The Remaining

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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dantheremaining
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The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:34 pm

http://youtu.be/CGrnJVNzWks" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Watch the video. Learn about the story. Join The Remaining.

dantheremaining
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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:53 pm

Also, if you dig it, feel free to put the video on facebook or wherever your friends can check it out...any publicity is good publicity for me.

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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:44 am

Decided to post my latest chapter. This is Chapter 4, so there are a couple preceding it that can explain things if you are so inclined (http://www.the-remaining.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;). Please let me know what you think. Comments are welcome--good, bad, or indifferent.

****

Lee pushed the door out and it swung open on well-oiled hinges, not making a sound. He stood to the side of the doorway, half of his head peering into the gloomy tunnel beyond, he pictured himself and thought he maybe looked like Kilroy, except for the gas mask covering his face. In any case, he wanted to avoid backlighting himself in the door frame if there were any hostiles. This was known as “avoiding the fatal funnel.”

He doubted any hostiles had made it through his house, into the basement, and down into the tunnel that led underground to his bunker. His house was secured with steel doors and steel frames, and all of the windows were hurricane-rated glass, made to withstand severe impacts.

Still, if someone were determined enough, or saw the strategic value in his house, they could put the work in and find their way not only into the house, but into the tunnel to his bunker. Part of him didn’t believe that it could be so bad out in the world that people would be looting houses, especially ones as fortified as his.

But as he had once told a new LT, fresh out of OCS and deployed to Iraq, “Complacency kills. Paranoia is the reason I’m still alive.”

The tunnel before him was high enough to walk upright, but lower than a normal ceiling. Dim emergency lights glowed at regular intervals on the walls, bathing the length of it in a dull red. The width of the tunnel was a few feet wider than the frame of the door. Just enough for two people to walk abreast of each other. The tunnel floor was at a visible incline for about 50 yards, at which point the incline grew steeper and the remainder of the tunnel was hidden from view.

Lee visually inspected what he could of the tunnel and listened for almost a full minute before he was satisfied that there was no movement in the tunnel.

He still proceeded with caution.

He wasn’t sure at what point he had drawn it, but realized that on reflex he had un- holstered the MK23. He held it in a relaxed grip and kept it tucked close to his body. Moving quickly, he scooted through the door frame and sidestepped to the left. Out of habit, he avoided the center of the tunnel, but didn’t hug the wall. He moved heel-to-toe down the cement corridor. The heavy fabric of the MOPP suit swish-swashed with each step and Lee could have sworn the sound was echoing down the tunnel. The concept of stealth was cancelled out when wearing the damn thing.

With each step down the tunnel, a little more of the tunnel’s incline came into view. In the dim red light ahead, as he neared the point where the floor took its steep incline, he thought something moved.

He stopped.

There was no cover or even concealment in the long tunnel. He suddenly felt very exposed. If he wanted cover he would have to run back to his bunker. He wanted to look behind him to gauge the distance back to the bunker door, but didn’t want to take his eyes off the tunnel ahead.

Then he thought that Tango might have accidentally shut the bunker door and sealed him out. His stomach dropped and he felt the tingle in his feet telling him to look back and make sure that everything was okay.

It’s a heavy door, he told himself. Tango won’t be able to push it closed on accident.

But if he did and it locked in place I would be so fucked.

Lee clenched his teeth and shot a quick look behind him. Down the tunnel he could see the oblong oval shape of the door to his bunker. The inside of his bunker was well lit compared to the tunnel and he could see the light pouring out, silhouetting the frame of Tango, still sitting obediently but attentively at the door.

Tango was most definitely in the fatal funnel, but didn’t seem to care.

Lee faced forward again. The cold cement tunnel stretched out in front of him. Silent and still. The movement had been a trick of his eyes. Probably.

He proceeded on.

The tunnel ended in a set of short, steel stairs that lead up to a circular hatch with a locking-wheel, similar to the one on the door to his bunker. The hatch appeared to be secure, and could not be opened from the outside without significant efforts. Lee relaxed for a moment, taking the time to blink rapidly, testing the acuity of his natural night-vision. It was nearly 1200 hours and would be broad daylight outside, however, the hatch was in the bottom of his basement, which he had left unlit and assumed was still dark. He didn’t want to use the light attached to the underside of his MK23 for fear that it would draw attention. Recon was about stealth.

He holstered his sidearm but didn’t clip the retention strap. He then climbed the five stairs to the hatch. He cranked the wheel to the left. The locks disengaged with only the slightest of metallic clanks, but the noise still made Lee cringe.
He reached down and pulled his pistol out again as he slowly pushed the hatch upwards, clearing a few inches of space—just enough for him to peek out. Even with his eyes adjusted, the basement was too dark to see anything in detail. He took a long moment to listen for shuffling feet or rustling clothing. Anything that would tip him off to someone inside his basement.

After another minute of listening he felt satisfied and pushed the hatch all the way open. His head and shoulders now clear of the hatch, he swiveled and gave his surroundings a quick scan with the light on his MK23. He identified the usual occupants of his basement: the water heater, the freezer where he kept venison during deer-hunting season, the tool cabinet, the pile of boxes with Christmas decorations in them.

Everything was quiet and undisturbed.

He flicked off the light.

Lee felt a wash of relief, his body relaxed from tension he hadn’t been aware he was holding.

The sight of his belongings, all those normal, every-day things, still sitting right where he left them made it feel as though the world was the same one he had left over a month ago. Whatever had happened could not be that bad if his light-up Santa statue was still lying in the garage, unharmed and collecting dust until next holiday season.

Feeling more confident, Lee pulled himself fully out of the tunnel and knelt next to the hatch. He reached to close it behind him, paused, then pulled his hand back. The hatch lock was disengaged from the exterior by punching a code into a numbered keypad. While he didn’t want anyone slipping in behind him while he was out reconning, he also didn’t want to be screwing around with the keypad if he needed to beat a hasty retreat. If anyone slipped into the tunnel behind his back, Tango would discourage them from getting into the bunker.

From where he knelt he could see up the basement stairs to the main portion of his house. The door at the top was closed, but he could see daylight illuminating the cracks, making it look like a large, glowing white frame was hovering in mid-air.

He made his way to the bottom of the stairs, keeping the pistol at low-ready and keeping a sharp eye on the frame of light around the door, waiting for a flash of shadow to indicate movement on the other side.

At the top of the stairs he repeated his stop-and-listen technique until he felt certain the house was empty.

He opened the door and stepped through, quickly this time, checking right, then left...nothing.

The basement door opened into the kitchen area. In front of him was a granite counter top that turned 90 degrees into a cooking area. Pans hung from the wall, cabinets were stacked with glasses and plates. The brown dish-towel with the white stripes still hung on the handle of the stainless oven. Everything was exactly where he had left it.

Through the windows that surrounded the kitchen he looked out into the wooded area around his house. The light from the outside world was so bright after a month in the bunker that it nearly sapped the color out of the greenery, making the leaves appear silver in the flashing sun. It was not only a shock to his eyes, but to his mind. He realized that he had half-expected some post-apocalyptic world, where the trees were charred stumps jutting from the ground and the air was filled with soot.

But this was simply his backyard.

Lee hesitated for a moment. He could continue to clear his house and property, possibly get a better idea of what was going on, or he could return to his bunker and wait the remaining days out. Prudence told him he had pushed far enough, and should go back...but now curiosity had taken hold and spurred him on.

He turned left, facing the entryway to his living room. Over the top of the couch he could see through the windows that faced the front of his house and the yard beyond. His grass had grown surprisingly long and looked almost waist-high. Large weeds had taken root in the cracks of his driveway and had grown to the height of small sapling trees. Amazing what nature could do if you left it alone for a month. Past the overgrown yard, Lee could barely see the tops of the split-log fence he’d installed along the front of his property the previous summer.

A bit past the fence, Lee could just make out the two-lane blacktop of Morrison Street, shimmering in the noonday heat. He wasn’t in a neighborhood and the nearest house to his was about a tenth of a mile down the road.

The Peterson’s.

Jason Peterson was a cop and a good neighbor, as well as a friend to Lee. He’d helped Lee re-grade his backyard when water began building up after rain storms, and displayed some prowess with a bobcat. He hunted with Lee on occasion, and when Lee couldn’t make it out to bag a deer, Jason always made sure to bring him several pounds of venison, and some scraps for Tango.

Lee clenched his jaw.

There was a footpath that connected his backyard to the Peterson’s. It would only take five minutes to skirt the edge of the property and take a look at his neighbors’ house to see how they had fared. He figured it would be a decent litmus test of how things were overall.

Plus, it was the right thing to do. Even just gaining a vantage point on the Peterson’s house would allow him to gauge how bad things truly were. Obviously his own yard would be overgrown since he had been living in The Hole for the past month. It was not necessarily indicative of how the rest of the world was going. If he saw the Peterson’s yard clean cut, then obviously things couldn’t be that bad.

Lee stepped into his living room and swept left and right as he had in the kitchen. All was clear. His front door was still secured and none of his windows appeared broken or tampered with. He moved through the living room to the front door. The door was steel, but he had installed sidelights with the same impact-resistant glass he’d used everywhere else in the house. He liked to be able to see who was knocking on his front door.

This made him think about receiving packages from UPS and he wondered if that would ever occur again.

He cupped a hand against the sidelight glass and peered through. Everything seemed very still. The blacktop in the distance shimmered in the July heat, and the waist- high stalks of grass in his front yard lilted motionless in the baking sun.

Not a breeze to stir a blade of grass.

Lee twisted the deadbolt and heard the cylinder disengage with a clack, making him flinch. It sounded like the loudest noise he’d heard in ages. He turned the door knob, felt it catch and release from the doorframe. The weather stripping crackled as the long-sealed door finally separated and swung open.

The heat of summer hit him in the face like steam from a boiling pot. It smelled like grass and pollen and baking concrete. The calls of cicadas, rising and falling, seemed overwhelmingly loud. The air seemed full of flying insects, flitting back and forth across his overgrown lawn. It felt as though nature was completely unaware of his existence, or the existence of any man.

He stepped out onto the front porch and felt the heat and humidity blanket him. Without looking, he pulled the door quietly shut behind him. He walked to the edge of the three wooden steps from his porch to the concrete walkway that led to his driveway. The grass around his front porch appeared flat. Trampled.

This would later occur to him as something he should have noticed.

He took the steps, looking to his left, towards the footpath to the Peterson’s.

The next thing he knew he was falling, landing hard on the ground. He felt the hard concrete bounce the side of his face and the breath came out of him with a whoosh.

He heard something shrill, like a woman shrieking. Something had him by the leg. He tried to roll onto his back, but felt an iron grip on his ankle, pulling his leg through the stairs into the shadows underneath. He flailed, kicking with his free leg, then bringing his heel down hard on whatever held him. He felt his boot hit something and then his ankle was free.

He rolled onto his back, holding the pistol between his knees.

Two pale, bony arms reached through the stairs, trying to grab at his feet. In the hand of one was a small knife, slashing the air repeatedly in a spastic X pattern. He tried to kick the knife, but the arms retreated under the stairs again. He scooted backwards and pulled his legs underneath him, trying to gain his feet. Something came out from behind the stairs, scuttling towards him on hands and knees, making noises that he couldn’t distinguish as words. Instinct told him to launch with his legs and he thrust himself backwards and landed again on his back. His attacker seemed small but was moving fast.

In the half-second before it tried to stab him to death, he had the impression of a young girl wearing a smock or a loose white dress, with long, wild hair hanging down around her face.

She reared up and swung down hard, planting the small knife in Lee’s left thigh. Lee let out a noise like a cough or a bark and shoved his pistol against the top of the girl’s chest and pulled the trigger.

He felt the pressure of the blast in his face and watched the back of her gown burst out. He swung hard with his right knee, catching her hard in the jaw. She fell to the side, pulling the knife out of Lee’s thigh as she went. He was on his feet fast, despite the wound to his leg. He breathed rapidly, his chest burning as the gas mask restricted his airflow. Each inhale and exhale rattled the filter. He pointed his pistol straight out in front of him, finger on the trigger and backpedaled towards the porch.

The girl—15-years-old was his best guess—was down, but getting up.

Even over the rattle of his own breath, Lee could hear the gurgling of her chest wound.

“Stay the fuck down!” Lee yelled.

The girl was standing now, hunched over, strange looking eyes staring from under a hood of tangled hair. She pointed the bloody knife at him. “You!” It was a wheezing whisper.

“Drop that knife!”

“You!” She started forward.

He pulled the trigger, instinctively aiming center mass. Three shots in quick succession at near point blank range spattered her chest in red. She stumbled back, but didn’t go down. Her breath came out again like she was trying to say something but couldn’t form the words. She put one foot in front of the other, and Lee turned and took the three wooden stairs to the porch in one bound. He planted his shoulder into his front door, noticing as he went that there was a piece of paper taped to the door. He didn’t have time to grab it. He spun in the doorway, slammed the front door and locked it, then sprinted for the basement door.

He nearly tripped going down the stairs, feeling the pain in his thigh now. His footfalls were a rapid tumble. He hit the basement floor, blind in the dark, and groped around for the hatch. His hand touched cold metal.

He heard something banging on the front door upstairs.

“Slow down,” he told himself but didn’t take his own advice. He nearly dove in, hitting his elbow and the top of his forehead on the frame as he scrambled in. He slammed the hatch behind him, twisted it to lock it in place, then threw himself down the steel stairs in a single leap. Pain shot up his leg and his knees buckled, crashing him to the floor. He got up and ran for a few steps, then slowed to a jog, knowing that it was panic driving him and trying to battle it off. He breathed deep and tried not to think about the girl running swiftly and silently up behind him to slit his throat.

The door to the bunker came into view and Tango stood up, his head lowered, sensing something was wrong.

“Move,” Lee snapped as he lurched through the door, pushing Tango out of the way with his wounded leg, then wincing as he realized it was a bad choice. Tango’s attention was fixated down the tunnel.

Lee swore as he slammed the hatch closed and whipped the wheel into the locked position. He ripped the gas mask off his face, tasted fresh air. He moved quickly to the kitchen sink, pulling open the cabinet doors and grabbing a bottle of bleach from underneath. He spun the cap off and started dousing himself right there in the middle of the kitchen.

He rubbed the bleach all over the exterior of the MOPP suit as he marched into the bathroom with the bottle of bleach and cranked on the hot water. He waited for the water to start steaming and stepped in, still fully dressed. He doused himself two more times with bleach, working it over every inch of the MOPP suit. The water seeped in and stung his skin. He started pulling the suit off, swearing under his breath through clenched teeth as the scalding hot water sprayed over him. Rivulets of hot water snaked down his body and found his fresh leg wound. He cried out in pain and punched the wall of the shower.

“So fucking stupid!” he yelled.

He doused himself three times head to toe with the bleach, rubbing it everywhere, including the open knife wound, which brought tears to his eyes. He rinsed with the scalding water and stepped out of the shower. He skipped drying and dressing and went straight to his closet where his medical pack lay, grabbing a hand-towel off the bathroom sink as he went.

“There’s no way I got myself infected. No fucking way.” Lee didn’t believe himself.

He rifled through the pack pulling out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, yanking off the cap and pouring it over the wound. He watched as the clear liquid cascaded over the wound, then stung and started to bubble. The more bubbles, the dirtier the wound. There was no telling what the hell was on that knife, or if she had used it to stab or cut someone else that was infected. Lee could see the bacteria as microscopic ants racing through his bloodstream, already beginning to pick away at his frontal lobe.

As the hydrogen peroxide did its work, he inspected the wound and thought about the consequences of his ill-fated recon mission.

He estimated the knife was about three inches long—he thought it was a kitchen paring knife. Though the blade was only a half inch wide, when she stabbed him she’d pulled it down, slicing open an extra inch of flesh. There was definite muscle damage, but nothing so severe that it would inhibit his movement.

He pulled out a sterile-packaged syringe and held it between his teeth, then found a bottle of lydocaine, an iodine wipe, a pack of triple antibiotic ointment, two medium sized gauze pads, and a pack of suturing needles with a length of nylon thread.

He used the first gauze pad and pressed it down on his wound, kicking his leg up onto the back of his couch to keep it elevated and reduce the blood flow that had already created red streams that criss-crossed his lower leg down to his ankle and begun dripping on the floor. While holding the gauze firmly on the wound and grinding his teeth against the sharp pain, he mopped up the blood on the floor and on his leg with the hand-towel he’d grabbed on the way out of the shower.

After a few moments of firm, stinging pressure on the wound, he pulled the gauze away and checked the blood flow. The wound filled slowly with blood and trickled over again onto his leg, but the blood wasn’t pulsing which meant no arterial damage, and the flow seemed to be abating with the elevation and pressure. Luckily—if you could call it that —the wound was a clean cut so he didn’t need to use a scalpel to remove any “nonviable” tissue, or smooth out the edges as you would with a ripping or tearing wound. That would save Lee a significant amount of pain.

He put the gauze back down and held it in place with his elbow while both hands worked open the sterile syringe package and used it to draw a few CC’s of lydocaine. He cleared the syringe of air and clamped it back in his teeth, then opened the iodine wipe. He pulled the bloody gauze pad off and tossed it on the ground, then swabbed the area around the wound with the iodine wipe, staining his skin a yellowish brown.

He injected small doses of lydocaine into several areas around his wound, creating the effect of a local anesthetic. When the few CC’s of lydocaine were done, he put the cap back on the syringe and dropped it with the bloody gauze. He waited a few breaths until the stinging sensation in his legs began to numb, then strung a curved suture needle with the nylon thread. He fished out a pair of hemostats and some small shears to cut the nylon thread, and began stitching the wound closed. It took five stitches and about ten minutes to close the wound.

He salved it with the triple antibiotic ointment and slapped on a fresh gauze pad, then held it in place with surgical tape.

Patched up, he went back to his bathroom and retrieved the MK23 from its holster, buried in the wet, bleachy jumble of his ruined MOPP suit. He ejected the magazine and cleared the chamber. The thing was still dripping with water and bleach. He inspected the muzzle for any foreign substance—hair, skin or blood—that might have blown back from the chest of the girl and still be clinging to the weapon.

His hand abruptly began to shake violently as he tried to focus on the weapon. He felt his breath catch in his throat, and for a moment he watched her, chest poked full of .45 caliber holes, still standing, still coming towards him. He remembered the iron pressure of her grip, holding onto his ankle. What teenage girl had that type of strength?

Unable to hold the pistol still, he dismantled it with fumbling fingers and laid the parts out on his bathroom counter to dry.

He needed to get dressed.

dantheremaining
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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:10 am

**this is chapter 5...enjoy***

Lee pulled on a new pair of multicam combat pants. His boots were drying in the shower stall, still soaking wet from his hasty decontamination. Wet boots were a curse, and he wasn’t going to be putting in any miles in the outside world until they were dry.

That was his excuse, anyways.

He kept replaying the image of the girl coming out from behind the stairs. The spidery way she scuttled towards him on all fours, the thin arms, only skin and bones, but shockingly powerful. It reminded him of how a person on drugs or who was mentally deranged could display extreme amounts of physical strength and stamina. He figured that it might have something to do with her frontal lobe looking like Swiss cheese.

Was she just an example of how the rest of the world had become?

He pictured crowds, riotous mobs entirely peopled by sick, violent, and super- humanly strong mental patients waving sharp kitchen implements, lead pipes, and other weapons of opportunity.

He tried to remember what the girl’s face looked like, but all he could remember was her wild, tangled hair and those strange, demented eyes. He wondered if he knew the girl. Surely she had to live around here somewhere. Were her parents still alive and sane?

And he kept thinking about the Peterson’s. Jason and his wife Maria, and their four year old girl, Stephanie. Jason was a smart guy, and tough as nails, but Lee didn’t know if he would’ve been ready for something like this. Toughness only went so far. He hoped that people had been able to get help from the FEMA camps. He hoped the Peterson’s were safe somewhere.

Lee made up his mind then and there to check on the Peterson’s. Tomorrow. It was not an option. Holing up in his bunker had become counterproductive. In another two weeks, things could only be worse. If the Peterson’s had secured their residence and were waiting for rescue, Lee might be their only chance.

Besides, rendering aid was his primary objective.

I am Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army. The US government has sent me to help you.

That was the script Lee was required to say when rescuing people. Project Hometown existed so people would know that no matter how bad things got, the United States government was still there, still fighting for them. In the front pocket of Lee’s go-to- hell pack he had a laminated card that read those very same words in five different languages.

After that, the Peterson’s were all Lee could think about.

***

Lee slept poorly that night.

After cleaning his MK23 and topping off the magazine, he drank a few bottles of water and cooked a freeze-dried meal of spaghetti and meatsauce, since all the fresh food had been used. He barely tasted the food and didn’t feel like eating it, but he crammed it down anyways because he knew he needed to eat something.

The knife wound began to feel itchy, which immediately made Lee think of infection, though it was unlikely that infection would have set in so fast. Every time he thought of the plague spreading through his brain, his stomach curdled with anxiety.

What a shitty way to go.

Late into the evening he laid on his bed and felt his forehead for a fever and cleared his throat to see if he were developing a cough. He had no appetite, but that was not surprising given what he’d done to the girl. Frank had said infected subjects were asymptomatic for up to 72 hours, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen faster. Catching through saliva would always take longer to metastasize than being direct-injected into his blood stream from a filthy, plague-infected knife.

He slept in his combat pants, on top of the covers, with his M4 locked and loaded and tucked in close to his body. Tango lay on the floor to the side of the bed. Lee woke several times in the night to find Tango staring at the bunker door with his ears fully erect. Occasionally, he would emit a low growl, deep in his throat. The dog’s attention to the door made the hair stand up on the back of Lee’s neck.

Each time it happened Lee’s heart would pound in his head so hard it seemed to make the room shake, and he would think to himself that there was no way he was going to be able to fall back asleep. But each time, he would stare at the door, and find his thoughts wandering, and his heart-rate cooling down, and then his eyes would grow heavy once more.

***

By 0500 hours he was done trying to sleep.

He’d been awake, hugging his M4 and staring at the clock for the past half-hour and when it turned, he immediately sat up. He didn’t turn on the lights because it would still be dark outside and he didn’t want to ruin his natural night vision.

He went to the bathroom and leaned the rifle against the bathroom counter while he relieved himself. While he had his pants undone, he pulled them down far enough to inspect the bandage on his wound. There was only a small spot of blood that had soaked through, but he changed the bandage anyway and applied a fresh coat of ointment. The wound wasn’t red, swollen, or itchy. If it was going to get infected, it would have most likely begun to show signs.

After pulling his pants back up, he threw on his combat shirt, pistol belt and drop leg holster. He checked that the magazine of his MK23 was topped off, seated securely in the magazine well, and that there was a round in the chamber, then holstered the weapon. His boots were still a little damp on the inside, but he felt like a few hours of body heat would take care of it.

He pulled on his chest rig, which held six double-magazine pouches (twelve magazines total) for his M4. The thirteenth magazine was already loaded in his rifle. He adjusted the straps on the rig until he was comfortable with the weight distribution, then double-checked each of the magazines to ensure they were all fully loaded.

He doubted he would need this much ammunition for his incursion to the Peterson’s house, but then again, he had doubted yesterday that a crazed 15 year old girl would jump out from underneath his front steps and stab him in the leg. He realized that his complacency had nearly killed him, just as he had warned that young lieutenant in Iraq. His attitude had transformed overnight, from skeptical to vigilant. He was going to expect and
prepare for the absolute worst. His mind had been full of doubts yesterday. He didn’t want to believe that the world was spiraling out of control, or that it was already in ruins. The extent of the damage to American civilization was as yet unknown. What he did know, was that he would have to err on the side of caution. If it had been a full-grown man that had attacked him yesterday, he wasn’t sure he would be alive. Mistakes in this new reality would be far more costly than Lee could afford.

On a positive note, he was still asymptomatic.

He didn’t feel like bothering with dehydrated scrambled eggs, so he grabbed a handful of Powerbars, shoving one into his mouth and the remaining three into his pack. He washed it down with a hastily mixed “Orange beverage” that came in a small, single- serving packet. It had plenty of vitamin C and carbohydrates for immediate energy. Like energy for running and fighting. Energy he hoped he wouldn’t need, but had the jumpy feeling that he would.

After his quick breakfast, he shouldered his go-to-hell pack, then slipped on his single-point sling and connected it to his M4. He was going out without the MOPP suit, as he felt that its noise and encumbrance outweighed the benefit of the very little good it would do to protect against a bacterial infection. He was, however, going to wear his Promask. He just wished he’d received more information from Frank about the plague. Perhaps Abe would know. He would message him about it when he got back.

After masking up and checking the seal, he pulled the charging handle of his M4 back halfway, noted the glint of brass waiting in the chamber, and let it slide forward and lock. He flipped the safety off. That was what trigger fingers were for.

“Tango,” Lee pointed to a spot next to his foot. “Heel.”

Tango’s ears perked and he came running over, excited. It was time to work, which, for him, meant fun-fun-fun. He had no idea what was going on in the world, and that was excellent. Good working dogs never realized the horrible situations they were in. That’s why Police K9’s wag their tails while attacking armed gunmen. Even one traumatic incident resulting in a negative experience for the dog doing what he was trained to do could ruin it.

It was good that Tango was happy do go outside. But Lee sure as hell wasn’t. He looked at his dog, standing by his right side and looking up at his master expectantly. “Tango, sneak.” This wasn’t a normal command, but Lee had taught Tango a few tricks outside of the usual Schutzhund training. Tango immediately pulled his lolling tongue in and his head lowered ever so slightly, his shoulders hunching a bit, giving him the appearance of a wolf stalking its prey. As long as Lee kept reminding Tango to “sneak,” the dog would keep low to the ground and wouldn’t make a sound. It was almost unnerving for Lee to watch his canine friend revert back to his feral roots.

Lee reached forward and opened the bunker door.

The red-bathed tunnel stretched out before him. It looked empty. He felt a bit of relief and supposed he had been expecting the crazed girl from yesterday to be standing there, waiting for him.

Surely she was dead. No one could survive that many shots to the chest. Lee and Tango made their way down the tunnel, both moving silently. While moving, Lee quietly but with an excited tone told Tango “good,” earning a wag of the tail. He reminded the dog to “sneak,” and Tango went back to sneaking. Lee did this without even thinking. The cycle of command, obedience, and reinforcement was second nature to Lee, and when possible, he would reward the dog with something. He kept an old, chewed- up rope in his cargo pocket, a toy that Tango was particularly fond of. It was Tango’s treat for a job well done.

At the stairs, Lee went up first to unlock the hatch. He pushed it open and surveyed the basement, much as he had done the previous day. All clear.

“Come on, boy.” When Tango was threw he then closed the hatch and punched in the code to lock it. He waited until he heard the click, then turned towards the stairs.

In his flight the previous day, he had left the door from the basement into the kitchen standing open. The ambient light coming from upstairs was enough for Lee’s adjusted eyes to see the staircase clearly, and that no one stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

He kept the M4 at a low ready as he moved towards the stairs, with his non-trigger hand he patted Tango. “Stay.” Tango sat, ears forward, eyes locked on the doorway up the stairs.

Normally the dog would go first and seek out the threats to prevent harm to the human counterpart. In this situation, with Tango as his only partner, and not knowing whether the virus was transmittable from humans to animals, Lee did not want Tango biting on any infected persons unnecessarily.

Lee made his way up the stairs and cleared the house, the knot in his gut that was always there before shit hit the fan started to abate as he went through the motions. Each time he prepared to enter a room, the anxiety would flare, then dissipate as he moved. It reminded him of Fallujah, fighting house-to-house. At the beginning of those long nights he would be sick to his stomach and his hands would be shaking. Then after they breached the first door, they would begin to fade. By the time they were on their third house of the night, he would feel relatively normal.

On edge, as he was now, but normal. After clearing the house he went to the kitchen and found that Tango’s curiosity had gotten the best of him and he’d made his way to the top of the stairs and was peering into the kitchen, his nose working the air. Lee held back admonition. Good working dogs were sometimes hard to control.

“Come on.” Lee tapped his thigh and Tango padded into the room. “Sneak,” he reminded.

He made his way to the front door. It still stood intact. The sick feeling made a comeback. He edged over to the sidelight and angled his vision around the front porch. A pale foot lay there, stretched out away from the front door, toes pointed down. The foot was small, petite even. The girl from yesterday, he knew, and fought acid rising in the back of his throat. He stared, though he couldn’t see anything above the calf. The skin was gray and waxy-looking. It was covered in scrapes and harsh bruising, as though she’d run recklessly through a patch of briars.

The logical part of Lee’s brain told him that she had to be dead. But something else inside of him thought, maybe not. Lee angled his body and pointed his rifle in the approximately location that he felt her head would be. For a moment, the gun felt heavy and awkward in his hands. For someone that had grown up around firearms, that brief feeling crumpled his already-shaky confidence. He could already taste his half-digested Powerbar eking up into his mouth. He didn’t want to shoot this girl again. He reached forward and touched the cool metal of the doorknob.

The door swung open.

Her hand came down, still holding that small knife.

Lee jumped back and only just kept himself from firing a round. The girl lay dead, but her arm had been propped against the door and had fallen when he’d opened it. She was no longer a threat.

Tango rushed in, fascinated and wanting to stick his nose in it. Lee shoved the dog away with his leg and stated in a stern voice, “No! Leave it...Leave it.”

Tango pressed at his leg until Lee gave him a good jab in the ribs with his knee and repeated the command. Finally Tango stood back, but let out a pitiful whine and stared at the dead girl, transfixed.

The door was covered in smeared blood and pocked with tiny dents made with the point of her knife. She had somehow managed to crawl onto his porch after being shot several times in the chest with a .45 caliber bullet, and had obviously spent some time pounding on the door, whether in rage, or desperation, or perhaps a bit of both.

The front mat was entirely soaked in blood. The sight of blood in large quantities never ceased to turn Lee’s stomach. There was something so...not Hollywood about it. Artificial blood looked artful and pretty. The splatters were perfect, the pools were all one homogenous color. Paint-by-numbers gore. In reality, the aftermath of a traumatic wound was chaotic and disgusting. There was always some strange chunk of anatomy that came out with the blood flow that made you lean in closer and say to yourself, “what the fuck is that?”

These images also had a cumulative effect. Lee found them harder to bear now than when he’d been a younger man. Looking from the dead girl to the pock marks on the door, he noticed the piece of paper he had not had time to read the day before. It was lined and clearly torn from a spiral notebook. It was held to the door with a single bit of clear tape. The words were handwritten and short.

Lee reached up and plucked it off the door, eyeing the dead girl while he did it. Her failure to die when most others would have made him highly uneasy and he kept thinking about her getting up, even now, and cutting into him with that knife. Before diverting his attention to the note, he kicked the knife away from her hand. Tango tracked it with his eyes as it skittered across the foyer, but didn’t make a move for it.

The note was from Marie Peterson.

Lee,
Jason did not come home from work today and didn’t call. We thought maybe he
with you. If you find this note, FEMA is evacuating us at 1pm today to a camp in
Sanford. Please tell Jason to find us as soon as he can and tell him I love him. We will waitin
Sanford as long as we can.
Marie

The note was dated 7/05.

Lee felt somehow responsible for this, though he couldn’t tell why. Sanford was a small city about 50 miles southwest of Raleigh. It seemed like an unlikely and out-of-the- way place to put a FEMA camp, but then again, in a viral outbreak, you would want the safe zones to be a significant distance from major population centers.

Where Lee stood now was about 30 miles directly east of Sanford, outside the small town of Angier. He could make the trip in two days, three at the most. Of course his pickup truck was parked in his garage with a full tank and would theoretically get him there within an hour, but in a social collapse, without the threat of force from police officers and highway patrol, thugs and psychopaths reclaimed the streets and made them the most dangerous place to be.

Driving was out of the question for now. He would stick to cross-country hiking. And then there was the question of Jason and his whereabouts.

Obviously, he had not been with Lee. As a police officer, he was probably one of the last to be able to run with his family. Lee saw four likely possibilities. Either Jason was already with his family, was trying to make his way to his family, was holed up in his house waiting for help, or he was dead.

In any case, Lee’s objective remained the same. He folded the note carefully and placed it in his pants pocket. Attention back on the body splayed out on the welcome mat, Lee gingerly poked the body with the toe of his boot, not sure why he still felt that he would garner a response. They say the less distance there is between you and the person you kill, the more traumatizing it could be. In Iraq, he knew he’d killed people, but mostly it was shooting at muzzle flashes in windows. Only once did he gun a man down while clearing a house. In that instance, the man had been about twenty feet away, reaching for the AK next to him. Through the night vision device Lee had been wearing, the man had appeared expressionless, emotionless. Just a green specter.

Barely even human.

In the girl’s case he had looked her in the eye, as demented as those eyes might have been, and shot her at point blank range. Then he’d stood up and shot her again. Then he’d left her to wallow in a crazy rage as she tried to stab his door and eventually bled to death.

He prayed to God for forgiveness, and refused to think about it anymore.

When he was satisfied that the girl was dead, he stepped over her body and, with gloved hands, pulled her by the ankles off of his welcome mat to clear the doorway. He had first intended to pull her off the porch completely, but after yesterday’s surprise attack, he didn’t feel comfortable backing his way down the stairs. Besides that, it was still dark, and Lee wanted to check his perimeter before he left for the Peterson’s house.

He pulled the girl as quietly as he could to the left of the door so she was out of the way. He would dispose of the body when he knew his perimeter was secure and it was light out. While dragging her he noticed rather detachedly that she’d defecated on herself, though he wasn’t sure whether this was during her death or whether the infected insane were unaware of their bowel movements.

Loss of muscle control was a symptom of late-stage infection, however, she’d seemed quite in control of her muscles the previous day, and had even talked, though it was only one word. He felt that most likely, she was in the early stages of infection, and that self-defecation was a byproduct of her loss of sanity.

Once he had her moved, he patted his leg, getting Tango’s attention. “Come on. Sneak.”

They left the porch, taking the stairs very carefully this time. Every shadow held a ghost and every grass blade that blew in the soft breeze drew his attention. They made a circle around the house, checking all the nooks and crannies, and finding everything secure. Whoever the girl was, she had been there alone.

Died alone. Covered in blood and shit.

By the time Lee had checked the perimeter of his house, the horizon to the east was getting gray, and the cacophony of early-morning birds had begun. He also found himself sweating, and noted that it was already warm and humid out.

Today was going to be a scorching North Carolina summer day. One of those “jungle days,” where you got more moisture than air in each breath.

They’d completed a clockwise circle around the house, checking the garage and the crawl spaces underneath the house. Tango never alerted or growled. Just kept his head down and kept stalking along Lee’s side. Lee felt more secure with the dog there, and with his keen nose and guarding instincts, he would serve as an early warning of any human activity in the area—good or bad.

Back where they started, at the northeastern corner of the house, Lee veered off towards the edge of his yard, where his once-manicured lawn turned abruptly into woods. Heading directly north for a little less than 200 meters would land him in the Peterson’s back yard.

He moved slowly through the woods. The light of dawn on the gray trees gave everything a monochromatic look. Each new section of woods looked exactly like the last. The damp air and the dew covering the forest floor made movement quiet and limited the crunch of the leaves he stepped on. Aside from his own breath, rattling in the gas mask, the woods were silent.

Finally, the woods opened up into a clearing.

He was at the bottom of a steep hill, over the top of which he could just make out the roof-line of the Peterson’s house. To his left was a shallow gully with a shallow stream passing through it. Making his way through the woods, he felt that it was less and less likely that he would find anyone in the house. There was no reason for Jason to be there if his family was gone. He was a good guy, and a family man, and he wouldn’t let Marie and Stephanie sit in some FEMA camp alone. If he hadn’t made the evacuation, he’d be making his way across country to them.

Still...

He wanted to know that the Petersons’ had made it out. The thought of them in safety gave him a bit of hope, a positive feeling.

He and Tango made their way up the hill. More of the house came into view as they gained elevation. Unsure who—or what—might be in or around the house, Lee approached with caution, using trees as cover and concealment as he got closer to the house. Between stands of trees, he ran at a half crouch, keeping his eyes on the shadows.

He noted only one thing as he got closer: an upstairs light was on, causing a single window to glow with muted, yellow light.

This meant a few things to Lee. He knew that the Peterson’s, not being survival- minded people, had not rigged their house for off-grid electricity as he had. If there was a light burning in the house, it meant that the grid was still up. He only assumed that with all the evacuations in the surrounding area, the power plant employees would have also left, but perhaps they had been replaced by the National Guard or perhaps the power plants were on an automated system.

It wasn’t long into this thought that he noticed the light flicker. It was a candle. This told him something completely different. A candle did not burn indefinitely. If a candle was burning inside the house it meant
that someone was there now, or had been there very recently. Jason, or a squatter?

Lee still held firm to his opinion that Jason would not stick around when his family was elsewhere. Which meant someone was in the house that didn’t belong there. Lee considered how he would approach this situation.

On the one hand, breaking and entering became less of a criminal act and more of a necessity during times of social collapse when finding shelter was tantamount to surviving the night. On the other hand, it was his friend’s house and he felt a responsibility to keep it secure until they returned. Who knew when the crisis would be over and people would be returning home? He wouldn’t want the Peterson’s finding their home and belongings ransacked and stolen in the name of some hobo’s “survival.”

It was a gray area.

He would have to feel the situation out. The squatters could be shitbags, using the house as a base to set up road blocks or store whatever they steal. Or it could be a family travelling on foot, trying to find a safe place to spend the night.
Lee moved to the back of the house, Tango following at a trot. He kept his rifle trained on the windows, in case a lookout spotted them. The Aimpoint sight mounted on his M4 was dialed low so the red dot was not overpowering in the dim morning light.

At the back of the house, he moved left towards a set of wooden stairs leading to a large back deck, lifted up on stilts. The house was built into the hill so that the ground floor when looking at the front was the second floor when looking at the back.

The stairs creaked treacherously as Lee made his way up to the deck. He kept his eyes locked on the dark patio doors. They were sliding glass with no curtain covering them. Anyone inside was shrouded in the darkness and would see Lee long before he could see them. He moved quickly across the fatal funnel and posted on the left side of the sliding- glass doors. Closer to the glass he could see inside.

The doors led into the living room, which appeared mostly undisturbed. There was a TV, a coffee table with some magazines on it, two couches and a leather recliner that Lee could picture Jason sitting on every Sunday, watching football with a cold one in his hand. To the left of the room was a long hallway that led to the front door.

He tested the patio doors and found them locked. Shit.

He thought about his options. He could break the glass or try to find another entry point. Both had their risks. Whoever was in the house would almost definitely hear the glass break. Depending on how many were inside, and if they were armed or not, it could be a problem.

Lee was about to move away from the doors when he noticed someone was lying on the couch. He had missed it at first because they were lying with their back to the door, and in the half-light, blended in with all the pillows lying there. It was a girl, young. He saw the dark, curly hair.

Stephanie.

Lee wanted to get her attention, but knew she would be scared and not recognize him in his gas mask. He made a quick decision and pulled the mask off, clipping one of the straps to a carabineer on his chest rig. He thumped the window with a gloved knuckle and whispered: “Steph! Steph!”

She didn’t respond.

He was about to knock again, when he saw a dark figure standing in the hallway, watching him.

“Fuck,” he whispered and backed up a bit, bringing his rifle up.

The figure wasn’t concerned with his rifle. It hobbled forward with an awkward gait. It seemed like its legs and arms were stiff. Twice it almost fell, but recovered. Clutched in its right hand was what Lee thought might be a meat cleaver.

Stephanie still hadn’t moved. The concept hit him like a punch in the gut. Stephanie wasn’t sleeping. She was dead. And the lunatic with the meat cleaver was the one who had killed her.

Lee stepped back another foot as the man inside hobbled around the kitchen counter and raised the meat cleaver as though he didn’t realize the glass door was between them. Who the fuck was this guy and why was he in the Peterson’s house? Lee had never killed anyone in anger before, but now it seemed like an easy thing to do.

He lifted the rifle and put the red dot on the man’s chest, then pulled the trigger. The stillness of the morning was shattered, the bark of rifle-fire jabbed fiercely at Lee’s eardrums. The glass exploded inwards and through the shower of glittering shards, he saw the man still coming forward, meat cleaver raised.

Lee’s brain sent the signal to his finger: Don’t stop!

As Lee pulled the trigger repeatedly, watching the man’s chest lurch with each recoil, he saw the man’s demented eyes, saw his face, and for a split-second, thought he knew him. Then a round caught the man’s jaw and ripped it off, and the following round caved in the front of his skull.

The body dropped face first into the broken glass, but was still twitching erratically. Then Lee realized he was still firing and pulled his finger off the trigger.

Lee didn’t even look at Stephanie. In the back of his mind, he registered that she had not moved through the gunfire. He knew she was dead. Instead, his eyes were locked on the body lying before him. Something was wrong but in the moment he couldn’t think of it. He wanted to take the time to inspect the body, knew he had recognized that person, but also knew there could be other hostiles in the house.

Lee moved quickly into the living room and surveyed the scene as detachedly as possible. After giving Stephanie a cursory glance, he saw that her throat had been cut and that she had been dead for some time. The stench of decay in the room was almost unbearable. In the kitchen, which he could see from where he stood in the living room, he observed another body. He immediately knew it was Marie. He moved in closer and looked at her face, confirming his fear. Though bloating and decay had robbed her of her kind and caring face, he knew it was her. Someone had hacked away most of her midsection. The kitchen was covered in blood spatter, obscenely reminding Lee of a Jackson Pollock painting.

The wrongness of the man with the meat cleaver finally swam to the surface of his mind. The duty belt. He was wearing a patent-leather duty belt.

Lee stepped over to the body, keeping himself angled towards the hallway that led to the rest of the house, in case any other attacker came at him. He pushed hard with his foot, rolling the body onto its back.

Jason stared up at him with blank, dead eyes. Deep cuts scoured his face. Had he done that to himself? His hair had either fallen out in chunks, or he had ripped it out. What was left of his face to recognize him by was sunken and sallow. The whole bottom half of his face and neck was covered in dried blood stains. Like he had been eating the others.

Lee knelt down and sat back on his heels. He waited for emotion to overcome him, but it didn’t. He knew this was just how his brain worked. He would feel it later, in the cold quiet of the night, as he was trying to sleep. The bad memories always waited until the water was calm before they floated back to the surface.

He whispered into his closed fist, “What did you do, Jason?”

Jason would never answer. Nor would his family. Tango stood at the door and chuffed, as though trying to get Lee’s attention. Lee gave Jason one last look and then stood.

“Stay, Tango.” He didn’t want the dog walking through the broken glass. Chances were he’d be fine, but Lee didn’t have access to a vet or vet supplies if Tango got injured. Lee grabbed a throw blanket from over the top of the leather recliner that Jason would never use again. He tossed the blanket over the broken glass. “Come on,” he clicked his tongue.

Lee didn’t want to search the house. He didn’t want to be anywhere near it anymore. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to leave. But he pressed on, feeling dazed. He still had a job to do. He had to clear this place. Marie and Stephanie deserved to be laid to rest. He could do that much for them.

Tango walked carefully over the blanket. Lee led the way through the kitchen to the hallway. Tango was less interested in these bodies than he was in the girl lying on their front porch, but Lee told him to “leave it” anyways. He wasn’t sure whether Stephanie and Marie had been infected prior to being killed.

He made his way down the hall, the morning light just illuminating family photos that hung on the walls. Lee took a recent one down. All three of them close, smiling. He didn’t hang the picture back up, but laid it on the ground, propped against the wall.

He checked the living room, which was clear, and then headed up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, in the master bedroom, Lee found where Jason had been hiding, rotting in his insanity, his brain eaten away to only the most basic life functions. The candle Lee had seen flickering from outside still sat on a nightstand, burning with barely two inches of candle left jutting out of a pool of melted and re-hardened wax.

The bed sheets were smeared in blood. Lee wasn’t sure whether it was from one of the girls or from the apparent self-inflicted wounds to Jason’s face. Lee steered clear of it.

In the master bathroom, he discovered something else.

On the large mirror over the double sinks, "I’m sorry" was written in blood, over and over. It was also written on the walls, and on the countertops. Lee thought that perhaps Jason had managed a moment of clarity amongst all the violent, insane urges that took the life of his family, and realized what he had done.

Lee pictured him there, staring at his reflection in hatred, cutting his face with the meat cleaver and using the blood that seeped out to write his pathetic message on the walls. He wondered how long that moment of understanding had lasted before he slipped back into madness and was merely writing the words out of repetition, not comprehending what they meant or what he’d done. Lee left the bedroom, feeling light-headed. He checked on the bodies to make sure none had moved, which of course, they hadn’t. Then he made his way to the basement, and from there to the garage.

He took a shovel and tossed it out the garage door into the backyard. He then went back upstairs. He took Stephanie first, cradling her very carefully in his arms, as though he didn’t want to wake her. If he held the head up so the chin nearly touched the chest, he could barely see the gaping neck wound.

Even through the gas mask, the stench made him wretch several times. He laid her down in a flat spot in the backyard, just before the yard sloped off. He then took Marie’s body out, dragging this one by hooking his fingers under her arms.

He laid her down next to her daughter.

Then he stood there and thought for several long moments about whether or not to bury Jason with them. He must have come home before they left for the FEMA camp. It wouldn’t make sense for them to stick around once he’d come home, so he would have to have already been infected and symptomatic. He knew Jason worked 12-hour shifts, but perhaps, in the emergency, they had kept everyone on 24-hours. He either became infected a few days before somehow finding his way home, or he had been grossly exposed, causing the plague to metastasize faster and mentally crippling him far sooner than he had thought it would.

Lee decided the plague was to blame, not the man.

If there was a heaven, Jason was in it for the things he’d done in his life, not for the things he had done while his brain was halfway eaten away. He deserved to be buried next to his family. He had loved them both immensely, and Jason the man would not have been capable of harming them.

Lee made his way back up to the house and knelt over the body of the man that had once been Jason. He noted that he was still in full uniform. Jason would have known he was infected, either through trauma resulting in gross exposure or due to the presence of symptoms. In either case, Lee felt that Jason had returned to see his family one last time before dying, not realizing that FURY was about to turn him against them.

Lee went through the two front uniform pockets, finding a crumpled note. The handwriting was shaky at best, scrawled in black ink.

If I am dead, please give this note to Marie and Stephanie Peterson at 110 Morrison Street. Steph and Marie, I was bitten in the arm by someone infected with the plague. This was earlier today and already I am showing symptoms. I tried to get home to see you both one last time, but I guess I didn’t make it. Please know that I love you both and if I knew that I would end up leaving you forever, I would have never left the house to go to work. I’m so sorry.
You husband and father

Lee rolled up Jason’s sleeve. The right arm seemed fine, but there was a thick bandage on the left. He peeled it back and revealed a deep bite mark in the forearm, just above the wrist.

In his death, Jason had proven himself useful again, providing Lee with an invaluable piece of information: gross exposure would result in becoming symptomatic within hours, and “turning” presumably soon after that. In a way, Lee felt relieved. If FURY bacterium had been on the knife the girl had used to stab him with the previous day, he would have been grossly exposed and already showing symptoms.

After folding the note and putting it back in Jason’s shirt pocket, he grabbed him by the feet because it was the least bloody part, and dragged him outside. What was left of Jason’s head unceremoniously bounced down the steps. Lee would have liked to give him more dignity, but under the circumstances, he felt that burying the bodies was the most dignity he could provide.

223shooteresc
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Re: The Remaining

Post by 223shooteresc » Thu Oct 27, 2011 10:46 am

thanks for the new chapter, good stuff

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KYZHunters
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Re: The Remaining

Post by KYZHunters » Thu Oct 27, 2011 12:08 pm

Wow. Shit hot.
crypto wrote:It's not that you were being "harsh" so much as a "douchebag".

Laager
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Re: The Remaining

Post by Laager » Thu Oct 27, 2011 7:34 pm

Great story.........Reminds me of something I heard many years ago from a Sergeant.....something along the lines of complacency kills, being paranoid is the only reason I’m still alive. There was a lot more to it.....but something about being on the receiving end of a B40 and being in a latrine.....real nasty. :shock:
“Complacency kills. Paranoia is the reason I’m still alive.” If we do happen to make contact, I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of ya.

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Re: The Remaining

Post by AeroRat » Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:45 am

You got my attention. :mrgreen:

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Re: The Remaining

Post by nathat » Fri Oct 28, 2011 10:12 am

I'm glad I found this, keep going!

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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Fri Oct 28, 2011 2:59 pm

Thanks for all the comments. I will try to get Chapter 6 posted by tonight or tomorrow. It's already up at http://www.the-remaining.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; if you don't want to wait.

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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Sat Oct 29, 2011 10:16 am

**This is chapter 6. Chapter 7 will be on http://www.the-remaining.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; later today.**

It took him two hours to dig a hole wide enough for all three of the bodies to lie, shoulder-to-shoulder. The depth was short of 6 feet, but deep enough to cover them for quite a while. The soil in the backyard wasn’t bad, but after a few feet he’d hit the base of southern red clay that was near impossible to dig through without power tools. Despite the difficulty, he continued digging for another foot before he had exhausted himself.

Now it was almost 0900 hours.

The sun was already blazing, as he had predicted. His go-to-hell pack, chest rig, and M4 were propped in the dirt, next to the bodies. His combat shirt was dirty and soaked with sweat. Beside his equipment, completely ignoring the dead bodies, Tango was lying, watching Lee work and panting.

Lee tossed the shovel out of the hole and climbed out. He broke open a bottle of water, drank half and gave half to Tango.

He laid Marie in the ground first, then Jason. Then, between them both, he set Stephanie down. The three of them together made him think of the family portrait inside the house.

Before shoveling in the dirt, Lee decided to take Jason’s duty firearm and the two spare magazines from his belt. It was a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 caliber. A decent round, right between 9mm and .45 caliber on the power scale. He put these items in his go-to-hell pack, then got to shoveling.

When he had shoveled the hole full and tamped down the dirt, he went inside and retrieved the family photograph he’d looked at earlier. He thought about removing the photo and keeping it as a reminder of the good times, but decided it should remain with the Petersons. He placed it on the ground to mark their graves.

He was in the process of gearing up again when Tango suddenly stood, his ears erect. He looked around, then pivoted in the direction of Morrison Street and let out a low growl.

Lee froze in place, ceasing all movement and listening hard for whatever it was that had Tango all perked up. After a moment of hearing nothing out of the ordinary, Lee quickly clipped his chest rig in place, then slung into his M4. He knew better than to dismiss a warning from Tango. He grabbed his go-to-hell pack by a shoulder strap and sprinted as quietly as he could for the Peterson’s house.

He flew fast up the stairs and into the living room, wishing there was a way to secure the shattered sliding glass door. He went down the hall to the front door, checked to ensure it was locked, then peered out a nearby window. Beside him Tango whined and pranced around, sensing Lee’s tension.

Lee took the moment he was at the window to pull his pack on and tighten up the straps. He watched for another minute, not seeing anything. “What did you hear?” Lee broke away from the window and quickly ascended the stairs to the second level. He turned left, away from the master bedroom and into Stephanie’s bedroom. Everything was pink and flowers and princesses. If Lee had a moment to let his heart break, he was sure it would have.

The blinds were open, revealing an elevated vantage point of Morrison Street. Now he heard something. An engine? Definitely the sound of someone yelling...or screaming. It sounded like a man...make that men. Like cat-calls. What Jason might have called “hootin’ and hollerin’.” And the engine was definitely there. A revving engine, something powerful, like a V8.

The view of Morrison Street was narrow. Between the Peterson’s house and Lee’s house was a thick strand of forest that blocked any view of the road to the south. And Lee simply could not get a decent angle on the road to the north, though he knew there were no trees blocking it in that direction.

Coming from the south, on Morrison Street, Lee could see a red vehicle flashing through the trees, then finally came into view. It was a red pickup truck, a big dually with large off-road tires. In the back were two men armed with long guns, though he couldn’t tell whether they were rifles or shotguns. Lee couldn’t see through the windows of the vehicle and couldn’t tell how many more were inside. The pickup truck slowed. The men appeared to be looking for something.

Lee felt his heart pounding his entire body.

The men in the back began pointing wildly towards the wood-line. The pickup truck revved and lurched forward, lumbering off the road, causing one of the men in the bed to nearly fall out. Lee looked into the southern wood-line. Bursting out of the trees were two figures, a man and a boy.

Lee swore and pressed himself against the pink bedroom wall, keeping an eye on the two running figures. They were running in the distinct way that a rabbit runs from a pack of hounds. He leaned forward and saw the pickup truck skidding to a stop, kicking up dirt and grass. They were about a 100 yards from the two running figures. The doors to the pickup truck opened and the two men in the back hopped out. Three more men exited the vehicle, all armed with what appeared to be shotguns and hunting rifles.

The man and boy had been heading for the house, but knew they wouldn’t make it. They had stopped running and the man stood, chest out, facing the five armed men from the pickup. The boy, barely in his teens, huddled behind the man who Lee presumed was his father.

The armed men slowed their walk to a strut and began talking loudly and laughing. Taunting. They fanned out as if preparing to flank the man and his boy. He couldn’t make out the details of the conversation but heard the words “fuck” and “pretty little boy” and that was enough.

“Tango, come.” Lee bolted out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and out the back door. Tango followed him eagerly.

Lee told Tango to stay a few feet back, then took the southwest corner of the house and peered around the brick and mortar base. Beyond the overgrown grass, Lee could see the father still shielding his son, but sidestepping towards the house. The man appeared to be fumbling in his pocket for something and finally produced what looked like a small, silver revolver.

“Don’t...” Lee whispered, fishing through a pouch in his chest rig and retrieving a 3x magnifier that he quickly attached to his M4, directly behind his scope.

The man pointed the revolver at the approaching gunmen and yelled. “Get the fuck back! I will shoot you!”

The man spoke with a thick accent that Lee pegged immediately as Arabic.

One of the men from the pickup spoke, presumably the leader. “If there were any bullets in that thing, you would have shot us already.”

Lee found the man’s cold logic bore the ring of truth. He figured the revolver was empty, carried for show, or possibly in the hopes of eventually finding ammunition for it.

The leader raised a hunting rifle and pointed it at the man. “And we don’t want you anyways, you hadji fuck.”

The Arabic man’s head snapped back, and a red mist spewed out. He toppled backward. The boy reached out for his father, then withdrew his hand and turned in Lee’s direction, running at full sprint. Close behind the boy, the five men all started laughing and jogging after him.

Lee had very little time to work.

As the boy cleared the corner, Lee grabbed him up, lightening quick, and clamped a hand over his mouth before he could scream. He pulled the boy in close—he could not have weighed more than 100 pounds—and whispered harshly in his ear. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here to help you.” That was all he had time for. The boy went limp, and Lee hauled him up, wondering if he’d fainted.

Holding him with one arm, Lee sprinted for the trees with everything he had. His best bet was to be at the bottom of that hill before the men from the pickup cleared the corner. The horizon of the hill would hide them and the attackers would naturally--hopefully--assume the boy had gone into the house and would waste time searching it while Lee found them a better spot to hide.

His lungs heaving and legs burning, Lee made it to the hill and let his downward momentum take over. Tango ran beside him, looking up curiously at the boy. Lee listened past the pounding of his own heart in his ears for a surprised yell or anything that would tell him he had been discovered.

He made it to the bottom of the hill, but didn’t stop. He made for the shallow gully and the stream. If he hit the stream he could use that like a highway and take the boy to a point of relative safety, though he kept thinking about the fat fuck that had shot this boy’s father.

Reestablish law and order.

Another mission objective.

He remembered the sociology professor that had taught the Coordinators about different theories of how the world would be after a social collapse. “Swift and brutal justice will be the only way to break through the chaos. You will have to strike terror into not only those that have done wrong, but are even thinking of doing wrong. You have to be the boogeyman they check for underneath their beds. What I’m talking about isn’t arrest and trial by jury. Those techniques are only applicable in a civilized world. I am talking about merciless execution. Putting a bullet in the back of someone’s head for something you’d receive a citation for nowadays. I hope you are all ready to do this, because in the post-collapse world, anything less is weakness.”

Fine by me, Professor.

Lee made it to the creek bed and knelt down onto his knees. He stood the boy up, who looked a little dazed, and shook him. “Hey! Wake up, kid!” The kid looked at him, still confused. “You understand me? You speak English?” The kid nodded. “Okay, come on. We have to run a little further.” Lee grabbed the kid by the hand while Tango stuck his wet nose in the kid’s face to see what smells Lee had been keeping from him. Lee swatted his nose away. “Leave it, Tango. Come on.”

Lee ran hunched over to keep his upper body under the edge of the gully and out of sight. They ran for perhaps another 100 yards, until Lee could not see the house any more. He found a fallen tree just over the top of the gully. The root system created a natural cave of dirt. Perfect to hide the boy.

Lee rolled over the side of the gully, then hauled the boy up. Tango followed with a swift jump and sniffed around the area. The boy was out of breath. Lee slung the go-to-hell pack off and set it on the ground in the little dirt cave. He patted the top of the bag. “Come here, kid. Sit down.”

The boy shuffled over, obviously scared. Either the water from the stream had splashed up on him or he had wet his pants. Lee didn’t blame him if he had. He’d seen grown men piss their pants in less harrowing situations.

When the boy had sat down on the pack, Lee knelt on his knees again, so they were at eye-level. He checked the boy over to make sure he wasn’t wounded anywhere. “What’s your name, buddy?”

“Sameer,” he said between breaths. “Everyone calls me Sam.”

“Okay, Sam.” Lee finished checking him over. No apparent injuries. “Are you thirsty?”

Sam nodded.

“Here...” Lee motioned for him to stand, which he did. Lee pulled out a couple of water bottles, giving one to Sam and keeping the other. He uncapped it, drank two long gulps, then splashed some of it on his face. He dove back into the pack and pulled out the M&P .40 he’d taken from Jason.

Sam seemed nervous about the weapon.

“How old are you, Sam?” Lee checked the weapon to make sure a round was loaded.

“I’m almost 13.” Sam seemed to do a few calculations in his head. “Next month.”

“Really?” Lee smiled and hoped it was convincing. “I thought you were 16. You look pretty old.”

Sam smiled weakly.

“Listen, Sam. As far as I’m concerned, you handled yourself like a man back there.” He put a hand on the kid’s shoulder and squeezed. “You’re a man in my book.”

Sam nodded by way of acknowledgement, then took a long gulp from his bottle of water.

Lee held the pistol towards him. “Sam, have you ever used one of these?”

Sam stared at it. Eventually he shook his head.

“Okay. Listen really closely. You have to pay attention.” Sam looked from the pistol to Lee. “I’m going to put this on the ground right next to you. This is not a toy and you do not play with it. In fact, I don’t even want you to touch it. The only time its okay for you to touch it, is if you see one of those guys that was chasing you, okay? Then all I want you to do is pick it up, hold it just like this, point it at them, and I want you to pull the trigger three times.” Lee held up three fingers. “Three times, Sam. If he’s not down after that, pull the trigger three more times. Okay? Did you get all of that?”

“Don’t touch it.” Sam nodded. “If I see a bad guy, shoot him three times. If he doesn’t die, shoot him three more times.”

Lee smiled. Kids grow up fast these days. Perhaps even faster during social collapse. “That’s right.” Lee set the pistol down. “You ever play Call of Duty?”

“Yeah.”

Lee nodded, somewhat encouraged. “It’s just like in Call of Duty. Just remember that."

“Just like in Call of Duty. Okay.” Lee stood up and patted his leg. “Tango! Come!” to Sam he said, “You like dogs?”

“Sure,” Sam nodded.

“This is Tango. He’s gonna help keep you safe.” Lee rubbed Tango behind the ears, then pulled him towards Sam. “Let him smell you, Sam.”

Sam offered his hand for Tango to smell and lick. Lee snapped his fingers to get Tango’s attention, then pointed to the ground at Sam’s feet. “Tango, guard it, boy. Guard it!” Tango sat down in front of Sam. The kid was already small for his age, but next to the big dog he looked shrunken.

“Alright. I gotta go back up there for a little bit. No matter what you hear, don’t move from this spot. Stay right here with Tango until I get back.”

Sam nodded and Lee turned to leave. “Mister...”

Lee turned and looked at him.

“Are you gonna kill those men?”

No need for baby-talk. Lee nodded. “Yes.”

Sam just looked at him, but didn’t respond.

Lee turned and dipped back into the gully and was gone.

***

Nearly ten minutes had elapsed since they shot Sam’s father.

Lee’s mind was hot and cold. He was a pressure cooker, building heat each time he replayed the image of Sam’s father and the bloody cloud exploding out of his head. Sam’s eyes, trying to make sense of it all. The men’s faces as they laughed. But through the anger his hands were still, his heart steady, and his mind a blank slate. He had no words, only images of death. With no remorse, he was going to kill everyone.

He crept quietly but speedily through the creek bed, then up over the lip and into the lower part of the Peterson’s backyard. He took cover behind a tree with a thick trunk and listened for a moment. Over the background noise of birds and insects, Lee could hear voices and what sounded like moving furniture.

They were ripping the house apart looking for Sam.

Lee darted from his point of cover, diagonally across the southwestern corner of the property and back into the wood-line of the forest between his house and the Peterson’s. Then he stalked, low to the ground, just inside the shadows of the trees, moving parallel to the wood-line, towards the house. With each step he carefully avoided twigs and dry patches of leaves. His feet rolled slowly heel-to-toe, his movements noticeable only to his own attuned ears. To anyone else, they made no more sound than the movements of a cat.

He stopped and knelt to the ground, keeping everything slow and deliberate now that he was in view of the house. Quick movements drew the eyes.

He smelled cigarette smoke.

From his perch about 50 yards out from the house, Lee spotted the smoker. He stood on the back deck with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder, looking out into the woods while he enjoyed his smoke. Cigarettes were a sign that the enemy felt safe, relaxed, and in control.

He had the advantage. He already knew how many men there were. With one on the deck, four more remained inside. Including Fat Boy, the man that had shot Sam’s dad. From where Lee sat inside the woods, he could just barely make out the bed of the red pickup truck. He only had to slither a few more yards through the brush to get an angle on the truck that allowed him to see inside. One of the occupants had left a back door open, and the way the truck was parked, it provided Lee with a perfect view of the inside.

There was no one inside the truck. Lee thanked God for the first stroke of luck all day. A man in a red hat joined Smoker on the deck and they started conversing. The conversation was light-hearted, and included much back-slapping and laughing. These boys were raucous and it made Lee think of drunken rednecks. They stood around grab-assing while their buddies tried to find a 13-year-old boy, while that boy’s father lay dead in the dirt.

Lee wanted to pull Red Hat into the shadows and slide his Ka-Bar deep into his guts, working it around until he hit the heart and lungs. He wanted to hold his hand over Red Hat’s mouth and watch as the life fled from his eyes. He wanted to know that the last image Red Hat would ever see would be Lee’s smiling face.

That would be satisfying in the moment, but had little chance of success.

A half-dozen different plans ran through Lee’s mind. But sometimes the best plan was no plan at all. What Lee had was initiative. He knew that he could take out both Red Hat and Smoker before they had a chance to react. That left Fat Boy and two others inside the house. The only question remaining was, will they fight or flee?

Lee felt confident they would die either way.

Lee settled down into a prone position, most of his body hidden behind a thick tree, just his head and rifle visible, though it was difficult for someone in the bright sunshine to see inside the shaded woods. They probably wouldn’t see him, even if he was standing up and wearing hunter orange.

He took a few deep breaths and pulled the trigger on the exhale. He took out Smoker first with a single shot to the temple. Red Hat watched his buddy fall over, his own face splattered with brains, blood, and skull fragments. His mouth opened in terror, but he never had a chance to yell. Lee put two in his chest and tried for The Mozambique, but the target was already falling back and the third shot went a few inches high.

Lee eased back into a kneeling position and waited. He could hear shouting from inside the house.

“Kenny? What the fuck was that?”

Lee waited for them to find out.

“Fuck! JC, they’re both dead!”

“What?”

“I think someone shot ‘em!”

“Get back!”

The rest of it was muffled, as the remaining three men retreated into the house. They would either try to peer out the windows and find Lee—which would cost them their lives —or they would make a run for the pickup truck and try to escape.

The sound of the front door slamming and footsteps across the front porch answered Lee’s question.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Moving with controlled urgency, Lee pushed the barrel of his M203 grenade launcher forward, then extracted a 40mm grenade which resembled a giant bullet, shoved it into the barrel, and locked the barrel back into place. He elevated the weapon and pulled the trigger on the launcher. The grenade flew out with a heavy thump. Lee was worried that his timing might have been off, but it was spot-on. Just as the three men came into view, sprinting for the pickup truck and closing at about 30 feet, the 40mm grenade arced out of the sky and the cab of the pickup went up in a white flash and a billow of smoke.

All three men lifted their hands to shield their faces and fell flat on their backs.

Lee came out of the wood-line with his M4 leveled and firing. The first man tried to get up and grab his gun, so Lee put two in him, one ripping into his shoulder and the other punching a neat hole in his neck. The man fell back, choking on his own blood.

Fat Boy and a man in a plaid shirt were still sitting on the ground and both threw their rifles away and held up their hands.

Lee put one in Plaid’s chest at about 15 feet out. The man grabbed his chest and started rolling around, wheezing and letting out pathetic sounds. What right did he have to plead for mercy or scream in pain? The man they’d killed only a short time ago had died defending his son and he’d done it in silence.

Fat Boy stared at Plaid with his mouth hanging open. He was paralyzed with shock. He looked at Lee and snapped back into the moment. If he had been a fighting man he would have known that it was over anyways and made a break for his rifle so that he would go out swinging.

But Fat Boy was just a fat boy, just an out of shape hillbilly with a taste for teenage boys. His heart wasn’t made of tough stuff and his mind had never been combat hardened. He only knew fear—how to induce it, and how to feel it.

Lee was standing now within a few feet of both men. Plaid continued to moan loudly and roll on the ground. Lee felt that two men to dig a grave was one too many. Still holding Fat Boy’s gaze, Lee finished Plaid off with two more rounds. He didn’t watch where they hit, but Plaid was silent after that.

“Please don’t fucking kill me! Please!” the fat man started crying.

Lee shook his head. “Stop crying.”

Fat Boy whimpered and sobbed.

“Seriously. Stop crying.” Lee kicked his legs. “Get up. Come on.”

Fat Boy stumbled to his feet, hunched over and cowering. He’d been so bold and brash such a short time ago. Now he was reduced to groveling and...pissing himself. A dark stain was growing on his crotch and spreading down the length of his right leg.

Lee motioned the man forward, which the man complied with, hesitantly, like a beaten dog. As he got within arms reach, Lee punched him in the throat, then planted his other fist deep in the man’s jiggling gut, doubling him over. The man fell sideways onto the ground, hacking and coughing.

Lee wanted to do more, but he also wanted the man alive a little longer. “Relax and breathe. You’re not injured, you’re just hurt. Give it a minute.”

Fat Boy rolled onto his hands and knees and wheezed for a few moments before regaining his wind.

“Up.” Lee poked him in the back of the neck with the barrel of his M4. “You have some work to do.”

***

Fat Boy dug like his life depended on it. Which it did. Lee was going to kill him anyways, but he let Fat Boy believe that there was hope.

He told the man that if he looked like he was taking his time with the digging, or being disrespectful towards the body of Sam’s father, that Lee was going to gut shoot him and leave him to die, then finish the digging himself. Fat Boy had four dead friends that bore witness to the fact that Lee was willing and able to carry out that level of violence.

It took the man about a half hour to dig a grave that Lee felt was of suitable depth to bury Sam’s father in. He then escorted Fat Boy at gunpoint to collect the body and carry it to the grave. Before taking the body, Lee searched it and saw the man was wearing a gold watch and took it off his wrist for Sam. Fat Boy struggled at first, then finally was able to pick the body up and carry it over his shoulder.

After Sam’s father had been laid to rest, Lee ordered Fat Boy to remove the shoelaces on his right boot. Fat Boy complied and provided Lee with a two-foot length of cordage which Lee used to bind Fat Boy’s hands behind his back. At gunpoint, Lee march Fat Boy down the hill and into the woods.

“Where are you taking me?”

Lee felt no reason to lie to the man any longer. “To the boy whose father you killed. The boy that you were gonna rape.”

Fat Boy stopped in his tracks and looked at Lee, terrified. “Why you doin’ that?”

“Because I’m going to let him kill you if he wants to.”

Fat Boy’s eyes erupted in tears again. “No! Please mister!” he got down on his knees. “I wasn’t gonna rape him! Why you gonna let him kill me over nothing? I ain’t done nothing wrong!”

Lee looked at the man with indifference. “You’ve done a lot wrong.”

Fat Boy’s mind scrambled for something, anything to argue his case. Lee cut him off before he could continue arguing. “You murdered a man today, you know it and I know it. And I watched you do it with a smile on your face, which makes me think, maybe this isn’t the first time you’ve done it. So for the boy’s father and anyone else you’ve murdered, I would dearly like to put a bullet in your brain. But I’m going to let the boy decide what to do with you. So you can either keep walking and have a chance— however slim—of the boy sparing your life, or you can stop right here and I will gladly do the job myself.”

Fat Boy looked Lee in the eye and tried to match his cold determination, but couldn’t muster the stones and looked down at his feet. Then he turned and continued walking in the creek bed.

It was only a short distance before Lee saw the top of the root system where Sam and Tango were hiding. He pushed Fat Boy down to his knees and looked up over the top of the gully. “Sam?”

Sam’s head poked up as well as Tango’s.

Lee motioned with his head for Sam to come over. He walked over, hesitantly, holding a small twig in his hands that he was nervously peeling the bark off of. Lee felt conflicted about what he was going to ask the kid, but it somehow felt more just than simply killing the man after he’d finished digging the grave. It was Sam’s father the man killed. It should be Sam’s decision what happens to him.

As Sam made his way over, Lee knelt down and whispered quietly in Fat Boy’s ear, “Don’t say a word. I promise you’ll regret it.”

Sam slid down into the gully, his khaki pants now smudged with mud. He stood a safe distance away and stared at Fat Boy where he knelt. His expression was unreadable to Lee, and again he second-guessed his decision to bring the man to Sam.

But it was a fucked up world and this day would always be a dark blotch in this young man’s mind. Sometimes revenge heals, sometimes it makes things hurt worse. It wasn’t for Lee to decide how Sam dealt with this.

Lee stepped over to the Sam, putting himself between him and Fat Boy, but angling himself so Fat Boy was still in his field of vision. He put his hand on Sam’s shoulder and spoke in low tones.

“You know who that is, right?”

Sam’s eyes drifted to Fat Boy and he nodded after a moment.

“And you know what he did?”

“He killed my dad.”

“Yes. Whatever you decide to do with him, he’ll deserve it.” Lee dipped his head down to the kid’s level so that their eyes made contact. “Look at me, Sam. You know the world is very different than it was a little while ago. You know how things have changed. We don’t have police and court rooms to take care of people like him anymore, so now we have to do it ourselves. And it’s ugly, and sometimes it hurts, but it has to be done. You understand me?”

Sam nodded slowly, looking at the crying man on his knees. His eyes were cold, which put a chill down the back of Lee’s neck. He didn’t look so small now. “Yeah, I understand.”

“It was you that he hurt, so it’s up to you what you do with him, okay?”

Sam’s jaw muscles bunched, his lips becoming a tight line. His was a face built for smiling, not for scowling, and when the expression came on his face, it was disconcerting. “Can I borrow your gun?”

The way he said it was as if he was asking Lee to loan him a dollar. Lee didn’t think about it too long. He shook his head. “I’ll do it. You just decide.”

“Okay...” Sam seemed partially relieved.

Sam walked forward and looked at Fat Boy, who knew he was about to die and was weeping uncontrollably now. The man had not an ounce of courage to stay his tears at least for the moment of his death. Instead he blabbered on, snot running down his upper lip and bubbling with each mumbled syllable.

The young man looked at Fat Boy for a very long time, then leaned in close and whispered to the man something that Lee could not hear, then he turned and walked back to Lee. “Let him go,” he said calmly.

Lee watched him climb the side of the gully and sit back down with Tango who stuck his nose into Sam’s neck and licked him happily. Looking back at Fat Boy, Lee saw the man’s eyes were heavy-lidded and his mouth hung agape. He looked numb.

Lee slid his pistol back into its place and walked over to him. He tapped him on the shoulder, which did not seem to break into his daze. “Come on.”

The man on the ground turned his head slowly, visibly trembling and looked up at Lee. “Are you really going to let me go?”

Lee shrugged. “The kid doesn’t want to kill you.”

Fat Boy stumbled to his feet, eager to be released. “I swear I won’t come back here."

“Mm-hm.” Lee smiled humorlessly. “Start walking.”

They walked in silence back through the streambed, Fat Boy stumbling along with his hands still tied behind his back, and Lee following. They reached the back edge of the Peterson’s property and Lee instructed Fat Boy to stop. The man stopped then looked back toward Lee.

Fat Boy took a shaky breath. “I promise. You’ll never see me again.”

Lee nodded and withdrew his Ka-Bar from its sheath on his chest rig. “I know.”

Then he reached around and gripped Fat Boy by the forehead, applying rearward pressure, and inserted the Ka-Bar into the base of his skull, just above vertebrae C1, severing his spinal column. Fat Boy’s body became a 250-pound sack of concrete and immediately collapsed. Lee wiped the blade off on his pants, then slid it back into its sheath and walked back towards Sam and Tango, leaving Fat Boy where he fell.

223shooteresc
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Posts: 172
Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2011 10:38 am

Re: The Remaining

Post by 223shooteresc » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:47 pm

nice ending to a waste of human flesh, good chapter

dantheremaining
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Posts: 70
Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:16 pm

Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Mon Oct 31, 2011 12:41 pm

**Sorry it took so long to get this one posted. Been a busy weekend. This is chapter 7.**

Lee found Sam sitting on his go-to-hell pack with his arms wrapped around his knees, and his head hanging down. As he got closer, Lee realized the kid was crying. He stopped where he was, wondering if he should give him a minute. He swore under his breath, directing his anger at himself. He should not have brought Fat Boy down there, should not have put that decision on Sam. That was too much for a 13-year-old to handle. Aside from all of that, the kid was still processing the death of his father. Once the adrenaline subsides, the mind has a chance to start replaying what has happened, and that’s when the emotions start to break through.

Lee was quite familiar with that phenomenon, having lost men in his unit while in Iraq. One to sniper fire and two others to a roadside bomb that took out their Humvee. In both cases, he hadn’t felt much during the incidents, except for fear and some panic, a feeling of helplessness, like there was something he could be doing to help them, but could never figure out what it was. Later, off patrol and back behind the wire, he would lie in his bed and stare at the ceiling, overcome with a heavy sadness that felt like being trapped in a strange dream with no way to wake up.

Lee remembered the terrible emptiness, and along with it, the loneliness.

He walked quietly up to Sam. Still edgy after what had transpired, Sam jumped when he heard a twig snap and looked up to find Lee kneeling down beside him. Sam wiped his eyes quickly, then set his chin on his arms and regarded the forest floor.

Lee took a long, deep breath and stared at the ground along with him. “You made a good choice, Sam. Don’t ever feel bad about showing someone mercy.”

“I don’t,” Sam mumbled, his voice thick with tears.

They sat in the quiet of the forest for a long moment. Lee listened to the sounds of the forest, hearing the occasional small branch falling, and the incessant chatter of birds, lost in conversations shouted from one end of the woods to the other.

Finally, Lee spoke. “What was your dad’s name?”

“Labib.” Sam gave Lee a sidelong glance. “What’s your name?”

“Lee Harden,” he extended his hand, which Sam shook once. “I’m a captain with the US Army.”

“The army?” Sam looked incredulous. “I thought the army was gone.”

Lee suddenly felt like the breath had been knocked out of him. He knew the government would not be at work in the chaos of a post-collapse world, but hearing it come from a kid’s mouth as common knowledge that there was no US Army still hit him hard. He didn’t let the affects show and smiled with a confidence he didn’t feel. “Oh, we’re not gone. We’re just working a little more quietly than normal.”

“Where are all your guys? Don’t you guys work in teams?” Sam looked behind Lee as though perhaps there were others he had missed.

“Not me kiddo. I’m trained to work alone.”

Sam nodded. “You did just kill a bunch of guys all by yourself.”

Lee wasn’t sure what to say.

Sam continued. “Is my dad still up there?”

Lee placed the butt of his M4 on the ground and leaned on it. “Yeah, but he’s buried now, Sam.”

“You mean I can’t see him?” Sam’s lip tensed as he tried to hold back more tears.

Lee thought about telling the boy that he didn’t want to see his father like that, considered telling him that it wasn’t his father, it was just a body, but it all seemed so trite, so he didn’t say anything at all. He just shook his head so the boy knew that he couldn’t see his father. He reached into the cargo pocket of his combat pants and withdrew the gold watch he’d removed from Labib before burying him. He looked at the watch-face, wiped a smudge of dirt off with his thumb, then extended it towards Sam. “Here.”

Sam took the watch and looked at it, unable to hold the tears back.

“I’m sorry you can’t see him.”

Sam nodded and held the watch in a tight grip as he cried again. Lee wasn’t accustomed to dealing with people in crisis, let alone teenagers. He sat down on the ground and let Sam cry for a moment longer. Lee had become acutely aware of the amount of time they had spent outdoors and the amount of noise and fire and smoke he had created during the firefight. He wasn’t sure what kind of attention it would bring, but he was sure he wanted to be inside when it came.

He still had a viable safe house, and he intended to use it.

As if to reiterate what Lee was thinking, somewhere in the woods, a very human voice screamed out with very inhuman anger. Lee immediately remembered the crazed girl from under his front steps and the sound she’d made when she’d seen him. It was the same, insane, rage-filled screech. And it wasn’t too far away.

Lee shouldered his rifle and his eyes scanned the woods. “Come on, Sam…we should get indoors.”

The trio moved through the woods without speaking. Sam had put away his grief for the moment. His eyes were clear and focused. He scanned from right to left in a constant arc, as cautious as any good soldier on patrol. At first, Lee was impressed by this, wondering how Sam had learned to scan and move so quietly through the woods. Then he realized that, though he himself was new to this world, it was the harsh reality that Sam had lived the past month in. Necessity and survival were brutal tutors, and they only gave pass or fail.

The screeching from the woods began to sound less like rage to Lee, and more like a beckoning call. Like the howl of a wolf on the scent of game. The similarity made him pick up the pace a bit—they were still a hundred yards from the house. After a few minutes, Lee could swear he heard an answer to the screeching, coming from the opposite sides of the woods.

Boxing them in.

Lee reached behind him and grabbed Sam by the arm, pulling him closer as they walked. He spoke in a low voice. “You ever hear that before?”

Sam nodded vigorously. “They heard the shooting.”

“Are they always attracted to loud noises?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever seen them…team up?”

“Not in the beginning, but lately me and dad have seen them in groups.”

“How big?”

Sam shrugged. “Four? Five? Once we saw about ten of them.”

“Why aren’t they killing each other?”

“They do kill each other.” Sam scanned the woods again. Then spoke more quietly. “Dad says they’re like wild dogs—sometimes they get along, other times they fight and kill each other, but they’re never friendly towards us.”

Lee didn’t ask any more questions and Sam didn’t elaborate any further. They came to the tree line of Lee’s yard, but didn’t exit the woods. Lee stood for a moment and took a good look to make sure there wasn’t anyone around, normal or infected. The noon sun was hot and sticky and even the birds were growing quieter, unwilling to spend energy making their usual racket in this heat. Just the insects chirped now, loud and insistent, the jungle- like air a natural habitat for them.

Satisfied that it was clear, Lee wiped sweat from his eyebrows and stepped out into the open, hunched over and moving quickly to limit his time exposed. He made straight for the front porch, Sam following and Tango bringing up the rear.

Lee kept an eye on the body of the dead girl lying on the front porch as he opened his front door and motioned Sam and Tango to go inside. Sam stared sideways at the body as he moved slowly past it, hypnotized by death. Lee wondered how much of it the kid had seen in the past month, how indelibly screwed up he would be for the rest of his life, or whether he was constructed of the type of soul that shrugs things off and keeps moving on.

Once Sam and Tango were inside the house, Lee slipped in behind them and closed the door. The air conditioning was glorious, and felt almost arctic on his sweat- soaked body. He’d done his time in the brutal heat, and even in places with high humidity, but there was something uniquely cloying and irritating about a North Carolina summer. Of course, the presence of central air made all of that better.

Sam sounded astonished when he spoke. “Is this your house? You have air conditioning?”

“Yeah, it’s mine. Feels good, doesn’t it?”

Sam immediately sat on Lee’s couch and leaned back with his arms out. “How do you have air conditioning? I thought nobody had electricity anymore.”

Lee dropped his go-to-hell pack and fished out two more bottles of water. “It’s running on solar power and battery cells. We have lights, air conditioning, I even have a computer and TV downstairs.” Lee pulled a water bottle out of his pack and passed it to Sam. “We’ll go down into my bunker in a minute, but I need to ask you some questions.”

Lee sat himself down on a lounge chair across from the couch. Normally, sweaty, dirty clothes would not be allowed in his living room, but he supposed it really didn’t matter now. He took a long drink from his own water bottle, then looked at Sam. “Tell me about you and your dad.”

Sam seemed to sink back into the couch, somber again. “We used to live in a big house in Apex with my mom and my sister. Then the plague came and everyone died.”

Lee realized Sam wasn’t going to spill a lot of information. He would have to ask the questions to get the answers. “What did your dad do for work?”

“He worked for a computer security company. Protected computers from hackers and stuff. He was really good at it. Other companies were always trying to get him to move and offering him more money, but he liked Apex. Plus my mom was a school teacher and didn’t want to leave.” Sam looked up at the ceiling and Lee could see his eyes glistening. “We had a pool in our backyard. A big pool with lights inside of it that changed colors. Dad spent a lot of money to have it built last summer. By the time it was done, it was too cold to swim. We barely got to use it before all this happened.”

Lee leaned forward a bit. “And do you know what happened?”

“Not really. Dad says someone attacked America with a plague and it was making people crazy. Said it was like rabies and made people attack each other. Mom got sick and dad told me to hide in the basement. After that I didn’t see mom or my sister again. This was about a month ago.” Sam paused for a long moment, staring at the tiny ripples in his bottle of water. “I think he had to kill mom. I don’t know whether Farah was sick too, and dad had to kill her, or whether mom went crazy and killed her before dad could stop her.”

Lee could not believe how much loss Sam had endured in such a short time. In the span of a month, this boy had lost everyone he knew and loved. “When your mom and sister were gone, did you guys stay in the house or did you move out?”

“No, we stayed for another week. Then these buses came, and there were soldiers inside, and they said they were taking us to someplace safe. They had nurses that were taking our temperatures before we could get on the bus. Everyone had to wear masks. One of the guys wasn’t allowed to get on after they took his temperature and he started yelling and shouting, then these two soldiers with gas masks came up and grabbed him and carried him into this big tent and he got really quiet. I think they gave him a shot, like the kind you give a dog when you have to ‘put it down.’”

Though the story obviously came with some pain, Lee needed to hear more about the camps and why Sam and his father were not there, and were on the road. “So did you go to the camp?”

Sam shook his head. “We were in line, but then there was a lot of shooting, and some helicopters came in. I think there was a big crowd of infected people coming for us, and the buses left without us. Dad and I only had time to grab a few things out of our luggage and then some guy let us get in the back of his pickup truck and drive with them.”

“Was it the guys from earlier today?”

“No. Those are different guys. This was…two weeks ago?” Sam motioned with his hand to display his uncertainty about the time frame. “Anyways, we drove out into the country where this family had a cabin. They were really nice to drive us, and they even gave us some water, but they told us that they didn’t have enough supplies to take care of us, and that we should start heading toward the FEMA camp in Sanford. It was supposed to be safe, no one there was sick.”

“Is that where you guys were headed?”

“Yeah. We’ve been on the road for ten days. Last night, we came up on the guys in the red pickup truck. They made us take off our backpacks and searched them. Dad asked them to leave us some water. They said they would leave us water if he would give me to them. Dad said, ‘Fuck you, sons-of-bitches,’ and then grabbed me and took off running. We hid in the woods all night long. They were searching for us too, and they found us, so we started running again. We came to this house first, but you weren’t home when we knocked, so we ran through the woods and came to the other house. And that’s when they caught us.” Sam took a tentative sip from his water. “You were there. You saw what happened.”

Lee nodded. “I saw.”

There was a long silence as Lee tried to think of other questions he had. Sam broke the silence first.

“Why didn’t you shoot them before they shot my dad?” Sam looked directly at Lee when he asked it and Lee couldn’t tell what the kid was thinking about him. It was the same, expressionless gaze he’d given Fat Boy when deciding whether to kill him or not.

Lee felt defenseless for a moment as he contemplated his answer. “Sam…” Lee thought for a bit longer. “You’re going to find that there are situations in this world where you can’t do what you want to do. If there was a way to bring you and your dad out of that alive, I would have done it. But if there was a way to do that, I’m not sure what it was. If I had started shooting when I realized they were bad guys, you and your dad would have both died, and probably me too. I had to wait, to make sure I had an advantage, and my advantage came too late. I’m sorry, Sam. I wanted to save both of you. But sometimes you just can’t do what you want.”

Sam continued to stare at Lee, unspeaking, with no obvious emotion on his face. Finally, after several long and awkward moments of Lee staring at the floor, Sam spoke. “When we were on the road, we saw this house, out in the distance. Dad stopped walking because he said he heard someone yelling. I tried to look around, but I couldn’t see anything but a house, way in the distance, across this huge open field. I used a pair of binoculars to look, and I could see three people on the roof. They were looking at me and dad with binoculars too, and they were waving a white towel at us and shouting. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell they were asking for help. I told my dad what I was seeing, and he grabbed the binoculars from me and looked through them. I said to him, ‘Dad, we have to go help them!’ After a really long time, he gave the binoculars back to me and kept walking down the road, telling me to, ‘come on.’

“I got mad and started yelling at my dad. I couldn’t believe he would leave those people up on the roof. I told him, ‘How can we expect others to help us if we don’t help them?’ But he never gave me an answer. He just kept walking. I told him that it wasn’t right. I even said I hated him, but I was only trying to get him to stop and listen. When I said that, he turned around and smacked me, then told me to look through the binoculars again.

“I did, and when I looked again I could see almost ten of them, walking around in the yard below. They were in the house, running around, trying to climb the gutters to get at the people on the roof, throwing big rocks at them. One of them ran into the house and came out with a bunch of knives and started throwing them at the people on the roof.

“Then my dad took the binoculars away from me again. He said, ‘If we try to help them, we will die. And then the people on the roof will die anyways. The only difference will be that we wasted our lives for nothing.’ Then he told me, ‘Sometimes, the only way to win is to not fight.’

“Then we just kept walking. And those people on the roof, it was a man, a wife, and little girl, they watched us look right at them and then walk away. We couldn’t help them, no matter how much we wanted to.”

Lee chose not to say anything further to defend his actions earlier in the day. He felt that there was an understanding between him and Sam, and that to speak further on the matter would only be scratching at the wound. The decision had been made, and there was no way to change it. Sam recognized that Lee had made the best decision he was capable of making at the time, and that it was not his place to second guess him.

After a pause, Lee said, “How long ago was that?”

Sam thought for a moment. “Two days ago.”

Lee nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Do you remember where the house was?”

Sam gave Lee a hard look. “Are you going to go help them?” The insinuation was obvious. Are you better than my dad? He couldn’t save them, but you can?

“Sam, this has nothing to do with your father. He was one man with a revolver and no bullets and he had you to think about. Saving people is my job. That’s what I’m here to do. It’s what the US government trained me to do, and I have a lot of guns to do it with. Your dad made the right choice. Going in against ten infected people would have been suicide. But I’m sure if your dad had all the equipment I have, he would have been able to do it, just like I can.”

Sam looked down, somewhat sheepish. “It was on this same road. I don’t know how far back it was. We saw them just before it got dark. Then we kept walking for maybe another hour, and then we slept in the woods. When we got up the next morning we walked until it was about to get dark again, and that’s when we came up on the guys in the red pickup.”

Lee did some mental calculations. The average person could cover upward of 20 miles in a day in the local terrain. That would put the house with the stranded people anywhere within a 30-40 mile range. Morrison Street was a long road that changed names several times as it cut through different cities and counties, but Lee wasn’t sure it was that long. Perhaps they had stopped frequently to rest or to investigate abandoned houses for supplies.

“Did you pass any other survivors?”

“We passed a house with a pile of burning bodies. We couldn’t see anyone inside, but the bodies were still on fire and we couldn’t tell if they were infected people or normal, so dad and I ran away from the house. We didn’t know if the people that lit the bodies on fire were friendly or not.”

Burning bodies sounded like something you do to get rid of infected people, but Sam and his dad had been right to give the place a wide berth. Someone that could kill enough infected to be considered a “pile” would seem to be packing some heavy firepower. That could make them the type of person to stay the fuck away from, or it could make them a great ally. Lee made a mental note to approach that house with caution.

“And where was that house?” Lee asked.

“We saw that one right before we ran into the guys in the red pickup. It has to be close by.”

“Do you remember what the house looked like?”

“Not really. I remember it looked weird…like a barn, but it was a house.”

Lee knew exactly which house he was talking about. He didn’t know the man that lived there. He knew he drove a black Ford Ranger and had seen him at the local supermarket on occasion. He was a gray-haired guy pushing 50. He wasn’t sure if he lived with anyone else. What he did remember was a black sticker on the bumper of the Ford Ranger that said “GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS. ESPECIALLY OUR SNIPERS.” This seemed to coincide with the pile of bodies. One gun or many, the guy was likely military or law enforcement, and provided he wasn’t a raging psychopath, could lend some much- needed muscle to the team.

Just as Lee was about to ask another question, three things happened in the same instant: Sam’s eyes went wide and his mouth opened in a silent scream; there was a loud bang behind him; and Tango started barking ferociously and lunged for the window.

Lee bolted upright and brought his rifle up to his shoulder, looking for the threat. He saw a bloody face pressed against the shatter-proof window, the eyes wide and crazy, the tongue licking obscenely at the glass and leaving a bloody trail wherever it went. Tango was at the window snarling and barking, the hair along his spine standing straight up like a Mohawk.

Finally Sam found his voice and screamed. Lee almost pulled the trigger, but knew it would only weaken the shatter-proof glass.

As of right now, no one was getting into the house without monumental effort or explosives.

Lee stayed his trigger finger and backed away from the window.

After emptying his lungs in one giant scream, Sam was silent, plastered against the couch as though he was attempting to meld himself into the fabric.

Another bump on the side of the house and a rapid banging on the glass in the kitchen. Lee pivoted and looked into the kitchen. The back patio doors, also steel-framed and shatter-proof, were being assaulted by another infected who was holding a hammer and beating the glass ferociously.

Tango didn’t notice the new intruder and was still barking at the first.

“Tango, heel! Come on! Leave it!” Tango backed a few feet away, but kept barking. Lee grabbed Sam by the shirt and hauled him off the couch. “Follow me.”

Lee shoved the kid into the kitchen, which Sam didn’t like since it was towards the other infected with the hammer. As he was opening the door to the basement, he could swear he heard the one with the hammer scream, “Open the fucking door!”

He flipped on the basement lights so Sam wouldn’t be afraid and pointed down into the basement. “Go.”

“No!”

“Sam!” Lee shouted. “Get the fuck in the basement!”

Sam turned and went four steps down, then froze and looked back.

“Tango,” Lee called over his shoulder, keeping an eye on the infected with the hammer. The blows were creating little white scratches in the window, but not breaking or cracking it. The big dog came running through the kitchen in a brown and black flash and headed straight to the back patio door, locked onto another target. Lee reached out and grabbed his collar. “No! Go downstairs!” He hauled the dog back, then pushed him onto the basement stairs.

The dog looked back, still barking and wagging his tail. Fun, fun, fun.

Lee closed the door and went back into the living room. The infected on his front porch went nuts when it saw him and started punching at the window as hard as it could, then started trying to kick it in. Lee got a better look at the guy. He was dressed in slacks and a polo shirt and was wearing golf shoes. It was difficult to tell the age because his skin was so covered in crusted blood, but Lee could see the creature was balding and guessed mid-40’s.

He grabbed his go-to-hell pack. There’s no golf course within miles, Lee thought. He must have been running around for days.

He opened up the door to the basement and found Tango right there, ready to get back in the fight, and Sam, halfway down the stairs, crouched in a ball, unwilling to go back upstairs and unwilling to descend any further into the creepy basement.

“Come on, Sam,” Lee took the stairs slowly. “That’s shatter-proof glass, okay? Those guys aren’t getting in here for a long time. And if they do, I’ll take care of them. You believe me right?”

Sam shook his head.

Lee felt bad for the kid, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He walked down the stairs and heard Sam and Tango fall in behind him. He punched in the code for the hatch, heard it click, then turned the wheel and opened it up. “It’s safe down there. No one can get in.”

Sam peered down the hole hesitantly, saw that it was dark and shook his head.

Lee knelt down beside him. “Sam, I know you’ve been through a lot, but you have got to trust me now. I will never tell you to do something unsafe, you got that? If I tell you to do something, it is because that is your best chance at not getting hurt. You have got to listen to me. I promise you there is nothing bad down there. Me and Tango go down there all the time.”

Sam was still unsure.

“You can’t be afraid anymore, Sam. You gotta be brave.” Sam finally budged and swung his legs into the shaft. Lee wasn’t sure if it was anything he had said, or whether the kid just made up his own mind to go, but was happy that they were moving. After Sam got to the bottom, Lee grabbed Tango around the chest, for the first time becoming annoyed that he hadn’t insisted on a more pet-friendly entry to his bunker. He knelt down and hoisted Tango into the hatch. The dog scrabbled around, still excited, and Lee lost his grip.

Tango hit the stairs with a yelp.

Lee swore loudly and stood frozen as he watched Tango stand up on all fours and walk around. Tango seemed a bit loopy for the first few seconds, but then looked fine. Lee cursed the dog under his breath and swung down onto the stairs, closing the hatch behind him.

“Is he okay?” Sam asked.

“He’s fine. Just stupid.” Lee walked with Sam down the cement tunnel, Tango leading the way eagerly. He was probably hungry and thirsty, though he’d had his fill of pissing on everything he could find after being outdoors for half the day.

“Are you mad at me?” Sam asked, crestfallen.

“No, kid, I’m not mad at you.” Way to go, Lee. Kid loses his entire family and you snap at him because he gets a little scared. “I know its tough, and you don’t really know me, but you have to trust me now, okay? I’m your friend. Friends have to trust each other.”

Sam looked at the hatch to Lee’s bunker. “Alright.”

Lee pushed the hatch open and gestured for Sam to enter. “Welcome to Château du Harden.”

“What?” Sam was confused.

Lee didn’t feel like explaining. “This is where I’ve been staying the last month or so.”

Sam looked around, locking on the big screen TV. “Oh my God! You do have a TV! It’s HUGE!”

“Yup.” Lee was always amazed at the resiliency of the younger generation. They bounced back better than adults, could go from tragedy to triumph seamlessly, and never thought twice about it. It could also be a sign that Sam was becoming emotionally disconnected. A defense mechanism. Lee looked at his watch. 1230 hours. He had almost eight hours of light left and two locations of potential survivors. The older man in the barn-house could obviously take care of himself and was therefore a lower priority for rescue. The family on the roof top was the higher priority, though they were an unknown distance away. In this heat, on the top of a roof, they were unlikely to make it much longer without supplies. The survival of the family on the roof was very time-sensitive, which meant Lee needed to move to their location ASAP.

The only problem was that he could not realistically make the trip before it got dark out, and certainly not the trip back. He toyed with the idea of making the trek to their house on foot, eliminating all hostiles, and sleeping in the house with the family, then moving out in the morning.

Then came the issue of Sam. He did not want to take Sam with him and expose the kid to needless danger. Lee felt confident he could handle the infected in the yard, but he didn’t need to be worrying about Sam while he did it. Or Tango for that matter. They would both have to stay here. And Lee didn’t want to leave Sam and Tango unattended for too long. Two days would be too much.

He didn’t like it because it went against his training, but sometimes you had to improvise and adapt your tactics to the situation. Lee would have to use his truck. That meant a few things. First, he had to get to it, which meant taking out the two unwanted guests attempting to beat their way into the house. Second, it meant he would have to take roads to get there, which meant the possibility of another gang like the men in the red pickup truck. While he’d handled them fairly easily, he had the advantage of surprise and there were only five of them, none armed with anything more potent than a bolt-action rifle. Should he be ambushed by a better-equipped or more numerous group, his chances of survival were greatly decreased.

But the cold facts were that there was a family of three on a roof, likely suffering— if not already dead—from dehydration and heat stroke. Not to mention the complete and utter despair of their situation. He could not imagine the crushing feeling of hopelessness after seeing Sam and his dad, probably the first people they’d seen for a while, and then just watching them walk away.

He had to rescue them. Out of personal conviction, and because it was his job to do so. As a Coordinator, it was his primary duty, and one he’d sworn to uphold, just as he’d sworn to uphold the country and the constitution. And the only way to rescue them was by truck. On the positive side, he would be back before nightfall. Lee walked over to his closet and called Sam over to join him. The kid was going to be in the house alone. Lee was not going to forbid Sam from opening the closet full of weapons and ammo because there was nothing that would make a kid want to play with the shit more than being forbidden to do so.

Instead, he chose the approach of hoping that some knowledge and instruction on these pieces of equipment would alleviate the kid’s fascination with them, and hopefully keep him from killing himself.

He opened the closet and saw Sam’s eyes go wide. “Wow. You’ve got a lot of stuff.”

Lee knelt down and pulled out his 5.56mm ammo can, then extracted the magazine from his M4 and started topping it off. “These are all tools, Sam. Just like a screwdriver or a hammer. They are here so that I can do my job. And you need to learn about them too, since you’re going to be helping me do my job.”

Lee spent the next 20 minutes telling Sam all about the equipment in the closet, and some of the equipment on his person. He answered most of Sam’s questions, and did his best to let the kid handle most of it so he wouldn’t be sneaking around Lee’s back, pulling grenade pins out of curiosity. After a comprehensive crash course on pistols, rifles, grenades, GPS devices, and how to load a magazine, Lee was finished topping off his rifle and pistol and replacing the 40mm grenade he’d used to blow the truck. He closed the door and stood up.

“Now listen to me, Sam.” Lee waited until he had eye contact. “We’re friends, like I said, and friends trust each other. That means I trust you. You remember when I said you were a man in my book?”

Sam nodded.

“Nothing’s different. You are still a man in my book. And men don’t take their friend’s tools unless they have permission, or if they really need it. Like in an emergency.” Lee felt his explaining-things-to-kids ability flagging. “Just don’t do anything stupid, okay? Remember, if you pull the pin on one of those grenades, you’re going to die. No matter where you throw it in here, the pressure will pop your head open. Got it?”

Sam looked a little apprehensive of the closet now. Good. Lee stood and double-checked his equipment.

“Where are you going?” Sam seemed worried.

Lee wondered if abandoning the kid was the best thing right now, but decided he couldn’t let this one child affect his decision-making when it came to fulfilling his mission. If there were people out there that needed help, he had to rescue them and bring them together. Subvenire Refectus. To rescue and rebuild.

“I’m going to go try to help the people on the roof. I should be back in a few hours.”

“But what about the people outside?” Sam almost shouted.

“Sam…” Lee gave him a warning look and kept his own voice low. Lead by example. “I have to try to help those people, because that’s my job. I will be fine, just like I’m fine now after helping you. And you let me worry about the two people upstairs.” Lee wasn’t as sure as he sounded. If the girl from yesterday had taught him one thing, it was to not underestimate the strength or tenacity of infected individuals. “I’ll be fine.”

Sam clenched his jaw, not happy about being left alone. “What do you want me to do while you’re gone?”

“Here,” Lee walked over to the remote and flipped the TV on. He was not above bribing the kid into submission. “Play Call of Duty. You better have it beat by the time I come back.”

“That’s impossible,” Sam mumbled.

“Whatever.” Lee tossed him the controller and turned on the gaming system. “I beat it in five hours, but if you think it’s too hard…”

“I can beat it.” Sam announced and grabbed the controller.

Lee smiled. The kid had a competitive streak. A good thing for someone living in a world like this. Non-competitive people tended to give up more easily. Competitive people just keep going, even when there’s no competition.

Lee opened the hatch and told Tango to stay. Just before he closed it, he looked back at Sam and caught the kid staring at Lee with unguarded fear for what might happen. He gave the kid a brave smile and a thumbs-up, and in his best Arnold voice said, “I’ll be back.”

Lee saw a weak smile before closing the hatch and locking it behind him.

223shooteresc
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Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2011 10:38 am

Re: The Remaining

Post by 223shooteresc » Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:22 pm

thanks for the new chapter, good stuff

dantheremaining
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Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:16 pm

Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Mon Oct 31, 2011 5:27 pm

http://youtu.be/IRabw4WDS6c" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Don't think I posted this one. Happy Halloween, everyone.

Laager
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Joined: Sun Jun 20, 2010 9:25 pm

Re: The Remaining

Post by Laager » Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:34 pm

Just got caught up, both chapters were great, thanks for all the hard work and effort.
“Complacency kills. Paranoia is the reason I’m still alive.” If we do happen to make contact, I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of ya.

dantheremaining
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Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:16 pm

Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Wed Nov 02, 2011 1:41 pm

**Chapter 8...new video is almost done...**

He made his way quietly out of the bunker and up to his basement.

Without Tango there to be his early-warning system, he spent more time listening and waiting. Before opening the hatch to his basement he hung on the ladder with his ear pressed to the steel, but didn’t hear any movement from inside. He thought he could still hear the banging from the infected he had begun to mentally refer to as Hammer Guy. The sound was so faint, he entertained the possibility that he could just be imagining it.

When he did open the hatch, he did it slowly and quietly. Once open, he crept out, careful to control his M4 and other attached gear so it would not bang on the walls or the hatch and make noise.

Now in the basement, he listened and realized he was not hearing Hammer Guy or Caddy Shack. The basement was silent, and the upstairs along with it. This set Lee off his pace even more than hearing the two goons still trying to break in. Because if he heard them trying to break in, that meant they were still outside. Now, in the silence, he was not so sure.

He checked his chamber to ensure he was locked and loaded. Up the stairs. SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training taught him to compartmentalize so you life didn’t seem so impossible. When you are surrounded by enemy forces and fear drives you to ground and makes you think you are incapable of moving to your objective, you simply compartmentalize. Instead of moving to your objective, you focus on just crawling to that fallen log, and then from there, slithering down into the swamp. You divide it up into manageable tasks that don’t seem so life-or-death.

Right now, though fear told him Hammer Guy and Caddy Shack were sniffing around the house for him, making it to the top of the stairs seemed feasible. So he put one foot in front of the other, rifle trained at the door and eased his way quietly up.

He stopped and listened again.

Hearing nothing, he opened the door just an inch so that he could catch a glimpse of the patio doors where Hammer Guy had been. As he cracked the door, he could see Hammer Guy, squatted down on the ground, facing away from the house, carving something into the dirt of Lee’s backyard with the claw of the hammer. The air seemed warmer than it had been when he’d first entered the house, but he’d been in his bunker which he kept at a cool 70 degrees. He supposed his body had acclimated to the cooler temperature and felt the difference in the slightly warmer house.

Lee watched Hammer Guy work for a few moments, disturbed by the infected man’s raw intensity and aggression. After a few moments, Lee edged further out of the doorway and looked to the front of the house to see if Caddy Shack was still hanging around. His angle wasn’t very good, but that also meant Caddy Shack couldn’t see him. He wanted the two infected calm and quiet so he could get a better position of attack on them. And he wanted to kill them silently so he wouldn’t attract any more attention.

Lee was beginning to think that the strange howling noise the infected made was some vestige of predatory instinct left-over in human DNA from the days of hunting in packs. To Lee, it sounded like the call of a wolf on game, and Lee got the distinct feeling that when one infected made the howl, more infected would come running, out of some primal, knee-jerk response to the call of prey.

He slipped through the doorway, then down a hallway that led to the main portion of his house and the stairs to the second level. He slid quickly around the banister and took the stairs two at a time. He turned left at the top, facing the front of the house where the still-unaccounted-for Caddy Shack had last been seen.

In the guest bedroom decorated in nautical style, Lee squatted down duck-walked to the window overlooking the front porch and front lawn. The porch was covered, but if Caddy Shack moved out into the yard, Lee would have a good bead on him. Wood blinds covered the windows and were pulled closed. Lee used a single finger to lift one of the slats and gain a view of his front yard.

The view was too narrow. He couldn’t see Caddy Shack.

“Sonofabitch...” Lee dropped his go-to-hell pack with a little less caution than normal. Something hard on the bottom of the pack made a heavy thump on the hardwood floors. Lee cringed.

Somewhere in one of the upstairs bedrooms, something glass shattered.

Lee swept the rifle up to his shoulder, thinking, What the fuck was that? Not daring to breathe a word. He knew damn well what it was. Something was fucking around in one of the upstairs bathrooms and had heard him drop his pack. The warmth in the house wasn’t because the thermostat was set a few degrees higher, it was because someone had done enough kicking to break his front door in. Now the heat and humidity—and whoever had kicked the door in—were inside his house.

Lee kept an eye on the far end of the hallway through the bedroom door and reached with his free hand into his pack and withdrew a suppressor from a side pocket. He repositioned himself so that he had quick access to the MK23 on his leg should something come into view while he was attaching the suppressor, then turned the M4 skyward and started threading the suppressor.

Something crashed down the hall.

Lee tried to focus on finding the thread, but found himself staring back down the hallway. He didn’t want to shoot this fucker without a suppressor on his gun. The noise was loud enough to not only draw attention from other infected in the area, but would draw them right into his house through the open front door.

He heard the sound of something regurgitating and the splash of fluid on hard- wood floors.

He found the thread and started twisting, fast.

There was a gasp from down the hallway and then pounding feet. Scratching with each footstep. Like cleats. Or golf shoes.

Come on...

Lee twisted as fast as his hands could manage. Footsteps were at the door.

Done.

Something loomed into the bedroom.

Lee brought the rifle up and fought the panicked instinct to just start shooting. He put the red dot center mass on the approaching figure and pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession. Both rounds punched neat holes in Caddy Shack’s chest, staggering him back into the door. Strangely, the suppressed M4 sounded to Lee like the snap of someone driving a golf ball down the fairway.

Caddy Shack seemed to recover from the blows after only a second. He looked at Lee and opened his mouth. Thick red blood dribbled out. He reached out with both hands, the fingers twisted into claws and lurched towards him.
This time Lee did shoot reflexively, pulling the trigger three times. Caddy Shack didn’t stop coming. Lee backpedaled fast, pushing his back against the wall and shooting from the hip.

It didn’t take long for Caddy Shack to cross the bedroom and when he was within arms length, Lee stopped shooting and kicked out like he was kicking a door in Iraq, connecting with Caddy Shack’s chest and sending him to the ground. Lee stumbled, recovered his balance and shoved the suppressor against Caddy Shack’s head. The muzzle blast did more damage than the bullet, nearly inverting Caddy Shack’s face.

Lee fell backwards once he was sure the man was dead and scooted away from the body until his back was against the wall again. “Fuck me...” Lee breathed hard, his chest thumping like a kick-drum. He could feel the adrenaline pumping through his body and knew if he wasn’t holding his M4 in an iron grip, his hands would be shaking.

He pulled himself up and stepped over to a bedroom mirror, checking his face for blood spatter, but couldn’t find any.

The shakiness reached its peak and then the relief flooded his system, his body dumping endorphins into his blood stream.

“Whoo,” Lee huffed a few more times, then decided to get moving.

He shouldered his pack and moved down the stairs again, leaving Caddy Shack for later. He didn’t want the body stinking up his house, but didn’t have the time or protective equipment to remove it. He found the front door open, as he’d suspected. Little circular star marks were dented all over the door. The tiny cleats from his golf shoes. He’d kicked the door God-knew how many times to get it the latch to give. After a quick inspection, Lee realized his error. Distracted by getting Sam into the house, he had not engaged the deadbolt.

Lee swore to himself and closed the door, this time turning the deadbolt. Since the frame was steel, it barely showed any damage, and neither did the door. It was simply the latching mechanism that had given way to hundreds of kicks.
Since Caddy Shack was no longer an issue, Lee felt no need to use stealth on Hammer Guy. He opened the back patio door and put a bullet in his head. Quick and easy. He took a moment to look at what he’d been carving in the dirt.

HELLP

Lee looked back and forth between the dead body and the words it had written in the earth. This misspelling seemed to imply both the state of the world, and what everyone in it wanted. But Lee knew the infected weren’t able to reason to the point of cleverness.

Could they?

Lee continued on to his detached garage and went inside, watching his back as he entered and closed the door behind him. His Chevy 1500 still sat where he’d left it, apparently untouched and still with a full tank. He tossed his pack in first, then climbed in and set his M4 on the passenger seat. He buckled in, then cranked it up and only then did he hit the garage door opener.

The door rattled and cranked its way open. Anyone within a quarter mile could have heard it. Lee backed out and surveyed his yard. There appeared to be nothing there, except the dead body of the man that had been crying out for help. Or saying that the world had gone to hell.

Either or. Lee looked at the body for a long time as he sat at idle. Should he have dispatched the person so coldly? It was a person, after all. These were all American citizens, sick or not. Was it his place to wipe them out wholesale and without warning? The girl had attacked him, and Caddy Shack definitely seemed to be making a run for it, but thinking back to Hammer Guy, pounding on the glass with his hammer and saying “open the fucking door,” then carving “HELLP” into the dirt...perhaps the person was just looking for help. Looking for a place of refuge. In his fear of the infected, had he mistaken a cry for help as aggression?

Lee shuttered those thoughts away in a dark corner of his mind. Things to think about later. Right now, there were three potential survivors stuck on a roof. People that could be saved. Uninfected. Those were his priority, those were the people he was responsible for saving. Not the dead and dying.

Lee continued backing out of the driveway and onto Morrison Street. He headed south and did the only thing he could do: He hoped for the best.

***

Morrison Street stretched on through miles of farming country. To either side of the two-lane blacktop, fields would stretch out, framed by thin stands of forest. Mainly, Lee saw tobacco, but some of the fields were tilled dirt, and a few were corn. Every so often he passed a farmhouse, sometimes close to the road, sometimes out in the distance. He drove slowly, and when he saw a house, he would stop and look at it for a long moment, trying to determine if the previous residents were still using it.

They all appeared empty. The windows were dark or boarded up, the driveways overgrown with weeds. No sign of movement inside or on the neighboring fields. He would slowly drive on, after giving each house a look-over, constantly scanning the fields around him for signs of trouble. He did not like driving on these roads. Though Morrison Street was only a small back road, and raiders would likely stick to higher-traffic and more target-rich environments, he still felt as though there were eyes in the trees, watching him and waiting for a moment of vulnerability.

He came upon a curve that opened into a long, straight stretch of road. He stepped on the brakes, harder than normal, and came to a stop in the roadway. A large, green combine hulked in the middle of the roadway, blocking the southbound lane and most of the northbound lane. From the tire-marks in the dirt, it appeared to have come from the field to Lee’s right.

Lee immediately put a hand out to his M4, where it was sitting in the passenger seat. The road blockage was a typical ambush point. The raiders could be inside the combine, on the other side, or waiting in a nearby hide. Or it could just be a combine sitting in the roadway. He grabbed the 3x scope from his M4 and brought it to his eyes, surveying the field to his right, where a wide swath had been cut through the massive hay field, all the way up to the road. Using the magnifier, he noticed lumps scattered around the hay field, lying in the path cut by the combine. Lee wasn’t positive, but they looked like bodies.

He pictured some old farmer in blue-jean overalls and a straw hat, trapped in his little farmhouse, surrounded by unending acres of chest-high hay fields, and a horde of infected wandering through, like alligators in a moat. If Lee had been in that situation, the combine would have been the most likely ticket out. It showed a violent resourcefulness that Lee could appreciate, and again pictured the old farmer, laughing around a wad of Redman as he mowed both the grass and his captors down.

Lee took a moment to count the bodies lying in the path. Seventeen. Possibly more he couldn’t see. Assuming they were infected, that was a big group. Much more than the “five or ten” Sam had claimed to have seen. Did they have enough mental functioning to attack in organized groups, or did they just amble around, grouping themselves together out of some latent social instinct? And why did they not attack each other?

According to Sam, he had witnessed them killing each other. And his father compared them to a pack of wild dogs.

Lee considered the pack instinct, as prevalent in human beings as it was in dogs, but more well-controlled in modern society. Social controls or not, human’s sought to be in groups. It was not a stretch of the imagination to believe that this would continue despite massive damage to the frontal lobe because of the bacterium. In fact, Lee believed that without reasoning abilities, many of mankind’s ingrained instincts would become more pronounced. It was a lot of hypothesizing on not much evidence.

Lee eased the pickup forward, still keeping an eye on the combine and the surrounding fields, but less concerned with a raider ambush and more concerned with the possibility that the escaping farmer hadn’t gotten all the infected that were between him and freedom, leaving a few stragglers behind to attack travelers like Lee.

He drove the pickup around the combine, thinking that at any moment it would roar to life and a crazed old man in blue-jean overalls would run him over in the massive piece of farm equipment, shredding the pickup truck and Lee along with it. But the combine remained still as he passed, like a stuffed lion in a museum that you feel might come back to life as you walk by and pounce on you. Lee accelerated once passed, uncomfortable with having the thing lurking behind him.

Not a mile down the road, Lee saw something else that made him stop.

Approximately 50 yards from the roadway, in a tilled-dirt field to Lee’s left, a female figure was hunched over.

Whoever it was, she had long blonde hair that stirred slightly in the breeze as it swept across the field. Her back was to Lee and her head was bowed, but she appeared to hold something that captured her interest, though Lee could not see what it was. She wore a white camisole and blue jeans and no shoes. She knelt so motionless, that Lee would have driven passed her had her white camisole not stood out, though as Lee looked more closely, it appeared to be smudged with dirt and grime.

His first instinct told him that she was alive. Dead bodies do not remain in kneeling positions.

His second, more paranoid thought was that it was a trap. It was not unheard of for an ambush party to use a female that appeared to be lost or in distress as bait in a trap. He looked at her for a moment, then surveyed the area around her. It was an odd place for an ambush, not a bottleneck that would force a victim to come to her. Not much nearby cover for ambushers to hide behind.

Lee put the pickup truck in park and grabbed the M4 from the passenger seat. He gave his surroundings a good second look-over for any threats and then opened his door. The vehicle dinged, reminding him that his keys were still in the ignition and the pickup truck was running. After a moment’s consideration, Lee turned the pickup off and shoved the keys in his pants pocket before exiting the vehicle.

Immediately, he brought the rifle to his shoulder and scanned the area through the 3x magnifier. Now out of the car, he could hear the soft sound of crying lilting over the field. He looked at the woman’s back and watched her shoulders rise and fall in shudders.

He kept looking around, feeling like someone was creeping up behind him. He didn’t want to leave the pickup truck for fear that it was a trap and he would be too far to make it back, or that someone was waiting in the ditch to rob him of his only form of transportation.

He walked towards the woman, as far as the edge of the asphalt, then stopped. “Ma’am!” he called it out loud and commanding, his voice a cannon-blast in the stillness.

The figure of the woman stiffened and the head turned partially, as though she was regarding him out of the corner of her eye. He still could not see her face as her hair hung in front of it.

Something was wrong. “Ma’am, I’m Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army and I’m here to help you."

That invisible, sidelong stare for another long moment. Then the woman turned her attention back to whatever was in front of her. Lee wanted to leave, but knew it was not an option. He stepped off the road and walked very slowly towards the woman, angling to her left, attempting to get a better read on her face and what she was holding. He kept his rifle at his shoulder and at low-ready.

“Ma’am...” he repeated several times as he drew closer to her, now within 20 feet. He wanted the woman to know he was walking up to her. “I’m coming to you, okay? Can you talk to me? Can you say something to let me know you’re still with me?”

He never received a response.

About 15 feet from her, he stopped. He was directly to her left and could see her face in profile. She’d been pretty once, and was still young, though all recognition and intelligence were drained from her eyes. Her mouth was hanging open and a frothy buildup shimmered at the corners of her mouth. Glistening trails of snot ran from her nostrils across the side of her dirty face.

“Oh God...” Lee swallowed against the hard fist clenching at his throat and pulled the rifle in a bit tighter, dropping his finger to the trigger.

The woman stared down at a small figure in her arms, pale and sallow. The eyes were sunken in and the lips puckered. The skin looked limp and leathery and the ribs were visible. The baby had been dead for some time.

Somehow his voice cut through to the woman and she turned her head. Lee noticed that she also was mere skin and bones, probably very near a death of malnutrition and dehydration. Her vacant eyes wandered across the field to Lee’s boots, then up, slowly, to his face. For a moment, Lee thought there was some sanity there, perhaps some hope. The woman shifted her weight slightly, causing Lee to take a step back, but she did not get up. She lifted her arms, the tiny corpse still cradled in her hands, and she extended the body towards Lee.

Can you help? Can you fix my baby?

The woman, or what was left of her, let out a soft moan.

Lee wanted to shoot her right there. Put her out of her sad existence. But he could not bring himself to do it. This was one of the rare infected that was not violent. Lee wondered what this woman had been like before the plague had destroyed her brain, if even when her reasoning centers had been rotted away, she could not be brought to violence. Lee thought she must have been a very kind person.

She did not deserve this. No one deserved this.

Slowly, her hands and the emaciated figure they bore, sunk to the ground. Another sound, like a soft sigh, escaped her throat. Her eyes followed her dead child to the dirt, where it lay motionless, and once again she knelt, staring, unmoving except for the strands of her hair caught in the breeze.

Lee stepped away from the woman, leaving her to fade in her grief, her mind lost and wandering an endless plain of primitive, instinctual memories—the sensation of life from life, and flesh from flesh, of nurturing and love, but also of the empty loneliness of death, the desolation of loss.

When he was far enough away, he turned and ran back to the truck.

He got in and closed the door hurriedly, afraid that she had followed him, but when he looked back across the field, she still sat there. Strangely, he thought of Deana again, though he didn’t know why. Some small portion of him wished he’d had a family, but the larger part of him was thankful that he had survived alone. The loneliness was nothing compared to the pain of separation.

He started the pickup and kept driving.

***

He’d been on the road for nearly a half-hour when he finally came to a stop and looked out across a field, to a house in the distance. He’d passed so many open fields with no house attached, he was starting to think he had missed it and that Sam’s eyes were sharper than his. But here was a farmhouse set up on a hill, about 600 yards out from the road. He just couldn’t see anyone on the roof.

He pulled the magnifier off his rifle again and scoped the house. The magnifier was not as powerful as binoculars, but they gave Lee a slightly better image than the naked eye, and through them he could just make out what looked like two figures, lying down on the roof. Their dark clothes blended in with the roofing shingles. Though he couldn’t see them clearly, they did not look like they were moving.

In the yard below them, Lee could not see any infected. The front door to the house was hanging open, and it was possible that the ten infected Sam had reported were taking shelter from the heat inside, while the house’s original occupants baked on the roof.

Now came the question: should he traverse the distance to the house, putting himself at risk, and leaving his vehicle behind, only to discover that the figures on the roof were no longer alive...Or should he honk the horn to attempt to gain their attention, confirming that they were alive, but ruining all chances for stealth and making their rescue that much harder?

Lee knew himself better than to labor long over the dilemma. If the two on the roof failed to respond when he honked his horn, that would not be enough for Lee to leave them to rot on the rooftop. He would need to see them, look at them, and check them for pulses before he abandoned them.

Which simplified the situation.

There was a deep drainage ditch on the side of the road, separating him from the field that stretched out to the house. Traversing the ditch in the pickup truck was out of the question. It was possible that he could make it, but Lee preferred to be sure that his getaway vehicle would be ready for him if things went bad and he had to get lost. However, he did pull the vehicle as far off the roadway as he felt comfortable with, then exited and closed and locked the door quietly.

He hitched up his go-to-hell pack and dipped down into the drainage culvert. If he could get within a few hundred yards of the house he might be able to communicate with the two figures on the roof and hopefully plan an exit for them, if the threat of infected still remained.

Lee held out hope that the infected that had tried to kill the family earlier would have lost interest and left the area. Lee had absolute confidence in his ability to take on a threat, but there was no denying that the warped and destroyed minds of the people infected with the FURY plague didn’t go down easy. And taking on ten of them at a time was going to be that much harder.

He climbed up out of the ditch and headed towards the house, skirting along a small clump of trees that bordered the field. He moved at a trot, stopping every few moments to survey the area and check behind him. Each time he checked, he looked back at his vehicle. He didn’t like the way it was sitting there, all alone and painfully conspicuous on the side of the road. It was begging for attention.

He also took the time to look at the house and see what he could through the windows and the open front door, but he was either too far to see the movement, or there was simply no one inside. The thought meandered across his mind that, if the house was empty, what was the family still doing on the roof?

Unless they were already dead.

After several circuits of scooting along the edge of the woods and stopping and looking around, he was about two hundred yards from the house. That was close enough. He took another good look through his magnifier at the two individuals on the roof. It was two females, one about mid-thirties, the other a child, maybe ten. Still, neither moved. From this distance, Lee could not see the rise and fall of their chests to determine if they were breathing.

Or maybe he was close enough and they just weren’t.

He bear-crawled a few yards forward to a stand of thick brush that gave him good concealment. There, he dropped his go-to-hell pack and slipped a hand into one of the side pockets. He rooted around a bit, then came out with a compact of camouflage face paint. He didn’t want to camouflage himself right then, but he did want the mirror inside.

He opened the compact and angled it towards the sun until he saw a dull square of light flash over the front of the house. He wiggled it around, finally centering it on the adult female and flicking it over her eyes. He did this several times but garnered no response. He turned the mirror slightly so that reflection washed over the younger female’s face and repeated the flicking.

This time the head came up.

Lee could see the girl sit up slightly, shield her eyes, and then peer out into the woods where the flashing light was coming from. The girl had curly blond hair that whipped around in the breeze. She looked concerned and obviously did not see the flashing light as anything friendly. It had probably been so long since anything friendly came by that she wouldn’t believe it even if she knew.

Lee kept flashing her with the mirror, then dropped it and came out of his concealment just long enough to wave a quick arm.

This time the look on the girl’s face changed from suspicion to urgency. She rolled towards her mother and shook her arm. The mother, her face sunburned and grimed, looked up, appearing out of sorts or possibly woozy in the afternoon heat. The girl began silently pointing towards Lee, who took the moment to step out of cover again and wave once more.

The mother sat bolt upright and began wildly waving both arms. Then she shouted. “HELP! PLEASE HELP!”

Lee swore under his breath and motioned to her, palms to the earth with both hands —Calm down!

But it was too late. From somewhere inside the house came that horrid screech. Lee pointed at the house, counted with his fingers—1, 2, 3—then raised his hands in question, attempting to communicate How many are inside? The woman looked down below her feet as though she would see through the roof with x-ray vision, then looked back up at Lee and shrugged. Lee wasn’t sure whether the shrug meant she didn’t know how many were inside, or she didn’t understand the question.

He motioned for her to calm down once more, then fell back into his concealment.

Not a second after he did this, a figure burst through the front door. It was a male, tall and very skinny. His left leg appeared injured and he dragged it behind him, though he moved fast, despite the handicap. He was wearing only a pair of briefs and some dress socks. He dragged a garden rake behind him.

The infected craned his neck up to see the two survivors on the roof and began making chuffing noises that sounded like an anxious dog. He came down the front steps, the steel head of the rake clattering down after him.

The two females on the roof heard him coming out into the yard and flattened themselves onto the roof. Lee didn’t know whether Slim had already seen them or not, but the shout was enough to rev his engine. He grabbed the rake with both hands and started swinging it overhead like an axe. The tines smacked the rain gutter, and he pulled, ripping a section down.

From around the other side of the house, drawn by the commotion, two more infected appeared. They ran to where Slim was standing and started pacing around, looking up at the roof like they knew someone was up there. Neither of the newcomers had a weapon in hand, but both seemed agile and so-far uninhibited by the plague’s affect on motor skills.

Lee waited, breathing hard now. No others came out of the house or from around the back. There were only three left. Lee wondered where the others had gone. Then he wondered why these ones were still here. Were they really that persistent? How long did it take for them to lose interest in something? And did they ever get exhausted, or would they continue trying to get to their victims for hours on end?

Lee quietly pulled on his go-to-hell pack. Then he shouldered his rifle and stood behind the brush with one knee on the ground, peering through the leaves at the scene before him. The rake was broken, and now all three infected were making strange noises and staring up at the roof. One was still pacing back and forth, but the other two stood in place, hands clenched by their sides as though ready to fight. On the roof, the woman held the girl in her arms, and both stared fearfully below the edge of the roof, where unseen threats waited to tear them apart.

“Headshots this time...” Lee slowed his breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, then stepped out of his hide.

He moved forward, wanting to cover as much distance as possible to make his headshots more accurate. He figured that a shot to the head would almost always put someone down, no matter how persistent they were, and if all three bum-rushed him, he would need them to drop fast.

He walked at a steady pace, heel-toe, rifle to his shoulder, red-dot trained on the pacer. He seemed most likely to notice Lee’s approach, since the other two had their back to Lee and were still staring up at the roof.

He closed to about 150 yards, and they still had not noticed him.

He pictured himself tripping and falling as he traversed the uneven ground, the three infected descending on him as he attempted to right himself. He looked down at the ground to inspect his footing. When he looked back up, the pacer was sprinting at him.

“Shit—” was all Lee could get out of his mouth. He planted one foot behind him as the infected closed the distance with surprising speed. All in that same second he told himself to be still, be calm, and take a good shot, then he thought about the infected girl, sitting in the field, mourning her infant’s death and wondered if he should give warning before shooting this unarmed infected, the same warning he would give any other person.

Hesitation.

He put the red-dot on the infected’s head—closing about 100 yards—and breathed out slowly. The 3x magnifier gave the infected the appearance of being much closer, and Lee’s instincts screamed to take the shot, but he waited. Another breath in...getting closer...breath out...

Lee pulled the trigger once, watched the shot clip the infected’s shoulder and spin him, fired again and saw the neat hole punched right above his left ear. The figure dropped.

Lee lowered the scope to see the big picture, which was two other infected, hauling ass towards him and screeching wildly. Lee chose the faster one without the damaged leg and fired quick. The headshot was perfection and the body dropped. Lee pivoted to the third infected, so close now that his snarling face and skin-and-bones torso filled up Lee’s scope. Three shots brought him to the ground, but he didn’t want to die and kept crawling on all fours until Lee finished him with a round to the top of the head. Slim died about 20 feet from Lee.

It wasn’t until after Slim stopped moving that he heard the screaming.

Lee looked up and saw both survivors standing at the edge of the roof, the woman holding her daughter as she reached out, tears in her eyes and her face clenched in grief and anger. She was screaming at Lee, but he couldn’t tell what she was saying, all of her words were contorted with emotion. Lee looked at the mother and saw the look in her eyes, and then he looked down at the body 20 feet from him, and heard the little girl cry out for daddy.

It wasn’t daddy any more, but a ten year old doesn’t know this.

“Fuck.” Lee felt that pressing coldness in the pit of his stomach like he had just massively screwed something up. But what was he supposed to have done? Let the man tear into him because he was afraid to make a 10-year-old cry? Lee shook his head and moved towards the house.

When he was close enough to talk, the little girl had turned away from him and buried her face in her mother. He opened his mouth to tell them his customary script, but the words caught in his mouth. He felt ashamed, though he knew there was nothing that could have been done differently. Even so, he didn’t want to introduce himself as the conquering hero of the United States Army one minute after gunning down this girl’s father.

He went with a simple, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I could do to save him. I’m here to help you. How did you get up there?”

The woman blinked away tears, obviously upset but also rational enough to understand that her husband was rendered insane by the plague and would have killed any of them had Lee not put him down. She pointed to the backside of the roof.

“There’s a ladder on the ground in the backyard.” Her voice was hoarse and cracked. Lee could not see any supplies on the roof and assumed they were both parched dry from lack of water.

He jogged around the house, taking the corners slowly and panning to see what threats lay beyond. When he saw the backyard was clear he walked, searching the overgrown grass and weeds for a ladder. He found a painter’s ladder lying in the knee-high grass, angled away from the house and Lee reasonably inferred that it had been propped against the house, then kicked off to prevent their attackers from following.

Lee picked the ladder up with one hand and heaved it back into place, leaning against the roof. The woman and her daughter appeared over the crest of the roof and worked their way carefully down the incline to the ladder.

The woman pointed to the ladder. “Abby, go down first.”

The little girl shook her head violently, her brown curls flying. “I don’t wanna go down with him!”

Lee felt stung. “It’s okay, sweetie. I promise I won’t hurt you.”

Abby wasn’t having it and screamed in an ear-splitting shriek, “You killed my daddy!”

“Abby,” the woman’s voice was shaking, but stern. “You will not talk to him like that."

The little girl was still sobbing, but didn’t say anything else. The woman turned and made her way down the ladder. She moved slowly and a bit clumsily. Lee was concerned about the level of dehydration. When she finally reached the bottom she held out her arms and motioned for the girl to come down. Finally the girl swung her tiny legs out and began climbing down, her mother hovering underneath her, arms outstretched, waiting to catch her if she fell.

When both of them were on the ground, Lee placed a hand gently on the woman’s shoulder and pointed towards the brick wall of the house. The angle of the sun cast this side of the house in shade, which was what both of them needed. He noticed that despite the heat, the woman wasn’t sweating, which only meant that her body didn’t have the fluids to spare.

“Come over here...” Lee held her by the arm as she walked slowly into the shade. “Cool down for a minute. I have water.”

The mention of water made both of the survivor’s eyes go wide. The woman nodded as she sat down against the brick wall. “Please. We haven’t had water in days.”

Lee unhooked his rifle and leaned it against the wall, still close by. Then he took off his pack and set it on the ground. From the main portion he withdrew four bottles of water, setting two on the ground and handing one to each of the females.

“They’re not cold,” Lee advised. “Drink it slow at first or you might vomit.”

While the two survivors undid the caps on their bottles of water and sipped at them, obviously using significant self-restraint to keep from gulping them down, Lee scanned the perimeter of the property, but saw no threats. Satisfied, he closed the main portion of his pack, and opened a smaller section where he kept stash of medical supplies. From inside he pulled out two packs of electrolyte tablets and two ice packs.

He handed the packs of electrolyte tablets to the mother. “When you get done with the bottle of water, put both tablets in the next bottle and shake it up. They’ll help rehydrate you.” As he said this he crushed the ice packs, breaking the chemical bags inside and turning the contents to a frozen slush.

With an ice pack in hand, he approached Abby cautiously, as you would a dog you were unsure of. The little girl looked at him with fearful brown eyes, but didn’t react, so he put on a disarming smile and held out the ice pack. “This is gonna help you feel better, okay?”

Happy to be drinking water, though still obviously distraught, the girl nodded and allowed him to place the ice pack against her head. After a second she pulled away.

“It’s cold.”

“Honey,” the mother said, sounding tired and out-of-it. “It’s gonna cool you down so the heat’s not so bad. Just let him do it.”

Abby relaxed and Lee put the ice pack back on her head, then worked it down to the base of her neck and held it there. After a few moments, he took her hand and put it where his was. “Hold that there, okay? Even if it starts to feel uncomfortable.”

Then he turned and put the ice pack on the mother’s head. Her eyes were closed and tears were coming out, gathering grime as they ran down her face. Lee spoke soothingly, “It’s gonna be alright. I’m gonna get you guys some place safe.”
The woman opened her eyes, now red-rimmed with tears. Her voice was a soft whisper. “Thank you.”

Lee nodded in response. “What’s your name?”

“Angela...” She thought for a moment, like she couldn’t remember. “...Houston.”

“Angela, I’m Lee Harden.” He still decided not to introduce his rank and purpose.

Later, he thought. Now’s not the time. While Lee held the ice pack to the base of her neck, Angela finished the first bottle of water and opened the second, dropping in the contents of one of the packs of electrolytes —two tablets. They immediately began to dissolve and turn the water an orangey yellow. She began to shake the bottle, though her movements were sluggish.

“How long were you on the roof?”

“I think...three days?”

“Have you had any water at all?”

“We brought up a gallon. That was all we could grab on our way out. They were already breaking through the front windows.”

“Was it just you three?”

She nodded. Lee looked at both of them. “You guys did really well. You’re both going to be very dehydrated, but hopefully the few bottles and electrolytes will get you out of the danger zone until I can get you back to my safe house.”

“You have a safe house?” Angela said it with some awe, as though she could not fathom the concept of a secure location.

“It’s several miles from here.”

“Did you walk?”

“No, I drove my truck—” No sooner had the words left Lee’s mouth than he heard the distant slam of a car door. A very distinct sound in the quiet of nature. He immediately froze and looked around. Angela and Abby sat unmoving, staring at him while his eyes scanned.

He grabbed up his M4 and stood.

Angela’s hand shot out, the quickest she’d moved yet, and held his arm. “Please...don’t go.”

Lee looked down at her, pitying her. “I’m not going far. And I’ll be right back.”

She released his arm and he stepped to the corner of the house, then peered around. He could see the land laid out in front of him and his truck on the road. No...not his truck. Someone else’s, parked facing the opposite direction. A dark blue Dodge Ram. Lee leaned out a little farther, gaining angle and seeing the rest of the scene.

His pickup truck was boxed in by the Ram in front, and an olive drab Humvee to the rear. Outside of the vehicles, two figures were inspecting his truck, while three others approached the house from the road. A remnant of the US Military? More likely just pirated US Military equipment. Lee brought his rifle up, using his scope to look at the three men approaching. Two of them wore ACU’s, but lacked any identifying marks and neither was wearing Kevlar, which made them look like civilians that had raided an army-navy store. The third wore an old woodland camouflage jacket and jeans. All three carried M4s. They walked with the rifles across their chests, not addressed towards the house. Lackadaisical.

If they were military, they were most likely a non-active unit, or reservists. They were not equipped and they did not act like an active military unit. Whether their intentions were good or bad, Lee didn’t know, and now was not the time to find out. He racked his brain for any readily available plan to snatch back his truck, but none of them were possible with the two survivors to look after.

Lee lowered the scope and estimated the distance.

The three approaching men were about 400 yards out, and walking at a slow but steady pace. That gave Lee and his two survivors only a few short minutes to get the hell out of the area.

He pulled himself back around the corner. Angela and Abby were staring up at him with wide, expectant eyes.

“We gotta move.”

“What...?” Angela stood and Abby followed suit. Lee grabbed her by the shoulder and gave her a gentle push away from the house.

“Head for the woods. There are people coming. I don’t know if they are friendly, and we’re not finding out.”

“They could be here to help.” Angela argued over her shoulder, stumbling along with Lee. “They could be friendly.”

“There’s five of them and they’re all armed.” Lee said, lowering his voice, despite the urgency spurring his feet. “If they don’t have our best interests in mind, we’re fucked... excuse me.”

Angela craned her neck behind her, trying to catch a glimpse of the newcomers. Lee kept a hand on her shoulder and a hand on Abby’s, and kept steering them towards the woods.

“Come on,” he said. “I know you guys are tired, but we gotta pick up the pace.”

“What about your truck?” Abby whined loudly. “How are we gonna get back to your safe place?”

“Ssh!” Lee hissed, looking behind him as though he expected a barrage of shots in response. “Speak quietly! They have my truck now. We have to walk.”

They hit the wood line and Lee dropped to one knee, tugging on their shoulders and gesturing for them to do likewise. Angela and Abby crowded in close and traded concerned looks, back and forth from their house to Lee.
His speech was a rapid whisper. “You guys keep going straight through the woods until you can’t see the house anymore. I’m going to bring up the rear. When you can’t see the house anymore, lay down and hide. I’ll find you.”

“How will you find us if we’re hiding?” Abby asked.

“Because I’m good at that kind of thing.” Lee looked sternly at both of them. “You both need to start trusting me. If you want to stay alive until I can get you to safety, you will do exactly as I tell you. Don’t question me, and don’t try to outthink me. Now go.”

Angela understood, although Abby was still attempting to grasp the concept. Her mother grabbed her hand and silently headed deeper into the woods without looking back. They moved quickly and loudly, each footfall like an earthquake to Lee. He just hoped the incoming personnel didn’t notice.

Lee waited for a moment, then swiveled and duck-walked over a few feet to a large tree and peered around it, his rifle raised. He worked himself around until he got a good angle on the house through the brush, and looked through his scope. Nothing yet. With some quick mental calculations, he decided he had some time to get a little more distance.

He stood and quietly sidestepped his way further into the woods and away from the house, keeping as much concealing brush and trees between him and the corners of the house. He kept looking where he as stepping, then back at the house. About 20 yards behind him, the woods sloped down. If he could make it to that slope...

Too late.

The three men cleared the corner of the house. One of them moved like a professional—the bald-headed one that wore ACU’s—his rifle was shouldered at low- ready and his body pivoted like a tank turret. Everywhere his eyes went, his rifle went, and he cleared the corner quickly and smoothly, gaining an angle on the back of the house. Then he motioned his two comrades forward.

The other one wearing ACU’s had longer-than-regulation dark hair. The kind of long, slicked back hair you see on the front of a bottle of Rogaine. He still held his rifle like an amateur—butt-stock under his armpit, muzzle pointed at the sky—and he walked without urgency. The third one wearing the woodland top and the jeans, still held his weapon ported, the barrel cradled in his left arm.

One possibly military, the other two...not so much.

Without Angela and Abby to weigh him down, he could probably take these three goons out, and have a good chance at using the house as a defensible location to take out the rest of the squad. But without knowing their intentions, he did not want to be the first to open fire. He wasn’t willing to take the gamble on whether they were good or bad guys, but the possibility still remained that they could be partially made up of US Army personnel on a benevolent mission.

Lee had slowly moved his way to another large tree and sunk down onto one knee, surveying the scene with only his left eye, peering out from behind the thick trunk.

Bald ACU moved towards the back door of the house, scanning the yard as he did. Rogaine ACU and Woodland followed after him. Bald ACU waited at the back door until Rogaine tapped him on the shoulder, and then all three filed into the house.

That was Lee’s queue to leave.

He pushed off the tree and made a dash for the down-slope, then took the hill head on and flew down at literal break-neck speed, maximizing the opportunity of having all three unidentified persons distracted by clearing the house. He continued his sprint until he felt he’d lost enough altitude that they would not be able to see him over the hillcrest. He stopped and turned, looking back, and could not see the house.

He took a brief moment to catch his breath from the sprint and took in his surroundings, attempting to get his bearings. He needed to find Angela and Abby and formulate a plan of action. For a brief moment, he felt out of his depth, one of those crippling and paralyzing moments where one realizes that people are relying on you, and that you cannot fail them. The responsibility of Angela and Abby, and Sam back at his house that was probably wondering what the hell was taking Lee so long, felt like a rope around his chest, tightening steadily.

Then he took another breath, shook his head and the feeling was gone.

He needed to find Angela and Abby, make a plan that would keep everyone safe and not require too much strenuous activity from the dehydrated and undernourished mother and daughter, and get everyone back to the house before Sam lost it and wandered off, believing Lee was dead.

But the first thing was simply to start looking for Angela and Abby. Compartmentalize. So Lee started walking, and looking for signs of human foot-traffic through the woods.

Unbeknownst to him, the presence of survivors had not gone unnoticed by the unidentified personnel that had cleared the house. After securing the premises and calling in the rest of the guys, Bald ACU took a good long look at the back of the house, where the overgrown grass was matted down like people had been laying in it, and the couple of empty water bottle and the two empty packets of electrolyte tablets, still lying in the grass. There were also two ice packs, still cold, and sweating in the heat. It looked to him like two people were rescued, which meant there had to be at least one rescuer.

At least three people, unaccounted for.

And one of them had medical supplies.

Laager
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Re: The Remaining

Post by Laager » Wed Nov 02, 2011 3:41 pm

This could be a good thing or a bad thing......my guess is that Lee's truck has his vehicle registration in it....which means that bald ACU guy could possibly find Lee's house. I know if it was me I'd head there.....chances are Lee's truck engine is still warm.
“Complacency kills. Paranoia is the reason I’m still alive.” If we do happen to make contact, I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of ya.

dantheremaining
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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Wed Nov 02, 2011 9:08 pm

Here's the new video I put online to get people interested in the book.

http://youtu.be/WtWQmK5C2kk" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

223shooteresc
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Re: The Remaining

Post by 223shooteresc » Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:41 pm

thanks for the new chapter, good stuff, hope these are good guys but somehow I doubt it

dantheremaining
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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:31 pm

**First part of Chapter 9**

After a short search, Lee found some leaves that were disturbed, revealing the forest floor beneath, and a nice half-moon shoe-print in the dirt. On the trail, he followed the spoor to a little ravine about fifty yards further into the woods where he found two frazzled blonde heads and two fearful sets of blue eyes peering at him from behind a fallen tree.

“Thank god it’s you...” Angela stood and Lee could see she was holding a thick branch like a club. The thing was rotted out and probably would have done nothing but powder an attacker in wood particles, but Lee could appreciate her spunk. Most people just laid down and waited for fate to deal them their hands. At least this one was willing to fight it out.

Lee took another look behind him to make sure he had no followers, then slid over the fallen log and rested his pack against the log, splaying his legs out in front of him. He took the moment to drink a bit from his Camelback, then motioned for the two girls to join him on the ground. They both got low.

This time Lee spoke in a normal tone. “I’m going to get you guys back to my house, but the truck is not an option right now. We have to assume that whoever that was at the house knows we were there and is following us.”

“Will they be?” Angela sounded worried.

Lee shrugged. “I don’t know. But we will assume they are, so we aren’t surprised when they show up looking for us.” Lee pointed due east. “There’s another farmhouse a few miles that way. An old man lives there. I think he’s ex-military, and might be willing to help another military man out. I think he has a vehicle, too. We’re going to head that way and hope for the best.”

“I think that’s Mr. Burnside.” Angela gave Lee a look that communicated it was only a guess. “He’s the only ex-military guy I know around here.”

“You know what he drives?” Lee asked.

“No idea. Haven’t really talked to him. Seen him in the market once or twice. Older guy with gray hair. Don’t know him other than that.”

Lee nodded. That was essentially useless information, but Angela was only trying to be helpful. He looked at his watch.

It was already nearly 1700 hours. It would be dark at about 2100 hours.

“Alright, we have about four hours of daylight left.” Lee rolled himself onto his feet. “If we move quickly, we should be able to make it to Burnside’s house before dark.”

Abby pointed to Lee’s pack. “Do you have any food?”

Angela put an arm on her daughter’s shoulder. “Please, if you have any food...we haven’t eaten in days.”

Lee didn’t really want them eating on dehydrated stomachs. It could cause them to vomit and become even more dehydrated. But they also needed something to perk them up.

“Yeah,” Lee dropped his pack and pulled out two MRE’s. He tore both of them open and fished through the contents. He extracted the Pop Tart and the fruit cocktail from one, and the pound cake and the Smarties from the other. He handed the candy to Abby and the fruit cocktail to Angela. “Eat those slowly for some carbs while we walk. If you hold it down okay, I’ll give you the Pop Tart and pound cake. And keep drinking that water.”

Lee shouldered his pack again and started walking without any further instructions. The two girls followed after a moment of wrestling their individual packages open. They ate eagerly and quietly as they walked in Lee’s wake.

Lurch
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Re: The Remaining

Post by Lurch » Sat Nov 05, 2011 4:47 pm

I've been reading this, over on your website, and I must say, it rocks!

dantheremaining
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Re: The Remaining

Post by dantheremaining » Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:40 pm

**Chapter 9 cont'd...**

Lee peered through thick summer foliage at the farmhouse that sat alone and dark, set back on a long dirt road. The forest came to a point, jutting out across surrounding farmland and pointing directly at the farmhouse. From the edge of the woods to the farmhouse was about 50 yards, and Lee made sure he stayed well back in the trees. All around him, flat farmland stretched, planted with half-grown tobacco crops.

It was still light, but would be getting dark soon. They’d made the trip in a little under three hours. In the waning sunlight, Lee could see a large chicken coop in the backyard with several hens and a rooster patrolling the chicken wire. They seemed to still be well taken care of.

The house was dark, but the upstairs windows were open. The interior looked black. If Mr. Burnsides was a true sniper, he would not be sticking his muzzle out the window, but hiding far back in the darkness of the room, away from light and prying eyes. Lee wondered if he was being watched right then through the scope of a high-power rifle and the thought made him very uncomfortable. He wanted cover, but there was only concealment in the form of bushes and thin trees.

Nothing that could stop a bullet.

In the front yard of the farmhouse was the pile of bodies Sam had spoken of. They were no longer smoldering, and were mostly ash, but Lee could see some bits of charred skeleton, and even some items of clothing, and a single boot. Again, he wondered if these were infected or just the bodies of everyone that came looking for help and didn’t find it.

Lee looked behind him, keeping his movements very slow as to not attract any attention he didn’t already have. From where he was laying, he could not see Angela or Abby in their hiding place about 50 yards back in the woods. They were to wait for Lee to give them the signal before they came out. No sense in everyone dying if Mr. Burnsides turned out to be a nut-job. Lee wasn’t thrilled about being the guinea pig, but he couldn’t very well make Angela or Abby do it.

Lee took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves, perversely wondered what it felt like to have a high-power bullet punch a hole in your chest, and then stood. He kept his M4 slung, but both his hands in the air. He walked slowly to the edge of the woods, and then stepped out into the open.

Please don’t be a crazy motherfucker...

No shot rang out.

A white curtain in one of the dark windows stirred as a breeze kicked up and then died down.

He kept his hands up, fingers splayed as though showing someone the number ten. He stepped a few feet closer to the house and was stopped by a barked command.

“That’s far enough!”

Lee stretched his hands up a little further and couldn’t help but cringe, waiting for the shot. He didn’t like putting his life in other people’s hands, but this was one of those situations where you just had to bite the proverbial bullet and do it.

The voice came from the house again. “Put your hands on top of your head and interlace your fingers.”

Lee complied.

“Now get down on your knees.”

Again, Lee did as he was told, but decided to try talking. “I have two civilians with me that need help.”

“Shut the fuck up!”

Lee clamped his mouth shut, his palms feeling a bit cold and sweaty.

“Look down at the ground and don’t look back up until I tell you. If you disobey me, you will be shot.”

This was a bad idea.

Lee looked down at the ground. Several long moments passed and Lee heard quiet footsteps approach from his right side, then they swung wide around him and came up from behind. He felt a firm hand grip his interlaced fingers, holding them on the top of his head, while another hand patted him down. Lee’s sidearm was liberated from its holster, and his M4 was unclasped from its sling and removed. The hands explored his pockets and inside the tongue of his boots, checking—Lee presumed—for any hidden weapons.

“Don’t move,” said the voice, very close now. Lee heard the soft footsteps retreat a few paces behind him and then stopped. “Moving slowly, turn and face me.”

Lee kept his movements exaggeratedly slow, just to make sure. It was obvious that Mr. Burnsides, if that is who Lee was dealing with, was not to be fucked with.

When Lee turned he found a man, probably in his mid 40’s, standing and pointing a Remington Model 700 rifle at him, topped with a very nice Leupold scope. Lee immediately noticed the man was tall and extremely thin. His long-sleeve denim shirt and khaki pants fit him snugly, so Lee assumed the man’s scarecrow figure was not a recent development and hadn’t been caused by food depravation. He wore a dirty old ball cap and Lee could see short, gray hair peeking out from underneath. Though the man’s skin looked taut over his skeletal features, his face was scoured with deep wrinkles that gave him a weathered look. Dark, narrowed eyes glared at Lee from underneath wild-looking eyebrows.

This was not the man Lee knew from the market.

The man spoke first. “Who are you?”

“My name is Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army. I have two civilians in my care and we are only seeking to move through here and mean you no harm.”

“Bullshit...” The man spat.

Lee didn’t know whether he meant it about the United State Army thing, or about the mean-you-no-harm thing.

“Haven’t seen regular Army for weeks,” the man clarified. “All we got left now is some POG reservists out pillaging everything they find in the name of reestablishing law and order.” He said POG like poge. “You a POG reservist?”

Lee shook his head and spoke in calm, level tones. “No, sir. I am active duty. The United State Army has sent me to help.”

“Help with what?” the man snorted.

“My ID is in my pack. Please, see for yourself.”

Still pointing the rifle at him, the man knelt over the pack he had taken from Lee and hesitated over the pockets. Lee told him which pocket to go into and he delved in, retrieving Lee’s military ID card. He looked at it for a long moment, then put it back.

“Still not convinced,” he declared.

Lee nodded. “I understand your hesitance, however, whether you are convinced or not of my occupation, I am not here to harm you, and I am only trying to find a way to get two civilians to a safe zone.”

“Ain’t no safe zone around here. And what two civilians you keep talking about?”

“They are hiding.”

The man rolled his eyes. “I ain’t tryin’ to hurt nobody.”

“Neither am I. And I have a safe zone. If you will promise not to harm me or the two civilians, I will be glad to explain everything to you...indoors.”

The man considered this for a long moment. While he considered, Lee spoke again. “By the way, you aren’t Mr. Burnsides, are you?”

He looked at Lee with suspicion in his eyes. “I am.”

“Because I knew the man that lived here.” Lee didn’t elaborate, but left the unsaid question hanging in the air.

“Don Burnsides. Yeah.” The man looked at the pile of ash that was once a burning tangle of corpses. “Don was my father.”

Lee could see the pain in the man’s face, a face that didn’t usually display those types of feelings. There was a story there that Lee could tell the younger Burnsides didn’t want to talk about. As quickly as the look of pain came, it passed by, like a cloud casting a quick shadow and then rolling away in the wind.

The younger Burnsides continued: “I’m Jack Burnside. And I’m a Marine, so don’t try and bullshit me about no military crap. I’ll know if you’re lying.”

Lee didn’t pursue it. “Well, Jack, can we get indoors?”

Jack shifted his position so that he could see Lee and the woods at the same time. “Call to your civilian friends. Have them come out. Unarmed.”

Neither had a weapon, so Lee wasn’t worried about that. He yelled their names loudly into the woods and told them it was safe to come out. Lee and Jack waited in an awkward silence for several long moments before the sound of the two untrained woodland movers crashing through the forest reached them. After a few more seconds, the two of them emerged, Abby clinging tightly to Angela’s leg and staring at Jack with apprehension.

Jack regarded the duo with some suspicion—he was quite the hardass—but did them the mercy of not pointing his rifle in their face. He stared at them as though trying to figure out whether they were dangerous or not. Lee was not sure what conclusion he finally came too, but he motioned towards the house with his rifle. “It’s about time to get indoors, anyways...night’s a bad time to come across one of them nutjobs.”

223shooteresc
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Re: The Remaining

Post by 223shooteresc » Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:27 am

thanks for the new chapters, good stuff

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