Chapter 2 - Entry 4
April 18th cont.
I shook my head. “It’s not our fight.”
Another shot rang out as the riders gained on their prey and the running woman cried out in pain. She stumbled and fell, clutching her stomach, then tried to push the young man away when he stopped to help her. Mary raised her rifle and squeezed the trigger but missed the riders completely.
I sighed and chambered a round in the Glock before holstering it again and readying the hunting rifle. “Stay down and aim for the horses.”
More shots rang out from the three riders as the running man dragged his wounded companion into a ditch. Another hit sent blood spraying from the woman’s thigh. Shouts of alarm and surprise echoed in the street when Mary managed to hit one of the horses with her next shot. It reared up and nearly dropped the rider but didn’t fall. A .22 just doesn’t have enough ass to drop a big animal like that. The other two riders pulled hard on their reins and scanned for a new target. I gave them one.
Adrenaline surged through my body as I walked out of the ditch and onto the street. The hunting rifle’s butt was snuggled comfortably against my shoulder and the recoil felt like an old friend when I fired. A horse’s head exploded. My .30-06? It had enough ass.
Mary’s rifle spit out a slow but steady stream of bullets at the three riders, one of which had taken cover behind his dead horse. I walked down the road’s center, heedless of the shots being fired as I squeezed off my own. A rider cried out in pain when I blew his foot off at the ankle and fell hard to the ground. The second shot dropped his horse.
I knew the sight of me would unnerve them. I’d seen it happen in Iraq. That deadly calm in the midst of a firestorm as a soldier fired round after round in the face of an entrenched enemy. It was a stupid, often suicidal tactic that somehow managed to work from time to time against untrained enemies. For a little while anyway. My face split into a savage grin, hungry for the kill.
A shot tore a bloody furrow through my calf but my body somehow shut down the pain a heartbeat later. My steps didn’t even falter as I took aim at the one horse still standing and its rider. I hit him center of mass and watched blood spray out of the exit wound between his shoulder blades. The only uninjured shooter fled then, harrowed by Mary’s little rifle as he disappeared into a back yard. I turned to focus on the footless man.
He was huddled down behind a horse’s corpse, weakly trying to stop the bleeding with a belt around the ankle, while a circle of blood blossomed on his arm, likely a hit on Mary’s part. My grin remained when I kicked his hand away as it reached for a fallen rifle. I sniffed the air and smelled blood. Everywhere was blood. It made my mouth water. My foot kicked out again and connected with his chin, sending him sprawling limply onto his back. I aimed my rifle at his forehead.
“Get thee behind me Satan!”
I blinked in surprise and laughed, stepping on his neck and watching as blood ran down my calf to pool in the hollow of his throat. He gazed up at me with raw hatred and clawed weakly at my leg with one hand.
“Who are you?” I asked.
His eyes grew wide as my bullet wound knitted itself together before him and the scent of urine soon mingled with blood.
“Suffer not a witch,” He hissed through clenched teeth.
“Oh honey. I ain’t sufferin at all. But thanks for your concern.”
I shrugged and blew his head apart, then wandered over to the other man I’d killed. He was just starting his new career as a zombie when I stomped his head into mush. Movement flickered in the corner of my vision and I saw the last horseman watching me from behind the corner of a house. He scowled and disappeared from view when I smiled sweetly and wiggled my fingers at him.
Mary was standing over the two runners when I got there. The young man was weeping openly as he held the now dead woman in his arms. Mary glanced at my calf, then looked up into my eyes with a mixture of awe and fear. I smiled and moved beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.
The man looked up and blinked away his tears before speaking with a trembling voice. “Thank you.”
I nodded and aimed the gun at the woman’s head.
“What are you doing?” He shrieked as the barrel locked onto the dead woman’s forehead.
Mary stood beside me and looked down with an expression of sadness.
I shrugged. “She’ll turn into a zombie any minute now. If you don’t want me to do it, you’ll have to.”
Comprehension dawned on his face. “I can’t. I can’t.” A shaking hand slapped the woman’s cheek. “Mom. Wake up mom. You gotta wake up.”
Oh. That sucks. A real tear-jerker right there.
His mother’s eyes opened and a glimmer of relief washed over him. Then she snapped her teeth and tried to eat his face. Mary started to move but stopped when I tightened my arm around her shoulder. The man scooted back on his butt and cried out in horror as his mother crawled on hands and knees towards him, intestines beginning to spill out and drag in the mud. I saw the moment his decision was made by the furrow of his brow and tightening of his jaw. He looked up to me and nodded.
The rifle bucked in my hand.
I went back to the horses and grabbed the dead men’s rifles and ammo while Mary sat with the survivor. He was rocking back and forth, eyes fixed on his mother’s corpse when I padded back.
“We need to bury her.” He said.
“No. The dead are coming.” I could hear them moaning nearby and nodded towards the five that shuffled into view a moment later.
"She’s gone now. That’s just her shell.” Mary offered softly while rubbing his back.
Anger flashed across his face but then he heard the moaning and finally nodded. I handed him a rifle and together we jogged back to the camper.
I stayed outside for a half hour to handle the zombies and make sure no more surprises were headed our way. It also gave Mary a little time to help the man get settled. Comforting others wasn’t my strong suit. No. I’d never been able to claim People Skills as a qualification on my resume. Pain gripped my stomach and it took no small amount of effort not to cry out. It felt like a horde of rats were chewing their way out, leaving me breathless and dizzy for a few minutes. I climbed into the camper once the pain dropped to a dull roar.
“Jaeger, this is Nathan. Nathan, meet Jaeger.”
I offered a nod in greeting after Mary made the introductions. Nathan was wearing one of our tee-shirts now; his own white shirt had been ruined by blood and black mud from the ditch. His haunted gaze flickered down to my calf, still covered in blood but fully healed, and his eyes narrowed. Mary kept quiet and I offered no explanations. Wisely, Nathan didn’t ask.
“I’m going to take a shower. Mary, I need food. A lot of food.” I announced, then stripped down while Nathan blushed and averted his eyes. There simply wasn’t enough room in the small bathroom to undress and I’d always been comfortable being nude in front of others.
Mary giggled as I stepped inside.
There was canned beef stew in a bowl waiting on the table once my shower was done. My stomach growled loudly as I wrapped a towel around myself and dug in. “Please heat up a few more cans.”
Mary chewed her lip and nodded. I ate steadily for a half hour, replacing what my body had used to heal my leg. Nathan lay curled up in our bed, watching us in silence. I could tell he knew something odd was going on but, to his credit, he didn’t ask.
When at last my stomach informed me I’d eaten enough, I folded up the table and kicked my feet up for a smoke. “Ok Nathan. What the fuck was that all about?”
He blinked in surprise at the question while Mary sat on the floor to rest her head on my thigh. My hand drifted down to stroke her hair.
“Who were those men and why were they trying to kill you?”
Nathan blew out a long, heavy sigh and my nose wrinkled at the scent of his breath. Obviously brushing his teeth had not been a priority as of late.
“That was my uncle and a pair of the elders from his group. They wanted to kill Mom and me because we didn’t want to stay with them.”
I arched an eyebrow and waited for him to continue.
“My Mom’s house collapsed during the first round of earthquakes so I picked her up in my car and we went to my uncle’s ranch. It’s sorta like a gated community. Actually, it’s more like military compound now. See, they’re all in the same church with beliefs that are pretty far out there, if you know what I mean?”
Mary and I both nodded in reply. Crazy times make crazy people.
Nathan went on to explain that the church had evolved into a cult after the disaster hit. They believed this was the End of Days. The world was being punished for its wicked ways and it was up to those who remained to form a new Eden. From there they’d push outwards and a new God fearing nation would rise from the ashes. A new holy land in which women were submissive second class citizens. I rolled my eyes and thought it should be the other way around but didn’t interrupt as he went on.
Apparently they had been preparing for years and the core families already at the compound were living the life full time. Women cooked, cleaned, planted gardens, harvested produce, and did it all with a baby on their hip. The men were there to hunt, discuss religion, eat, sleep and fuck. Nathan’s mom, who simply thought her brother was a bit eccentric, wasn’t prepared for the reality that bit her in the ass.
“We managed to stay for two days. I mean, it was obvious they were absolutely nuts but we figured it was better to just play along with them instead of trying to survive outside in all this insanity. What’s more nuts? Religious crazies or zombies walking the earth?”
I shrugged and he continued.
“Last night was the last straw though when my uncle’s wife told mom it was her turn to sleep with him. Apparently Uncle Joachim decided he was the only one good enough to claim his own sister as a wife. We left right away and you know the rest.”
We sat in silence after he’d finished. What the hell do you say to something like that?
Mary summed it up best. “That’s pretty fucked up.”
We gave Nathan the abridged version of our situation, leaving out the part about my time in prison and our destination. He thanked us both again for coming to his rescue, then asked if it was ok for him to rest a little. I suggested he take a shower first but didn’t mention my nose was burning with the scent of his sweat and body odor. Mary was beaming like a schoolgirl as I got dressed once he’d gone into the bathroom. I arched an eyebrow and finally asked why.
“You were so fucking awesome out there! I mean, you were just casually walking through a hail of bullets like they were nothing. I’ve never seen anything like that! You didn’t even flinch when they shot you in the leg! It was like you were superman!”
I laughed and shook my head. “I’m going back to that house I searched today. There were clothes in one of the closets that will probably fit Nathan."
“Are we going to let him stay with us?”
The question gave me pause and I chewed it over in my mind as my gaze moved to the bathroom’s door. “I don’t know. He doesn’t set off any alarms but we don’t even know if he wants to tag along.”
“I’ll ask him when he gets out of the shower.”
“No. We’ll give him a little while to get over the shock. Probably stay the night here and then decide what to do in the morning.” And that was that.
There was a swarm of zombies feasting nosily on horse meat when I stepped outside. They ignored me so I went about my business, grabbing clothes and a pair of boots that I thought might fit him. Fat, greasy drops of rain were falling as I left the house, pausing long enough to look up at the black clouds drifting by overhead.
Then there was an explosion of pain.
I felt teeth sink into my shin as a legless zombie struck from overgrown bushes outside the front door. It hung on like a dog as I tried to shake it lose, tearing the wound open further. Unlike the gunshot, my body didn’t dull this pain. It fell backwards with a chunk of my leg in its mouth, chewing wetly while its glossy white eyes remained locked onto me. One exploded when I sent a round from the Glock into it.
Cursing my own stupidity, I hobbled back inside the house and waited for the wound to close. It took much longer than the gunshot but there was no doubt about the unnatural healing rate. My stomach roared again, drool running down my lips as I tore through the kitchen. Cold soup and canned veggies helped ease the pain but did nothing to stop the ripping headache that started. I stumbled back to the camper an hour after I’d left, handed Mary the clothes, and laid down in bed where sleep hit me like a hammer.