first time in a week.



The radio woke her with the sounds of Ricky Skaggs singing about building houses. Hannah lay in bed for a moment and listened to the country song, hoping that all was just a dream. Her hand falling to the stock of the .22 rifle reminded her that it was not. She began to stir and the soreness of her arms and back were further indications all was not normal. Hannah sat on the edge of the bed rolling her head to stretch out the muscles in her neck and shoulders. While the pizza had been good, Hannah wondered what exactly had possessed her to climb over the railing of her apartment and fight a Zombie for pizza and beer. It was amazing what a week-long diet of cereal and chunky soup would do for motivation, she mused. The radio stopped with the country and broke into a rather boisterous Blues song about being Sweet and Sour. Hannah stood finally and with the rifle in hand, cautiously opened the door of the bedroom. Peeking out into the living area of the apartment, she could see that the front door was still intact, the china cabinet was still firmly against the frame.

Hannah padded to the bathroom, gave herself a quick sponge bath and took care of her morning ritual. The water pressure did not seem to have dropped any more during the night, but she refilled the bathtub anyway. Back out in the living room, Hannah opened the curtain to look out at the balcony and beyond, namely to look at the apartment where she had seen the man the night before. All was dark and motionless. Hannah cracked the door only to close it quickly. The stench from the body laying on the balcony below was wafting up. Hannah cursed and knew that she was going to have to do something about the cadaver, she would have to climb back down and push it over the rail, then find a way to burn it. While Zombies seemed to decay at the speed of a glacier across a prehistoric valley, the dead still rotted at normal speeds. Hannah wondered how she was going to get the body to burn so there would be no disease for her to worry about on top of everything else.

With the thought of another climb ahead and having to face a dead body, Hannah felt her urge to eat breakfast leave on butterflies wings. She forced herself to munch on some dry cereal, then as the radio played, she began to dress in the canvas pants, boots and leather jacket. Hannah half listened as the DJ’s began their morning talk.



Good morning Hell, it’s a fine morning but for the undead who seem to have multiplied over the morning hours. All that could be from the big gray van that cruised by the station this morning at oh-dark-thirty. If you assholes are listening, we’re still alive inside here, we could use some toilet paper and rum to go with our Coke. The Zombies that were following you like the kids after the Pied Piper have bumped into our little fence and decided to stay. Of course Bobby wandering around in the parking lot after dark didn’t help but distract them from you. Amazing what we’ll do for a cigarette.



Well good listeners, those of you that remain among the living have graced us with more phone calls. Here’s one from Bill Reed to Joan Reed, I’m safe in the cafeteria at work with John Fry and Carlos Ortez. We’ve got enough food for another four days and after that we’ll have to try and make a break for it. He sends his love and hopes you’re safe.



Dan Ferguson tells us that to burn the bodies right you have to mix the accelerator, that’s gasoline to you and me folks, with some kind of detergent to make it sticky enough to burn the flesh. Sounds sick, but otherwise the gas burns the top of the body and the rest just kind of pops and rots. We all know that rotting flesh makes for bad smells as well as a place for disease to incubate. We certainly don’t need the plague on top of Zombies. If you want the proportions for this concoction, stay tuned for after the break and we’ll have those for you.



I got a call from our friendly Armyman, Lt. Hope, who says that a small detachment of the local military still exists at the Base. We were beginning to wonder about them, but the news is hopeful at least. They’ve managed to retake the grounds up to the fenced parameter and are trying to come up with a plan to get out and rescue others. Apparently they’ve got about a thousand Zombies leaning on the fence out there, attracted to the sound of gunfire and warm flesh. Lt. Hope says that they intend to start rescue by the first of next week if the fence holds. Thanks guys, but you need to help yourselves first.



Here’s one from Freddy Jones to the chick that repelled off the third story balcony at the Oakridge Apartments. ‘Call me,’ he says, ‘we’ll do lunch, there’s only a parking lot between us.’ His cell number is 555-7629. He says if you don’t have a cell, hang a white sheet off the balcony to let him know you heard this message. I got one for you Freddy, did you know you’re named after a band?

NEW EDIT STARTS HERE

Hannah stopped dressing and stared at the radio. She grabbed a pen and paper and scribbled the number down before she forgot it. Hannah sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the number she had written down. Freddy Jones, she had never heard of the band, but if the DJ said Freddy Jones was a band, well, she couldn’t argue with that. Hannah wondered what she had done with her cell phone. She hadn’t thought about it for a couple of days, not since she had called the radio station to let them know she was alive. The sound of their voices, while they were comforting in one way, also served to remind her that she was very much alone. She hadn’t called back even though the DJ’s had encouraged her to do so.

Hannah left the paper on the bed to search for the phone. She had not bothered to pick up much since the world fell apart, and took the opportunity to start doing so. Hannah gathered discarded clothing into the laundry baskets, tore up empty boxes and threw them away, returned books to shelves, stacked old magazines and even set dishes to soak. She finally found the cell phone under a clutter of paper she had been using to write her last will and testament. That had been a futile exercise both for the fact that she really had nothing to leave or people she knew were alive to leave what little she had to and the simple fact that she didn’t feel like dying. The last attempt had FUCK THIS scribbled across it with her signature. Hannah gave a triumphant cry on finding the phone, then felt dismayed that the battery was dead. It was a simple thing to plug it in, but Hannah didn’t want to wait for the phone to charge. She spent another several minutes searching for the charger. Once the charger was found, the phone was plugged in and Hannah waited for the beep to tell her she had some kind of a signal.

When it finally beeped to life, Hannah dialed the number the DJ had given. The phone rang several times before music came on, music she could only assume was Freddy Jones. A pleasant male voice then cut in; “Hi, this is Freddy, I can’t answer right now, but leave a message.”

Hannah waited for the beep of the service. “Hi, this is Hannah, the girl who rappelled off the balcony. God, I hope you’re still alive. I’ll be climbing down again here in a minute to get rid of a body, but call me, I have my cell plugged in and I call as soon as I get your message.” She paused. “This is like a blind date cold call. Um, call me.” She gave her number and hung up.

Hannah didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. It was one thing to be alone, it was totally another to be alone and know that a hundred yards away was someone who you couldn’t meet without the risk of death. She hoped that the reason he hadn’t answered his phone was because he was still asleep and not because he was now among the walking dead.

Since she had nothing else to do, Hannah decided it was time to toss the body over the railing. She wanted to stay and hear the advice for making the accelerant, but she didn’t have any combustible fluids in her apartment. Burning this body would have to wait until she could come up with something. The other problem was she didn’t know how far the body would fall from the building, and Hannah did not want to risk fire so close to the building. Hannah pulled on the leather coat, her gloves and then slung the revolver over her shoulder. The butcher knife went back in the makeshift sheath on her arm and the hammer she put back on her belt. Retrieving the rope ladder, Hannah dropped it over the side after securing it to the couch once more. With a silent prayer to the heavens, Hannah eased herself back down the rope to the balcony below.

The stench of the body was not as strong now, Hannah could only surmise that the first whiff of the rotting flesh was the worst, and now she had grown accustom to it. As she eased over the rail, Hannah could see there were several Zombies wandering below the apartment balconies. She absently counted them, and they numbered twelve, with at least nine more in the parking lot. They must have been attracted to the stench of the body, or were coming in from the road beyond the complex in search of warm blood, or whatever attracted the Zombies to people. Hannah knew if she were going to try and get out of the complex, she would have to do so soon or risk being trapped by the sheer numbers of undead outside the door.

As she climbed down, Hannah fought against the aching muscles in her shoulders and back, willing herself to concentrate on descending the ladder in a controlled manner. When her feet touched the railing, Hannah once more fought the urge to let go of the rope prematurely. She made sure that her feet were under her and firmly on the rail before dropping to the balcony. The dead man lay still. She was glad for the lack of reaction at her arrival. Hannah did not think she could kill the thing twice.

Hannah pondered the body for a long moment, trying to decide the best way to get it up and over the rail. The man in life had outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds. Death had shed about fifty of those pounds, but had added the uncooperativeness of stiff limbs and sagging flesh that looked ready to slough off. Choking down the sudden rise of bile, Hannah staggered into the apartment to get away from the sight. She pulled a left behind can of Mountain Dew from the refrigerator and popped the top on it. She normally hated Dew, but she needed something to wash the taste out of her mouth. The sweet taste of the Dew was almost too much, but it was better than the sour taste of the previous night’s pizza.

Looking around the apartment as she sipped at the can, Hannah had a sudden inspiration. Leaving the can on the counter she went to the linen closet. From the closet, Hannah removed a sheet set and carried it to the balcony. Below her the sudden moan of a Zombie made her look over the edge of the rail. There were five of the things clustered at the rail of the ground floor patio apartment, reaching for the bottom of the balcony she stood on, the base of which was thankfully still feet away from their clawed hands. Hannah backed away from the rail wrinkling her nose at the smell that came from the undead. They didn’t smell as bad as her companion, but the slow decay was still offensive.

Spreading the sheets over the body, Hannah went back into the kitchen and searched the drawers and cabinets for a pair of rubber gloves. She managed to find a questionable pair under the bathroom sink. She hoped they would keep the stench off her hands. Stripping the leather jacket off, Hannah slipped into a long sleeved shirt that was hanging in the closet. Going back out to the body, she began to roll the thing in the sheets. She had to struggle to get it rolled because of the short space the balcony allowed, but with some swearing and lifting, Hannah managed to get the dead man contained in the sheets. With duct tape from a kitchen drawer, Hannah enclosed the body in its shroud. Taking a break, Hannah returned to the kitchen to wash up a bit and drank more of the Mountain Dew and nibbled on stale crackers and the dregs from a jar of peanut butter. With the Dew gone and the jar scraped clean, Hannah pulled the gloves back on to find a way to dump the body.

She decided she would have to lift one end up on one of the chairs, then with that end set up high, lift the other end to the edge of the rail. She would then lift the first end over the edge and let it fall, no fancy toss here, just a fundamental drop over the edge. Hannah hoped that the result would be for at least one of the Zombies below to get knocked on the head hard enough to kill it.

With a deep breath to gather her strength, Hannah went to work. It was as hard as she thought it would be. The body did not want to cooperate with her, and kept sliding off the chair when she picked up the other end. After some adjustments to the chair, Hannah was able to get everything set as she had planned and heaved the body over the edge. She glanced over as the body fell.

It hit not one, but three of the undead below, knocking them to the ground. One of the things struggled to its feet and wandered off, apparently deciding that the prey above was not worth the trouble or it just forgot what had brought it to the building in the first place. Another was trapped under the weight of the body on it, and it hissed and mewed trying to get free, but was unable to untangle itself from the shrouded body that lay on it. The third hit its head on the pavement of the sidewalk as it fell. The impact was loud enough for Hannah to hear it. The beast’s head bounced once and then it lay unmoving. The other nine Zombies staggered away from the fallen, seemingly their concentration broken for the moment at the possibility of food above.

She stripped the gloves off and started to toss them over the side. Instead, Hannah lay them on the deck of the balcony. She stripped off the shirt and tossed it over the edge. It landed over the face of the trapped Zombie, who groaned at the covering. Hannah heard a whistle and looked across the parking lot at the man who stood on the balcony opposite her. She started to wave and then realized she was not wearing anything more than a sports bra. Sudden modesty made her flush with embarrassment and cover her chest, then she gave a short wave and ducked into the apartment. Once inside Hannah began to laugh at her reaction. She went back out, but the man was gone again.

At least he was alive.

Hannah took the opportunity to shower off, trying to get the smell of the dead off her skin. She used the soap in the bathroom, a male oriented soap, and the scent reminded her of one of her former boyfriends. He had been good in bed, but was otherwise worthless as a companion, being too self centered and needy for her taste. The memory of his body brought a heat to her body that was deeper than the water could provide. Hannah let the feeling over take her for a long moment.

Once out of the shower, she dressed and went back to the balcony. The undead were back in the parking lot, having been drawn away from the apartment by the whistle. Hannah climbed back up the rope ladder to discover the message light flashing on her phone.

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Last edited by doc66 on Thu Nov 08, 2007 6:08 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 04, 2007 6:51 pm 
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Hannah stared at the phone for several seconds before she finally mustered up the courage to pick the thing up. She saw the number of Freddy Jones flashing on the missed calls screen. For a long moment, Hannah did not know if she really wanted to listen to the message; after all, they were still separated by the width of the parking lot and the walking death that the pavement contained. Was it all just a futile attempt at trying to be normal that caused her to call the unknown man in the first place? After all, the world was far from normal at this point, and there was no telling what kind of person Freddy Jones might be. Rather than listen to the message, Hannah carried the phone out to the balcony and hit the redial. She listened to the phone ring on the other end; she almost wished that he would not answer, thereby giving her the excuse to say “at least she had tried”. Instead of the answering machine, a male voice tentatively answered with a friendly, but cautious hello. Hannah paused herself, not really knowing what to say to this man. She finally answered after he spoke his greeting again.

“Hello, Freddy? This is Hannah from across the parking lot--,” her voice sounded so normal in her ears, but she really want to burst out crying at the sound of another human voice, no matter how far away or close they might be.

“Hannah,” his voice sounded relieved, as if he too were amazed at hearing another person speaking. “I saw you climb down again today, I was worried that something had happened to force you out of the upstairs.”

Hannah shook her head and then remembered that he could not see her. “No, I just had to dump a body before it stank the place up.”

“Right, that and the disease as well. It’s going to become a real problem when the power finally goes--.”

“Do you think that’s going to happen soon?” she asked, amazed that they were speaking about the subject as if they were discussing the weather, or a new restaurant.

“I don’t know, but it can’t stay on forever with no one to check the systems.”

They both paused to le the reality of this set in. Finally, Freddy broke the silence. “So, Hannah, are you all right over there?”

“There’s still Zombies in the building, but I think I’m okay in my apartment. What about you?”

“I managed to clear my building, but I used all my bullets to do it. My roommate had a little .22 revolver that was about worthless,” laughed Freddy into the phone. “Or maybe I just sucked at shooting the thing. Anyway I’ve got a baseball bat and a bunch of knives. My food will last a couple of weeks if I’m careful and the power stays on. I keep thinking that I should make a break for my truck, bit I can’t seem to justify that run across the parking lot.”

Hannah laughed with him. “I know, my car is right outside the door, but I just don’t want to risk it.”

“Do you have guns?” asked Freddy.

Hannah hesitated. She thought the question came out of no where, hit on rethinking it, the query was probably a legitimate one to ask, considering the situation of the world at the moment. “I’ve got a couple, but I haven’t used them yet. I haven’t gotten out of my apartment either, except for the climb yesterday and today. There’s still a couple of the things in my building. I just haven’t gotten up the balls to kill them.”

It was Freddy’s turn to laugh at Hannah. “If you can crawl up and down the side of a building, Zombies should not be a problem for you.” His tone became serious. “Have you noticed there are more of them today?”

“Yes.”

“I think they are migrating from the center of town. If we stay here too long, we night get trapped.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, but I don’t know where to go--.”

“The Guard base is still out there, and they’ve got guns and tanks.”

“Didn’t you hear the radio? They said that the base almost got over run,” pointed out Hannah. “They talked like there were thousands of them out there at the base.”

“We’re not safe here much longer either….”

They let the statement fall in the air between them. Finally, Freddy spoke into the silence. “I guess that the first thing we should do is decide how we’re going to hook up. We need to find out if there’s more people alive in the complex as well. With more people, we might have a better chance of surviving. If we can get more food from the other apartments, we might be in better shape to leave here, or if we have too, stay until help arrives.”

“Do you think help will arrive?’

“No.”

Hannah didn’t think there would be help come either. She didn’t voice this to Freddy, as he had already given the fear breath. She believed that if no one had come to help in to the last two weeks, they never would, despite the brave words of Lt. Hope. Hannah knew that she and Freddy Jones were on their own. The sudden voicing of that reality was like a wash of a cold shower. She suddenly felt very depressed. Taking a deep breath Hannah spoke. “Listen, Freddy, I’ve got to jump off here for a second. I’ll call you back in a while. In the mean time, we both need to think of a plan to hook up, and eventually, get out. What kind of truck do you have?”

“Mine is that Dodge Dakota with the white cap. It looks like shit, but it’s four wheel drive, runs and has about half a tank of gas.”

Going to the balcony, Hannah looked out over the parking lot and saw the truck. Freddy was right; the thing looked like shit. It was an extended cab with big mudder tires under the fenders and a rusty push bar and brush guard attached to the front grill. The fading red paint only made it look worse, as if it were covered with a fungus or slowly rusting away. The white cap on it looked like it might have belonged to another style of truck because it did not seem to quite fit the bed on which it sat. The illusion could have come from the fact that the step side bed appeared narrower than the rest of the truck. There were two Zombies shuffling around the truck, bumping into the inert vehicle and each other.

“You’re right, the truck looks like shit,” agreed Hannah. She watched the zombies for a second more. “It’s got fans as well.”

“Yeah, one of them is my roommate.”

“That’s freaky,” shuddered Hannah. “Why does he stick around the truck?”

“I think he recognizes it, maybe,” suggested Freddy. He went on as if Hannah has asked another question. “He got bit going out to the truck to get the last bag of groceries out of the back. We both saw the things, I ran faster than him. I waited at the door, but he got bit and I shut the door. The things got between us and there was nothing I could do to help him. I heard him calling for me to help him, but we both knew that if you got bit, you were a gonner. He knew it too, but he wanted me to help him. I watched him for a second, maybe longer, I don’t know, and them I ran up and got the .22. By the time I got back he was on the ground. I tried to shoot him but I missed. Them the neighbor turned when she tried to get to her car. She left the door open when she ran out and a bunch got in. they attacked those of us that were left in the building, and by the time it was all done, I was the only one left alive.”

Hannah took in the story, almost glad that she had been sick while all this had been happening; she had never had to see the demise of civilization, just awake for the aftermath. “I’m sorry--.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” muttered Freddy. “I never liked him anyway.”

“I’ll call you later,” decided Hannah.

“Sure….”

They disconnected and Hannah put the phone back on the charger. She turned on the radio as the DJ was finishing a song. The DJ came back on and began to talk. Hannah half listened to what he had said as she puttered around the apartment trying to decide what action to take to meet with Freddy. She stopped when the DJ began to talk about altering firearms to be silenced. Hannah had naturally seen them used in movies and the deputy boyfriend has let her shoot one once, a department issued submachine gun. She had remembered it as being very quiet but for the sound of the action opening and closing. They had been at the departments outdoor range, and when she had stood behind him as he shot, she only heard the sound of the empty brass casings leaving the gun and hitting the ground. The DJ, who called himself Stiffy, announced that they had Dan Ferguson on the phone and were going to let him talk about making silencers with items that could be found in the home.

Hannah sat in front of the radio as Dan began to speak in a nervous voice. He sounded like an older man, maybe someone her father’s age or a little older.

Yeah, Stiffy, um, Dan here, thanks for letting me talk to everybody. Well, I found out like most folks out there that too much noise seems to attract these things, so I started thinking about ways to get to them quiet like. I thought about a bow and a crossbow, but both of them take a bit to load, and they’re not something you want to do if you’re in a hurry. I remembered I had a book about a guy who made a silencer out of shit around the house—can I say shit?”

“Sure, Dan, the FCC s the least of our worries right now.”

“I guess so, shouldn’t worry about the ATF guys either, right? Anyway, I remembered that he made silencers out of shit around the house, so I started looking for the book. I found it and sure enough it was a pretty detailed account of how to do it.”

“So how do you do it, Dan?” asked Stiffy in a bored voice. Hannah grabbed a piece of paper and a pen as Stiffy spoke, the DJ trying from habit to not waste precious air time. Hannah thought it was stupid to rush the man, there were no commercial breaks to worry about and the music was not as important as the information being imparted.

“Well, first off, you need something for the case of the silencer, something that will fit over a barrel of a gun. Like a tin can for small ones and a longer piece of pipe or PVC for a larger caliber. Remember that the gun’s got to be an auto or single shot so all the gases go out the barrel. Revolvers let the gases out the sides and will still make a lot of noise. Since I’m betting most people don’t have a machine shop around, you’ve got to find some good tape, like duct tape, and have steel wool, SOS pads, or even those green scrub pads will work for a while.”

“What do you mean by small guns, Dan?”

“Oh, .22 caliber and up to say 9mm or maybe even a .45, if you’ve got enough materials. I’d say 9mm would be best, since anything bigger than that and the packaging gets shredded by the gasses, you see, and then it don’t last very long. You’ve got to repack it sooner.”

“Okay, I think I get it--.”

“.22’s work best, but you’ve got a power trade off--.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“Right, so you got to punch a hole in one end for the barrel to go in, and then have an exit hole for the bullet in the other. The middle you stuff with the steel wool, not real tight, but enough that it deadens the sound. What the steel wool does is it dissipates the gasses of the explosion which causes the sound of the bang we hear. Gets rid of the sound wave as it were. You fit the larger opening over the barrel of the gun, then use the duct tape to attach it to the barrel. You’ve got to have enough barrel showing for the thing to attach to, and if it’s a bigger pistol, it can’t interfere with the operation of slide of the pistol. Oh, and put holes in the side of the can so that the gasses can escape or it will start a fire on the end of your gun.”

“What about aiming the thing?”

“Well, it’s mostly a point and shoot kind of weapon, but if you paint a stripe on the top of the can in line with the barrel, it gives you a reference point for aiming.”

“Do you have a favorite gun, Dan?”

“I’m using a couple of .22’s myself. I got a Browning Buckmark pistol and a Ruger 10/22 rifle. The cans last a couple hundred rounds and them you have to repack them.”

“Thanks, Dan. Anything else you can think of off the top of your head?”

“Nope, not right off. Just anything I can do to help--.”

“Okay, folks, that was Dan. We’ll be replaying that broadcast along with all the other helpful tidbits we get here starting tonight at ten until the six A.M. show with Carl in the morning. Let’s go to some music--.”


Hannah tuned out the music that took over and began to search the apartment for a piece of PVC pope she remembered having been left behind by the maintenance man. The pipe was left over from the new sink which had been put in the bathroom when her other one developed a crack in the bowl. The workers left the pipe, a wrench, and other odds and ends behind for her to find on her dresser. She did not want to know why they had been near her dresser, but all her underwear was still in the dresser, and she had not found anything in the dresser that was not supposed to be there.

After several minutes of digging, Hannah finally found the pipe and pulled the roughly eight inch long tube out of the back of the closet with a triumphant shout. The thing was open at both ends and she did not have a cap for it to cover the interior. Sitting down with the pipe for some brain storming, Hannah decided she could cover the ends with thick layers of duct tape and that would hold the steel wool in the cylinder. The problem she was going to have was going to be drilling the holes in the body so the gasses could escape. Hannah thought with a little work, she could use a knife and whittle the holes out. It might take a while, but she had nothing else to do that the moment.

Taking the PVC pipe to the couch, Hannah tried fitting the pipe over the barrel of the rifle. The diameter of the pipe was just enough to fit over the front sight. She wondered how far she had to fit the pipe over the barrel of the rifle. After a moment of consideration, Hannah thought that about an inch and a half would be enough to keep the pipe from wobbling and falling off. Setting all this down on the couch, Hannah went into the kitchen and got a combination of SOS pads and the green scrubbing pads from under the sink. She found the duct tape and a sturdy paring knife to drill the holes. With the accompaniment of the radio, half listening to the chatter of the DJ, the songs and random calls to the radio station from other people trapped by the undead, Hannah began to work on her silencer.

An hour later, with sore hands and a couple close calls at stabbing herself when the knife had slipped off the PVC pipe, Hannah felt she had enough holes in the length. She had managed to cut two rows across the top of the pipe and stuffed the SOS pads between two of the green pads. Hannah cut a hold in the rear most green pad to put the rifle barrel through and left the front pad intact, thinking that the .22 bullet would have no problem shooting through the material. She taped the works to the end of the barrel, taking pains to be sure that the pipe was secure and would not flop around on the end of the rifle. Hannah dispensed with painting the suggested stripe on the pipe since the rifle had the scope on it. Giving a sigh to luck, Hannah took the rifle to the balcony and decided that she was going to try it out.

Feeling confident with her new silenced rig, Hannah decided to call Freddy so he could enjoy her inaugural firing of the rifle. She went back into the apartment and picked up the cell phone. Hitting redial, she walked back to the balcony waiting for him to pick up. He answered, sounding irritated.

“It’s Hannah.”

“Yeah, not many other choices for callers,” he groused.

His tone suddenly made her want to hang up. “Sorry I disturbed you, forget it--.”

“No, wait, I’m sorry. I was just trying to get a jar open and it’s fighting me all the way.”

“You try hot water?”

“Yeah, I tried everything so far. I’ve beat it with a damn hammer but it won’t break the seal. I’ve got two pieces of bread left and I want a fucking peanut butter sandwich. It just might be the last one I ever get, and I want it enjoy it with a bottle of wine.”

Hannah laughed.

“It’s not funny,” snapped Freddy.

“Yes, it is,” countered Hannah. “With all the shit that’s going on, you’re worried about a jar of peanut butter.”

“It might be my last chance at a peanut butter sandwich!” he reminded her.

“what kind of peanut butter?”

“Smucker’s.”

“The kind you’ve got to mix, with the oil on top?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“Save it, if my plan works you can share it with me.”

“What plan?”

“I made a silencer for my rifle.”

Freddy paused as her statement sunk in. “No shit? Okay--.”

“I can shot Zombies before they even know what hit them,” explained Hannah. “They won’t hear it, and if they don’t know where to turn, you can sneak passed them to the truck and come get me.”

“Then what?”

Hannah sighed under her breath. It was clear that Freddy had not put much thought into an escape plan or even trying to get across the parking lot. “At least there will be two of us together.”

“In which apartment?”

“You can come here--.”

“I’ve already cleared this building,” pointed out Freddy. “You could come over here with your stuff. Besides, this building has access to the field between the complex and the road. If we have to, it’s an escape route.”

As he spoke, Hannah looked through the sliding glass doors at her apartment and felt a twinge of fear in her chest. She felt safe in the apartment. There was a sense of home, being in the building with all her things. She didn’t know Freddy Jones, she didn’t know anything about him. Hannah looked at the rifle resting in the crook of her arm. She did have all the guns. Shaking her head at the fear to send it fleeing, she decided to compromise for the moment. “Listen we don’t even know if this thing will work. If it does, we’ll go from there. Save the jar of peanut butter for a second and if this works, I’ll get it open.”

“Right, do what I couldn’t do and show me up?”

“Yeah,” Hannah answered. “I will.”

“But I’ve only got two pieces of bread left, and they won’t last for long.”

Looking across the parking lot at the apartment building where Freddy lived, Hannah grinned at the feeling of bravado that was taking the place of the fear. “I’ll make you bread if this works.”

“You’re on.”

“Go to one of the third floor balconies,” ordered Hannah. “I don’t want to have a ricocheting bullet kill you.”

Freddy agreed and was soon across the lot from her. In the daylight she could see he was about her age with a scraggly goatee on his chin and light brown hair sticking out from under a knit hat. He gave her a wave, which she returned. With a dramatic flourish, Hannah put one of the banana clips into the rifle and snapped the bolt on a fresh bullet. She glanced up to see if Freddy had noticed the show that she had just put on for him and smiled to herself when he gave her a small round of applause that she could only see, but not hear. Bowing to acknowledge his appreciation, Hannah then sighted on the two Zombies that still milled around the truck.

Through the magnification of the rifle scope, Hannah could see that they were pretty torn up. One had been bitten in the face and was missing most of the flesh off his cheek, exposing the teeth and the dried tongue that flicked in its mouth. Dried blood caked his chest which lay exposed under the shreds of the shirt that now draped his shoulders. His shoulders and arms all had bite marks on them, and the flesh was slowly rotting away, attracting flies to the exposed muscle beneath. No blood seeped from the wounds, there was just a caked puss at the edges of the tears in the things skin. Hannah put the cross hairs on the head of the things, gave a quiet prayer that the former owner had sighted the rifle correctly, and settled behind the rifle. Remembering everything that the ex-boyfriend had told her, Hannah took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

She felt the rifle jolt against her shoulder when the trigger released the firing pin. There was a metallic clatter and through the scope, Hannah saw a puff of dust and the puckering of flesh as the .22 bullet entered the things skull. The Zombie staggered for a moment, seemingly confused by the impact of the bullet. It then simply collapsed on the pavement as if the string holding it up had been cut. Hannah looked away from the scope, surprised that there had been no explosion of blood and brain as she had seen so many times in movies. Across the parking lot, she saw Freddy begin to clap his hands. She heard a whistle and the Zombies all turned towards the sound.

“Fuck,” breathed Hannah. Freddy leaned his head back and stepped back from the rail. Her cell phone buzzed. Hannah answered it. “You dummy.”

“I know, it was such a cool shot though. I didn’t hear anything and the fucking Zombie is on the ground.”

“Well, shut up for the next one; you can congratulate me when you come over to get me.”

There was silence from Freddy. He finally spoke with a little fear in his voice. “Yeah? When is that going to be?”

Hannah shrugged to herself; she was now committed to leaving. “I have to get my things together, food, clothes, some personal stuff. Two days?”

“What until then?”

Laughing quietly, Hannah shook her head at the man’s reluctance at seeing her but spoke soothingly into the phone. “Take a shower Freddy, and have an apartment ready for me to move into. We’ll make more plans tonight over the phone. Right now I’m going to shoot more Zombies.”

She hung up and looked at the parking lot again. Picking her targets by how close they were to the truck and the doors of the two apartment buildings, Hannah dropped seven more of the things with ten bullets from the rifle. A couple of the things had required more than one shot to kill them, either because of her aim or bullet performance, Hannah did not know. She quit when it appeared that the Zombies appeared to be moving away from the silent death she was handing out. Hannah tried to follow them with the rifle scope, but another building blocked her view. She called Freddy again.

“Why are they going over there?”
“I think there’s somebody in that building,” said Freddy with the excitement evident in his voice. “I can’t really tell because of the angle of the two buildings. But I think I saw someone at one of the windows.”

His excitement was contagious and Hannah felt it quicken her own heart beat. “Get some paint or shoe polish and make a banner or a sign with our phone numbers on it, see if they call us. I don’t have a view of the building at all.”

Freddy agreed to make the sign and after what seemed to be an hour later, he appeared with a white bed sheet with their cell phone numbers spray painted on the surface. He hung it over the edge of the balcony, weighting it down with heavy pots at either end. Hannah gripped the rifle, wanting to shoot at the Zombies that were now shuffling away from her. She was stopped by the simple fact that she did not know where the other person might be and that she did not know how far the little .22 would shoot. Her phone buzzed. Hannah didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?”

“Help me,” came the child’s voice, near tears from the sound.

Hannah waved franticly across the distance at Freddy. He indicated he had seen her. “Where are you honey?” asked Hannah to the child. She could not tell if it were a boy or a girl.

“In my room.”

“Okay, what’s your apartment number?”

“Seven, C seven. My daddy’s out there and he’s not nice.”

“What happened to your daddy?”

“He tried to leave the apartment and they bit him. He got really sick and now he’s not being nice.”

“Okay, what’s your name?”

“Chelsea.”

“Chelsea, what phone are you using?”

“My mommy’s cell phone. It’s beeping at me.”

“Okay, Chelsea, I want you to hang up the phone and turn it off for a little while to save the battery. Hide in your room and I’ll call you back in a half hour. Can you tell time?”

“Yes. I know when it’s been a half hour. I’m scared.”

“I know, but we’ll help you, okay?” Hannah made sure the cell phone number was on the caller ID. “I’ll call you back in just a little bit.”

They hung up and Hannah called Freddy. “It’s a little girl.”

“A dude just called me,” said Freddy. “He’s stuck in C building. Says there’s like a dozen of the things there. He’s out of food for two days now. No guns or anything. Sounds old.”

“C building, that’s good, that’s where Chelsea is too.”

“What are we going to do?” asked Freddy incredulously. “We can’t even get across the parking lot to see each other.”

“We’re going to have to just make the try now.”

“And the plan is what?”

“Freddy, don’t you have any ideas of your own?” asked Hannah in exasperation. She heard him sigh over the air waves.

“Okay. What guns do you have again?”

“My rifle, a revolver and a single shot shotgun.”

“I’ve got the .22 revolver of my room mates. You’ve got .22 ammo, right?”

“Yes.”

“So we’ve got four guns, and we need to get across the parking lot to be able to use them.” Freddy sighed again. “I’ve cleared my building. How many are in yours?”

Hannah thought a moment. “Three, maybe four that are in the halls. I can take them out with the rifle from my apartment. I don’t know about the other apartments right now.”

“I suggest you start killing those things. When you think you’ve got them, call me back and I’ll run over. You’re going to have to cover me with the rifle when I start across the parking lot. How long do you think it will take you to kill them all?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I’ll pack some of my stuff while I wait. I can’t help you with this, Hannah. Not without a gun.”

“I know.”

“Call me when you’re done. Good luck.”

Hannah hung up the phone. She walked back into the apartment and stared at the china cabinet in front of the door. She was scared. Her bravado from earlier had fled at the prospect of having to face those things in the hall alone. The task was going to have to be under taken sooner or later, Hannah knew, but she had wanted a little more time to prepare herself mentally. With the discovery of two more people alive in the complex, she was being forced into taking action before she felt she was ready. Remembering the voice of the little girl, Hannah took several deep breaths and went into the bedroom to pull on the heavy leather jacket and get the revolver. Gearing up in what she was starting to think of as her battle gear, Hannah slid into the heavy canvas pants, the boots and the leather. She slung the revolver over her shoulder so that it was sitting cross draw at her hip. Into the pocket of the jacket Hannah put the other banana clip and the little box one then topped off the clip already in the rifle. She checked the knife and slipped the hammer into the belt. The cell phone went into a jacket pocket in case she became trapped in another apartment. Knowing she could do no more to prepare herself, Hannah went back out to the living area and slid the china cabinet part way from the door.

With the rifle ready at her side, Hannah cracked the door of the apartment open, ready to start shooting. She had just moved the china cabinet enough to poke the rifle barrel through the opening, and hopefully be able to shut the works if she felt overwhelmed. At the far end of the hall Hannah could see one of her neighbors staring down the staircase. Once a man, the zombie was hunched over as if the spine were slowly giving up the fight against gravity. The stench of the hallway was nearly over powering, and Hannah had to fight gagging to bring up the rifle and sight on the back of the creatures head. She held her breath and squeezed the trigger. The little .22 casing bounced off the wall beside her head as the neighbor fell over the railing onto the stairs below. The only other noise was the man hitting the stairs below.

She almost cried out when another figure shuffled past the door to investigate the fall of the other. Hannah quickly shot the second one when it seemed to realize that her apartment door was open. The two little .22 bullets angled out the top of the skull to hit the ceiling behind the thing and it fell heavily to the floor. Hannah waited for a long minute to see if there was going to be any other movement in the hall. When nothing seemed to be happening, Hannah softly closed the door and slid the china cabinet back enough to squeeze through. She reached in and opened the door to see another Zombie at the opening. Cursing, Hannah attempted to slam the door shut, but the thing realized in the same second the door was open, and threw itself at the space. Hannah yelped when the door hit the back of the china cabinet, making a hollow boom and rocking the cabinet back. Hannah raised the rifle as the thing began to growl and squeeze through the opening, it grabbed for her and she fell back, triggering the .22 at the intruder firing as quickly as she could pull the trigger. Bullets struck the thing in the torso, embedded into the walls around it and zipped into the hall behind. The Zombie moaned and managed to get its upper chest into the apartment. Hannah pushed the rifle against the things head and shot it three times just as it cleared the doorway. The body fell in the doorway, preventing the door from shutting.

Hannah heard other moans.

Knowing that she did not have time to drag the body out of the way and reset her barricade, Hannah instead swapped clips in the rifle and stepped over the body and into the hallway. The length was clear, and the noise was coming from the floor below her. Quickly making sure the doors to the other apartments were closed and locked so there would be no more surprises coming out of them, Hannah stepped over the rail and looked down the well. There was a Zombie trying to crawl over the one that had fallen with her first shot. Hannah took aim and fell the undead with a round to the back of the head. She then started down the stairs with the rifle leading the way.

The next hallway was clear, and she rapidly checked all the doors there as well. Behind one came a steady thumping, but she felt the door would hold until she could deal with the ghoul on the other side. She went to the stairs and moved down them, shooting a Zombie that appeared at the bottom with two well placed shots to the head after hitting it two other times in the shoulders and chest. She forced herself to calm down as she walked, killing another Zombie in the hall. She closed the only open door in the building, locking it on an undead who was shuffling out of a back bedroom. Hannah went to the door that lead outside and unlocked it. She stood for a second feeling her heart as it raced in her chest, and tried to calm herself. When she thought she had control, she called Freddy.

“It’s done, the halls are clear. There’s maybe two in other apartments, but that can come later if needed.”

“You okay?”

“No,” admitted Hannah, suddenly comprehending that she had just killed five people. Or what used to be people. Things that had once been neighbors, people, some of whom, she had shared beers with on balcony’s on hot summer nights, or had talked about daily routines in the parking lot. Swam with in the pool. Hannah felt the tears start. She spoke into the phone. “Get your stuff, Freddy, I’ll cover you from my balcony.”

“What apartment are we going to come back to?”

“I don’t know, but you need to get over here before they start to walk back across the parking lot.”

He hung up and Hannah ran up the stairs. She pulled the dead woman out of her doorway and slammed the door on her way to the balcony. Freddy was just exiting the apartment, a baseball bat in his gloved hands, a backpack on his shoulders and wearing a leather motorcycle jacket, heavy cargo pants and a motorcycle helmet. He made a bee line for the apartment door and Hannah searched the parking lot for undead. Freddy made it all the way across the lot without incident and she heard the door below open and shut. Hannah went to her apartment door, opening it and pointing the rifle at the space. Footfalls came up the stairs, too rapidly to be a Zombie and she saw the helmet bob into view, then the rest of what she assumed to be Freddy Jones.

He saw the open door and Hannah with the rifle. He raised his hands. Hannah fought back a hysteric laugh then motioned him into the apartment. Freddy slipped in, pulling off the helmet. He had done as Hannah asked and showered, trimmed the goatee as well as tried to cut his hair.

“Hi, I’m Freddy,” he said.

“Hannah,” she replied and stuck out her hand. He tentatively shook it, and on contact, Hannah burst into tears. He held her hand awkwardly, not knowing what to do. Hannah abruptly pulled him close and hugged him, then backed away, wiping her eyes clear. “I’m sorry; I just haven’t seen anyone for weeks…”

“Yeah, I know.”

She gave a rueful laugh. “Right, neither have you.” Her cell phone buzzed. She flipped it open and saw it was Chelsea. “Shit.” Hannah pushed the correct button. “Hey honey, you okay?”

“It’s been more than a half hour. My daddy’s getting quiet. Are you coming to get me?”

Hannah mouthed that it was the little girl to Freddy. “Yes, we are, we just had to take care of some stuff here first.”

“Okay, I’m still hiding.”

“We’ll be there,” assured Hannah.

Freddy sat in a kitchen chair. “How?” he asked when she hung up.

“I thought we’d walk.”

He gave a short laugh. “Okay, but then what? According to Jesse, the old sounding dude, the whole building is infested with the things. The girl is on the second floor, he’s hiding on the first, and he’s the easiest to get to. What are you going to have her do, jump out the window? I really don’t want to go into the building if I don’t have to. That means we’ve got to hold off the ones outside while we get them. Noise attracts attention, and taking the truck would only make them come to us faster.”

Thinking about what Freddy was saying as he spoke, she could only agree with him. They had to get there fast, and get out fast, but quietly. Hannah gazed out into the darkening sky and her eyes fell on something tucked in the corner of her balcony; her mountain bike. She stood and walked to the bike with Freddy following her, asking her what she was doing. Hannah pulled it away from the rail.

“We’ll ride. There’s got to be a couple more in the building. We can ride there, grab Chelsea and the guy, get bikes for them while we’re there and ride back. It’s quiet and fast.”

Freddy didn’t look too happy. “I haven’t been on a bike in years.”

“You never forget, Freddy.”

“Yeah. Okay, so we have to get them to tell us if they have bikes ready at hand.”

“Call the old guy, I’ll call Chelsea.”

They pulled out their respective phones and made the calls. Once they hung up, Freddy nodded to her. “Jesse says he had a bike in his apartment. He’s going to get some stuff together and be ready when we show up.”

“Chelsea’s bike is on the bike rack outside the apartment. I told her to pack some clothes in her backpack and we’d be under her window soon. She’s going to watch for us.”

Nodding, Freddy slipped off his backpack and pulled out the revolver that had been his roommates. It was a heavy barreled thing. Freddy opened the cylinder that held the bullets. “You said you had .22’s?”

Hannah nodded and went to her bedroom for the ammo. She brought out two of the small boxes. They sat down at the kitchen table and she reloaded the clips while Freddy stuck nine bullets into the revolver. Hannah told him to pocket what was left in the box. He did so. She returned to the bedroom and pulled out the shotgun, carrying it back to the living area with a couple boxes of shells. She set them down in front of Freddy. He stared at it for a long moment.

“Okay, how do you use it?”

“You’ve never fired a shotgun?”

“I never fired a gun until all this happened,” admitted Freddy. He indicated the revolver. “My roommate should me this thing a couple times and how it worked, but I mean other than video games, I had no clue what to expect. I now know that these things are loud, they kick, and I can’t shoot them worth a fuck.”

“Than a shotgun is not for you,” decided Hannah.

“Why?”

She patted the stock of the thing. “If you think that .22 is a handful, this will rock your world.”

Sighing, Freddy waved a hand at the big weapon. “So what do we do with it?”

Hannah pondered his question. If Freddy couldn’t use it, and Hannah didn’t like using it, then the thing was pretty much worthless to them. “Call Jesse and see if he can use it. If he can, we’ll take it and give it to him.”

Making the call, Freddy asked Jesse if he could use a shotgun. Hannah could tell by Freddy’s responses that Jesse was more than willing to take possession of the thing. They disconnected and Hannah nodded at the darkening sky. “We need to get going.”

“Everybody’s waiting, I guess.”

Hannah motioned to the shotgun and the shells. “Take that and a box of shells. We’ll tie a rope on it so you can carry it over your shoulder. I’ll take my rifle and handgun, you’ve got yours. Let’s find you a bike.”

“I saw one outside the door, it wasn’t locked.”

They carried Hannah’s bike down the stairs and looked out the door into the growing darkness. There were no Zombies in sight. Nodding to each other, they went outside and Freddy grabbed the abandoned bike. Both mounted and began to pedal as hard as they could for building C. The Zombies which had wandered over to the other building were in the parking area for the building, aimlessly shuffling between cars. Hannah and Freddy maneuvered between the cars, trying to keep the vehicles between them and the undead. The creatures noticed the movement and started to flock towards them. Hannah scanned the windows and saw one of the second story one open. A bag dropped down to the ground. Making a line toward the bag, Hannah saw the little girl stick her head out the window. The girl let out a small squeal that made the undead moan. One of the sliding doors opened and a grey long haired, heavily tattooed man stepped out, wearing a biker jacket, jeans, chaps and boots. He had a duffle bag that he dragged out with him and an old bike he had strapped what looked like suit cases to. Freddy rode up to him and handed him the shotgun and shells. The man grinned, snapping the weapon open and loading it. They rode over to where Hannah waited on Chelsea.

“It’s far down,” murmured the girl. Hannah agreed with her, anxiously watching the Zombies progress toward where they stood. Freddy pulled out his revolver and Jesse unslung the shotgun.

“Tell her to jump,” gruffly ordered Jesse.

“She’s a little girl,” snapped Hannah at the man, instantly disliking him.

“She’s gonna be a dead little girl if she don’t jump.”

Hannah turned away from him. “Chelsea, you’ve got to jump. Just hang off the edge and drop, we’ll catch you.”

Freddy took aim with the pistol and shot at a Zombie. Two more tries put it down. Jesse was swearing at him for wasting ammo. The shotgun boomed. Chelsea screamed.

“Jump Chelsea,” commanded Hannah.

“Daddy’s in the room!” she yelled. She screamed again and was jerked from the window.

“Chelsea!” screamed Hannah in return.

“She’s dead,” growled Jesse, grabbing at Hannah, forcing her away from the building. “Get on your bike and ride the fuck outa here.”

“No.”

“Hannah,” begged Freddy. “We’ve got to go, there’s nothing we can do for her.”

The shotgun boomed again. Freddy banged out bullets with his revolver. Hannah fought back tears and turned the bike away from the building. The ghouls were closing in on them, threatening to cut off escape. Hannah pumped the bike hard and sent it careening away. Freddy and Jesse followed. The Zombies tried to catch them, reaching out with clawed hands as they past, moaning defiance at their passing. Freddy shot one that got too close to him, Jesse ripped apart another with the shotgun. They rapidly weaved between cars, avoiding wrecking only by luck until they were at the door to Hannah’s apartment building. Hannah dismounted and opened the door, holding it so that Freddy and Jesse could simply ride the bikes into the hall. She pulled her bike in after, then slammed and locked the door. A Zombie threw itself against the door making her jump.

Hannah began to cry. Jesse came up to her, loading the shotgun while he spoke. “Sorry about the kid, there was nothing you could’ve done.”

“She was a baby,” protested Hannah.

“Sure,” agreed Jesse. “But a lot of babies’ve died. A lot of people have died. You can’t save all of them.”

“Don’t talk to me,” ordered Hannah between tears. “Don’t say a word to me.”

Jesse shrugged and turned away.

Freddy came up to her. “You’re taking this a little too hard, Hannah.”

“She was a little girl, Freddy. She didn’t deserve that.”

With a bitter laugh, Freddy waved a hand past the door at the Zombies who were banging on the barrier’s surface. “Did they? Do any of us? Get a grip, Hannah, it’s the way things are going to be. There was nothing you could have done; only that kid could have saved herself by jumping. You couldn’t do it for her.”

“But--.”

“There’s no ‘but’, Hannah. Just accept it and get over it.” He walked away from her, then turned back. “You really think that any of us wanted to see a little girl die?” Freddy grabbed one of the bags that Jesse had with him and the two of them walked up the stairs past the rotting bodies. Hannah stood for a moment longer, then followed them, stepping over the dead. After a good meal and a nights sleep, they would have to move the bodies, clear the apartment building then discuss what to do next. Hannah pushed her thoughts of Chelsea out of her mind; Freddy and Jesse were right, it would do her no good to mourn the little girl she had not even known.

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Last edited by doc66 on Thu Nov 08, 2007 6:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Hannah woke the next morning to the smell of pancakes. She rolled out of bed with a headache pounding behind her eyes, wondering for a second who would make pancakes. She settled on Freddy as the cook, since Jesse did not seem to have the personality for a cook. Still in her sweats, Hannah stumbled to the kitchen and found Jesse ensconced behind the stove, flipping pancakes. Freddy was sitting on one of the two bar stools that she had at the counter and watching Jesse cook. He turned as Hannah reached the counter and bid her good morning.

“Jesse was a short order cook,” explained Freddy.

“One’a my many talents,” grinned the older man. He was wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt that was tight across his body and served to show off his tattooed covered arms. He set a plate of pancakes down in front of Freddy. “Sorry, but he’s been putting up with me longer.”

Hannah waved his apology away. Jesse poured more batter on the griddle and then turned to fix her a cup of coffee. He set it in front of her with a container of creamer and a bowl of sugar. Hannah stared at the creamer. “Where’d that come from?”

“I brought it with me,” explained Jesse. He flipped the pancakes. Motioning to another container, Jesse continued. “There’s some blueberry syrup in there, I mixed up some jelly you had with some Kayro you had back in a cupboard. Thought it’d go good with the pancakes.”

“A short order cook,” muttered Hannah. “What else did you do?”

“Well, I’m a motorcycle mechanic, a delivery driver, was a repo man until I went to prison and I lost my bond.”

“Prison--,” repeated Hannah.

Jesse laughed at the expression on her face. “Yeah, two years for possession. But I was out in six months on good behavior. I got caught trying to make some extra cash for a Harley.”

“Great.”

“Hey, lady, it ain’t all that bad, it was just some grass. A large quantity, true, but just marijuana.” Jesse put the pancakes on a plate and set them in front of Hannah. “If it makes you fell any better, that was about fifteen years ago, you were probably five. I’ve been clean and sober since.”

“Did the program and everything?” asked Hannah sarcastically.

“All 12 steps,” agreed Jesse, ignoring her tone as he poured his own pancakes. “How’re the flap jacks?”

Freddy nodded enthusiastically as he took another bite. “Great. Beats what I was cooking for myself.”

“Somebody else’s cooking is always better,” concurred Jesse. Hannah tentatively took a bite from the stack in front of her and found that much to her astonishment, they were quite good. She poured on the syrup and ate another mouthful. Jesse watched and waited for her comment.

“Good,” she grudgingly acknowledged.

He smiled and served his own plateful. They each had two helpings of the food before settling down in the living room to talk about what to do next. Jesse inquired if she had a hack saw. Hannah motioned to where her tool kit lay and he pulled out the little saw from the kit. Picking up the shotgun, he took a rough measurement on the barrel and began to saw the length nearly in half. Freddy asked him what he was doing while Hannah stared at him in disbelief.

“I’m making this long thing something a little better for fighting,” explained Jesse. “The barrel is too long for good infighting, gonna make it about fourteen inches and cut the stock down about an inch. It’ll be a bruiser, but better for killin’ Zombies.”
“You learn that in prison?” asked Hannah, still not ready to forgive the man for forcing her to abandon Chelsea.

“Nope, I learned that in the Army. The 8th Infantry, 4-8 to be exact. 3-77 Motorized Infantry, we were part of Operation Desert Storm, got the medals and everything.”

“Then why the hell did you end up selling dope and going to prison?” asked Hannah.

Jesse stopped eating for a moment. He seemed to be staring off into space, remembering something that neither Freddy nor Hannah would be able to share, or even want to from the look in his eyes. “I got stupid, that’s the only excuse I got.” He went back to sawing off the barrel of the shotgun, leaving Freddy and Hannah to sit in uncomfortable silence.

“Okay, then, what’s next?” asked Freddy.

Hannah shrugged. “I don’t really want to think today. I just want to chill.”

“Gonna have to get rid of them bodies,” mentioned Jesse. “The ones in the hall, then clear out those things in the other apartments. We can loot the apartments, get the stuff together and see what we’ve got. If we’re staying here, in these apartments, we’ve got to fortify the ground floor so that those things don’t break down one of the sliding doors or go through a window.”

“I just want to sit,” complained Hannah. Her headache was still raging even with the food in her system.

“You feelin’ alright?”

“No. My head is pounding and I don’t want to do anything today.”

Jesse looked at Freddy with concern. “Why don’t you go back to bed, me and Freddy will clear the hallway and check out the other apartments. You mind if we use your rifle?”

Hannah was suddenly paranoid about the request. “Yes, I do. If you want it, I come with it.”

“I ain’t gonna steal it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I am, so it goes with me.”

“Fine, we’ll do this without the rifle,” acquiesced Jesse sourly. The barrel of the shotgun fell to the floor. Jesse raised it up and sighted down the short length. He took out a screw driver and removed the recoil pad then cut an inch off the stock. After replacing the recoil pad, Jesse took the file from the tool kit and cleaned up the rough edges from the sawn end of the barrel. Putting the tools back, Jesse function tested the shotgun by pointing it at various things around the apartment. Hannah watched him through heavily lidded eyes. She felt feverish and wanted the light to go away. Lifting herself off the couch, Hannah staggered to her bed. She fell face first into the covers and pulled them around her body.

“You okay,” asked a worried Freddy.

“I’m dying,” said Hannah. “I think that flu is coming back.”

“You want something?”

“I want to be left alone.”

“Okay,” relented Freddy.

“Freddy,” called Hannah.

“Yeah?”

“Take the fucking rifle,” she said into the pillow. “Bring me orange juice.”

“Sure,” agreed Freddy, closing the door. She heard the whispered conversation of Jesse and Freddy then the door open and close. For a moment she was afraid that they had left her alone, and she was going to die without anyone to bury her. Then the voices came back and she fell asleep.



“Hannah, wake up,” came the voice. Hannah knew the voice, but was having a hard time placing who it was. “Wake up,” it commanded her. Hannah opened her eyes. She saw Freddy sitting on the edge of the bed with her cell phone in hand. “Chelsea is alive. She wants to talk to you.”

“Chelsea?”

“The little girl, come on, she’s scared and hiding in the closet.”

Hannah forced herself to take the phone. “Hello?”

“Come and get me.”

“You have to jump out the window,” said Hannah sluggishly.

“I will, but you have to come get me. Daddy is out there.”

“We’ll be there in a minute,” said Hannah. She closed the phone and lay back down.

“How are we going to get over there, Hannah?” demanded Freddy.

“Fly,” replied Hannah. “I don’t know. Why?”

“There’s a lot of Zombies around, we can’t just waltz out the door.”

Forcing herself into sitting, Hannah groaned through her fever. “I feel like shit.”

“Look it too,” came Jesse’s voice.

“Fuck you,” returned Hannah.

“This is the deal, lady, you sit out on that balcony with your rifle and snipe at those fucking things. I’ll take the shotgun and that revolver you’ve got and get the girl. Freddy will be ready to open the slider when I get back.”

“What slider?” asked Hannah.

“We’ve cleared out the apartments,” explained Freddy. “Jesse says he’ll go out a back slider and get the girl.”

“He’ll fucking leave us.”

“I ain’t leaving anyone,” retorted Jesse. “I’m not stupid enough to think I can get anywhere by myself. You want to save this girl or what?”

Coughing, Hannah debated what the man had said to her. She finally nodded in agreement. “Fine, okay, just get her back here.”

“Call her up and tell her to be ready to run when I whistle,” instructed Jesse as he turned on his heel and left the room.

“You’re being too hard on him, Hannah,” said Freddy. “He’s really an okay guy.”

“He’s an ex-con,” spat Hannah.

“Yeah? He’s a war hero too. So he got fucked up, give him a break.”

“Let’s get that little girl first,” decided Hannah calling Chelsea back. She explained to the girl what she was to do and then drug herself to the balcony where her rifle waited. Behind her, Freddy and Jesse geared up, then slipped down the stairs. Through the haze of her fever, Hannah started shooting the undead. She killed the ones furthest away from her first, those that were nearest to where Jesse was going to have to move to get to Chelsea. As they fell, others wandered close as if to investigate why their comrades had fallen. Hannah shot those as well, swapping the curve magazines out when she ran out of bullets. She saw Jesse pedaling his bike across the lot, holding her breath as he passed out of sight around the edge of the apartment building. She imagined Jesse stopping under the window and whistling. There was a moment when time stopped as she heard the high noise of the whistle, then Hannah pictured the scene as she hoped it would be; a small body crawled out the window, hung from the ledge as a dead man leaned out the opening, trying to reach the little girl.

In her minds eye, Hannah saw Chelsea let go just as the clawed hands reached for her, dropping into the waiting arms of Jesse. He caught her as if she weighed nothing, and then picked up her backpack from where it had lain all night after placing her on the seat behind him. He pushed off and began to pedal just as the Zombies reached for him. They came into view followed by several of the undead. Hannah took aim and fired, hitting the first of the things in the body, adjusted her aim point and hit the things head, making it stagger. She kept shooting at the undead until she could no longer see Jesse, Chelsea and the bike. Once they were out of sight, Hannah placed the rifle on the deck and staggered to the living area of the apartment. She heard the boom of the shotgun and the crack of Freddy’s revolver. The shotgun boomed again and then there was silence.

Feet came up the stairs, excited voices floated ahead of the footfalls and Hannah felt the world darken, then spin away from her.

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She woke feeling thirsty, sweaty, hot and generally foul. Hannah kicked off the blankets from her body and found she was wearing the same sweats she had been wearing when she passed out. She had vague recollections of being lead to the bathroom at odd intervals, being forced to drink water and juice and complaining. She seemed to remember complaining a lot. Swinging her feet over the edge of the bed, Hannah leaned on her elbows for a moment, cradling her head in her hands and rubbing her eyes. She heard the soft singing of someone in the outer room and lifted her head at the noise. It sounded—childish.

“Chelsea?” wondered Hannah aloud. Struggling to her feet, Hannah staggered to the living area of the apartment.

On the couch was a small girl, maybe eight years old at the most, playing with a stuffed animal and singing a song that Hannah did not recognize as she bent the animal into impossible poses. The girl saw Hannah staring and stopped singing as well as playing with the animal. Her brown eyes were large and empty, as if she had seen too many horrors for her young years to comprehend.

“Hi,” tried Hannah.

“Hi,” said the girl after a moment. “You done being sick?”

Laughing uncomfortably, Hannah took another step into the room. “I hope so, I can’t take much more.”

“My dad was real sick before he got mean.”

“I don’t think I’m going to get mean…,” Hannah looked around the room. It had been cleaned and the china cabinet was back against the wall where it had been before the plague hit the world. She looked out at the balcony, but there was no one there.

“They’re downstairs getting more stuff,” informed the girl.

“Ah,” said Hannah, finding it almost eerie that the girl knew what she was thinking. “You’re Chelsea, right?”

“Yes,” replied Chelsea in a tone that questioned who else she might be.

“I’m Hannah.”

“I know.”

“Okay,” frowned Hannah. She went to the counter between the living area and the kitchen to sit on one of the barstools. The movement made her tired. “What are they doing?”

Chelsea shrugged. “Getting stuff.”

“Right. How long have I been sick?”

“Days.”

Sighing at the lack of conversation, Hannah slid off the stool and pushed away from the counter to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and saw it was well stocked with juices and other items of interest. Hannah pulled out a bottle of Gatorade and downed a good portion of it standing in front of the open door. She heard small feet come to the kitchen area.

“You shouldn’t leave the door open, it lets the cold air out and makes the refrigerator work harder to keep things cool,” chastised the girl.

Hannah closed the door. “Who told you that?”

“Jesse.”

“Ah, Jesse. He’s a regular fountain of sage advice,” muttered Hannah.

“What?”

“Nothing.” With the Gatorade in hand, Hannah shuffled back to the stool followed by the big brown eyes of Chelsea.

“Two days.”

“Excuse me?”

“You were sick for two days.”
“Thanks.”

“I thought you were going to die.”

“Happens a lot lately, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

They regarded each other in silence for a long moment. Finally Chelsea walked back over to the couch and sat down. Hannah looked on as she picked up the stuffed animal and started to play with it again. Foot falls sounded in the hallway outside the door and Hannah found herself searching the room for her rifle. She did not see it lying anywhere nearby. Hannah glanced at Chelsea and saw that the little girl did not seem bothered by the sound of the steps. Forcing herself to relax, Hannah watched as the door knob turned and the door swung open.

Freddy stepped into the living area and Chelsea squealed on seeing him. He grinned and waved to her with a short raise of his hand. On seeing Hannah, Freddy’s grin turned sheepish. “Hey, Hannah, you okay?”

“Hey Freddy. I need a shower,” returned Hannah. She looked him over seeing he was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that was just a size too large for him. He looked healthier than he had when they first met. She continued speaking as she stepped around the counter and leaned on it. “But other than that. I’m okay. What are you guys doing?”

Freddy came in and sat by Chelsea who patted the back of his hand. Freddy looked like he had shaved recently as well, his goatee was shorter, his hair had been trimmed. “We’re going through the other apartments, getting food and stuff. Me and Jesse have used the interior doors from closets and stuff to block windows and sliding doors on the ground floor. We found a bunch more guns, and a little bit of ammo. We’re bringing the food up here and we’ve got two apartments up here we’re staying in.”

“Sounds like you’ve been busy…,” commented Hannah carefully. “Sorry I haven’t been able to help you.”

“Not a problem. We all were just worried.”

“We still have water?” asked Hannah.

“For the moment. The pressure is down.”

Standing away from the counter, Hannah nodded and made her way to her bed room for clothing and from there the bathroom. “I’ll be out in a minute,” she called over her shoulder.

“Take your time,” was the response.

Hannah turned on the water, feeling disconnected from the happenings around her. She pondered what Freddy had told her, the brief description was enough to let her know the two men had been very busy over the last two days. Hannah wondered just how much food and other items they had found and more importantly, how long would all of it last. She knew they could not stay in the apartment forever, some time soon, they would have to either more, or forage. That would mean going out into the world. Letting the water wash away the days of sickness from her body, Hannah finally turned the shower off with a satisfied sigh. She let the water drip from her body, checking her figure as she stood, noting that while once she had thought she was overweight, she now was showing ribs under the skin, and she stomach was flat, pulling the skin away from her hip bones. The sickness, two days of not eating, the weeks before that of trying to stretch her food supplies a little longer and the stress of the dying world, had all eaten the reserves of fat from her body. She now had the body she had wished for on the dance floor in her other life, but no one to show it off to.

Forcing out a small laugh, Hannah toweled herself dry and slipped into her jeans and a tee shirt. She opened the door to the bathroom, exiting feeling more human than she previously had. Freddy, Chelsea and Jesse were in the living area of the apartment. Jesse was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a t-shirt proclaiming that he shopped at Old Navy. His change of clothing made him seem less abrasive than he had before. Once again, he was cooking. The smell of the food reminded her she had not eaten in two days and made Hannah’s mouth water.

“It’s alive,” breathed Jesse as he chopped and dropped onion into a skillet.

“What’s cooking?” asked Hannah, sitting on a bar stool.

“Potatoes, mushroom, onion and SPAM. I’ve got a little bit of yellow squash that just might make it and garlic roasting in the oven.”

“Sounds good.”

“It will be.”

“Tell me what you’ve found in the other apartments.”

Jesse kept cooking as he spoke. He had a beer sitting on the counter next o him and drank sparingly from the can. “We’ve got food for a month or more, depending on how we eat, and the downstairs is closed off from the outside. We left the two hallway doors open to get out, but they have cross bars on them now. As for the firearms, we’re okay there, but there’s never enough. We’ve got a couple pistols with about two hundred rounds of ammo for them, another rifle with 60 rounds, and a shotgun with about 50 shells. There was a crossbow with twenty or so bolts, and I guess we can use that as a last resort.”

“What’s going on outside?” as she said this, Hannah realized she had not looked out a window since she had been awake.

Jesse grimaced. “It’s not real good. There’s a couple hundred of them on the lot now. There was a group of people from one of the other apartments who tried to get over here with a bunch of junk. They had about four guns between them and none of them made it. We kept telling them to just bring food and weapons, but they didn’t listen, they had suitcases and little red wagons full of personal stuff. That’s what brought all the Zombies.”

Freddy had taken up a seat beside her while Jesse was speaking. He interjected as Jesse finished. “The radio said that they army is done for. They got a call from Lt. Hope who said that the army was being over run. The base is finished. The DJ said they’ve lost a lot of contacts over the last couple of days. That one dude the one who had all the ideas for making stuff? Dan? He said that he’s been tracking the numbers that go by his place, and they’ve grown by sixty percent. The DJ tried to get real numbers out of him, but Dan had to get off the air and do something. They haven’t heard from him since. We couldn’t get the radio this morning.”

“So they lost power,” hoped Hannah. “When they can, they’ll get on the air again.”

“Sure they will,” agreed Jesse with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “In the mean time. We need to decide how we’re going to get a vehicle over here so we can use it.”

“My car is right outside the door,” mentioned Hannah.

“That would work,” Jesse nodded. “But what we really need is a van or something we can load with our stuff in case we need to get out of here.”

“You got something in mind?’ asked Freddy, coming around the counter to sit beside them. He had put the food in the oven to bake after making a Bisquick topping for it.

“Nope, just putting it out there.”

“Helpful. What do we do in the mean time?” wondered Hannah.

“Read, learn to play Chutes and Ladders with Chelsea, Monopoly, whatever we can,” mentioned Jesse coming to a decision that meant nothing. “One of the apartments we have turned into a workout room, so there’s some dumb bells in there, a trampoline for jogging, a stationary bike and other stuff to keep us in shape. When we do need to move, we need to be in condition to do so.”

Hannah laughed at his instruction. “You’ve really found your element, haven’t you Jesse.”

“I adapt to the situation at hand, Hannah, that’s all.” He stirred his concoction and then beat the last of the eggs. “I’d rather be riding my Harley.”

Hannah had no response to that. She suddenly wished she were at work, something she never thought she’d wish for. On looking at Freddy, she could see that he wished for something equally as unobtainable. Hannah wondered what the rest of the surviving world was up to and knew that she may never find out. With the radio gone, they had lost their contact with the outside world, the only way they would ever be able to find out what might be happening beyond the walls of the apartment building.

“How long is our power going to last?” said Hannah aloud.

Jesse stared at her. “I give us two or three days. Max.”

“Then what?” asked Hannah.

Freddy jumped in the conversation. “We’ve managed to find three grills with propane tanks and a camp stove that burns kerosene. That will work for a while. After that, we’ll need to either leave here or burn wood.”

Biting her lip as she listened, Hannah could see many problems with their situation; the fuel would not last forever, nor their food supply. When winter came, they would need to keep warm, and there was only so much burnable wood in the building, and as far as Hannah knew, there was no place to burn it once they had a supply set aside. Even if they managed to raid the other buildings for propane bottles and food, the spoilage on what remained was going to rise with the eventual ceasing of electric power. They were going to have to leave the building, it was inevitable. Hannah thought about Freddy’s truck and her car. They would have to make plans for the escape and the vehicles were going to play a huge part in that escape.

“So if we’ve only got a short time before the power goes, what are we doing to preserve our food that’s not canned?” asked Hannah.

Jesse fielded her question. “We’re trying to jerk the meat we’ve got. Freddy found a book in one of the other apartments that tells you how to do it, but both of us are a little leery about actually doing it. There’s a dehydrator we found as well, and the apples and fruit that’s not bad we’re dehydrating it along with the vegetables that we’ve found like the carrots and onion.”

“So we’re planning the best we can?” said Hannah.

“The best we can,” agreed Jesse, finishing off the beer. He held up the can. “I always hated Miller, now it’s like nectar.”

“How many more of those do we have?” Hannah asked, studying the can against the light.

“About seven. I’m rationing them. You want one?”

“I never liked beer,” informed Hannah.

Freddy laughed. “I’ll bet you like this beer. Think for a moment on the possibility that you will never have another taste of beer again in you’re life. Ponder the summer without a baseball game and a hot dog, with a beer to wash it down. Think about sitting on the deck in the evening, a little tune on the radio and a beer sweating on the arm of the lawn chair. Remember the sound of the can as it pops open, the first beer of the day, the cold liquid—“

“—I think I got it Freddy,” said Hannah. “I’ll take a beer.”

“Coming up,” grinned Jesse, getting up to get the beer for her. “While I’m up, you hungry? We’ve got some cheese that’s still good, I can whip up a tray of finger foods in no time.”

“Were you a wife in another life?”

“I told you I’m a Jack of all Trades.”

“Cheese would be good,” decided Hannah.

“I want cheese too,” declared Chelsea, looking up from her doll.

“We’ll all have cheese,” assured Freddy. “Then we’ll eat the wonderful food that Jesse made.”

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Cool. Cool. Cool.

Thanks Doc. :D
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Your dialog is well developed.

Nit pick:
Quote:
“Okay,” frowned Hannah. She went to the counter between the living area...


Using frown as a verb is kinda awkward. I know it's an action, but with dialog happening as well it seems to be confusing. I'd change it to:

"Okay." Hannah frowned, and went to the counter between...

but that's just MO.

And a typo:
Quote:
how long would all of it last. She knew they could not stay in the apartment forever, some time soon, they would have to either more, or forage.


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Yeah, there's a lot of editing to be done with Hannah. Someday I'll get to it. I have lists of stuff like, the truck changes brands from one part to the next and all that. I'll add it to my others!

Thanks.

Oh, and waiting on your next part of Red and Blue.

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Awesome, bloody marvellous.

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WOW :shock: great reading so far!! Got another 10 chapters ready yet??? LOL

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The days passed them by. Hannah finally recovered from the sickness that had plagued her so often in the first week of the zombie outbreak. The power had browned out over the last day or so and Jesse was concerned that what little fresh food they had left was going to spoil, so he was in the process of making as much of it up before the electric was totally gone. The smells of his cooking waft through the apartment complex, making Hannah’s stomach growl. She ignored the body’s calls for food and continued with her exercise regime. Running up the three flights of stairs and then across the hall and back down the stairs. Twelve times she did this and then it was on to weights and sit ups. Her body was getting hard, the muscles defined and skin tone clearer than it had ever been. Jesse was mostly the cause for this; he had set everyone up on a workout plan to keep them in shape, he told them all that a healthy body translated into a healthy mind. Jesse said working out in the military had saved his life and working out in the Pen had kept him from being a target. Jesse had even set up a program for Chelsea that involved lots of playing to keep her in shape.

Hannah reached the last step of the last lap. She was dripping with sweat from the humid air, and it soaked her t-shirt. Entering the workout room, Hannah quickly went to the bench and sat, taking a sip from her water bottle as she did so. Freddy was there already, sweating out lunges and taking to himself. When he noticed Hannah, he stopped speaking. Hannah grinned at him.

“Got everything figured out?” asked Hannah.

“I was just kind of going over a couple things in my head,” explained Freddy. “It helps me to say them out loud sometimes.”

“What kind of things?”

Freddy stopped his lunges so he could speak without gasping out the words. He too took a drink from his water bottle. “Well, I’ve been keeping a count on the dead that are walking around our parking lot. There are about seventy right now. They don’t really seem to be focused on anything, they’ve just wandered here. I think I recognize them. I think they might be former tenants here at the complex.”

“You telling me that they are returning, home?”

“It’s the only thing I can figure out.”

Hannah pondered this for a moment. Freddy started lunging again. While he did so, Hannah leaned back on the bench and absently picked up a dumb bell that was lying nearby. She began to perform skull crushers with the dumbbell, thinking and counting her repetitions. When she finished the set, Hannah sat back up.

“So, you think that there will be all the people who lived here and turned, eventually coming back to nest, like salmon going up stream to spawn?”

“Salmon don’t nest, but essentially, yes, I think so.”

“Smartass,” retorted Hannah. She thought about his statement. “How many people were in this complex?”

“Hundreds…?” guessed Freddy. He finished the lunges and started on curls. His biceps bunched and relaxed with each rep. Hannah had to admit, in the couple weeks they had been doing this she had seen an improvement in all their physiques. Freddy was thinner in a good way, and he now sported a nice set of biceps and his chest was broadening. Of course, working out twice a day to pass the time had helped him. She watched him at his curls and then when she felt she had been sufficiently distracted, she lay back down and started her next set of skull crushers.

“So if we’re going to move, we need to do it soon,” said Hannah between reps.

“Yes, but where would we go?”

“Jesse keeps talking about heading out to the country.”

“Sure, sounds nice, but where?” argued Freddy. “What secret place does he have in mind? Are we going to drive around until we run out of gas and then say, ‘Gee, this looks good!’? We have to have a plan of some sort, or we’re just going to end up killing ourselves.”

“How long do you honestly think we’ll last trying to stay here?”

Freddy did not answer that right away. He finally put the weights down and sat on the floor across from her. “I don’t know. But I do know that we’re going to run out of food in another week or so. I know that when the electric goes, we’re out of water as well, I’m surprised that we still have what little flow we’ve got. Then we’re going to have to do something. Have you noticed that it hasn’t rained yet? We can’t even put out catch basins for the water because there’s no water to catch. We’re going to have to do something soon, Hannah, and all I’m saying is that we need a plan before we rush to the truck or what ever and go dashing off to the wilds into God knows what.”

Hannah felt her face split into a big grin. “That little speech is a long way from the guy who was pissed about not being able to open a jar of peanut butter.”

“Fuck you, Hannah.”

Laughing, Hannah stood. “You might get your chance yet--.”

Freddy’s response was cut off by Chelsea’s voice from the doorway. “Jesse says you need to come now.”

The seriousness of her tone made them both grab up their water bottles and follow the little girl to Hannah’s apartment.



The two followed Chelsea up the stairs to her apartment. She led them through the apartment to the balcony where Jesse was looking through a cheap pair of binoculars to the road beyond the apartment complex. Hannah scanned over to where Jesse was looking and saw movement through the trees. The older man looked over when he heard them step onto the deck. He waved out at the road and handed Hannah the binoculars.

“Their moving east for some reason,” he explained as he handed off the glasses. “Chelsea heard a big diesel engine and called me, I caught the plume of smoke—it must have really been moving—and the next thing I know is they’re moving like a tidal wave up the road.”

As Jesse explained what had happened, Hannah peered through the lenses and took in a sharp breath. On the road the mass of undead staggered, crawled and lurched up the roadway. They were in various stages of decomposition, ranging from the newly infected to those who had been contaminated at the outset. While the virus seemed to slow the decay of the body, the differences were apparent in each individual corpse as it shuffled along the pavement intent on the prey that had evaded them. There were hundreds, maybe a thousand of them and their single mindedness was disturbing to see. Hannah handed the binoculars over to Freddy who stared for several long moments at the scene before putting the glasses down and turning away.

“What if they suddenly stop and head this way?” wondered Freddy.

“We’re screwed,” said Jesse.

“We need to get out of here and we need a plan of where to go,” said Freddy, repeating what he had told Hannah. “We need a plan and now.”

“Okay, genius,” retorted Jesse. “Just where would you suggest we go? Do you have a place in mind? Or a way to get there?”

“No,” admitted Freddy angrily. “But we can at least come up with something. I mean, sitting around here and waiting to die is not my idea of a fantastic short life. As for a way to get there; my truck and Hannah’s car is right out there in the parking lot. She’s got a half tank of gas at least and so do I. That will get us some where away from here and maybe even to some place where we can wither get a bigger vehicle or at least fill up the tanks. Besides, you’re the one who keeps talking about getting out of here. Now’s the time to start making the plans.”

“We’ve got nothing, no maps, no idea of where we even might get a place to go. There’s been nothing on the radio, not phone calls since we hooked up and those people died trying to get in here.” Jesse waved a hand at the road. “So you want to drive into all that?”

Hannah held up her hands to stop their argument. “Wait, we can make plans, wee can get out of here. We just have to think it through. Did we find any maps of the area in any of the apartments?”

“Not that I remember,” said Jesse grudgingly.

“Let’s look again,” ordered Hannah. “And we need to put together those backpack you were talking about Jesse, those ones that have everything in them--.”

“The Bug Out Bags?” he supplied.

“Yes. Then we’ll take stock of our ammo and food, we’ll decide what we need to take and what can stay.”

“I wanna gun,” piped up Chelsea.

“You’re too young,” said Hannah automatically.

Chelsea crossed her arms and looked at Hannah from under stern eyebrows. “Jesse’s been showing me stuff and I can shoot better than Freddy.”

Hannah blinked in surprise and cast an inquiring gaze at both Jesse and Freddy. They grinned sheepishly at the decking of the balcony before Jesse cleared his throat to speak. “Well, she’s been shooting that Henry .22 lever action every now and then,” he admitted. “She’s pretty good at loading it and shooting it.”

“How every now and then?” asked Hannah, feeling a strange concern for the little girl even though they often seemed to be walking hard circles around each other like cats just meeting since she had gotten better.

“She shoots a zombie or two a day,” explained Jesse. “Just to thin the herd a little. She needs to know how to shoot, and that rifle worked well for her.”

Hannah looked at the little girl and wondered what kind of a world Chelsea was going to inherit. Finally smiling at the 9 year old, Hannah reached out and touched Chelsea’s soft hair. “Okay then, Chelsea gets the Henry. Be sure not to pack her bag too heavy. Let’s start looking for a map and see what plans we can make.”



They couldn’t find a map in the entire building.

That was not to say that they didn’t find maps, they just could not find a map of the city or the county they were in. They had state maps, maps of the world, maps of parks in other states, and maps of other countries, but nothing that was of the immediate area. After looking through all the maps they had, Freddy finally threw down what they had and announced he was going to his apartment. Jesse laughed at him and Hannah gave him a worried speech about not being crazy. Freddy shook his head at them.

“You don’t understand,” he said over her protests and Jesse’s laughter. “I have maps of the city, maps of the surrounding towns, a map of the county and maps of the state parks in the county. I used to work for a courier company and I had to know the whole fricking state practically. I have maps of everywhere almost. If I don’t have a map of it, then it wasn’t worth going to. “

“So what are you going to do,” asked Jesse. “Load up your .22 and trot over to your apartment and get them for us?”

Freddy nodded. “Pretty much. I’m actually going to get my truck on the way back so it will be closer to the doors for when we leave.”

“That’s crazy, Freddy,” said Hannah. “There’s about a hundred of those things out there.”

Shaking his head, Freddy pointed out the sliding doors of her apartment. “I’ve been keeping an eye on them. They’ve kind of migrated towards the road. I’ve got a pretty clear shot over there right now.”

“What about getting back?” asked Jesse. “What about when they see you running across the parking lot and trap you in your building, what then?”

“I’ll get back,” assured Freddy.

Hannah shook her head. “You’re not going alone.”

“You’re not going with me,” said Freddy. “Somebody has to snipe them from the balcony when they get to close to me.”

“Jesse can do that,” answered Hannah. “Hell, from what you guys tell me, Chelsea can do that--.”

“I can,” said Chelsea confidently.

“This is nuts,” said Jesse. “What happens when one of you gets bit?”

“You’ll shoot us,” informed Hannah. She looked at Freddy. “We’ll take just our guns and ammo for them; you said you gathered up food while you were over there, right? So we won’t need to take any with us. We’ll go over, get the maps and be back in no time.”

Jesse shook his head. “What if you get trapped? You’re dividing up our numbers.”

“We’ll just wait out the zombies until they get distracted again and be back when they do.” Hannah sat back on her chair and crossed her arms. “It’s the best way to do this, Jesse. You’ve been saying we need to get out of here. I’ll tell you what; we’ll drive my car across the lot, its right outside the door. We’ll pick up his truck on the way back and have both vehicles at the door for when we’re ready to go. We’ve got to get them anyway. While we’re over there, you can be deciding what food to take with use and start packing it up to be loaded. This opportunity will not last forever.”

Relenting after a moment, Jesse nodded. “You’re not going to give this idea up, fine, Chelsea and I will snipe from the balcony for you. But take your cell phone so we can stay in contact if we need to. What guns are you taking?”

Freddy and Hannah looked at each other wondering if they were as nuts as Jesse thought. Hannah took mental stock of the weapons they had. Her Ruger 10/22 and her Smith M19. Jesse had laid claim to the 12 gauge single shot he’d sawn off as well as a Taurus PT92 9mm. He’s also laid claim to a Savage bolt action rifle. Chelsea had the little Henry and Freddy had taken possession of a Glock 17 and a Mossberg 20 gauge shotgun to complement his .22 revolver. Freddy had improved as a shooter, but he was still not as proficient as Hannah and Jesse, or Chelsea apparently.

“Let’s keep the ammo simple, we’ll take your .22, Freddy and my Ruger.”

“That works,” answered Freddy. “Besides, if we can we’ll stop and pick up the guns that those idiots dropped a couple weeks ago in the parking lot. They are near my truck. So are a couple of the knapsacks they were carrying, I’ll bet the ammo in those.”

“Don’t run too many risks,” warned Jesse.

“I said if we can,” pointed out Freddy.

“Right. When are we doing this?”

“Now,” decided Freddy, looking over at Hannah.

She shrugged. “Why not? Let me get my stuff on.”

“Me too,” said Freddy. “I’ll meet you all down stairs.”

Hannah watched him walk out the doorway to the room he was using. Jesse watched Freddy go as well and then looked at Hannah. “I was serious; don’t try to do too much. Just get the maps and if you can get the truck. If you think you can pick up a couple guns without risking too much, then maybe try it. Be careful, Hannah.”

“I will, Jesse,” assured Hannah, touched by his heartfelt warning. She might have thought him to be ruthless and a dirt bag at one time, but with the passing weeks she had come to appreciate where he had come from as well as what he had become. He doted on Chelsea and had helped Freddy gain some confidence in himself through the working out and other skills in survival.

Hannah went into the bedroom and changed into what she was beginning to think of as her armor; the heavy canvas pants, the leather jacket and gloves, hiking boots. Freddy would be wearing similar clothing, found in the other apartments, leather pants and jacket, heavy boots and gloves. Hannah filled the pockets with the magazines for the rifle and made sure she could get to her knife, still duct taped to the sleeve. She slid the hammer into a loop that Jesse had sewn onto the jacket and put the cell phone in the inside pocket. The final addition was her car keys, which had been sitting on her dresser since before the plague had taken over the world. Hefting the ring, Hannah took all the other keys off the ring and tossed them into a drawer. With a final look around the bed room, Hannah went down the stairs to meet the others.

Jesse was there with Chelsea. The girl, for all her sternness, was looking a little scared. She gave Hannah a quick hug and then ran upstairs. Freddy watched her go with a smile. He had his leathers on and the .22 in hand. “She’s going to be on the balcony,” he informed Hannah.

Jesse gave Hannah a hug as well and shook Freddy’s hand. “Get back as fast as you can. Don’t take stupid risks.”

“Sure Dad,” teased Freddy.

“I’m serious.”

“I know.” Freddy nodded to the door. “Open it up, then, pops.”

Jesse made sure the Taurus was loose in the holster and removed the crossbar from the door after checking to be sure no zombies lay in wait just outside the door. He took a deep breath and after nodding a final time to Freddy and Hannah, swung the door open. The two quickly stepped through the threshold and into the new world.

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Hannah felt the fear race through her body when the door slammed shut behind her and Jesse replaced the bar. She had a moment of panic where she wanted to turn around and pound on the door to be let back into the apartment building. The moisture dried up in her mouth while at the same time a sweat instantly drenched her to shirt under the leather. Fighting to control her breathing, Hannah pushed all thoughts of danger and running out of her mind and shuffled forward nearly bumping into Freddy, who stood in front of her, not moving himself. Hannah lightly pushed on his back to get him mobile. He stayed where he was and glanced over his shoulder at her. She could see that he was as scared as she was, but there was a line of determination in the set of his jaw and the expression on his face.

“Wait a second,” he whispered. “I think we should just walk across the lot. Look at them; they’re focused on the road and moving that way. It’s clear between the buildings right now. If we start your car, we’ll draw them back this way.”

“Fine, whatever,” hissed Hannah back. “Just move.”

“Let’s swing out a little and pick up those other guns.”

“I don’t care, Freddy,” said Hannah. “Go.”

Freddy set out across the parking lot, moving at a slow pace, looking right and left as he walked to be sure nothing was wandering up on them as they moved. Hannah followed him a step behind him, her rifle swinging back and forth as her head moved to scan as well. She kept checking their back as the route of escape grew further and further away. Glancing up, Hannah saw Chelsea and Jesse on her balcony with rifles, watching as the two passed by Hannah’s car. She saw Jesse stand and then shake his head when Freddy entered the expanse of the parking lot without stopping at the car. Tentatively Hannah followed him glancing to her left as a zombie at the far end of the lot began its shambling move towards them. On reflex, Hannah raised the Ruger to shoot the thing, but Freddy’s harsh murmur stopped her.

“Wait, we don’t want to attract the others back here.”

Glancing at Freddy, Hannah saw that while he seemed to be giving orders in a calm and rational manner, his eyes were as round as hers felt. She nodded that she understood and they picked up the pace across the lot.

Freddy took their path towards the cluster of cars where the refuges had made their last stand. Around the area there were several head-shot bodies on the pavement, lacking what Hannah thought were probably the normal stains of blood pooling around the bodies as they had all been dead if not for weeks, then days at the time they stopped moving. One of the firearms lay outside the vehicles, Freddy leaned over and picked the pistol up then shoved it into his waistband. Hannah leaned over as well to grab a knapsack that was lying nearby and slung it over her shoulder. While she was doing this, Freddy began to weave his way between the cars to get the other weapons.

She saw that there were three more of the ghouls already taking note of them. Hannah hissed a warning to Freddy which made him look quickly over to her. She nodded across the lot to where the undead were starting to move at them. Freddy acknowledged that he saw them and turned back to the task when a hand reached out and grabbed his ankle. It pulled itself up to his boot and began to bite at the heavy leather encasing his ankle, growling and moaning as it did so. Freddy let out a frightened shout and pointed his pistol at the thing and began to fire the little .22 at it. Hannah’s own scream joined his and she leveled the Ruger, the pops of the silencer joining his louder pistol cracks. The bullets riddled the things chest, neck and head until it finally ceased moving.

When the shots died out, there was a moment of suspended silence as it seemed that every thing in the universe focused on the two humans standing in the middle of the parking lot. Then dead eyes began to scan the parking lot until they rested on Hannah and Freddy standing over the now deceased form of their brethren. The zombies began to move.

“Fuck!” yelled Freddy on seeing the other zombies turn towards them. He jumped into the cluster of cars and gathered up the last weapons he could reach and tossed the other backpack to Hannah. She caught the heavy pack and slung it over her other shoulder. With the rifle up, Hannah took aim at the closest of the undead and fired. It fell even as she swung the rifle to the next threat. That one was downed by the whipcord crack of Jesse behind the .30-06. The head expanded in the view of her scope and then the excess liquid from the impact exited out the side of the things head.

“Get moving!” Hannah yelled to Freddy.

“I’m fucking moving,” he shouted back to her as he cleared the wreckage, struggling to keep the weapons from escaping.

“We’ve got to get back to the apartment,” said Hannah, shooting another volley at a ghoul.

Freddy pushed her towards his apartment building. “Mines closer, go!”

They headed off and a dead run for the door to the apartment building. Freddy fired his last rounds at a closing zombie wearing a police uniform. The thing staggered when the bullets hit its chest and the vest underneath. It growled at Freddy and its arms grasped at the air around him as he rushed past it. Hannah reached the door ahead of Freddy and pulled on the latch. It swung open and she and Freddy fell into the apartment with another of the ghouls close behind them. The thing managed to get into the apartment and fell on Hannah, snapping and trying to claw its way through her leather protection. Hannah screamed, trying to get the thing away from her, her rifle trapped between the two of them as she struggled. Hannah let go of the rifle and grabbed at the knife taped to her arm. The zombies jaw clamped down on her forearm, the pressure crushing over the bone in her arm. Hannah cried out as the pain lanced up her arm and in to her shoulder and neck. She shook at the things hold, only to have it snarl and bite again for a better hold. It did not seem to realize that it was not going to get through the leather covering.

“Hannah, move your head to the right,” snapped Freddy. Hannah complied and the things head burst a new hole. She was spattered with gore as the body relaxed. Freddy grabbed the thing to pull it off Hannah and found that it had died still clamped onto Hannah’s arm. Freddy’s tug pulled her arm and wrenched her shoulder. She let out a yelp for him to stop, directing him to let the body fall and close the door. Freddy did so, slamming the door shut on two more of the fiends.

Hannah shed the backpacks and unzipped the coat. With a need born of disgust, Hannah began to struggle out of her jacket. She just managed to get her arm out of the corpses clenching teeth, then slid away from it, revulsion making her body itch. Grabbing up her rifle, she pointed it at the door as the undead began to pound on the frame. Freddy shot the lock on the thing, stepping back to kneel beside Hannah.

“Are you okay?”

Hannah checked her arm. It was red and seemed to be swelling but there was no broken skin. Anger surged through her body at him. “Other than your idiotic stunt to get guns, I’m okay.”

“It wasn’t a stunt, we needed these things,” protested Freddy, shaking a rather evil looking rifle at her.

Hannah started to retort and then sighed it away. It was no use getting into a fight with him over it. The damage was done, and they could only work on fixing it. She nodded down the hall. “Which apartment’s yours?”

“Upstairs.”

“Let’s go then.” They gathered up the items that had trapped them in the building. Hannah followed Freddy up the stairs, calling to his back. He stopped, turning to look at her. “You know, if you wanted to get me alone, all you had to do was suggest it back at my place.”

Freddy turned beet red and hurried up the stairs. Hannah laughed merrily at his back and followed.



They stood together on the deck and watched as the parking lot filled with more of the undead. The things were filtering in from the field and beyond. Hannah felt sick as she watched their path of escape dwindle to nothing. Freddy stood with hunched shoulders and drooping head as he kept quietly calling himself stupid and mentally kicking himself for loosing control and shooting the zombie in the parking lot. Hannah did not know what to say to him, so she kept quiet, simply put a hand on his shoulder and patted his back. She somewhat blamed him for becoming stuck separate from Jesse and Chelsea, but also knew that she had agreed to come with him and had not tried to stop him from gathering the weapons from the parking lot and therefore shared some of the fault with him. They could have driven her car, gotten the maps and been back at the apartment before the undead would have gathered, or they might have been able to walk unmolested across the parking lot. Then again, they might have run into the biggest group pf zombies they’d yet seen tying to get to the door. Hannah tried to stop blaming Freddy and attempted to look at things in a brighter light; they were still alive.

Hannah’s cell phone buzzed against her breast. She pulled it out of the leather coats inner pocket to answer it. Jesse’s voice came to her from across the distance of the parking lot.

“Are the two of you alright?”

Hannah looked over at Freddy, who had barely acknowledged that she had answered the phone. “We’re alright physically,” said Hannah, moving into the living area of Freddy’s apartment. “Freddy is kind of beating himself up.”

“He should be,” snapped Jesse. “That was stupid, it was exactly what I told you two not to do.”

“Yeah, Jesse, I got that.”

There was silence on the other end for a long second. “Okay. No use in fucking complaining about it now. Were the guns worth it?”

“You’re asking the wrong person about that.” Hannah glanced at Freddy’s back. He still stood with his arms on the top of the railing, staring out at the collected hoard below. “Listen; let’s save some cell time here. It’s going to be a while before we can get back over there. You keep putting together those packs and getting the food together. Freddy and I are going to see what we can do over here to make it work for us. From the looks of the electric power, we haven’t much time left to keep these things charged up.”

“Well, we’ve got six cell phones over here that are good to go. I would suggest that you find more over there and do the same while you can. Remember how to look up the numbers in the menus?”

“Freddy and I can figure it out together.”

“Right. If you have questions, call. I’ll keep this one on and charged.”

“Okay. Hopefully something will happen for the good, right?” Hannah gave a small laugh. “I think we needed the vacation anyway.”

“Be careful Hannah, and do me a favor, get Freddy away from the balcony, he looks ready to jump.”

Hannah rang off and went out to where Freddy still stood. She put an hand on his shoulder and he jumped slightly. “Hey, Freddy, we’ve got to secure the downstairs and get that body out of here. You ready to do that?”

The other let out a sigh that came from the depths of his soul. He turned to Hannah with a tortured look haunting his gaze. “I’m sorry, Hannah. I really blew it. I just absolutely fucked this whole thing up.”

Catching her breath before replying, Hannah decided to try and put a positive out look on the situation. “I’d have freaked out too, Freddy. Hell, I did. We both lost it. We’ll come out of this okay. These things can’t stay here forever.”

“They’re dead, Hannah, they can stay here forever.”

She glanced out at the mass that was shuffling below them and shuddered. “Okay, but we’ll get out of here. Something will happen to distract them and we’ll be able to get out. In the mean time, we need to do what we can to make this place safe, like you and Jesse did over at my building. Then we need to get food together, water, and see about these guns you were all fired up to get a hold of.”

She could see Freddy gathering himself together as she spoke. He nodded to her and stepped away from the rail. “Okay, you’re right. Let’s get that thing out of here. I’ve got a lot of the food already in my apartment, in my roommate’s bedroom. It’s not organized or anything.”

“Great, that’ll save us some time. We can go through the other apartments for clothing and weapons, batteries and flashlights, whatever we can find to make our stay enjoyable,” said Hannah leading Freddy away from the balcony. “We also need to find cell phones and get them charged so we can keep calling Jesse if the power goes.”

With a plan taking shape, both of them were starting to feel a little better, Freddy because it made the situation less dismal, and Hannah because it gave them purpose and a goal to work for. They trotted back down the stairs and after a quick raid into another apartment for a sheet, they rolled the corpse into the sheet and lugged it up the stairs to toss off a balcony. They chose one on the third floor, while it was more work to get the thing up there, the results were more satisfactory because of the damage it did when it hit. The undead gathering near the door they had come in took the brunt of the impact, knocking several of them down and sending others staggering away. Of the ones that were knocked down, four failed to get up again, and two were trapped under the body, arms or legs wedged beneath the weight of the carcass, the ghouls too stupid to remove the burden that held them to the ground.

Freddy and Hannah gave high fives and hugs for their handy work, suppressing the urge to shout out with glee at the carnage they had wrought. The falling body had distracted the mass from the door for the moment. It was time to start shoring up their defenses. Hannah and Freddy spent the rest of the day pulling apart bedding for the heavy frames and moving tall furniture in front of the ground floor sliding doors, hammering the barriers in place where they could and covering the windows as well. They shut all the ground floor doors as they had at her building to act as a kind of fire door should one of the apartments be breeched. It was humorous for them as the crowd of ghouls kept wandering from place to place trying to follow them as they nailed first one room off and then as a lark, headed to the other side of the building to draw the freakish beings away from where they had been working and began hammering that room closed. As they worked, they talked of their respective pasts, sharing both happy moments and sad, remembering families and friends they had both known. They closed the last door at dusk, ignoring the calls of the dead from the outside. Both trooped up the stairs, tired and sore from the moving and construction they had performed.

Once in Freddy’s apartment, both collapsed on the couch. Hannah closed her eyes, aware of Freddy on the other end of the sofa and also the drying sweat on her body. She felt the grime of the day and the grit like an itch under her skin. Hannah looked over at Freddy to where he sat staring at her.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he responded, aware suddenly of his gaze. He looked away and at the wall that held posters from the local headshop.

Following his stare, Hannah grinned to herself, feeling comfortable in his oddly decorated apartment. In addition to the posters, there was a Japanese screen behind the couch and a big brass topped coffee table with an India-type hunting scene etched into the surface of the metal. He had the obligatory big TV and Play Station as well as a stereo system set up with surround sound. She spied the bong not quite hidden behind a picture frame. “So, interesting décor. How much of it is yours?”

Freddy smiled. “The posters and the bong.”

Hannah laughed at that.

“No really, I was the poor roommate. Gary was the one that had the steady job and the parents that floated him cash on a monthly basis. I had the contacts for the dope and the weird guys in the band that all the chicks hung around.”

“Weren’t you one of the guys in the band?” asked Hannah.

“I played some, but my music was more World-style than bar-rock.” He smiled at a memory. “While my music was pretty good to get laid too, it was not conducive to drawing them in, you know?”

Shrugging, Hannah thought a moment before replying. “I guess it depends on what kind of girls you were trying to draw into your room.”

Laughing, Freddy blushed and sat up a little. “Willing ones, of course.”

Tossing a pillow at him, Hannah shook her head. “You know what I mean. Did you want to little air head with the low riders and big boobs, or the girl who liked to eat at a Thai restaurant and have conversations about Milan Kundura.”

“Yes,” deadpanned Freddy, tossing the pillow back. “I just wanted a girl, any girl.”

“Men. You’re all whoredogs.”

“I guess.” Freddy slouched down on the couch. “I know you didn’t have problems in the man department.”

“Excuse me?” said Hannah.

“Don’t get pissed,” said Freddy hurriedly. “I’ve just noticed you from like the day I moved in here, that’s all.”

Relaxing, Hannah felt a little embarrassed by his confession and flattered as well. “You never even tried to bump into me?”

“Come on, Hannah, you saw me before all this, tell me the truth; would you have given me the time of day?” Freddy held up a finger to keep her from lying. “Truth.”

Swallowing away the dry mouth that his demand brought, Hannah looked away embarrassed, remembering the skinny, slightly greasy looking guy who had run across the parking lot. “Truth? No, probably not.”

“Truth, defiantly not,” corrected Freddy.

“Okay,” admitted Hannah. “I would have blown you off.”

“I know.”

“But now, I’m not so sure--.”

“—Because I’m one of only two guys left in the world?”

“No, because now I know you,” said Hannah. “And since you’ve been working out, you’re getting quite a body there, mister.”

Freddy blushed. “Yeah, well, you’re not doing so bad on your own little self either.”

“Thank you,” charmed Hannah. “I was hoping someone would notice.”

“I’m sure Jesse has--.”

Hannah gave Freddy a warning glance. “Don’t spoil this for yourself, Freddy. He’s old.”

“Sorry.”

“On that note, I’m going next door to shower. I would suggest you do the same. I won’t sit across from a smelly guy tonight at dinner in our first night at the new place, got it?”

“Got it.”

Hannah stood and walked across the hall without looking back at Freddy. She knew he was watching her and decided she liked the thought. Once at the apartment, she stripped and stepped into the shower after finding a girl-like soap she could use. The water was lukewarm and the pressure was down again. While she showered, Hannah gave a brief thought to remember to fill water jugs as soon as they could, but thoughts of Freddy kept her from being too serious in her planning. She felt the warmth of her imagination take over and after a quick rinse, turned off the water. Hannah grabbed a towel and went back to Freddy’s apartment. She found him pulling on a pair of jeans, fresh from his own shower.

“You might want to forget about those,” suggested Hannah.

Freddy turned quickly and tried to zip his pants. He gave up on seeing her clad in a towel. Hannah crossed the room and let the cover fall away from her body. She was aware of her arousal and her breasts as they responded to Freddy touching her. Kissing him, Hannah pushed at his jeans. He helped her slid them off and they fell to his bed.

“When did you last change the sheets?” she asked from her position on top of him, she could feel him grow harder under her as she moved on top of him, touching him and letting him touch her.

He gave a short laugh at her question. “Um, let’s see, I’ve been at your place, what, three weeks now? So about four weeks ago, give or take a week.”

“When was the last time you got laid?” she bluntly questioned him.

He stopped caressing her body and looked into her eyes. “A lot longer ago than that. What about you?”

“Same.”

Freddy rolled her under him and she returned his kiss, feeling her body part to accept him. “Condom?” he asked her. She shook her head.

“Fuck it,” she sighed as he entered her.

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Hannah woke with a start and wondered where she was. She felt the weight of another body next to her, and for a brief moment, was concerned she had done something stupid. Then she remembered she was in Freddy’s apartment and they were trapped. The level of doing something stupid was still possible, but at least she had a clear idea of what had precipitated the events. As she lay in the bed, she felt Freddy stir next to her. She could tell he was awake after a moment and was more than likely struggling with the same thoughts she’d had just seconds before. To elevate the awkwardness, Hannah turned over and lightly kissed him on the mouth.

“Good morning,” she greeted.

“”Morning,” he returned, relaxing a bit. They looked at each other uncomfortably for a second and then Hannah laughed. “What?”

“Nothing, really,” said Hannah. “It’s just the whole ‘what now?’ thing.”

“Yeah, what now?”

“Now, we get up shower again, unless you want to fuck,” she put in impishly, “and start putting together some of the stuff around here that we might be able to use.”

Freddy pondered the short sentence for a second. He rolled onto his side and ran a hand along her thigh and hips. “We have time--.”

“Lots of it,” agreed Hannah, throwing her leg over his waist. “But I think we need to break the ice a little.”

“That’s a weird way to put it.”

“Tell me you’re not wondering if you just did a really stupid thing then.”

Smiling at her, Freddy shook his head. “You’ve got me on that one.”

Kissing him again, Hannah pushed Freddy onto his back and straddled him. “I know.” She began to move slowly on top of him, smiling at his reaction. “Was I what you were hoping for?”

“Everything….”

“So were you,” assured Hannah before he could ask her.

“Hannah,” started Freddy, stopping her from covering him. “Aren’t you worried about getting pregnant?”

Pausing, Hannah leaned over Freddy and let her hair fall around him. He pushed it away from her face. Hannah gave a small sigh before answering. “Honestly, no. Because with all the stress of the way things have been and not eating right, really, I haven’t had a period since this all started. My body hasn’t adjusted the way things are, neither has my mind I guess. Until we find someplace somewhat normal, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about me getting pregnant. But if you’d fell better, I’ll stop.”

Hannah gave Freddy a wicked grin and made as if to move off of him. He grabbed her hips and grinned back, moving under her while he looked into her eyes. She leaned down onto him and moaned as he thrust into her. Kissing, they enjoyed the moments of pleasure left to them.



They looked at the gear they had gathered together and then at the distance to the Freddy’s truck. Two days they had been in the building, a day without power. Hannah missed showering already, especially after sex. She pushed the thought from her mind and brought it back to the task at hand. All the food had been divided into piles of dried goods, canned goods and then from there into types of dried and canned goods. They had gathered all the pillow cases they could find, then loaded them with the foods, trying to put equal portions of each category into each bag. Another pile had tools, hammers, screw drivers and the like. These they had put into a heavy canvas bag that just contained all the instruments. The flashlights and batteries that were still good went into a backpack they found in a closet, along with things like rolls of duct tape and wire. A smaller backpack held all the medical supplies they could find. Everything from Band-Aids to partial bottles of medication that neither knew what they pills were for on the off chance that some day they might be needed.

Finally, they had the two backpacks that they had picked up in the parking lot. Those were with the guns. The packs had been full of ammo and clips, magazines, reminded Hannah, for the guns they had, and a couple they didn’t. The evil rifle turned out to be an AR15 with a collapsible stock, (Jesse had been happy about that one when they told him) and an electronic sight on it. They had eleven spare magazines for it and as many boxes of ammo. The pistol was a Springfield 1911, another big deal to Jesse, with almost two dozen clips and more boxes of ammo. There was another rifle, a pump action .357 magnum, and a revolver much like Hannah’s own Smith, but this was a Colt King Cobra, which was too big for Hannah to use. Ammo for the other rifle and the Colt was the same and there were more than a dozen 50 round boxes for those as well as eight speed loaders.

Off in the distance, thunder rolled out a long and deep message. They both glanced out the sliding doors. Hannah dialed the cell phone and waited for Jesse to pick up on the other end. Finally he did, speaking gruffly to her hello.

“The storm is about here,” said Hannah. “Do you think this is going to work?”

“I only have the experience of a movie to base this on,” said Jesse. “But, I will say this; the rain can’t hurt us any more than a bright sunny day. So why shouldn’t it help us?”

“I have no answer for that,” agreed Hannah. “So the plan is if the storm doesn’t miss us like the last two, we’re going to make a mad dash for the nearest cars and load as much as we can into them, then get the hell out of here?”

“I’d rather you guys come over here to plan a little more--.”

“I know you would, but we’re out of power, and that means no water soon. We’ve got to find someplace better than this,” reminded Hannah. “Freddy and I have looked at the maps, and if we can get there, Mohican State Park is only a little ways away. There’s the lodge there, and it’s remote enough that even if there’s zombies in the lodge, we can clean them out and won’t have to worry about them being replenished anytime soon. Loudonville is not far away for supplies, and Butler, while smaller, is even closer.”

“Okay,” relented Jesse. “I’ve got the spare key to your car ready. Chelsea and I have stacked all the food we can next to the doors. Is there anything you want us to bring from here?”

“There’s a picture of my mom and dad in my dresser. Get it.” Hannah thought for a second. “Get my teddy bear. My dad gave that to me a long time ago. Stuff some underwear, a pair of jeans and t-shirts into a bag too. I guess that’s it.”

“Okay. Remember, let the rain do its thing and then we’ll get started. If we get split up, we’ll meet at the rest area next to 71.”

“Got it.” Hannah and Jesse said their goodbyes and disconnected. Freddy looked up from the piles of goods.

“He still think the thunder storm will confuse them?”

“Yes. I can’t say it won’t. That last one sure stirred them up and they did kind of wander off for a while. At least we got the truck closer to the building because of it.”

They had been able, because of a thunder storm that was all thunder and no storm, to get to Freddy’s truck with Hannah covering him from a balcony, and move it right next to the doors. The Zombies had started to become restless, if that was the word for what they did, when the storm began to form in the distance. The thunder made them wander away from the buildings as it echoed across the sky, and as it rolled over head, the zombies that were in a bunch broke up and staggered in different directions, each trying to find the source of the noise. Freddy had gotten the truck and made it back to the apartment doors, they had even loaded several bags of goods into the thing before the storm suddenly petered out and the zombies returned, filtering back like they had been called by an unseen voice. Jesse had done the dame with Hannah’s car, loading as many things as he could into it while Chelsea held her rifle protectively overhead.

“First things first,” reminded Hannah. “The guns and with each gun a bag of food and the ammo that goes with it. Once those things are in, if we can, we grab the rest of the food and water then get out.”

“I got it Hannah.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just nervous.”

“Me too.” He reached over and held Hannah’s hand. “We’ll make it.”

“I hope so.”

“Positive thinking, babe,” said Freddy.

“Right. We’ve made it this far.”

“Absolutely.” Freddy pulled her towards him and gave her a hard squeeze. “Wanna go watch the storm come in?”

“I thought you were going to ask me if I wanted to screw around one more time before we had to leave the bed behind.”

“Now there’s a thought.”

“Let’s get all this crap downstairs first,” decided Hannah. “Then we’ll screw around. Let’s use that king sized bed in the porn freaks apartment.”

Freddy grabbed up an armful of the gear. “I’m already on the way.”

Hannah took her fair share and they began toting the stuff to the door where the truck was parked on the other side.



The rain came in sheets. The thunder bore down on them like an angry god of old, the lightening his sign of displeasure with the world. Windows rattled in the frames, doors threatened to burst open and Hannah was soaked. The undead, true to Jesse’s prediction, had all started to wander in confusion, leaving the buildings they had laid to siege for other areas unknown to the trapped. Both vehicles were now parked at here apartment building, Jesse also having convinced them to return to the building and hammer out the details of the plan while they had the opportunity under the cover of the rain and thunder. The maps of the county and city were spread out on her dining room table; and by the light of the flashlight, they traced a route that should get them to Mohican with the least amount of trouble, barring accidents and other pit falls.

“If we take the most direct route, it will take us right through the center of town. I don’t like the thought of being trapped in a city of 60,000, the vast majority of them dead,” said Jesse. I still think we should go north, hit 30 and then 71 from there. The lanes will be clearer, and any traffic that is piled up we can go around on the berm or even the center divider. It’s all three lanes from Cleveland to Columbus.”

“I’m worried about hitting a traffic jam and having to back track all of our route,” retorted Freddy. “There’s only one exit between us and 13, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea to be trapped on the interstate. I’m worried about getting gas somewhere, too.”

“With no electric, there’s not going to be any gas anyway,” said Jesse. “The pumps will be closed for service. We’re going to have to siphon from other vehicles and we can do that on the road.”

Hannah listened with half an ear. She was ready to just leave. She looked around the apartment, said goodbye to the place she had lived for the last four years and made their decision for them. “Okay. Let’s go. Freddy you’re going to lead in the truck, right? Take 30 to 71, I think it will be the least dangerous for us to take right now. If you need to get gas, both of us have siphon hoses and we can stop at any likely looking wreck and get what we can. We just need to go before the rain quits and we’re trapped here for another four weeks.”

The two men started to protest, then Jesse sighed and shrugged. “Okay, let’s do this then. There’s no reason to stop now. The rain is still coming strong and the dead are so scattered we should be able to make the surface streets just fine.” He looked over at Freddy. “Remember; speed is not our friend right now, take it easy and get the highway. Then we’ll make up time and distance. Since most of Chelsea’s stuff and mine is in the car, we’ll take Hannah’s car and she can ride with you. Word’s of wisdom from a guy who has been there,” grinned Jesse to them as he spoke his instructions. “Keep the windows up all the way. Windows that are rolled up are harder to break then ones partially down or cracked open. Lock the doors and seat belt yourselves in; you don’t gain any real advantage by not being buckled in for movement and if you should crash, God forbid, you’ve got the safety of the belt. Keep moving, even if it’s a crawl. Moving targets are harder to hit, not matter the speed and once stopped, it’s hard to get started again when you’re being swarmed, if that happens. Got it?”

Freddy nodded. “I think we’re ready. Any last minute changes in anything? Guns or something?”

“You want to make a change?” asked Jesse.

“Just asking.”

“I don’t think so,” decided Jesse. “We’ve done all we should with that.”

When Hannah and Freddy had returned to the apartment with the guns, all of them had been redistributed among the group. With Jesse lying claim to the AR15 and the 1911 since he had the most experience with that rifle and that pistol, Freddy had traded out his .22 revolver to Chelsea to match her Henry, taking the Colt revolver to go with the Glock he already carried and Hannah had picked up the Taurus 9mm and the pump action .357 in addition to her other weapons. They divided up the ammo as best they could among the four shooters, making holsters out of what lay around the apartment complex, mostly using leaking milk jugs fashioned in the rough shape of the handgun and secured with duct tape and staples. After adding knives, hammers and other blunt instruments to their weapons, they all ended up looking like rejects from a B apocalyptic movie with their odd ball weapons and the mix of leather and canvas clothing. All that was needed was a bad imitation of Vernon Wells in football pads and they would be set for their little adventure.

Hannah looked at the other three as they gathered up the last of their gear, then back at the apartment. There had been a lot of memories in the space, good and bad. She had spent a very nice Thanksgiving evening with a boyfriend she had thought was The One on the couch, gotten into harsh fights with him in the kitchen over stupid shit. Others had come and gone since, but she still thought of him, and the memories were all bittersweet with an empty longing for his presence still tugging at her in quiet moments. She looked over at Freddy, and while they had fun together, he was not a replacement for the memory. Freddy saw her looking at him and smiled at her. Hannah gave him a sad smile in return, causing him to frown in concern as Jesse and Chelsea stopped to look expectantly at her. With a sigh, Hannah stood with them, gave each a weak grin as she picked up her rifle.

“No time like now.”

Each picked up their Bug Out Bag that had been put together over the last several days of waiting for the rain to stop. They trooped for the door of the apartment with Hannah the last to leave. Out of habit, she checked the light to be sure it was off and with a final look at her living space, she said goodbye once more to the things she had known. Her grandmother’s china cabinet, the little kitchen where she had entertained friends with pizza and wine, quiet moments with lovers in the living area, lunches with her father at the table on Saturdays, all were now confined to the closet of her mind with no physical reminder to be left as a prompt. Sadly, Hannah firmly closed the door on that chapter of her life and eased down the stairs as the tears tried to force their way past her tightly shut lids.

Just before the bottom of the stairs, Hannah stopped and gathered herself, pulling away from the sadness she was experiencing. She asked herself just how good her life had been really. A string of broken relationships and a job that while it paid the bills, was not what she had envisioned for herself. Hannah cleared the negative thoughts from her mind, wiped her eyes and then continued to where the others waited for her. The rain was still sheeting down, drenching the world outside the door of the apartment building. It was as if the earth was trying to keep her in a sorrowful mood. Jesse nodded to her once then turned and pulled the cross bar off the door. Freddy stood by with a shotgun should any of the undead make an appearance. The door was opened and after waiting several seconds, Freddy lead them into the pouring rain. Hannah followed him, her 10/22 over her shoulder, the BOB secure against her back and the pump rifle leading the way to his truck. She heard Jesse close the door as he exited and for a second, Hannah felt another stab of loss, then it was gone as the first of the zombies staggered out of the weather towards her.

She recognized it as her downstairs neighbor, Bill. The man had once been over weight, but in death, the flesh had sagged to heavy folds that were slowly decaying, causing the skin to become blackened and break where the weight of the dying cells was too much for the flesh to up hold. The result was open sores and sickly gray fat that oozed from the gaps. Bill had always been one to ogle her as she walked from her car to the apartment and make veiled sexual comments to her as she had passed him. She and several other residences had often mentioned Bill in passing while doing laundry or at the pool and the consensus was that Bill was an Internet Pedophile who took pictures of kids with a telephoto lens.

Hannah raised her rifle and squeezed the trigger, something she had wanted to do to the man while he was living as he had disgusted her so. The bullet hit the top of Bills head as the rifle cracked, making him stagger and turn, but not fall. The path of the round left a bloody crease in the scalp, chunking away the bone beneath and exposing the brain to the air. Bill moaned out a protest and continued towards her. Hannah pumped the rifle, barely hearing the chime of the brass on the pavement and adjusted her aim, sighting just below his bulbous nose, or what was left of the thing. She sent another bullet at the beast, this one entering through the left eye and out the back of his head. A little cloud of brain and bone followed the crack of the rifle. Bill dropped to the parking lot, splashing up water as he hit to lie still in the rain. A boom of thunder followed the rifle shot and lightening streaked across the sky.

Hannah ejected the spent round and made a mental note to hold low with the carbine. As she moved, Hannah pulled two .357 cartridges from her pocket and pushed them into the loading gate to top the weapon off, something Jesse stressed frequently in conversation about weapons and tactics. Freddy had paused to back Hannah up and to be sure there were no more of the things getting close. Once he was sure the area was clear, he continued to the truck and eased into the cab. Hannah followed, removing the BOB and 10/22, slipping into her seat and buckling in.

“I always hated him,” commented Freddy, staring out the window at the rain. “Always was looking through his damn binoculars.”

“You didn’t have to listen to his comments,” returned Hannah as Freddy put the truck in gear and eased off the lawn.

The truck bounced as it dropped over the curb, with Freddy turning the wheel to avoid the fender of a car. More of the undead wandered the lot, seemingly oblivious to the progress of the truck across the asphalt, the thunder and lightening acting as a camouflage to their movement. Every now and then, a ghoul would take an interest in them as they moved and it would begin to follow the slow vehicle winding through the collection of cars and rotting bodies. Just as it would seem they were about to attract others to their cause, a crack of thunder would draw them off in confusion. Hannah noticed that the rolling noise was lessening as they reached the lots exit. She mentioned this to Freddy.

He agreed with her. “Look off in the distance, the clouds are thinning, I think our reprieve is about over. We might have wasted too much time getting our shit together back there.”

“Jesse wanted to go out with a plan,” sighed Hannah, holding onto the grab handle mounted on the door frame. “I can’t say as I blame him but it did seem to be a waste of time, once we ended up deciding to do exactly what we had talked about on the phone.”

Spinning to truck around a wreck and making the street, Freddy pointed the vehicle towards the highway ramps just a few miles away. “It’s all that military training.”

“Which training?” groused Hannah, suddenly not feeling very charitable towards the older man. “The one that kept him alive in Iraq, or the one that got him in prison? Piss poor planning backfired on him there, I’d say. I guess with that experience he wants to get it lined up.”

“Hannah--,” began Freddy and the stopped to concentrate on the road.

She stopped her side of the conversation as well as they weaved in and out of the stalled traffic, going slow enough that the undead wandering there were able to slap at the sides of the truck in an attempt at getting them slowed, or whatever the things had planned. She checked behind them to be sure that Jesse was following in her car, and was pleased to see that her little Chevy was right behind them, just a half car length off the bumper of the truck. She was concerned that the distance between the two might not be enough if Freddy had to make a drastic change in speed or lanes, but her concern was diverted when a ghoul latched onto the side view mirror on her side of the truck and hung there, groaning over the noise of the engine as it was dragged along.

Letting out a curse, Hannah pulled away from the thing as it slapped ineffectively at the rolled up window. In life, it had been a mother and a wife, who knew, with premed hair and makeup done every morning after the kids were gone. Maybe a trip or two to the store, an afternoon workout before the kids got home, dinner, carryout, whatever life had been set in motion for her. But now, her hair was standing in clumps around her head, thick nests of gore laden tangles, died with blood. The dress had once been a comfortable shift that covered her in a proper manner and was now shreds of cloth that exposed the dead breasts and flaccid skin. Hannah could see the tearing wound on her once slim neck, a wound that caused her to be stringy and pale. The thing seemed to sense Hannah’s assessment of its condition and in protest, it began to beat its head against the window and frame, leaving behind a smear of rain moistened gore on the window.

Freddy bit out a swear at the sudden noise and attempted to dislodge the thing from the window. He tried to brush it off on a parked car, but did not get close enough to do more than knock the thing against the side of the truck and make it moan louder.

“Jesus Christ, Freddy, ignore it, it can’t stay on the truck forever,” snapped Hannah as he attempted the maneuver again with the same result. “You’re going to crash us if you don’t knock it off.”

“I’m trying to knock it off,” he half joked as the thing clutched at the roof line.

“Ha ha,” she replied through gritted teeth. “Enough already.”

The exit was coming up. Hannah pointed it out to Freddy. He nodded in affirmation at her direction and began to pick up speed.

“Slow down, Freddy, wait until we get to the highway.”

“We’re almost there--,” was his comment as he swung around a large truck blocking most of both lanes. The Toyota bounced up over the curb and the zombie screamed out a frustrated growl as the jolt dislodged it from the side view mirror. The stalk of the mirror was now at a crazy angle and holding on by what appeared to be just a bolt or two. Freddy crowed in triumph as the thing fell and lay more speed on the truck. Looking back, Hannah saw that Jesse was just clearing the big truck.

“Damn it, Freddy, back off--,” she protested.

“He’ll catch up.”

Freddy sent the truck down the ramp at normal highway speeds, dodging between two more cars as he did so. He was grinning like a mad man when suddenly he slammed on the brakes and tried to halt the truck in a limited distance. Hannah screamed out an angry curse on seeing the motorcycles piled together at the base of the ramp next to a small truck towing a trailer. The two cars had hidden the scene from Freddy because of the turn in the road, and now he was struggling to keep the truck from rolling over the bikes. He jerked the wheel to the right hard, making the Toyota sway on its tires. Hannah braced her feet against the floorboards on seeing the guard rail appear through the weeds next to the road. The front fender of the truck hit the rail and made a loud boom! on impact. Hannah was glad she had been wearing her seat belt. It jerked her to a stop, tossing her back against the seat after a short travel and knocked the wind out of her.

“FUCK!” yelled Freddy from his place beside her.

Hannah took a moment to catch her breath. The truck was revving against the rail until Freddy reach down and shut it off. Then the silence came over them while they sat staring out at the empty field beside the road.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“That’s perfect, Freddy, thanks for being sorry,” she said coldly. Hannah glanced out her window. There was movement in the field. “See if you can back it off this mess.”

Trying the key, the truck turned over with a grind and caught. Freddy backed away from the rail but something was very wrong. Hannah checked the sides of the truck as best she could and with the Taurus in hand, opened the door after unbuckling to stand in the door and look over the side at the damage. Her heart fell. The fender had been crushed into the tire and flattened it, making it nearly impossible for the wheel to turn. Hannah stepped out of the truck and ordered Freddy to do the same. Up the ramp she could see her car easing around the tangle of vehicles.

“Grabbed what you can,” she snarled at him. “We’ve got to get into the car with Jesse and Chelsea.”

“I’m sorry, I was just excited to get away from that place—“
“Great, fine, let’s go.” Hannah felt a surge of irritation over take her as she reached into the truck to get her BOB and the Ruger. Freddy was doing the same, grabbing up his pack still, apologizing to her.

Hannah saw it too late.

The thing staggered out of the mist from the wreckage of the motorcycles, its head more of a skull than anything from the road damage it had received in the motorcycle wreck. The jaw was exposed from the cheek to the point of the chin and the teeth clashed angrily together over the low moan that erupted from its dead chest. Freddy heard it a moment after Hannah saw it and half turned, bringing up a leather clad elbow to protect his face from the thing. The ghoul fell on Freddy, biting at his upraised arm, its teeth locking onto the leather sleeve and his skin beneath. Freddy managed a cursing scream, and tried to dislodge the undead from the jacket and his arm by shaking it. The things head was jerked back and forth as he did so, reminding Hannah of a dog with a favorite toy. Freddy reached across with his left hand and tried to draw the Glock from the makeshift holster, but could not quiet reach it with the zombie attached to him.

Hannah raised the pump rifle, but with Freddy and the zombie now locked together in a freakish dance to the death, she could not get a clear shot at the thing. The two of them fell to the pavement and out of her sight. Hannah raced around the back of the truck to try and rescue her lover, but her way was blocked by another of the beasts which had staggered from behind the trucks. Skidding to a stop, Hannah snapped the rifle up to her shoulder and sighted on the things gaping mouth. The shot rang out and the exhaust from the rifle hung in the damp air. The ghoul fell to the pavement, its head leaking what little fluid was left onto the road way. Behind it came another.

Swearing, Hannah pumped another shell into the chamber and aimed. She could hear Freddy still cursing and more moans coming from the other side of the truck. Her next shot went wide of its mark. In frustration, Hannah worked the slide, and aimed again. The round creased the things face, burrowing through decaying skin and across the cheek bone, causing the fiend to stagger and fall. Hannah jerked the slide back and forth racing around to the other side of the truck, her Bug Out Bag slapping her side as she ran. On clearing the rear of the truck, she saw that the struggle had attracted the attention of at least five other of the monsters. One was even crawling towards where Freddy and the thing wrestled to gain control, it’s legs smashed in the accident that had taken its other life. A zombie was nearly on top of Freddy and the first of the beasts. Hannah snap shot at it managing to hit it in the shoulder. It stopped for a second, long enough for her to jack another round into the chamber, but fell on Freddy’s back before she could get the shot off.

Freddy screamed again and tried to roll away from the thing that was pinning him to the road. Hannah fired again, hitting the zombie on Freddy’s back, tearing a hole into its shoulder, just right of its spine. The thing moaned, raising up enough for Freddy to dislodge it from his back. Freddy go tot his knees, balled up his fist and began to pound at the ghoul that was latched to his jacket. The other fiend struggled to its hands and knees in an attempt to regain its advantage on the man. Hannah took a deep breath and sighted on the things head, squeezing the trigger. There was a hollow thump as the bullet hit its forehead. It dropped to the road and remained still.

The others were just feet away.

Freddy gave a final hard jerk at his trapped arm and the jacket pulled free, wrenching teeth away from the mouth of the zombie. It moaned loudly, attempting to regain its hold on Freddy’s jacket. Freddy fell back and jerked the Glock free, pulling the trigger even as it cleared the holster. The rounds ripped up the things chest and neck, exploding out the back of the monsters head, making it collapse as well.

Hannah took aim on the closest of the dead, shooting it twice before it fell to the road. Freddy reached into the truck to pull himself to his feet, adding frantic shots to Hannah’s own gunfire. Some of his bullets finding marks, others zipping into the air beyond the walking dead. Another rifle added its booming force to their gunfire and then another. After a long moment of sustained fire the undead were all lying on the roadway motionless. Hannah heard her rifle click on an empty chamber. She began to dig in her pockets for shells even as she walked towards Freddy. Concern and anger fought to determine her emotional response to his stupidity.

When she reached him he was sitting on the running board of the truck with a shocked look on his face, Hannah was about to speak, to yell, to scream at him when another shot rang out across the wet pavement. She turned to see Chelsea lowering her smoking rifle and the zombie from the truck, the second ghoul that Hannah had only nicked, dead on the pavement at the rear of the truck. Rapidly shoving the long .357 cases into her rifle, Hannah turned back to Freddy.

“What in the fuck, Freddy, I told you to slow down!” she nearly shouted at him. She was struggling to keep from raging out of control. Jesse arrived and did it for her.

“You dumb cock-sucking fuck headed jerk!” he snarled in fury. “I told you to take it slow on this fucking road until we reached the God damn highway. What the fuck were you thinking?”

Freddy, who had been sitting with his hand against his face, slowly took it away from his head, showing them the blood covered palm. “I think I got bit,” he whispered in a frightened voice.

Hannah fell to her knees beside him. “Oh, Jesus. Fuck. Let me see, Freddy.”

Freddy turned his head towards her. She recoiled from the ragged tissue that had been his right ear. The outer flap was gone and blood streamed down his neck. More bites were showing against his neck and near his hair line. Hannah sat back, unable to tell him what she had seen. He searched her face and then began to tear up, the truth as plain on her face as if she had given it voice.

“Oh, no. No. Please, I don’t want to die, Hannah. I don’t want to die.” He clutched at her jacket, and Jesse reached out and broke his hold.

“Let me see.” Jesse jerked Freddy’s head around so that he was no longer staring desperately at Hannah. Hannah moved away from the man she had been sleeping with, her heart heavy and emotions going from the heat of anger to a cold numbness of disbelief. Jesse gave a quick sigh and turned to Chelsea. “Get the shit out of the truck, girl, take it to the car. All of it, this thing is obviously fucked.”

Chelsea nodded and struggled to open the gate. Jesse looked over at Hannah and she nodded, standing to help the little girl. She walked over to the rear of the truck in a daze, not really feeling any emotion other than disbelief and denial. Hannah opened the gate and began to pull out the bags that she and Freddy had filled. She could hear Jesse talking to Freddy, the words a buzz in her ears as she handed Chelsea a load to be taken to the car.

“You’re bit, Freddy, there’s nothing we can do for you,” Jesse was saying. “You know as well as I do what that means. You can’t come with us.”

“Maybe I’m okay,” hoped Freddy. “Maybe it’s just a rip or something, I go it caught on the door when I fell and tore my ear off. You know, it’ll be like a character mark, I can be like a fucking pirate, only with one ear instead of one eye. Right?”

“Dude, I’m sorry.” Jesse fell silent for a second. “You know what it is. You know what is going to happen. In a day or so, you’ll start getting sick, and then, in a few hours, you’ll go into a coma. You won’t make it up from that. Not as the man you are now. You know that. You’ve seen it. If you had been killed by those things we’d be shooting you right now, instead of sitting here talking to you, telling you this shit no one wants to.” Another moment of quiet as Jesse let his words sink in. “I gotta ask you, man, do you want to do yourself, or do you want me to do it?”

“Fuck you man,” was Freddy’s instant response.

“Listen to me, damn it; I’m not going to let you fucking become one of them. What do you want?”

Hannah stopped in her task and walked to the corner of the truck. Freddy saw her and the tears began to fall faster. He shook his head. “Jesus Christ, Hannah, I so fucking sorry.”

Hannah swallowed at nothing and using the side of the truck, she walked to kneel against beside Freddy. “I know.” She reached out and touched the side of his face. He buried his wet cheek into her hand and sobbed. Hannah looked up at Jesse. “Leave us alone, please.”

Jesse nodded and after reaching around Freddy to grab all of the firearms and his BOB, glanced at the roadway. “Sure, but don’t take forever; there’s more staggering this way.”

They waited until Jesse was out of earshot and Hannah pulled Freddy close to her, her own tears beginning to cloud her vision. “Why couldn’t you have listened to me?”

“I just wanted to get out of here, I just wanted to be safe--.”

“I know, but--.” Hannah stopped. She took a deep breath. “Freddy, what do you want me to do?”

Freddy let out a small sob and gave her a tight laugh. “I don’t know. I don’t want to die. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I mean, not just dieing, not just knowing I’m doomed, but the whole Goddamn thing. I mean, I finally got to met you, I got to sleep with you, I got to know you and fuck, I might have even been able to fall in love with you.”

Hannah gave him a weak grin. “Yeah, it was either me or Chelsea.”

Freddy managed to laugh as well. “That’s not even funny, I don’t know why I’m laughing.”

“What else could you do?”

“I’m sorry.”

“So am I.”

Taking a deep breath, Freddy handed Hannah his Glock. “Kill me.”

Hannah pushed the pistol away in revulsion. “Freddy--.”

“Jesse’s right. I don’t want to die knowing I’m going to be one of those things.” He gave a scared smile. “I don’t have the guts to do it myself.” Tears began to flow again. Hannah felt her own fall in response.

“Oh, Freddy--.”

“God, I loved fucking you,” he told her.

“Yes, yes, so did I. You were fantastic.”

“Liar.”

“No.”

Freddy put the Glock in her hands. He unbuckled the makeshift gunbelt and wrapped it around her waist over her own pistol. He reached up and touched her face. “I’d kiss you, but--.”

“But nothing,” said Hannah from behind her falling tears. She leaned into him and they kissed, deeply, passionately, a kiss that was full of promises, and a wrenching goodbye.

Freddy pulled away. “You’d better just do this and go. I don’t want you to be like me.”

Hannah stood, the Glock dangling from her hand. Freddy turned away from her, kneeling on the pavement and bowing his head. Hannah began to breathe faster, the tears falling from her face and drenching her shirt under the leather jacket she wore. Hannah reached out and touched Freddy’s hair, feeling its softness, the strands separating under her touch. She dropped her hand and taking a deep breath and holding it, Hannah quickly raised the pistol and pulled the trigger as soon as it was even with her lovers head.

The shot rang out, echoing across the now still sky. Freddy fell forward and Hannah dropped to her knees with a wrenching sob, the Glock hit the pavement, forgotten. Hannah began to weep. She wept for the loss of her friend, for all her friends, a lover, and all those that she had loved. She wept for the humanity that remained, and the future they were never going to have. Most of all, Hannah wept for herself and for Freddy, because she knew she could have never loved him back, not the way he was hoping to love her, or have her love him. It all made his life seem to be such a waste, and she wondered if hers was going to be wasted as well.

She felt strong hands lift her.

“I’m sorry, girl,” rumbled Jesse, holding Hannah against his chest. He began moving her. “But we have to go.”

“What about Freddy? We can’t just leave him here,” she protested, struggling against Jesse’s enfolding arms.

“Babe, Freddy’s no longer here, not like that. He’s with us, with you, in your heart. Just leave it at that.”

“Fuck you, Jesse,” moaned Hannah.

Jesse put Hannah into the passenger’s seat of the now overcrowded car. “Yeah, I’m getting that a lot today.” He shut the door and walked around to the driver’s side.

Chelsea reached out and caressed Hannah’s long hair. “I’m sorry. I really like him.”

Hannah could only let out a whimper of sorrow in response.

Jesse engaged the car’s transmission and guided the vehicle past the scene and on to the highway. Hannah couldn’t look as they passed by the husk that had been Freddy. Instead she buried her face in her hands and cried.

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To Hannah, it seemed to take days to reach the intersection of 30 and 71. Jesse was driving between the abandoned cars at a pace that was more than cautious, it was on the verge of paranoid. Freddy’s accident and subsequent injury had taken it’s toll on all of them, causing a deep depression to settle over the car like one of the rain clouds that still hung in the air above them. As they drove, several groups of the undead tried to follow, but even at the crawl Jesse guided the car, it was still enough to leave the shambling creatures in their wake. Hannah was worried about what would happen if they were forced to stop and the things would catch up with them. She lethargically glanced from side to side occasionally, seeing the passing country side as if through a hazy lens. It was all things she had seen before, but the neglect and over cast sky made everything surreal to her.

Hannah touched the window, leaving a hand print on the glass. She watched as the print slowly faded away as the moisture of her hand evaporated away from the glass. To Hannah, it was indicative of the fate they all faced; a moment of an impression on the face of the earth, then fading to nothing. Everyone. All living things. Soon there would only be the dead, either the walking or the decaying. As they neared the interstate, Hannah could see the ramps and lanes were blocked with numerous vehicles and the undead wandered the area. Jesse braked slowly, letting the car come to a gradual stop. He began to swear when he saw the way was nearly impassable. Chelsea leaned between the seats and stared at the situation ahead. She pointed up the embankment that lead away from the wreckage and toward a road that ran parallel to the highway.

“What about trying to get up that?” Chelsea motioned to the road. “We could drive that until we find a way that goes to the highway.”

Jesse shook his head. “With the rain, it’s probably too wet, girl. We might just end up getting stuck and then we’d be fu—screwed.”

“I think you can do it,” encouraged Chelsea.

Studying the angle of the grade, Jesse leaned on the steering wheel and contemplated the ground. He glanced over at Hannah, who was blankly staring at the grey skies. “What do you think?”

“I think that you can try it, or we can turn around and still not be any further than we were an hour ago.” Hannah sighed as she tried to show interest in their plight. “If we turn around, we might as well go back to the apartment; at least there we knew the doors were secure.”

“I’m not going back there,” snapped Chelsea firmly. “I’ll walk first.”

“Big words for a nine year old,” chided Jesse.

“I got a gun. I’ll be fine.”

Hannah gave a small smile to the girl. “You’re not walking anywhere. Try it, Jesse. We can’t get in any worse situation.”

“You think this little thing will make it up the hill?”

“It’s front wheel drive—I think as long as you keep the power to the wheels, we can do it.”

Jesse put the car in gear. “Everybody buckle up.”

“We are,” assured Hannah after checking that Chelsea sat back and strapped herself in among all the bags and boxes they had crammed in the car.

Nodding, Jesse floored the accelerator and guided the little car towards the gap in the stalled vehicles and the space in the guard rail. The dead took notice of the speeding vehicle, homing in on the Sunfire as it careened off the roadway. Hannah felt the entire car jar on leaving the pavement and the tires began to spin on the tall wet grass as it struggled to find purchase on the slick surface. Hannah imagined she could feel the tires digging into the soft dirt, and she heard the soil and thick vegetation slap at the sides of the car. The Sunfire fishtailed slightly as the rear tires slipped on the grade, the weight of the car trying to pull it back towards the guard rail and the road while the momentum kept them climbing up the side of the hill to the access road. Jesse was gritting his teeth and clutching the wheel, aiming for another break in the guard rail and keeping the pedal at a position that would not make the tires spin so hard they lost traction, while at the same time kept the rubber spinning fast enough not to bog down on the moist ground. The car jolted back and forth as the uneven ground sought to capture the Sunfire and just as suddenly as they had entered the grassy area, they were free. Jesse braked hard to avoid a wreck spinning the Sunfire around the vehicle only to wince as a ghoul bounced off the fender to fall to the roadway.

Chelsea was hooting her approval from the back seat, clapping her hands and telling Jesse he was great. Hannah allowed herself to feel some of the child’s enthusiasm by reaching over and giving Jesse a squeeze on his arm. She felt the tense muscles of this arm flex as she did so and he grinned shaking his hands out as he drove to relieve some of the tension. Jesse glanced at the sky.

“We’re going to loose daylight soon, let’s search out a place to hole up and we’ll try to make the highway tomorrow.”

Hannah agreed. “Someplace with a garage that we can stash the car in. That way if we get company in the night, we can still get away.”

“Sounds good to me. Do you know this area?”

“No, I just know that on the other side of the Interstate is Charles Mill Lake. Let me look at the map and see if I can find this road.” Hannah grabbed up the maps that she and Freddy had risked their lives to obtain and felt a twinge of sadness and emotional pain as she unfolded the paper. She fought back a tear with a shaky breath as she searched. “I think this is Reed Road. If we stay on it south, we’ll get to 430 and that will take us to the Charles Mill Park and past that is Mifflin. Maybe we’ll find a place in Mifflin. It’s a little town with not many people in it. Perhaps there’s nobody left to object if we spend the night there.”

“I’ve been to Mifflin on my motorcycle. I think I know a place we can hole up for the night.”

With a plan in place, Hannah sat back and let Jesse guide them towards Mifflin, easing them around stalled and wrecked cars as the night began to darken the already depressing sky. Hannah fought her own low spirits for a long moment and then gave in as her tears began to fall for what she felt was no reason at all. She had not loved Freddy, but she felt the loss of his companionship and his easy going ways were going to be missed when the times threatened to overwhelm her. Hannah stared out the window at the passing scenery, barely registering the houses they passed; some shells left standing after fires, others seemingly intact with blank windows to reflect their passing.



As they turned onto 430, the sky began to darken once more. In the distance, lightening could be seen etching the sky, the harbinger of more bad weather. Had it been a real summer, one in which Hannah would have been laying out by the pool, having drinks with friends and maybe visiting local bars for night caps, she might have thought the rain was an intrusion in her life; an inconvenience in her life. Now, seeing the possibility of rain in the near future, she was both glad to see it because of the confusion the weather seemed to cause the undead, and also as natures way of joining her mental state of depression and general apathy towards her life at the moment. Hannah struggled to take stock of the road as they drove, but she seemed to be unable to drag herself of the melancholy she was sinking into. She tried to reason with herself, to tell herself that while she had enjoyed Freddy’s company, she did not love him, not in the traditional heart beating emotion that came with being happy around someone a person cared about. She had liked Freddy, enjoyed his company, and even looked forward to the sexual antics he had been able to supply, but she had not loved him.

Hannah felt that her reason for her mood was more of the fact that another life had been destroyed by the strange plague which had befallen the United States, maybe even the world, a force that made the life of every living person left that much more precious, that much more valuable to the continuance of the race known as human. She remembered the smile of Freddy as she turned these thoughts over in her mind, remembered the way he had smelled lying beside her; the sweaty, spicy odor of his body, the taste of his skin when she had kissed him. The good thoughts while still saddening because they were things she would never be able to physically recapture, she could keep him alive by remembering him as he was. Hannah decided that at their stop, she would find a notebook of some kind and start to keep a diary of the events as they happened. She had a diary that she had been writing in before the virus decimated the world, but with her sickness and the events after, she had been more concerned with survival and then her living arrangements with Jesse, Freddy and Chelsea that she had neglected to write in it and consequently forgotten to gather it up with her personal belongings when they had left the apartment.

Knowing she was not yet done grieving, Hannah managed to shake herself out of her reverie and began to look around as if she were suddenly realizing she were riding in a small car with two other people and all their worldly possessions, mostly food and guns. Hannah gave a slight laugh at the insanity of the situation, thinking that if she had been told this would happen a year ago, she would have called the person nuts. Hannah saw Jesse looked over sharply at her laugh. “What?”

“You okay?”

“No,” decided Hannah. “But someday I will be. Why?”

“That laugh was a little—strained.”

Chelsea spoke from the rear seat. “You sounded crazy.”

Hannah laughed again, hoping that this one sounded somewhat more normal. “I’m working on being less crazy. I was just thinking about Freddy, and trying to make sense of everything. I’m trying to wrap my mind around shooting someone--,” Hannah’s voice crack and she swallowed hard to regain her composure. “Someone I cared about. I’ll be alright.”

“It’s not an easy thing,” started Jesse slowly, as if trying to pick his words so as not to offend Hannah. “I mean, I’ve never had to shoot a friend, or a lover,” he added with a sideways glance at her. “But I have had friends shot and been able to do nothing to save their asses. The helplessness of the situation is enough to make anyone question their sanity, defiantly the sanity of the world. The way things stand in this world now, it’s a wonder we’re all not laughing just slightly mad sounding. If you need to talk to someone, I know you don’t have much choices in people to listen, but I can.”

“I think that was one of the most considerate things you’ve ever said, Jesse,” said Hannah leaned sideways to stare at the older man. “Thank you.”

Jesse looked uncomfortably out at the road. “Yeah, well, don’t fucking tell anyone should we run into other people, I have a reputation to uphold.”

Laughing in a more normal tone, Hannah heard Chelsea admonish Jesse for swearing. He nodded and waved her comment off. He nodded out at the fading light. “The bridge across the lake is coming up. There’s a lot of cars on either side, but it looks like a lane has been opened up. Something is not right about all of it. Look at the way they are sitting. The vehicles funnel traffic down to one lane and the bridge is clear, no cover on it.”

“It looks like a couple of wrecks,” doubted Hannah.

“Trust me on this,” rumbled Jesse. Those cars were set up to channel traffic into a kill zone. I’ve seen this crap over in the Sandbox. The Iraqi’s were good at doing this shit to us. Make it look like a simple car accident and next thing you know you’ve got fifty of those fucks shooting AK’s and RPG’s at you from windows over the street.”

Jesse slowed the car down and moved the sawed off shotgun onto the dash, put his AR along his right leg with the stock collapsed so it could be moved around inside the car. He asked for and got the Taurus from Hannah. That he rested under his left leg. Hannah freed the Glock and her Smith. She handed Chelsea the Smith and picked up the Colt King Cobra even though it was large for her hand.

“What are we going to do?” asked Hannah.

“We can turn around, or we can drive straight through. The problem is the place I wanted to stop is probably compromised, meaning there’s shitheels who want to keep strangers out of Mifflin.”

“This road stops on the other side of the bridge a little ways up,” remember Hannah from the couple of times she had been to Charles Mill with a boyfriend. “We can get onto the other side of 30 from there, maybe back track and get on the interstate from the other side.”

“I thought you didn’t know this area,” mentioned Jesse.

“I don’t, but I have been to the lake a couple times and we came across 30 to get here.”

Jesse scanned the woods and the roadside, contemplating his next move. “There’s a camp ground down by the water. I’ll bet whoever set this up might be there, waiting for us to start moving and spring the trap.”

“You said you’ve seen this before in Iraq?”

“Couple of times.”

“Then who ever did this has seen it too, might be military?”

Jesse looked over at Hannah on hearing the hope in her voice. “Might be, but remember; the world has changed, whoever it is, they’re not the good guys anymore. They wouldn’t’ve set this up to help the weary traveler or to stop Zombies. This is set up to kill and take the possessions of the people who have them.”

“We’re going to have to kill people then?” stated Hannah.

“Looks that way.”

Glancing in the backseat at Chelsea, she saw the determined look on the little girls face and the way she held Freddy’s .22 revolver and the Smith & Wesson. For some reason, Hannah thought the girl looked to be in her element then in the same instant, realized that the girl should not have to live in this manner. She knew she did not want Chelsea to die, nor did Hannah want to risk death or injury herself. “Can we make it?”

“I don’t know, Hannah. This car’s not set up to be an Armored Personnel Carrier, I doubt it will stop much of a bullet if we don’t keep moving. I can say that a moving target is harder to penetrate than a stationary one; so we’ll keep moving. Keep your head down and only shoot if I tell you to,” instructed Jesse. “Once we get on the other side, we’ll reassess.”

Hannah nodded and slid down in the seat, encouraging Chelsea to do the same thing. Jesse gripped the wheel tightly and then relaxed, stepping on the accelerator, making the little car jump ahead on the front wheels. Hannah heard the engine scream as he pushed it up towards the rev limiter, the transmission struggling to keep up with the working engine. She peered over the top of the dash as the car reached the first of the derelict cars that guided them towards the narrow opening. Jesse began to swear under his breath when the shapes of men emerged from behind the cars, all of them holding firearms of some sort. One was waving for them to slow and stop. Jesse aimed the Sunfire at the man, urging the car faster between curses. The man did not seem to realize that Jesse had no intention of stopping and when the car reached him, the look of surprise was frozen there as he bounced over the hood, his head cracking on the windshield, sending little spider webs out from the point of impact. Hannah felt her car shudder, then heard the sounds of the man rolling over the roof when they passed his position. Gunshots echoed across the roadway as the other men suddenly came to the realization that Jesse was not complying to their thought out plan.

Several of the bullets thumped into the body panels of the car, making all of them duck instinctively away from the noise. Ahead of them, Hannah saw that men were trying to close the gap on the opposite side of the bridge by pushing a car into their path.

“Don’t think so, fuckers,” muttered Jesse, hitting the window control and picking up the Taurus as he steered.

Hannah dropped the window on her side as well when Jesse stuck the Taurus out the window and began to crank off bullets at the men. Hannah had no idea what effect the rounds were having, but the noise was making the men duck away form the car they were pushing. The sudden wind from the open windows brought the strong scent of rain to them and the odor of lake water. Hannah picked up the Glock and resting it on the side view mirror began to squeeze the trigger, making the pistol bounce against the door frame. Like Jesse’s shots, she did not know what effect she was having, but the men scattered away from the speeding vehicle and the combined bullets of the two pistols. Hannah discovered that while in movies people stood tall and shot back, in real life, they tended to scatter and run to stay away from the buzzing death that was being sent at them.

The Sunfire drew even with the attempted blockade, and Jesse tried to avoid collision, but the closeness of the cars in the opening made him clip one fender of the little car, making it bounce away from that stopped vehicle and into the one on the other side. Jesse managed to keep the Pontiac rolling, and the noise of sheet metal being torn and cut was loud in the air. Hannah fired the last of her bullets at a man who had been unsuccessful at hiding, and she saw him stagger then drop to the pavement as the slide on the Glock locked back. Dropping the Glock back into the car, Hannah picked up the Colt readying it to fire as she had the Glock. Beside her, Jesse let the Taurus fall as well, and snatched the sawed off from the dash. He triggered the weapon into the face of a man who was attempting to grab at the car and shoot a bit pistol at them as they came by him. The blast sent the man reeling back, clearing the road ahead.

Chelsea reached into the front of the car and grabbed both the Glock and the Taurus. She fumbled the magazines free from the respective belts and reloaded the pistols, putting them back into Hannah’s and Jesse’s laps. Hannah quickly thanked her while wondering who had taught her to react in that way, instinctively knowing that Jesse had done so while She had Freddy had been trapped away from them in the other apartment building. Hannah wondered if the little girl would ever pick up a doll again.

Jesse sent the car screeching around the corner just as the rain began to fall. Hannah tried to roll up her window only to discover that it would not operate because of the damage it had sustained to the side of the door when Jesse had bounced between the cars. She leaned away from the rain and picked up the Glock, reholstering the Colt. The intersection came up and Jesse took the left turn hard, making Chelsea squeal in delight as the car screeched sideways then straightened towards State Route 30. Ahead, Hannah could see there was a semi truck partially blocking the lane back toward I71. Jesse simply turned east on 30 and then punched the little car’s gas pedal. The car made a banging noise and began to smoke. Jesse started swearing.

“What happened?” demanded Hannah, feeling both excited at their escape and concerned that they might not make it much further.

“I think the radiator got punctured when I hit that guy,” deuced Jesse as they sped along trailing white smoke.

“What are we going to do?”

Jesse muscled the stricken car onto a side road, gunning the rattling beast up the incline. Hannah read the street sign as they passed; Trout Drive. They were entering a closed community, once known for its high end houses and expensive property taxes. Jesse turned again and Hannah saw his target; a large A Frame with an open garage door. The interior of the garage was empty but for the normal garage clutter. Parked outside on the drive was a large SUV. The thing looked like it had been in several wars, with gas cans and spare tires affixed front and rear and large utilitarian looking brush bars over the grill and lights. Jesse pulled into the garage stopping just short of the back wall. He shut the Sunfire off and as he did so the car made a final rattle and belched a cloud of smoke into the air with a muffled noise like a gunshot.

They sat for a moment in the silence while the heat of the dead engine ticked away and the rain fell outside. Jesse finally moved, picking up the AR15 and turning on the electronic sight. As he moved it out the door, Hannah could see the little red dot glow over his shoulder and then it was gone when he cautiously stood, scanning the garage. Hannah tried to open her door but found it was stuck. She swore quietly and after picking up the .357 pump rifle crawled across the seat to stand beside Jesse. Chelsea exited the back seat with her little .22 Henry rifle. Jesse looked down at both of them with a frown.

“I’d say you two stay here while I check out the house, but it wouldn’t do me any good.”

“Nope,” confirmed Chelsea.

“Okay, then, let’s see what we’ve got.”

Hannah motioned to the rain swept exterior. “What about those idiots? Shouldn’t we just get out of here?”

“In what?” asked Jesse. “We don’t even know if that Toyota runs. Let’s clear this house, then we’ll get some rest. Tomorrow morning we’ll see if we can start that thing. I doubt those guys even know this place is up here.”

“Why not?” inquired Hannah.

Jesse smiled. “If I had been those guys and known this thing was here, it would have been the first vehicle I’d have taken. Those Land Cruisers are beasts. They can take anything.”

Hannah shrugged, accepting his logic without bothering to question it. The concept was something she did not want to ponder at the moment. “Whatever. Let’s get the house cleared so we can eat and sleep before it gets too dark.”

Jesse nodded and lead the way to the door. It was unlocked and he opened it thrusting the AR up to cover the entry. Slowly, Jesse stepped into the small entry, ignoring the coats hanging from the rack, the small boots lined up at the baseboard, the musty smell of laundry left wet and molding. He eased into the kitchen of the house; a long area under what appeared to be the loft that looked out through the house and at the lake. There were dishes in a drain board and the counter was cluttered with the mess of a family living comfortably together. Hannah ignored the pictures on the refrigerator, feeling a sense of unease, not one that came from something being wrong, but from the realization that she was looking onto the lives of people that had been frozen in time, a moment that would never continue because of a folly of man or a freak of nature that had changed them all. She dragged her attention back to the task at hand when Jesse swept the carbine into the bathroom and then came back out on finding it empty.

“Do you smell anything?” asked Jesse in a hushed voice.

Hannah took a deep breath through her nose. The house smelled as if it had been closed up for some time, but nothing else; no dead smells. She told this to Jesse.

“That’s what I thought too. Let’s finish this up, but I think we’re okay.”

They went quickly through the rest of the house, from the loft that was the master bedroom and bath to the basement that held two more bedrooms and a recreation room with a pool table and wet bar. All the main floors had big glass windows and sliding doors that opened out to the lake. The main floor had a small office and bath off the living area and a fireplace with a furnace blower in it. There was a large deck off the living area and a propane grill that sported two full bottles. The lower part of the deck was a screened porch for the basement rec room. Jesse declared it good and they trooped back out to the garage. Closing the garage door by pulling the emergency handle that released the door from the electric opener, Jesse closed them off from the world.

The three of them emptied the car out, placing the gear in a pile on the living room floor. Their Bug Out Bags and weapons all went up stairs to the loft area. It was decided they would move mattresses from the other bedroom up to the loft, which they could defend if they had to. The loft also had a small balcony off it that looked over the front drive. Jesse stated they could jump to the ground by climbing over the rail and to the lower roofline if need be. Hannah took stock of the food supplies in the cupboards, finding the normal stock piles of soup, boxed dinners and vegetables. She hesitated on looking, but with Jesse’s teasing banter at her being a wimp, finally opened the door to the refrigerator. The smell that wafted from the interior made her choke and sent Chelsea running form the kitchen with an exaggerated gagging noise. Hannah saw several cans and bottles of beer as well as bottles of water and juice that she rescued before the smell was too powerful for further exploration.

“Never again,” retched Hannah, placing the find on the counter.

Jesse laughed as he pulled the grill into the house to escape the rain. “Don’t worry, I’ll have those smells banished before you know it with the good scent of grilled SPAM and veggies.” He stopped joking and took on a more serious tone. “There’s a couple of dead wandering down by the water. I think we need to push that Toyota into the garage tonight, unless you’ve found keys for it, Hannah.”

She shook her head. “Nothing yet. But I haven’t looked upstairs.”

“Okay, let’s just get it done.” He turned to Chelsea. “Baby girl, I need you to run upstairs and check the drawers for keys. Then come down with your rifle, you’re going to be the one who keeps watch while we move this thing.”

“You think the two of us can get it moved?”

“I hope so.”

Chelsea ran up the stairs to the loft to carry out Jesse’s instructions. They could hear her opening and closing drawers and then tromping back down the stairs. She shook her head negative at finding the keys. With nothing else to do at the moment, they returned to the garage. Chelsea and Hannah stood off to the sides with their rifles ready while Jesse muscled up the garage door. The falling rain was the only thing that moved outside. Jesse led Hannah to the Toyota Land Cruiser, and tried the door. It was locked. He began to swear.

“Our luck. We’ve got to find the keys. Come on let’s get out of the rain.” They ran back inside the garage and the door was closed again.

Once in the house, they decided that the search could wait until morning. Jesse cooked up a meal from the stores in the house, making add-water pancakes, SPAM, and various canned vegetables over the propane flame of the grill. Hannah opened the upper windows to let the cool, rain moistened air circulate through the stuffy house. They ate by candle light and then called it a night after a couple board games with Chelsea.

Hannah lay awake for sometime listening to the heavy breathing of the other two as they slept, listening to the rain and thunder wash the earth. She let the tears fall in time with the rain, crying a soundless sorrow at the collective loss she was feeling. She finally fell asleep on her wet pillow as the rain faded into the distance.

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Hannah woke to the smell of coffee. For a moment, she could not remember where she was or why the smell of coffee would be something out of the ordinary. Then as her eyes adjusted, she saw the wooden beams of the roof above her and the sloped ceiling. The mattress was unfamiliar to her as was the pillow. With a soft groan, Hannah rolled over to see the still sleeping form of Chelsea nearby. Quietly getting to her feet so as not to wake the little girl, Hannah staggered across the room still in her sweats and t-shirt, feeling punch-drunk from the emotional roller coaster of the day before. She felt a brief pang of sorrow at the memory of Freddy Jones’s short life and wonder how long it would be before she could think about him without pain. As she passed the dresser, Hannah picked up the gunbelt that held the Glock and magazines pausing long enough to sling it around her waist; another constant in the new world that she would have never thought about doing just three months ago.

Padding down the stairs, Hannah paused to use the bathroom at the bottom of the landing where they had set up a chamber pot for each of them, basically a large Tupperware bowl with a lid. Historical romantic novels had never mentioned these and the anachronism of the plastic bowl for such a task made Hannah laugh as she resealed the bowl. Setting it in the tub, she exited the door to find Jesse hard at work over the grill once more. Hannah paused to study the older man as he worked.

Jesse had not yet acknowledge her presence, and she stayed back in the shadows watching as he multi tasked his way across the grill. Jesse wore a sleeveless t-shirt that exposed his tattooed arms and the hard muscle under the tanned, scarred skin. He had his graying hair pulled back in a pony tail and was working on a couple days growth of beard. The jeans he wore hung loosely on his frame, probably had never fit him correctly, mused Hannah. He wore heavy combat boots and secured to his side was the 1911 pistol. Leaning against the grill, the AR15 looked almost out of place in the well furnished living room of leather sofas, over stuffed chairs and oak end tables. It did go nicely with the stainless grill and the man operating it though. Jesse looked up from the grill and nodded to Hannah.

“I wake you up?”

“No, I think I was ready to get up,” she answered, moving into the living room and taking a seat in a chair.

“Coffee’s in the percolator, I found it out in the garage with a bunch of car camping stuff. I’ve got more pancakes going, a can of corned beef hash I found in the cupboard and look,” he held up a squat red and white can. “Condensed milk for the coffee if you need it.”

Hannah found two cups and brought them to the grill. Jesse poured them each a full measure then Hannah colored the dark liquid with the milk. They toasted each other silently before sipping. Hannah made an appreciative noise as she returned to her seat to gaze out at the lake that reflected the rising sun. The sky was clear and blue, showing no signs of the storm that had threatened the day before.

“You sleep alright?” queried Jesse, expertly flipping the pancakes as he spoke.

“I slept,” decided Hannah. “I don’t know about alright. No dreams that I can remember.”

“Are you okay with yesterday?”

“No,” admitted Hannah. “I’m not. I want to know when everything will go away. All of it, the pain and sadness and anger.”

“Never,” said Jesse. “It will always be with you. How you let it affect your daily life is the real question you have to find the answer to, girl.” He stopped fooling with the pancakes long enough to look at her. “I’m a couple years older than you,” he grinned and so did Hannah. “I’ve had a pretty hard life, mostly because of the things I did to myself. Prison time, military time, they weren’t much different, you just had to cover your ass in different ways, but in both places I had friends get eaten up by the grind. What kept me above the water was my attitude. I know when we first met you thought I was an asshole, don’t deny it, but I’m that way because it was the way to survive what was happening around me. I guess what I’m trying to tell you, is if you’re going to survive, you’ve got to create a mechanism in yourself that will carry you through.

“You don’t have to be an ass like me,” finished Jesse turning back to the grill. “But you do need to separate yourself from the bad shit when its time to do so. Freddy’s death was not something you had control over, no matter what it seemed at the time. Don’t let his loss be the end all for you.”

Hannah listened as Jesse’s speech died away. She sipped the coffee and then nodded to him as he stacked the pancakes and started a fresh batch. “Thanks, Jesse. I understand what you’re saying and I think I’ve already started to look at it that way a little bit. I mean, Freddy and I were sleeping together, but for me, there was no real love in it, not like the kind that makes people want to be together forever, you know? I do feel some loss at his passing. I do feel that it was a waste of life, but at the same time, I guess the problem I’m having is simple; I’m glad it wasn’t me. I feel guilty for being glad I’m alive.”

“It’s a natural part of living, that,” supplied Jesse, turning the cakes. He looked over at Hannah. “Let’s be blunt here; Freddy fucked up. He drove too fast for the conditions of the road and then he didn’t pay attention to his surroundings once he had fucked up. You on the other hand, kept your head and stayed alert. I’d go into any building with you at my back, Hannah, no problems.”

“That’s a complement, I take it?”

“Damn straight. Like yesterday, even though you didn’t do what I said and keep your head down, you did help out and keep theirs down. At the time I was a little pissed at you, but on looking back once we were out of it, I realized you helped out. It’s action like that that’s going to keep us alive.”

Hannah nodded over her cup. “It seemed right at the time.”

They fell silent and Hannah got up to pour a fresh cup of coffee. She froze midway making Jesse ask her what was up and then follow her gaze to see what had stopped her. He swore and turned off the grill, grabbing up the AR15. Hannah placed the coffee pot and cup down to draw her Glock.

“Maybe he doesn’t see us--?” tried Hannah.

Jesse shook his head. “He sees us.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Wait and see what he does.”

They stood and watched as the man, about Hannah’s age, stopped and stared at the A Frame house. He was holding a Katana sword and had just finished beheading a Zombie that was wandering along the lakeside. He carried a pistol in a police style holster and gunbelt along with a revolver set up cross draw in an old West style holster. There was a moment of hesitation while he too seemed to try and decide what his course of action might be. After a second, he wiped the sword off and sheathed it, slinging the works over his shoulder. Another young man stepped out of the tree line as the first gave a slow whistle. The second carried a rifle similar to Jesse’s AR as well as a broadsword. Strapped to his leg was a strange looking pistol that reminded Hannah of the sawed off Jesse had. They spoke for a second and then began to walk to the house, hands held at shoulder level.

Other than the men at the bridge, these were the first people Hannah had seen other than her companions in weeks. It was enough to make her cry had they not been armed as were she and Jesse.

“Hannah, go ahead and get your rifle and get up to the loft,” said Jesse softly. Hannah was about to protest, but on seeing the expression on Jesse’s face she turned and ran up the stairs just as Chelsea was waking. The girl saw Hannah grab up her rifle and without a word reached for her own. They both lay on the floor behind the rail of the loft and pointed their rifles out at the two men who had just reached the stairs of the deck. Jesse was calling for them to stop through the screen, keeping them covered with the AR. He began talking to them in a low voice and Hannah could not hear what was being said.

“Who are they?” asked Chelsea.

“I don’t know.”

“Where’d they come from?”

“They were down by the lake, killing Zombies and saw the open door and Jesse and I talking while he cooked.”

“They better not mess with us,” growled Chelsea in a determined tone.

“Damn straight,” said Hannah with a small grin of amusement at the little girl’s tone of defiance. They fell silent as the two men came up to the deck. They both lay down weapons as did Jesse and he opened the screen door. He called up to Hannah and Chelsea.

“Come on down, they say they’re harmless to all but the undead.”

Hannah and Chelsea cautiously entered the living room with their rifles held at ready. The two men nodded to them and Jesse turned on the grill. “These boys are part of a group that got here a couple days ago, they say.”

“Unlike you all, we managed to avoid the fucks on the bridge because we came in off of 603, they chased us to 30 but turned around after that,” offered one. The other punched him in the arm.

“Quit cussing,” said the other, a tall blond with unruly curly hair.

“Fuck dude, what the hell?”

“There’s a kid here.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” apologized the other to Chelsea.

Hannah laughed at him and placed her rifle on the counter. She instantly liked the blond, his easy going personality was apparent even through the stress of the times. His friend was a little more abrasive, but still a likeable man. “I’m Hannah, this is Chelsea.”

The blond nodded to her. “Isaac. The one with the mouth is Eddie, most of the time he’s my best friend, until he just plain pisses me off. We’ve got five others with us in a house down the road. I think there are a few other people still alive in the neighborhood, but we haven’t seen them yet.”

Hannah was surprised that he had volunteered the information so readily, but imagined that the surprise of seeing other, living people, was enough for him to through caution to the wind. They entered the house slowly, gazing around at the interior as if they expected to be ambushed at any moment. On seeing this, Hannah knew they weren’t too far gone in the trusting mode.

“Tell me about this place,” ventured Jesse as he started the grill again. Hannah poured everyone a cup of coffee and started another pot while Chelsea watched the two men with wary eyes. Jesse handed her a stack of pancakes and a serving of the corned beef hash along with a juice box. She took it all over to the counter and ate in silence while they talked.

“From what we’ve found, there’s about thirty or so houses back in here, most of them on the lake. We’re on a little peninsula out into the lake so we’re surrounded on two sides by water,” outlined Isaac. “The third side is fenced off by both the highway fencing along 30 and the privacy fences of the houses that back the road. The only drive in is Trout Drive, and you all made it in because of the rain; normally we try and watch it better. Our place has a view of both the lake and the drive from the third floor. We’ve been going around and moping up the strays that seem to appear out of now where everyday. Stacy says that they come from the lake, that they fall in and walk along the bottom until they reach the shoreline. We haven’t seen them do it yet, but it seems plausible.”

“She’s full of shit,” muttered Eddie around his coffee cup. Isaac shot him a dark look that silenced him.

“They used to have a thing,” explained Isaac. “Now they don’t. He’s pissed at her.”

Eddie gave Isaac a veiled look back and the two seemed too settled on not bringing up the subject again. To avoid any further conflict between the two, Hannah distracted them by filling their cups again. They thanked her and Isaac kept talking as they watched Jesse prepare the food. “We heard the gunshots last night and were worried that they had ambushed another group of people. We don’t know much about them, but they don’t venture very far from the bridge and camping area. Bill thinks that they have also taken over Mifflin, but we didn’t see anyone in town when we came through there.” Isaac paused in his story to take a sip of the coffee. He held the cup low and looked into its depths as he continued. “We keep hearing shooting from over that way, about every other day. I guess they’re stopping all the traffic coming through trying to escape Mansfield. I don’t think they even know this place exists, or maybe they don’t care. We haven’t seen them on 30 or exploring the area at all. I bet that’ll change when the traffic dies down to nothing and no one comes from town any more.”

“Who have you got in your group?” asked Hannah, changing the subject away from the possibility of having to battle the idiots controlling the bridge.

The two were quiet for a moment, and then Eddie spoke up. “Well, we’re down to me and Isaac, Stacy and Lisa, Mark and his girlfriend, Carolina, and an old dude named Bill. We had four others with us, but attrition kind of got us.” He laughed harshly at his own bad joke, sounding like Hannah had in the car just the day before, slightly crazy.

Hannah wondered if they all sounded like that at times. Chelsea looked up at his laughter and then away when Jesse handed him a plate of pancakes. Eddie took them, silently filling his mouth when no one asked further questions. Jesse fed the group, stretching the food among the five people and making small talk while they ate. Isaac and Eddie had both been students at the Ohio State University branch in town and had been partying together when the shit hit. They’d been friends for years, growing up in the country and graduating high school at the same time. When all was finished, Jesse quietly motioned to the world outside the door.

“What say we meet your people?”

“Why not?” decided Isaac after a silent discussion with Eddie across the table they sat behind. “The more the merrier.”



Before they left, Jesse enlisted the two young men into moving the Toyota into the garage and pushing Hannah’s Sunfire out. She spent several minutes going through the interior of the car and gathering the items she felt she would want to have. Most of it was personal clutter, which she left behind, but gathered pictures of friends and family as well as her CD’s and a couple of books she had forgotten she’d bought. Once finished, they closed the house, making sure that all but the rear sliding door was locked. They could not find any keys in the regular places, and after a quick conference, Hannah and Jesse decided that a more through search could wait until after they met the neighbors.

All of them armed, Chelsea carrying her Henry over her shoulder like a stick, Isaac and Eddie lead them down Trout Drive past several very expensive houses which were dark and foreboding. As they waked, Isaac explained his group had not really started to explore the area since they were all pretty shell shocked from the sudden losses of their companions. They had mostly raided neighboring houses for food and killed seven Zombies in the process that had been trapped in the homes.

Hannah listened with half and ear, to his conversation, hearing instead the sound of the insects, the birds calling and being content to keep searching the wood and over grown lawns for threats, yet enjoying the walk in the sunshine on a warm day. It was something she was not sure she would ever have been able to do again considering the state of the territory around the apartment complex. Living under the conditions there, it was easy to convince herself that the entire world was over run with the undead. While there seemed to have been thousands staggering about from the view off her balcony, they did not seem to have traveled to the outer reaches of civilization as of yet. She absently wondered if the need for food would drive the things to scatter beyond where they were now clustered, mainly the population centers. Something Eddie was saying caught Hannah’s attention.

“—we haven’t been doing that, but we know we should soon,” he said. “We’re just really afraid of drawing the attention of those idiots at the bridge.”

“What’s that?” asked Hannah. Jesse looked over at her, puzzled by her question. Hannah smiled absently and repeated her quiry. “What haven’t you been doing?”

“Oh,” understood Eddie. “Burning the bodies we’ve been finding and the Zombies we’ve killed. We’ve been putting them in an empty swimming pool down the road and covering them with pool chemicals until we can figure out what else to do with them.”

“They need burned,” stated Jesse with confidence. “It’s not safe to leave them out to rot.”

“Yeah, we’ve been reading up on all kinds of things that can happen if they are left to fester in the open,” agreed Isaac. “But we’ve got about nine guns and not much ammo. Those freaks at the bridge seem to have all kinds of both.”

“So we need to do somethin’ about them,” said Jesse.

Isaac and Eddie looked uncomfortable at the thought of going head to head with other living people. Hannah deflected Jesse’s words to make them comfortable once again. “We can talk about all that later. How much further?”

Pointing up the shaded roadway, Isaac indicated a large grey sided house. “That one right there.”

As they had described previously, it was a huge home. Three of the stories hulked by the road, larger than life in their enormity, displaying large glass windows and decking around the entire first floor. Balconies jutted from the side of the house at odd places, fronting more sliding glass doors. A fourth floor could just be seen, appearing to be a penthouse on top of the structure with the flat roof acting as the patio and a railing around the entire edge. A person was on the roof, holding a rifle and on seeing Isaac and Eddie wave, dropped the rifle from its position of attack. Hannah could tell that the house had a banked basement that looked onto a pond behind the property. There was a four car garage attached to the house by an enclosed walkway. A beat-up looking van was parked in one of the bays, its paint job appeared to have been completed with a roller brush and spray cans. From the side of the van emerged an old man holding a shotgun.

He looked tired and sad. His gray hair was too long, his eyes held a haunted look that made them appear too wide for his face. He kept the shotgun leveled at them despite Isaac and Eddie’s presence.

“They’re okay, Bill,” said Isaac.

“How do we know they’re not from the bridge?”

“They’re not, Bill,” assured Isaac.

“Damn trusting of ya.”

“How’s the van?”

“Probably fucked. Those idiots shot one right into the engine. I hope the bullet didn’t crack the manifold or worse. I’m still checking all of it. We might have to find another ride.”

Jesse took the opportunity of the car-talk to try and ingratiate himself with the old man. “If you need some help, I’m a fair hand with a wrench.”

The old man dropped the shotgun down and turned his back on them. “I got it.”

Isaac shook his head. “Never mind him; he’s still trying to get back home to Medina. He’s pissed that we just didn’t drive him straight there.”

As they talked, Isaac led them up a short set of steps to a big double door with large side windows at each side of the doorway. Hannah kept thinking that should they become overrun with Zombies, this house was not someplace she would want to be with all the glass at ground level. But as she walked, she realized that almost all the houses she had seen in the enclave were exactly like this one in that respect. It made her shudder to think they were so exposed. Once these homes with the light accepting clear spaces would have been the envy of her and her friends, now she found herself wanting a concrete wall and sky lights. The door opened and a woman about Hannah’s age stepped through it. She glared at Isaac and Eddie after casting a quick suspicious glance over Hannah and the rest. Chelsea made a small noise of disgust at the look and Hannah fought a grin at Chelsea’s reaction.

The woman was dressed in what Hannah could only describe as hippy clothing; a long peasant dress and sandals, hair that was long but held back in a pony tail. Hannah noticed that she had several piercings and tattoos. The thing that set the whole hippiness off was the .22 rifle she carried slung over one shoulder. Hannah assumed that she had ammo for the rifle in the purse thrown over her shoulder as well. The young woman pointed at Isaac as she spoke.

“You went out without your armor again, and neither one of you told anyone what you were up to. When you didn’t come back in a decent amount of time we were worried,” she nagged. “It wasn’t until Mark saw you walking in that we even knew you were still okay.”

“We’re fine, Lisa, really,” assured Isaac. “I didn’t wear my armor because it’s just too damn hot.”

“Well the armor has saved your ass before, it will again.”

“I’ll wear it next time,” promised Isaac. Hannah found the exchange amusing, and a little sad, she could hear a little of her relationship with Freddy in the tone of Lisa’s voice. Hannah swallowed away the lump in her throat as Isaac introduced her to Lisa. Lisa took her hand and nodded quickly to her before directing them inside.

“We’re just about to start exploring the house next door—,“ explained Lisa. “We were waiting on the lost boys here to show up so we could go in force.”

“You haven’t searched it yet?” asked Jesse.

“We’ve checked it out kinda; we just haven’t really explored all the nooks and crannies.” Lisa looked over Hannah who was wearing her leather jacket and heavy canvas pants, the heavy duty hiking boots and toting the Glock and the silenced Ruger. Jesse wore his leathers as well and even Chelsea had on a heavy canvas jacket, thick jeans and boots. The sight of the nine year old cradling a lever action rifle made Lisa set her face in a hard line, but it was the way of the new world.

As the entered the house, Hannah took a moment to look around the place. It had high ceilings and a huge fireplace. Leather couches and chairs sat on expensive throw rugs and the china and crystal decorations would have paid for her car several times over. In a normal world, a house such as this was restricted to the pages of magazines for Hannah. Lisa lead them to the living area and invited them to sit.

“All of you seem to be dressed for a fight,” she commented.

“We’ve been in our share,” grinned Jesse, settling into a big leather recliner with the AR across his knees.

“I keep trying to tell Isaac and Eddie they need to keep up with their armor, but they don’t listen.”

“We listen,” protested Eddie. “We just don’t really care.”

“You should.”

“Who is going over there?” asked Isaac, changing the subject.

“Remember what we talked about last night at the house meeting?” sighed Lisa. “You two, me and Stacy. Mark is going to watch the grounds from the roof here with the rifle and Carolina will guard the door that we enter in. Bill’s supposed to be with Carolina as back-up, but he’s too worried about the van to help us.”

“We can help out,” offered Jesse. Lisa gave him a sharp look. Jesse waved her down. “Look, girl, you may not know us just yet, but we are livin’ here too. Might as well pitch in and help each other where we can. Three more guns can’t hurt a damn thing. With all of us looking, things will go easier for us all. We can talk about dividing the spoils later.” At that, Jesse gave her a piratical grin which made her squirm. Eddie seemed to enjoy her discomfort and nodded encouragement to Jesse. Jesse leaned forward. “It’s gonna happen sooner or later. I figure the way to do it is put it right out there. What do you say? You seem to like to be in charge.”

Lisa opened her mouth to speak and Isaac cut in. “I say it’s a good thing you’re here. The seven of us can use the help. You three seem to have your shit together, looking at the guns you’ve got and the fact you made it across the bridge where all others seem to have failed. But why don’t we wait until everyone is here.”

Jesse nodded. “Not a problem. We can come to terms then. After all, I like democracy. I think it’s still a pretty good system.”

They settled back to wait while the others arrived for the raid on the house. Hannah studied Lisa, who in turn openly returned her stare. The frank gaze of the other woman made Hannah feel defensive and angry. She was not sure why Lisa was being so harsh with them, but assumed it had something to do with the death of the four people Isaac and Eddie had mentioned. Hannah knew that the two of them were going to be at odds just by the set of Lisa’s jaw. She hoped that they could work around whatever chip Lisa was carrying.

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Hannah looked over to where Jesse stood with his CAR watching while the two woman of The Household (Hannah was beginning to think of them as that, The Household), sorted through all the foodstuffs and such they had recovered from the house. Lisa and Carolina carried on a semi-private conversation about the finds, enjoying the discovery of multiple cans of fruits. The mini raid had gone well considering there had been only one Zombie that had managed to nearly bite Eddie on the shoulder. Thankfully, he had been wearing what Lisa had called armor, a leather jacket with the leather doubled up over the arms and shoulders. Jesse had shot the thing by pressing the muzzle of the CAR against the things head. The blast had blown brain, blood and bone all across the side of Eddies face and the far wall, but it had ended well with no one getting hurt. The other Zombie in the place was killed by Isaac with a quick chop of the sword he toted across his back. Isaac and Hannah ended up being the ones to wheelbarrow the sheet-shrouded bodies over to the pool where they had been storing the cadavers, and the stench was nearly enough to knock a person over. Holding their breath they managed to get the corpses in the pool amid a cloud of rising flies and retreated back to the house.

To be honest, Hannah wondered how The Household had managed to survive. The seven of them debated everything to the point of ad nausea with much heated discussion over the merits of which house to raid and if it were even worth the risk. Throwing in the liberal bend of Lisa and Carolina to the discussion, Hannah now knew why her somewhat Democratic points of view often infuriated ex-boyfriends who were gun-carrying flesh-eating Republicans. Given the situation at hand, Hannah believed there was no other choice but to kick in the neighboring door and take what they needed. Lisa and Carolina seemed to be saddled with the presumption that in a week or two, someone from the government (preferably from the DNC) was going to rise out of the ashes of the United States and take control so that wrongs could be righted. Eddie was the most vocal against Lisa, but his arguments slipped into vulgar name calling and hand gestures when he failed to make a dent in her position, no matter the obvious senselessness of her stand.

Hannah had looked over at Jesse, who was calmly grinning through it all, and wondered how he could be so laid back given that the argument seemed to be taking more time than it would to just kick in a door, shoot a couple zombies and take what they needed. She wished Freddy were there to at least crack a joke about the stupidity of the whole thing. She half listened as Lisa gave a speech about respecting other people’s property and how they would feel on returning to find that they had violated their sanctuary. Hannah wondered if the woman gave this little tirade every time they scavenged. From the looks on the others faces, she imagined so. As had Lisa wound down, Jesse stopped grinning and stood up, picking up his rifle. Hannah followed suit as did Chelsea, without know why.

“It’s been really nice chatting to you all and watchin’ democracy in progress,” said Jesse. “I now understand why shit didn’t get done in Washington. I’m goin’ over to that door and kickin’ fucking thing in. If you want to join me, come on along. You sounded like you had a good plan until you decided to talk about it some more. There’s a time and a place to worry about the feelings of others. This is not that time. We need the crap in that house to live. If the owners haven’t claimed it in the last eight weeks, they’re not gonna. Hannah?”

“Got you’re back,” nodded Hannah.

Lisa cut in by standing as well. “You can’t just take over here; you’re not even a part of this Household.” That had been the first time Hannah started thinking of them as The Household.

“Thank God for that, right honey?” leered Jesse. Hannah had to stifle a laugh at his sudden crassness. Jesse pointed at the assembled. “I’m really surprised that you have made it this far with all that talking you do. This is not a ‘wait and see’ game, don’t you get it? It’s for life. The rest of it. You can live in your little hippy commune someplace else and risking somebody else’s lives, but not mine and that little girls.”

Jesse looked around at the gathered. “The offer holds, if you want to come with me, let’s go.”

Jesse turned his back on them and walked out the door. Chelsea followed him as did Hannah after making sure no one was going for a gun to stop him. The old man, Bill, got wearily to his feet and shuffled back to the garage without a word. Isaac and Eddie shrugged after a second of staring at Lisa’s shocked expression, and then gathered up their guns to follow. Hannah heard Lisa protest.

“You two are going with him?”

“Don’t be a bitch.” Hannah heard Eddie mutter. “He’s got a plan of action, Lisa; this bunch here’s been falling apart for a while now. Ever since Victor and Lynn died, ever since Sam and Ronnee got tore apart because you fucking hesitated back at the Center. We’ve been hanging on to each other because we haven’t had much of a god damn choice. Now we do. You can say all the bullshit you want about how we need to respect others and shit, but the fact is, you don’t respect us. All I have to say is this; you’re little reign’s over. I don’t want to hear your shit any longer.”

The two exited the house to find Hannah waiting on them.

“Is anyone else going to come?” asked Hannah.

“Stacy will,” said Isaac. “But I doubt if anyone else will right away.”

“I’ll bet Mark’ll talk to Lisa and Carolina and they’ll come around,” muttered Eddie like he hoped Mark would not be successful.

“Don’t count on it,” said Hannah under her breath. Eddie heard her and grinned at her. Hannah returned the grin, waving to where Jesse studied the house across the road. They trooped over to stand next to him and all looked over as a short dark haired young woman walked over to them, toting weapons of her own. Hannah remembered that she had been introduced as Stacy. She was wearing a stained Carhart jacket and tossed Isaac and Eddie heavy leather coats.

“You dumb shits can still get bit,” she said as they pulled on the protection. She held out a hand to Hannah. “I’m Stacy, Lisa hates you for some reason, and that’s good enough for me.”

Hannah found herself laughing and liking the shorter girl. She shook her hand. “Hannah. Can you use that rifle?”

Stacy patted the .22 she held. “It’s been through thick and thin with me. What about you?”

“I’ve got my own little memories.”

Jesse cleared his throat. “I hate to break up this little cat-chat, but what can you tell me about this house?”

“Nothing. We haven’t done much more than live off what we’ve found in that one so far.”

“Okay then,” I guess we’ll just have to make some plans,” said Jesse. As he spoke, Mark, a skinny dark haired guy, had exited the house with Lisa and Carolina in tow. He stopped just a few feet away from where Jesse and the rest stood and nodded up at the roof. “I’m going to be up there with the rifle, they’re going to be helping you dudes out. If you don’t mind, we’re gonna stick with the first plan, since it was a pretty good one.”

Casting a glance at Jesse, Hannah watched for a cue from him as how to act. Jesse nodded slowly. “Fine by me, Chelsea will back-up to Stacy, me and Hannah will lead the way, Isaac and Eddie next and then Lisa and Carolina. Remember to only shoot if you have a clear shot away from our backs. Isaac and Eddie you guys use those swords mostly, and Hannah and I’ll be the gunners. Lisa and Carolina, you two only get to shoot if it all goes to shit. Understand?’

The all nodded and with a deep breath, Jesse led the way into the house.

Now that it was over, Hannah crept outside to where Chelsea and Stacy were still on watch, but had relaxed some with the house being cleared. Stacy nodded to Hannah and Chelsea complained that she was getting hungry. Hannah ruffled the girl’s hair. “We’ll scare something up here in a bit. We’ve got to wait while the Rossini sisters get their shit together.”

“Rossini?’ asked Chelsea. Stacy echoed her question.

“Yeah, somewhere I heard that Cinderella’s step sister’s last name was that. I also remember that they’re names were Claudette and Javotte.” Hannah shrugged. “Don’t ask me where I picked that up.”

"If they're the sisters, which one of us is Cinderella?"

"You've had to put up with them longer--," pointed out Hannah.

Stacy grinned. "Yes, yes I have."

“You’re making it up,” said Chelsea with a scowl. “I saw the Disney movie and their names were Anastasia and Drusilla.”

Stacy gave a delighted laugh. “You can’t argue with Walt, can you?”

“I guess not.” Hannah looked at the set of the sun in the sky. “It’s pretty late in the afternoon. We ought to be wrapping this up.”

Stacy stayed where she was on the porch. “Hannah, I know we just met like three hours ago, but you need to be careful with those two. They may seem like they’re all peace and love and shit, but they really are just bitches in bad dresses. Lisa is a pushy whore who doesn’t give up her control very easily.”

“I’ll remember that, Stacy,” assured Hannah as she made her way to the door.

“I’m serious,” warned Stacy. “Lisa might not want to admit it, but she’s the one who got four of us killed with her boneheaded refusal to listen to someone else.”

Stopping at the door, Hannah leaned on the frame. “Stacy, Jesse won’t let that happen.”

“He can’t be everywhere,” responded Stacy darkly.

“No, I guess he can’t.” Hannah left Stacy and Chelsea on the porch and went back inside where the two women were finishing cleaning the kitchen.

Isaac and Eddie appeared with a several long guns and a couple handguns. Jesse grinned at them as they brought them over to him. Grabbing up one of the rifles, Jesse pulled the bolt on it back and gave it a cursory inspection. “SKS, pretty good find, any ammo?”

Eddie nodded. “There’s a shit load of boxes in a file cabinet next to the gun case. The basement’s got a bunch of hunting and camping stuff too. There looks to be more ammo down there.”

“We’ll just have to check those out then.” Pausing to gauge the shadows in the room, Jesse handed the rifle back to Eddie. “Grab up what you can get now, and we’ll come back for the other stuff later. We’d better get this over to the house to divide up before it gets too late.”

Lisa heard Jesse and stopped her packing. “You’re not going to be staying at the House with us?”

“I’ve got a Toyota I want to try and get running.”

“Bill can help with that,” suggested Lisa. “He’s a mechanic.”

“Yeah, well, he looks to be busy with that van right now.” Picking up a load of foodstuffs, Jesse made his way to the door, speaking over his shoulder as he moved. “We can get together tomorrow and see if we can work something out.”

“Don’t you think it’s dangerous to separate?”

“We’ll be fine,” assured Jesse. “Hannah, you want to grab a couple of those bags?”

Hannah did as she was bid and saw Isaac hide a smirk as she bent to get the plastic bags. Lisa watched her with barely veiled distain in her eyes, a look that followed her out the door to where Jesse was loading up one of the wheelbarrows they had brought along to tote the find. Hannah stopped Jesse as Stacy and Chelsea stood away from the porch.

“Making enemies so soon?”

“Hell, you didn’t like me from the moment you saw me,” said Jesse. He glanced to where Lisa was exiting the house. “I don’t like the fuckin’ game she’s playin’. We’ll just try and put her off as long as we can. The showdown with that little cunt is gonna be ugly.”

“Oohh, the ‘C’ word.”

“I’ve got plenty more where that came from.”

“Where what came from?” asked Lisa as she deposited her goods in the wheelbarrow. “Plenty more what?”

“Idea’s on what places to hit next,” smoothed over Jesse. “Let’s get this stuff out of here. Isaac, you want to take one of these things?”

They headed out once all the items and guns and ammo were aboard the single wheeled carts. Chelsea and Stacy kept a running game of comments about the others in the group, each trying to top the other in ridiculousness while laughingly discussing the clothing of the others and how they walked. Hannah walked behind the procession and pondered what Stacy had said and wondered how Jesse was going to deal with the megalomaniac that Lisa appeared to be. Hannah gripped the Ruger against her chest, pondering her sudden propensity at wishing that they had never found other people alive.

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Rather than create more tension over the division of the food and weapons they had found, after a conference with Hannah and Chelsea, Jesse had announced they would simply take a few things that were in abundance along with some ammo to fit their personal weapons and call it a night. With that announcement made, they ended up with were several cans of vegetables, a couple cans of pork and beans, Vienna sausages, and refried beans. To top it off, Jesse managed to get flour and some other dry goods like a box of dried milk for cooking. Chelsea laid claim to a couple boxes of sugary cereal that no one else wanted. They took a box of 12 gauge shells for their two shotguns, a box of 9mm for the Taurus and the Glock and a box of .22 for Chelsea. There hadn’t been as much ammo as Isaac and Eddie had thought at first because several of the boxes were only partially filled. The rest they left for The Household. It was near dark when they reached the safety of the A-Frame. Jesse secured the door behind them and lit a kerosene lantern he’d found in the garage with the camping equipment. Chelsea immediately began to clamor for food. She had been patient most of the day but was now demanding attention.

Jesse laughed at her, and told her to go and change out of her heavy clothing while he fixed food for them. He began to dig around the kitchen for a mixing bowl while Hannah took a seat on one of the bar stools at the counter. She watched while Jesse began to mix flour, some corn meal and salt. He began to dash water into the mix until it was like a thick paste. While he worked, he directed Hannah to start the grill and put the griddle over the flame.

“What are you making?” asked Hannah.

“Tortillas,” replied Jesse, patting out the mix.

“With what are we having tortillas?”

Continuing to pat out the paste into somewhat round sheets, Jesse added corn meal or flour as he saw fit. “We’ve got those refried beans, and did you notice that the house next door has a garden? I saw tomatoes ripening on the vine and maybe some other stuff we can use. There’s SPAM left over from breakfast, I’ll toss that in, and with that jar of salsa, we’ll have a pretty good dinner.”

“What about cheese?” demanded Chelsea, reappearing on the stairs.

“Sorry, Kiddo, no cheese.”

“Figure’s.”

Hannah took the sheets to the griddle as Jesse directed. She oiled the pan and began to lay the tortillas on the hot surface.

“Don’t cook them too long, Hannah, just get them colored on both sides,” directed Jesse.

“Sure, boss.”

Brining the rest over to the grill, Jesse also carried a big bowl. “Chelsea, grab up your rifle and come with me, I’m going to pick some tomatoes, I need you to watch out for me.”

Chelsea picked up the lever action that was never far from her and followed Jesse outside. Hannah flipped and removed the tortillas as needed until they were all cooked. She turned off the grill until Jesse returned because she saw no sense in heating the house. Hannah wandered over to the sliding doors and looked out over the lake.

The sun was setting over the water, casting her colors across the sky and making Hannah feel normal for a change. She still felt the loss of Freddy, and her heart ached at the memory of the young guy who had braved a parking lot of zombies for a peanut butter sandwich with her. Even though it had been barely two days, Hannah felt that it was longer ago with the events that had occurred since. She knew that some of the distance she was feeling was due to the fact that she had not been in love with Freddy, she had cared about him, but the thread that held him to her was more of one that had to do with his place in the rapidly disappearing human race, than her personal attachment to him. Finding other people alive, even ones that she could not get along with, had helped to lessen the sting of Freddy’s death.

Hannah remembered her promise to keep a diary. She wondered where she could find the proper notebook to start her project. Should she just use the first that came along, or should she seek out a leather bound book of blank pages for that “proper” quality that was associated with the diaries of people. Chiding herself for assuming to take on airs, Hannah decided that any collection of blank pages would do; she was sure to give up after a couple days anyway.

Jesse and Chelsea’s return pulled her out of her musings. Hannah smiled at them, amazed at the normalcy that their lives had taken on with the threat of the undead reduced to just a few wandering the shores of the lake, rather than hundreds moaning outside her balcony. Even though a 9 year old carrying a rifle was not what many would consider normal, Hannah thought it quite a pleasant change from her shooting undead away from the apartment’s security door. Jesse held out the bowl.

“Check this out,” he grinned. “Not only did we get tomatoes, but there’s squash, onions, potatoes, corn and even peppers. Most of it has been nibbled on by animals, but we can certainly make good with what is left.”

“It all looks wonderful,” agreed Hannah, following him inside. Chelsea slid the door shut behind them and grabbed a place on the couch. She picked up a children’s book they had found and began pursuing the pages while Jesse finished dinner. Hannah took her spot on the bar stool, chopping and dicing as directed.

“What do you think of The Household?” asked Hannah.

“The Household?” repeated Jesse.

“That’s what I’ve labeled them as in my mind.”

“You mean like a little cult or somethin’?”

Hannah nodded.

“Well, Isaac and Eddie hardly seem to be the kind to follow a cult,” said Jesse, then before Hannah could respond he continued. “But I see what you mean. Those little bitches certainly have a way of crawlin’ under the skin. If anyone was to be a cult, it would be them. I can see where they got into the whole hippy thing as a trendy way to buck mommy and daddy, and then took themselves too seriously. It probably carried over into this whole deal of trying to stay alive.”

“I figured that an ex-con would be someone who would take pleasure in people who want to buck the system,” half teased Hannah.

“I was also in the Army, remember?” pointed out Jesse. “While I might have been a less than stellar soldier as far a followin’ the little rules, I did agree with the over-all plan.”

“Ah, you understood the big picture.”

“Nope, I just didn’t see where I needed to know it.” Jesse started frying up squash and onions, the smells permeated the air, making Hannah’s mouth water. She went to a cupboard and pulled out a box of semi-stale crackers. Seating herself beside Chelsea, Hannah opened the box and placed it between them. Chelsea thanked her and dug in for a handful to tide herself over as well. Jesse continued to talk. “You see, I knew that what we were doin’ was for America, even though it was a billion miles away. I did my time in the Sandbox and killed who I had to kill to keep America strong and safe. It was all the stupid rules in-between that got me fucked. When I got out, I was still a E-6 and still pissed off at being passed over for promotion. I screwed myself out of a couple of jobs, stateside, and then decided that I needed to get out on the road to get away. I got caught up in a big drug sting and tried to sell a pound of homegrown marijuana to a undercover cop. It wasn’t even good shit. So I did my time and when I got out, I was still in the most fucked up place.”

Jesse stopped grilling for a second to look at Hannah. “I did jack-shit for six years. I had a Harley and a couple broken relationships to call my own. It’s a stupid thing, but I’ll be god damned if you and Freddy on the phone wasn’t the best fuckin’ thing that ever happened to me.”

“That’s a sad commentary on your life, Jesse,” decided Hannah.

“You’re fuckiin’ right it is,” laughed Jesse. “It took the world to end for me to get my shit together.”

Chelsea looked up from her book. “The next time I cuss, you can’t yell at me.”

“Sure I can, baby,” said Jesse. “I’m a mean old man. I can do whatever I want. Now get some plates.”

Chelsea stuck out her tongue at him and ran giggling to the kitchen for the plates.

Jesse grinned at her back. “Little shit.”

Hannah leaned back on the couch and felt the comfort of the companionship steal over her. She was almost happy, she decided. With a little more time, she would be.



Morning found Hannah, Jesse and Chelsea searching the house for the keys to the Toyota Land Cruiser. While Jesse had managed to pop the lock the other day to get the door open so it could be taken out of gear to be moved, they still needed to find the keys to open the cargo area. In the course of their search, Hannah found a Ruger .40 caliber pistol that reminded her of the Glock because of the plastic frame. When she mentioned this, Jesse had laughed, telling her it was nothing like the Glock. The pistol had been stuck under a collection of magazines in a night stand in one of the other bedrooms. The plastic box it came in had been locked, and with a pair of bolt cutters, they had managed to remove the lock and found it in nearly new condition. There was a full box of ammo for it and a partial one. Jesse had mentioned that the parents of the house had not know about the pistol since there were no other firearms in the place, and that the son had bought it and sneaked it in.

It was in that bedroom that they found the keys to the TLC. After a complete search of the drawers and cabinets, looking under furniture and in coats, the search had widened to going through the pockets of the clothing. In a pile of dirty jeans, Hannah found the keys connected to a leather fob that proclaimed TOYTOA. She had triumphantly handed the keys to Jesse and they had all trooped out to the garage for the first attempt at starting the 4x4.

The ignition didn’t even click over.

The transfer of parts began. Since the battery was still good in Hannah’s car, they swapped it out, even though it was not the right size, it would do until they could find one that was designed for vehicles like the Toyota. The air in all the tires were checked and after struggling for what seemed like hours, the two spares on the thing were removed from the mount on the front push bar and under the rear cargo area. Jesse had them put thick grease on all the mounting bolts so they would not seize up on the road. The SUV had a roof mount on it. A search in the garage turned up a big plastic Sport Rack that could be mounted on the roof to hold extra cargo. They put the clam shelled box on top and discovered that would not fit out the garage door with the plastic shell on top. Regretfully, it was removed until they could decide if they wanted to use it else where or simply leave it off altogether. While Hannah a Chelsea cleaned out the interior of the thing, Jesse started working on getting the big 6 cylinder engine running. They worked with the garage door open, and every few minutes, one of them would pick up a rifle and walk around the house to be sure that no one or nothing was lurking nearby.

There were two other houses on the short stretch of road the A-frame resided. One was a small single story with no outbuildings or garage, Hannah decided it must have been a bungalow from when the lake was first opened as a resort, a summer get away for some local family back so many years ago. The other house was a normal looking two story cedar sided place with an attached garage. Hannah thought several times that she could see movement inside the house, the jerky slow gait of the undead as it stumbled past the windows. She had no desire to go into the house, but knew they might have to, if for nothing else, than to resupply from the larder in the kitchen of the structure. As she walked, Hannah wondered how much food was in the high end subdivision and how long it would take the ten of them to eat their way through the supplies on hand.

Even though it was still a month or two off, winter would be upon them and with the snows, the cold and the bodies higher demand for nourishment in the freezing temperatures would take it’s toll on the available food. They could hunt, provided the deer were not affected by the same plague that was wiping out mankind, and that would see to some of their provisioning.

The thought of the deer made Hannah wonder what had happened to the animals. She did not recall seeing a dog or a cat for sometime. Had they all disappeared from the earth, or were they lying low, waiting out the final stages of the plague so they could roam the land freely? Jesse had mentioned that animals had been eating on the garden, so there were still critters around, had Hannah just been so preoccupied that she had not seen them moving across the lawn and in the wood? She started to pay more attention to the thing around her on her next walks around the property and was happy to see rabbits carefully moving from brush to undergrowth, squirrels jumping between tree limbs and even a cat stalking something in tall grass. The sight of the cat made her feel somewhat better about the condition of the world.

Looking at the world through her freshly opened eyes also saved her life.

She was on the backside of the circuit around the house, near the lake, when she saw the boat. Hannah froze near a tree, knowing that any sudden movement would attract the rower’s attention her direction. As it was, they were scanning the shoreline and beyond of signs of life, two men in a john boat, one at the bow, holding a rifle like Jesse’s and Eddie’s, the other operating the oars and intent on keeping the boat from making too much noise as it grounded on the shore. Both were dressed in ragged military clothing mismatched with civilian shirts or jeans, matching that of the men at the bridge. They had not shaved in weeks, making them appear to be wild and unkempt. As the boat eased up on the shore, the first man leapt out to the gravel and pulled the boat securely up on the bank, holding his rifle at ready as he did so. The other man followed, also carrying a military style rifle like Jesse’s. They had pouches on a harness system with what looked to be magazines for the rifles and grenades. Knives, hatchets, and even a machete, were shoved into boot tops and hanging from their belts. One had a portable radio on his harness, similar to the ones she had seen police officers wear.

Hannah watched them as they slowly moved up the lawn to the tree line where she stood. Hannah was suddenly very frightened. While she had shot at the men on the bridge in a moment of recklessness, sniped Zombies from her balcony, and even had to kill a lover, she had never actually faced down armed men who might be intent on killing her first. She was surprised to find that despite the fact she was sweating, her mouth was dry and she could not manufacture enough spit to swallow. Taking a deep breath, Hannah moved to the limited protection of the tree and using it as a rest, focused the 10/22 on the man closest to her. Her movement made them look in her direction.

Forcing her mouth to work Hannah ordered them to stop. “Hold it right there, and keep your hands where I can see them.”

Trained reaction, overconfidence at hearing a woman’s voice, or stupidity made them disregard her command and both men brought up their rifles to shoot. Hannah squeezed the trigger of the Ruger and through the scope, saw the bullet take the lead man in the forehead. He seemed suspended for a moment, the look of shock and horror at his passing clear on his face. Hannah fired again, the sound of the action muted in her ears as the second round exited the silenced rifle. The second round entered at the apex of the skull, ripping a chunk of flesh and bone away as the man fell, his rifle dropping to the ground unused.

The second man stared in disbelief as his partner was felled by a silent shot. He seemed to be thinking that he should have at least heard the echoes of a gun. He then threw himself to the ground, snapping off several shots in Hannah’s general direction, the reports of his firearm carrying across the lake. Hannah ducked behind the tree as the bullets cut a limb off a nearby tree and send leaves floating to the lawn. She leaned around the trunk of the tree and fired another half dozen shots at the man, kicking up dirt around him, and making him scramble back toward the boat.

Going to a kneeling position, Hannah winced when more rounds zipped around her, but none coming close to her. It was then Hannah realized that he really did not know where she was in the tree line. Angry at being shot at and them not simply obeying her simple life saving command, Hannah took aim and fired, the little .22 spitting out four bullets as fast as she could pull the trigger. The man screamed on feeling the hollow point rounds rip into his flesh, puncturing his hips and legs since that was the only target Hannah had. She dimly heard Jesse calling to her, but she was beyond normal reactions. Standing, Hannah moved forward at the man, keeping the Ruger held at her shoulder in case she needed to shoot the man again. Passing the first man without a glance, Hannah crossed the short distance the now injured man had managed to cover and kicked out at his head with her boot as he lay clutching the bleeding holes she had given him. She jerked the rifle away from his questing hands and kicked him again as he tried to fight back.

He growled out curses at her, the pain and frustration of his wounds making him beat the gravel with fists clenched angrily. “You fuckin’ bitch. I think you paralyzed me, you fuckin’ might as well kill me.”

“Shut the fuck up,” demanded Hannah, still holding the Ruger on him. “All you had to do was fucking stop where you were. You didn’t have to point your guns at me.”

“God damn,” hissed the man. “Fuck you.”

Jesse arrived with his CAR and Chelsea was not far behind, her little Henry pointing at the two men until she saw Hannah had taken care of the situation. She inspected the head shot and nodded appreciatively at the marksmanship. “Good shooting,” proclaimed the little girl.

Hannah knew at the back of her mind that the warped comment by the nine year old would have to be discussed later, but at the moment her back was up and she settled on nodding her thanks.

“You okay?” asked Jesse. Hannah assured him she was, even though she was starting to shake uncontrollably. She coughed, holding back the bile that had suddenly risen in her throat and watched as Jesse leaned down to look at the injured man who still lay cursing and clutching at his wounds. “If you’ll calm down, we’ll take a look at those for you.”

“You might as well kill me, asshole. That bitch done started it anyway” he held up his hands to show Jesse his blood. “I can feel it inside me, leakin’ all over.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Fuck you.”

Jesse nodded. “Hannah, Chelsea, get that other guys shit, strip off his gear. I’ll get this guys.”

The man stared at Jesse through pain filled eyes. “What the fuck’re doin’?”

Jesse did not answer, he simply stood and after setting his CAR aside, grabbed the man and roughly turned him over. The man tried to fight him by reaching under his torso to pull out a pistol, but Jesse punched him and kicked at his wounds, causing the man to howl in pain and sob out more curses. Stepping on the man’s arm, Jesse yanked the pistol out of his hand and tossed it up the bank. Jesse bent and unbuckled the belt of the harness, jerking the suspenders over the man’s arms and making him cry and sob out pleas for mercy. Hannah and Chelsea watched as Jess manhandled the wounded man, stripping him of his weapons and gear.

Standing with the equipment in hand, Jesse gave them both a dark look. “Get that other fucks gear,” he ordered. The two girls did as he told them to. Hannah could hear the man pleading with Jesse now as he started to drag the man to the water’s edge. They struggled momentarily with the harness and then were able to pull it off the dead body. As they worked Hannah heard the sound of running feet. She looked up and saw Isaac, Eddie and Mark all running toward them, rifles in hand. They slowed on seeing the body.

Jesse was roughly lifting the man over the edge of the john boat, ignoring the cries of pain and pleas for him to stop. He had pulled all the equipment out of the boat, a knapsack, two ammo boxes and a plastic storage container already. The wounded man fell in to the bottom of the boat with a whimper. Turning away, Jesse pointed to the dead man. “Bring it here.”

“What’s going on?” asked Isaac.

“These fucks tried to sneak up on us,” stated Jesse. “Now get that fuckin’ body over here. I don’t want it stinkin’ up my lawn.”

Isaac looked at Hannah. She nodded. “I saw them pull up in the boat and when I told them to stop, they tried to shoot me.”

“I guess they underestimated you,” he said carefully.

Hannah began to shake again and Isaac wrapped her in a tight hug. Hannah let him enfold her and started to sob for reasons she could not understand. Mark and Eddie each grabbed an end of the limp carcass and drug it over to the boat, unceremoniously tossing it into the bottom of the boat on top of the wounded man. He screamed and pushed at the body, trying to get it off him.

“What the fuck are you goin’ to do?” demanded the man.

Jesse shook his head as if to say ‘what do you expect us to do?’. He grabbed the bow of the boat and began to shove it into the water.

“What the hell?” the frightened man exclaimed.

“I’m gonna push you back out on the lake. With any luck, you won’t bleed to death before you can row yourself home.”

“I can’t fuckin’ row, god damn it, I’m fuckin’ dying, you asshole.”

“Well, then, I guess you’ll have company,” nodded Jesse to the dead man already in the boat.

“Don’t fuckin’ do this, man,” he plead. “I don’t wanna be like them.”

Jesse stopped, the boat floating in the water. “Then answer my questions.”

The man closed his eyes against the pain. “Sure fine, just don’t do this.”

“Who are you?”

“Name’s John, I’m part of the local chapter of the Ohio Militia. We’ve been holed up in Mifflin and such, me an’ Larry were scoutin’ the shores since we’re running low on food, we thought we’d better start expanding our operations,” hissed John through his pain.

“So you’re not real military.”

“I was once.”

Jesse considered this. “You part of those idiots at the bridge on 430?”

“We’ve been keeping infected people from getting by.”

Leaning into the boat, Jesse spoke through clenched teeth. “Do I look fuckin’ infected to you?”

John seemed confused by his statement.

“You and your asshole friends tried to kill us when we drove up,” explained Jesse. “Just like you tried to do to them,” he added, pointing at Eddie and Mark. “Who is in charge of your little club and where are they headquartered?”

Suddenly wary, John, leaned back and spoke through his pain. “Why?”

“How the hell else we gonna get you back to them?”

“Steve’s in charge, Steve Laughlin, he’s in the big white house across from the bar downtown.” John looked at Jesse hopefully. “You going to get me out of this now?”

“Sure thing,” said Jesse. As he said this, he freed his .45 and before anyone could react, shot John in the face. John went limp as the single report echoed across the water. Jesse holstered the pistol and pushed the boat out into the water. He waded back up to the shore to the stares of the others.

“What the hell’d you do that for dude?” asked Mark.

“That fuck and his friend tried to kill Hannah. They would have tried to kill all of us,” roared Jesse, suddenly furious with all of them. “Get your god damn head out of your asses. They don’t want anyone alive other than them. Like your fuckin’ girlfriend, they have a plan for the world, and you don’t fit in to it. As for him, even if I felt a little compassion for him, how were we going to take care of him, you a doctor? I’m not. He was shot up, he was paralyzed, he was a liability to us. Fuck him and his kind. They tried to kill you not so long ago.”

“Yeah, but, like there’s only so many of us left in the world, you know, we could have worked something out with this Steve dude, you know?”

“Would you have ‘worked something out’ with someone who had just capped your girlfriend?”

Mark stood silent. Jesse nodded. “I thought not.” He turned away and began to pick up the equipment. “Could you guys help out here and carry some of this stuff up to the house?”

Not waiting for an answer, Jesse picked up the plastic tote that he had piled the harness, pistol and rifle on and stalked back to the house. Chelsea grabbed up the harness and rifle of the other man and followed. Hannah felt Isaac release her, and thanked him without looking at him. She picked up her own rifle and grabbed one of the ammo boxes. Isaac picked up the other and the knapsack and after a brief, low conversation with Mark and Eddie, followed her to the house. Eddie and Mark headed back to The Household.

Hannah dropped the ammo box next to where Jesse had placed the gear he carried, then collapsed in one of the chairs in the living room. She could hear Jesse and Chelsea talking as the garage door was pulled shut. Her good mood had evaporated with the shooting, and once again, a dark depression was overcoming her. Try as she might, Hannah was having a hard time fighting off the realization that she had been responsible for the death of two living men. Freddy had been the first, and then the unknown man on the shore of the lake. If she wanted to keep count, she supposed she could add the man that Jesse had executed, since it was her bullets that had stopped him from escaping.

She wondered if the rest of her life were going to be so complicated. Hannah wanted to go back to the days when her toughest decision was whether or not to wear slacks or a skirt to work. She hated what she was becoming. Hannah barely looked up when Isaac walked in.

He set the ammo box and knapsack down, worriedly looking over at Hannah as if trying to decide what to do next. She waved him to another chair. He sat on the edge, still unsure of his role.

“Relax, I’m not going to shoot you.”

He gave a strained laugh. “I’m glad for that.”

“They didn’t give me much of a choice,” said Hannah. “I mean, they just turned and pointed their rifles at me without even considering doing what I asked them to.”

“I believe you,” said Isaac.

“I didn’t want to kill them,” she continued. “But you know, they pissed me off for a second there when they didn’t even hesitate in trying to kill me.”

“So you did what you had to do.”

“I did.” Hannah struggled to sit up. When she had accomplished this, she leaned on her knees and looking down at Isaac’s boots, spoke with a small voice. “You ever had to kill a living person since all this started? I’ve now shot three people in as many days. I don’t think I can do this.”

Isaac cleared his throat. “I’ve shot four for sure. Back when all this started, we were trapped in my apartment building and after we got out, we stayed at this farm. What we didn’t know was that the guy who owned the place was intending to make us his slaves once he saw the way things were going. There was a big fight, a battle if you want to call it that. People were shooting and killing each other all night long. The dead ones that didn’t get shot in the head, they started to rise and that just complicated things. During that fight, I know I killed two people at least, maybe more. You see, the farmer was rescuing people wandering the roads and he had about thirty or forty of us there. When it all broke loose, well, that’s when we made a break for the van. By the time we left, there were eleven of us that crammed into the van. We made it to Mansfield, got fucked over there, I shot a dude there for sure, then went to Lucas where I shot another guy and maybe a couple more.”

Isaac sighed. “I’m not saying that it gets easier, but if you go into this knowing you did what you had to do, it makes it simpler deal with it all. You saved not only your life, but Jesse and Chelsea’s as well. This new world we’re in, it’s going to take some to settle down, I think that people like you are strong enough to see it through to the end.”

Hannah smiled at him from through a veil of hair as she looked up. “Thanks, what about you?”

Isaac grinned at her, making a fist like he was going to punch someone. “I’m a warrior princess, I’ll make it.”

“Princess?” laughed Hannah loudly, relieving some of the strain with the laugh.

“It made you laugh,” he said sheepishly.

She chuckled sadly. “Yeah, but deep down I still feel like shit. Why couldn’t they have just listened?”

“Pure and simple,” said Isaac. “They didn’t want to.”

Jesse and Chelsea entered at that point. Jesse motioned out at the lake. “Looks like our little conflict has attracted company, you staying for dinner?”

Hannah and Isaac followed Jesse’s gesture and both softly swore. A half dozen undead had appeared at the water’s edge, seemingly drawn to the location where the body had lain. They all wandered around the site of the fresh blood, bumping into one another and moaning as they did so.

“Where the fuck did they come from?” wondered Isaac.

Jesse sighed. “It looks like your friend Stacy hit this one on the head when she said that they’re coming from the water. Chelsea and I watched two of them stagger out of the lake. I’ll bet those assholes at the bridge are dumping the dead bodies into the water without knocking them in the head first. They come to in the water and then kind of lurk around there until they find shore. I’ll bet the sound of the gunshots over the lake attracted them.”

“What now?”

Jesse shrugged. “I’m gonna take Hannah’s rifle and cap them before they get started up this way, unless you want to do it,” said Jesse to Hannah.

Shaking her head, Hannah handed the .22 to Jesse. “I’ve had my fill of shooting things today.”

He took the rifle and Chelsea followed him out onto the deck to keep watch while he began to snipe that the things with the silenced rifle. Hannah closed her eyes but could not shut out the sound of the little brass cases falling to the deck. Isaac moved over next to her and sat on the arm of the chair.

“You’ll be okay,” he promised, rubbing her back.

“God I hope so,” she replied, “It would suck to go through life this depressed.”

Isaac laughed bitterly with her.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:16 am 
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The Toyota started.

Jesse gave a loud whoop of joy as the six cylinder engine finally cranked and caught, blowing a small cloud of exhaust into the air as the stale gas and oil burned in the combustion chambers to exit the tail pipe. The Chelsea revved the gas pedal a couple times and Hannah and Jesse congratulated each other over the now rumbling engine. They had scavenged spark plugs, plug wires, oil, gas, coolant and sometimes it seemed, mused Hannah, the air in the tires.

Over the last two days it had been totally focused on making the TLC run. Although they had been visited by Isaac, Eddie and Stacy, the rest of The Household had very little to do with them since the mini raid by the Militia on their beach and Jesse’s execution of the man in the boat. Jesse had told Hannah their time was limited at the lake house and they had cleared the houses on either side of the A Frame, shooting the undead inside the places then scavenging the foodstuffs they could find. All three now carried the military style rifles since Chelsea had proven should could hold and fire the short carbine, albeit with the collapsible stock on the first setting. The dead men had proven to be a boon to their ammo supply, with the multiple magazines for the rifles and the ammo in the ammo box, they had over 2000 rounds of 5.56 for the carbines. In addition there were the two pistols the men carried and over 300 rounds each for the pistols, a .40 Glock and a high end 1911 .45. Jesse was more impressed than Hannah had been, since they were just firearms and bullets, but it certainly looked impressive when divided up between them and the BOB’s.

Jesse signaled for Chelsea to turn off the engine and when she did, he continued to grin into the silence. Hannah asked him what was so fantastic.

“It means we can finally get the hell out of here,” he said.

Hannah shook her head. “I don’t know, it seems to be okay here.”

“You forget the hippy twins down the road, Hannah,” said Jesse. “They want nothing to do with us.”

“Yeah,” agreed Hannah. “It makes it very quiet around here, and I like that.”

“What do you think is going to happen when that little fuckin’ john boat floats back to Mifflin?”

Frowning at him, Hannah leaned her grease smeared arms on the fender of the Toyota, resting her chin on her crossed arms. “They’ll start looking for whoever popped their boys?”

“If that Steve is any kind of a leader they will.”

“So what should we do, just pack up and head out, leave Isaac and the rest to deal with it?”

“Essentially, yeah,” answered Jesse.

“Hardly the neighborly thing to do,” reflected Hannah. “’Specially since we’re the ones that sent the boat back out into the water with the dead bodies in it.”

“Do you think they’d help us?”

“Isaac, Eddie and Stacy would.”

“Three of them who might. I’ll bet that that Lisa and her little bitch-buddy are over there right now trying to convince them that they need to turn us in to those fucks and the murders of their friends,” prophesied Jesse. “What Lisa’s not getting right now is that those Militia creeps are not interested in being friends; they see everyone as threats to them staying alive. What I think is that we need to do a little raid on Mifflin ourselves if we’re going to stay here. We need to get the first strike in before the fuckers find the bodies or start searching on their own. This fuckin’ lake ain’t that big. They might already be wondering what’s up with them.”

“So what would you suggest?”

“I would suggest that we get a pontoon boat from the dock down there and float over to the bridge and do a little attacking of our own. We can’t get too far once that’s done, but at least we’ll have carried the fight to them.”

Hannah smiled at Jesse as Chelsea hopped out of the driver’s seat to stand and listen to them talking. The new world was having an effect on the nine year old, and it was turning her into a little blood thirsty demon. Hannah had tried to talk to her about her headshot remarks on the stony beach that day, but Chelsea had simply shrugged and repeated to Hannah that it had been good shooting and she couldn’t understand why Hannah was so upset with her for remarking on it. Jesse had finally intervened and explained to Chelsea that while it had been good shooting, it was not the thing to be proud of, having to kill living people because there were so few left. The nine year old countered that they had been trying to kill Hannah and why shouldn’t they have paid the price? Better them than Hannah. The only reply Jesse could come up with was that killing living people was bad.

Chelsea listened to them for a moment before speaking. “I thought you said that killing people was bad.”

“It is,” responded Hannah without thinking about her response.

“Then why are you planning on going down there to the bridge to kill those men?”

“We’re just talking about ways to keep ourselves safe,” back pedaled Hannah. “we’re not so much planning on killing them as talking about it.”

“There’s a difference?”

Hannah glanced at Jesse for help. He shrugged. Looking back at Chelsea, Hannah tried to put it in terms that sounded like they made sense. “Listen, sometimes, staying safe is a matter of doing things that you know are wrong, but you have to do them anyway. It’s not really good to kill someone, but sometimes they force you to take action against them, and they end up dying, or you do. Because those men tried to hurt me, I had to shoot them to protect myself. I did it because I didn’t want you and Jesse to be hurt.”

“You mean like when you had to kill Freddy, you did it so he wouldn’t hurt us like my dad tried to do to me?”

Swallowing down a stab of pain at the memory of Freddy, Hannah nodded. “Yeah, something like that. It’s not something that you celebrate, taking that life, but you have to so you can live.”

Chelsea pondered this for a second. “Living for the people you care about is more important,” she declared. “I’m glad you were such a good shot down by the lake. I remember when you talked to me on the phone and then came to get me. If I had a sister, she’d be just like you.”

Hannah was touched by the serious look on the girls face and the tone of her assertion. She reached out and gave the girl a gentle swipe on her head, ruffling Chelsea’s hair and then pulling her in for a hug, something Chelsea was not prone to give many of. Chelsea hugged her back and then pulled away, straightening her hair as she did so.

“Thanks, Chelsea,” said Hannah, trying not to choke up.

“Hell,” said Jesse, “if I had a daughter, I’d hope she’d be something like the both of you. But enough of the sentimental bullshit, let’s see if we can scare up something to eat.”

“Bullshit?” countered Hannah, letting the seriousness of the scene fall away with his jesting. “That was a touching family moment; Hallmark would have put that in a Lifetime movie.”

“Fuckin’ girl-TV; the down fall of society.”

“I like girls on TV,” said Chelsea.

“So do I, when they’re naked,” countered Jesse.

Chelsea wrinkled her nose. “That’s gross.”

Jesse laughed rather than continue with his comments, for which Hannah was thankful since she could see the comments sliding down at a speed that would have made the a drag racer proud. Just as they reached the kitchen, Jesse stopped and held up a hand for silence. Hannah was about to form a question when she heard the sound that had caught his attention. Chelsea was all ready grabbing up her carbine and the shoulder bag she had picked out to carry her spare magazines in for the AR.

Hannah scooped up her own M4 taken from the men on the beach and was sliding into the harness with the spare magazines and pistol. More gunshots echoed through the trees.

“Sounds like they’ve made a decision for us,” growled Jesse as he armed himself as well. “Let’s see what we can do to help, I guess.”

Hannah, nodded to the Toyota and the boxes of goods they had stacked in preparation for leaving. “We can always just leave.”

Jesse sighed. “You know I won’t fuckin’ leave without at least trying. Besides, I kinda like Isaac.”

“Me too,” agreed Chelsea as she made her way to the sliding doors. Hannah and Jesse followed, all three moving rapidly towards the sound of the gunfire.

The gunfire was sporadic, alternating between what sounded to be rapid bursts of small arms fired in haste and single, aimed shots as targets presented themselves. The lane that had been fairly peaceful not two days before, now seemed to be overshadowed with threats behind each tall tree. The houses, always dark and foreboding, were malevolent appearing as the blank windows became hideaways for the unknown. As they neared the house where The Household had taken residence, the gunshots became louder, but were still a distance away. Drawing even with the house, Lisa came running out of the front doors carrying her .22 rifle.

“What the hell is happening?” she demanded, the fear plainly on her face when she fell in step behind them.

“Beats the hell out of me,” said Jesse. “Who is in that direction?”

“Isaac, Mark and Stacy,” she reported. “They went to check out a houseboat and see if they could get it running.”

“Where’s Eddie and Bill?”

“They are seeing if they can find parts for the van in a garage somewhere, Carolina is staying with the house.”

The shooting had died off to occasional pops that carried through the trees. As they neared the dock, they could hear the sound of people shouting, calling to one another. Jesse motioned for them to slow down as the group approached the end of the road which ended at the docks.

Through a break in the trees, Hannah could see a rather large houseboat floating in the little bay where the boat ramp and docks were. On the houseboat were several people moving about, carrying rifles and pointing them at the shore, toward one of the docks where another, smaller houseboat was tied up. A john boat, similar to the one from the previous day, was floating between the two houseboats. On board the john boat were two bodies, one seemingly in the throes of death, the other unmoving. Another man crouched at the end of the dock behind the piling and a metal chest the purpose of which was unknown to Hannah. She let her gaze fall on the smaller houseboat and saw Isaac huddled on the roof of the cabin, trying to be small against the flat surface while he reloaded. There was a body at the front of the house boat, crumpled and motionless, while movement could be seen inside the cabin.

Jesse directed her to take cover at a small building with Chelsea, and he motioned for Lisa to stay put in the tree. Hannah and the little girl raced to the cover he indicated only to draw a burst of fire from the larger houseboat. Both girls fell against the flimsy side of the building while bullets tore through the wood.

Hannah struggled to catch her breath and glanced over to where Chelsea sat wide eyed and open mouthed. “Why did he think this thing was safe?” joked Hannah through the stress. They both ducked as a burst tore the wood between them.

Chelsea shook her head but did not answer. Hannah peered around the edge of the building as found she could see the houseboat as it began to chug around in the cove to head back out onto the lake. Frustrated that they might be escaping, Hannah brought the carbine up to her shoulder and put the red dot where she thought the steering wheel might be. Pressing the trigger several times, feeling the rifle punch her shoulder, watching as the dot bounced up and back to point of aim, all these registered in her mind as she willed the bullets to her target. The boat did not paused in its turn, but her actions brought more bullets her way, making her crawl to the ground to escape the whining noise. Beside her, Chelsea was banging out single rounds, pausing between each report to adjust her grip on the weapon that was just a tad to large fro her small frame.

Hannah fired from her prone position, raking the deck of the houseboat, her senses registering as more fire from Jesse’s CAR joined her and Chelsea’s shots. The deck of the house boat was suddenly alive with flying splinters as the rounds ate holes in the fiberglass. Men on the deck sought shelter inside the cabin, but Hannah swept her rifle across the cabin until the bolt stopped on the empty magazine, the small bullets from her rifle creating many holes across the surface of the cabin walls, shattering the glass in the windows and breaking railing. The boat suddenly stopped moving, floating in the water while return fire suddenly exploded from the interior of the cabin.

On the dock, Hannah watched as Isaac rose up and fired at the man hiding behind the metal box. The rounds punched into the box, but were stopped by the thick barrier. From the cabin of the small house boat, came more gunfire. The man behind the box, waited a moment and returned from his position, shouting at the bigger houseboat as it began to move once again, pouring bullets out at the small houseboat and the tree line and building where Hannah crouched. She frantically pulled a magazine from the harness she wore and inserted it into the well of the carbine, dropping the bolt with a slap on the side of the rifle. The crippled houseboat was already chugging out of the cove and toward the freedom of the lake. Hannah cursed in frustration, watching as the survivors on the houseboat tossed bodies off the rear of the boat into the water.

The man on the dock suddenly tossed aside his firearm and stood with his hands raised.

Hannah considered shooting him, but stopped when Jesse called out to the smaller houseboat.

“Isaac, you okay?” Isaac waved his hand from his place on the roof of the cabin. “Who’s hit?”

“Mark,” came the call. “Stacy is in the cabin, I don’t know how she is.”

Stacy stepped out of the cabin and waved.

Jesse began to trot toward the dock, Hannah and Chelsea followed once they were sure that the man on the dock was simply going to stand there and wait for them to approach. Jesse began to bark orders at the man, telling him to turn around and get to his knees. All three of them started down the dock, the boards thumping hollowly under their feet as they approached the man. Hannah as surprised to find that she was feeling fine, if somewhat detached from the situation. Unlike the shooting at the beach, she was not shaking and strangely calm about being shot at. Chelsea on the other hand, was fighting back tears and trying very hard not to burst into a sobbing cry that would render her useless. Hannah saw this and stopped her when they drew even with the houseboat and Stacy. Taking Chelsea’s hand, Hannah guided Chelsea onto the boat where Stacy nodded and took the little girls hand from Hannah, relieving her of the carbine she held.

“I have to help Hannah and Jesse,” she protested momentarily.

“You have, sweetie,” assured Stacy.

Hannah bent and kissed Chelsea’s hair. “You have.”

Chelsea folded into Stacy’s arms and began to cry. Hannah and Stacy took a moment to share their sadness at Chelsea’s lost innocence, then Hannah turned away and stepped back up to the dock where Jesse was stripping the man of weapons under the watchful protection of Isaac from his place on the roof. Hannah motioned to the body at the front of the houseboat.

“Mark,” was Isaac’s terse reply. Hannah jumped to the narrow walk next to the cabin and carefully proceeded to the body, her carbine covering the inert form as she approached. She pushed him over with her foot and saw that he was never moving again. His face was missing. Fighting back bile, Hannah turned away from him and coughed as she leaned over the rail near the water. Thankful there was nothing in her stomach to bring up, Hannah cleared her throat several times, spit out at the lake and turned back to the lifeless shape that had been Mark. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him back onto his stomach, finally noticing the hole that had been covered by his hair. He had been shot in the back of the head. Hannah noticed that he still had the .30-30 slung over his shoulder. Mark had never stood a chance.

Redirecting her attention to Jesse, she saw that he was leading the man off the dock at gunpoint. Hannah returned to the dock and gathered up the weapons Jesse had taken and tossed on the dock. There was a rifle, a wicked looking firearm that Hannah knew somehow, probably through her movie watching career, was an AK47. The pistol was like the Taurus, but made of black steel instead of silver. She shouldered the harness containing magazines, knives and other accoutrements, then followed Jesse to the shore. Stacy was leading Chelsea by the hand, and the little girl grabbed a handful of Hannah’s shirt when they drew even.

“I didn’t like them trying to shoot me,” said Chelsea. “I don’t want that to happen again. I get it about people, now.”

“Yeah,” said Hannah, trying to touch the girl with all the junk in her hands, “it’s kind of hard to explain until it happens.”

Chelsea nodded in reply.

They stopped next to Jesse, and Isaac walked up to them, carrying the .30-30 and other weapons that Mark had been toting. “What do we do with him?”

Jesse shrugged. “We could just kill him.”

The man’s head jerked around and he stared frightened at the five people behind him. “Don’t please, you let me go and I’ll never come back.”

“Can you say that for Steve?” asked Jesse.

“I could give a shit about him,” plead the man. “Just cut me loose. I’ll find a fuckin’ place to go far away.”

Jesse kicked the man in the back, knocking him to his chest where he lay without moving. “We’ll see---.” He looked around the tree line. “Where’s Lisa? I figured she’d be here.”

Hannah began to search the area as well. She saw nothing. Stacy began to swear as she too, looked around. Hannah followed her stare and felt her body deflate in disbelief. The two men who had been in the john boat were now flopping around as their bodies reanimated. The boat itself had been pushed to the shore by the wake of the larger houseboat, where it bobbed against the concrete boat ramp, the sound of the aluminum hull making hollow thumps in the water. One of the dead men spasmed violently and fell into the water. The thing then struggled to its feet, staggering as the newly animated limbs sought to gain control of the body that had been damaged by gunfire. Dripping water, the thing began a slow lurch up the ramp, headed to where they now stood, an unerring and unknown sense seemingly guiding it to where warm blood waited.

“Fuck this,” proclaimed Isaac. He leveled the SKS he carried and shot the thing three times, the rounds taking it in the chest, head and neck. The ghoul simply fell to the ramp. Isaac took aim at the other in the boat and fired until it too, stopped moving. The boat began to slowly sink in the water from the holes in the hull, moving heavily back and forth in time to the dissipating wash from the houseboats wake.

They turned back to see the man they had captured running toward the woods.

“God damn it,” muttered Jesse, gathering himself to chase the man.

He stopped when Lisa stepped from the woods, her .22 still slung over her shoulder. She watched the man running for a moment and then began to stagger at the man, who had failed to notice her on her intercept course.

“What the fuck--?” murmured Stacy. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Oh shit,” said Hannah as she realized what they were seeing; Lisa was dead. “She got shot when they were shooting into the trees.”

Swearing, Jesse raised his CAR and began to shoot at her. The man, thinking he was shooting at him, changed directions, and glanced back at them. His change put him closer to Lisa. Jesse’s bullets were hitting Lisa in the shoulders and chest, one even tore a furrow across the side of her face, but Jesse was failing in his attempts to save the man to make the carefully aimed shot he needed. Hannah began shouting at the man to stop, to look, as did Stacy and Isaac, but he was beyond hearing their warnings. He bent his head and ran straight into Lisa. Both fell to the ground, and Jesse started running as well, followed by the rest.

The man screamed, and kept screaming as Lisa embraced him. Her face rose from his neck, bloody and triumphant, gore and flesh filling her mouth even as she bent for another bite. As he ran, Jesse started shooting at the two while they lay entangled on the overgrown grass, the violence of their efforts against each other making them roll across the soil, foiling Jesse’s attempts at ending the man’s suffering.

Finally they reached within a safe distance and Jesse, Hannah and Isaac all fired at once, ending the struggles of both dead and dying.

Stacy pulled Chelsea away just as Eddie and Bill came up to them.

“What the fuck happened?” demanded Eddie, looking on in horror as Jesse pulled his pistol free and shot each body once more in the head.

Jesse stood away from the dead and holstered the pistol. “We got ambushed. We need to leave.”

“By who?”

“The Militia,” responded Jesse. He pointed to Isaac. “Go down to that boat, get their weapons and meet us back at your guy’s place.”

Isaac nodded and rushed to the water front to do as Jesse bid.

“Is that Lisa?” asked Eddie, looking at the bodies tangled together.

“It was,” said Jesse. “Let’s go.”

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Hannah hated emotional people, which was strange for a woman to say, she supposed, since most people thought that women were the more emotional of the sexes. She tried to block out the sound of Carolina wailing in one of the upstairs bedrooms, but couldn’t seem to get it filtered out, even with the door closed and the distance between them. Stacy had been upstairs with her, even though, according to Stacy, they weren’t really friends. Stacy was now in the kitchen with Hannah, packing all the food they could into big Rubbermaid storage containers. They had decided to ‘bug out’, and put some distance between them and Steve and his militia. Chelsea was helping them, frowning at the ceiling while she did so.

“I wish she’d shut up,” complained Chelsea finally.

Stacy stopped packing the food and looked over at Chelsea who was pulling items out of a high cabinet. “She’s upset that she lost Mark.”

“We all lost Mark,” said Chelsea sourly. “I lost my Dad and my Mom. I lost Freddy. She’s being selfish.”

“Strange comments from a ten year old,” remarked Stacy. “You don’t think she has a reason to cry?”

“Sure, we all do, but there’s a time for it. We need her to get down here and help us.”

“What if I told you that she’s going to have Mark’s baby?”

Chelsea thought about it for a second, and Hannah felt her heart skip a beat at the mention of someone being pregnant. If it were true, it was certainly going to complicate many things, and the thought of delivery without a doctor around was something Hannah did not want to contemplate. Chelsea finally came up with an answer that suited her. “She should be happy she has something to remember him by.”

Stacy sighed. “You’ve been hanging out with Jesse too long.”

“He says I’m practical.”

“You’re too grown up for your age is what it is.”

Chelsea shrugged and pulled the last of the food from the cabinet, then swung down from the counter. “I’m gonna go see what Jesse and Isaac are doing.”

Stacy watched as Chelsea picked up her rifle and left the kitchen of the big house. Hannah stopped packing to confront Stacy. “Is she really pregnant?”

“She thinks so.”

“Damn it.”

“Damn it?”

“That’s going to be a complication we need to start thinking about, for all of us, I guess.”

“I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had a period in like two months. I don’t think it’s a problem. Besides, when was the last time you had sex?”

Hannah flushed at the thought for a second; it had been with Freddy, the day they moved out of her apartment. It seemed like a long time ago. In reality, it had only been a week or so. She told Stacy this.

“Did you use protection?”

Hannah laughed at her and started packing again. “No, like you, I haven’t had a period in weeks. I guess I figured that if it did happen, at least there’d be another living person in the world.”

Stacy stood up and put the lid on the container. “Are you sure?”

Frowning at her, Hannah questioned what she meant.

“How do we know that we can have live births any more?” said Stacy. “I’ve been thinking about this, and what if we’re the last living people on the planet? I mean, what if we can’t have kids that are healthy? Suppose what ever caused this shit to happen has affected us in more than just when we die, what if we can’t have healthy babies, or carry them to term?”

“Jesus, Stacy, that’s just a horrible thought to have, what got you started on that?”

Stacy pushed the container toward the dining room for the guys to take out to the waiting van. “Between you and me? Back when Eddie and I were fucking, I think I got pregnant, and I had a miscarriage. I think. I passed it off as my period, but it wasn’t. I can’t say for sure, but you know, I know my body.”

“I’m sorry,” was all Hannah could think of to say.

Stacy shrugged, she seemed stoic about the situation, but under the surface, Hannah could see Stacy was hurt and worried. “Are you about done?”

Closing up the container, Hannah motioned to the items on the counter left by Chelsea. “Just that stuff.”

“Let’s get it then.”

Together they packed the last of the food. As they were finishing, Eddie came into the kitchen. He was breathing hard. “Get that out to the van, there’s a couple houseboats coming up the lake.”

“We’re done here,” informed Hannah, dragging the container off the counter. “I need to get to our place.”

“Jesse’s already headed up that way. He said he’d get all your stuff in the Land Cruiser.”

Stacy began to pick up a container. Eddie stopped her. “Get you things together and drag Carolina out here.”

“I never unpacked,” said Stacy heading to the stairs.

“Lucky you,” returned Eddie picking up the storage bin she had been about to life.

“I’ll throw your stuff together, if you want.”

He heaved the plastic box up and stopped long enough to smile tightly at her. “That’d be great.”

Turning and running up the stairs, Stacy didn’t look back. Hannah observed as Eddie watched Stacy disappeared and saw his face soften for a moment. Giving him a moment, Hannah ducked passed him with her container. He followed her to the van. Isaac was loading the boxes into the interior. Bill was standing by with crossed arms. He stared at them as they came up, but said nothing.

“What’s up?” asked Hannah.

Isaac shook his head in exasperation. “Bill says he’s not coming. He got one of the cars running and is going to try and get to Medina.”

“I’ve been trying to get home for months,” said Bill. “It’s time for me to strike out on my own.”

“You can’t think you’ll make it,” snapped Isaac as he put the containers into the van.

“I’m not making it now,” retorted Bill angrily. He stopped Isaac from his angry reply. “Listen, Isaac, I know you just think that I’m going to get killed. I really appreciate that you kids have brought me along with you this far, but wandering around in circles in central Ohio is not what I want to be doing. I need to find out what is going on with my family. If they’re dead, so be it. At least I’ll know. Do you get it; I have to know.”

“I get it,” said Isaac finally. “I just hate to have another person die on me.”

“Who says I’ll die?”

Isaac conceded this point. “I hate to break up a good thing.”

“Might as well be now,” said Bill. “We’re all running again anyway. The more directions we go, the more confused it’ll make those idiots following us.”

“Have you got food and ammo?”

“I got enough for me, what I don’t have, I’ll pick up out there.”

“Full tank of gas?”

“As full as I can get it without taking yours.”

“Okay then, I guess this is it.”

Bill smiled weakly. “Better get your bunch together. I’m leaving as soon as your all loaded up.”

Hannah returned to the kitchen for the last big tote with Eddie. Stacy was carrying down a load of gear from the upstairs. “Carolina says she’s not coming.”

“Goddamn it,” spat Eddie. “I’ll fuckin’ carry her if I have to.”

“Looks like you might have to.”

Turning to Hannah as he started for the stairs, Eddie waved a the tote. “Can you get that?”

Hannah nodded and slung her AR over her shoulder, then picked up the tote. She was glad for the weeks of working out that Jesse had insisted on. She followed Stacy to the van.

Isaac grabbed the stuff and put it into the interior. “How the hell did we end up with so much shit?” he wondered.

“There’s still your crap to go,” mentioned Stacy. “Eddie is upstairs getting ready to drag Carolina down here. She says she not coming.”

“Fuck.” He looked at the house and then the lake beyond the trees. “We don’t have time for all this shit.”

Bill stepped up and put a hand on Isaac’s arm. “You go, I’ll keep an eye on things out here.”

With a quick word of thanks, Isaac ran to the house. Stacy watched him go. “I think I’ll walk with you to make sure you get to the house okay,” she said to Hannah, picking up her own rifle. “Tell Isaac to pick me up at their place as they drive passed.”

Nodding that he’d heard, Bill took up his shotgun and trotted down the road a bit for a clearer view of the lake. The two women watched while he disappeared over the knoll that lead to the docks. He immediately came back as Hannah and Stacy started to walk to the A Frame. “Better get in the van, girls. They just beached.” Bill ran into the house and then back out to hold open the door as Eddie came out, carrying a sobbing Carolina over his shoulder. Isaac was close behind with his and Carolina’s belongings. He was also loaded down with the last of their weapons, the ones that Mark and Carolina had been storing in their room. Bill was talking fast to him while they walked, and Stacy eased behind the wheel of the van, starting the thing up as Eddie tossed Carolina onto the thin bed at the rear of the van. Carolina curled up into a ball, her body shaking as she tried to stifle her sobs. Eddie made his way up to the passengers seat. Hannah took up a position at the sliding door, waiting with trepidation while Isaac tossed the last things into the van. He shook hands with Bill and then climbed in motioning for Stacy to drive.

Hannah left the door open so she could bail out at the A Frame. Through the open door, she saw men running up the road to toward the house. Bill pulled out of the garage in his car, and received a scattering of gunfire as a farewell. It did not appear as if Bill or the car were effected by the blasts. Isaac leaned out the open door to try and get a shot off himself, but gave up on trying to shoot past Bill’s car because of the rough ride Stacy was giving him.

“Could you swerve any more?” asked Isaac.

“I’m trying to give them a harder target to hit,” she said as she bent over the wheel.

“It’s working,” Isaac told her as the men faded in the distance behind them. He turned to Hannah. “They won’t be long to your place next.”

“I know, I plan on jumping out while you’re basically still moving.”

“We still meeting up the road at the intersection of 30 and 511?”

“I plan on it,” said Hannah with a tight smile.

“Good, we’ll see you there.” Isaac nodded out the door. “Here’s your stop.”

Hannah waited until Stacy brought the van to a crawl and then swung out, hitting the road at a run to keep from falling down. The door slid shut as she cleared it and the van sped up, pausing briefly to take the corner, then headed east to the rendezvous point. Bill waved as he went past her, turning the other direction to try his luck on I71 to get home. Hannah ran the short distance to the A Frame and found Jesse and Chelsea finishing up the Toyota. He had pulled it out of the garage and put the box on the top so they could haul more items. Hannah assumed it was already loaded. She grabbed several bags and tossed them into the rear of the vehicle to finish off the loading, telling them that they had company as she helped. Chelsea climbed into the Land Cruiser while Hannah closed up the rear gate and Jesse took his seat behind the wheel. The Toyota was already running. Hannah took a last look around at the A Frame and hoped Jesse and Chelsea had gotten everything of hers, for like Stacy, not that she had unpacked many things. Swinging into the passenger’s seat, Hannah fell back in the seat when Jesse punched the gas, the door swinging shut on its own from the momentum.

Glancing back, Hannah saw the running men stop on the road and watch as the TLC dropped over the crest of the road and turn onto State Route 30. There were no parting gunshots. Hannah felt herself begin to breathe again.

“That was a nice place,” she finally said as Jesse guided the Toyota around stopped cars.

“We’ll find another.”

“I suppose so,” agreed Hannah. “Do you think that Mohican is safe?”

Shrugging, Jesse took his eyes off the road for a second to give her a slow smile. “It’s in the middle of freakin’ nowhere for Ohio, so I hope so.” He considered his next words carefully before speaking. “Chelsea tells me Carolina thinks she’s pregnant.”

“That’s what she thinks.”

He sighed, uncomfortable.

“What, Jesse?”

“You and Freddy--?”

“We’re safe, Jesse.”

“You sure?”

“As sure as I can be, right now.”

“So you might be?”

Hannah gave him a shrug of her own. “We’ll have to deal with that as it happens. For now, don’t worry about it; I’m not.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

Settling back in her seat, Hannah lightly touched her belly. She looked out the window as 603 flashed by, hoping that she were right. She sat up when they were passed the State Route, swearing.

“What?” demanded Jesse.

“I saw cars moving up 603,” she told him. “I think that we’re going to have a car chase on our hands pretty soon.”

Grimly, Jesse stared at the road ahead. “Get in back with Chelsea. You two will have to shoot out the rear windows if it comes to that.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll need the space to move in, and I don’t want you sitting up here blocking my view of what’s beside me. I’ll be fine.” He started pulling out pistols and placing them under his legs and on the dash. He put the sawed off shotgun on the floor next to him as well and then placed the CAR15 on the seat that Hannah had vacated. The 12.5 inch barrel of the weapon would be an advantage inside the car.

As Hannah settled into the seat beside Chelsea, the little girl handed her a set of ear muffs and another up to Jesse. She grimly put on a set of her own. “Jesse says it’ll get loud in here.”

Hannah put on the muffs with a harsh laugh. “It did the last time, didn’t it?”

“Don’t worry,” comforted Chelsea, “we’ll kick their asses again.”

With a small nod, Hannah began to prepare her own weapons, making sure that she could reach her own multiple pistols and revolvers, shotguns and rifles. Chelsea was doing the same, and Hannah wondered if the little girl were already too damage for a normal childhood once they reached what she hoped would be the safety of the Mohican Lodge.





Hannah saw Jesse glancing in the rearview mirror. She looked behind and saw three vehicles trying to close the distance. Hannah rolled down her window and instructed Chelsea to do the same so they could shoot out if needed.

Jesse saw her turn around and began to talk while he drive around yet another wreck to a straight stretch of open road where he gas the Toyota a little gas to create distance. “This is the deal; they catch up with us, the passengers side is your responsibility, Hannah. Anything that is from the door post back is yours; I won’t even worry about it. Once it gets past the door post up here, I’ll handle it if I think I need to. Same for you, Chelsea, shoot at those things behind me. Don’t’ waste ammo just blastin’ at shit. My job is to drive, yours is to keep those fuckers off me. Hannah, if I get shot, you get up here and push me out the door. Don’t fuckin’ look at me like that, we can’t do anything about bullet holes. Just get up here, push me out and drive. I’ll help you get rid of me if I can.”

“You aren’t going anywhere,” said Chelsea to Jesse. “I’ll keep you safe.”

“I’m just sayin’ in case,” Jesse smiled stiffly at her in the mirror.

Hannah decided to say nothing to him about his orders, but she felt the same as Chelsea; she wasn’t going to let anything happen to Jesse if she could help it. She knew it was only about five miles to 511, but with all the cars stalled, blocking the road with wreckage and what not, the normally short ride was taking forever. She saw that the top speed Jesse had obtained was a mere 40 miles an hour. He swore and almost came to a stop, guiding the Toyota between a semi trailer and a truck that nearly blocked the lanes. The three vehicles used his slowing to close the gap; they reached the wreck just as Jesse cleared the opposite side. From the bed of the truck driving by the pursuers, a rifle banged. Hannah and Chelsea ducked at the noise, but they could not detect that anything had entered the cab.

“Get ready,” ordered Jesse.

The pursuers seemed to jump through the wreck and closed the gap between the vehicles in an instant. Hannah crouched on the floorboard to give herself what minimal cover the door could provide. A hole appeared in the side glass of the cargo area as the rifleman shot at them again. Chelsea gave a tiny squeak when the round embedded in the door in front of her. Hannah knelt on the seat, shouldering the AR she held and leaned out slightly to aim down the side of the Land Cruiser at the truck and the rifleman. She fired out a string of shots that starred the top of the windshield of the truck and creased the roof line. The rifleman ducked behind the cab as someone else banged out rounds from around the corner of the cab.

As far as Hannah knew, the bullets did not reach the Toyota. She heard Chelsea shooting on her side of the TLC and glanced over to see the little girl concentrating on a target that Hannah could not see. Thankfully the M4 tossed the spent cases out the window instead of down Jesse’s shirt. Hannah’s own spent cases had ricocheted off the roof liner and around her knees.

The truck dropped behind the Toyota and the rifleman began to shoot directly into the cargo area of the Land Cruiser. The bullets shattered the rear window and hit the luggage they had stored in the back. Hannah swore and aimed her rifle directly out the back, emptying the magazine at the windshield. The glass on the truck shattered and the vehicle began to swerve from side to side and fell away from the Toyota. Someone fired something big through the windshield of the truck, the blast sending the remains of the windshield out in a sparkling explosion over the hood of the truck. Nothing seemed to reach the Toyota. Hannah took a moment to reload the AR, but dropped it as the second car raced up to the side of the Toyota, the occupants shooting at the open space created by her open window. Hannah dove to the floorboard while bullets punched through the roof above her. Something liquid in the cargo box on the roof began to drip through the holes. Hannah unholstered the Glock 17 and without really looking, shoved it over the window frame to shoot in the direction she’d last seen the car. She fired the magazine empty and dropped the Glock to the seat in front of her, freeing her Smith and Wesson revolver. There was a brief lull which gave Hannah the chance to finish putting the magazine in the AR.

Beside her, Chelsea was huddled below the door and reloading her own carbine. Jesse had picked up the CAR from the seat and was pointing it out the driver’s window and pulling the trigger as fast as he could. He stopped and tossed it to the seat beside him. Hannah could see blood running down the back of his neck. She swore and glanced over the door to see the car come back up beside the Toyota. Hannah fired her AR at the car, scoring hits on the hood and making the car’s engine change pitch. There was a puff of smoke and the car made a banging noise before dropping away from the Toyota. A man leaned out of the passenger’s window and shot at her over the windshield, the bullets hitting the door. Hannah heard the glass of the window break inside the door, but thankfully didn’t feel anything like a bullet enter her body. Taking a quick sight picture, Hannah fired several rounds back at the man, viciously giving a triumphant yell on seeing the man sag and fall over to hang out the window of the stricken car.

The truck was trying to catch back up, but to Hannah it did not look like the driver was putting much effort into the chase. The other car had fallen back as well, and Chelsea was taking shots at it as they fell back.

“Hang on,” ordered Jesse as he swung the Toyota onto 511, the tires squealing through the hard turn he made at speed. Hannah grabbed the door handle to keep from falling over and saw that Isaac was out of the van with his own rifle pointing down the road. Puffs of smoke rose from the barrel while he put cover fire out at the pursuers. Once the Toyota was safely past him Isaac grabbed the frame of the sliding door and swung into it at the same time that Stacy put the van into gear and followed the now battered Toyota. Pulling off her ear muffs, Hannah leaned up and grabbed Jesse’s arm.

“You’re hit,” she informed him.

Jesse yanked the muffs off his own head. He placed a hand on the back of his head and winced, bringing it away bloody. “I think it was just glass cutting me, I don’t feel a hole,” he told her half jokingly.

“Is there anything else that’s bleeding?” she demanded.

He looked himself over and shook his head. “Don’t think so.”

Hannah turned her attention to Chelsea. She grabbed up the little girl from where she crouched on the floorboard and pulled of her ear muffs. Giving the girl a hug, Hannah also checked her for wounds. Other than a shocked, wide eye gaze, Chelsea seemed fine. She told Hannah this as she pulled away to reload her carbine.

“I had to check,” said Hannah.

“I know. You better reload your guns.”

Not knowing what else to do, and feeling giddy from the sudden dump of adrenaline that the gun battle had brought, Hannah gave the child a slightly fanatical laugh in response and reloaded the Glock and the AR. Hannah looked out the back, through the now windowless rear gate and saw that the only vehicle following them was the van containing Isaac and the others. She moved back up to the front seat to escape the dripping of the liquid from the cargo box above.

“I think a lot of our gear got shot up,” she informed Jesse, who was trying to stop the flow of blood from the back of his head.

“I’ll bet. I hope nothing important got damage.”

Hannah leaned over and pulled his hand away from his head. She made him lean forward so she could see the wound. It was a gash that ran the curve of his head. To Hannah it appeared as if a bullet had followed the bone, ripping away the scalp and hair. The white of his skull showed in a couple of places as she used her shirt to staunch the blood so she could determine the extent of the damage. Swallowing back the bile that rose up in her throat, Hannah caught her breath and held it so that she could deal with the wound.

“Chelsea, hand me a clean cloth.”

“Hannah, I think I’d better stop,” said Jesse. “I don’t feel so good.”

“You took a pretty good hit here,” she told him as Chelsea handed her a t shirt.

Jesse slammed on the brakes and opened the door. He leaned out the opening and threw up, then practically fell out of the Toyota to stagger away and do it again from his knees. Hannah followed him with the t-shirt in hand, feeling dazed herself as she attempted to help Jesse.

She felt someone come up to her and looked over as Stacy grabbed the t-shirt from her and hold it to Jesse’s head.

“Are you okay?” asked Stacy to Hannah as she watched.

“I think I need to sit down.”

“Do it before you fall,” directed Stacy.

Hannah let her legs fold and she went to the road. Eddie pulled her away from Jesse and Stacy. Chelsea stood nearby, watching with wide eyes, while Isaac watched down the road for pursuit. Carolina had managed to pull it together enough to get out as well and was trying to talk to Chelsea, who shrugged her off to walk over to Hannah.

“Is Jesse going to be okay?” she asked Hannah.

Hannah gathered her in a one armed embrace, which Chelsea returned. “He’s going to be okay. He took a hard knock on the head, but he’ll be fine.”

Isaac came up to them. “We need to get going. I’m going to drive the Toyota; Jesse’s going to get in the van while Stacy does what she can with that cut. That head wound gave him a concussion, I think. Are you and Chelsea okay, Hannah?”

Hannah nodded to him. “I’m just, I don’t know, a little shell shocked. It all happened so fast, then it was over. I think I killed someone.”

Chelsea hugged Hannah. “Me too.”

“If you’re okay, let’s go—,” commented Isaac glancing back down the road.

Hannah managed to get to her feet, feeling stronger now that she’d had a moment to gather her senses. Jesse was getting to his feet and leaning on Stacy. Eddie rushed over to help her get him in the van. Isaac guided Hannah and Chelsea to the Toyota and placed them inside. He directed Carolina back to the van, watching as she got back inside and Eddie took the drivers position. Once the door had slid shut, he took his own place behind the wheel of the TLC.

They headed down the road, the Toyota leading the way. Hannah leaned her head on the door frame and felt herself relax. She did not feel sorry she had possibly killed that man; he had been trying to do the same to them, and deserved what he’d gotten. She glanced at Chelsea, she was doing her own staring out the window. Hannah was more concerned with how all this was going to affect the little girl. For the second time that day, she worried about Chelsea’s mental frame of mind.





If I ever leave this world alive
I'll thank for all the things you did in my life
If I ever leave this world alive
I'll come back down and sit beside your
feet tonight
Wherever I am you'll always be
More than just a memory
If I ever leave this world alive

If I ever leave this world alive
I'll take on all the sadness
That I left behind
If I ever leave this world alive
The madness that you feel will soon subside
So in a word don't shed a tear
I'll be here when it all gets weird
If I ever leave this world alive



Hannah listened as Isaac softly sang the Flogging Molly song to himself as he drove 511 to 39. He had a nice tenor voice for the Irish song. She remembered going to see the group, and had to smile at the antics of the band and crowd as she went back in time. She hadn’t sat down the entire concert, and the seats were right behind the Mosh Pit, giving her a perfect ringside seat of the fans and the band’s interaction with them. The Guiness had been flowing rather freely throughout the night and she and her boyfriend at the time had downed most of a 12 pack in the parking lot before the show. After, she’d gotten the band to sign her t-shirt when they returned to mingle with the crowd. Since then Flogging Molly had been her favorite live show.

Isaac saw her faint smile and questioned her about it.

“Just remembering,” she told him, and then gave a brief recounting of her memory.

He whistled in appreciation at her concert experience. “I saw them three times, each show was fantastic. Did you ever listen to Drop Kick Murphy’s?”

“I wasn’t really into the whole Irish punk-thing, Drop Kick was always a little too angry for me, but I did like Enter the Haggis.”

“No shit? I didn’t think anyone else had ever heard of them. That’s really cool.”

“So you were into all those weird bands?”

“Weird is a relative term,” said Isaac. “There are—were—great independent bands that would never get the air play they deserved. Then there were the ones that kind of didn’t fit a niche enough to get play, like The Ghettobillies, Left Wing Fascists, Free Range Chicken, all kinds of garage bands out there that didn’t fit the MTV radio play persona.”

Hannah smiled at him as he spoke. “You lost me at the Ghettobillies.”

“See what I mean?”

“Passionate about this subject?”

“I used to be,” he said, “but now, who the hell knows? I might be the sole human who has a plethora of worthless music knowledge to share. Hell, I might get to be the one who decides what music the world listens to from now on.”

“The rest of us don’t get a say?”

“Do you have your CD collection with you? Or your MP3 player or iPod?” he asked her, when she shook her head, he grinned. “Then I am the man.”

“Power is such a heady drug, isn’t it?” she joked.

“No more Justin Timberlake, what a perfect world,” sighed Isaac.

“Well, don’t hold your breath that everyone will go along with every song choice you make,” warned Hannah, thinking about the radio station and the DJ’s trapped inside the building at the beginning of the entire horrific event that had made humans an endangered species. Those men had been able to keep her from going insane while she had been trapped in her apartment.

“As the new Secretary of the Arts, I think I’ll be able to keep a level head about it all.”

“Secretary of the Arts?” quired Hannah. “Appointed by whom?”

“It’s a self appointed position, but one I take very seriously.”

Chelsea spoke up from the back. “You’re weird.”

“Ah, you may be right, but we must all have our fantasies.”

“Whatever. Where are we going?”

Isaac motioned to the maps that were folded in the center console. “I think we are going to turn towards Loudenville on 39 and from there, straight down 3 to the main entrance into Mohican State Park.”

Hannah shook her head. “I thought we were going to the lodge--?”

“We are,” said Isaac. “Straight through the park.”

“You can’t get to the lodge from the main entrance.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” said Hannah. “I mean it’s been a couple years since I’ve been there but I know that we had to take a road from 97 to get there, and the road was a dead end at the lodge.”

Isaac gauged the angle of the sun. “It’s late afternoon right now. How about we find a secure looking house and pull off for the night to get everyone rested up. Jesse has got to have a killer headache and I know were all pretty stressed by the events of the day.”

“Let’s get on 39 before we do,” directed Hannah.

“Sure.”

They drove without seeing another living thing in the fields or woods that they passed. The few cars that were along the side of the road were empty, most of them having the doors left open to the elements and looking quite abandoned. Hannah stared at the derelict vehicles as they passed, and a disturbing thought entered her mind while they rumbled along.

“Isaac, look at those cars we’ve passed, and tell me what you think.”

Isaac glanced over at her without moving his head. “You mean how they all look like they been looted out?”

“Just like that.”

“I saw, but I was trying to be an optimist about the whole thing.”

Hannah pulled the AR closer to her. “I’ve been shot at enough for one day, let’s hope it happened a while ago.”

“What’s the matter,” asked Chelsea leaning between the seats.

“Keep an eye out for bad guys,” said Hannah. “Someone’s been taking all the good stuff from the cars stopped beside the road.”

Chelsea nodded. “I didn’t see any dead people.” She noted.

“What?”

“Well, if someone’s been taking people’s things from the car and the people were still with the car, I’d say that the people who owned the car would be dead. If they’re dead, why not just leave them lying there, that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Isaac stared at her for a second and then at Hannah. He looked back at the road. “That’s one sick little girl.”

“I’m not sick.”

“She’s not sick,” snapped Hannah at him as well. Isaac shrugged in surrender, but said nothing. Hannah gave Chelsea’s arm a light squeeze. “Ignore him, he thinks he’s something ‘cause he’s a man.”

“If he’s a man, why would he want to be a secretary?” asked Chelsea.

“It’s formal title, like President of the United States.”

“Whatever,” retorted Chelsea. “My mom was a secretary, only she called herself an executive secretary. It’s the same thing.”

Hannah cut off Isaac’s own rejoinder. “Stop it, Isaac. No matter, she’s right, there’s no bodies around. So either the people walked away from the cars, or they’re now zombies. Either way, we have to assume they didn’t get very far. Keep an eye out.”

The rest of the drive to 39 was uneventful, but for the empty cars and houses they passed.

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Lovin' it.
So much of the characterization in Owen is taking on greater depth now.

Thanks so much for re-posting this Doc.
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Just bloody marvellous. Thou rule.

Makes me wanna write some more Zombie Fic of my own.

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Oh yeah, Hannah's back!

Now we don't have to listen to all the confused people reading the newer stories.


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OH SHIT!

ATTENTION ATTENTION

I left out a whole part to Hannah.... Please go back and read from the addition on so that it makes some sense....

Start at the NEW EDIT STARTS HERE

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When the reached the intersection of 511 and 39, Isaac stopped the Toyota at the juncture of the two roads, letting the vehicle idle as he exited the old SUV. Eddie brought the van to a stop behind, getting out as Isaac walked back to the van. Hannah slid out of the passengers seat when the sliding door of the van opened and Stacy and Carolina supported Jesse as he stepped out, his head wrapped in a roll of gauze. Jesse pulled away from the two and leaned against the side of the van. Isaac stopped in front of him, the others gathering in a rough circle around them. Chelsea inserted herself under Hannah’s arm. Hannah pulled the girl in close, giving her a quick hug as she did so, glad that the little girl felt more comfortable with her.

“Why’d we stop?” asked Jesse.

Isaac motioned down the road. “For a couple of reasons; I’m not really sure of how to get back to the lodge, I thought we could go in from the main entrance of the park off 3, but Hannah doesn’t think so. I’m also wondering what we’re going to come up against when we drive through Loudenville; there’s really no way to get there from here unless we either drive through the town, or we drive through Perrysville, and back across 95, putting us through Butler. In either case, I don’t feel too safe driving a vehicle that has half the windows blown out of it. If there’s a bunch of zombies waiting in town, they’ll just reach in and yank whoever, or whatever they can get their hands on, out.”

With a heavy sigh, Jesse, nodded to him. “I see your point. I don’t feel great anyway, the driving is making me sick.”

Stacy jumped in on the conversation. “We need to find a place that we can hole up off the road, if that’s what you’re thinking about. We might have stopped those bastards back at the highway, but who’s to say once they’ve licked their wounds, they won’t be back after us?”

“I didn’t plan on stopping and camping in the middle of the road,” said Isaac.

“I’m just saying—“

“Rightfully so,” interjected Jesse wearily. “Let’s head toward Loudenville and when you see a place off the road, take it.”

“Fine by me,” said Isaac. He turned to go back to the Toyota.

Hannah and Chelsea stepped up to Jesse while the others returned to the van.

“You okay?” asked Hannah.

“I’ll live,” grinned Jesse weakly. “I took a pretty hard knock on the head, didn’t even know it until everything had calmed down. Stacy keeps making sure I don’t pass out, and Carolina’s just really quiet. I’ll be glad to call it a day.”

Touching the dressing that Stacy had put on him, Hannah, shook her head. “Well, don’t kick the bucket on us, okay?”

“Hell, I made it through Desert Storm, I can do this shit.”

Chelsea gave the man a hug and Hannah helped him climb back into the van. She and Chelsea went back to the TLC and once they were in, Isaac turned toward Loudenville. He drove for a few miles before Hannah pointed out a big farm house sitting back off the road in a cluster of old growth trees. The cows in the field grazed as if nothing untoward were happening in the world. Isaac pulled down the lane, scanning the area around the house for any signs of occupation or threats. He stopped midway down the drive, pulling his rifle close. Hannah picked up her own AR as did Chelsea. Isaac was staring at the house and outbuildings, not making an effort to move any closer.

“Isaac,” said Hannah, “you can go.”

Isaac blinked. “Right. Just remembering about the last farm house I was at. The farmer had taken in a bunch of people and we were all working for him to get his crops in. It turned ugly when some of tried to leave, and there was a big fight.”

“There doesn’t look to be anyone here—,” pointed out Hannah.

“Yeah, I know, I was just thinking.”

“Okay.”

Isaac put the Toyota in drive and continued down the lane. In the van, Eddie followed, and Hannah could see a rifle barrel jutting from the side window. Hannah looked around the over grown yard and at the house and out buildings. There was a large barn, painted the obligatory red, a with shed beside it that looked to Hannah like it might be a small milking shed, another outbuilding with an open door, exposing the lawn tractor and other small vehicles. A pickup truck rested to one side in the yard of the house, in the drive next to the house was a big Ford Expedition and a minivan. The house itself was a large two story building of traditional style with a large front porch and a screened in sunroom off one side. The rear door of the house was open, the screen swaying in the afternoon breeze. There did not seem to have been anyone in the house for weeks, and the empty-looking windows were depressing.

Isaac stopped the Toyota behind the other vehicles in the drive. They sat for a moment in silence until Chelsea finally broke the hesitation of the others. “We going in or what?”

“We’re going in,” said Isaac finally. He opened the door and stepped out. Hannah and Chelsea did the same, meeting up with Stacy, Eddie, Carolina and Jesse, who was still shaky on his feet. Isaac looked at Jesse for direction.

Jesse shook his head with a sigh. “I’m in no condition to go in. You go with Hannah and Stacy. Eddie and Carolina can hang out here with me as backup. Chelsea will cover the door for you, she’s probably a better shot than me right now.”

“Works for me,” said Isaac. He motioned to Stacy and Hannah. “Let’s get suited up for this, If there’s anything in there, we want to be ready.”

“What are we taking, gun-wise?” asked Stacy, leaning into the van for her own leather jacket and heavy clothing. She began to pull on everything while Isaac did the same as well as buckling on his katana. Hannah opened the rear of the TLC for her gear, shedding her jeans in favor of the heavy canvas pants, boots and the leather jacket. Hannah belted on the Glock and her revolver, checked the knife in her arm sheath and made sure her hammer was within easy reach.

“Pistols,” decided Isaac after glancing at Jesse. “And shotguns, if we’ve got ones that are short enough to move around.”

Jesse handed over his sawed off to Isaac and Hannah saw Eddie unbuckle his own little specially made sawed off and sling the belt around Stacy’s shoulders. Hannah remembered that a friend of theirs had made the little .410 pistol before he had died. Not having a shotgun of her own, Hannah settled for taking one of the Beretta 9mm’s they had picked up from the Militia and several spare magazines found a way into her pocket. Chelsea handed out the ear muffs again.

“It might get loud in there,” she explained to Isaac and Stacy when they looked at her with curious expressions.

“How are we going to hear?” asked Stacy.

“You’ll hear enough,” smiled Jesse from where he leaned on the fender of the van. “And those will make sure you keep hearing. Okay, everyone ready? You three will go in first, and then once they’re in, Carolina and Eddie will sit tight at the door incase you guys get in trouble or need back up.”

Hannah half listened to what Jesse was saying, instead preparing herself for the fight that might be ahead. She made sure that the safety lever on the pistol in her hand was off, and that there was a round in the chamber. Once all that was finished, Hannah checked that she had reloads within easy reach in her pocket, and barring the ability to reload, she checked that the Glock was clear of her jacket and easily drawn. The six shot Smith and Wesson was her final fall back. Hannah decided that if she got to the point of using the Smith, the last round would be for her own headshot. Isaac was doing the same with his own gear, and Hannah saw that he already had spare shotgun shells in his off hand for a faster reload on the sawed off. Stacy, on the other hand, had a revolver in hand, deciding that the .410 would be her backup rather than the main weapon.

Jesse bid them all good luck, then they moved to the doorway.

The back door actually led to a small entryway, a mudroom that was strewn with boots and had several jackets hanging on hooks inside the door. Other articles of clothing were heaped on the floor and they had to kick them aside as they made their way to the inner door. Isaac pulled off one side of the ear muffs and listened at the door, which had a large window in the frame, but the window was backed by a piece of plywood, blocking their view of the interior. He pointed to the door, indicating the inside of the house.

“Something’s there,” he whispered. “And it stinks.”

“What if it’s a person who’s alive?’ asked Stacy.

Isaac hesitated, giving her a look that meant anything that smelled that bad was dead Instead he poised a sarcastic question. “Do you want to call out first?”

“Better than getting shot,” said Stacy.

Nodding in agreement, Isaac stationed himself at the door frame and with a motion to Hannah, pointed to the opposite side. Hannah took up a place there while Stacy knocked at the door then ducked low near the floor and called out.

“Hello? We’re coming in,” she called. “We’re not bit and we’re here to help.”

There was a low moan, then a loud thump on the door that made them all jump. Hannah glanced out the exterior door and saw Carolina and Eddie wince at the sound. They all grinned.

“I guess we have an answer,” decided Hannah as the pounding on the door increased.

Isaac pointed to the door knob. Stacy tried it and found it locked.

“Shit.”

“Kick it?”

“You kicking, Big Boy?”

“You don’t have the ass for it,” he muttered, squaring off with the door.

“I don’t know if that’s a complement, or a slam,” said Stacy, backing off and taking Isaac’s place by the door.

The door opened on Stacy’s side, and that meant Hannah had the open space beyond first and would be shooting at whatever was there, across Isaac’s body once it was open. Hannah backed up a step and prepared to fire, the Beretta up at eye level.

“Don’t shoot me,” said Isaac.

Hannah gave him a mocking grimace and told Isaac to just open the door.

Stepping back, Isaac put a heavy foot down on the door just below the knob. The frame cracked, but the door held firm. There was an answering thud from the other side. Isaac set himself again and kicked. This time the door burst open, shattering the glass in the door, but the thing on the other side was too close to allow the door to open freely. Instead, the door bounced against the being behind the door and back into place in the frame. The remainder of the glass fell out of the door frame and to the floor around their feet. The Zombie groaned, then a pounding could be heard on the plywood.

“Push it open,” ordered Hannah. Isaac hit the door with a shoulder, forcing the barrier to swing inward. The thing on the opposite side pushed back, too stupid to realize that its prey was reached easier by letting the door swing in. Hannah stepped passed Isaac just as the door opened enough to let her in and she swung around the door, the Beretta up and firing at where the zombie leaned against it, still hammering at the plywood. Hannah had a vague image of a woman, dressed in a loose house dress covered in blood. The woman’s face was mostly gone, her hair matted to the bone of her jaw in the dried blood that congealed there. The 9mm rounds took the thing in the chest and then up to the head as Hannah adjusted her aim. It fell in a spray of dark goo and brain. She saw they were in the kitchen as she moved aside to let Isaac and Stacy follow her.

Another zombie was staggering through a doorway at them. This one a man, wearing only a bathrobe that hung open to expose his ripped apart chest and stomach. The intestines had bulged out of a hole in his abdomen, but the loops of torn entrails had since dried in the exposure to the air, sticking to the tops of his legs and pelvis. Isaac fired the sawed off, the heavy load chewing up the things shoulder and neck, making it stagger back a few steps. Cursing, Isaac broke the action and let the shell pop over his shoulder, the reload already on the way to the smoking chamber. Stacy fired her pistol around Isaac, her bullets hitting the zombie in the upper torso as she tried to keep it from entering the kitchen with them, she adjusted her shots until she hit it in the lower jaw, by then Isaac was finished with his reload and took the top of the things head off with his next round. Stacy was cursing Isaac even as another of the putrid undead staggered past the one they had just downed. Stepping aside, Isaac broke the shotgun again and reloaded while Hannah turned from her downed target to help.

Hannah and Stacy fired at the same time, multiple shots that hit the ghoul in the upper body and finally the head. It too, fell only to be replaced by yet another, this one a child that moved faster than the others. Stacy and Hannah fired again, only to have the slides of their pistol lock back before the thing went down. Isaac leveled the sawed off and blew a massive chunk of the little beasts head off. The dead youngster fell at Stacy’s feet. Isaac dropped the shotgun and drew his pistol, finding that the single shot was too slow for the rapid pace the undead were swarming at them.

From her jacket pocket Hannah pulled free a magazine and dropped the empty to the floor, chambering a round as she hit the slide release. Stacy was doing the same, moving to one side as Isaac took up the lead position and firing his own pistol. Two of the undead were pushing through the opening into the kitchen, both taking hits as they did so, both resisting the shots that should have been dropping them to the floor with their kind. Isaac’s shots must have been just under or around the kill zone of the undead brain as chunks of rotting flesh and bone were coloring the air around the ghouls. They broke into the kitchen, raising their arms on reaching the open space of the room. Isaac managed to fell one, but the other staggered at him, and enveloped Isaac in its putrid grasp as the slide on his pistol locked back. Hannah saw Isaac shove the empty weapon at the things gaping mouth even as the two fell to the floor.

Stepping into the gap, Hannah fired her own pistol at the next undead that was making its way across the living area beyond the doorway. Isaac would have to fend for himself for the moment while she attempted to deal with the newest threat. Absently, Hannah wondered just how many people had been in the house when these things had turned. Her shots seemed to have no effect, and the thing moved beyond her view. Behind her, Hannah heard a pistol go off, the noise deadened by the ear muffs she wore. She glanced back and saw Stacy standing over Isaac and the undead, her pistol leveled at the head of the undead that now lay motionless atop Isaac. Hannah looked back just as Isaac managed to pushed the thing off himself.

Through the open doorway, Hannah counted another three undead, ranging from what appeared to be a deceased old lady to a child just out of diapers. Swapping her partial magazine for a full one from her pocket, Hannah felt Stacy step up beside her. Stacy fired a couple shots past the doorway.

“Isaac’s stepping out, he’s sending Eddie in,” reported Stacy.

“Was he bit?” asked Hannah with alarm.

Stacy fired again. “No, but he hit his head pretty hard on the floor and says he’s a bit shook up. He wants to shake it off while he can.”

Hannah popped a Zombie in the forehead as it reached the doorway, finally dropping one of the ghouls with a single shot. It was harder to kill them than the movies made it seem. Eddie appeared with his rifle in hand. He fired past the two women several quick shots that put down two of the undead. The third fell to Stacy’s carefully aimed pistol rounds. Seeing nothing else move, Hannah and Stacy moved into the living area under the cover of Eddie’s rifle. Isaac appeared beside them, covered in black gore, but otherwise seemed to be fine.

He gave them a sickly grin. “I’m okay.”

“You don’t look okay,” muttered Hannah over the barrel of her pistol at his appearance.

“Bumped my head pretty hard, got a couple scratches.” To prove his point, he showed them three long scrapes that ran down his cheek from his left eye to the neck line of his jacket. The marks oozed blood, but otherwise seemed superficial. Isaac nodded to the undead on the floor. “How many more do you think there are?”

“Fuck only knows,” responded Hannah.

“I told Carolina and Eddie to stay in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, if you fall down again, we’ll need them to take up the slack.”

Isaac had no rejoinder for that one. Slowly they moved through the downstairs, checking the remaining rooms, but found nothing more dangerous than the litter of clothing, broken furniture and empty weapons. Searching the rooms, Hannah was distressed to see quite a few places where people had made beds from sleeping bags and blankets. If the bedding strewn around the rooms were an indication, there was another dozen people in the house. She mentioned this to the others and they both nodded in silent agreement. From above came more noises of dragging feet. Isaac glanced up at the ceiling.

“Well, you guys ready?”

“You leading the way?”

Letting his breath escape in a long sigh, Isaac nodded. “Sure. Why not?”

Hannah followed Isaac up the stairs, wincing with every noise the creaky old steps made as they eased up. At the top of the stairs, a gaunt face appeared, its hollow eyes sightless, yet still causing the head to glance down the well at the three combatants. Hannah and Isaac both fired at the thing and it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared. They climbed the final steps just as the opening above the well was filled by several more bodies, flailing to reach them passed their brethren. Just as quickly, Hannah and Isaac began to fire into the mass that threatened to tumble down the stairs at them. Stacy squeezed off shots behind them as the railing around the stair well filled with bodies of animated dead. Hannah dropped the Beretta and freed the Glock, her motion making just a slight but perceptible lug in the shooting, causing the undead to stagger foreword, one of them fall into Isaac and forcing him to fall back as well. Hannah tried to support his weight, but the combined weight of the indeed and Isaac made her have to stop shooting. Above them, the railing cracked as a zombie reached over the handrail for Stacy. She shot it, but it fell over the flimsy barrier on top of her, sending her crashing down the stairs on her back. Another beast fell with it, snarling as it dropped. It grabbed the back of Hannah’s leather jacket, pulling her down on top of it, both of them tumbling to the lower level.

The fall knocked the wind from Hannah’s lungs, but she managed to hold onto her Glock. The beast under her growled and bit at her shoulder, making Hannah cry out as the pressure of the things jaws clamped down over her triceps. The ear muffs were knocked from her head in the fall. To Hannah suddenly everything was now a loud stereophonic noise of gunshots, screams, groans and snarls. With her left hand, Hannah grabbed the hammer from her belt and weakly tried to hammer the thing affixed to her shoulder off. She felt the blows land, but the only response was for the zombie to growl louder and try to shake at her shoulder to rip it apart. The jacket saved her, bunching up in the things mouth as it pulled, the leather sliding off her bruised shoulder to keep her safe.

Hannah swung the hammer again, turning inside the jacket to try and get a more powerful blow at the thing. Her hammer hit the beast in the cheek, the bone beneath cracking under the swing and causing it to loosen its hold. With a jerk that send her falling away, Hannah feed herself, managing to bring the Glock up even as she fell back and firing into the things head with a half dozen rounds. It seemed to deflate and then fell to the floor.

She gathered her legs under her while looking around with a dazed expression and her ears ringing. Stacy was struggling under the dead that had fallen on her; she was pushing the things head aside as it tried to bite her neck, hammering at it with an empty pistol. Hannah took a careful aim, sending two 9mm bullets into the things head, making it collapse on top of Stacy. Isaac was battling two of the undead from where he had fallen against the wall of the stairs. One of the zombies was attached to the leather sleeve covering his left arm the other was being held at bay with Isaac’s pistol which was shoved into the things mouth, the slide locked back on an empty magazine. Others of the walking corpses were tripping past him as he fought, eager to rip apart those below.

Hannah fired her pistol empty at the undead latched on Isaac’s pistol. It fell, taking the weapon with it, but freeing Isaac’s hand long enough for him to sweep his katana free in the tight quarters. She dropped the Glock and unholstered the Smith revolver, grimly thinking that she needed to save one. With the hammer in one hand, Hannah struggled to her feet and fired at the first fiend that came at her. It took three quick shots to stop it, the monster fell at her feet as she adjusted her aim, all the while thinking that she had only two left if she were going to save one for herself.

The revolver bucked and another of the things fell, then another, but Hannah did not remember firing. Suddenly, there was a staccato noise that filled the air around her and the zombies began to fall away.

Isaac emerged, his katana sweeping the head off one of the ghouls that lunged at Hannah. Another fell to a hail of bullets and as quickly as they were standing, the undead fell to the floor. Hannah pointed the revolver at one of the things that crawled towards where Stacy was struggling to extract herself from the dead that lay on top of her. The single round stopped its movement.

Eddie and Carolina entered the room, rifles still trailing smoke from the barrels. Hannah knew that while it had seemed an eternity for them to appear, they probably had been moving in when they saw Stacy fall down the stairs. Standing behind the safety of their rifles, Eddie asked if anyone was bitten. Hannah looked over herself, and while she was covered in blood and her shoulder was aching to the point that she didn’t feel she could lift her arm again, she did not detect any puncture wounds or ripped flesh. Stacy was feeling her neck, letting Carolina check as well. Carolina shook her head and inspected Isaac next. She told him to wipe away the blood that covered his face and neck, then on seeing nothing more dangerous than a fistful of scratches, nodded to Eddie before coming to Hannah.

Hannah submitted to her inspection as well. Satisfied that they were all unbitten, Carolina motioned up the stairs.

“Are they all dead?” She recognized the meaninglessness of her words and corrected herself. “Are there any more zombies upstairs?”

“No clue,” said Isaac, dropping to his knees amid the carnage. “We never made it to the top.”

Hannah opened the cylinder of the Smith and pulled the empty shells free. She had two bullets left. With a shaky laugh, Hannah loaded the chambers and clicked the revolver shut. Holstering it, Hannah found the Glock amid the dead, slipping a magazine into the grip, Hannah nodded up the stairs.

“Might as well check,” she said, giving the statement more bravado than she felt.

Isaac gave a bitter laugh in response and heaved himself to his feet. He wiped the blade of the katana off, sheathed the long sword, then picked up Hannah’s Beretta which had somehow managed to make it down the stairs. Hannah pulled out the last two mags she had for it and handed them to Isaac, who loaded the pistol, letting the slide chamber with a loud snap. Stacy loaded her own pistol as well, shaking her head as she did so.

“We’re all stupid, we should just burn the place down,” opined Stacy as she looked around the room.

“When we’re done,” promised Hannah.

Isaac started up the stairs. Hannah followed with Stacy close behind. They made the top of the stairs and Isaac shot another zombie that had not made the tumble down the stairs with them. Hannah shot a ghoul who was trapped in a bedroom, apparently the man had made it there after being bit, then died from his wounds. The final door seemed to be wedged shut. After debate, the threesome decided they had to force the door. Isaac leaned his weight against the door and pushed, making the door slide whatever was in the way across the floor. The stench of feces and urine came strongly from the room. Wrinkling her nose, Hannah peeked into the space.

It was a bathroom with a small window that was open. Despite the open window the smell from the tiny bath was nearly overpowering. The bathtub was nearly full of feces, and the toilet nearly empty of water. The lid had been removed from the tank as well, and it was almost empty. There was an empty bucket in the room, and Hannah assumed that the bucket had carried water to flush the toilet. The source of the smell and dirt in the bath lay behind the door. Hannah could see a set of skinny legs on the floor from where Isaac had pushed the body. Stepping into the room, Hannah saw the collapsed form of a young teenaged boy. His chest rose and fell in shallow gasps.

“He’s alive,” announced Hannah in an amazed voice.

“Who?” came the response.

“There’s a kid in here, and he’s still alive.”



Hannah gingerly pulled the boy from behind the door, allowing it to swing open. Hannah pulled him out into the hall away from the confined space of the bath. Isaac leaned over him, checking for wounds. The teen showed no signs of having any bites or any other wounds on his body. Picking him up, Isaac quickly carried him down the stairs. Hannah and Stacy followed.

“What do you think happened?” asked Stacy.

“I think he either was in the bathroom when the shit hit, or he made it there while it was happening,” decided Hannah. “He managed to drink all the water and finally passed out from hunger and dehydration.”

“I wonder how long he’s been in there?”

“No clue.”

“You think he’ll live?”

Hannah managed a tight grin. “I hope so, we could use a fighter like that one.”

They rushed through the house, bringing Eddie and Carolina with them as they exited the house. Jesse saw them coming and the boy in Isaac’s arms. He looked over their blood covered bodies and nodded.

“Quite a fight?”

Isaac laid the kid on the bed in the van. “What do we do?”

Jesse looked the kid over. “I’m not a doctor, Isaac.”

Turning to the older man, Isaac grabbed his arm and gave it a shake. “What the fuck do we do?”

With a small nod, Jesse freed his arm. “We don’t have a way to start an IV, he need fluids. The only think I can think of is to try and get fluids into him; that means a syringe to squirt it in his mouth or something. He stinks; we need to bath him too. I think a soak in a hot bath will help, I don’t know.”

“All we can do is try it, right?”

Jesse nodded. “Is there a bathtub we can use in there?”

Hannah answered for the three of them. “I’m not going back in there. There’s a dozen or more dead zombies in there and the place is a wreck. We’re better off sleeping in the barn.”

Stacy agreed. Jesse just accepted this and motioned to the barn. “Then we have to clear it.”

Hannah felt her stomach drop. “Fuck.”

Eddie stepped up. “I’ll do it.”

Isaac grabbed up his rifle. “I’ll go with you.”

Hannah and Stacy both grabbed rifles as well. “Might as well get it over with.”

They marched to the barn.

It took them just a few moments to kill the only Zombie in the barn. The building was then declared clear. They pulled the van and the Toyota into the barn and closed the doors behind them. In the mean time, Jesse started to dribble water in the boy’s mouth, which he seemed to accept, though he did not regain consciousness. Chelsea stood by, watching and getting the items requested by Jesse. A cow entered the stable area, mooing to them as they worked to start a fire and heat water to clean the boy up.

Eddie looked at the cow for a long moment and decided it wanted milked. He grabbed a pail and after securing the cow in a stall and cleaning the udder, started to work the animal’s teats, bringing a steady stream of fluid from the engorged animal. Chelsea wandered over to watch, and Hannah watched as well from the fireside where she was bringing rain water from a barrel stationed outside the barn door to boil. She was amazed to find that the shakes she had been experiencing over the course of their last few battles were quickly disappearing. They had come, but not as hard or as long as the previous times. She hoped that meant she was just getting tougher, and not more deadened to the carnage they were wrecking.

Isaac found a long tub that would work as a bath, Stacy discovered the hand pump in the tack room of the barn. They pumped fresh water into buckets for drinking and for the bath. Eddie finished and brought the pail over to the fire.

“What do we do with that?” asked Chelsea.

“We’ll, we boil it to kill any bad things in the milk, then let it cool. After that we let it sit for a bit to separate the cream and we can make our own butter from that. The milk we drink,” explained Eddie.

“How do you know?”

“I grew up on a farm.”

Chelsea nodded, accepting the information for what it was. “How do we keep it cold?”

Eddie sighed. “Well, we need to either drink all up right away, or we can try to keep it cool by putting it in water that we pump fresh everyday.”

Looking at the water in the tub, Chelsea made an astute observation. “We’re going to be drinking a lot of milk.”

“Good for you,” agreed Eddie.

Jesse limped up. “Let’s get this kid cleaned up. We’ll see how he is in the morning. That milk?”

“Farm fresh,” promised Eddie.

“Whole milk gives me the shits,” announced Jesse, turning away from them. Hannah let out a barking laugh and Isaac grinned. They headed for the van to help with the teenager they’d rescued.

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Eddie was in the loft with his rifle, taking the first watch of the night. Everyone else was below, drinking hot chocolate made from the milk he had harvested from the cow. They had barred the door of the barn and moved several pieces of heavy machinery against the door to keep it from being easily breeched should there be an assault against the barriers. They had also closed off the doors leading out into the field; the cows had wandered up to the barn and had all been lowing at them. Jesse was afraid their noise would bring undead from God knew where, and he had ordered the animals driven off or shot, he didn’t care which. The cows had been led away with several bails of hay placed far from the barn. Chelsea was sipping at her drink and nodding off. Hannah finally made her finish the drink and sent her up to the loft with her sleeping bag, BOB and rifle. They were all going to sleep up in the loft as a precaution against any roaming undead that might manage to find a way into the barn through an opening they had not found to secure.

Jesse was worried about the kid, who was still unconscious in the back of the van. He was unsure if the water was doing any good. Jesse was thinking about trying to pour some of the Gatorade they had into the kid when Carolina spoke up.

“I think that’s a bad idea--,” she whispered. Since the death of Mark, Carolina had spoken very little to anyone, instead simply completed the tasks that had been put to her without comment. When she spoke, Jesse asked her to repeat what she had said, which she did adding; “The corn syrup in the drink is bad for him.”

“How do you know?”

“I did a paper on hunger strikes as a means of protest,” she explained. “In my research, I read that people who do those things suffer from dehydration. Sometimes to get the people to recover, they would give them what you’re doing, it’s called oral therapy. They use a combination of sugar, salt and water, or they give them rice water.”

“Rice water? You mean water left over from boiling rice?” clarified Jesse.

“I think so.”

Turning to Hannah, Jesse motioned to the Toyota. “Get some rice out, let’s see what this does.” Looking back at Carolina, Jesse continued to question her. “How much is the ratio of sugar, salt and water?”

“I don’t remember,” confessed Carolina. “I think it was like five teaspoons of sugar to one of salt in a liter of water. I remember that you had to give like four liters to a 160 pound man in four hours or something like that. I think anyway.”

“You think?”

“It was like two years ago I did that paper.”

Jesse struggled to his feet. “With my head being banged up, I might as well be the one to stay up and feed it to the kid. How much you think he weighs, Isaac?”

“Fuck if I know, he didn’t seem to weigh much.”

“Hundred pounds?”

“About that, I guess.”

Hannah came back with the rice, and since she had been listening to the conversation while she got the rice, she brought back the sugar and salt from their supplies as well. Hannah also had a liter Nalgine bottle. She placed the works next to Jesse. He gave a short laugh.

“You not staying up?”

“I will for a bit, but I have a watch tonight.”

“Fair enough. You want to boil the rice for me?”

Hannah shrugged. “Since we need rice water, I need to double the water required?”

They looked at Carolina, who had fallen silent again and seemed to be in her own world. When Carolina realized they were looking at her, Hannah repeated her question. Carolina shrugged. “I just wrote the paper, I didn’t like try it out.”

Stacy grabbed the heavy pot they had and went to the pump for water. Hannah measured out rice. “I guess we can eat it for breakfast.”

“What’s that?” asked Jesse, not looking up from his measuring of the salt, sugar and water mixture.

“The rice. Rice with a little milk, that fresh butter we made and sugar will be a good breakfast.”

“If you say so.”

Hannah took the pot, now heavy with water, from Stacy, who then said goodnight and with her BOB, rifle and sleeping bag climbed the ladder to the loft. Isaac watched her climb up, then mentioned to Carolina that she should get some sleep as well. The woman stared at him for a moment before picking up her own gear to climb up into the hay loft to sleep. When she was out of sight Hannah leaned close to Isaac.

“Do you think she’s going to make it?”

“I don’t know, Hannah. She’s pretty spaced out. I mean she pulled her weight today, a good thing after everything that happened, but I don’t think she’s come to terms with Mark and Lisa dying yet. They were friends before they all hooked up with us.”

Jesse grunted and held up the bottle with its cloudy contents, interrupting the conversation. “Well, let’s hope she knows what the fuck she’s talking about.”

“You going to be okay, Jesse?” asked Hannah, concerned that his wounds were going to cause him more trouble than he was willing to admit.

“I’ll be fine. I think.” Jesse grinned. “I got shot in the head once over in the Sandbox. The round hit my helmet, broke the straps turned it clear around, knocked me down and out. The doc said I had a concussion and that I should be woke up every couple’a hours. My buddies who were assigned to wake me up all fell asleep, dumbasses that they were, and we woke up the next mornin’ in our holes all covered with sand. I had a hell of a headache, my neck was stiff, but other than that, you’d have never known I got shot. I figure that this is somethin’ like that. Just keep wakin’ me up when we change watches, I’ll be fine.”

Hannah watched him walk over to the kid and start to dribble to mix into his mouth. “I hope this works.”

“Me too,” replied Isaac.

Hannah poured the rice into the pot and covered it, pulling it away from the fire enough to keep it from boiling over. “So what did you do before all this?” asked Hannah.

“I was a student at the branch and I delivered pizza.”

“You were a marketing major?” joked Hannah.

“Ha. I was undeclared, much to the chagrin of my advisor and my parents, who were footing some of the bill.” He grinned and played with the fire. “What about you?”

“I was a menial office employee at a supply warehouse. My job was to keep track of billing and answer customer questions.”

“College?”

“No, I always intended to go, but never quite made that plunge.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Prying now?” half joked Hannah.

“Maybe, I’m more just trying to keep this conversation alive and away from the topic of the undead.”

“I was between relationships,” conceded Hannah. “My last boyfriend was a fairly nice looking guy who couldn’t be pinned down to a steady relationship that didn’t involve his car, a beer or some form of sports.”

“And how did you hook up with him?”

“Friends set us up. It lasted about three months. I got a few good dinners out with him before we just stopped calling one another. I think his toothbrush is still at my apartment.”

“Ah.”

“Ah?” asked Hannah. “What is ah?”

“It means he was supposed to be an almost serious boyfriend?”

“No, it means he spent the night a couple times after the first month.” Hannah smiled impishly in the firelight at Isaac. “Just how old are you?”

“I’m 21,” he answered uncomfortably.

“Ah,” said Hannah. “A young man. Still naive to the ways of the world in some ways.”

“Hey, I’m not a virgin,” he protested.

Hannah laughed. “No, but you’re still new to the whole relationship thing, I can tell.”

“Whatever.” They were quiet for a moment. Then Isaac asked; “How old are you?”

Still smiling, Hannah admonished him for asking. “Didn’t you’re mother ever tell you that was not a polite question to ask a lady?”

“Yeah, well, when a lady shows up. I’ll remember that.”

Hannah hit him in the arm, making him wince as she contacted previous sores from the days events. “Bastard. I ought to just leave you here by yourself.”

“So you going to tell me?”

Shrugging, Hannah decided why not. “I’m 25.”

“You’re just four years older than me,” pointed out Isaac.

“For a woman, that’s a long four years, my friend.”

“Whatever—.”

Jesse returned to the fire about then. “Listen to the lady, Isaac. She’d rock your world and leave you hanging out to dry, wonderin’ where the fuck you put your underwear.”

Even in the firelight, Hannah could see Isaac color. The young man swore under his breath and muttered a weak rejoinder. Hannah laughed at his reaction while Jesse eased to the ground. “I got all that into him, and he seems to be breathing easier now. Is that rice done yet?”

“A few more minutes,” decided Hannah, moving the pot around on the flame, which was slowly dying to coals.

“What about you, Jesse?” asked Isaac.

“What about me what?” returned Jesse. “Would Hannah rock my world? Hell yes. I’m old now, if she didn’t kill me she’d at least leave me lookin’ like that kid in the van.”

It was Hannah’s turn to blush. Jesse grinned at her across the fire.

“No, I mean tell me something about you,” sputtered Isaac.

“Like what?”

“Tell me about what you did in the military?”

Jesse sighed. “I was a ground pounder, nothin’ special. I was in on the Liberation of Kuwait and got shot at a couple of times. I can tell you it was cold at night, the skies were black from the burning oil fields and we got shit for doing it. We should’ve rolled right across the fuckin’ desert and knocked out Sadam, then fuckin’ taken out Iran. But like what happened to Patton after World War Two, the brass said that we’d done all we needed to and shipped us home.”

“What happened to Patton?” asked Isaac.

“He told Eisenhower that we should just keep rolling over Eastern Europe until we’d dealt with the Russian, and Ike told him to get stuffed. As a result, we had fifty years of the Cold War. We’d still be fightin’ terrorists if this shit hadn’t wiped out most of the known world.” Jesse thought about it for a moment. “Hell, we might still be for all I know.”

Isaac had nothing to say to the man’s diatribe.

“Guess I gave you too much opinion, there?”

“I never thought about all of it much,” admitted Isaac. “I mean, it was over when I was still a kid. A little kid,” clarified Isaac. “To me, we’ve always been fighting in the Middle East.”

“I suppose I never thought of that,” said Jesse. He turned to Hannah. “That done?”

Hannah pulled the rice off the fire and peered into the steaming pot. “I suppose.”

“Leave it to cool then,” said Jesse and walked back over to the van.

Isaac looked over at Hannah. “Did I piss him off?”

“No,” said Hannah. “I think you reminded him of how old he is.”

“So I did piss him off.”

“Maybe.”

They both turned as Eddie climbed down the ladder from the loft. “Who’s up?” he asked.

Hannah volunteered. She picked up her rifle, sleeping bag and her own BOB and made her way up the ladder after bidding Isaac goodnight. Crawling across the hay bails, Hannah stationed herself just inside the open loft door to look out over the moon lit fields and the road beyond. She was amazed at how dark things were with out the artificial light of the towns and safety lights of the houses. The stars were bright, the moon shone with its silver glow and beyond them, the blackness was eternal. Hannah leaned against the hay bails, thinking about all the memories that Isaac had stirred up with his little question and answer session. She took a moment to say a silent prayer for those in her past, then after releasing them to fate, Hannah settled back against her BOB for a back rest to keep watch over her friends.

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