The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by teotwaki » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:04 pm

JeeperCreeper wrote:
Thu Dec 13, 2018 10:12 pm
...even if you never update this again...

I agree with what 91Eunoz said!

My adventures and pictures are on my blog

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Hunt4lyf » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:23 pm

Send TB some pm's, hopefully he gets notified of them by email and comes back. I've sent him a couple but maybe if he gets a bunch he'll come back, he hasn't been on here for 6 months.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Telamonster » Tue Dec 25, 2018 10:51 pm

Followed a link from reddit and stayed for a few weeks reading through all 3.5(?) parts. Thanks for all of the effort that you’ve put into this TB. I hope to read more soon.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:09 pm

Using road maps salvaged from abandoned cars, they charted a route through the basalt cliffs, sagebrush and tinder dry bunchgrass of the Scablands. A line of telephone poles paralleled the road, stretching to the horizon under a pale sun that arced farther south every day. Lightly populated even before the end of the world, the area still bore scattered tokens of the apocalypse: a grain silo painted with a giant sloppy skull and crossbones and a message – “No Help Here” – a fire-gutted semi truck with thousands of weather beaten disposable diapers scattered around its cracked open trailer and the occasional reanimated corpse tangled in roadside barbed wire fencing. They passed what appeared to have briefly been a military base marked by a few collapsed tents, coils of concertina wire and a crashed helicopter marked with a red cross. The road shoulder there was littered with spent brass casings and sixty or so desiccated corpses – all permanently dead – lying amid the tumbleweeds.

The towns in the area were all tiny agricultural outposts, but when they did have to drive through one they did it as fast as they could, trying to attract as little attention as possible while weaving through streets littered with dust-coated cars and windblown debris. At the sound of the Forester’s engine, the dead climbed out of smashed store display windows and staggered from small houses with white vinyl siding, but by the time they emerged only a cloud of dust remained to mark the route Lucas and True had taken. The dead townspeople – those who had died from the Gwailo, those who had been bitten by the dead, those who had died from starvation or thirst or disease – shuffled for a time through once familiar surroundings. Their brainstems sizzled faintly and the trace of an idea washed through them: Food – food made sounds like that. They dragged themselves through the streets of the town and continued to do so all day. Only when the fall of night robbed them of stimuli would they once again slump into dusty corners and musty recesses to wait for the next sound that aroused their interest.

The high desert and its sculpted rock castles stretched out on both sides of the road. Every once in a while they would pass a dilapidated trailer home or the odd cinder block building that looked like it dated to the middle of the previous century, but they were only rarely tempted to stop.

“How’s the gas?” True asked for the second time in ten minutes.

“Almost gone,” Lucas reported once again.

True consulted the map. The paper was torn along nearly every one of its creases and every gust of wind in through the cracked open car window lengthened the tears another fraction of an inch. She pressed her fingertip to the point where the highway crossed the river. “Will we at least make the Snake?”

“Why?” Lucas inquired absently.

“I don’t know. I thought we might find a boat.”

“Lots of dams on the river.”

“And no one operating the locks,” True conceded.

“Anyway, the Snake goes kind of east-west. We want to go more southeast.”

You want to go southeast, True thought. You want to find your dead girlfriend, not me. She didn’t care much about finding Lux. In fact, over the past two days she’d begun to dislike Lux very much, despite never having met her. What did interest True was the idea of being there when Lucas realized that finding his girlfriend was a lost cause. Everything she was doing – helping navigate the back roads, checking abandoned cars for gasoline, offering small words of encouragement – was geared towards that moment, towards being the runner up in the contest for Lucas’ affections. She was certain that, given the chance, she could make him forget all about his former love.

Lucas’s thoughts, on the other hand, regularly returned to just how he could ditch True Brewer and still remain a relatively decent human being. Despite the fact that True was clearly trying to pull her own weight, each time she left him behind the wheel to check the occasional abandoned car or truck for gasoline he felt the urge to put the Forester in drive and go. Each time she returned to the passenger seat he asked himself why he hadn’t followed through on the impulse and wondered whether he would be able to do it the next time. She wasn’t unpleasant. She wasn’t especially annoying and she wasn’t really holding him back in any appreciable way. Still, he wanted to leave her behind. And knowing that leaving her required finding a good, reasonably safe place – someplace other than the side of the road – gnawed at him. Reasonably safe places had become difficult, if not impossible, to find.

“Woah,” Lucas said as they rounded a bend in the road. “Woah, woah, woah.”

“What?” True asked, looking up from the map. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Is that…hey, is that guy alive?”

Ahead of them a green Toyota Corolla sat with its front right wheel just off the blacktop. Standing outside the open driver side door was a disheveled scarecrow of a man in jeans with the untucked tail of a light pink dress shirt flapping in the breeze. The man had a two month-old beard, hollows for eyes and his arm was cocked at the elbow. Even at a distance it was clear he was holding a handgun to his head. Before Lucas could bring the Forester to a complete stop, the man’s head jerked sideways and his body fell to the road.

“I’d say…no,” Lucas answered.

“Shit,” True whispered, shocked at what just happened. “He just shot himself. Right fucking there.”

“Looks that way,” Lucas replied, putting the car in park.

“The asshole just…” She shook her head and tried to clear the lump in her throat. “Shit. First living person we’ve seen and he goes and shoots himself.”

Lucas opened the door and took his gun from where it rested on the center console. “Take the wheel. Put it in drive and keep an eye out.”

“Keep an eye out for what?” she asked, scooting awkwardly from the passenger side to the driver side. “He just blew his own brains out. I’m no expert, but I don’t think he’s coming back from that.”

Lucas didn’t reply. He just gripped his revolver and warily approached the Corolla. He had to admit, it really did look like the guy had blown his own brains out, but he’d seen so many tricks by so many desperate people on the road that he wasn’t willing to totally drop his defenses. A minute later, though, after seeing the man’s lifeless corpse up close and seeing no sign of an ambush waiting for them on either side of the highway, he lowered the hammer on his gun and dropped it to his side. On the driver’s seat, weighted down with a dirt-covered, collapsible shovel was a note written on a road map. “Bury me beside them,” it read. Lucas looked out at the sandy soil beside the road. It wasn’t long before he discovered three mounds of disturbed earth, one adult sized and two child sized. “Lotta digging,” he muttered, returning his gaze to the man’s fresh corpse. He tried to think of something to say to him, something to explain why he wasn’t going to honor his dying wish, but though he dug deep, he could only come up with one thought: It doesn’t matter.

“No gas, no food, no water,” he reported when he’d walked back to the Forester. “Just some dirty clothes and a few…whatever.” He was going to say kid’s toys, but decided against adding that detail. “No telling how long since they ran out of gas.”

They?” True asked, gazing down the highway.

“Yeah.” He tossed the shovel in the back of the car and took True’s place behind the wheel. “Here’s a road map. This one’s in better shape.”

True took the map and read the dead man’s note. “’Bury me beside them’?” As Lucas put the car in gear and drove forward, the pieces fell together in her head. She looked at the man’s corpse as they passed. “We’re not going to?”

“He’s dead,” Lucas told her, staring straight ahead. “It doesn’t matter.”

True nodded. “I guess,” she replied, but there was uncertainty in her voice.

“Here,” he said to her, handing over the semi-automatic handgun the man had used to kill himself. “You can have this and we can get Lux’s carbine wrapped back up. It looks like it’s in decent shape.” He dropped two extra full magazines onto the seat beside her. “And here’s a nearly full box of nine millimeter. They must have been holed up somewhere pretty good. Ran out of food and water, but still had bullets.”

True looked at the Sig Sauer P226 pistol in her hands, holding it away from herself at first until she was sure it was free of the dead man’s brains. “I was just getting used to the carbine,” she muttered.

“Yeah, well,” Lucas replied, steering his way around a tumbleweed-cluttered car wreck, “no use getting used to something that’s somebody else’s.” True didn’t answer. She just turned her head and peered out the passenger side window.

Nearly an hour later the landscape in the distance began to dip downward into a series of stepped basalt cliffs. “There’s the river,” Lucas announced. Up ahead a small wedge of water showed between winding canyon walls. The highway took a serpentine route into the gorge and they passed road signs for a fish hatchery and a state park. They rounded a bend and caught sight of a bridge in the distance.

“Is that our bridge?” True asked, confused. “Because it looks like the road goes underneath it.”

“That,” Lucas replied slowly, piecing things together as he peered through the windshield, “looks like a railway bridge. The tracks must parallel the highway.” They drove on and soon passed beneath the high-level bridge’s supporting steel towers. “Over there.” Lucas pointed through a line of poplar trees, all but a few of their yellowed leaves stripped away by the autumn wind. “There’s our bridge.” But the sight of a barricade blocking passage across the long cantilever truss span was visible even from a mile away. “Crap. That’s going to make things – ”

“Shit,” True breathed, interrupting him. “Are those…people?” She fumbled for the binoculars and aimed them at the river’s edge. “Those are dead people, aren’t they?” The mass of them, their flesh gray, filthy with dust and mud, ragged from dragging themselves along, blended into the surroundings so that at a distance they appeared almost like a feature of the landscape. But under close inspection they moved; packed together along the riverbank, they moved about like a giant mat of garbage floating languidly on the water.

“That’s…that’s not good,” Lucas said as he brought the car to a stop. “That’s way too many to drive through.”

“They’re all…those are all…dead?” True asked, still trying to process what she was seeing.

“Live people don’t gather like that out in the open these days.”

“There are so many.”

“We’ve got to…” He craned his neck around, checking behind the car “…we’ve got to get out of here before they see us.”

“Shit, there are thousands of them,” True reported, still peering through the binoculars. “Why are they out here? There’s nothing around, nothing but flyspeck towns from horizon to horizon.”

“They might’ve just wandered in one or two at a time and collected along the water. I guess even when you’re dead you still don’t want to walk into a river.”

“They’re up on the bridge, too. Not as many as along the water, but some. A hundred, maybe. They’re all bunched up in front of the roadblock.”

“Someone wanted to keep them on this side of the river.” As he spoke, Lucas was focusing on the bridge barricade with his own binoculars. It appeared to be a sturdy construction made chiefly of roughly hewn telephone poles, railroad ties and fence posts all strung together with tangles of barbed wire. “Huh,” Lucas said. “Well, we’re not getting across that bridge.”

“We sure as shit are not,” True adamantly agreed, still squinting through the binoculars at the masses of dead people slowly milling along the highway bridge. “So, what, we turn back and…” She lowered the binoculars and raised the map in front of her. “The next bridge is…uh…it’s only a couple miles up the river, but…but there’s no direct route to it along this side. We’re going to have to backtrack a long way until we get to a road that connects – ”

“No,” Lucas cut in. “There,” he said, adjusting the rear view mirror so that he could see the high-level railway bridge. “We take that one.”

“’That one’? ‘That one’ what?” True asked, turning her head to see what he was looking at. “That high-as-fuck railroad bridge?” She faced him with an incredulous look. “You want to drive across that?”

“Don’t want to,” Lucas said, putting the car in reverse and turning them around, “but we can’t make it to another bridge. The fuel gauge is on empty.”

“No,” True protested. “I mean, how would we even get up there?”

“We passed a dirt road just as the highway started to drop toward the river. I’ll bet it intersects the railroad tracks before the bridge starts.”

“And then we just drive across on the fucking highest, narrowest bridge I’ve ever seen?” True said, still hoping she could talk him out of it. “On railroad tracks? Even though we’re in a car? A car that could run out of gas halfway across? That is, if we don’t fall off into the fucking river hundreds of fucking feet below?”

“I got out of a tight spot once by driving out of town on some railroad tracks,” Lucas told her.

“On a high-level bridge?”

“Well, no,” Lucas conceded. “It was on the ground.”

“Then it’s not the same.”

“No,” he agreed as he drove back up the hill, “it’s not the same, but it’s the only way across that I can see.” They reached the dirt road and he eased the Forester onto it. “We’ve got to keep moving.”

“Moving is good,” True said, looking worriedly at the railroad bridge to their right. “Plummeting is bad.”

Just as Lucas had suspected, the dirt road did intersect the railroad tracks before the start of the bridge. Straddling one of the rails, the Forester’s tires made a singing sound as they drove along the railroad ties.

“Look,” True said. A single body raised itself from where it had been lying on the rocky ballast bed beside the tracks. Clad in rags, the dead woman’s face had been mostly torn away, revealing yellowed teeth and blackened tissue. Its legs had been severed at the knees making Lucas wonder how long it had been since a train had passed this way.

“I see it,” Lucas said, slowing a bit and adjusting the Forester so that its left front bumper struck the corpse hard enough to damage it, but not hard enough to damage the car.

“Yuck,” True said, wincing at the thudding impact with a sickened expression. The corpse tumbled away, looking like a rag doll as it rolled down the slope.

Upon reaching the bridge, Lucas slowed and stopped. “Uh oh,” he said. About one third of the way across the span, someone had constructed another barrier. Though made from the same materials as the barricade on the highway bridge, this one appeared to be made to pass through. The large lumber framed square at its center was strung thick with barbed wire. Off to one side there was a plywood sign with a message painted in red.
“What’s it say?”

True squinted to make out the words. “It says ’Don’t be a dick. Close the gate.’”

“Okay,” Lucas said, “so I guess that means the gate’s not locked.” He eased the car out across the bridge and toward the barrier. On the right hand side there was a narrow walkway and a railing, but on the driver’s side there was nothing but a sheer drop to the river two hundred feet below. “See? No problem. Feel better?”

“No,” she firmly replied. “Oh, shit. There’s another one.”

Tangled in the barbed wire, the corpse of a man lifted its head at the sound of their approach. In life, the man had always been very thin and graced with an exceptionally prominent nose. Now dead for nearly a year, the corpse’s added gauntness made his beak-like nose stand out all the more. The reanimated body struggled to free itself from the barricade and move toward the car, but its right arm was stuck firmly in place. The tatters of his jacket sleeves flapped in the wind, resembling ragged wings. It reached toward them with its left arm and gnashed its teeth as it strained, looking like a strange hybrid of human and bird of prey.

“Uh,” Lucas said, turning to her as he put the car in park, “your pickaroon, I think.”

“In the back,” she told him, jabbing a thumb over her shoulder to where she’d put the logging tool. “Can’t you just, you know, shoot it? It seems…nicer, I guess. More…um…merciful.”

Lucas didn’t think he had to explain to her about conserving ammunition or making unnecessary loud noises, so he said nothing as he got out of the car, sidestepped his way to the rear door and tried not to think about how high up they were. He had to swing the pickaroon three times before the dead man’s skull was sufficiently caved in and its brain properly pulped. Then the skeletal bird-like figure crumpled to the tracks, leaving Lucas to cut it free from the barbed wire and roll it to the side. Something inside him was disappointed that the man’s remains didn’t roll far enough to drop from the high level bridge to the river below. It would’ve been cool, he thought, to push it over the edge, watch it fall through all of that air and strike the water. But he refrained from following through on the urge because of True. He glimpsed her behind the windshield, hiding her eyes behind her hands. Feeling somewhat irked, he wrapped the end of the pickaroon in a spare plastic grocery bag for later cleaning and returned it to the car.

Passing through the barrier required unlocking two padlocks and unwrapping two coiled chains. But the fact that the keys were already inserted in the locks made going through the gate feel less like trespassing. Once the barrier had been closed and locked behind them, they continued across the river gorge at a very slow speed.

“How’s the gas?” True asked again, her eyes locked on the view ahead, trying to ignore river below.

“Fumes,” Lucas answered, concentrating on keeping the Forester’s tires from rubbing against the metal rails. The wind buffeted the car as they reached the midway point and he noticed True adjusting her white knuckled grip on the grab handle above the passenger side window. The crossing seemed to take many minutes, but as they neared the basalt cliffs on the opposite side, True’s breathing became less constricted and she exhaled softly.

“Okay,” she said, clearing her throat and unfolding the roadmap, “the tracks aren’t on this map, but if we keep heading – ” A sudden sputter from the engine made her stop in mid sentence. “Oh, shit.”

“Come on,” Lucas growled, his hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. He found himself making short lunging movements where he sat, as through trying to propel the car forward. “Just make it to the other side.” The Forester seemed to recover for a moment, but soon made a short series of chugging sounds. The engine died and they coasted to a point about one hundred yards shy of the other side. “Well, that’s it.”

“At least there’s a walkway,” True said, peering through the windshield at the slot cut into the canyon wall for the train tracks. “Hey, there’s a truck over there. See it?” She pointed ahead where the tracks passed through the rocks. “It’s…it’s moving. It’s, uh…it’s moving toward us.” She looked at him. “Is that good or bad?”

Lucas peered through the windshield in alarm. It was a white box truck with a logo on the side and the words Red Ripple Hills Dairy in blue cursive lettering. “Well,” he said, glancing back the way they had come, “we are stuck.” Their only retreat was to make their way on foot back over the high level railroad bridge, an action that would leave them totally exposed. And, he considered, the fact that the other side of the river was crawling with reanimated corpses was also quite a deterrent. He reached into the back seat for Lux’s carbine as a heavy gust of wind rocked the car.

“They’re too far away,” True said focusing her binoculars on the white, twelve foot cube van. “You’ll never hit them with that thing.”

“Well, it might do us some good to look as dangerous as possible,” Lucas told her. “And if they come out here, they’ll be easy enough to hit.”

“If they have hunting rifles,” she countered, still studying the vehicle, “they won’t have to come out here. They’ll be able to hit us from a distance, no problem.”

Lucas didn’t want to tell her that if they were facing bad guys like the kind he’d encountered before, they might want to shoot him, but her – her they wouldn’t want to shoot. Her they would want to take alive. “If you’ve got any other ideas,” he argued as he worked to chamber a round in the CX4 Storm, “I’d be happy to hear them.”

“Look,” she said to him. Up ahead, ruby red lights were moving across the front of the cube van. “It’s one of those light-up message boards like the kind you see advertising shit in store display windows. They’ve got it fastened above the cab.” Her mouth formed a faint, nervous smile. “Not a bad way to communicate over long distance, I guess.”

“Okay, so what’s the message?” Lucas asked. Inside, he allowed himself to be somewhat relieved. Bad guys, he thought, didn’t often show so much ingenuity. Not the really bad ones, anyway.

“It says ‘Wave if you can read this,’” she reported. She turned to him. “So do we wave?”

“We wave,” Lucas told her after a moment’s thought, “because we’ve got no choice.” He grabbed his own binoculars and opened the driver side door, stepping out onto railroad tracks just as another gust of wind swirled around him. Retreating, he thought, wasn’t an option. And though they still might be bad guys, playing for time and jockeying for a better position seemed like the only thing to do. He waved his arm high above his head and focused the binoculars on the truck. For a few moments the LED sign simply scrolled the same message: Wave if you can read this…Wave if you can read this… But as they both watched, a new message appeared.

We dfend Rselves,” it read and repeated over and over.

“They’re sitting in there typing new messages for the sign,” True said from the passenger seat. “Awesome.”

The message We dfend Rselves disappeared after thirty seconds or so and the sign went blank. A moment later another message appeared: “Come here slow.” With exaggerated gestures, Lucas knocked on the hood of the Forester and then drew his finger across his neck. Trying to ignore the precipitous drop to river’s rocky shoreline below and taking care to hug the side of the car, he made his way around to the back of the Forester and opened the rear hatch. He lifted the empty red gas can into the air, turned it upside down and shook it. Fifteen seconds passed before the LED sign began to scroll a new message: “We got gas. U pay?

Lucas raised his arm and gave the people in the cube van the thumbs up.

“What are we doing? True asked from the passenger seat. “Are we going to get gas from them?”

“They could just shoot us,” Lucas said into the wind. “We’re sitting ducks out here.”

“So are we lucking out? Is this us lucking out?”

“Maybe,” he replied. “Maybe they just don’t want to hit the car.” Or the girl, he added to himself.

No guns,” the LED message board scrolled. “Tricks = Bad day 4 U.”

The truck didn’t come any closer, but four figures emerged from it. Three of them walked forward along the tracks and the fourth remained behind. It was clear through the binoculars that the fourth figure was resting a scoped bolt action rifle on the truck’s open door and taking careful aim at them. Above him, the LED message board continued to scroll the words Tricks = Bad day 4 U.

“There’s that hunting rifle you were talking about,” Lucas told her as they watched the other three move forward.

“They look young,” True said, standing beside the car and squinting through her binoculars at the approaching figures.

“They look well armed,” Lucas countered. Two of them carried what appeared to be AR-style rifles while the third was armed with a pump action shotgun.

“They’re kids,” True said, lowering the binoculars.

“Kids smart enough to leave a long range shooter behind,” Lucas muttered.

Like True had said, they were young; eighteen or younger, Lucas estimated. At a distance, he had figured the oldest and the youngest for Hispanic, but he changed his mind when they got closer and now thought they looked more like they belonged to one of the local Native American tribes. The third wore a red baseball cap with curly brown hair puffing out from both sides and had wide blue eyes with a startled, fearful look buried in them.

“Hey,” Lucas called out when they were still fifteen yards away.

The oldest of the three waited until they were close enough to talk without shouting. “Bad place to run out of gas,” he said.

“No good place to run out these days,” Lucas replied. The oldest nodded and appraised Lucas and True with calm, dark eyes.

“You closed the gate?” he asked.

“We locked it up behind us,” Lucas answered.

He nodded again. “You’re the first non-flesheaters we seen out here in, like, two weeks. Where you coming from?”

“The mountains,” Lucas replied, tilting his head slightly to indicate a northwesterly direction.

“Why’d you leave there?”

“I’m…looking for someone,” Lucas answered after a slight hesitation.

“My…my family…” True said falteringly, “…they’re all…”

The young man looked out across the river gorge as though slightly embarrassed. “Don’t matter. Just wondered. We don’t get much news around here. I’m Xálish.” At this, his companion in the red baseball cap chuckled softly, causing the young man to turn to him with an annoyed look. “You got a problem, Ted?”

“No,” his friend replied. Ted’s chin was studded with just a few scattered whiskers; a full beard for him was still years away. “Just, yesterday your name was Thompson, that’s all.”

“Well, now my name’s Xálish,” he said with a challenge in his voice. “That a problem?”

His friend continued to smile, but shook his head. “I have no problem whatsoever with it, Thomp – I mean, Xálish.”

He turned to face Lucas and True. “World’s changed,” he said, trying to justify himself. “Everything’s gone. A guy can pick his own name, I think."

“What’s Xálish mean?” True inquired.

“Douchebag,” Ted quickly chimed in. “It means douchebag.”

You’re the douchebag,” said the young man calling himself Xálish.

“Maybe it means Chief Douchebag,” grinned the youngest of the three to Ted’s right.

“Suck my balls, Cale,” Xálish said to him.

“Are you the chief, then?” Lucas asked. The question brought another round of chuckles from the young man’s companions.

“I am of these asswipes,” Xálish said, turning to glare at his friends. “I keep you all from becoming flesheater shit when we’re off the ranch. But, no,” he replied, facing Lucas again. “We don’t really work like that. We don’t have no top dog.”

“There’s Evelyn,” said Ted.

“Evelyn cooks,” Xálish replied.

“Yeah,” said Cale, “and if you don’t do your shit, she spits in your food.”

Xálish nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, so Evelyn’s, like, top dog.”

“You have some gas we can use?” Lucas asked, trying not to sound impatient at the back and forth banter.

“Depends,” Xálish answered, sneaking a look at the back of the Forester. “You got something to trade for it?”

“And money ain’t no good,” put in the youth named Cale.

“They know that,” Ted said to his friend. “Everybody knows that.” He turned to Lucas and True. “You know that, right?”

Without answering, Lucas stepped around to the back of the Forester followed cautiously by the young man calling himself Xálish and the one he’d called Ted. He pointed into the open hatch at the generator they’d taken from the home of Scott Daly.

“Does it work?” Xálish asked. The question was spoken casually, but Lucas thought there was keen interest beneath it.

“We used it to charge the battery on the car,” Lucas replied.

“Can Shenkle get it to run on grain?” Ted asked his companion.

“Don’t know,” Xálish told him. “Maybe. He got other things to work on it.” The young man turned to Lucas. “We take this to our guy at the ranch and if he thinks he can work with it, you get your gas. Deal?”

“It’s a deal if you give us a little gas to get there,” Lucas replied.

The young man thought for half a second and gave a barely perceptible nod. “But it comes out of whatever you get for a working genny. And if the genny don’t work, you have to pay for the gas with some of those other supplies. Okay?”

Lucas shrugged. “Right.” He watched the three youths. Much of what he determined was balanced on how they regarded True Brewer. Bad guys, he figured – even bad guys as young as the three before him – would look at her like a hungry man looks at a steak, but the young men spared his companion only brief, somewhat shy glances. There was interest, Lucas noted, but it wasn’t anything more than would be encountered in any lunchtime high school cafeteria.

“Cale,” Xálish said to the youngest of them, “go get the gas can. It’s the smallest one, okay? The gallon-sized one. The other one’s full of Shenkle ‘Shine and that would no good for their engine.”

Only a gallon, Lucas thought. Their home must be close.

“I’ve been really hoping to get a pistol,” said the one named Ted, spying True’s Sig Sauer sitting on the front seat. “Something to use as a backup.” The fact that they didn’t simply take their guns told Lucas more about them than anything else so far. “So what’s going on out there?” the youth went on. “We hardly ever see anyone alive anymore and the radio just has a lot of static and faint, far off garbled voices.”

“Which might not even be real people,” Xálish put in. “The one Luke said he heard was a recording.”

Ted dismissed his friend’s words with a shake of his head and a slight wave of his shotgun barrel. “Luke’s shit faced all the time. He don’t even know what happy hours are anymore.”

“The last group we found crossing here was on foot,” Xálish told them. “Five of them. They didn’t want anything to do with us.”

“Kept looking at us like we were gonna eat them,” Ted commented with a nervous laugh.

“Woulda been nothing to eat. They looked mostly starved. But they still didn’t want to come to the ranch. They said something about going to one of the state parks east of here. Then there was the group before them. Those assholes shot at us.”

“So Summer blew out the windshield of their truck with one shot and they tried backing up across the bridge.”

“Sometimes when the light hits the water just right I think I can still see their truck there at the bottom of the river, but I’m not sure.”

“We didn’t want them to fall off the bridge,” Ted insisted, as if afraid they were guilty of a crime, “but they did shoot at us.”

“So what about it?” Xálish asked Lucas. “What’s going on out there?”

“Bad stuff, mostly,” Lucas answered with a shrug. “Lots of dead people. Not too many living ones.”

“No sign of the government or the military?”

Lucas shook his head. “I think they’re holed up,” he replied, “waiting for…I don’t know – things to get better.”

“Waiting for the dead to stop walking around,” Xálish said, nodding sagely and looking to the horizon, “to stop being flesheaters. When are they gonna stop walking around?”

“Those are all really good questions,” Lucas told the two youths. Xálish looked at him for a few seconds and nodded again.

“Here comes Cale,” Ted reported.

When the youngest of the three returned with a gallon of gas for the Forester’s fuel tank, he wore an impish smile. “Summer’s pissed,” he told them as he handed over the gas can. “She says you shouldn’t go inviting strangers to the ranch. She says they could be sick with whatever killed those Ritzville people. She says we shouldn’t be taking chances.”

“They don’t look sick,” Ted told his friend. “Are you?” he asked with an uncertain look at Lucas.

“No,” True replied, her arms crossed in front of her as the gusty wind robbed her body of warmth, “and we’ve never been to Ritzville. We haven’t stopped anywhere or been up close to anyone since we left my…my house.” She turned to Lucas. “I’m getting back in the car.”

“What’s this ranch place you mentioned?” Lucas asked as they poured the gallon of gasoline into the Forester’s tank.

“Home,” replied Xálish, “or where we’re calling home until we find something better.”

“You have family there?”

He shook his head as he replaced the Forester’s gas cap. “Family’s gone.” He locked eyes with Lucas for just a split second as he handed the gas can back to Ted. Cale, the youngest among them, looked away at the ridgeline above, scouting for trouble, but also averting his eyes from his friend’s mention of personal tragedy.

“You don’t know, Thomps – ” Ted began. “Sorry:” he corrected, “Xálish. Your aunt and uncle mighta made it to – ”

“No,” Xálish interrupted, “just…no.”

“Okay,” his friend conceded. “Sorry. Anyway, no one knows much of anything. We all lost contact. No one knows nothin’. Not for sure, anyway.”
“Only one thing we know for sure:” Xálish said with a look back at the white cube van where the fourth member of their group had struck a defiant stance with her rifle butt resting on her hip, “Summer’ll be giving us the silent treatment all the way back to the ranch.”
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:17 pm

Once on the far side of the river they had to follow the railroad tracks for half a mile before they came to a ravine cut in the basalt cliffs where a dirt road led up and away from the gorge. When they finally reached the tableland above, the landscape on both sides was scrub grass with an occasional scattering of sagebrush. The only other features were weathered wooden fence posts, low rolling hills and mile after mile of barbed wire. They drove slowly, following the cube van. The roll down door on the back of the truck was open and the girl they had called Summer sat nestled amid piles of supplies and plastic milk crates overflowing with ropes and chains and other pieces of salvaged equipment. The girl – seventeen or eighteen, Lucas estimated – wore a serious expression and watched them like a hawk. The hunting rifle she carried rested on her lap, its muzzle pointed at the Forester’s windshield.

“Hope she has her finger off the trigger,” True said as the car bounced along the ruts in the dirt road. “I don’t think she’s too happy to see us.”

“They didn’t take our guns,” Lucas said.

“Did you want them to?”

“They should have. We’re strangers.” He copied the maneuvers of the truck ahead and steered around a particularly deep hole in the road. “We’re strangers heading into their home.”

“Okay, so they didn’t take them,” True said. “And that means…what?”

“They haven’t seen the worst of people,” Lucas explained.

“There were those guys who shot at them and then backed their truck off the bridge.”

“Even so, they’ve been relatively safe. They don’t know how bad people can be.”

“I don’t know,” True said, peering through the dust being raised by the truck ahead of them, “little miss bitchy pants up there in the truck looks like she’d be happy to pull the trigger on us.”

“That’s nothing,” Lucas said dismissively. “That’s a little girl playing a part she she’s seen in a movie.”

True thought about what Lucas said. “So it’s a good thing, right? These people are doing okay.”

“All it means,” Lucas said as the car crested a small hill, “is that they’ve been lucky so far.”

Up ahead, the dirt road lead past a series of pastures enclosed with barbed wire. Huge rolls of plastic wrapped hay sat in long rows, looking squashed down by the weather, like they’d gone unused for more than one season. A little farther on, wooden fence rails and metal gates formed a maze-like series of corrals and cattle chutes. They passed by a middle-aged man and woman walking together, both with a hunting rifle slung over one shoulder. They stepped to the side of the road as the vehicles approached and stared as the Forester passed. Turning on to a side road, a series of grain silos appeared ahead of them. Around the silos were pole barns and large metal buildings constructed chiefly of sheet metal dotted with rusty spots. Nestled within the only stand of trees they’d seen since the ones down by the river was a large two story farm house that looked at least a hundred years old. It was beside the house that the cube van bounced to a stop. Lucas braked to a standstill as well and peered around as roughly twenty people emerged from half a dozen surrounding structures and outbuildings to look at them.

“The carbine and my revolver are loaded,” Lucas said to True. “Do you have a round chambered?”

“What?” True asked as if she wasn’t sure what he was talking about. She turned her head to both sides and inspected the staring people. “They’re not even carrying guns. They’re all just…regular looking.”

“That doesn’t – “ But the rest of what he was about to say was cut short as Xálish, Ted and Cale exited the cube van. The girl named Summer eased herself from the back of the truck, her eyes still on Lucas and True, her rifle still ready.

“We’re here now,” True said as she opened the door, “and we need gas.” She stepped out and poked her head back inside the Forester. “Let’s not be assholes,” she whispered.

Shutting off the engine, Lucas opened his door and stood. The wind that had whipped at them on the railroad bridge had been largely stilled by the surrounding terrain. The pale blue sky was streaked with high level clouds and the sun was quickly dropping toward the west. Xálish, cradling his AR-type rifle, came around to him.

“This is it,” he said. Behind him, Ted and Cale departed together, heading for a particular outbuilding across the yard. Summer, her rifle now in the crook of her arm, still watched them. “It’s probably best if you leave your guns in your car. People’ll be more at ease. I’ll tell Shenkle about the deal. He’ll come take a look at the genny.” The young man swiveled his head. “Peachey’s around here somewhere. He’s probably the guy you want to talk to about where to stay for the night.”

Lucas shook his head. “We don’t want to stay for the night. We just want to trade for a full tank of gas and get going.” Xálish simply shrugged, removed the magazine from his rifle and ejected the round from the chamber.

“It’s almost dinner,” he said as he bent to pick up the ejected round, “and then it’ll be happy hour. Plus, it’s gonna be night before long. I dunno.”

“What…” Lucas spluttered “…what’s that mean? What’s ‘happy hour’?

“Once it’s happy hour,” the youth explained, “it’s hard to get people to do stuff.” He spotted a man approaching them from the direction that Ted and Cale had gone. “That’s Peachey, the one in the tie-dye t-shirt. He’s the guy you wanna talk to.”

“I thought it was Evelyn who’s top dog,” said True.

Xálish shrugged again as he turned to leave. “Evelyn’s top dog, I guess,” he told them with a slight grin, “but she’ll be busy with dinner. She don’t trust no one else to do it. Anyway, Peachey’s a lot…” he paused to consider his words “...easier to deal with.”

Lucas watched helplessly as Xálish left them and then let out a carefully regulated sigh meant to defuse every bit of foul language he was tempted to utter.

“That’s it,” True said, glancing at him. “Remember, we need gas and we’re not going to be assholes. Hey,” she added, trying hard to conceal her excitement at the idea, “you don’t think happy hour means what we think it means, do you?”

“Hello,” the man in the tie-dye t-shirt called out as he drew near. “I’m Peachey. That’s Peachey spelled with an –ey at the end, not to be confused with p-e-a-c-h-y. Not like peachy keen. My parents, in their wisdom, named me Jules, which is a hell of a thing to do to a kid. So I go by my last name: Peachey.”

“I’m True and this is Lucas.”

“True,” the man repeated, tasting the name. “Is that short for Trudy?”

“It’s not short for anything. It’s just True.”

“Huh,” he said. “I like that.” As the man spoke, the others which had come out to look at the new arrivals melted away little by little until life in the camp had returned to what appeared to be normal. “Well,” he went on, “welcome. There’s not a lot to tell you about our place here that you haven’t already seen. The people here are the good sort. Just give ‘em a little time to get to know you. You met the kids. Ted and Cale tell me Thompson and you struck a deal; a working generator for a tank of gas.”

“He’s going by Xálish now, not Thompson,” said the girl named Summer, stepping closer to them and speaking for the first time. Like two of her companions, she also appeared to be related to one of the local tribes.

“Is that right?” the man asked amiably. “What’s Xálish mean, then?”

“He said it means wolf, but,” she shrugged, “who knows?”

“Xálish,” the man repeated with a slight tilt of his head. “Okay, I’m going to have to remember that.”

“They shouldn’t be here,” Summer told him. “Sorry, but we don’t know nothing about them. They could have something contagious. Remember how those Ritzville people said on the radio that they took in some sick folks. Two weeks later, they were all gone.”

“I remember,” Peachey said to her. “They said they were all sick with it and then we didn’t hear a peep from them after that. But what kind of world would it be if we started treating everybody like they were the kiss of death?”

The girl looked at the ground. The muzzle of her rifle drooped and she shrugged again. “I dunno,” she muttered, “but we’d be alive.”

“Hey,” he said to her, his tone like that of a big brother, “you’re right. You are.” His words seemed to ease the girl’s sullenness. “So we’ll have Evelyn take a look at them after dinner, okay?” The words seemed to lift the girl’s mood a little. “Now, speaking of dinner…”

“I’m going,” Summer said to him and with one parting glance at Lucas and True she walked away.

Peachey watched her for a moment. “That girl has brought down more deer with that rifle than all of the rest of the ranch combined.” He turned to them with a smile. “I’m glad you guys are the good sort. Otherwise, she would have popped you both back at the bridge from two hundred yards.”

“All we need is gas,” Lucas said to him, “and we’ll be out of here.”

“Okay,” he replied, still smiling. “I get it. Busy, busy, busy. Places to go and dead people to see. But it is dinnertime.”

“And then,” True chimed in, “something about happy hour?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, his smile increasing even more. “We’ve got a nice place here. But if I do say so, the thing that must set us apart from any other survivor camp are our happy hours.”

“Happy hours,” True prompted, “as in…”

“As in we got ourselves a cattle ranch, but with no cattle.” Peachey said, gesturing around at their surroundings. “No cattle, but tons of leftover cattle feed. Silos of it. We can only grind up so much of it. Evelyn says even under the best conditions it’ll start going bad eventually. So what else can you do with a bunch of grain other than make a lot of somewhat digestible tortillas?”

“No way,” True said with a guffaw. “Do not fuck with me. You’re telling me you’re making your own moonshine?”

“Well, the end of the world does get kind of boring after a while,” the man grinned. “And it does have its practical side. You can disinfect with it, with a little work you can get an engine to run on it. Hell, if we could find other groups of people out there I bet we could trade it for things.”

“But,” True asked, “you can drink it, too, right?”

“Let me show you around,” Peachey said with a grand sweep of his arm. “We’ve got safety, we’ve got food and shelter, and between the hours of five and eight, we’ve got the best damn open bar around.”
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by JeeperCreeper » Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:24 pm

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:30 pm

The urge to retrieve his revolver from the back seat of the Forester was almost irresistible, but responding to the look on True’s face, Lucas clenched his jaw and settled on locking up the vehicle.

“I know,” Peachey smiled, reading his unease, “it must be hard to go unarmed after being out there. But, believe me, it really is pretty safe around here.”

“I’m sure it’s been a safe place,” he forced himself to say. Because you didn’t take our guns, he added to himself, because you think a few strands of barbed wire are going to keep things safe, because none of you seem to care that you have a million hungry dead people just waiting to find this place.

“This was somebody’s cattle ranch, but whoever owned it, they were gone when Evelyn and Stanford got here. They were camping their way across open country until all the craziness subsided. But it didn’t subside, so when they found this place – and found it abandoned – they figured it might be best to stick around for a while. Stanford kicked the bucket shortly after. Fell off the top of one of the silos trying to fix the radio antenna. That was before I got here, but I guess Evelyn insisted on putting him to rest when he, you know, came back. Sad business.” They walked slowly around the ranch with Peachey pointing out the various outbuildings and their uses. The camp’s residents paused as they strolled to dinner and watched them for a moment or two before continuing on their way.

“How’d the rest of you get here?” Lucas asked.

“Evelyn contacted some of us by radio,” explained Peachey. “The airwaves are pretty quiet now, but early on there was a lot of chatter; people trying to figure out what to do and where to go. I had the idea to check out one of the towns on the Tucannon. I thought it might be a good place to weather the storm. That bright idea almost got me killed. Anyway, that’s what brought me within range of her signal.”

“You guys aren’t still doing that, are you?”

“What,” the man asked, “broadcasting?” He shrugged. “I don’t think so. Luke’s kind of in charge of the radio now. For a while we were in contact with two other groups – the Ritzvilles and the Othellos – but then they went quiet, first one, then the other.”

“But you’re not advertising your location anymore, right?”

Peachey chuckled. “Luke mostly just listens nowadays. Sometimes he claims to hear things, but I don’t know.”

“How about zeroes – ” Lucas asked, “the dead ones, I mean? Do you get many?”

“No, I’m happy to say,” Peachey replied. “I’ve had damn little to do with flesheaters since I got here. All told, we’ve had just thirty-three in all this time. They get tangled up in the barbed wire fencing. Flesheaters don’t do barbed wire too well. Plus, you see how all the corrals and pastures surround this place? They get caught up in ‘em. We find ‘em and – ” the man brought down an invisible hammer in the air before him and made a popping sound with his mouth “ – we remove them from circulation. The fencing, the chute systems for channeling the cows one way or another, feed yards, pens… Not perfect,” the man concluded, “but so far we’ve been okay.”

“Thirty-three,” Lucas said. “You know you have thousands of them just a few miles away from here, right?”

“The ones down by the river,” Peachey said with a nod. “The other side of the river.”

“It does feel a little bit like you’re all out here in the open,” True said, looking out at the treeless, rolling horizon.

“A little bit, yeah,” Peachey agreed. “But it’s all about the landscape. The dead march along mindlessly until they hit a barrier – a range of hills or mountains – “

“Or a river,” True put in.

“Or a river,” Peachey echoed, giving her a smile. “If they hit a river they don’t see any sense in going swimming. They just follow along its banks.” He pointed to the landscape around the ranch. “Check us out. We got the Columbia blocking us from the west. We got the Snake River blocking our north. We got the mountains to the south and a whole lot of sparsely populated land to the east. It ain’t perfect, but what is nowadays.”

“You’ve got WallaWalla not too far away,” Lucas said to him. “You’ve got twenty or thirty small farm towns…”

Peachey shrugged. “Like I said, it ain’t perfect. But we’ve been here for around a year now and we’ve had surprisingly little trouble.”

“What about other people,” Lucas asked, “living ones?”

“We’ve got twenty-six people here, ages fourteen to fifty-seven, but you’re the first newcomers we’ve had in a good while.”

“I mean bad people;” Lucas clarified, “raiders, organized groups, like the ones who backed their truck off that high-level bridge...but worse.”

“We are,” Peachey said reassuringly, “a little off the beaten track.”

“Bad guys don’t always keep to the beaten track,” Lucas replied.

“We’re pretty well armed, too. I think I might be the only one here who didn’t grow up with a gun rack somewhere in their house. Deer guns, coyote rifles, twelve gauges; we’re doing okay.”

“You hardly ever get a chance to shoot it out with bad guys like the ones on the bridge. They sneak in when they can.”

“You’ve had experience with that sort of thing I take it?”

“It’s only a matter of time before they find you,” Lucas told him. “Either them or the dead.”

“Wow,” Peachey said, blinking rapidly and turning to True, “is he always so up?”

“He’s okay,” True replied. “But there are a shitload of dead people down there by the river.”

“Yeah, the other side of the river.”

“We would really just like to get the car gassed up and be on our way,” Lucas told him, but Peachey just made a helpless gesture and shook his head.

“Until Shenkle gives us the thumbs up on your generator there’s not a whole lot we can do.”

“Well, where is this Shenkle?”

“He’ll be at dinner,” the man answered, “along with everybody else.” He nodded at the large metal building up ahead. “Let’s go, shall we? It’s a good way for you to meet pretty much everybody at once.”

Two of the inside walls of the barn-like metal building were taken up by tents and small camper trailers. A fiberglass boat was stored at one end along with two cars in various states of disassembly.

“I like to call this building The Tavern,” Peachey explained. “You know, where the villagers gather to eat and drink. Very medieval. The green and white dome tent over there is normally vacant. Every once in a long while there’s a domestic squabble and a husband or wife will use it for a night or two, but it’s not in use at the moment. I don’t know if you two are comfortable in your car or…”

“Hell, no, we’re not comfortable in our car,” True told him. “I’d be happy to have a place to stretch out.”

“Okay then,” said the man, “the green and white tent is yours for the night.”

“We’re not going to be here for the night,” Lucas interjected.

“Okay,” Peachey replied, unwilling to argue about it. “But if you need it, it’s yours.”

Four folding tables were set up near a cooking area. There were three camp stoves set against the wall – unused and, Lucas guessed, out of fuel. The one stove that was being used was a rectangular box fashioned from sheet metal. A chimney vented the smoke from the fire through the building’s wall.

“Since the propane in the house ran out we’ve been cooking out here. It’s true what the pioneers used to say; old dried out cow patties are a pretty good fuel. We eat out here, too, when the weather’s okay. When it gets colder, we’ll all cram ourselves into the house for meals like we did last winter.” He scanned the people gathered at the four folding tables. “Like Little Fucking House on the Prairie, ain’t it?” He chuckled at his own joke and gestured to where a woman was ladling out venison stew from a large pot. “Let’s go meet Evelyn.”

As they stepped near the table, the woman spoke first. “We didn’t make enough for two extra mouths,” she said without looking directly at either Lucas or True. “You’ll be eating from your own supplies tonight.”

Peachey sighed. “This,” he said, “is Evelyn. Way to make a good first impression, Evelyn.”

“I’m not interested in making a good first impression,” the woman responded resolutely. “I’m not interested in anything of the kind.”

“It’s okay,” Lucas put in hastily. “We really just want to trade our generator for a full tank of gasoline and get out of your way.”

The woman made a grunting sound. “I didn’t say you couldn’t stay,” she muttered. “Didn’t say you could, either. That’s to be determined. But the gasoline business is between you and Shenkle. The gas is his. He scavenged it and made sure it didn’t go bad. But Shenk doesn’t grace us with his presence at dinner when he’s got a new batch of rot gut brewing.”

“Well, we don’t want him leaving the still unattended,” Peachey reasoned, “do we?”

“I’m still trying to get him to move the thing farther away from the house,” said Evelyn. “I do not need any coils of copper tubing to come sailing through the windows and kill me in my sleep. The thing was a museum piece to begin with.”

“It hasn’t exploded yet,” Peachey grinned.

Yet,” snarled the woman.

“Moving on,” Peachey said, stepping away from Evelyn and gesturing to the others seated at the collection of tables.

“So,” Lucas said, his frustration growing, “this Shenkle guy isn’t even here?”

“He’ll be in the shop,” Peachey replied. “You passed it on your way in. You probably smelled it. We’ll get to him. This,” he pointed, indicating a stooped man with a curly yellow beard mopping up the last drops of his stew with the torn remnant of a tortilla, “is Luke. Say hi, Luke.”

Luke’s bloodshot eyes shifted rapidly between Lucas and True. “Hi,” he said with uncertainty.

“You know these four already,” he said, making a gun with his thumb and index finger and firing it at Xálish, Summer, Ted and Cale. “And this is Freida and Rick. That’s Enrique and Maise. Yarborough and Jimmy. Mack. Linda…” The man went on until he had named everyone seated at the tables. Some responded with a wave or a weak smile, some with a hesitant nod, some with little more than a nervous glance. One twenty-something man with short brown hair sat at the far end of the group with an untouched bowl of stew in front of him and stared off into space. “That’s Ruskin.” Peachey explained. “Hey,” he called, trying to get the young man’s attention, “Ruskin.” But he didn’t seem to hear his name. “He just does that. Most of the time he’s fine. Just sometimes, you look over and he’s staring off into space. If you go over and get his attention, he snaps right out of it. Though if you don’t, he can stay like that for an hour.” Peachey looked at Ruskin sympathetically and nodded his head. “Just…reliving something bad, probably. You know, like we all do from time to time.”

“Um,” said Lucas, “not that I don’t appreciate being shown around and introduced, but – ”

“A one-track mind,” Peachey interrupted. “Not that that’s a bad thing.”

“It can be,” True muttered, looking sideways at her companion.

“I just want to get back on the road. Daylight’s burning.”

“Daylight’s practically gone,” Peachey countered. “I mean, even if we can get Shenkle to give your generator the once-over, it’ll be close to dark by the time you get your gas.”

“That’s okay,” Lucas insisted. “I just want to – ”

“And,” Peachey said to him, “you know that headlights in the dark can draw unwanted attention, right?”

“I’ve got the headlights half taped up,” Lucas said, exasperated. “Can we just go see the guy?”

Peachey nodded. “Yup. Let’s go see Shenkle. Evelyn,” he called as they moved toward the door, “keep my dinner warm, will you?”

“No,” the woman replied gruffly, without looking up from her stew. “You know better’n to be late. I already split yours up among the kids.” Seated beside her, Cale, Ted, Summer and Xálish ducked their heads to hide the grins on their faces.

Shenkle’s shop was a small corrugated metal building next to the main road. Approaching it, the breeze brought them whiffs of a steamy aroma with a sour tint to it. “Knock-knock,” Peachey called out, entering through the wide open door. On one side, the walls were lined with yellow and blue plastic drums marked Mash in black indelible marker. Tables heaped with hand tools took up all the space on the other side. The floor was carpeted in empty paper bags that had once held sugar and empty sacks that had once held corn meal. Propped up on a semi circle of stacked paving stones, a big copper pot heated from underneath by a steady flame sat in the middle of the space. Beside it was a smaller copper vessel with a pipe on the side that trickled clear fluid into a five gallon plastic bucket.

“I know it’s dinnertime, dammit,” grumbled a man with a long gray beard sitting next to the still. “I told them I can’t leave right now.”

“I’m not here to fetch you, Shenk, I’m here to introduce you. This is True and this is Lucas.”

“Charmed,” said the man without taking any real notice of either of them. “It’s gonna be a good batch, Peach. The smoothest yet.”

Peachey tapped at his bare wrist. “Shenk, my solid gold Rolex seems to have stopped, but I’d be willing to bet that it is not officially five o’clock yet. Happy hour has not yet begun.”

“As the ranch’s master distiller,” answered the man, his words slightly slurred, “I have special dips…dipsen…dis-pen-sation to bend the rules. Someone’s gotta risk going blind here.” He sat back in the folding lawn chair and, still not looking at them, addressed Lucas and True. “So you got a generator and you want to trade it for a full tank of gasoline? What are we talking about? Sixteen gallons?”

“Yeah,” Lucas replied, unsure of the capacity of the Forester’s fuel tank, but figuring it to be about right.

“It would be just about the last of my gas, but gas is definitely a finite resource these days. Alcohol might be hard on an engine, but it’s gonna be the wave of the future for a while.”

“If the gas is still good, we’ll take it,” Lucas told him.

“If your generator is good, you’ll get it. But not today.” The man made a burping sound and slouched farther into his chair. “Wake me in the morning and I’ll get right on it. But not too early, you hear? You do not want to catch me before I’ve had a good night’s sleep.”

“Thanks, Shenk,” Peachey said, ushering Lucas and True from the building.

“He’s drunk,” Lucas said when they were outside.

Peachey’s head wobbled from side to side. “And?” He chuckled. “A little libation in times like these is good for the soul. But don’t fear. Our man in coveralls, Mr. Joshua Shenkle, is perfectly good at what he does. Really, really good. I think he has a doctorate or something. Anyway, he’s not just adept at making engines run on grain alcohol, he’s gotten pretty damn good at making grain that doesn’t dissolve your teeth. Goes down pretty smooth, I think. But, fair warning, don’t have any of Yarborough’s weed beforehand. Getting high makes it too hard to realize when you’ve had enough to drink.”

“Oh,” True said, turning to Lucas, “I like it here.”

Peachey’s grin turned into a full blown smile. “Well, we only have one rule: No getting shitfaced before five and no continuing to get shitfaced after eight. Helps keep things from getting out of control.”

“Three hours,” True mused. “It only takes three minutes to get all messed up on grain.”

“Ah,” Peachey replied appreciatively, “a woman who knows her stuff. Yes, it would be a bad thing to drink our particular brand without measuring it out with a teaspoon.”

“What do you mix it with?” True asked.

“Water and anything we’ve scavenged; mostly powdered drink mixes – Kool-Aid and the like. I have to admit I prefer the grape flavor.”

“What about posting watch?” Lucas asked, changing the subject.

Peachey looked at him, his smile faltering a bit. “We don’t really bother. It would only do any good on moonlit nights, anyway.” Lucas said nothing in reply, but the man could tell what he was thinking. “I know, I know. I’ve seen what’s out there. All of us here have seen it. That’s why we’re out here in the middle of nowhere.” He walked on, zipping his jacket halfway against the chill in the air. “I had an apartment in the city. My friends and I hid there for a month before the food ran out. There were six of us when we left. By the time we made it through the suburbs, it was just me and my friend Geechee. By the time…by the time we found a way across the river, it was just me. So I’m perfectly well acquainted with the dangers.” He turned to them and held up both hands. “It’s just, spending the rest of my life being constantly scared to death, that’s no life for me.”

“I’m tired of being scared,” True confessed with a distant stare. “I’ve only been out in all of this for a couple of days and I’m already so fucking tired of it. I mean, having to constantly be on watch, having to be constantly afraid of everything around every corner. It, like, drains you.”

“Well,” said Peachey, his smile reappearing at full strength, “I’d say it’s time for some rest and recreation.”
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Halfapint » Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:40 pm

Eeeeeeesk! I was so excited when I saw the update I peed a little! Welcome back TB thanks for the update, this year just got 100x’s better
JeeperCreeper wrote:I like huge dicks, Halfapint, so you are OK in my book.... hahaha
Spazzy wrote:Tell ya what... If Zombies attack and the world ends I'll hook tandem toddlers to a plow if it means I'll be able to eat...

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Fri Jan 18, 2019 3:00 pm

As night cemented itself over the surrounding hills, Peachey’s rest and recreation came out of an old plastic two liter bottle that still had part of a Sprite label attached to it. He, Lucas and True sat upon upturned buckets padded with patched and mended blankets arranged around a small fire. Others sat around their own nearby fires or inside the pole barn near the stove. They drank from a wide variety of bottle types, but the contents – each perhaps differently flavored – all originated in Joshua Shenkle’s still.

“This is from Shenk’s last batch. I call it Palouse Punch, although the others have their own names for it. Evelyn, for instance, calls her’s Devil’s Piss, probably because she flavors it with lemonade mix.” He handed a cup to True who immediately sipped from it.

“Whoo!” she exhaled with delight. “I was feeling a little cold, but this’ll warm things right up.”

“Yeah,” he said as he poured from the bottle, “well, we are going to be spending much of the next five months huddled inside our respective shelters. So we tend to make the most of the outdoors while we can.” Peachey placed a cup on the ground in front of Lucas and then tended to his own cup, holding it up in a toast. “To life,” he said “and to making the most out of what we have left.” He downed the contents of his cup in one swallow and True did the same.

Earlier, after leaving Shenkle’s shop, they had returned to find Evelyn waiting for them with a bottle of alcohol, a small flashlight and an oral thermometer. Her medical examination consisted of shining the flashlight in their eyes and in their mouths and taking their temperatures. “I won’t bother asking you if you’ve been bit,” she’d grumbled as she swirled the thermometer in the alcohol. “You’d already be burning up with fever if you had.” Not bothering to pronounce them free of illness, but not saying anything to the contrary, she dismissed them, saying, “Everyone around here pulls their own weight. If you can’t – or won’t – you’re out. Also, if you can’t handle the hooch, don’t partake. You won’t be alone; a couple people here never touch the stuff and that’s just fine. We’ve got no use for useless drunks.”

“Just the useful ones,” Luke had quipped as he passed them with a purposeful stride. The way he jiggled the metal mug he held in his hand gave Lucas the impression that the man was eager to fill it as quickly as possible with his first drink of the evening.

Now as they sat around the fire and the camp settled down for the night, Lucas felt restless. He didn’t want to be sitting around watching people get drunk. He wanted to be on the move. He wanted to be conquering the miles one after the other on his way to find Lux. Everything around him was a delay. Everything was a drag on him. He needed the gasoline he’d been promised. And, he thought with a sideways glance at his companion, he needed time to slip away and leave True Brewer behind. The ranch, he’d decided, was a good place for her to stay. Eventually, Peachey noticed his anxiousness.

“Take it easy, man,” he said good-naturedly. “You look like a spring ready to sprong. This is a night to relax and unwind. Nothing’s moving around here ‘til morning.” He recalculated his thoughts. “Mid-morning, probably. Nine, ten a.m., anyway. Though, there are one or two sickos who actually seem to like getting up early.” He shook his head and drank from his cup. “Those poor, poor, mentally deranged invidigu – sorry – individuals.”

It was interesting, Lucas thought as he watched them, how fast grain alcohol went to work. He recalled his freshman year when he’d tried it and had wound up spending a semi-conscious night on the tile floor of a stranger’s bathroom, alternating between gazing at the diarrhea-streaked base of a toilet and vomiting violently into it. The next day his so-called friends had shown him the photos they’d snapped of him while he’d teetered on the edge of alcohol poisoning. “Your face was green,” they’d laughed. “Look for yourself. You were green!”

“We,” Peachey was proclaiming with the grandiosity of someone already halfway drunk, “have built a community here. And, no, it isn’t self-sustaining. It won’t last forever – unless we find a warehouse of food sometime this winter. But it’s working. We’re still alive. And we’re going to stay that way. You two should really consider hitching your wagon to ours. I mean, you could do a helluva lot worse.”

“Anyplace with a happy hour as awesome as this gets my fucking vote,” True laughed, holding her cup out for a refill. “You guys rock. But Lucas here, he needs some sense talked into him.”

“Lucas,” Peachey said forcefully, but still with a smile, “dude, I can see you got common sense leakin’ outta every pore in your body. What could possibly keep you and this fine, fine female from pitchin’ a tent here, at least for a while?”

“I’ve…got something to do,” Lucas replied.

“What?” Peachey said, looking around at the night. “The world’s ended. Only one thing to do now and we’re doin’ it right here.”

“I’ve got…I’ve got to try and find somebody.” Even to his own ears, the words sounded silly and very small.

“Who?” Peachey asked, peering almost comically around at the darkened camp. “Where?”

“Lucas is looking for a girl,” True explained, her words slurred and tinted with derision, “who was kidnapped by guys in helicopters.”

“Helicopters?” Peachey repeated. “No shit?” A chuckled resonated from way down in his chest. “Why?”

“She never got the Gwailo,” Lucas explained. “She’s immune.”

“Oh,” Peachey said. “Well, hell, she’s probably safe, warm and well fed on some nuclear powered aircraft carrier anchored off some tropical island. You wanna rescue her from that?” When Lucas didn’t reply, he went on. “Seriously, man, you’re lookin’ for somebody? You’re just gonna go out, find ‘em and be right back?” He nodded, grinned, and let his unsteady gaze travel around the camp. “That’s a story I’ve heard before, you know.” He bent forward and fed another bundle of dried grass to the fire. “When things started to come unglued, me and seven of my friends decided my apartment was the safest, so we gathered up all the food we’d managed to find and settled in.” He poured more Palouse Punch into their cups, causing the one in front of Lucas – who hadn’t touched a drop – to overflow. True tossed back the contents of her cup and exchanged hers with Lucas’, emptying that one as well. Peachey chuckled. “The girl’s no lightweight,” he said approvingly.

“The girl,” True replied, holding out her cup for a refill, “can drink you under the table any day of the week. So you and your friends decided your apartment was the safest,” she prompted.

“Well, it was the biggest,” Peachey continued. “Still, with eight of us in there things were pretty cramped. But, hey, we thought, the authorities would have things under control in no time, right? Anyway, a week went by and the news was only getting’ worse. Anjali was the first to decide she had to go find someone. Her cousin hadn’t answered the phone in days. She said she just lived across the river in Scappoose. She was goin’ to go check on her and be back in a day. A day went by, then a week – no Anjali. Never saw her again. Next it was Angelo. He just needed to pop across town and make sure his mom had taken the dog with her when she went to the National Guard base. It’s always the same. They say ‘I’ll be back by tomorrow.’ And then,” he made a wet raspberry sound “you never see them again.”

“I’ve…I’ve got a GPS direction finder,” Lucas said, though his better judgment told him to simply remain silent. No matter what he said, they wouldn’t understand his need to go.

“You’re trackin’ your girl by GPS?”

“Apparently,” True said as she unrolled the blanket she’d been sitting on and laid it out across the ground beside the fire, “the GPS thing belonged to one of the guys who took her.” She sat down clumsily and let herself fall back. “He figures if he finds the guy, he’ll find the girl.”

Peachey shook his head in disbelief. “Dude, dude, dude, dude, dude,” he said, his words thick and sloppy, “you are… I mean, don’t get me wrong, what you’re doin’ is, you know, heroic and all, but...but you are…you’re lookin’ for a needle in a haystack – a haystack where each and every piece of hay is a dead motherfucker tryin’ to eat your ass. If your girl’s a medical miracle like you said, then you can be sure somebody’s takin’ really good care of her.”

Lucas said nothing. He just stared into the campfire flames and clenched his hands. He wanted nothing more at the moment than to get up and leave.

“None of that,” True said, propping herself up on one elbow, “seems to make any difference to this guy. It’s…” She turned her head to Lucas “…what was that crazy-ass thing you said it was?”

“It’s the only thing,” Lucas muttered, almost too low to be heard. “It’s the only thing left in the world to do.”

“I can think of a few other things left to do,” Peachey replied. “For instance, in all this mess, a girl like True here blows in like a fresh summer breeze…”

“No, no, no, Mr. Handsome Peachey Guy,” she said drunkenly. “Save the sweet talk. It’s this guy right here.” She gazed at Lucas, fighting to maintain her focus on his face. “He’s…he’s the one for me. And one of these days he’s going to realize that I’m the one for him. See, he just doesn’t know it yet, the dumbass.” She picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at him, falling back upon the blanket in the process. “The total, unbelievable dumbass,” she said, speaking to the night sky.

The conversation died. The hours crept by. Lucas thought that for a place filled with drunken people it was disturbingly quiet. Looking around, he saw the faces of some of the others reflecting firelight, staring blank-faced into the flames. Their nightly happy hours were nothing of the sort, he realized. They drank to forget about what had happened to them, to their dead husbands, dead wives, dead children, dead friends. They drank to forget about what had happened and what might happen to them tomorrow. Peachey stirred every so often to keep their little campfire going, but gradually the fires that the others had lit around them went out one by one. As they did, the camp’s residents swayed and stumbled their way back to their beds, cots and sleeping bags. From the blanket beside the fire, he heard True sigh.

“I am back in my emelent – I mean, back in my element,” she said, sounding contented. “Don’t ever let me go so long again without something to drink. It’s…it’s not good for me.”

“I hear ya,” Peachey seconded, his eyes closed and his head tilted back. “I hear ya.” He chuckled and cleared his throat. “’Twill make a weeping widow laugh,” he recited, “and soon incline to pleasure, ‘Twill make an old man leave his staff and dance a youthful measure, And though your clothes be ne’er so bad or ragged rent and torn, Against the cold you may be clad with a little barleycorn.

“What the hell are you talking about?” True laughed with slurred syllables.

“It’s from and old, old song,” the man explained, eyes still closed. “I guess I must’ve…gone to college at some point or something.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “Ahhhh, sixty thousand dollars well spent. Learning all about Elizabethan song lyrics sure prepared me for the future.”

From somewhere nearby a horrified scream sliced its way through the night. It repeated itself again and again until changing into the sound of a woman loudly sobbing. True sat bolt upright, trying to focus her gaze on the surrounding camp. Peachey jumped from where he’d been slouching.

“What the fuck?” said True.

“That…” Peachey heaved himself to his feet, trying to maintain his balance “…that was…that was Linda, I think.” He began to stagger toward the nearest outbuilding. “Stay here,” he told them. “S’prob’ly no big deal.”

Lucas stood and dug the Forester’s keys from his pocket. “Let’s get to the car. The guns are in the back seat.” But True rolled herself to a kneeling position and then to a bowlegged stance.

“We…we need to help,” she said as she toddled off after Peachey.

“We need to get to the car,” Lucas called after her as she disappeared into the dark. Frustrated, he followed after her, wishing he had something with him to use as a weapon. Homing in on the sound of the sobbing woman, he eventually caught up with Peachey. Two other camp residents had appeared as well, each shining hand-crank LED flashlights on the scene. True stood nearby, watching.

“I saw him,” Linda cried between sobs. She sat rocking back and forth on the edge of a sleeping bag, her knees pulled up to her chest. “I saw him. I saw my little Austin. He was…all covered in blood.” The woman’s eyes grew unfocused, like she was reliving it all over again. “Oh, I saw it,” she sobbed. “I was there and…and I didn’t…I couldn’t do…anything.” Linda’s body was racked by spasms. “I died, too. I died there, too.” The woman went on as Evelyn stepped into the circles of light being cast by the flashlights and laid her back down, kneeling to comfort her. “I’m dead,” she kept repeating with flowing tears. “I’m dead. I’m dead.”

A suddenly sober looking Peachey turned and led them back to their campfire. “Happens every so often,” he explained as he took his seat again. “I don’t think there’s one of us here who it doesn’t happen to every once in a while.” He was quiet for a moment and then tossed the last bundle of dried grass on the fire. “I get ‘em, too. Nights where I’m back there, just running to get out, dodging those…those outstretched arms, tryin’ not to look those dead motherfuckers in the face as…” He shuddered and pulled his coat tighter around him. “We were on foot ‘cause none of us owned a car, ‘cause the streets were jammed with cars anyway, none of them moving. So we walked – at first. Then we ran. And they were there. In the street, on the corners, around every corner, they were there with their arms stretched out, tryin’ to grab onto ya. No police anywhere. It was already too out of control for them to do anything. And we were tired. We hadn’t eaten in days. Hadn’t slept much, either. Six of us started out. Halfway through the suburbs there were four of us. By the time we made it through it was just me and Geechee.”

“Peachey and Geechee?” True commented wryly. “Really?”

“I know, right? We’d been friends since the first grade. Geechee and me, we’d just seen a bridge in the distance with a barricade we thought we could climb over when, like, fifty of them pushed their way through the bushes beside the road and were on us just like that. I don’t know how I got out. I really don’t. I still have these nightmares where I can feel their hands on me, grabbing at me, baring their teeth and lunging at me. All I can see is their dead eyes and their pale, bloodless faces. I mean, there was plenty of blood on them, but dead people don’t have white faces like you see in the movies. Their skin gets kind of, I don’t know…transparent, like…like you can see in through and down into the outer layers or…or something.” He was shaking his head as he spoke and staring at the dying flames, but his eyes were focused on something else. “We ran for what must’ve been half a mile. Then I turn ‘round and notice Geechee’s running bent over, holding his stomach. The guy…they guy had run for half a mile holding his intestines in his hands. Geechee looked at me. He looked down at his guts and then he looked back at me. He looked at me just like he used to look at me in Mrs. Bentley’s first grade class when he didn’t know the answer to a question on a test; like a little kid who didn’t understand something, like he couldn’t understand why something was happening to him. Then the dead caught up to us again, pouring over the guardrail, and I left him there and ran for the bridge. I thought about looking back. I thought about it, just once. But I didn’t.” He put his head back again and closed his eyes. “Is it any wonder I drink?” he asked no one in particular.

Minutes passed in silence and Lucas thought about the path before him. They were right. It was stupid of him to go in search of Lux. It was almost certainly going to get him killed. And even if he did find her, would he be taking her away from a safe, secure place? Neither idea was new to him. He’d pondered them both countless times. But every time he came to the same conclusion. There was only one thing for him to do. Find her. Find Lux. Be together again. A far off series of tangled yelps interrupted the quiet of the night. Drifting in on the chilly air from a mile or two away, the sound was instantly familiar to him.

“Coyotes,” Peachey mumbled. “But they don’t come here. We don’t have any animals and we sure as shit don’t have enough food to go dumpin’ anything edible.”

Lucas recalled standing beside Lux listening to the hysterical yips and howls of the coyotes as they assembled on the mountainside above Goodnight House. He remembered how it became a twilight ritual for them, pressed side-to-side at the balcony railing, staring off into the fall of night, thinking only of how good it felt to be together. Since the world had ended, his time with Lux had been the one thing that made going on worthwhile. Giving up on that one thing, he thought, would be giving up on everything else.

An hour later, like the last mourner departing a wake, Peachey eventually managed to get to his feet and help hoist True Brewer to hers. “Who’s takin’ me where?” she asked in a slurred stupor.

“Time to turn in,” Peachey said as he helped her along. “Shake out the blanket, will ya, Lucas?” he said directing a staggering and semi-conscious True toward the building where their tent was located. “You two might need it tonight. It can get cold.” Blankets tucked under his arm, Lucas followed the man through the dark until they came to the pole barn where the camp residents had eaten dinner. Once he’d seen them to the tent flap and lowered True to the sleeping mats inside, he turned to Lucas. “You guys need anything,” he said, swaying a little, “I’m in the next building over. White van. No tires. Up on blocks. Definitely not a-rockin’. Can’t miss it.” He stumbled a bit as he walked away. “Glad you guys are here. We work together, we’ll all make it through.”

Once the man had left, Lucas stood for a minute or two beside the green and white dome tent. Except for the sound of someone coughing in the distance, the camp had gone quiet. Still, he thought it would be better if he waited a while. Ducking inside the tent flap, he spread the blankets over True. She shifted a bit on the sleeping mat and mumbled something unintelligible. Looking at her, he felt a brief flash of envy. She was going to fit right in at the ranch, he thought. She had found a place to stay – at least, he considered, until the bad guys or a massive army of the dead descended upon the place. But until then, she’d found a home. He, on the other hand, still had a long way to go. With some time left before he could be sure that everyone was asleep, he lay down on the edge of the sleeping mat, his back to True Brewer.

When he woke, it was with the certainty that he’d slept longer than he wanted to. At some point, True had stirred long enough to throw part of the blanket over him and spoon up behind him. The feel of her pressed up against his back drilled straight to the pleasure center of his brain and made him consider the wisdom of his plan. Would it be so bad, he asked himself, to stay here for just a little while? Would it be so bad to take True up on her invitation – just for a little while? It was a voice from the pre-apocalypse past that made his mind up for him, the voice of a girl who had stormed away from him in tears calling him heartless. Looking back, he had to admit that he had been heartless. Maybe, he thought, he was still heartless because he was just a muscle twitch away from rolling over and starting something with True Brewer right then and there. And that, he knew, would be heartless.

Moving an inch at a time, he slowly moved away from the girl behind him and quietly rose from the sleeping mat. The air outside the tent was cold and carried the smell of a dozen dead campfires. He stood still and listened but heard no sound from any direction. As quietly as he could, he left the pole barn and moved off in the direction of Shenkle’s shop. Unfamiliar with the layout of the ranch and somewhat disoriented, he jumped when a voice suddenly whispered to him from the dark.

“Hey, new guy,” someone said, “you’re lookin’ to get outta here, right?” A figure moved closer to him from the darkness and Lucas recognized him as the man who had been seated at the far end of the group at dinner, the one who hadn’t respond to his name and simply stared off into space. “That’s what it looks like. You’re in a hurry to get your car gassed up and get going.”

Caught creeping around in the dark after everyone else was asleep, Lucas figured there was little use in denying it. “Yeah,” he replied cautiously, trying to recall the young man’s name. “I’ve got to get going. I’m not skipping out on the deal. I just can’t wait until morning for someone to come and look at the generator.”

“I get ya,” said the man. “I’ve got somewhere I need to go, too, but all anyone here says to me is that it’s suicide to go. You know,” he continued, conspiratorially, “if you give me a lift I can get you your gasoline.”

“You’re…uh…what’s your name?”

“Mike Ruskin,” the young man told him. “And I can help you – if you help me.”

“I need the gasoline,” Lucas said to him. “I need to get going. I can’t afford to wait around. The generator works. I’m fine with leaving it here in trade, but – ”

“But you don’t want to wait,” Ruskin interrupted. “I get it. Everyone here talks about how I should just wait, wait, wait. They’re all about waiting. They say I need to wait and think it through, but I’ve thought it through. I’m done thinking about it. If you’ll give me a ride, I’ll get you your gasoline.”

“A ride to where?” Lucas asked.

“Not far,” Ruskin insisted. “Not far at all. Just to Marbletown. It’s just southwest from here. My girlfriend and my son are there waiting for me.”
Lucas looked off into the darkness and then back to the man. “Your girlfriend and son are out there? And they’re alive?”

“No,” Ruskin said, staring hard into Lucas’ eyes. “No, they’re not alive. They’re locked up in the room in the back of Castillo’s Auto Body. I left them there. And now I want to go back and, you know, do what I should’ve done before.”

Lucas shook his head. “Sorry. The people here, they’re right; you shouldn’t go out just for that. They’re dead. Whatever’s got their bodies moving around, it’s not them. They’re gone. It would be – ”

Don’t say it would be stupid to go just to take care of their bodies,” Ruskin said in a harsh whisper. “Just don’t say it, because I’ve heard it a hundred times from these assholes. None of them understand. I see them every time I go to sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see them. And…I think…if I can put them to rest, I think I might be able to…to, like, move on.”

“Thanks for the offer,” Lucas told him diplomatically, “but I think I’m okay.”

“You think you’re okay?” Ruskin repeated with an edge to the words. “You’re going to carry all those gas cans from Shenkle’s place to your car? You don’t even know where he has them stashed. You’re gonna find them in the dark?”

“I’ll manage,” Lucas insisted, taking a few steps away from him.

“You might manage,” Ruskin said with craft in his voice, “but what if someone raises the alarm? What if someone wakes these drunken assholes and tells them what you were doing?” The word halted Lucas. “Look, this is important to me. No one here will help me out and it’s too far for me to make it on foot. You don’t even have to take me into Marbletown. Castillo’s Auto Body is on the outskirts. You’ll have a tank full of gas and it’ll be no real trouble for you.”

Faced with the prospect of Ruskin telling the camp what he was doing versus making a small detour from his planned route, Lucas figured he had little choice but to relent if he wanted to leave before mid-morning – and if he wanted to leave without True Brewer. “So you know right where Shenkle has his gasoline?”

Ruskin’s grin was barely visible in the dark. “Funny thing,” he said. “I just might have already moved the cans to beside your car.”

Lucas regarded the man, narrowing his gaze. “So, if I hadn’t locked it up and taken the keys – ”

“Then I would have stolen your car,” Ruskin admitted. “The only other working vehicle right now is the truck and one or two of the kids usually sleep in the back of it. I thought maybe you might’ve left yours unlocked.”

“And knowing that, I’m supposed to trust you?”

“I would’ve brought it back,” Ruskin said. “Look, it’s important to me that I put them to rest.” He balled his hands into fists and knocked them gently against his forehead. “Okay, trust me or not, if you don’t take me with you, I’ll wake someone and tell them you’re leaving.”

Lucas couldn’t figure a way around it. “You can help me get the generator out of the back,” he said. Hopefully, he thought, the worst that would happen is that he would have to suffer the man’s company for a few hours. “We’ll leave True’s things beside it.”

“She’s not coming?” Ruskin asked. “You’re leaving her here?”


“Okay,” Ruskin said, moving in the direction of the car. “You’re the driver. I’m just the passenger.”

The two of them proceeded as quietly as possible. The first thing Lucas did was to retrieve his gun belt from the back seat of the vehicle and loop it like a bandolier around his neck and across his chest. He caught Ruskin rubbing his chin with the back of his hand while looking at the revolver. Meeting his gaze, the man smiled.

“Don’t worry,” he said as he withdrew a revolver from his waistband. “I’ve got my own.” The gun he brandished had cracked grips and was missing a good portion of the bluing from the barrel and cylinder. “Nothin’ to worry about,” he added as he tucked the old revolver back into his belt. “It’s no hand cannon, but it does the job. Plus, I’ve got a hundred and fifty rounds in my pocket. That’s what’s good about twenty-two long rifle.” He eyed the Beretta carbine and pistol still in the back of the car. “What about those? Those going with us or are you leaving those behind for the girl?”

“Those belong to somebody else,” Lucas answered.

“Okay, okay,” Ruskin said after it was clear Lucas wasn’t going to elaborate. “Let’s get going then.”

The gasoline from three full five gallon cans went into the Forester’s tank. They unloaded the generator and placed True Brewer’s belongings on top of it, including the logging pickaroon she’d brought from her home and the Sig Sauer pistol he’d taken from the dead man on the road.

“It’ll be fine there,” Ruskin said when he noticed Lucas hesitating to leave the gun in plain sight. “They might be a bunch of drunks, but they don’t steal.” He looked up and squinted into the darkness. “Oh, shit,” he said, spotting someone approaching. Like a child caught misbehaving, he walked with his head ducked between his shoulders around to the other side of the car and crouched there. Lucas turned to face whoever was walking toward them and braced himself for a confrontation, glad that he could at least point to the generator they’d unloaded as proof he wasn’t a thief. It wasn’t until a voice came from the dark that he identified the figure.

“Lucas,” Peachey said as he came into view. “I had to take a leak and I thought I heard voices.” He touched the toe of his dirty white running shoe against the generator as he walked past it. “You look like a man who’s leaving.”

“I am.”

“By yourself?” Lucas looked over his shoulder to where Ruskin was crouching on the other side of the Subaru. “Hey, Ruskin,” Peachey said in his usual amiable tone. “You finally found someone to give you a ride, huh? You know it’s still a really, really bad idea, right? You know that’s why no one here would take you?”

“I know it’s my decision,” Ruskin replied, standing.

“So,” Peachey said, turning back to Lucas, “you’re leaving – without True; without a perfectly good girl who obviously wants you?”

Lucas had no desire to answer the man’s question and avoided it by looking away into the dark. “This road will lead to the highway, right?”

“Eventually,” Peachey answered. “Just watch it. It’s washed out in some places. Still passable, but you have to go slow over the rough spots. And I’m sure you know to steer clear of the towns, even the small ones. All those folks there who starved to death in their houses… You pull into town and the streets look empty at first, but it does not take long for them to fill up. Like stepping on an ant hill; they just come pouring out of every doorway.”

“I’ll be headed south.”

“Well, Walla Walla’s the same as all the other places. Best to drive a long way around it.”

“Yeah,” Lucas replied. “So, about True…”

Peachey nodded. “She’s going to be a little…miffed that you left without her. What am I supposed to tell her when she wakes up and realizes you’re gone?”

Lucas shrugged. “Tell her whatever. I just wanted to say sorry for giving you another mouth to feed.”

“Ooh,” Peachey said with a wince, “that’s cold.” He chuckled, but the look in his eyes was penetrating. “Have you always been this cold or did the end of the world ice you up inside?”

“You want me to point out that if she comes with me, she’ll probably die?” Lucas said to him. “Because she probably will.”

“So you sneaking away before first light is for her own good, huh?”

“Yes,” Lucas answered, “it is.”

“And for your own good.”

Lucas paused before answering, but only for a second. “Yes,” he said.

“Okay,” Peachey grinned, “that’s what I’ll tell her when she wakes up – that you couldn’t trust yourself being around her and that you had to take off, but not before making me solemnly promise to keep her safe and sound…because she’s so awesome.”

“C’mon,” Ruskin whispered from the other side of the car, “let’s get outta here.”

“Whatever,” Lucas said to Peachey. He walked to the Forester and didn’t raise his eyes from the ground until he dropped into the driver seat. As he started the car and unlocked the passenger door, Ruskin hastily took his seat. Peachey walked casually to the driver side door and knocked on the window. Reluctantly, Lucas lowered it halfway.

“Something you might want to think on as you make your getaway:” Peachey said to him, “Some people figure the best way to weather this feces fest is to reject everything good that’s left, ‘cause they lost a lot, ‘cause they can’t have what they used to have.” Lucas started the car, refusing to even look the man in the face. He wasn’t rejecting anything good. He was going out to find the only good thing he had left in the world. “Or,” Peachey said, “you could appreciate what little there is left. I like to think that’s what we do here; appreciate what good we have left. And True – True is quite a good girl.”

“You,” Lucas said softly and evenly, still without looking at him, “and all of the people here, you’re not appreciating life, you’re dulling yourselves so you don’t have to think about it.”

“Hmm,” the man replied, unconvinced. “We do an awful lot of thinking about it. That’s why we drink. Meanwhile, we survive.”

“You’re as good as dead,” Lucas said. “One day a giant herd of walking corpses is going to come marching over the hill and you are all going to be nothing but food for them. Drunk or sober, it’s going to happen.”

“You’re trying to hurt my feelings,” Peachey told him with a grin. “But it won’t work. If you get down the road and you have second thoughts, come on back. That goes for you too, Ruskin.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ruskin replied, clearly anxious to be gone, “I’ll think about that.”

Putting the Forester in gear, Lucas pulled slowly away and, by the reduced light of the taped up headlights, found the dirt road leading away from the ranch.

They sat without talking for a bumpy three miles. Lucas kept the Forester’s speed low and concentrated on the road ahead while echoes of the last few hours reverberated through his mind. He had found a safe place – as safe places went – for True Brewer. The accomplishment was like a weight lifted from his shoulders. And as soon as he could get rid of the guy in the passenger seat – another twenty miles or so, he figured – he could continue his journey. No more entanglements, he resolved. No more stopping.

“That guy, Peachey,” Ruskin said, breaking the silence, “he sure does talk a pretty picture.”

“Yeah,” Lucas replied, annoyed that the quiet had been broken. He didn’t particularly want to converse with the man, but he thought there might be a slim chance Ruskin was reconsidering his plan. If so, he hoped he could be rid of him even sooner. “But I think he meant what he said about welcoming you back – if you were having second thoughts. It wouldn’t be that long of a walk back if you – ”

“I don’t think I’ll be going back. I mean, if I go back driving this car without you, there will be too many questions.” He raised the old .22LR revolver he had been concealing at his side and aimed it at Lucas’ head. “I mean,” he continued as he cocked the hammer, “I could make up some story, but why risk it? Besides, I was getting pretty tired of the menu at the ranch. I have a better place in mind. There’s just no way I’d make it there without a car. Now, I know your gun is right there and I know you’re thinking about going for it, but really, if your hands leave the steering wheel, I will shoot.”

Lucas had been thinking about the revolver holstered beneath his left arm, but he knew he couldn’t reach it in time. “You’re going to shoot the driver? You think that’s smart?” Anger began to well up inside him. Was there any end, he wondered, to the obstacles the universe was going to throw into his path? If it wasn’t kidnappers in helicopters it was hordes of dead people or mountain storms or unwanted passengers. And now some lying, conniving asshole was going to try and take his car?

“I think I’ll be able to grab the wheel and stomp on the brake before we leave the road,” Ruskin answered coolly. “I might get a little blood on me, but not much. That’s another good thing about twenty-two long rifle. But I don’t want to shoot you. I just want the car. So, very slowly, pull over to the side.”

“I thought you just wanted a ride to Marbletown,” Lucas said, maintaining his speed as his anger grew. “Wasn’t that the deal?”

“Please,” the man scoffed. “You would’ve dumped me on the side of the road the first chance you got. Like that girl you dumped back at the ranch. You left her behind. You would’ve left me behind, too, so sorry if I decide to get the jump on you before you do the same to me. Now slow down and come to a stop.”

Lucas’ toe curled on the gas pedal and the Forester accelerated slightly. “Do you really have a dead girlfriend and son in Marbletown?”

Ruskin was silent for a moment before answering. “They’re dead – along with the guy she ran off to when things started going bad.”

Lucas took a few seconds to think it through. “They’re dead,” he said, repeating the man’s words. “And how did they die?”

“How do you think?” Ruskin shot back. “I used the gun I’m pointing at you right now. I don’t feel bad about killing Castillo, though. He’s the guy she ran off to. Just ‘cause he had himself a doomsday shelter in a hidden room at the back of his auto body shop. I only feel bad about shooting that motherfucker in the head. He got off light. He’s the one who should still be walking around dead, not…not Kerrie and…and…”

“And who?” Lucas pressed a little harder on the accelerator.

“Blake,” Ruskin said, naming the child in a voice verging on a whisper. “But,” he went on, clearing his throat, “to be honest, I’m not even one hundred percent sure Blake was my son.”

“Well, shit,” Lucas breathed, “you’re a murderer.”

“It was a crime of passion, okay? I mean, afterward, I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just kinda spaced out. I locked up Castillo’s shop and started walking. I wound up out in the country and Enrique and Maise picked me up and brought me in to the ranch.”

“And shooting me in the head, that’s going to be another crime of passion?”

“No. I told you I’m not going to do that. Not if you stop the car. Not if you get out and give me no trouble.”

“Says the murderer.” Lucas increased the Forester’s speed a little more, wondering how long it would be until Ruskin noticed.

“Like you haven’t killed anyone since all this started.”

“Killed is different than murdered.”

“I’m not interested in this shit. Pull over.” Ruskin looked out through the windshield and realized for the first time that their speed had increased. “What are you doing? Are you going faster? Stop it. Slow down! Slow the fuck down and pull over! You want me to shoot you!?”

“I think – ” Lucas said as he negotiated a bend in the road “ – that you might – “ and the Forester’s tires tried to maintain their grip on the dirt road “ – shoot me anyway.” The headlights illuminated a blur of rutted, potholed road and roadside sagebrush. “And anyway – ” Lucas went on, struggling with the steering wheel “ – without the car – ” while at the same time pressing harder on the gas pedal “ – I can’t do – ” despite feeling the Forester’s tail end fishtailing “ – what I need to do.” For a second or two the right front headlight smashed through the roadside vegetation before Lucas managed to return the car to the road. “Put the window down and toss out the gun.”

“You stop!” Ruskin cried, gesturing sharply with his revolver and alternating his gaze rapidly between Lucas and the view out through the windshield. “You just fucking stop!”

“Put the window down – ” Lucas repeated as the car seemed to slide sideways across the road “ – and toss out the gun – ” and Lucas’ spun the steering wheel to compensate “ – or we both die.”

“All right, you stupid shit!” Ruskin screeched. “You wanna get shot, I’ll – ” but the man’s threat died on his lips as the Forester hit a washed out curve where the dirt road had become a series of foot-deep trenches and loose gravel. The vehicle bucked over the washout and spun in a half circle before tumbling over the edge of the road. In a burst of airbags and shattered glass, it rolled over twice before coming to a rest in a rocky ravine choked with debris washed into it by the springtime rains. A weathered wooden pole attached to a snarl of barbed wire rammed through the opening where the side passenger window had been and impaled Ruskin through his right armpit. Stuck in the on position, the car horn blared like a panicked animal. The sound surrounded him and then swirled like water going down a drain, taking Lucas with it into unconsciousness.

He didn’t know where he was. At that moment, if someone had been there to ask him who he was, he might have had to think about it for a few seconds. The horn was still sounding, but it sounded weak and gritty, as though it had blasted for a long time and the battery was just about spent. There was a tangy, sour taste in his mouth and his nostrils were filled with the smell of steam and motor oil. His eyelids parted with a sticky resistance and he saw the gray light of dawn seeping in through the ruins of the windshield. Surrounded by deflated airbags, Lucas tried to lift his head and was rewarded with a piercing pain in his neck and shoulders. Something was pulling him down to the left. His left arm dangled in that direction and his head lolled there too. It was gravity, he realized. He was up in the air, suspended in the driver’s seat by the seat belt and…something else – something pressing on his chest, making it hard to breathe. Wincing from the pain, he looked around. The car was on its side. The steering wheel had been forced backward – or the driver’s seat had been forced forward – or both. Whatever had happened, he realized, he was pinned between the steering wheel and the seat. And something had come through the passenger side window. And the passenger seat was not empty.

That, he thought blearily, was where True usually sat. So, he wondered, was that True Brewer sitting there partially shrouded in deflated blood-covered airbags? He tried to focus on the body laying just three feet away from him. It wasn’t True Brewer, he decided after a moment. But, for the life of him, he couldn’t think of who the person could be. After a minute, he could feel unconsciousness swirling up around him again. Not True Brewer, were his last thoughts before once gain lapsing into blackness. Then who? And what were they doing there? And…something else…something about what happens after a person dies.
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Tinderbox » Fri Jan 18, 2019 3:14 pm

Sorry about the long, long, long...longlonglonglonglonglong time between updates. Someday I will finish this stupid story - and then start another!!! :clownshoes:
"...the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire..."

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:10 pm

Oh sweet lawd baby jeebus!

Still at work and just saw this...gonna have to find an excuse to bag out early. Thanks TB!
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:40 pm

91Eunozs said: Oh sweet lawd baby jeebus!
Testify! Can I get a "Hallelujah!" in the house?!

Off to the DMV but good to know I'll have this long awaited update waiting when I get back - my thrill for the day. Thanks, TB!!!!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:53 pm

absinthe beginner wrote:
Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:40 pm
91Eunozs said: Oh sweet lawd baby jeebus!
Testify! Can I get a "Hallelujah!" in the house?!

Off to the DMV but good to know I'll have this long awaited update waiting when I get back - my thrill for the day. Thanks, TB!!!!

So happy right now...and yet so sad to be caught up again. Thanks for the new chapters TB, another fantastic window opened into this horrifically beautiful world you’ve created. What a wonderful start to the weekend!

All I can think of is what a waste of a tank of gas...but maybe it hasn’t all leaked out. And of course there’s the promise of Castillo’s locked up bunker if Our Intrepid Hero can make it there. Also, can’t believe I just caught this, but nice subtle inference with the name True Brewer (TB)...intentional?

Can’t wait for the next updates...please, please, please sehr, can we have some moar?
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
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zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by teotwaki » Fri Jan 18, 2019 10:29 pm

Tinderbox wrote:
Fri Jan 18, 2019 3:14 pm
Sorry about the long, long, long...longlonglonglonglonglong time between updates. Someday I will finish this stupid story - and then start another!!! :clownshoes:
Thank you for coming back and giving us MOAR
My adventures and pictures are on my blog

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by FlashDaddy » Sat Jan 19, 2019 9:12 am

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
- Flash

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Zed Hunter » Sat Jan 19, 2019 10:14 am

Where did you leave off? What page of this thread?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Eldritch67 » Sat Jan 19, 2019 10:17 am

Found a recommendation for this on Reddit. Had a few days off while riddled with a chest infection and blazed through the story, now on pg 46.

Just had to jump to the end and say how much I’m enjoying it. And the comments!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by absinthe beginner » Sat Jan 19, 2019 10:50 am

Binge-read all three updates; now floating on a moarpheous cloud having gotten such a potent fix. And the moar junkies cried out MOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by wamba » Sat Jan 19, 2019 6:48 pm

Thanks for the updates Tinderbox, good to have you back and writing.👍
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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by curt48mauser » Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:17 am

A Great start to the New Year-Thanks.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by D_Man » Wed Jan 23, 2019 11:06 am


Start another story?! Really???? I am looking forward to that.

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To find, But not to yield.

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by jdavidboyd » Fri Feb 01, 2019 3:44 pm

More? More? Please more?
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by Johan » Sun Feb 03, 2019 4:37 pm

Thank you so much Tinderbox !!!
And welcome back, I really love this story!!
And now that you have spoilt us with 3 new chapters,
-Is One Bullet that Hits!

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Re: The Dead at Destitute Mountain

Post by 91Eunozs » Fri Mar 01, 2019 7:12 pm

Yo TB.. I blew out my knee this week; not completely out of comission, but I need fo be off my feet the ne t couple of days.

Any chance of an update or three to get me through the weekend? :)
Molon Latte...come & take our coffee order
Doctorr Fabulous wrote:... It's fun to play pretend, but this is the internet, and it's time to be serious.
zengunfighter wrote:... you don't want to blow a tranny in the middle of a pursuit...
woodsghost wrote:... A defensive gun without training is basically a talisman. It might ward off evil, but I wouldn't count on it.

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