/ Language: English / Genre:sf_horror, / Series: Zombie Chronicles Novel

Undead Advantage a Zombie Chronicles Novel

Mark Clodi


Mark Clodi. Undead Advantage

A Zombie Chronicles Novel

Chapter 1

"Watch it! On your left! Other left!" A shot rang out and Kevin jumped a foot into the air, the voice continued, "That 'sokay, I mighta missed that one myself."

Kevin looked around, eventually looking upward to discover a badly sunburned, Caucasian male standing next to an Hispanic man on the roof of an older Gas n' Go convenience store. The white guy was in his mid thirties, about six feet tall and maybe two-hundred and ten pounds, he had brown hair and blue eyes, where his skin wasn't sunburned it was a fair shade of white. The Hispanic guy was about the same age, he was shorter than his companion, maybe five-ten and a hundred and seventy pounds, he had black hair and brown, almost black eyes with a fair tan skin. Both men looked like they had not shaved in a few days.

"Hey I am Hank, this is Juan, he don't talk much, leaves it to me, lemme give ya a hand up here with us, okay?", the white guy reached down offering his hand to Kevin, in order to reach it Kevin had to climb up on the dumpster by the side of the building. Once on top of the building Kevin looked around, he quickly squatted down as 'Hank' and 'Juan' did.

The rooftop they were on had several pipes spearing upward out of it, along with a huge heater or air conditioner that blocked off the view of the rear of the building. In front there were two islands of gas pumps with a large covering over both of them to keep customers from getting rained or snowed during bad weather and kept the hot July sun off them in times like this. The roof itself was flat with some sort of beige gravel on it, a low wall separated the roof from the 12 foot fall to the ground below. The building stood alone and apart from the surrounding stores, in the back there was a loading door and a place for employee parking. On the east side of the building was a dumpster in the alley and the other side of the building had more parking, which ended in a side street. Beyond the pumps was a large four lane street with a turn lane. Across from the Gas n' Go was a strip mall, an upscale set of shops with several nice looking, if pricey businesses.

"Yeah" Hank said from his crouching position, " We don't want to advertise our presence much, ya know? So you gotta name?"

Kevin nodded and tried to speak, but all that came out was a murmured squeal, he tried again until Hank held up his hand, "No, don't worry about it partner, don't let it bother ya, seen it lots of times, hell Juan wasn't much of a conversationalist before this mess and he ain't good for shit around a campfire now. You know how to shoot a gun?" Kevin shook his head 'no'. Hank shrugged, "Well, ain't no time like the present to learn." Hank leaned over behind him and picked up a rifle sitting on the roof of the building. "Me and Juan, we got trapped here this afternoon, just trying to make our way back to the "Mike's Club" off of Platte Street. Fucken' 'A' but we ran into a bunch of the shit heads on the way there. This was supposed to be a milk run, get to the gun shop, get back loaded down with guns and ammo, simple. Then we ran into some people by this clinic, plus the doc his self an' his nurse. We loaded their car up with medical stuff and a few guns and stuff and told em how to get into 'our' store, no room for us in the car. Ya think Juan or I could at least hot wire a goddamn car, eh?"

"If we had the tools we could." said Juan in a heavily accented Hispanic voice.

"Hell yes we could, it don't mean nothing anyway anymore, right? We holed up at this giant discount store, "Mike's Club" off of Peoria, you know the one? No? Anyway we figured it would be a good place, full of food, blankets beds, even generators, right? Plus the place is huge and we wanted someplace the whole neighborhood could hole up in, by neighborhood I am talking a lot of people, over a hundred for sure. We made it to the Mike's, it was not close, by the way, several miles on these streets, we had a wrecker though, a tow truck and we had to clear a few cars and deal with zombies to get there. Once inside the place it was empty, doors still worked and all so people and zombies were coming in, but then Juan's niece? Or is she your cousin?"

"Mi sabrina." Juan answered in Spanish.

"His niece, she had worked there and knew how to turn the doors off, we did that and then me and Juan and some others cleared the place out, top to bottom. We had maybe half a dozen guns among all of us so mostly it was bat and hammer work. We got the zombies out, and the women folk started in on the clean up. The men got the generators up onto the roof and started filling up the pallets of empty gas cans out at the 'in lot' gas station the place runs, so we are pretty much set for power and stuff for awhile. The place even sold guns, but not ammo. So Juan and I looked up the nearest gun shop and headed off to get at least a few boxes of ammo. Anyway after seeing the Doc off in the car, we started back, no big deal. We kept a few guns for ourselves and hell we had walked to the gun store, so we could hump our sorry asses back. The Doc, we-ell hell me and Juan, we're grunts, the Doc is a Doctor, important, right? So we walk and he rides. End of story. Only we run into some goddamn zombie party, you seen it? About two blocks over on Ivy? Maybe you seen the mounds of dead bodies in the street? No? Well probably for the best anyway, you might not a made it if you had been by there. Say, can you write? Juan you got that pen?"

"Si", replied Juan, handing over a pen and a notepad to Kevin.

"Gimme your name, eh? Makes it easier than calling you that 'black kid' or something. No offense or nothing. Sometimes I don't think I talk so well, correct and all. I may be a southern transplant, but I ain't no racist, the feds they done burned that outta my family a couple generations ago." Hank took the paper from the young man, "Let's see, 'Kevin' then eh? Good name and I am pleased to meet 'cha Kevin.", Hank held out his beefy hand to Kevin, Kevin shook it with hardly a moment's hesitation then shook Juan's hand as well.

Turning back to the west Hank looked at the sun, which was just a small sliver above the distant mountains, the day was almost ended.

"Well Juan, it looks like we are in here for the night. You wanna go down into the store and rummage around for a blanket or sleeping bag?", Juan shook his head from side to side.,"No? Want me to go?"

"Si."

"Okay, sure I'll do it, next time you gotta go though, right? Really does that look like a camping store over there?", Hank gestured across the street from them. "What do you think Kevin?"

The black youth nodded yes at the same time Juan answered with his ever popular "Si". Hank sighed and said, "Okay then I am off, just you be watching my back and, here, you Kevin, you watch behind Juan. I don't know you from nothing yet, you might be a good shot or you might not shoot for shit, but Juan, he can peg the eye out of a sparrow at a hundred yards."

Juan protested with a "No!" pretty strongly, but Hank waved him off and continued, "Oh no need to be modest, you are a good shot buddy and it makes more sense for me to get down there, than you any day. Cover my ass bud!" With that Hank hopped off the side of the convenience store onto the dumpster below and ran across the street, the slow moving lumbering zombies followed him away from the store, but could not keep up with him.

Out of the corner of his eye Juan saw another, faster zombie, making his way down the street, taking cover behind cars so as not to be seen by Hank. This was perfect as it put him in full view of Juan, who was crouched down behind the low cinder block wall that went around the edges of the convenience store roof. This zombie was a middle aged Caucasian wearing a bloodied red and white cowboy shirt and had on soft leather boots to match. His blue jeans were partially torn near the ankles, a sure sign, Juan thought, that he had been bitten there, then got away, and died somewhere else. The only thing missing was a nice, white, ten gallon cowboy hat.

Kevin touched Juan's shoulder and pointed at the faster undead. Juan nodded and said in a soft, Hispanic accent, "Not today esse" before firing. The Talon II rifled bullet struck the cowboy zombie just below his Adam's apple. The impact from the bullet cause him to take a step back, the cowboy then lunged forward and hid behind a yellow Toyota. Not a bad shot considering the rifle was 'off the shelf' and not sighted in. However when fighting the undead 'not a bad shot' was fully equal to 'a bad shot'. Without a brain destroying bullet the zombie was just winged and not dead again, and now he knew they were there. Both Juan and Kevin could see the cowboy peering from the sidewalk through the Toyota's windows at the roof of the Gas n' Go.

"Puta", Juan swore softly as he worked the bolt action rifle back and chambered another round.

Kevin pointed at the cowboy indicating that Juan should try and shoot him through the glass.

"No." Juan replied curtly.

Kevin knew from the quickness of Juan's reply that he had better leave him alone to watch Hank's back, he returned to the back of the store and kept watch on the back parking lot and alley.

When Hank heard the shot he immediately dodged left. For about the hundredth time since leaving the Mike's Club he wished he had radios like those soldiers out of the movies. "Always the dumb 'good ole boy' volunteering for this shit", he thought. He made the front door of the store to find it was locked and had a security gate. It was a newer style store and obviously it had to follow a builder's code of the area, which seemed to stipulate a lot of wood and earth tones. The door, while supporting painted brown metal bars running vertically up and down in front of the glass, was wood. Hank used the butt of his shotgun to smash the window, no alarms when off, despite the fact that the area still seemed to have electricity. Hank reached in passed the broken glass and pulled the fire safety bar down to open the door. 'Thank God for fire codes' he thought as he let himself in. Turning he scanned for major problems, and seeing nothing Juan could not handle he pulled the door shut. Looking around he spotted a box full of 'fold-a-chairs', on special right near the front door, he pulled one out and stuffed two of its legs between the safety bar and the security bars outside the broken window. It was not a permanent solution but anyone messing with it would make noise trying to get in.

Sure enough the store did hold a variety of camping gear, for the most part it held overpriced, 'high-tech' clothing. Hank did a quick circuit of the entire place, going around the outside and looking for undead or other survivors. Finding nothing in the main room he chose to start looting immediately. First he grabbed a backpack, then went for the highest priced sleeping bags he could find, he torn them out of their boxes and stuffed the lightweight sacks down into the backpacks. The three bags filled the main compartment and Hank made sure to put the 'stuff sacks' they came within as well, though he kept one out to fill with other loot from the store. He grabbed a small stove, three sets of cookware, five bottles of stove fuel and just about every dehydrated food pouch he could find. On the way towards the front door he grabbed some pants and shirts he thought would fit Kevin. He topped this off with three boxes of power bars that were near the register and then turned to the small refrigerator next to it to clean it out of bottled water. He also grabbed two of every kind of soda they had and a couple extra pepsi colas, the stuff sack was fifty pounds now if it was an ounce so he returned to the backpacks and loaded it up into another another pack instead. Jackets. They would be nice, maybe if he made another trip… No time, Juan was already firing outside and Hank started to worry about the kind of crowd gunfire always drew. He put the pack with the sleeping bags on his back, carried the other in his left hand and cradled the shotgun with his right. Heavy, but there were only the slow zombies to deal with outside, he hoped.

Juan saw Hank duck into the sporting goods store as he fired for a third time at the fast zombie on the street. Each time he fired he kept thinking, "Gotcha pendejo!", but each time the gun was just slightly too high or too low or too far to the right or left. After missing his last shot he threw the gun down in frustration and looked at the remaining weapons. They had brought four rifles and two shotguns with them all fully loaded and each with an extra box of ammo. In addition both Hank and Juan had pistols belted to their waists and metal baseball bats as last resort weapons. They had burned through most of their shotgun ammunition getting away from the Ivy street mob. Kevin now had one of the rifles, Hank had one of the shotguns with him. Debating for a second Juan selected the other shotgun, it was loaded with double ought buck and while the range was extreme for a shotgun, the burst should be more forgiving for Juan's near misses. Turning back to the street Juan saw that his recent firing had drawn plenty of other slow zombies back into the area.

"Damn." he swore softly in English.

They had originally decided to hole up on top of the roof for awhile because there were simply so many of the slow zombies around, it made getting surrounded and mobbed a real possibility. They had been deciding on whether to go or leave when Kevin showed up. Kevin was beat, wearing a sweat drenched shirt and he looked like he had not slept in two days. Juan was pretty sure Kevin was not going to be up to traveling without at least a night's sleep and leaving him was not something that had crossed either Hank or Juan's mind. So when the zombies cleared out a little Hank made the dash to the store across the street for blankets and maybe, if they were lucky, supplies. Of course they were sitting on top of a convenience store. So Juan somehow knew they would not be going hungry tonight no matter what happened.

Hank returned to the doorway and lifted his makeshift 'lock' out from the safety bar. 'Ugh', there were a lot more slow zombies out there now, plus Juan was firing at something, no doubt a speedy Gonzales, 'Well Speedy', Hank thought as he patted his shotgun, 'I got a little something for ya right here.'

Hank thought that if this were a movie he would now chamber a round in his shotgun and rush blindly out into the parking lot. In real life he already had a round chambered, the safety was off and he had no desire to be hit on his blind side by a zombie waiting just out of sight on one side of the door.

He pushed the door open and looked down the sidewalk. Nothing one way, turning he peered the other way. All clear. Looking across the street at Juan on the roof of the convenience store he waited for him to gesture go or no go. Juan was a bit busy sighting at something beyond Hank's vision. 'That's okay, I can get the door shut.' Hank turned around and picked up the chair from inside the door, holding it carefully he lifted it from the outside until it was above the locking bar, then eased the door shut. Once it was 'locked' again he pulled the chair legs back down into position, locking the door against the really stupid zombies. 'Or people.', he mused. Doing this had taken both hands and when he finished he quickly grabbed his shotgun and second backpack. Just in time, a slow zed was a little too close for comfort. This time, it was an old man wearing a hospital robe. The ties in the back had come loose and now the only thing holding the robe on was his outstretched arms. Hank shuffled forward, pointed the gun at his head. The discharge made mincemeat of the man's head and the body toppled backward.

Hank aimed at the next closest target, but did not fire, thinking of the fact that he only had four more shots until he had to reload. Luckily this was a magazine operated shotgun, which meant Hank could reload as he fired. He snaked his arm up through the straps of the backpack to the pocket on his shirt and pulled out another shell, which he then loaded through the bottom of the gun. 'Excellent', he thought, 'back to five shots.'

Juan kept the shotgun trained on the cowboy. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Hank coming out of the front of the store, but he did not shift his view. That fast bastard needed to go down, otherwise it was going to be a long night. The slow ones were uncoordinated and unable to climb. The fast ones, well they were a different breed altogether, they could climb, they could drive cars, heck Juan and Hank had even heard one talk. Juan would not put jumping to the top of the roof past some of them either.

What made some come back as 'fast' and others as 'slow', they had not figured out yet. Juan's thought was maybe it was who they ate, maybe anyone with A positive blood gave the undead brains. He shrugged, it didn't mean anything. Sooner or later Juan was afraid they were going to run into a fast zombie with a gun, that would be bad, very bad.

The cowboy rolled out of cover and broke for Hank without warning, "Sonofabitch!", Juan exclaimed trying to get a bead on the him. Just as Juan pulled the trigger the cowboy passed behind another, slow moving, zombie. Juan's shot completely destroyed the slower zombie's head and it fell to the ground. Even from the roof Juan would hear the heels from the cowboy's boots clopping on the hard concrete sidewalk.

Hank turned towards the cowboy and brought his shotgun up, Juan watched in disbelief as Hank's hand got caught in a pack of some sort and saw that he was not going to get the gun up for a killing shot in time. Juan chambered another round and was just taking aim when Hank fired his gun. The cowboy took the shot in his lower torso and went down. His momentum allowed him to fall forward and drag Hank to the ground by his legs. Both men were out of view behind an abandoned car but, to Juan's relief, a second later Hank was up, one arm still wrapped in the backpack strap. As he came up his target was still unseen from Juan's angle, he had cover behind a car while on the ground. As his shot rang out Juan saw Hank flinch and pull his head back to avoid being sprayed with cowboy brains.

Juan took a deep breath and relaxed only for a moment because several new zombies had been attracted by all the gun fire. Kevin had crept back to the front of the store roof next to Juan. He timidly pointed to a mailman slowly approaching from Hank's rear. He watched has the barrel of Juan's gun followed the mailman's path. Simultaneously Kevin heard the shot and saw the storefront glass of the camping supply store splattered with red and black matter.

Hank immediately looked up and let out a yell, "Fuck! Don't shoot me ya dumbass! I swear ya holed my shirt with that one!"

'Maybe I did.', Juan thought, that zombie had been awful close when he took the shot and the spread of the shot gun made it all the more likely he would have winged his friend. He made a mental note to check on the choke of the shotgun when he had a chance, probably it was something he could set on the fly, this was a good shotgun, they stole only the very best. If he could adjust it to a tighter pattern it should give him a good compromise between getting a head shot and getting the distance he needed from the gun.

Hank took a second to adjust how he was carrying his second backpack and then made a mad dash across the fairly open ground of the street to the convenience store. Once he got up to the dumpster Kevin was there and Hank handed off the back full of water and food to him. Kevin had trouble pulling it up onto the roof, he was surprised at how heavy the pack was. Hank shrugged off his second pack, rummaged around for the empty stuff sack he had put in it and handed the pack up to Kevin.

"I am going into the store for a second, to get some more water and uh, a couple other things, I will be right back." he told Juan and Kevin.

Jumping off the dumpster Hank ran back around to the front of the store. A sad part of life was that the need to use the bathroom still happened at inconvenient times, like when you are running away from slowly shambling undead. The store was full of the slow zombies too. Hank hesitated and looked up at Juan who was staring down at him.

"I need a bat Juan!" Juan threw an aluminum bat down to Hank, who slung his shotgun over his shoulder by the strap and pulled the door open. Stepping inside he resisted the urge to back out again, the smell! Oh the smell was bad! It smelled like these zombies had been stuck inside for days, slowly decomposing. Real stupid zombies too, as the door opened outwards. The closest zombie wore the uniform of the attendant, a Gas n' Go logo emblazoned with the name 'Gus' on his left breast. He showed signs of bite marks on his arms and face, half of his cheek was off revealing some broken teeth and a shredded, lolling tongue.

"Bye Gus", Hank said as he slammed the bat into the zombie's head, dropping him.

Hank counted nine zombies in the store, plus there were probably a few crawlers, there always seemed to be. Killing the slow zoms was not real hard unless they mobbed you, the zombies in the store were spread out enough that Hank felt sure he could take them all down without a problem. As he finished off the last crawler a few minutes later Hank felt pretty good, the store was cleared out, even the back rooms and office. He carefully approached the bathrooms, the men's was clear. Thankfully the electricity was still working which made taking care of his business that much easier. Once he was done he looked around the store for anything else they might need. He decided that the dirty yellow mop bucket in back would be good. The wheeled bucket was once used for mopping up the floors, now it would serve as a decent sink up on the roof. He filled it halfway with water from the low tap in the back then made his way out of the store, stuffing his pockets with candy bars and grabbing a four pack of toilet paper as he made it to the front door. Outside he saw Juan peering down at him worriedly.

"No worries amigo. I just had to use the little boy's room. Catch." So saying Hank tossed the toilet paper up to Juan who batted it onto the roof with his shotgun. "Can you think of anything else we might need?"

"Si."

"Er, what there Juan? I think 'si' is a mighty fine word, but it don't tell me what you want, right?"

"Si, get those prepaid phones and minute cards.", came Juan's accented reply.

Hank raised his eyebrows a bit at this verbose reply and went back into the store, leaving the water bucket outside.

"Let's see, phones, phones. What the hell was he talking about? Oh, I see, yeah, smart boy that Juan." He muttered to himself as he looked over the stuff on the counter. Sure enough the store sold prepaid phones and re-charging cards, which were behind the counter. How to charge them up though? Hank thought he had seen an extension cord in the back of the store, first he went out to talk to Juan again.

"These amigo?", Hank held up three of the prepaid phones.

"Si", came the reply.

"Okay, I will toss em up. Say is there an electric outlet up there anywhere?" After tossing the phones up to Juan on the roof Hank turned around and looked at the zombies nearby, several were edging close to him and he knew he was going to have to finish them off before he went back inside to see about the extension cord. As he clubbed the first one with his bat a nearby slo zomb broke out of its shuffle and dashed at him, taking Hank by surprise, "Why you little son of a bitch!" Hank exclaimed before poking the thing back with his bat. The zombie woman was in good shape, heck she was probably still mostly a girl, maybe 17, no bite marks anywhere on her that Hank could see and her clothing was not bloody, as if it had been changed since she came back from the dead. She twisted around and came in along one side of the bat and probably things would have gone downhill if it had not been for the water bucket that Hank had left near the door. The zombie stepped right into it and it slid out from under her, spilling her to the ground, a loud blast made Hank jump as Juan shot the thing from the roof.

"Outlet. Si.", Juan said.

Hank nodded and approached the next closest zombie, he finished off five before Juan's voice warned him, "H-hank! Zombies."

Looking around Hank cursed. Shit there was another whole mob of them heading his way, some at a faster shuffle leading the pack right towards him. He grabbed up the mop bucket and headed around the corner for the dumpster, where Kevin was waiting to pull up his latest acquisition and Hank himself. A few of the faster zombies were already in the mouth of the alley and as a precaution Juan blasted them. He did not know if they could climb up the dumpster, but did not want to take any chances.

Once Hank was back on the roof, the three of them backed towards the center where they were out of sight of most of the undead.

Hank started dumping the contents of the backpacks out on the gravel stone which covered the flat top of the building. They had their backs to a large piece of machinery which could have been a furnace or air conditioner and had what Hank referred to as a 'pow-wow'.

"This is how I see it, we stay up here for the night, don't draw any more attention to ourselves and then try to make our way back to the Mike's Club tomorrow morning. I think we might be able to get one of those cars working. I know I put down the worker in the store, his car is probably that piece of shit fiesta on the side of the building. It ain't worth much, but we don't have far to go. Those phones gonna do anything for us Juan?"

Juan looked the boxes over and then handed one out to each person, Hank read the box and saw that once activated they could be keyed to be used as a walkie-talkie, that would be useful.

Like the others he opened his box and spilled the contents onto the roof. A few minutes later they were all reading through the manuals trying to figure out how to get their phones working. Hank pulled the credit card sized 'minute cards' from his pockets, he had grabbed as many of the 500 minute 'One Up' cards that he could fit in his shirt pocket. Entering the numbers into the phones they were able to activate them all, however the power levels in the batteries were all very low. Juan and Kevin plugged theirs into the all weather outlet Juan had found on the roof, then started messing about with the phones, trying to get the walkie-talkie feature to work. Hank gave up in frustration, pushing his phone towards Kevin, who seemed to be having the best luck figuring his out.

"Kev man, you gotta do it, I just don't mix well with computers. I am a good cook though." Juan rolled his eyes, "Well I am a cook, of sorts. You guys deal with the phones, I should be able to get this food cooked up for us."

Stoves and cooking Hank could do. Within twenty minutes he had two bags of the beef stroganoff reconstituted and ready to eat. Everyone had already gotten into the drinks and water and before they ate Hank pointed at the mop bucket, which still had some water in it. "I know it ain't the cleanest, but you guys might want to wash up a little before we eat. Kevin I grabbed these cloths for you at the store, thought you might want to change, but you can wash up better after dinner with the bottled water."

They all washed their hands, Juan also pulled out a tube of clear hand sanitizer out of his front pocket which they all used before eating. No one knew what was causing the dead to rise again, but germs were a real suspicion. Hank tossed out packs of freeze dried ice cream for dessert and they all lounged around while it got dark, mostly listening to Hank talk.

"So Kevin you up to speakin' a piece yet? No? Sh'all right, me and Juan can fill ya in about what has happened to us over the last few days. This started for us on Monday, only Thursday now, four short days, seems a lot can happen in that time…"

Chapter 2

Hank called up Juan on Monday morning, "Hey buddy you ready? Ya know I gotta change that transmission out of the caddy and man that guy is waiting for it, called me on Saturday night. At home!"

"Si, I am ready Hank, come an' pick me up.", replied Juan. Hank had moved to Denver nine years ago, he loved the outdoors and while it was not his native South Carolina, it also had things that South Carolina, at the time, did not have, namely gainful employment. When he moved up he took a job at "Carl's Imports", a garage that specialized in foreign cars, repairing them with cheaper, American made, parts to save the original owners a lot of money. Add the non-certified mechanics for their make and model of car and the place was a gold mine. The location worried Hank a bit when he applied for a job, south east Denver was filled with lower income housing and most of it was pretty old too. However under the veneer of age was a sort of quiet dignity, the houses were old, but had new paint, well cut yards and very little actual crime.

After nine months on the job Hank bought an old 2 bedroom house about 7 blocks from where he worked. Like all people moving into such a position, Hank figured he would be walking to work every day and saving a bundle on gas, the reality was it took 10 minutes to walk and 2 minutes to drive. So he drove pretty much every day, figuring he was paying the gas for an extra 16 minutes of free time every day.

At first his job was just a job, he got along with the people he worked with, even if most of them spoke Spanish and he could only remember three words of it from his high school years. Over the months though, that changed, after three years Hank was even invited over to several of his co-worker's houses for dinner and he could get along pretty well in his second language, well enough to work, well enough to joke around and well enough to understand when most of the 'old school' Hispanics started asking around why he did not have an 'esposa'.

Hank was not the marrying type, he did not talk about it much with his friends, though they could never quite stop asking him when he was going to 'settle down' with a good woman. He figured it was just a cultural thing, plus their wives could not stand to see a good 'catch' like him getting away. Now nine years later and with thirty seven years on this earth Hank could just not see himself changing to the point of marrying anyone. He drank beer on their back patios or in his friend's garage, never on the front porch stoop like a bunch of 'boyz in the hood', the women of the house would never allow that. Hank enjoyed hanging out with his co-workers, in particular he was good friends with Juan, a slightly younger man of thirty four years who lived a couple of blocks down the street from him. They rode in together, they worked like a well oiled machine on any projects they had, they just 'clicked'.

Juan's wife was a huge driving force behind the neighborhood conspiracy to find Hank a wife, so far though Hank had parried every attempt of hers to pair him up. And this was seriously hard fighting, if setting people up were a sport, Nanci would be in the major league. Parties were thrown with Hank invited, oddly there were always a few single women. Dinners with an added female companion; movies where one of her single friends tagged along. Hank didn't mind and enjoyed the odd relationship of fencing he had with Juan's wife.

Eventually Juan asked him if he were homosexual. This was not something Juan did after two years of friendship, but closer to five years into their relationship and it just came up one day when they were working on a Camaro that belonged to one of Juan's cousins. A nice car and Hank could not figure out what the hell Juan was talking about butterflies for. He had a surreal moment where he was thinking to himself, "This can't be right, 'Am I a butterfly?', what the hell Juan?" Juan had looked at him really embarrassed and as he explained Hank become more and more embarrassed. They had been working together for so long that sometimes Juan forget that Hank was not a native speaker and didn't understand all of the Spanish slang. Juan patiently tried to explain that 'mariposa' was a word with a slang meaning of 'homosexual'. It was a gentle, teasing way of asking if Hank were gay.

Hank had burst out laughing when he finally figured out what Juan was talking about. He had always been tight lipped about his past and this was the result, his friends and neighbors thought he was gay! Nanci and Juan were devout Catholics and Hank had attended church with them a few times, even though he was more of a non-denominational kind of man. Nanci had come up with a theory, Juan explained, that Hank was religious and gay. So religious that he would not think of blasphemy by actually practicing his homosexuality, which is why no one ever saw Hank with another man.

Hank told Juan he just didn't want to date anyone, he explained that he had been married before, a long time ago. The experience he had as a very young married man had left him sour on the whole thought of ever having a relationship again. Hank and his wife had two kids too, which was news to Juan. No one had ever seen any pictures of children in Hank's house or at his work space in the garage.

Hank wen on to explain that the two kids he had conceived while married turned out to be those of two different men, if the dna testing were to be believed, but that was getting ahead of the story a little. By the time Hank had found out about his kids he been ready to believe anything. By then all his savings were cleaned out, payments were coming due for loans he had never signed on and his own mother had to tell him she came over to talk to his wife and found her in bed with another man. Hank's parents were not rich, but they had fronted him money for the divorce and the subsequent paternity tests.

Soon after the paternity tests came back Hank had hard decisions to make. His wife sued him for alimony and told him privately if he paid it he could still see 'his' children every two weeks. Hank had declined to pay alimony, his ex filed suit to keep him from seeing the kids he thought were his, a two year old and a four year old. Life had gone on. Only not quite. His ex was fucked up, no one doubted that by then and Hank had been given a choice of pressing charges against her for wrongfully signing on over seventy thousand dollars of loans with his name or of putting her away for forgery and a host of other charges. Still thinking of 'his' kids, he declined to press charges and was subsequently hit up for full payment of the loans. Hank hired yet another lawyer, this one an ace at resolving credit disputes, the lawyer explained the situation to the creditors and while they commiserated with him about the mess he was in, they said he had not pressed charges and they were still owed the money and needed payment. Eventually Hank declared bankruptcy, he had tried for months to keep up with the payment schedule demanded by the creditors, but his salary was just not enough and then, suddenly, he had no salary coming in anymore.

His ex would not leave him alone, she had kept coming by where he worked and demandimg money, if he did not pay she caused a scene in front of the customers. Hank thought his boss was pretty good for putting up with it as long as he did. Even after Hank had a restraining order his wife still showed up. Even after she was arrested and spent three days cooling her heels in jail, she continued to come back. Then cars started being vandalized at night, then a rock was thrown through the front window. Finally his boss called him in and they had 'the talk'. Hank couldn't be fired for what was going on, but South Carolina was a 'no cause' employment state and his boss explained that he had to let him go due to all the problems caused by his ex wife. The man was decent enough though; he paid Hank three months' salary and gave him a great letter of recommendation.

Apparently the news was out; there was no work in the area. In two weeks of applying for jobs he should have landed, no one even so much as called him back. That was when he stopped paying the loans and instead paid a bankruptcy attorney. The process took a surprisingly long time, during which Hank moved back in with his parents. He stretched the money he had and looked into attending college. Four days after his bankruptcy was finalized his parents were driving home on a rainy night and never made it. A state patrol officer explained that they had been in an accident, slid off the road and rolled, they had died quickly. The weeks that followed were a blur, funerals to arrange, the estate to settle, bills to pay off. They were some of the worst of Hank's relatively short life. At the funeral his wife had shown up. She caught his attention and beckoned him over. She told him that if he did not give her the money 'she knew' his parents had left him she was going to start in on him again, he had two choices, pay her or live in hell.

Hank knew then. He knew she had done it, killed his parents, the fucking bitch. Hank's first instinct, which in retrospect was probably exactly what his ex wanted, was to pound her into the ground for murdering his parents. He somehow thought past that and merely nodded and said he would have a check for her when the estate was settled, but that he had nothing now, as his parents bank accounts had been depleted by his divorce and paying for their funerals. Hank told her it would take a few months to settle everything. She told him he had a week to make the first of many payments. He asked how much she wanted. She said he could keep anything over seventy thousand dollars. He merely nodded to her.

If he had beat up his wife at his parent's funeral for what he knew she had done, she probably would have sued him for every penny he owned. Instead he buried his parents, and spoke to several guests who recognized his ex-wife. He told them that she had told him she had killed his parents and if he didn't pay her seventy thousand dollars she was going to kill him too. A little white lie. He cried too. The rest was as easy as it was painful. First his ex had violated the restraining order, a fact seen by any number of attendees at the funeral, second the district attorney already had a history of his ex harassing him and knew the story of what she had put him through. The district attorney's investigation into the possible murder of Hank's parents was far more thorough than it might normally have been. Witnesses were found, alibis turned up to be false, his wife was in a lot of trouble.

The day his ex wife was charged with the homicide of his parents and the police went to her home to arrest her they found her incapacitated in her apartment. She had slit her wrists, after drowning her two children. She had also left a long, rambling note accusing Hank of abuse, and made up stories of harassment. Worse yet the bitch did not have the courtesy to die. They rushed her, barely alive, to the hospital and she recovered. The kids did not recover. His ex-wife was remanded to custody for her trial and had the great big, brass balls to send Hank a letter saying she still loved him and asking him to hire her an attorney to defend her. Hank had never answered her and her subsequent letters were less kind, in fact they were used by the district attorney at her sentencing hearing, the last Hank had heard anyway. By then he had left South Carolina to start a new life.

By this time Hank and Juan had given up all pretense at working on the Camaro and Nanci had started bring them beers, beer after beer after beer. Hank had ended his story well and truly drunk, he recalled. Coming back to the here and now, he looked out over the mostly deserted and still eerily light streets and says, "Ain't that about right Juan?"

"Sì. Yeah Hank."

"Of course after that, everyone knew about it. It was great that not everyone was talking about my sexual orientation anymore, but it took a few months before the pity came out of their eyes and that was pretty hard to take. Juan though, he was always there for me, so was Nanci. Nanci….", Hank stared off into the night some more.

Kevin heard the story and knew there was more to come, he doubted Hank or Juan would be up here on this roof, leaving Juan's wife behind.

Hank started a bit, as if he had half fallen asleep and then said, "Hey Kevin, you can take some of the extra water and wash up a bit around back of this furnace, I got all these cloths for you, I hope something fits anyway. We should probably be hitting the hay, you want first watch Juan?"

"Si."

"Okay, wake me when you start dozing off. Kevin you get a night's sleep, you need it more than Juan and I do right now."

Kevin nodded his thanks and moved over to the clothing Hank had picked up.

Hank drifted off to sleep thinking of the way things had been, might have been and how they were now, the last thing he heard that night was Kevin quietly cleaning up behind the furnace.

Chapter 3

Juan watched the dark areas between the street lights very closely. Kevin had long since gone to sleep and was snoring pretty loudly, the noise was making Juan nervous. Tomorrow he was going to try and find some of those sprays or metal nose clips to help keep Kevin from snoring, it could be the difference between life and death these days. Juan made every effort to stay very, very still as he watched the darkness, the slo-zoms had mostly wandered off, the few left in the street were wandering around aimlessly. Those were not the creatures Juan, or Hank, worried about. They both had seen faster, deadlier zombies over the last few days, zombies that made the one that had attacked Hank earlier today seem slow. Some of them were definitely super human in speed and strength. So far there was nothing. Juan lifted a set of light intensifier binoculars from his vest pocket and checked all the pockets of darkness again. One thing about the Mike's Club store was that it stocked a ton of camping gear this time of year and they had about two hundred pairs of these pocket sized 'see in the dark at four times your normal eye power' gizmos. They had both grabbed a pair before heading out. Unfortunately July was just a little too early for the Mike's Club to have started stocking firearms for the fall hunting season. While there were no guns out front they had found a pallet of shotguns in the back, which was better than nothing.

As for the rifles they carried, well they had gotten them from the gun store. Hank had originally suggested they head for the Mike's because he thought they would have guns and ammo in stock by now. The group that had gotten into the Mike's had not found any firearms on display only the one pallet in the very small backroom inventory of the club, hence they had to make the trip out to one of the very few 'local' gun stores to better equip their group. They left most their neighbors back at the club with what few weapons they had, mostly old thirty eight revolvers, hunting rifles and a couple of shotguns, except for the shotguns, none of the firearms had more than fifty rounds of ammunition.

Even though the place didn't have the guns they were hoping for, it did have literally tons of food, enough to feed everyone there for weeks or maybe even months with careful rationing. Hank had been worried about more and more people showing up, however the refugee rate had been pretty small, most people were holed up in their houses or at work. Better yet the store had six generators that ran on unleaded fuel and there was a gas station associated with the club in the parking lot.

Juan had enough family that had worked in blue collar positions to know what to do to get the pumps working, so long as they could get a power supply, which they could so long as they had a little gas. It was a self feeding circle. Hopefully, when everything died down a little, his family and neighbors (which were the same in many cases) would be able to restart their community. Juan was thinking of the future constantly, he thought that with the grace of God his family and friends might come through this horror okay. Hank had been putting on a bit of a show for Kevin, making like Juan was not able to speak for some trauma or something, like Kevin had gone through. The truth of the matter was Juan just did not feel a need to speak out that much. Hank and Juan had known each other long enough to almost be able to read each others minds.

After Juan had finally succumbed to his family's subtle pressure to ask Hank point blank about his sexuality, they had grown far closer, for the last five years, not only every day working together, but most nights socializing. Hell Juan could not even remember a time in the past five years when they hadn't gone on vacation together. Hank just asked if it was okay if he went with Juan and his family and tagged along with them wherever they went. California one year, the Black hills another, Gaudelupe to visit Juan's great grandmother, that had been a vacation worth remembering! Why Hank had actually, almost, gotten romantically involved with one of Juan's distant cousins! It had been Nanci's dream to marry Hank into the family five years ago, now the entire neighborhood was working on it.

Hank didn't even know it yet, but he was doomed. His family and customs allowed a man only so long to mourn before they slowly and steadily started working on the individual to succumb to the social norm. In this case, marriage. After all Juan and Hank were already like brothers, why not make it official? Juan would be honored to count Hank among his family and Juan's father, Juan senior, had already told Juan that when that happened he would probably let Juan and Hank take over the business, which he owned.

Now, well now, who knew what tomorrow would bring? Juan half expected to see golden ladders reaching down out of the clouds that people could climb into heaven like the bible said. Or perhaps if zombies were running around, maybe they would see people flying around on broomsticks, like those movies his children loved so much. One thing was certain, the business was no longer going to be needed the way it was. Probably they would switch to domestic vehicle work, as opposed to high end European vehicles. That made sense to Juan, keep both lines open. He was not looking forward to working on the Asian cars, but there were bound to be a few mechanics left who could. Shaking his head slightly Juan laughed at himself, here he was thinking of the future again!

"What's so funny Juan?", Hank whispered softly.

"Manana.", Juan replied.

"Oh? Yeah you are planning again, huh? Hard to plan for when this is over, when we are going right through it, huh? It is like we are in a war, I guess we are. I wonder if the people in Berlin in nineteen forty five planned for things like we do too? Anyway I am awake now, you let me sleep too long, ya shouldn't do that brother, you gotta be sharp tomorrow too. Any bad guys running around spying on us?"

"No." Juan nodded towards the dark alleyways with pools of shadows littering the streets and pointedly held up his light intensifier binoculars.

Sighing, Hank said with good humor, "Okay, okay you were right, it was a good idea to bring them along, another eight ounces of gear I thought we could live without has proven invaluable. Turn in partner, I'll take your spot, seeings how you got it all warmed up for me."

Juan laughed as Hank got out of his sleeping bag and moved behind the furnace to urinate before settling into his position.

When Hank came back he found Juan snuggled down in Hank's sleeping bag and laughed too, "Yeah, okay, you got more warmth out of that deal too, ya bastard! Still you are welcome to it and I ain't gonna wake you guys until one or the other of ya wake up Maybe you will get a nights rest anyway. Sleep well amigo."

Juan fell asleep watching Hank check the pools of darkness with his pair of binoculars.

Hank lowered the binoculars and checked his watch, a gift from Juan and his family on his last birthday, two am. A very tiring time of night. Hank had not meant to go on and on last night telling his life's story, but somehow getting to where they were now he felt a need to complete the picture. Kevin snorted loudly in his sleep, rolled over and then started to snore more loudly, there had to be something wrong with that kid, his snoring was terrible. Of course he might have just been tired. Hank had no idea what his story was, probably it was typical of the day though. He started living a normal day, about three days ago then everything went to hell.

Juan and Hank had ran into enough stragglers over the past day to know the basics. At the clinic where they had found the doctor holed up they had run into a whole slew of people. Hank had tried to tell them to all meet at the Mike's Club, but only the doctor and one of the nurses who worked for him had agreed. There were three distinct groups, four including Hank and Juan, the groups were the Doctor and his staff, a group led by a female police officer and a group of teenagers with their younger siblings. The doctor was the only one that had any sense so far as Hank was concerned. The cop would not even talk to the teens and tell them to go with Hank or the doc. Hank still shook his head at the memory. She, officer Jane Stewart, had said the kids had lived for three days on their own and were entitled to make their own choice of what to do. Pretty goddamn liberal for a police officer. It had infuriated Hank the way the decision makers from all four parties involved had gotten together and then pretty much went their separate ways. The kids wanted to find their loved ones, Jane was going along with a guy, Max, who was unconscious and shot for God's sake! They were heading out to find his family in the western suburb of Arvada. Max and Juan had argued long and quietly with Jane to come with them, they could use her help, hell they needed her help and she was the first person with 'authority' they had run into since this mess started. Jane was determined; she said they would make every effort to hook up with Hank at the Mike's club after they checked on Max's family, one way or the other they had to do that first. As for the kids, they were led by a guy named Michael and he said he would meet up at the Mike's, but only after they had hiked halfway around the goddamn city trying to find their parents.

While Hank had been mad about the decision to split the four groups back up instead of traveling together he was also very pragmatic. He spoke to them about what the areas they had come from were like and asked about how the zombies they encountered acted. All three of the groups that had been outside had encountered the smarter, faster zombies to a varying degree. No one understood where they came from, everyone had an idea or two about it. Hank and Juan thought that some of them just revived smarter and better than others, just like some people grew up to become nobel prize winners and other worked contently at fast food joints their entire lives. Jane thought maybe it was the amount of time it took for them to revive, so if they came back right away they retained more of their memories and abilities. She didn't have the opinion that they were stronger or faster than a normal human, only that they no longer feared anything and that just made them uninhibited so they acted stronger and faster than ordinary humans. The kid Michael thought that they grew more powerful and even super human by killing and devouring the living. Of all the theories Hank liked Michaels' the least. If it were true, well they could start driving again and use weapons or even…guns. A zombie sniper was something Hank never wanted to encounter. Plus what if they kept eating more and more and more, would they start to fly around like a super hero and become completely unstoppable?

Hank lifted the binoculars and slowly checked all the dark areas again. Nothing. He could see almost all of the front and sides of the building from where he sat crouched in the nest Juan had made of his sleeping bag, but he could not see directly behind him, where the huge roof mounted furnace was at. The back of the building was a wide alleyway with a couple of parking areas, in one of which sat the beat up car Hank thought belonged to the store clerk downstairs. There were no easy ways to climb onto the roof from the back. The best way to get up was the dumpster Juan and him had used yesterday and that approach was clearly visible to Hank from where he sat.

True to his word Hank let the other men sleep in until well after sunrise. As soon as Juan started moving around Hank got up and started the stove, warming up some eggs and making pancakes and some corned beef hash from the camping store packs he had looted the night before. Four days ago this stuff would have been inedible, today all three of them were glad to have it. Kevin had gotten up pretty quickly after Juan and started his day with a subdued, "Good morning.", surprising them by speaking.

Chapter 4

The men sat around eating off their new mess kits before Hank started talking.

"Well I think we can get back today, there are only a few slow zoms down there, not the mob like yesterday. You think you are up to moving Kevin? We gotta go about two, maybe three miles."

Kevin smiled softly and asked, "Where are we?"

"Ah, south Denver, like maybe five miles south of E-470 and three east of I-70."

"I think I can do three miles. I pretty much ran from north Denver yesterday. It's a mad house. There were a lot of them and more every minute."

Hank just nodded and said, "Yeah?"

Kevin went on, "Okay I will tell you a little about it, you did a little last night, but I won't talk like that, so long and all."

"Sì. Good." said Juan, laughing a little around his eyes at Hank. Hank scowled at him briefly and said, "Yeah, not everybody is a story teller like me, do the best you can though, any information you give us helps, ya know?"

Kevin nodded yes to that and started talking, "It started about three days ago, it probably started for other people earlier than that but you see on Sunday I had lost my job. It was a shitty job, loading trucks at what they call a 'hub' not too far from my house. I had a car a sweet ride, man it was everything to me. My friends and I would take it out, pick up the ladies, go clubbing, all that flash makes for good times. I supported it by humping my ass off five nights a week loading trucks. Hell I live, in my mom's place, you know how it is. I am only twenty. Tried college, still thinking, was thinking, of going back, but now, no. I got this job loading trucks when I started at Red Rocks Community college, class during the day, boxes every night until eleven. Get up, do the homework, go to class, do it again. Only I wanted this car, so bad man. I have money saved up for tuition, thought I could get more, blew it on a down payment and come time to pay for school I didn't have the money. I was doing okay too, ya know? Not straight A's, but close enough to get a partial scholarship, but when the money was not enough, they said I couldn't go anymore. My fault, I had to have this stupid car. My mom was so pissed, she beat me, I mean not a yellin' at or 'you are dumb ass', or even, 'take that goddamn car back right now and get into school', a physical beating, with a goddamn cast iron skillet. You ever been hit by a goddamn cast iron skillet? It hurts, probably she would have killed me, maybe by accident, but my old man was around and after about half a dozen whacks he got the pan away from my mom. Then, to make it clear where he stood on the matter he whacked me once too and told me I was a dumbass and said 'Dumbass is what dumbass does.' What the fuck does that even mean? Anyway I had to spend a few nights out at a friends before my mom let me come back home. That was three months ago, since then I just worked the package factory and tried to keep up with the car payments and insurance. You know what full coverage on a new car costs in North Denver? The insurance was more each month than the car payment, it pretty much ate up eighty percent of my cash every month, the rest went to gas and going out, no progress in getting back to school this fall. I filled out loan applications, my mom scraped, my dad saved. I was going back in a month. I had worked a little after high school, missed a year otherwise I would have graduated from Red Rocks this past spring. Now I am thinking an associate degree in computer science ain't going to be worth much anyway. So I have been working and working, but I missed a few nights here and there, one of them was last Friday, it was an 'extra night' of work, we have been having a lot of those, good money but when you have to work Saturday through Wednesday, you have to have Friday off, I mean working both of the best nights of the weekend? So I called in sick, went out had a good time and when I showed up on Saturday I was talking with my co-workers on my shift about the good time I had been having, while they were all working. My supervisor heard me in the break room. Sunday I showed up for work and was handed a last paycheck and let go. Fucking bastard, people like him never went out when they were young, never had a good time. I mean I am a good worker, but I need a night off. Didn't matter. I couldn't go home, my mom would know right away, so I called up my friends and did another dumbass thing, we started drinking at a friend's house, older guys had gotten a keg and were having a little party.

"I drank hard, around midnight I remembered that I needed to get home. Only I was in no condition to drive, you know? I did anyway. Got pulled over three blocks from the party, about two miles from my house. The guy looked at me, knew I was drunk off my ass and said, 'It's your lucky night, we got a lot of fights tonight, so here is what we are going to do. I never saw you, you never drove. You get out of this car right now, put your car keys in your glove box. Lock the door, shut it and walk home. Come and get your car tomorrow. Unless you want to do this some other way?' Dumbass I may be, but not fucking stupid, I tossed the keys in, then, you know it took me awhile to figure out how to lock the goddamn doors, I had never done it manually before. The cop, he was a good guy, but he laughed at that, kinda made me mad, but I hid it, I didn't need no 'Tom Jones Whitebread American Cop' putting a beat down on my ass. Long story short I got home about one, my mom came unglued, but the walk had cleared my head a bit and the extra time let me make up a good cover story, same thing basically, but only I got off a little early hit my friends party, got a little drunk and got a lucky break. My mom was not happy, I almost thought she was going to go for the fry pan again and dad was already sleeping. Instead she just said to go to bed and stop making stupid decisions. That was the last time I saw her.

"Monday I had nothing going on, so I thought, I will stop making bad decisions, I will get up and find a job, make my family proud, make myself proud. I ended up sleeping all day, got up about two pm, watched a little television, all news crap, I switched over to a music channel and just chilled. I fired up my dad's old pc and checked my email, updated my internet blog, read a few of my friend's blogs and then hit some Grand Theft Auto New York City, a good game, well about seven that night I realized no one had come home, no mom, no dad, no little brother. My brother worked at the 'Water City' amusement park, usually the full day, ten in the morning until six at night, he had my parents old car and I was hoping he would give me a ride over to my car when he got in. They never came home. At eight I called my mom's work. Nothing. I had to look up the number for where my dad worked, I had never bothered him before. He worked at a foundry, and they were pretty good about letting him out on time every day too. No answer. I called 'Water City', could not get through. By nine I was scared. One thing that had to go when I picked up the car was my cell phone. I just couldn't afford an extra sixty dollars a month, not when I made such a mess of buying a car. So I called around to my friends, no one answered. You ever see that movie 'Twenty Four Days Later' I think it is called. Where the guy wakes up in a deserted city? That is how I was beginning to feel. I went outside. Everything looked normal, right? Only, no traffic. Now I live down a side street, we don't get a lot of cars or nothing, but there is a cross street a block and a half up that is pretty busy, a car every three or four seconds. I looked up there. No cars. I stood there and counted to one hundred and twenty. Not one car. Even at three in the morning on a Sunday a car will go by every ten seconds. At nine o'clock on a Monday night there should have been plenty of traffic. Something was wrong. I went back in and grabbed one of my dad's beers out of the fridge, then came back and sat on the porch. I popped it, leaving the door open, in case the phone rang. I sat there until almost ten thirty, when I finally saw someone coming down the street. You know it now, I mean you can see where this is heading. From what I saw on tv later, most everything started going to hell Monday, and I SLEPT through it. So much for not being a dumbass, huh?

"Anyway this fat, white chick comes walking down the block, she has a t-shirt on, some sort of concert shirt, like 'Bare Naked Ladies' or something like that and these green stretchy shorts, no shoes, one of her fucking knees looks like it is missing, I mean totally not there, she was limping along, this fat chick and I was like, "Oh Shit!", thinking she musta come out of a car accident or something, I ran in to call 911. Well this fat bitch slowly trudged in after me, you know how it is, I tried to tell her to sit down, she was hurt, lay down on the couch or floor, I mean she is the only person I had seen in hours and she is hurt. She came right for me opened her mouth, it was all red and bloody inside and she was attacking me. I tried to be 'nice' thinking, hey she is fucked up and hurt she does not know what she is doing. But she kept coming, and coming and coming. I hit her in her flabby belly, that blow ripped half her shirt off, disgusting man, totally gross. I am an ass man myself and her jumbo sized flabby titties did more to freak me out than her trying to bite me. I ended up shoving her away onto her ass and I ran into the kitchen. I yelled at her to stay the fuck out of my kitchen or I was going to brain her. She came in anyway, I grabbed the cast iron skillet off the stove and slammed her up against the head, not as hard as I could, I mean I still didn't want to kill her. She barely hesitated before grabbing me, I slid backward and let her have it again, but she just kept on coming. I…I…I started whacking her full on, finally something just snapped and she stopped moving. Funny, huh, I mean here I had this half naked, dead white chick in my kitchen and I am thinking, 'I just made another dumbass move. Oh Lord I am going to prison for this for sure.', when actually for the first time in two years I had done the right thing. I got scared then, went out and looked to see if anyone had seen what had happened." Kevin laughed, "I hadn't seen anyone since the night before in a goddamn city and I am worried that someone happed to be walking by on the side walk and notice me killing a woman in my kitchen. The coast was clear, I shut my front door and dragged the white girls body into the back yard. We have one of those crappy storage sheds in our back yard, I opened it up and took her body in there, it barely fit, man that shed is crammed full of all the shit we never needed, but could not get rid of. I could barely get the door closed. Again I looked around the backyard and made my way back into the house. There was blood all over the kitchen, not the red, 'Oh shit I just cut myself' kinda blood, but nasty black stuff, like half dried. I spent until midnight cleaning that shit up with the bleach out of the laundry room. I went back into the living room and turned on the news, fully expecting to see a swat squad being broadcast live outside this black guy's house, my house, you know what I mean? And I was not let down about the live coverage, this was only a few hours before the stations when off the air, they were showing people attacking other people here in the U.S.A., the reporter called them zombies and said one bite was fatal, you had to hit them in the head, destroy their brains and they stopped moving. They named a few places to go, to gather for help. I think they said Coors Stadium. Then I saw the light, I was not going to spend my life in prison the chick I killed was one of them! I went back in and got another beer while I thought about what it meant that my brother and parents had not come home.

"I cried as I watched the news. I mean I knew, then I just knew my family was gone and the last contact I had with my dad was when I headed off to work and he told me not to hot-rod, watch out for the cops, my brother I hadn't seen since Saturday and, of course the last contact I had with my mom was seeing the look in her eyes when I told her the lie about being pulled over by the cops. Not a good ending man, not a good ending at all.

"I must have fallen asleep in front of the television, the next thing I knew I was waking up to static about five in the morning. I turned off the tube and stumbled upstairs into my own bed. I didn't wake up again until I heard them in the house, not zombies, looters running from zombies. Sounded like white guys, white guys with guns. I am not too happy being around anyone with guns, but white people with guns make me more nervous than most. I am not some hardened criminal or 'gang-banger', sure, sure I did the show for the ladies now and then, but never in real life, I wanted to live and do something with my life not die over a handful of mind rotting stamps in an alleyway somewhere.

I heard them break in the front door, heard them make some plans while they rifled through my house for anything they could use, then heard them being attacked by a mob of zombies. The power was out, so I don't know what time this was on Tuesday, probably still in the morning, close to noon. They almost came upstairs, then one of them said something along the lines of getting trapped with no way out and I heard them running out the back door into the back yard. I ran through the house to look out the back windows and saw three of them climbing over my back fence into the neighbor's yard. The zombies, they could not climb the fence. I heard more inside my house downstairs. So here I am with a full bladder, twenty zombies in the back yard and who knows how many on the first floor. We lived in an older house, it was pretty cool, two stairways one, with a door, leading into the kitchen, coming down near the back door and the basement stairs, and the other stairway in the front room. We had kind of a balcony overlooking the living room, kinda nice, but small and it made the living room look larger than it really was. I crept down the hall to the balcony and looked over it. Packed man, it was just packed full of zombies. They did not see me, I know that, but you get that many in one place and they start spreading out, some were coming up the stairs. I backed off slowly and headed into my room. Upstairs only had four rooms, three pretty small bedrooms and a bathroom, the balcony was not much of a room, ma kept knick-knacks there, all sorts of crap my dad was always threatening to toss out. He had his television; she had her loads of knick-knacks. In my room I shut the door and just grabbed the bed and heaved it over in front of it. I didn't know what else to do. Grabbed my dresser and put it on top of my bed, then shoved every other thing I could get up onto the bed. I went into my closet, grabbed clothes, a light jacket, took the fifty bucks I had managed to save over the summer and my spare car key and opened the window. By now they, the zombies, were doing the zombie thump on my door. Believe it or not it was starting to be pushed open too, and the whole fucking floor was creaking pretty bad, it was an old house, like I said.

"After getting dressed I had a hard decision to make. You'll laugh, no you will, but I stood there for thirty seconds while the floor creaked and the zombies were pushing open my door trying to talk myself into peeing on my floor. I mean I was not coming back, but you grow up your whole life pissing in a toilet, not on your floor. I had to go, I had lots of beer in me wanting to get out. You ain't laughing? Yeah, maybe it ain't that funny, but it is to me. I ended up choosing my closet, a good decision, cause while I was whizzing I took a last look around and saw the bat from, like, eight years ago when I played little league. I took it with me and got to the window as the floor started to sag. I was half over the window sill, no problem there, I had climbed out onto the tree probably fifty or sixty times when I was younger, when the floor collapsed, just the floor for the most part. You know how weird it is to see your four walls there, hanging over empty space and your floor just gone. Dusty too, the dust that came up hid everything from view. I thought my momma cleaned house real good, but so much dust! She would have been appalled, that was one of her favorite words when describing the latest thing I did wrong, appalled.

"Anyway, here I was one leg out, one leg in and my house is collapsing, the walls were moving, like they were gonna give in. They didn't, at least not while I was there. I grabbed for the tree limb, which seemed smaller than I remembered it and hoped it would hold me up so I could get to the main part of the tree and climb down. The zombies, zoms, were all twisting around in the main room, maybe a couple of them died, I really couldn't tell. There was a couple down on the ground out front of the house, I thought they might come at me right away, but they didn't notice me climb down and onto my neighbor's porch, they were too interested in all the movement inside the house.

"I got across my neighbors porch without anything seeing me, then moved to where it met up with the fence to his backyard and hopped over it. I crossed the yard and jumped over his back fence and headed out onto the street on the other side of that house, so I had two rows of houses and fences and stuff between me and all the zombies anyway. I didn't really know what to do, so I moved up onto a nicer looking porch and sat down on a chair I found there. I was just sitting there when I hear this barking inside, a dog. I look in and see this little mutt at the window, barking at me, then turning and barking at something inside the house, then at me, then it runs away from the window. I stayed real still, I figured a zombie was in there and maybe it would not notice me with the curtains and me not moving any. No luck, an old woman started attacking the curtains, then the window. It was an old house, old windows, single pane and stuff. I know all about it, cause about five years ago my old man had to replace all the windows in our house, they were cracking and cold in the winter, so he paid to get double paned ones installed, and has bitched at the cost ever since. So she hits the glass and breaks through it, cuts her arm up real bad, no real bleeding, just that thick blood like tar oozing out of her. She had an old lady robe on, pinkish and a bandage on one of her arms, like she had been bit there or something, I figure that is what killed her anyway.

"She is coming through at me and her robes get caught up in the glass, old lady titties. I tell you this undead stuff is bad for sex, I have images I will never get out of my head and why is it every undead woman who comes at me has to show me her titties? Anyway she about cuts one off coming through the window at me, I swear a nipple hit the porch before she was done moving. But she was caught. Old windows, old drapes, stuck solid to the wall and her tangled up in them so she about cannot even move by the time she gets halfway through. Plus the dog is hitting her from behind, I can see her moving as it bites at her, though what could that little piss-ant dog really do? Meanwhile I just kinda sat there watching it all happen. I got up and took the bat to her head, I was not going to leave her there, you know, in case someone else came by. With her dead I was going to go find another house, except for that dog. I didn't want to leave it in the house all locked up, maybe able to get out of the window, maybe not. I forced the front door in and the damn thing came at me! I fended it off with the bat and looked around the place, no more zombies running around at least. I shooed the dog outside and shut him out, but then he kept barking at the door. Fuck. Noise does seem to draw the bad guys too. I talked to him and tried to calm him down then let him back in. Nope, little bastard still came right at me. I ended up whacking him with the bat, not hard enough to kill the little dope, but he backed off after that and let me sit down for five minutes. My car was two miles away, but this old broad, she probably had an old person car. I could use that to get to my car if I could find her keys. Heck maybe she had a caddy or something and I could just use that to go….where? Where was I going to go? It hit me then that I didn't have any place to go. Not to a shopping mall to hold up like those guys in the movies, that didn't end well for them, you know? I figured I would have to just get out of town, if the old lady had a full tank I would take her car, if not I would drive over to my car and drive it into the mountains. I went to her fridge, she had a sweet tooth, cake, coke, and more of the same in her pantry. I looked around at the door to her garage and found a note-board with her keys on it. I popped open the door and looked at her car. An old Buick, like a nineteen eighty Buick or something, a nice car, a boat, and probably fast enough, but it didn't look like it had been driven in awhile, one of the tires was flat. I went and grabbed a coke and a couple of twinkies from the pantry and headed into the garage. It had an automatic door opener, and I found an air compressor under a tool bench in the back of the garage. Hopefully the tire had a slow leak. Now I am not a mechanic or anything, but I can handle changing the oil and checking my tire pressure. I found a pressure gauge in a little nook on the tool bench, behind a load of old lady stuff. I plugged in the air compressor, a lot of noise but I wasn't sure it would work or not, it was old, but the power was still on at her house. It worked, loudly, forty seconds of loud noise to get the tank full again. Meanwhile I checked the tires, they all needed air. There was a can of 'fix a flat' behind all the junk, I pumped that into the flat tire then filled it up to pressure and then I went around and topped the three other tires. After this I went back into the house and grabbed the rest of the six pack of coke from the fridge, the box of twinkies and a bag of chips and headed back to the car, leaving the door open so the dog could get in and out after I left. I hopped into the car, turned the key and it started, no problem. I adjusted the seat and hit the garage door opener. Zombies man, four of them, two little kids, I knew one of them, a man and a woman. The man seemed, weird, he looked at me, his eyes were not all foggy like the others and he when he gestured for the others to get out of my way, the started moving slowly off the drive. He came at the side of the car and raised his hand, he had a tire iron! As he swung for the driver's side window I gunned it, and killed the engine, fortunately by moving forward a few inches I had done two things, first I made him hit the place between the driver and rear passenger's windows, so he hit metal and did not break the glass, and I had also moved forward far enough to get onto the slope of the drive. I pushed it into neutral and coasted to the bottom of the drive and into the street, I turned down street and kept rolling until I hit the end of the block, where I had to stop, put it into park and start it up again. Scared the piss out of me, him using a tire iron. If he had not ordered the others out of my way I probably would have gotten stuck on their bodies, and I know he told them to move, I just know it.

"The car continued to hiccup for a bit after that, but after another three blocks it started to purr like a kitten. It had a good three quarters of a tank too, so I didn't have to go back for my car right away. I decided I would scout around a little, see if I could pick up one of my friends and then maybe, go get my own car. I headed over to Scott's place, one of my buddies. The way was pretty clear, I was on back streets though, I had not tried a major street yet. I get to Scotts and his house is trashed, no bodies, but broken windows, blood on the front door, next was Jerome, his place looked good, but the front door was open, the screen was shut, but the door was open. I sat on the street and honked three times. That brought them out, oh yeah the whole zombie neighborhood. Jerome was missing an arm, he came to the door and could not get through it, his parents had installed a security door there with bars, if he had just pressed the lever he could have gotten through it. I sped off and decided to go get my car now, not later and get the hell out of town now, not later. I hit Pecos and a traffic jam of destroyed cars. I backed down forty eighth street to get to a secondary street and made good progress towards the highway, my car was just on the other side of it, but as I got closer to the highway I kept running into more and more cars.

"I backtracked and got on to thirty second and headed towards Federal, the next main thoroughfare, it was pretty packed but I made it to the highway by driving over lawns and through parking lots. When I got on the highway I was stoked, until I hit the first big snarl up around 9 blocks later at the next major exit. Someone had broken through the guardrail though and took the eastbound lane west, I did too, there were zombies around the wrecks, probably thirty or forty. One of them was fast and he threw a spare tire at me, one of those hard dough nut kind. It bounced off the right side and I hit the gas and got out of there.

Around Wadsworth I came across another accident, I was back in the westbound lane again and this one was bad, there was a white dude and his woman and some kids in a blue two door and the zombies were breaking in. The guy, he was all bloody and bitten up from trying to protect his family, I guess. The zoms had pulled him halfway through the driver side window. From inside the car I can see his woman, she's screaming at me but the windshield blocks her words. I know what she wants, though, for me to help them. As I rolled past she looked me dead straight in the eyes, her blue eyes, and pleaded for me to do something. I just know those crystal clear blue eyes followed me the whole way. Even when I was out of sight, I still felt those blue eyes on me. I couldn't, they were already gone. Right? I couldn't stop for them. If I had even slowed down, I would have been dead, they would have got me too. Those kids crying, and banging on the rear window, trying to get out, crying. I won't ever forget it.

Here Kevin started to sob, tears running down his cheeks. Hank reached over and patted him on the back and Kevin grabbed him into a hug and started sobbing, "I just left them! I had to just leave them. How could I leave them? They were kids!"

"Yeah, Kevin, I know, kids, they are the worst. We saw and did worse, you ain't the only one man, you did what you had to do." said Hank, trying to comfort him.

Juan moved over and patted him on the back too, saying "It's okay, it's okay." Looking anxious.

After a bit Kevin calmed down and Hank said, "You wanna go on or do you want to get out of here and finish up later?"

"Will there be a later?" Kevin asked.

"Maybe you better finish up. See you tell a good story too, longer than mine, but mine ain't done either."

"Okay I think I can finish it up. We should get this out now, before we decide what we are going to do. I, uh, kept going up I-70, after the Ward exit it got a lot easier, not so many wrecks, except by Youngsfield and that was on the other side of the highway. I made it up to the hogback, well the bottom of the hill anyway, before it got into the mountains. Hank, it was terrible, like imagine bumper to bumper traffic. Only it is all stopped, every last car. Near the tail end there were cars in the median, cars in both lanes smashed up in both directions. I could see on up the hill and the cars there were still in neat little lines, with what looked like maggots crawling in and around them, only I was far away. As I got closer I stopped, they were zombies you know, crawling inside the cars, under them, over them, through them, like maggots on a piece of meat. The wind shifted a bit and I threw up in the old ladies car, it was that bad. I was still maybe a mile away from the bottom of the real mess, I could still go back or try and turn in the median. I decided to turn around remembering the wreck at the Youngsfield exit. As I did I attracted their attention. The whole mob of them started towards me. Some pretty slow, but a surprising number of them were runners, fast zoms I think I heard Juan call them. Running full tilt all out at me. It is not like they could have caught me or anything, but man it was scary. I swear some of them about touched my rear bumper as I sped off, but I know that can't be true. I went past Youngsfield when I saw the last one disappear from my rear view. By the time I got back towards my end of town I was thinking I could head east, I-70 or I-76 or maybe north, there was too much town south, you know?

At Ward Road I got off and moved to the 'right' side of the highway, no sense in running head on into another car, not that I saw any moving vehicles on the road. I did see a couple on some of the side streets as I drove by. The hair on the back of my neck started to stand up when I saw the Wadsworth street sign. As my piece of shit car reaches the top of this little hill I see the blue two door. It was all pretty much over, I tried not to look, but how can you not look. The man was gone, probably totally eaten or a crawler and blue eyes had turned, she was munching down on one of her kids….I don't think the kids were going to come back…there were only parts of them left…guess that's a good thing right? She stared at me as I rolled past, no screaming this time, other than the screams in my head. I couldn't look away from her, those blue eyes had slightly changed. Before there was panic there, now, well, now the panic was gone and was replaced with something else. Something calm and…"

"And what?" Hank asked, breaking into Kevin's monologue.

"…evil. Anyway. I can see her in my rear view mirror and she's standing there, licking her fingers, watching me drive away, next thing I know BAM" Kevin smacks his hands together, "I rubbernecked my way into the side guard rail, twisted the old lady's car around and slid to a stop, but I thankfully I didn't kill the engine. I backed up and got back on the road, some of the zoms started coming my way, but she didn't. Nope, blue eyes just stood there, guess she already had enough to eat.

"When I made it back to the next major exit, where that zombie had thrown the dough-nut tire at me I was surprised to see a couple of zombies standing about a quarter mile in front of it, just around the corner, I had time to wonder if they were still trying to catch me when I came back to the wreck site. Someone, something, had been busy, alls sorts of shit was piled on the 'clear' side of the road, along with maybe a dozen zoms all working pulling more crap off the wrecks to block the good side of the road. Maybe twelve of them had half lifted a little Corolla up onto the center guardrail and were trying to push it the rest of the way over. I hit all the shit in the road and I think I ran over that god damned donut and it twisted under the car, it didn't really stop me but man there was a bad grating and scraping sound after I got by, I was almost to Federal Boulevard when all the idiot lights came on and the car just stopped. Turned off, like and I coasted it up the off ramp to try and find someplace to hide. Not a lot of luck, as soon as I started slowing down, near the top of the off ramp I got the attention of three zoms near the head of the ramp."

"I just had an image of all the people on the highway, staying in their cars, waiting to be torn out by a zombie mob. I knew the car was no defense. I grabbed one of the cokes, the bat and was out of the car before it slowly ran into the first of the three zombies. I had physics in community college, I know how mass works, that of the car versus that of the zombie was no contest, the car, even going so slowly won, the zombie got pushed into another stalled car, practically squished in half, didn't kill it, but trapped it. The other two were too slow, one of them was a bit faster, I don't think I could have outrun it, not over the long haul. I tried, I ran across the overpass towards the Village Inn and gas station on the other side of the highway, but it was keeping pace with me so I turned and made a stand. It tried to tackle me, but side stepped and smashed it in the back of the head, didn't kill it though, it started to roll away from me and I followed, smashing it or the pavement with every roll. Eventually it ran into the side of the guardrail and I got it then. The other zombie had already given up and was looking at the highway again. I moved to the gas station, at least I was on the same side of the highway as my car now, and only had to go about a mile to where I left it.

I headed off, keeping in lawns and near houses trying to avoid being seen, but I came across a mob of them on the side street, near a bar. I ducked into the back yard of the nearest house and tried to get in the back door. I tried to bust it down, you know, Rambo style, only I bounced, hurt like hell too, a fucking door! I got mad and was going to give it another try when I saw the guy, he had an old gun, maybe a shotgun, pointed right at me. He was an older guy, a brother, he had short grey hair, was a bit overweight and had on thick glasses, what my mom would've called coke bottle glasses, whatever the fuck that means. He said, "You one of them?"

I shook my head and said, "No! Could you let me in?"

The old gray hair looked me over, looked at my bloody bat and said, "Show me your arms and legs, I wanna see that you aren't bit up before I let you in."

I pulled off my shirt and pulled my jeans up as far as they would go, which is pretty far as they are a couples sizes from being tight, the oldster nodded and took the bar off the door. Like a big old piece of wood, like you see in old movies with knights and shit. He let me in and said, "I'm Alvin." His gun was pointed away from me and he offered me his hand, even before he had the door barred again. I shook it and said, "Kevin, thanks!" Alvin re-barred the door with his hunk of wood and motioned me to head down some stairs into his basement.

I got downstairs and into an old cellar, not much like a basement at all. The whole area consisted of one rather large room with old brick walls, there were two doors in the far wall across from the stairs, between them sat an old refrigerator, probably fifty years old. There was also couch that looked like it came from a dentist office, a desk with one new looking office chair on wheels, a coffee table stained with rings and a television stand with a decent television, probably high def, but small. The mix of old stuff and new stuff definitely did not go well together. I looked back at Alvin and he shrugged, "It's worked so far, figure it will work for both of us for awhile yet."

I sat down on the couch and Alvin sat across from me on the desk chair which wobbled as he sat down. That is when I noticed the bandage on his leg. He saw me looking and got kind of weird, he said, "Yeah, it's what you think it is, so far I haven't changed though, don't feel it in me and, and, my wife, she got bit up and was dead in an hour. She got it worse than me though, and lost a lot of blood. Me? I feel fine."

I didn't say anything to the old guy, but I was already making plans to get out of there, that is when I heard something walking around upstairs. I got scared then, real scared and the old man he never quite put his gun down, in fact it was pointed right at me, he said, "Nothing to worry about, she won't come down here, she never did when she was alive and right now she is too stupid to get through the kitchen door."

"Right now?", I asked the old man.

"Yeah, maybe she will get better, I have seen a few smarter, faster ones, the one that got her was that way, I put it down though, not soon enough. I brought Shandra back here and cleaned her up good, but she 'died' quick, I saw her turn, her eyes, her eyes they were, so blue, 'Betty Davis' blue we used ta call it. You know that color?"

Uneasily, I answered, "Yeah sure, my ma used to talk about it, she white? Your wife?"

The greybeard nodded 'yes', "Used to be more of a hassle, you know? Mixed marriage. Nowadays not many care that much, we got skin heads and things, but not around here. Still old habits die hard and we were always careful, strangers come to the door and we would look em over real good. We always got more crack-heads than skin-heads though. That is why I have this." He pointedly held up his gun. "This is loaded with shot, pretty fatal real close, but I have some rock salt shells around here somewhere too. An eight shot, cut down shotgun, a little illegal too, they don't make them this way anymore, not with an eight shell magazine or such short 'coach gun' barrels. I never fired it, not even since this trouble started."

I nodded, "You got a bathroom down here?"

Again, the old man shook his head yes and pointed to the door on the right, "Bathroom, is right through there, it is the nicest part of this basement, Shandra fixed it up for me two years ago as an anniversary present. The other door is the furnace, water heater and pantry. We won't starve anyway."

I stumbled through the door into the bathroom, it was nice. Tile covered the walls and there was a shower stall with the kind of bars old people use to keep from falling, I did my business and headed back out. Alvin had turned on the tv. It was CNN, broadcasting live from, Chicago, I think or maybe New York. A big city somewhere. Live broadcasts from an office building, probably the second story. The reporter was saying how he was broadcasting pictures live from the street and his building was surrounded, but he was not worried because he had a whole troop of national guardsmen with him. There was constant firing of bullets, in the background and the swarm of shambling dead was growing larger, not smaller as we watched. CNN eventually cut back to the announcer and the guy was said something stupid, like, "Well, Bill we wish you luck and will check up on you in a few minutes. Now Deana, you have more information about this plague from Florida? Good lets cut to…" I looked at Alvin and he looked at me and we both just shook our heads. After flipping through several news channels we caught the presidential order that there would be no prosecution for killing the zombies, and everyone was encouraged to fight for their lives if they needed to. I was thinking to myself, "Thank you God almighty for allowing us the privilege of not worrying about going to jail if we fight for our lives against these things and happened to kill one or two! What a dumbass!" I could tell Alvin was thinking the same thing. He got up and said, "You hungry boy? I got a microwave in the furnace room, got popcorn or we could get water from the sink, warm it up to make noodles?"

I nodded and he motioned me to come with him into the furnace room, once there he said to just pick whatever I wanted, I went for some chili he had and he nodded his approval, "Probably a bit better than noodles anyway." The microwave sat on a small counter and Alvin reached under it and pulled out a couple of bowls, grabbing two cans of chili he opened them and popped one bowl in to heat up. Once it was done he handed it to me with a spoon and put his bowl in. I went and sat on the couch and was soon joined by Alvin. After a few bites he said, "You want something to drink?" I nodded yes and he went over to the old refrigerator, "Ah, I got water and, uh, beer, you old enough to drin…Ah never mind you want a beer?"

"Hell yes! Thanks!"

Alvin opened the fridge and it was stocked full of beer, all 'Natural Light' pretty much from top to bottom. "I hope you don't mind drinking my brand." He said as he came over with a couple of beers.

"No, this will be fine. Thanks Alvin. Thanks for letting me in here too."

The rest of the day we watched the news and ate popcorn, cookies and soup. And drank beer, probably we killed a case between us. As we got our buzz on and watched the news I knew we were dead, there would not be a way out of this one, Armageddon, like my momma always told me it would, had come.

The worst part of it was I had no way to atone for my sins, you know? I had just fucked my life into a corner and now there was no time left to make up for my mistakes. Once it was dark Alvin said, "You mind taking the floor too much? My old bones won't do well on the cement, I have couple of blankets and there is an old kids sleeping bag in the furnace room, you could put that down for added padding."

"No problem.", after using the pisser I made myself pretty comfortable on the floor with the old sleeping bag and fell asleep. We left the tv on and I drifted off watching the news. I woke up in the middle of the night and the tv was off, I heard the door to the basement rattling, kinda thumping and moving a bit.

"Alvin!" I whispered as loud as I dared, "Alvin!"

"Wha-what? Who's there!?"

"Its me, Kevin! Alvin, I think your old lady is at the door near the top of the stairs!"

We listened and heard the door rattle a couple more times, before we heard footsteps moving away from it into the living room.

"See? We're okay, she never comes down here.", Alvin said.

I didn't sleep well the rest of the night. In the morning we made breakfast of some ramen noodles, with instant coffee to drink. By mid-morning we were into the beer again. The power was not off, Alvin had just shut the tv down at some point last night, so we watched as the news went from slightly graphic, to very disturbing as the day progressed. The guys at fox had charts of the whole US, predicting where the plague was spreading, the graphics were downright scary, it looked like most of the coastal cities had been hit pretty hard, plus Toledo, Dallas, Denver and Salt Lake City. Iowa looked mostly intact, at least according to the guys on Fox news. As we watched Alvin shook his head and said, "You know I always pictured in my head that they had a room somewhere with all these charts and stuff in them, ready to pull out for any occasion. I thought to myself, 'someday Alvin, you will see something come up that they do not have a graph for' and I was looking forward to that day, just to see how they handled it. I don't guess I will ever see that happen now. They must just have people waiting around to make this stuff up as it happens. That'd be a nice job wouldn't it?"

We whiled away the whole of Tuesday and most of Wednesday that way, eating drinking beer and hoping the power wouldn't go out and that someone would save us. We got half our wish anyway, the power didn't go out. Every once in awhile the basement door would rattle. Once Alvin tried to reason with his Shandra through the door, he got nothing but moaning and some door pounding for his efforts. I didn't tell him to shoot her, he didn't ask me about it, just looked at me with those brown eyes of his, all sad and mopey. What did he think? That she was going to recover and they could get on with living their lives?

Wednesday afternoon we were watching CNN, Fox had gone off the air, and the power went out. It got dark. Did I mention there were NO windows in the basement. None at all.

"Alvin?"

"What?"

"You got a flashlight man?"

"No Kevin, I, I had it upstairs with me, a big police model, good for hitting things and when I ran down here I ended up leaving it on the kitchen table."

"Fuck!"

"Hey, I know how ya feel, but don't go swearing like that! I think I got some matches in the furnace room for relighting it when pilot goes out. Let me try and get over there."

I heard him stumbling around in the dark, knocking over all the beer cans we had sitting everywhere until he made it to the door. I heard him open it and then the power came back on.

He let out a big ole, 'thank God' sigh and made to come back over and sit down.

I said, "Alvin you better get those matches anyway, just in case and we better go upstairs and try and get the flashlight too. I could hold Shandra off and you could grab it or you could hold her off and I could grab the flashlight."

He agreed pretty quickly, neither of us were looking forward to another power loss. I drank another beer and Alvin said that he would hold his wife off if he needed to, and he briefly sketched out the kitchen floor plan so I would know where the table was to grab the flashlight.

He went through the door first and his wife, man she was right there all big, white, old and scary. You know how sometimes thin guys seem to marry fat women, tall guys get short women or vice versa? Well Alvin was playing the fat guy here, the woman was shorter than him and rail thin. She was wearing a bathrobe and under it she still had on a white bra and panties, I could see her legs and arms, all full of half healed bites, some neatly bandaged, others with the bandages ripped off exposing bloody divots of missing flesh. Alvin used the gun to bodily force his wife back, yelling at me to get what I needed, while pushed his wife into the living room beyond the kitchen. She was pretty slow and stupid, no sign of her getting smarter with 'age'. I grabbed the flashlight and looked in to see if I could help Alvin any, he had backed her up into a bedroom and pulled the door shut in front of her. Seeing me, he said, "We shoulda done this yesterday. Coulda been eating steaks and chicken instead of canned chili and popcorn. C'mon, lets clean this up a little."

We cleaned up the things his wife had knocked over and while we did this the bedroom door kept pounding. This was an older house though, solid doors not those thin things on houses that are new. So the pounding kept on coming but she never got through.

Alvin had a large plasma tv in his living room, I eyed it and he said, "We paid for our house 20 years ago, we got the tv's, 'cause, that's what we do." By way of explaining things. CNN came roaring to life at full volume, scaring the living piss out of me, I swear I jumped a foot and Alvin, he must cleared 18 inches himself. He used the remote to turn it down and I quickly went to the front window and peered through the drapes trying not to move them much. Outside the mob was STILL there, but none of the zombies were on his front porch or even in his yard and none were moving towards his house, somehow whatever was over there kept their attention. Or they didn't hear the noise.

"Hey Alvin, the mob is still there, do you know what has their attention?"

"Uh, I think so Kevin, there was a minivan over there, had a bunch of people, they couldn't be in it still, do you think?"

I slowly shook my head 'no', "I wouldn't think so, no. But something is there. I can't see past your bushes or through the mob. God I hope they are not still out there, its been two days!" Realizing what I had just implied (that the people were dead, not still alive), I scowled.

Alvin came over and clapped me on the back and said softly, "Don't worry about it, I know what you meant.", Turning back into the living room he went on, "So steaks? They have been in the fridge for three days, probably thawed enough by now. I think we shouldn't keep any lights on up here and should still sleep in the basement, what do you think?"

As I watched him pull steaks out of the refrigerator in the kitchen through the kitchen doorway, I said softly, "Sure Alvin, sure man."

We spent the afternoon cleaning up the basement, I even went so far as to toss a bag of beer cans outside into the back yard. I also brought a load of blankets into the basement; the floor would be a bit easier to sleep on at least.

Dinner was great, we ate steak, potatoes, even a salad, I don't imagine I will be getting that good of meal again anytime soon. Around 8 it was starting to get darker out and we headed back to the basement. I shut the door tight and propped my bat against it to hold it shut before we went down to our nest.

About halfway through the night I woke up, something was wrong, it took me awhile to realize it was the power out again. I mean, no lights on the tv or vcr, no lights on Alvin's smoke detector, nothing. I heard a noise in the bathroom then, heard Alvin doing his business in the dark, trying to be quiet. Then I heard the back door crash in, as I heard something running around in the upstairs part of the house I jumped up and whispered for Alvin, "Alvin! Alvin, come out of the bathroom man, somebody just broke in, sounds like a real guy." Then I remembered the short 2x4 that Alvin used to bar his back door, nothing shoulda been able to get through that, nothing normal. Upstairs I heard the bedroom door being opened and whoever it was did not fight with Shandra, they had to be dead already. "Alvin!" The bathroom door opened, and Alvin called out softly, "Kevin? That you? What is going on?"

"Somebody broke down your back door, they went into your old lady's bedroom and there was not a fight."

It took the old guy a second, then he said, "Okay Alvin, my gun is by the couch, the flash light is on the table, grab the light, I'll get the gun."

I had been quietly pulling on my jeans and shoes and grabbed up the flashlight and clicked it on so Alvin could see to get to the shotgun. He scrabbled over and picked up the gun, just as he got it up the basement door was pushed in, splinters came down the stairs and I heard one of the zombies doing that slow shuffle of theirs down the stairs. I also heard something else behind the first one and I heard my bat roll down a stair or two then stop. I nodded at Alvin and pointed his light to the stairs, where his wife was slowly coming down, behind her was another guy, a normal looking dude with a pretty clean t-shirt, worn blue jeans, Reeboks and he was carrying my bat! He was a white guy too, a normal enough looking man, with Sandy brown hair and what looked like he had been a couple of days since shaving, had a bit of a rough face. Something about him was not right though, he kind of gave off this, I dunno, 'aura' of power or something, like when you get a power up in a video game? Not really glowing, but he looked strong.

"Shoot Alvin! Shoot!", I yelled, only Alvin just stood there, he couldn't shoot his wife and the white guy was gonna get us because Alvin wasn't taking a shot.

He was backpedaling towards the furnace room and mumbling, "No. God, no. I can't, I can't!"

Shandra zombie rushed him towards the door and whitey took a swing at me with his bat, I ducked around and took a pretty solid hit to the back, it put me on my stomach on the floor and whitey just kept right on going towards Alvin, who dropped the damn shotgun and ran into the furnace room, I heard him tip the food shelf in front of the door and Shandra started beating on the door. The guy, and I swear this is true, the guy just shoves her aside and smashes his fist through the door. A solid wood door, like he was a kung-fu expert or something. The light was pretty bad, I had dropped the flashlight on the floor and it was pointed directly at the bathroom door now, but I swear his hand was all mangled and broken up, as I watched it seemed to pull itself back together and he punched again, then shouldered the door forcing it open a little at a time, I heard Alvin screaming as the guy broke in. I couldn't help him, I could hardly even get up myself, somehow I made it to my hands and knees and then started crawling up the stairs, whitey and Shandra didn't pay me no mind, they just kept working to get past the door and shelving and food and get to poor Alvin. I made it outside without hearing any screaming. Once I made it upstairs, I struggled to my feet and went out the back, the board that had been holding it shut was broken like a matchstick and the door was barely hanging too. I closed the back door as I left and pulled the bag of beer cans over in front of it. I know, I know, that wouldn't do shit to slow the guy down, but maybe he would trip on the bag and if it happened while I was close I could at least hear him pushing the bag out of the way, right? I edged slowly around the corner of the house to the front, the zombie crowd was still there and if anything it was larger than ever, a few zombies were even in front of Alvin's place now, I decided not to risk it and went back into Alvin's backyard, no one was out the back door yet, so I got over his fence into his neighbor's yard, it was hard, I thought at the time that maybe that bastard had broken a couple of ribs or something. I am damn lucky he didn't break my back!

Once in the neighbor's yard I went over his back fence to get to the other row of houses and spent a few minutes looking around for weapons and other fences that would be easier to crawl over. One of the houses had a couple shorty bats in it and I took the longest one, I figured at least I would go down fighting. Then, a few houses down I heard the crunch of a bunch of beer cans and someone cursing. I headed to the side of the house I was on and slowly opened their gate, it squeaked enough to wake the dead, but whitey didn't hear it, lucky me. Then I ran, back towards where I had ditched the car on Monday, no way I was going to get around the zombie mob and I didn't know the back streets that well, I could end up lost and trapped. In fact I was not even sure where I was now, the street I was on could end in a dead end or it might open up on Federal, like I hoped.

For awhile I ran, not even caring, I knew one thing and that was that I did not want to meet whitey again. Ever if I could help it. Eventually I hit Federal, I was tempted to go hide out in the car, then I remembered the mob around the car at Alvins', no way I could chance it. Heck I was closer to my neighborhood, I could go find someplace to hide out for awhile closer to home. I was jogging down Federal when I came across this mountain bike, a real nice one, with saddle bags and everything, looked pretty good, no blood on it or anything, we are talking a thousand dollar bike here. I looked around suspiciously, a few zombies shambled around not too far enough away, slow-zoms though. I picked the bike up. No flat tires as I had feared, nothing wrong with it all as far as I could tell. I got on and started pedaling, whenever I saw zombies I avoided them, I even saw a few faster zombies, some chased me, but the bike was faster than they could run.

I started thinking how funny this was, me riding a bike around town, no shirt, middle of the night. I hadn't done this since I was a kid, you know? I am not sure why I headed south, but it was always clear, at Colfax I decided to head east, probably not a smart move really as it leads right into the heart of down town, but I figured I would try to get to Colorado Boulevard and head south again, or keep heading east if the way stayed clear. What I didn't count on was getting so tired, by sunrise I was hardly able to keep pedaling and daylight seemed to make the zoms more active. I looked around for some place to crash after I reached Colfax. Man that is right where the stadium is, and it was crowded I had to pick my way through a dozen wrecks and past ten or twelve zombies, not good. I ended up heading further south until I hit eighth avenue, then I turned east. There was this dry cleaning place that still had power, it had a neon 'open' sign still light up, I tried the door, it was unlocked, I pulled the bike in and turned it around, in case I had to make a quick getaway. Then I checked the shop out, it was empty, but there were pieces of bodies in a back room. It looked like the room had been barricaded off from the rest of the shop, then broken into. I had found an office with a locking door while I was searching the place and decided to hide out there for as long as I needed. On my way back to it I snagged some white t-shirts, looked like employee shirts to me, only no names or anything on them. I lugged a couple of huge bags of clean clothing into the office to use as a mattress. Once inside the office I locked the door, then shoved the desk in front of it, along with everything else I could move, which was not much considering the pain I had in my back.

I looked around and found a first aid kit, popped four of the ibuprofen tablets from it and quickly fell asleep. There was one window in the office, barred on the outside and high up on the wall, it let in light, but I didn't think anyone would be able to see inside to get a look at me. I woke up in pain, my back was killing me. I searched through med kit more, you know, hoping for something like morphine to kill the pain, there wasn't any. I found some aspirin and Excedrin and took plenty of both, washing it down with some Spanish drink I found in the bottom drawer, it was nasty, tasted like sweet rice or something. Then I just sat and waited for the pain to go away. Probably several hours had gone by since I broke in there, another half hour and I felt better, and hungry. There was no food in the office so I was going to have to go out. I had not heard anything while waiting for the aspirin to kick in so I slowly slid the desk back so I could open the door. Only I could hardly move the thing, my back hurt so bad! In the end it took me twenty minutes to move the damn thing out of the way and I threw up once. I forced some more aspirin down with the rice drink and moved out into the shop. Everything was the same, except one thing, no bike. Someone had stolen my goddamn bicycle when I was sleeping!

Looking out the front windows I saw the zoms were pretty sparse, across the street was a gas station, but I didn't have my bat anymore, I vaguely recalled having tucked it into the saddlebags on the bike and not bringing it with me into the office when I slept. In fact I had not even seen what was in those saddle bags, it could have been food, or a gun!

Searching the shop I found a metal rod about 3–4 feet long, it had a kind of 'u' shape in one end and I think they used it to reach hangers on the upper rack, it didn't matter it was pretty hefty and actually better than the bat anyway. I used the pisser, passed a little blood in my urine, that made me nervous.

I got out of the store quietly, trying not to draw attention to myself as I made my way to the nearest gas station or convenience store. Before lone0g I was outside of a seven eleven, but there were zoms inside and out, not too many, but enough to make me nervous. Still I was hungry and need food. As I went for the front door a zombie clawed out from beneath a parked car and grabbed one of my ankles and started trying to pull me under the car. I fell over twitching my back, still I managed to get my foot on the car and pulled my leg out from this thing's grasp. Of course while I was down, several others started crowding me. I used my rod as a stick and levered myself up. The first zombie died like a piece of cake in a fat man convention, it was gone so quick you wouldn't have know it ever existed. After that things got dicey. I managed to knock out a couple more and get into the store, then I had to deal with all of the store zombies, while the others crowded around the front door on the outside, not able to 'pull' the door open. Stupid zoms!

"Inside the store I clubbed the old clerk to death first, the pipe thing worked great, it was thinner than a bat and heavier, plus the end could poke really well, like a spear, even though it was not sharp or anything. The store had, like I said, maybe five zombies in there at least and after the first the others were a little easier, I had to put down one chick, man she was hot, had a bunch of wounds, like a shotgun or something, but she was still hot. You maybe understand that I waited to hit her last? Weird huh? Like I am thinking, hey this bitch will snap out of it and 'be normal' if she sees me kill off her friends. No luck there, I went around the store even looking for crawlers, but had to face the reality, the cute chica was gonna keep chasing me around. She was a little faster than most of them too, not much, but a hair, you know?"

Hank and Jaun nodded 'yes'.

"It seemed like she was like trying to tell me something, her in her baby pink t-shirt coated with dried blood. Short-shorts too, did I mention she was hot? The effect was ruined by the fact she only had on one shoe though, well that and the blood. Eventually I had to just club her.

I looked around the store, pulled open the cash drawer, grabbed the twenties, just in case. Hey I knew then money was worthless, but maybe I would run into someone who wouldn't know that. Then I grabbed a bunch of candy and chips and headed back to the back room. Then I came to my senses and dropped the trash I was carrying and came out looking for something with real value, you know, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruits, anything that was not shit. Eating with Alvin may have been a little boring when we were stuck in the basement, but it was real food, man, not sugar and fat. I took the food and went into the back room, out of sight of the zoms. It took about two minutes before I heard the glass break. I didn't even go look, just grabbed my Mountain Dew, stuffed the granola bars and jerky in my pants pockets and lit out the back door of the place. Funny thing too, the place was pretty well built, the back door was metal and all, with all these latches and stuff, seemed like it took me ten minutes to get it unlocked, while I heard them in the front of the store.

"Once out the back, well there was no stopping, after I left I kept looking for a quick car to grab, or even another bike. I found a kids bike, like one of those bmx bikes, way too small for me, but I took it and was riding it when I came to Speer, I followed Speer kinda south east, but when it got up to this park area, it was like a zombie fest, a bunch of messed up cars and stuff ahead so I turned down Washington or some other street there, Emerson? I don't really know, but I had some luck then, I came on these zoms finishing this guy off, three of them, pretty speedy ones too, but they had pulled this dude out of a car and the car was still running! I rode right up to them and swung the metal bar at the lead one, a guy dressed in a grey suit with a red shirt underneath, he had a nice tie too, like a bird or something, silk. Well when I swung he raised his hand up and I snapped his arm, just like a twig, went through his arm and smacked him in the head, I swear I heard him holler "SHIT!" as he went over. I lost the bar, it fell out of my hands when it hit him. I stopped the bike a little after I got past that guy and after hopping off of it I picked it up and threw it at em. The car was behind me and I backed up until my calves were right on the door, then quickly turned and got in. It was an automatic, my lucky day! I pulled it into forward and hit the gas. The seat was wet, had splotches of blood on it. Disgusting. I checked the rear view, they were not coming after me, barely looked up as I left them in the dust.

I got up to a good through street, Alameda and headed east again, followed that until it turned into Cherry Creek and then just kept on heading south. When I reached Colorado Boulevard I had to stay on Cherry Creek, Colorado was packed. I was lucky again, someone had cleared Alameda through the intersection, looked like they had driven a truck through the entire street, pushing all the cars sideways making a path that I easily drove through.

Cherry creek was pretty clear after that, until I hit…Holly street? I think it was Holly. The road kind of turned left real hard and right into a pile up, I was going a little too fast, ha! By a little too fast I mean maybe thirty miles per hour, positively speeding man. I slowed down, but skidded on, skidded on, well some bodies, all pieces and stuff in the road, it made it so slick! I ran right into the bumper of this old white Volvo, well almost into the bumper, I actually hit a couple of slow zombies, kind of cushioned the impact, but I still smacked my head hard on the steering wheel, put a fucking dent in it, the wheel, maybe my head. This old car didn't have any air bags or nothing, just steering wheel. I think I must have blacked out for a little bit, when I came to it was to see a zombie pulling itself up the hood, only it was trapped between the bumper of my car and the trunk on the Volvo. As I was sitting there all groggy, it started pulling harder, and harder and was separating itself from its own hips, it was not quite able to do it and I started to laugh a bit, then heard a voice next to my ear, just out the window.

"Yeah pretty funny these dumb stupid ones, huh friend?"

I kinda jumped at that, then turned to look and found myself staring at a guy in a mechanic shirt, he was a large man, maybe pushing two hundred and fifty pounds, he had on black steel toed boots, oil stained jeans and on the left breast of his shirt was a name "Dave" printed off in red letters. I smiled back and said, "Yeah thank God for the dumb ones."

'Dave' let out a hearty laugh at that and said, "Yeah, friend, thank God for the dumb ones!"

He helped me get out of the car, the door was wedged shut, and I could not push it open, but Dave grabbed and pulled while I was shoving the door and between us we got the door open. As he gave me a hand out, he pointed back into the car, "Don't forget your bat." I didn't know what he was talking about, but when I looked back in I saw a bloody bat on the seat, it must have belonged to the guy who had the car before me. I reached in for it and pulled it out with me. Turning in time to catch a fist to the face, it about knocked me out, only the fact that I was kind of moving up saved me from taking the blow full force on. Still it knocked me back into the car and then on my ass. 'Dave' reached down, grabbed my right ankle and started pulling me across the street. I was groggy, a bit, but I heard him say, "Yeah, buddy, thank God for the dumb ones."

Only I didn't let go of the bat, that mother fucker, dragging me across the street, he thought he had knocked me out, ya know, and he mostly had, only I was not going down without a fight. He pulled me up over the curb and across the parking lot of the local Safeway. I kept thinking, "No way, this is not happening." As we got closer to the front door I could see a mob of zombies and the door, it had a chain around the handles, so they could not get out, I was just thinking, I knew! That this bastard was going to feed me to this mob. Why? Why!?

I gripped the bat and when the guy paused for a rest, I swung it up and around, hitting him in the knee, he went down pretty quick and rolled away, now any other guy you hit em in the knee like that, even half as hard as I did and they would be grabbing at it, cussing me out. Ole Dave, he just rolled away and onto his hands and knees and he sat there like that for a second, looking over at me, then he smiled, something in his eyes man, his eyes were like red, and I saw then, he was one of them. He started getting up, I scrambled to my feet, still a little woozy and we ended up on our feet about the same time, I shouted at him, "WHY? Why you dumb mother fucker? What are you doing?"

He kinda looked at me again and said, "Man, the kids. It's the kids. They are hungry and the more I feed them the better they behave."

Then he moved, he moved so fast! He came at me from the right, then he was there on the left, hitting me in the ribs and pushing me backwards. I almost fell, if I had, I wouldn't be here right now, he would have got me. When I flailed around I managed to hit him with the bat pretty hard, glanced off his shoulder and into his head, not a killing blow, but it spun him around, he kept right on going and backhanded me. I turned it into a running start and took off, no way I could go hand to hand with him, he was tough, but maybe with him a bit lamed up, I could out run him. I looked back after running about half a block, and he was pacing me, sure enough limping a little, not much for a guy with a broken leg though.

I turned and started running again, south, south, south as far and as fast as I could go, I would run a ways, then try and rest, then run more. I kept an eye out for cars or bikes, and of course for any zombies, I had to make a few detours too, then those faster zoms got on my tail, they dogged me for a long way, until I ran into you guys, in fact. You pulled me up and I was so tired, so tired. Couldn't talk, couldn't say, 'Thanks'."

"Aw now…", started Hank.

"No really, thank you! I mean you guys saved my life and I owe you, I will help you out from here on out, forever really, if you don't mind me coming along?" here Kevin looked up anxiously.

Hank looked at him real hard and after Kevin swallowed he said, "No doubt about that Kevin, you can stick with us as long as you want to or forever for that matter. Safety in numbers."

Chapter 5

Juan looked out at the streets, it was about ten am now, they had talked away most of the morning already. He said, "Si" softly though and that brought Hank out of his brief wool gathering, he too looked around at the mostly deserted streets, "Well I think your talking drove the zombies away Kevin, right there that makes you a valuable asset. We didn't know they were so impatient, now we do. I think we should head back to the Mike's club and maybe I will finish up Juan and my part in this, okay?"

"Yeah, sure, how far is it to the Mike's anyway?"

Juan rolled his eyes a bit and Hank said, "Now Juan there you go, being all negative Nancy on us! Not far Kevin, maybe two miles? It is over on Dartmouth and Parker. Maybe more than two miles from here, piece of cake after what you went through, plus we got the piece of shit of the clerk's to drive, right? We could be there in ten minutes. First part of a journey starts with one step, or something like that."

Hank gestured Juan to take up a position at the front of the store on the roof, while he hopped down onto the top of the dumpster, "Kevin, you just watch the back and alleys, I am gonna go in and get the keys to that Fiesta and see if I can get it started. Cover me, okay?"

Kevin nodded and Hank jumped off the dumpster and headed around to the front of the store, the zombies were distant and not too interested in him, yet, something was wrong, Hank could not quite put his finger on it. He looked around carefully again, seeing nothing he decided to pay closer attention to his surroundings, these days it didn't pay to ignore your gut instincts. He pulled open the door to the store and looked around for any hidden zombies which may have entered during the night. Nothing. With some hesitation Hank approached the guy with the clerk's uniform on. The corpse was face down, grimacing Hank realized he would have to turn it over to get to the front pockets, he only hesitated a second before grabbing the body by one arm and heaving it over, some flies flew up, they appeared angry at being disturbed from their work. Hank tried to keep his eyes focused on the body's belt line and mostly succeeded. He pulled a set of keys out of the left pocket of the guys blue jeans, looking at them one had a thick black lump of plastic embossed with the word "Ford" on it, thinking about it Hank removed the key from the key ring. He thought there was little sense in keeping the guys house keys. As he went by the counter he did grab a new key chain off of a rack, one with a long black strip of leather attached to it. It was not for use as a weapon, it would just make the key easier to find, if he should drop it.

Hank pushed out the front door and again was struck by the feeling that something unseen was watching him. He nodded up to Juan and headed around the side of the building to where the car was. All in all it was no worse than any car last sold 'new' in the United States in nineteen eighty could be. Hank paused a moment, yeah, this was an old first model, part of him was reluctant to even take the car, anything this old would have to have been driven three hundred thousand miles by this time, unless it was an old lady car recently rediscovered and sold from her estate. Another part of Hank was oddly attracted to this marvel of engineering, just how many miles did this baby have on it? It should make two more miles easily enough. Hank approached the door and opened the latch. Or rather tried to, the owner had it locked. Letting out a little laugh Hank used the key to open it up, why would he bother locking this piece of crap? As Hank hopped in and adjusted the seat he checked the mileage, it said eighty nine thousand and two miles. The Fiesta's mile gauge only went to ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine and nine tenths, which Hank should have remembered. 'Oh well', he lamented, 'what difference does it make? It'll make another two miles.'

He turned the key and was rewarded with a sputtering cough of the engine turning over and a red light on the dash, indicating low fuel. "More like 'no fuel'.", Hank muttered to himself. How could this kid work at a gas station and leave his ride running on fumes? Shaking his head Hank put the car into reverse and then pulled around to the front of the gas station. A ringing sound caught his ear and after a moments fumbling he remembered the cell phone and grabbed it out of his breast pocket.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Man where are you going? Me and Juan want to come too!" said Kevin.

"Oh, yeah, sorry Kevin, I shoulda maybe yelled out, this thing needs gas, only has fumes. Hey at least the cell phones work!"

"Oh okay, you fill it up and we will cover you. Bye."

"Bye."

Hank pulled up alongside the second set of pumps and tried to fuel up the car. Nothing. Yeah that's right he had to go inside the store again to authorize the sale and turn the pumps on. At least there was still power. He headed back into the store with his shotgun and looked around behind the counter for a button to press so he could fill up. It was not hard, there was a beeping noise to go along with the flashing light and after the simple press of a button Hank had the pump working. He also spotted a bright red two and a half gallon plastic 'station gas can' for loaning out to people who had run out of fuel, it looked like it had only been used a couple of times, Hank grabbed it and a yellow coke out of the cooler before he headed back to the car. He sat his soda pop down on the hood while he bent over the gas can, taking off the lid he filled it up before jamming the nozzle into the car's gas tank. As he grabbed his pop and went to take a drink he became aware of a man leaning up against the outside of the Gas 'n Go building. Hank would swear the guy was not there a second before, now he was. The stranger was wearing a gray shirt, dirty jeans and black work boots. Hank knew it was the same 'Dave' Kevin had run into even before he read the lettering stitched into the shirts breast.

Everything seemed to slow way down for Hank then, he saw 'Dave' start to say something, then something about his demeanor changed as he saw Hank's reaction to him and he started forward faster than Hank would have thought possible. Hank had originally thought he would play it cool by sitting his drink back on the car, then reach down and pull up his shotgun to get a shot off while the son of a bitch was still smirking up against the wall of the store. However by the time he had his hands on the barrel of the shotgun to pull it up for use Dave had slammed into him, he heard a shot ring out from the top of the building, but all it did was puff up some dust and concrete from behind his legs. Then Hank was pushed back into the car with enough force to break the side window and maybe a couple of his ribs.

Twisting sideways Hank used Dave's momentum to propel the zombie over the roof of the car. As Dave was sliding over the roof his hand smashed out and made a grab for Hank. Somehow Hank got his face out of the way of that grasping claw and Dave hit the pavement on the other side yelling. Hank's shotgun had fallen to the ground, requiring him to bend over to pick it up, as he did so a sharp pain spiked through his back from the damage he had taken from being shoved into the car. He ended up on his knees with one arm holding him off the ground and the other grabbing at his back. Hank knew he had to ignore the pain or he would die, looking under the car he could see Dave's booted feet heading around the back end. Hank reached out and grabbed the shotgun but Dave had gotten a grip on the other end. Fortunately Hank had the trigger end and as Dave hauled the gun, and Hank, upwards he pulled the trigger, releasing a round of buckshot at point blank range into Dave's abdomen. The son of a bitch jerked back, but did not let go of the gun, which was ripped out of Hank's weakened grip, half falling Dave caught himself on one hand while Hank stood there gaping at him.

Hank had no illusions that a gut shot would kill Dave, he was hoping to sever the zombie's spine, which he thought might turn the him into a crawler. Instead he watched in fascination while Dave's torn apart stomach pulled in on itself and mended over the wound Hank had inflicted. Dave stood up slowly grinning like the Cheshire cat.

"You ain't seen one like me have you? There are more of us too, super humans, or super zombies, the things we can do are just amazing." Dave said, when he finished he flipped the gun around and started to point it at Hank. That is when Juan's shotgun shell hit him in the hands and gun. Dave's hand simply disappeared in an explosion of congealed black blood, white bones and fingernails. The gun fared little better taking a hit to the stock which blew it in half and triggered it off at the same time, the second blast caught the fiesta full in side, shattering the rear passenger's window and carrying through to star up the front windshield from the inside.

Juan's second shot hit Dave in the shoulder, blowing chunks of his shoulder blade across the top of the fiesta, Dave had rebounded into the car with the first hit and was hit while falling down by the second blast, knocking his upper torso into the back of the car. Juan pumped a third and fourth round into the body hitting the zombie's legs and buttocks with rounds that were tearing it apart. Then he ran out of ammo, Hank backed up steadily towards the front of the store, while Kevin ran up from the side alley. The randomly wandering undead were now headed their way in a slow shambling rush.

"Hank! You okay Hank?", asked a worried Juan.

Hank nodded towards Dave who was not moving, not really, but his body was pulling itself together in some sort of parody of healing.

"It ain't dead Juan, try not to hit the tire. Aw shit Juan, don't shoot, we gotta get outta here.", Hank pointed at the gas hose on the ground pumping fuel all over the ground in a growing puddle.

"Mierdas. Esta pendejo, esta malcreado, man he is bad Hank, I gotta get close for a head shot, will the gun set off a spark? Blow the place up?"

"Kevin, don't shoot! There are gas fumes everywhere, we gotta back off or take the car and get outta here." yelled Hank. As he said this he limped around to the front of the car and hopped in. He had left the key in the ignition, but the car was not running, he started it, hoping that the mere act of starting the car would not set off an explosion. A second later he was still there with no big boom. As he started the car forward he heard something behind him, turning he saw Dave trying to crawl into the car, but unable to get his arms in through the window.

"I am gonna so fuck you up, so bad, so bad you will beg me to kill you, then I am gonna let you come back and torture you some more 'Hank' and I will get your little buddy too. Fucking roof sniper. I am gonna shove that shotgun up his ass and pull the trigger, but only after I bite him too."

Hank spun the car faster around the parking lot, out onto the street in an attempt to keep Dave from being able to gain any leverage and crawl in and to use the momentum to force him out of the car altogether. It worked and with a cry of "I will find you fuck head, you are dead!", Dave disappeared out the window onto the street. As Hank sped off he heard the sounds of Juan and Kevin firing. He pulled back into the Gas 'n Go, behind Juan and Kevin, who were busy firing at the body in the street, which was actively dodging on broken legs. A few of their shots hit it and sent it staggering, however neither of them could manage a head shot and Dave kept moving until they ran out of ammo. Then he turned, straightened himself up and looked at them, really looked at them, as if trying to memorize their faces. When Kevin pulled his gun back to his shoulder Dave flinched and ducked sideways, Kevin laughed and Juan told him, "Get in back Kevin, get in amigo. We gotta go!"

Kevin piled his long lean form into the back seat of the car, appropriately enough Juan rode shotgun.

"Kevin, keep an eye on him with the rifle take a shot if you can, but I want to know if he follows us."

Juan reloaded his shotgun with shells from his front shirt pocket. "Ammo's on the roof in the backpacks."

Hank hit the steering wheel with his hand, "SHIT!" He raised his hand as if to hit it again, paused and just grabbed the steering wheel instead. Shifting the Fiesta into gear he then used that hand to rummage through his pockets dumping the shotgun shells he had into Juan's lap. "Well I got these, how many rounds is that?"

"Enough, cinco in the shotgun, a dozen in my pockets, little over two reloads. Kevin, amigo, how many bullets to you have?", asked Juan.

"Ah, how many are in the gun?"

"Only cinco, five amigo, you shoot them all?"

"I think so, how can I tell?", replied Kevin.

"Gimme the gun hombre, you take the shotgun for now, you got bullets in your pockets? A few? Any?", prompted Juan.

"Ah Juan I put them in my pack, I might have a couple in my pockets." at this point Kevin stretched out on the back seat and fumbled through his pockets, "Yeah man, yeah, I got a few, four, no six! Here ya go Juan.", he said as he handed the shells up to the front seat.

Hank and Juan looked at each other with worried expressions, then Hank started to laugh, Juan joined him and Kevin sat looking at them puzzled. "No big deal Kevin, how many guns did you start with? Yeah, unless you were lying you didn't have any and you survived for three days without them, neither me or Juan had guns to start with either, I kept my guns at Juan's place in his gun safe, which is where Juan's were, which is where they all are right now. It's a long story, the short version is we don't have a key to get in right now, Juan's uncle Mike borrowed a rifle to go shoot rabbits with last weekend, he swung by the shop for the key and well, he is not back yet so our guns are all locked up. Safe and sound. Anyway we lived for awhile without guns, they are just a crutch man, nothing more, we'll get by. Guns just make it easier. We will be more careful, unless you would all like to swing around to the Gas 'n Go again? No? Yeah me either. Besides the Mike's Club is just up here."

"Hank.", said Kevin in a way that made Hank know they were in trouble, "Check your rear view."

Hank glanced instinctively up, but the blast that had shattered the front windshield had also taken off the rear view mirror, using his driver's side mirror Hank was able to see well enough. "Shit, it ain't our lucky day is it? And here I was thinking the day was gonna go smoothly."

Behind them in the distance Hank could see a lone guy on a motorcycle, a hog it looked like. It suit him, Dave being the current incarnate of pure evil and all. After a few blocks it was apparent that it was Dave and he was following them. However he stayed well back from them, not that Kevin, who now had his reloaded rifle back, or Juan with the shotgun would waste a shot on him yet.

Chapter 6

"Well we are good and corn holed boys, I ain't bringing that shit bag to the Mike's Club, we might not get a shot at him, and he mentioned something about others just like himself, like he was not the only one or something. We gotta set us an ambush or something and finish that asshole off first. Tell me when to stop Juan."

They drifted in and out of stalled cars for awhile, with Hank heading them south on Havana street until it hit I-25, where they stopped, looking up the on ramp, Hank turned to look back at the hog and its rider. Dave had stopped on the other side of a parked car and ducked down to peer at them through the windows.

"Hank that pendejo knows the windows would deflect a shot enough to give him a flesh wound, he watches, he waits, for what? Nightfall? We ain't gonna get a shot off at him. Take the highway and look for a good place, you drop me off after a wreck and I will wait until he goes by and shoot his head off."

"Maybe Juan, maybe. Say you think your wife has her phone on? Maybe we could call her now and see if the boys could set something up for us? We ride through and they jump him after we pass?"

"Better Hank, that is better. I'll see okay?" Juan pulled out his phone and dialed his own cell phone number, which his wife had, after a tense moment where Juan was worried that his wife would not pick up she answered, "Hola?"

A quick conversation in Spanish followed, first Juan had to assure her that he was okay. Then Nanci had to talk to Hank, and Hank had to reassure her that Juan was okay and that Hank was okay and that the guy they were with was okay. Then Nanci wanted to talk to Kevin herself, but Hank killed that by telling her, in Spanish, that Kevin didn't speak any Spanish, as Kevin didn't object Hank figured he was right, he asked if Ramon was around and after a few more minutes of her calling out the news to everyone that Hank and Juan were alone and okay she put Ramon on.

"Kevin keep watch on mister Dave there, okay, this might take a minute or five."

After that he turned to Juan and said, "Hey switch me buddy, my back is kinda aching and this clutch is killing me." Then he hopped out of the car, leaving Juan staring at the deep red crimson stains on the seat that Hank had left behind.

Hank walked around the car and Juan reluctantly hopped out, stopping Hank with a held up hand, he motioned him to turn around and when he did he peeled up Hank's shirt and took a look. The left side of Hank's back was smashed and bloodied, his ribs looked broken. Hank, talking with Ramon, turned around and looked at him, Juan's pale face told the whole story, putting his hand on the receiver he asked, "That bad?" to which Juan could only nod. "We gotta get moving then? Help me down?" Seeing the seat he said, "Aw shit Juan I am sorry amigo, sorry about the seat. Sorry for letting that asshole jump me. Damn."

Juan hurried around the car and hopped into the driver's seat with barely a glance at the gore as he settled into it. After awhile Hank got off the phone and told Juan, "Okay here is what we are going to do, we take interstate twenty five down to where it meets highway four seventy east and loop over to South Parker road, then we take that up to the Broncos Parkway and up to Peoria, the boys are going to give Dave a little surprise, they will be ready in twenty minutes tops and will duct tape a towel to a car about two blocks from where the ambush is, they say to keep heading straight up the street from there and hit the gas to make Dave go faster to keep up, maybe he won't notice them then. Oh, the doc and his nurse arrived with all our other guns and supplies yesterday too. Nanci threw a fit when we didn't come home. Why didn't we call her last night amigo? She is gonna be pissed when she realizes we had the phones then, and she'll figure it out too boss."

Juan grinned and shook his head, "So? If we come home we come home, she can be mad all she wants then, so long as we make it okay. I am glad the doctor made it." Switching to Spanish Juan continued, "I don't think Kevin saw, but you are bleeding real bad Hank, you need the doctor."

Hank merely nodded and if Kevin noticed the exchange he didn't say anything. Pulling the shotgun up into position Hank said, "Say Juan pass me a couple shells would ya? Just in case I run out?"

Silently Juan passed over half the unloaded shells. The highway was not cleared, but it was passable, something had been through here clearing the way, anywhere that a the cars would have made a solid block and prevented them from passing through had been opened forcibly, and there were no zombies on the road, only corpses.

Coming up to the intersection of the two major highways, twenty five and four seventy, they noticed a huge pile of cars. Along the side of the road there were bodies lined up, or what looked like bodies anyway, they were all in body-bags. Military body bags.

"Mire Hank", said Juan pointing.

"Yeah I see, I guess we just missed them, looks like they were heading into Denver though, not out. National guard do you think?"

"Si, I think so."

Juan, like most people, knew someone in the National Guard, someone who had been over seas, and had been a veteran. Someone who told stories of the war and the body bags seen up close and personal instead of the sterile coffins filmed by the media coming out of the back of a plane somewhere.

"None of them are moving around, that many dead someone would have turned, right?"

"Si, that means they know, a cap in the head to finish it. That is good. Hard to do to friend." replied Juan, looking at Hank.

"You mean those are from the army?" asked Kevin pointing his gun at the bags along the side of the road.

"Si, probably, my cousin described them to me like that along the side of the road sometimes, when they were laid out waiting to be picked up after the fighting stopped."

"And they ain't moving, which means the guard knows how to put the zombies down." added Hank.

"It looks like they came right up the highway, did they block off access to the four seventy exit?" asked Hank.

"No, I do not think so amigo, not on purpose anyway. I think I can get us by." Juan steered the car over the highway overpass and onto east bound four seventy, as they started down the ramp onto the highway proper Hank could see a bit of a blockade ahead, he motioned to the right and Juan nodded, "I see, over that way, but does it go all the way through this shit pile?"

"Well my angle is a little better, I think so, a lot of crap on the road though." That is when they heard the screaming, coming from within the pile up or somewhere on the other side. Two cars were actually on top of a truck and a new Volkswagen, obscuring sight around the barrier completely. Juan put the fiesta in gear and crept the car forward, the wreck looked about three car lengths long and Juan edged their car closer and closer to the side of the road from the shoulder until it was obvious that they were going to hit the cars and guardrail before making it through, then he gunned it. The fiesta was too wide by a couple of inches and the screaming metal and grinding made Hank think Juan had lost his mind, "Juan, what the hell are you doing?" he yelled. Then they were through, the car started shaking a bit and the ride was rougher, but they had made it through.

Hank turned to Juan to say good job when he saw the woman running towards them, pursued by some fast zombies, the woman was blond haired, with dark green eyes and maybe thirty years old, she had long white legs that ended in running shoes, around her waist were the remains of a pair of jogging pants which were ripped and trailing behind her in a pink flutter. Under that she had on a black thong and Hank blushed to notice she was shaved 'down there' too. Up top was no less impressive for all the clothing that covered it, there was plenty of blood and bite marks on her shoulders and one of her arms ended in a jagged, bleeding stump just above her elbow. Above that wound was a belt of some sort, which had been cinched tight to stop the bleeding. The arm amputation looked recent and mechanical, not result of…feeding. Her hair highlighted her green eyes, which Hank found more attractive than the traditional blond-blue eye combination.

The three fast zombies behind her pulled up short at the sight of Hank and Kevin's guns aimed in their general direction, but the quickest one snagged blondie and ducked with her behind a car. The woman was screaming for a second, "Help me! They got Fritz, they got Fritz! Help me! Oh God they bit me! They want to rape me! Help me, hel.." and her voice was muffled into silence, though not one of the three men believed she had been killed. A new voice came out from behind another car, this one in front of Juan by a good ways, "Drive on. Just leave, you don't have to die too. We are not that hungry."

"Shit!", whispered Hank.

In the back seat Kevin was sobbing, "Its her man! Its her the woman with the kids I saw on interstate seventy! It looks like her!"

"It ain't her." whispered Hank at Kevin, "Kevin, listen to me, it is not her! You said that woman on seventy had blue eyes, this woman's eyes were green, this is not her!"

"What? Are you sure? I didn't get a clear shot of her face, maybe you were wrong? Are you sure Hank?"

"Yeah I am sure Kevin. You know Juan, she is already dead, she got bit, I saw it, you saw it. No reason to stop here and try and save her is there?"

"No Hank."

Juan shifted the car into neutral and put on the parking brake. Hank and Juan got out of the car at the same time. Looking around Juan grabbed up a tire iron off the highway from among the debris and they started creeping towards the car where they had last seen the woman.

"Kevin stay in the car and cover us, okay?" called Hank over his shoulder.

Hank heard the car door shut behind him, glancing back he saw Kevin was already out of the car bracing his rifle, covering the area where they had heard the voice come from.

"Or shit, you can do it your way." Hank said under his breath.

The voice called out again, "You don't want to do this. I can smell your blood, you don't know what it means to me."

"Just let her go and we will go, find someone else and let her go!" Hank replied.

They heard a whimper from in front of them and they approached the car from two different sides, Juan going around back, Hank passing the front bumper. The zombie was feeding on the woman, he was laying on top of her, as if raping her and Hank stood for second watching as the thing's groin moved up and down in awkward thrusts, all the while his mouth worked at her bloody shoulder and part of her neck. One of its hands was covering her mouth, the other was holding her good arm down tight against the ground. Then the tire iron came down on the back of the things head with a resounding thunk. And the zombie was just another body. Looking closer Hank was not so sure that the goddamn thing had not been raping her. What the hell was going on? Juan seeing the same thing hit the body several more times, then bent over to continue to strike it, which allowed Hank to see one of the fast zombies running up behind him. When he pointed the shotgun at Juan, Juan saw him and immediately went prone. Hank's shot rang out and the other zombie staggered under the blow. In the back of his mind Hank heard Kevin firing as well, he lined up another shot, which hit the zombie square in the face, just about decapitating it, it might still be alive, but Hank thought it would be down for awhile. Turning he saw the other zombie was laying on the ground about 2 feet behind him, trying to move, but twitching uncontrollably. Hank stepped up and put a shell through its head at an angle. "That all of them!?" Hank yelled to Kevin.

"I dunno, did you save the woman?", he yelled back.

"I dunno, Juan?"

Juan was on the ground next to the woman's head she was talking to him very softly as he held his brown hands over the wounds on her neck, trying to keep her from bleeding to death. It was a lost cause, Hank could see that. However he bent down and pulled the corpse off of her and kicked it aside. Looking up he shook his head from side to side at Kevin. Hank saw the woman's face more clearly it was wounded and blood splattered, but not the woman Kevin had described from his earlier encounter, her eyes were most definitely green.

"Did you save the woman?" Kevin yelled loudly.

"Shit Kevin she is not the woman you saw, this ain't her!" Hank called back.

"How do you know? I am the only one who saw the other woman?"

"Kevin, you said your blond had blue eyes, this one has green eyes, this isn't her!"

Kevin gulped and then nodded at Hank, turning his attention back to scanning the area and silently fuming.

With a final gurgled the woman stopped breathing, Juan looked up and said, "Hank, she said her kids were still in her car, the black SUV, over there." Juan pointed at an overturned car, "She said to rescue her babies. Hank….she was bit." Standing up and backing off, he looked at Hank expectantly.

Hank stepped up and shot the woman without ceremony in the head, then walked over to the SUV. There was a man laying in front of the SUV, in a large pool of blood, his pants, a pair of clean blue jeans, were torn open, the belt loops all broken. 'Now I know where the belt on blondie's arm came from', thought Hank. The man's head had been smashed in, his chest had been punctured several times, it looked as if by fingers to Hank, and his entrails were pulled out and spread in a wide circle around his body.

Juan came around to one side of Hank, took the shot gun from him and reloaded it using the shells he had, then handed the gun back. Looking at the overturned SUV Hank commented, "Yeah sorry partner but I ain't up for much crawling around right now."

"Si." replied Juan, who got down on his hands and knees and peered into the car. It had been loaded with gear, suitcases, a cooler, bags of food, all of which was now lying on the ceiling. The back seat was empty, with seat belts hanging down. Maybe the woman had it wrong? Juan walked around the wreck peering in the windows, near the back he saw two kids hiding behind all the junk. The windows were not broken out, just cracked into a million pieces and held in place, just like safety glass is supposed to be. Juan came back around to the slightly swaying Hank and got down on his hands and knees and called into the car.

"Come here, it is alright, are you hurt? Are you hurt ninos?"

The sound of crying grew reached Hank's ears, but the kids did not appear. He started in after them pulling the luggage and food out of the way until he had the kids pressed up against the back window of the vehicle. "We are not gonna hurt you, okay? Okay? Come on we gotta get out of here. Your mom sent us to get you." The children were reluctant and it took several more minutes of coaxing to convince them to come out and go with this stranger. The younger of the two kids was a boy, he was maybe five or six, the girl was older, maybe eight. Both were bloodied and bruised, but did not look seriously hurt. They had light brown, sandy blond hair, he had green eyes like his mother, hers were blue, though pale, not dark. They were dressed in loose clothing, shorts and t-shirts, both had on tennis shoes and white socks. When the boy got to his feet outside of the car he spotted his father and started screaming. He then started to try and get around Juan to his dad, the girl just stood stock still in shock, not moving other than to put her hand up to her mouth, a second later she was leaning over and vomiting all over the road by the side of the SUV. When she lifted her head she saw caught sight of her mother's legs and started crying harder. Hank put his hand on the girl's shoulder and pulled her face away from the dead, she automatically reached around and hugged him tightly sending a stab of pain through Hank's back, he didn't let go.

"You got him Juan?"

Juan looked like he was losing control of the boy, who had somehow slipped around him and was on his hands and knees crawling towards his father's body. Juan was able to keep a grip on the boy's shorts and haul him in, though doing so just about pulled the little guy's pants off. This did give the boy pause for a moment and he stopped struggling long enough to try and pull up his pants, which is when Juan nabbed him by hugging his arms around the kid to keep him from getting away, "Si."

"Okay lets get the hell out of here!"

They moved back to the fiesta, where Kevin was now pointing the rifle back the way they had come, "He showed up, veered off to the right, behind all the cars, I'm not sure if he is gonna come over the top of them or is just messing with me."

Juan tried to put the boy in the car, but the kid would absolutely not stay in. Once he was put in the back seat on one side he slid over to the broken window on the other where he pulled himself out and was trying to run back to his parents before Hank quite realized what was happening. Juan yelled and intercepted him before he made it past the front of the car, picking him up and hurling him with some force upon the hood. "Stop it! Stop it nino! Now!"

The boy sobbed a bit and said, "You're not my dad! I don't have to listen to you!" and kicked ineffectively at Juan. Juan sighed, looked at Hank and then back at the kid. "Stop it or I will spank you. And it will hurt." The boy started crying then, all out wailing at the top of his lungs. Juan gathered him up and the boy clung to him like size small spandex on a size large ass. Getting the kid to let him go was the next problem. One Hank solved by telling the girl to get into the back seat, her brother was then able to grab onto her and they were all able to get back into the car and continue on again.

Chapter 7

"Dave didn't show up? Maybe he lost interest?" remarked Hank after the boy's wailing had subsided to a dull roar.

"No, Hank, no. That malcreado is back there, or in front of us now, but he is around, I just know it." Watching for awhile Kevin eventually pointed back, "Yeah, that's him, he just came through the hole in the wreck pile we passed through, he is stopping to look it over now. Go Juan, maybe we can lose him!"

Juan pushed the pedal down, but the old fiesta did not go much faster, it was seriously damaged by the trip through the wrecks and it had not been in that good of shape to begin with. Every second it seemed like the little car was going to rattle apart. Fortunately the next exit was theirs, they arrived at it a couple of minutes later. After they exited Juan pulled up under the highway overpass where he let the car stop and idle quietly. A minute later they heard the motorcycle approach, then drive over them and onwards past them.

"It was that easy?" asked Hank, "Think we got lucky and gave him the slip?"

"Shh!" urged Kevin, both towards Hank and the kids. "I don't hear anything. You ready to go?"

"Si, let's wait a few minutes." replied Juan, so they sat for five minutes, attracting the attention of a slow zom, when it was about to touch the car Juan eased into gear and drove quietly off, going north on South Parker road. Coming out from under the highway they went about a half a mile before Kevin let out a long "Shit!"

"He was doubling back! Fuck! If we would either have gone sooner or waited another three minutes we would have slipped him! Dammit!"

"Couldn't have know Kevin, we couldn't have known.", Hank mumbled, he was feeling lightheaded and a bit groggy, almost faint he thought. He turned to Juan and tried to say, "I think I am going to faint."

Juan heard Hank mumble and then saw him sag over against the door, the shotgun stayed where Hank had it, propped up on the dash pointed out the front windshield. The windshield was not completely broken out, just shattered, so firing it like that would not have been a good idea, but this left the gun easily able to move towards either window.

The road was pretty clear so Juan put his foot down and tried to get more speed out of the car. Kevin glanced at Hank and said nothing. He did, however put his hand on the girl's head and rub her hair, trying to comfort her.

Soon enough Juan turned west onto east Bronco Parkway, the road was scenic and curvy, leading up to the Centennial Airport, it was also relatively clear, the fiesta got up to about thirty five miles per hour and finally the road turned into Peoria Street. After passing a few more store lights and navigating around a four car pileup, Juan saw a large red towel hanging out of the side of a car, the end rolled up into the window of the car. He sped up and tried to nurse the Fiesta to something higher than thirty five, it was no good though, another mile and they would be at the Mike's Club store, so the ambush had to be close by. Juan didn't see anyone, however when the motorcycle passed by the car with the towel a hail of gunfire erupted from the roofs of the buildings on the east side of the street. Juan wanted to slow down and watch, but his worry about Hank made him keep going, he knew his family and neighbors well and they would take care of that diablo who had been trailing them.

He made it to the Mike's Club without any further difficulty, meeting his wife's cousin in the parking lot, who pointed him towards the side of the store, where a garage bay door opened up when he approached. He drove the Fiesta in and faster than any zombie Juan had seen so far he was pulled out of the car when it stopped and into his wife's embrace. She kept rubbing his hair and checking his body for wounds and then would stop and hug him, before checking him yet again. Juan's neighbor, Alonzo, was pulling Hank out of the side door, yelling for the doctor and nurse as he did so. Finally seeing this Nanci left Juan and went to Hank's side nervously. The two children were pulled out and distributed among the women and older girls, and they were crying again. Kevin tried to stand off on his own, not used to this sort of display, but he was pulled in by the group and hugged like everyone else, whether he wanted to be or not.

A few minutes later a group of men came through the service door from the main area of the Mike's Club, they had rifles and other assorted pistols and Juan looked up at them anxiously, trying to judge their mood. The leader caught Juan's eye and tilted his head off to the side of the garage, Juan edged that direction and the man, Jack, said, "Hey Juan, good to see you man!"

Jack was a neighbor of Juan's, he had the look of a person who had been ridden hard and put away wet, he was about thirty four years old, give or take a year, was almost six feet tall. Jack had dark brown hair, brown eyes, fairly smooth skin and usually sported an unshaven look that was popular in the early eighties. He was also slightly overweight, it showed a lot more in his face and legs than around his belly, one thing Juan noted was that the usual dark bags of skin under his eyes were not there. He had moved into the neighborhood years ago and professed to be a student at Denver University, "A Law student", Juan thought. Eventually he got too old to be a student anymore and survived on 'odd jobs', which probably translated as selling quarter bags at the local college. The neighbors knew he was dealer and tolerated him for two reasons, first after a little discussion with him about keeping up his yard, he complied and kept it up as nice as everyone else's and second, another part of the same 'keep your yard clean' talk, Jack agreed not to sell out of his house. Once those conditions were met everyone got along a lot nicer, heck they had even passed the hat to bail him out when he got caught with two ounces in a bust. Juan even broke into his house and cleared out his real stash before the cops came to search for it. Being a good neighbor sometimes required a little sacrifice. Among other things Jack was not big on lying, early on, for instance, when Juan had asked him if he sold drugs, he had just looked at Juan nodded and said, "Yeah, a man's gotta make a living." While they never became really good friends, Juan had figured out where Jack kept his stash, no one was more surprised than Jack when the police turned up nothing in their search. It ended up being the only thing that kept Jack out of prison and he had been trying to show his gratitude ever since, he didn't even begrudge the fact that almost two kilos of the finest weed ever grown had simply disappeared.

"Juan. Bad mother, that guy on the bike." said Jack.

"Sì. You get him?"

"No he got away, we must have hit him ten, twelve times, he was fast, got his bike turned up onto the sidewalk and still we shot at him. I know we got his bike a couple times too, it was smoking pretty bad, and both tires were flat, but he somehow kept it up and moving until he was a couple blocks back the way he had come, then he dumped it and ran off. Limping, but alive. Who was he?"

"'Dave', a bad one, pretty strong. I think we pissed him off by not letting him kill us." Juan looked over to see the doc arrive and start looking over Hank on the ground. "Mal suerte that you didn't get him, he needed getting."

Chapter 8

The doc was an older man, probably fifty five or sixty years old, he had gray hair that was combed over the top of his head, his outfit was completed with a white doctor's coat and a stethoscope around his neck. His body was pretty lean, not quite gaunt, but maybe only a day or two away from having that description. His gray hair matched his slate colored eyes, his tan skin did not, liver spots ran up from his arms and over his head, when Juan had met him, only yesterday, the Doc had explained that he was an avid golfer. There was no real problem with the Doc that Juan could put his finger on, but he made Juan uneasy, for some reason he reminded Juan of Jack. Seeing the two of them together in the same room did not make Juan think they were related, but there was something there. The nurse, Beth, had been with the doctor when Juan and Hank came across them. They had been boarded up in the clinic, but had just been rescued by some other good Samaritans. Then there were the kids, a bunch of teens and younger who had a bunch of old fashioned swords and other medieval equipment. The first people, who cleared off the zombies around the clinic, had opted to head west alone after one of their relatives and the kids too, had gone looking for their parents. Hank was against splitting the group up, but he couldn't make everyone stick together either. He hoped that Max and his friends were okay and he also hoped that Michael and the kids he was with would find their way to the club soon too. The doc and his nurse agreed to come to the club and help out, so Hank and Juan had loaded up their car with the extra guns and ammo from the gun shop they had raided.

Beth was a woman who reminded Juan of a matron mother from an old movie he had seen once, she was pretty good sized, not fat, but literally 'big boned', her huge, manly frame was bigger than Juan, seeing Juan looking at her she flashed him a quick smile by way of greeting. He smiled back, he always had gotten on with less attractive women, other than his wife, a curse he supposed, God's way of making sure he did not stray off the very narrow path of fidelity. Beth was a blond, with blue eyes, shoulder length hair and fairly pale skin, like that of a vampire. She wore a white nurses uniform, from the shoes, pants and up to the shirt, she stopped just shy of the whole get up, there was not a cute little nurses cap on her head.

"Hank get bit?" Jack asked Juan, bringing him back in the present.

"No." said Juan, mortified at the very thought, "I Just got into a little fight with Dave."

Jack's eyebrows went up, "Really? Then I guess Hank is a pretty bad mother fucker himself, eh? You get into it with Dave, Juan?"

Juan laughed a little, thinking of how the rumors would now start about Hank fighting Dave, then said, "No señor, barely a scratch on me. I stayed behind a gun and left the punching to Hank. But I did shoot Dave, so did Hank. Dave has a way of not dying, you know?"

"I could see that. Is this Dave gonna be trouble?"

Juan thought about it for a moment then said, "Yeah, I think so. We better make sure the boys keep a good watch. He almost got Hank's gun too, if he gets a gun we could have more trouble. The others are going to have to start keeping their heads down. Anyone else wander in? Some kids with swords? A cop maybe?"

"A cop? No, no one like that, but this place has been growing, we have probably a couple hundred people hear now. Up from what? The eighty we brought with us? It ain't gonna hold us all much longer. Doc figured that out when I spoke to him about you and Hank last night. He thought we should move to a bigger place, a hospital, they have food there, lots of rooms, places for people to shower, kind of like a hotel, only better able to deal with large amounts of people. We'll have to talk later with you and Hank, if he can. We need to get organized. I don't think anyone is coming for us and we need some leaders with authority to get things done."

Juan's eyebrows raised up, "sì? Really why don't you think anyone is coming for us?"

"Come on Juan it has been what? Since Monday or Sunday when this thing happened? Today is Thursday, and we have had no word at all from anyone. You know why?"

Juan shook his head.

"'Cause we are poor, they don't care about us, we didn't elect them, we didn't vote for them, we are no one they need. How many rich people you run into while you were running around?", Jack over road Juan's protests, "No, no I mean really rich people? They knew this was coming and they got out to where it was safe. If we are going to survive we gotta do it on our own, using our own heads, no more government shits telling us what to do. It is the way a lot of them feel too, we have been hung out to dry for a long time, the lower class has gotten larger, the middle class has shrunk to a pittance and those lucky few with money rule us, but are above the laws themselves. It has been happening for a long time and this is the rich man's way of wiping out the 'untouchables' of our country."

Looking at him Juan replied, "I don't know much about that Jack. I know we don't have no help, but if they wipe us out, who does the work? Some old rich dude gonna get his hands dirty fixing his own car? His rich son gonna grow his own chronic? I dunno, I can see us getting ourselves out of this mess though, I really can. The zombies, they ain't that smart."

Looking in Juan's eyes Jack conceded the point, "Maybe, maybe man, they could keep a few of us around to take care of the work. Not much better than slaves. But not here, not in Denver, we have been written off. Everyone still here has."

Hank groaned and started flailing around as the doc probed his back and Juan went forward towards his best friend. Jack clapped him on the back and called after him, "I'll tell everyone about Dave, Juan. I'll pass the word along."

The doc was sponging off Hanks back with the assistance of his nurse and several of the women. Small kids were poking curiously through the mother's legs and perched atop the fiesta looking down at what was going on. Juan called out in Spanish for the mothers to get the little kids out of here, calling to Nanci to take the gringo kids and get them cleaned up and in new clothing and not to leave them alone. Jack called out to the men to leave Hank and Juan alone and that he would come talk to them out in the main store in a few minutes. As if by magic the two men's words cleared the garage out, all that were left were some older 'grandmas' and one woman Hank had actually dated more than once, Evaine, who was holding Hank's hand while the doc and nurse cleaned him up. One of the old women made room for Juan by Hank's head and another one was taking the bloody rags from the doctor while the nurse handed him clean gauze.

The doctor was working feverishly, trying to stop to get a good look at the damage as he controlled the bleeding. Eventually he looked up at Juan, "Hm what happened?"

"He got into a fight with a super zombie and the thing bum rushed him into a car. The zombie hit him hard enough to break the car windows."

"Hard enough to break his ribs! He is damn lucky he didn't get his back broken in the process. I don't see any bubbles, but there is no way to know if his diaphragm was ruptured, the wound is pretty low so I am betting there is damage, at least a tear."

"So what does that mean? Is he gonna make it?" Juan asked nervously.

"Hm, should. He should, if his wounds don't get infected. He should be up and running around in couple of days, if it is just his ribs anyway, he is gonna be sore for a long while until they heal up. That is a best case scenario though, he might be down for months. This place has a pharmacy, but you know, I am not a pharmacist. Me mixing up antibiotics might not be such a good idea." The doc paused in his bloody work, holding one gloved hand up against the gauze on Hank's back he gestured for Juan to pull the pen out of his breast pocket, "Get the pad too. Beth write this down." He then listed off several medicines and told the nurse to hand the list to Juan, "You get into the pharmacy and see if there are any pills with those exact names already made up, I have been here a few times and they had the meds in white plastic bags hung with magnets near the 'pay here' sign, on the inside of the pharmacy above the counter. If there are any pre-made medicines with these names on the bottles and you bring them to me, okay?"

Juan nodded, said, "sì." And took off through the door where he ran into a crowd of people looking anxiously on. He rapid fired a few words at them and two younger men ran off back into the warehouse store and one accompanied Juan over to the pharmacy, which was still locked up.

A metal grate was pulled down over the front of the entire store front, next to the open 'cafeteria' style service counter was a metal door, which was locked. The two younger men Juan had sent out had returned, one hefting an acetylene torch, the other had a pair of bolt cutters. Juan took the bolt cutters and broke the pad locks holding the metal grate to the floor. The grate came up. The man with the torch set it down and scrambled into the pharmacy over the counter, he then unlocked the door and let them all in. The four of them looked at the white plastic bags arrayed on a metal strip and held up with magnets, right where the doctor said they would be. Juan put the list of names up on the 'upper' counter top so everyone could read the four drugs the doctor had written there and the three of them started sorting through the bags. They ended up with seven bottles of medication that matched what the doctor needed.

Rushing back to the garage Juan pushed his way through to the door, quite a few of the men were still there, however enough were gone to make Juan think that the building would be well watched.

Inside the shop Kevin had taken his place by Hank's head. Juan held out the bag to the nurse who rifled through it and said, "Yeah one of these will do just fine, probably no worry of infection if he takes these."

Juan watched in fascination while the doctor stitched up Hank's back, nothing like how he thought stitches would be applied. After he put in a half dozen he looked up and said, "I think that will do Beth, six should hold him together until he heals up, even given that I bet he will be moving around more than a normal patient." Looking at Juan he said, "Think we can convince him he needs to sit around for a few days?"

"Only if he can drink a few beers and watch television." Juan joked.

The doc laughed, "Hm, normally I would say 'no' to that, but you know we might not have many ways to manage the pain, alcohol and some time in one of those high end lazy boys out there might be all he gets!" Turning more serious he continued, "We have to get these ribs wrapped though, not much else for it, Juan and, excuse me, what is your name son?" asked the doctor towards Kevin.

"Kevin."

"Kevin, okay, you and Juan are going to have to help me with that, Hank weighs too much for me to handle by myself. Let me get him bandaged up first then we wrap him like a mummy. Almost."

Another half hour and Hank was wrapped up from his nipples down to his belly button. The doctor had Juan call through the door for someone to get some orange juice out of the cooler, one of the gallons, which he had them set by one of the recliners, then he called in a few men to move Hank gently to a blanket. Three men lined up on each side of the blanket and gently lifted Hank up to carry him over to the chair, where they sat him down. Turning the chair towards a nearby television they pretty much formed a circle around Hank, watching him and waiting.

Juan started to ask the doc a question, the doctor spoke up first, "I don't know Juan, he probably passed out from a combination of pain and blood loss. Not to mention I bet he has not been sleeping all that well the last few days, I know I haven't. His body, like yours, needs a break. We need to get some juice into him, plus one of each of these pills, this one for pain, this one for infection. I would start an IV, or rather have Beth start one, but we don't have the equipment, unless you boys want to head to a hospital and scrounge some supplies up? I don't know if we need to yet, time will tell. I will say this, I have been practicing a long time and I have seen a lot of wounds from my time in the various emergency rooms I worked in, I think he will be fine. A good sleep and he will wake up screaming in pain, give him some pain killers and let him sleep another day and I bet he will be up moving around, that is what my gut is telling me. Meanwhile, you and a…Kevin, is it? Yeah, Kevin, should probably sit down in chairs on either side of Hank and take a load off for awhile, okay? Let me take a look at the two of you first, make sure you aren't hurt or anything."

The doc looked both of them over, applied hydrogen peroxide to their scrapes and looked at all their bruises. Finally he said, "You'll survive, probably you just need some rest, so, rest!"

Reluctantly Juan slide into the chair next to Hank, he immediately had two of the smaller children crawl into his lap, Kevin sat down in the seat next to Juan, one away from Hank. He didn't get the benefit of a kid, but they didn't know him as well as they knew Juan. The last thing Juan thought was, 'I am not that tired.' Then he was asleep.

A few hours later he woke with a start at Hank's coughing and moaning. Moaning because he was coughing, most likely. One of the little abuelitas, a grandmotherly matron from the neighborhood, approached him and made comforting sounds to him and tried to get him to drink some orange juice, after the first sip Hank drank from the jug greedily, the old lady stopped him and gave him a couple of the pills to take, which Hank did without protest, his face having a pained expression, then he drank some more juice before trying to sit up. He stopped that pretty quickly as a sharp stab of pain hit him in the back. Looking over he saw Juan and the two kids on the chair next to him, with Nanci sitting on the floor leaning up against Juan's chair. "Juan you look like shit." Hank croaked out.

"Sì." Juan replied. "Y tu tambien. I look better than you though, always have."

Settling back reluctantly Hank said in Spanish, "Man I gotta wee. Anyway to get me up from here? So I can walk to the bathroom?"

One of the old ladies went off to find the doctor, while Juan tried to get up without disturbing the children who were still sleeping on him. He was unsuccessful in that respect and one of the kids started to cry, grumpy at being woken up from his nap. The kid's mother was there pretty quick to comfort the toddler and Nanci helped settle the other one. Juan went over to stand by Hank and pushed the foot of the chair down slowly, which sat Hank up slowly. They then grabbed each other's wrists and Hank grimaced, but pulled himself up.

"So am I gonna live buddy?"

"Sì. I think so. You hurting?"

"Pretty painful yeah. Well if my bladder doesn't get drained soon I am gonna be in pain and all wet, help me to the bathroom? You don't have to hold my wang, just get me pointed in the right direction."

Laughing Juan said, yes and walked Hank across half the store to the bathrooms. They were intercepted by the doctor, who had a Tupperware bowl in his hand.

"Ah Hank you need to take it easy, no moving around for a couple days." said Doc.

"Let me guess, you want me to piss in the bowl?"

The doctor nodded his head, "Yeah, even if it is in the bathroom, I want to see if there is any blood in your urine."

The journey to the bathroom was unpleasant with Hank handling his hardware while Juan steadied him from behind and the doctor held the bowl in front of him. "God this is embarrassing."

"Get over it Hank, you are an asset to the group and any little humiliation you might suffer is for the good of everyone, if it improves your chances of recovery." The doctor looked at Hank's urine in the white Tupperware bowl, "Yep, blood in the urine, figured that, but had to check it. We will need to keep monitoring it and see if it stops."

Hank held up one of his hands, "Wait doc, uh, lets say it doesn't, what can we do?"

The doctor looked frustrated, "Good question, normally internal bleeding requires some tests to see what we can find out. Obviously you are not dying from internal injuries yet, you are still walking around breathing and all. If it keeps up though maybe I could go in…I am not a surgeon… Still you never know if one is going to come in off the street. I should keep gathering information if I can, just in case. So we have a history to tell the surgeon." The doc muttered something under his breath.

Hank grumbled a bit and the doc asked, "What was that? Stool samples?"

"Yeah I would like those too, if you don't mind." The doc crossed the bathroom and dumped Hank's urine into a toilet before coming back to the sink and rinsing the bowl out. "Speaking of people coming in off the street, we have gotten a few more this afternoon, about half of them are kids. No sign of Michael and his crew yet." Michael and his friends had been at the clinic the day before and had refused to travel with Hank and Juan, saying they needed to get to where their parents worked and check on them, if they could. They promised they would come to the Mike's club and join Hank when they were done. The teenagers were unique in that they had been members in some sort of fantasy group and they had 'suited up' before leaving home, they wore steel mail and carried swords and axes in addition to baseball bats. The other people at the doctor's clinic had included a police officer and she had given the older kids a couple of hand guns and ammunition too.

"Well that is too bad. I don't know how much longer their armor is going to be useful, but I suspect they will do better than most people."

"Anyway, we got these newcomers coming in and we are going to have to move to, or expand to a different base of operations, maybe the sports stadium or someplace huge like that."

"Geez doc didn't you watch that whole Katrina thing? There ain't no food in a stadium, we gotta stay around grocery stores for now, so we don't end up starving anyway. Plus I don't mean to sound bad, but I bet the flow of survivors starts to trickle off pretty soon. Any sign of Dave or any other smart zombies?"

"You have only been out a few hours Hank, nothing yet. Okay so no stadium. What about a hospital? It has kitchens, lots of private rooms and we could use the medical equipment. Hank, the stragglers, they have some bitten among them. The boys won't let them in, they are keeping them in the parking lot away from everyone else."

"Shit." Hank thought for a moment, then said, "Shit. Okay who is kinda leading the men at this point?"

"Jack." said Doc and Juan at the same time.

Hank's eyebrow went up, "Really? Talk about rising to the occasion. Well have him come talk to me if he wants to. The bitten are probably dead doc, unless you managed to whip up a cure in the last few days?" the doc shook his head 'no', "Well we heard nothing new on the radio either. Kevin, he knew an old man who had been bit and didn't turn, even after a day or two so there might be a chance for some of them."

"Someone survived? How many days exactly? Is he still alive?"

"Ah, well you might want to talk to Kevin about that, say where is Kevin?"

"He was on the other side of me, when I fell asleep next to you Hank." said Juan.

"Yeah, he only slept a couple of hours and then wanted to see the sights a bit. One of the boys is probably still showing him around. The younger guys have broken out all the video games and they have some sort of tournament going on, he might be over there." said Doc.

"Well, you might ask him about it, I can't remember if he told us how long the guy lived, but he is not alive now. Just 'cause you got bit doesn't mean you are safe from them. All I know is the guy's wife got bit and she died and turned." Hank shrugged his shoulders, winced in pain and then said, "Ask Kevin." The doctor nodded, then checked Hank's bandages before heading off to try and find Kevin.

Hank and Juan made it back to their chairs and Hank was surprised to see the little girl and boy they had pulled out of the SUV sitting in their chairs, the other kids were not really playing with them, not ignoring them, but just kind of holding back. Both kids were dressed in clean white t-shirts, gray sweat pants and were bare foot. Hank could see that they had been cleaned up and outfitted from the club supplies, as he recalled though the place did not stock a lot of children's clothing. The t-shirts looked like women's smalls to him, they were just a little too big. The boy would probably die of embarrassment if he were told he was wearing a girl's t-shirt. Seeing them Hank raised his eyebrows to Juan, who shook his head, unknowing as to what was going on.

The girl spoke up as they got close. "Hi Hank, hi Juan." Then she couldn't say any more, but started crying and ran over and hugged Hank tightly.

Wincing again in pain Hank said, "Oh girl! Oh girlie, hold on a minute here, you are hurting my ribs!", the girl heard him and softened her embrace, she did not let go or stop crying. Her brother, seeing his sister cry, started crying himself. One of the women nearby came up and picked him up and held him while big, silent tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Shh, shhhh, you will be okay now kid, you will be okay. I am sorry. I wish we could have saved your mom and dad, we just got there too late, I am so sorry!" Hank whispered to the girl. She continued to cry, while Hank shuffled over to his seat, "I gotta take a load off girl, will you help me sit down again?"

The girl helped Hank sit and lean back before asking if she could sit with him. Hank reluctantly agreed, soon enough she was joined by her brother and all three of them made the chair positively full, it was not completely uncomfortable, just a little awkward when any of them shifted position. Hank learned the boy was named Cage and the girl was Sylvia. After crying for awhile Sylvia said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I am just so scared. And sad, I have never been so sad before."

Hank nodded agreement to that, "You are going to be sad when you think about this for the rest of your life Sylvia. No one can make that go away, but you'll have good times again too."

"I don't want good times! I should have helped dad when they got him, then helped mom, and all I did was hide in back of the car, I should never have good times again ever."

Putting his hand on her back and rubbing it Hank said, "No you did what your mom wanted. You saved your little brother and yourself. I bet she told you to hide I the back of the car, didn't she? Sylvia?"

Nodding, Sylvia, said, "Ye-yeah, but I could have done something! They took off my mom's clothes! And she was bleeding! And her arm! Her arm was gone after the accident, they bit off her arm!"

"No, no dear, try not to think of it, you just don't think of it like that. The zombies, the bad guys, they didn't bite your mom's arm off, it happened in the accident, we think, when the car rolled over. You did what she wanted, she must have known Sylvia, she must have known Juan, Kevin and I would be along to save you. That's why she told you to hide, so she and your dad could fight the bad guys off until we got there. Only something went wrong and the bad guys got them too soon, before we could save all of you. I am so sorry Sylvia."

Sylvia seemed to digest the lie, she wanted to believe she had done the right thing, but even at eleven years old she knew a lie when she heard one, if only she could believe she had done the right thing, maybe then she could forgive herself for not dying alongside her parents. Not admitting Hank was right, she gave him a curt nod that seemed to say, "I will think about your explanation of events and regard them as true until such time as I can come up with a better argument as to what really happened." Of course Sylvia did not say that, Hank just took it that way, then nodded back and pulled her close in another hug. From an aisle over Evaine was watching Hank intently, even though he could not see her, she smiled slightly to herself as she walked away to help the women with lunch.

Cage was not arguing any points with Hank, he was just keenly aware that his mother and father were gone and would never be back. Thankfully, he did not carry any survivor's guilt on his conscious.

Juan, meanwhile had safely settled back into his chair and was surrounded by kids again, mostly boys and younger girls. The kids all had hand held game players and were eager to show Juan how they could all play together wirelessly. Juan watched them for a minute or two coaching them when he noticed Cage watching them with interest. Juan tousled one boy's hair and whispered in his ear that he should go and get Cage a game too. Eager to please the boy ran off and was back and showing Cage how to play in less than five minutes. They had a little bit of a language barrier, the boy was Hispanic and not yet in school, and spoke little English, however video game playing would not be denied and through gestures and much button poking the boys got Cage playing the racing game they were all in. This made life easier for Hank as Cage soon wandered off with the pack of boys, who were already teaching him to say things in Spanish. They didn't go far though, just over to an outlet where they could all plug in their games instead of running off battery power. They sat on a carpet, which had been rolled out by the women, who had also set up a play area for the toddlers which was ringed in with boxes and chairs so they could not easily escape. The thirteen to fifteen year old teen girls were assigned the task to watch the children and Hank noticed that one girl in particular was keeping an eye on Cage.

Juan saw Hank's interest, "I asked Nanci to clean them up and keep someone watching them." He said in Spanish, "Nanci said they don't have many kids cloths here, no shoes either and their shoes were all bloody so they washed them and set them to dry up on the roof, not that they seem to mind going without shoes. She wants us to raid a clothing store or a Wal-mart to get all the kids and some adults the essentials, underwear, socks, shoes, that sort of thing. Plus she says the doc is complaining about no equipment, he stitched you up with thread one of the women had boiled up in water on a hot plate, he was not happy about it either."

"Ah it is summer, we won't have to worry about cloths right now, just put all the kids in swimsuits and hose em down, once a day."

Juan looked at Hank as if he were crazy, "You never had to deal with kids much did you Hank? You know what kind of rash they would get if you do that?", shaking his head, "You better not tell Nanci that either, unless you are joking. Here she comes now, hope you are hungry friend."

Indeed Hank was hungry, he accept the plate from Nanci for himself and Nanci handed another one to Sylvia, speaking in Spanish Nanci said, "Sorry she is barefoot Hank, her shoes, they were dirty, we got them clean, but they are still drying. You know all those dryers they got here?" Hank nodded, "Well they take special plugs, so we can't use them without re-wiring something somewhere. Alfonso is a journeyman electrician; he is going to get a bank of dryer's set up for us near the electric box, when he has time. Right now he is working on getting a bunch of generators hooked up on the roof, so when the power cuts out we won't lose electricity to the cooler and stuff. We can hook up a washer too, but only with cold water from a hose, they got a hot water heater near the bathrooms, but the men think setting up a shower is more important. I think so too."

Hank read between the lines, clothes could be cleaned in cold water, bodies could not. He did not doubt for a moment that one of the women had suggested showers instead of washers to one of the men, who was led to believe it was his bright suggestion. Sighing and thinking about the 'way the world works' he thanked Nanci for the food.

After handing out the food Nanci asked if they wanted to watch television, there was nothing on locally, but one of the women had set up several dvd players and they had at least a hundred titles to choose from, all in high definition. Sitting back Hank watched a kid's comedy a movie starring twins who were taking up where the Olson twins had left off so many years ago. He must have dozed off, because the credits were rolling for the movie, he saw Evaine approaching him she grabbed his dirty plate, she had another jug of juice in her hands too and a half smile one her face.

"Hank, the doc says you gotta finish that juice." She said pointed to the jug beside him, "And I have to leave this on here for you to finish off over the rest of the afternoon, plus you have to drink as much as possible tomorrow too, after that you get to drink yourself silly on beer and liquor so he can save the pain medicine for other people who need it more."

She stood by while he finished off his jug of juice, though he did cheat by letting Sylvia have a few gulps too. Then he handed her the empty and she sat the full one down on a tray by the side of his chair. She pulled a couple of medicine bottles out of a fanny pack she was wearing and held them up in her hand.

"Doc also said to sleep as much as you can, and take one of these four times a day until they are all gone and to take these as you need for the pain, but the more you take, the less other people can take later. Got it?"

Hank nodded 'yes' sleepily and watched as Evaine gathered up Juan's plates and several other that had been set down by the children watching the movie. Juan was not in the chair by Hanks side, but he walked up as Evaine walked off, he watched Hank watch the woman leave.

"You are doomed you know. Why did you not date her more? Or call her even?" asked Jaun.

"Naw, me? She is just a kid, what? 24? Thirteen years younger than me, too young, we got nothing in common, though she is easy on the eyes."

"Nothing in common, isn't that good? Gives you more to talk about….late at night."

Shrugging his shoulders, Hank responded, "Well maybe, but things have changed now, there won't be time for stuff like that anymore. I don't even know, you know, how to do that stuff anymore, like dating and all, the other parts I still get."

Shrugging back Juan said, "Too old for love, huh? Still life goes on amigo. This is a mess and I am not talking of making a family right here and now, we're gonna beat these things and people like you and me, workers who know how to put broken things back together, we are gonna do well."

"Ha! Look around Juan! You see any useless bodies around here. Hell even our former drug pushers are productive these days, sure we are all wondering what the future will bring, but these people. " Hank paused and waved his arm around at all the people in the Mike's Club, "These people, know there is going to be a future and that we are going to be a part of it."

Chapter 9

Jack walked up to the men in the recliners, "You talking about me again Hank? I suppose I am not gonna see much in the way of drug demand for awhile am I? Well no worries man, I have seeds stashed and the market it going to be wide open, who's gonna worry about a little happy plant when you have blood sucking zombies chasing you down? Doc said you might want to talk to me about the bitten we are keeping in the parking lot."

"Well yeah, how are you keeping them there?"

"We got a chain link fence roll from across the street and set it up with posts on the concrete. We welded the posts together out of angle irons and other fencing, it is not zombie proof, not really, but when they turn we try to get to them before they gnaw on anyone else. That wasn't what doc said that had me curious though, he said something about you running into a guy who got bit, but didn't turn?"

"Yeah, not directly that was Kevin, he ran into an old man who got bit the same as the man's old lady, she died and turned, he did not. I was hoping you could keep an eye out maybe, see if any of the others don't turn?"

"I want to Hank, but it is a mess. For example a family comes in right, dad and son number one got bit getting them away from a mob somewhere, mom and the two other kids didn't get bit. I want to let them in, but only if dad and son go into the fence until we figure out how to stop them from dying. Mom and the kids don't want that, either they go into the fence with them or dad and son don't go into the fence or they all just leave and go elsewhere. What do I do? I send them elsewhere it is a death sentence for certain, I put the non-infected in with the infected and they are at risk. Who knows maybe you can get this shit by contact or breathing the same air? I know if I don't put the bitten into the holding area and we will have zombies in the building. Several of the ones in the holding have turned and I only set up this system this morning."

"So you enforce the rule then? Bitten in the pen, otherwise move on? That makes sense to me. No? What?", asked Hank.

"I sorta told some of them that the people leading us would decide what to do with the bitten."

"Yeah, who's leading us? What did they say?"

Jack burst out laughing and merely pointed at Hank, saying, "We nominated you!"

"What? Me? For Christ's sake why? I have never led anything in my life, I am just a worker!", turning to Juan, Hank asked him, "Did you know?"

"sì, it just happened.", Juan replied while shrugging his shoulders.

"Yeah, um, we know, most of us are just workers too, in our own way, ya know? Everybody thinks you are pretty fair and even tempered, plus you were not there at the meeting, everyone else we tried to nominate hollered and declined, you couldn't fight back."

Hank sputtered a bit, "Wha-wah-what? You nominated me because I was unconscious and could not say no?"

A half circle of women, a few men and a dozen kids was gathering around Hank.

Juan waved Jack quiet and answered, "Sì, it was easier, you know, your name came up first, then we batted around a bunch of others, we kept coming back to you, jefe. If it makes it any easier they pegged me as vice-jefe, Jack, Doc and old man Gonzales are on the 'board'. You make the big decisions, I can make smaller ones the board can overrule us by a two to one majority. Plus each board member has an area they are responsible for, Jack has security, Doc has, well, medical and sanitary stuff, Gonzales has 'resources', which is like food, clothing, anything not involving guns and medicines."

Hank looked at the hopeful faces in front of him, the silence lingered for a few seconds as he looked around, as he looked at the faces, he was thinking. Hank was not a leader, he knew it, he could barely lead his crew in fixing a car, he had no desire to lead a bunch of 'Mad Max' style refugees into the future. Thinking he wondered who would be better? Almost anyone, he had no plan, just to lay low at the warehouse and wait until the authorities showed up to save them. True, it had been his idea to come to the Mike's Club, he had told Juan. Juan told the whole damn neighborhood and they all ended up here, with their most prized possessions and families. He could understand why they had the wrong impression that he would make a good leader. This was not a job he wanted, someone else would have to take on the chief role if they ended up being stuck in this situation for very long. Still Hank was a talker, he could reason with most people, work out deals, maybe it would not be so bad, for a couple weeks. Finally he said, "Okay. I got a few problems, but okay I accept. I will do my best." The small crowd of people cheered and surged forward to shake his hand and pat him on the shoulders, after a few minutes Hank raised up his hands and called for everyone to be quiet, "Whoa! Whoa! Slow down a bit, let me get a word in here, I said I had a few problems and as you made me your 'Jefe', I need to get a few things out there on the floor. First off, you all elected me while I was out, I suppose that is okay, I can see a need to fill the position quickly. Then, you set up the board, but people there are not any women on it. I am not a genius or anything, but I think we need to have at least one womanly vote on the board from the get go, don't you?"

"Better to get two." said Juan, "We kind of think that having an odd number on the board is important, so we get a couple women on the board to serve. Dios knows we have enough other areas to cover, I am thinking Gonzales could use a hand, divide his stuff up a bit more?"

"Yeah this needs some thinkin' on. Me and you and maybe the rest of the board should spend five minutes working it out? I don't want no long-assed meetings and bureaucracy, if we are going to do things over again, we are going to do them better than before." Hank kind of wanted to get back to the bitten people in the parking lot, but was having a hard time thinking of a way to steer the conversation back that way so he just said, "Okay Jack, we still got to discuss the guys in the pen. What about the whole parking lot? How do we keep zombies from outside off the pen, I mean if they can see it the zoms will just head right to it, if we start firing guns to kill them, that will attract more zombies, then we will have an all out war."

The crowd slowly started disbursing, several people stayed around to see what their new leader would say, the kids all got back to being children, except Cage who clambered back up into Hank's chair with him.

"Hank we have moved the cars to the outer edges of the parking lot. Put them bumper to bumper so that the zombies have to crawl over or under them to get by. The lot is pretty big and we used the wrecker that Ted got from his work to move the cars into position. Now we have started closing off the main streets, putting cars right up to the buildings to expand our 'territory', by tonight I think we will have the walls far enough out to keep the slow zombies from being able to see the parking lot entirely. The fence is just outside the exit of the store, so the people cannot be seen by anything at the back. Plus we didn't have to use as much fencing because one long side is up against the building. The back of the store is a problem, there is a ravine behind it with two loading docks. There is enough room to line up cars, we just don't have enough of them yet to cover the whole back of the store. The ravine is not deep enough to keep the zombies from crossing it either. Some of the boys think that we can block the street off on the other side of the ravine, but that won't solve everything, there is a bike path on the other side too. We can block that off pretty easy, but it won't stop much either."

"So we maybe need to move? How many people are here now?" asked Hank.

"I don't know about moving Hank, the doc, he has opinions on the matter, wants us to move to the University of Colorado Hospital, up on Colorado Boulevard. Or maybe that newer facility further south, Sky Ridge. Me? I don't know it is like twelve miles to University and only four or so to Sky Ridge, but Doc says Sky ridge may not have everything we need medically, he thinks we will need and run out of the supplies they have in their emergency room pretty quickly. He didn't seem to want to go there, real negative on it and all. I think Sky Ridge is a better bet, from what he describes it is in suburbia, surrounded by landscaping and pretty big, there will be grocery stores not too far off to raid and stuff. As for the people, we have over two hundred now, but I can't say exactly how many. We have, well had ten minutes ago, twenty two people in the pen with bites too."

"Well probably you should have the doc come over here when he gets time, as I am not supposed to be moving around much. Go get a head count if you can. If people won't consent to penning if they got bit, then they have to move on, make it clear you think they are dumb asses for leaving. Try to get them to stay, we know, right now, that the bitten will turn, maybe not all of them, but lets make out like they all will. As for the penned, if the Doc ain't working them over with disinfectant and such, maybe we could assign his nurse, Beth, I think? To teach some of the boys to clean the wounds until they bleed again? At least it will look like we are trying, and maybe more won't turn, talk to Kevin, maybe he knows more about the guy who didn't turn after he was bit that he didn't tell me. Ask around if anyone else knows of people unaffected by the bites. Oh and Jack?"

Jack who had been turning to leave, turned back and looked questioning at Hank.

"You are going a good job with the cars and keeping things going, thanks. Watch out for any super fast zombies, they will eventually get guns, we didn't have any problems finding some."

Nodding Jack waved and headed off towards the front of the store. Juan sat looking at Hank and eventually Hank stopped ignoring him and turned to look at him. Juan had a huge smile on his face. "Cut it out Juan, you are right here with me and don't think for a second I will ever forget you getting me into this mess."

Juan gulped, then recovered and grinned again and said, "Sì amigo. You know we almost had some racial problems?"

"What? Already? Don't people have better things to do? What happened?"

"You are tired, I should let you rest, but I gotta tell you, it is a good story really and ends well. We had us eighty people in here, then all the others started showing up, from what I was told, a mix mostly of whites and Hispanics, a couple Black people. Well they started settling in and gravitated toward each other, like, you know, white guy comes in, heads towards white people, Hispanics did the same. Jack noticed, got a little pissy about it. Went and talked to everybody, made them mingle. You know what happened then?"

"Fist fight?"

"No! They did it! They picked their shit up and crowded in as a group. You believe that?"

"Not for a minute. What did Jack really do?"

"Really he just talked to them. I could not believe it myself. Now when people come in, they can stay with people they came with, but are mixed in with everyone else. Jack is pretty good."

"Sounds like he should be 'Jefe' to me, think I can dump it off on him?"

"No, no way, he made that pretty clear, he said he likes the idea of being a warrior, head of the military, but he thinks our government did that right, at least, put the civilian head of the government in charge of the military. He doesn't want anything to do with policing people though, 'infringing their rights' he called it."

"I think he means soldier, not warrior. A warrior fights on his own, like a gladiator, a soldier fights as part of a unit. Which is why soldiers win battles and warriors, individuals, lose them. Still I could have protested louder than him, had I been given the chance. That is pretty good about him and the police force, doesn't he realize he just became 'the man'?", Hank grumbled sleepily.

Juan nodded, then said, "Oh we know Hank, we know you can get loud, that is why we elected you how we did, amigo."

Cage had settled in for a nap and Hank roughed his hair up a bit and leaned back himself.

Chapter 10

Twenty minutes later when the Doc came around he found the pair sleeping, Juan motioned him over closer to the televisions to talk.

"Heard the 'Jefe' wanted to see me?" Doc asked Juan.

"Yeah he had some questions about Sky Ridge and about cleaning the wounds of the guys in the pen. Maybe get the nurse to break out all the Hydrogen peroxide to clean up those with bits."

"Clean up the….no that wouldn't work. Their wounds are already infected, cleaning them out now would not do much goo…" Doc stopped as Juan shook his head.

"No Doc, it ain't for them, it is for everyone else, to make sure it looks like maybe we are at least trying to do something, besides maybe it will help someone, you never know. Could Betty take some of the boys around, show them how to clean up the mess and let them take over after that?"

"Oh I get it, yeah, my bedside manner has gotten kind of worn thin in this world of 'managed care', I can see how it would be a comfort to everyone else at least. Beth, my assistants name is 'Beth', not 'Betty'. Another nurse came in too, Charlie or something, a guy." Juan raised his eyebrows, "Yeah, I am 'old school' enough to still find that odd too, a male nurse, still there are, were, more and more of them lately, and the women nurses loved them for their muscles when dealing with unruly or unconscious patients. What did Hank want to know about Sky Ridge?"

"How big a place is it? Could we all fit? I don't think you are gonna find many of the people here have ever been there."

Doc knew what Juan was saying, the people holed up in the Mike's club were predominately from Juan's old neighborhood, which was in the bottom of the income bracket for the metro area, not quite the very bottom, but not high enough up the chain to have gone for treatment at a hospital like Sky Ridge either. "Well I worked a few shifts in their ER when they first opened, it has about eighty beds, but they don't have much in comparison to Denver General or even University Hospital, I suppose the place might do. There is only one main road going by the place and it is backed onto the highway, big fences just went up there last year, that would be good to keep any zombies on the road from seeing us. We could block the street off pretty easy. Easier than securing this place, there is no creek out back at Sky Ridge to contend with either. We'd have to move though, all these people and we need the food and stuff here, the generators would be handy but any hospital with a trauma center has generators. I will have to tell Jack to look out for a bus or two, plus semi-trailers to haul the food out of here. Maybe we keep this place as an outpost to guard the food and goods? Move the families over to Sky Ridge and clear the roads between the two places?"

"The highway is open, it looks like the national guard already went through there, maybe yesterday and opened it up. How many other rooms does the hospital have? How many floors?" asked Juan.

"I don't know, I went to a a few meetings, they have a chapel, a cafeteria, the place is huge, it sits on thirty acres of land, and has tons of parking. Sky Ridge Hospital is definitely geared towards higher class clients. Eighty beds means they have about sixty rooms, 'cause some of those were double occupancy. But as I remember the rooms were good sized and the place is big. I suppose it would be okay if no one else got there before us. I'll talk to Jack, if the highway is open all the way there maybe we could send a couple boys up there to scout it out?"

"Nah, we are council member now Doc, I'll talk to Jack and get him on it, tell him to find the buses and semis too. Plus we are going to want more guns and ammo. Thirty acres of land is quite a lot, we could see zombies coming across the yard, that is even better. What was it like working there? Why did you stop?"

Juan didn't say it but the Doc knew what he was aiming at. When they had first met the Doc had been holed up in a small clinic in a poorer part of town, not exactly in the same category as a hospital built to serve the upper echelon of Denver's society. The Doc thought about it for a second and replied, "I had some trouble Juan, I had some procedures reviewed and lost the appeal, the rich fucks at Sky Ridge let me go pretty quick after that. I turned to private practice and had to start small." he held up his hand to forestall Juan's questions on the subject, "It was five years ago and I don't want to talk about it. All you need to know is I am licensed to practice, so is Beth, and I think this Charlie guy is too, though he didn't have his paperwork with him." He rubbed his hands together like a greedy pirate, "Okay I say we get our guys moving and use this warehouse as a supply outpost."

"I wasn't grilling you doc, we started over now you know. I don't care what you did or to who, so long as you do your best now. You better take a few of the boys under your wing too, in case this ain't like we think. Ain't short term. I gotta go talk to Jack again. Are you going to check Hank while you are here?"

Doc looked at Juan in a most peculiar manner, but said, "Sure thing, vice-jefe."

Juan watched while the Doctor checked on Hank and had to wonder a little about the medicine he had gotten at the doctors request that morning. Half the bottles were antibiotics, Juan read that on the labels, the other half were prescription pain medicines, of which only a very small amount had gone to Hank, six pills in fact out of four bottles. Juan was not a doctor or even that experienced with medicine, but he knew most of the common antibiotics, which is how he knew which ones were for infection and which bottles of medicine were probably for pain. The extra three bottles of antibiotics were sitting back in the pharmacy; the four bottles of 'other' medicine had not been in the bag when Juan returned the rest of the medicine for storage. He didn't want to think too much about it, but he could not help asking himself, 'Where did those other bottles of pills go?'

After the doc finished poking around Hank, not quite waking him up, he wandered off to find nurse Beth or Charlie and get them on disinfecting the bitten's wounds. Juan wandered off to find Jack. Once he was outside one of the men told him Jack had gone back to helping the guys move cars into position. Juan wandered slowly over to where he saw the men working on the street, maybe a quarter mile away. There were armed men all around the parking lot, most had baseball bats, quite a few had rifles, they were taking down the zombies if they approached. It did not appear like there were a lot of zombies coming around anymore, they were just trickling in by ones and twos. The men, and some women, handled them quickly and efficiently, using bats, not guns. Juan already knew that loud noises attracted the zombies attention. As he was walking a shot rang out and one of the men fell backward behind the car, the other men started yelling and shooting at something beyond the cars that Juan could not see.

Juan ran up to the men, in the July heat it made him break into a sweat, even to go that short distance. By time he got there the shooting had stopped, a man was bent over the wounded man on the ground who was shaking and kicking his feet. Juan elbowed his way in next to him and knelt down. The man had been hit in the neck. Juan didn't know either of the men, the man trying to treat the wounded man yelled out at Juan, "Back the fuck off and give me room. Someone go get Doc! You!"

Juan sat back on his heels and yelled in Spanish at one of the men to grab some clothing to help stop the flow of blood. Quick enough they had a clean looking blanket out of a nearby car which they tore into rags, it did not do any good, the man kept bleeding and kicking his feet, first his feet stopped moving, then he stopped moving entirely, then the other man working on him started CPR, Juan had been to all the classes to certify as a Cub Scout leader so he jumped right in on compressions, thanking God he did not have to do the breathing. What seemed like half an hour later the Doc was there, he knelt down in the blood, looked at what was going on and said quietly, "Stop." Neither Juan nor the other man stopped working. Doc raised his voice and said, "Charlie, Juan, stop!"

Juan looked up at him, sweat beading and rolling into his face, Charlie, saw Juan stop and said, "Don't stop goddamn it, we can save him!"

Juan looked at the doc, the doc said, "Charlie! Charlie look at me." Charlie did so. "I am the doctor here, this man cannot make it, I am calling it. Time?"

Charlie responded by looking at his watch, "Fifteen thirty-fi….dammit!" He got to his feet a little wobbly and looked down on Doc, "We could have, should have.."

"Charlie, things have changed, we couldn't have, shouldn't have. Me, you and Beth and anyone else are going to have to have a talk about triage today. There are no hospitals to go to, no flight for life, nothing. If we can't fix it here, with what we have, it won't get fixed. We don't have much here either. Which means we won't be able to fix much."

Juan looked at the doctor, "Triage?"

"Triage Juan, is when a nurse or someone else, a doctor some times, evaluates who we can fix and who we can't. Once the ones we can save are in one category, they are evaluated for who needs the most help to save now, versus the ones we can afford to leave for later. Like treating someone bleeding badly, before a guy with a broken finger. Sure the finger might hurt, he might even have gotten to us first, but the guy bleeding to death can't afford for us to wait to set the guy's finger or he, the bleeder, will be dead. Triage. Usually we can work everyone, so triage is not needed. Sometimes though, like if two buses collide or a plane goes down and does not kill everyone, there is a need to decide who to treat and in what order. I have been pretty lucky and only had a couple of times where I had to assign a nurse to do triage. Usually the nurses end of doing it, not the doctors."

Juan nodded, and said, "Okay, so now you mean if people get shot in the neck, there won't be any way to save them, so we should not waste time trying to save them?"

"If it comes to that, yes, I am not a miracle worker, I was never a surgeon, I couldn't have done anything for this man if direct pressure didn't stop the bleeding. I am sorry. Charlie you did all you could do. By the way Charlie, this is Juan our 'segundo', did I get that right Juan?"

Again Juan nodded, "Pretty close. 'Say-goon-doe', that is close enough."

"Means 'second' doesn't it?", seeing Juan nod yes, he continued, "Yeah I heard some of your neighbors saying that, it sounds better than 'vice-jefe' to me."

Charlie, held out his bloodied hand to Juan, who took it and was pulled to his feet. Charlie then shook his hand, "Sorry I yelled at you. I know you were trying to help, I just needed space. I have the feeling my life of treating people is going to suck for a long time, if I can't save them, they are going to die and we won't be able to save many trauma patients now. You see what happen Juan?"

"No, tell me."

"We were moving cars into place, a guy drove up with car full of people, friends and family, only one of them was not bitten. Thomas here", he pointed at the dead man, "told them our deal, the bitten go into pen, the girl who was not bit could come in and not be segregated. Or they could leave, their choice. Just like Jack told him to say, you know? Well, they got all mad about it, made to drive away and we got back to work, about ten seconds later one of them shot Thomas from a block away. Everyone shot back, probably killed all of them. Hey," Charlie said to everyone around them, "Did anyone check on them?"

A chorus of "No" and "Hell No!" came back from the crowd. "Maybe we should? Just in case?"

Jack's voice called out from somewhere outside the circle, "Yeah, we should. I'll go, you want to come with me Juan?" Jack stepped out in front of the crowd, a look of sadness on his face as he glanced towards Thomas.

"Sì." replied Juan, "I'll go. Gimme a gun somebody."

A man handed Juan a new looking shotgun, he whispered, "Fully loaded, five shots, plus these." As he passed the gun and a half empty box of shells over to Juan.

"Okay, everybody else get back to work. Next time, we keep our guns out and ready until they get out of sight completely okay? C'mon Juan." said Jack.

The doc took Charlie aside and started talking to him as Juan, Jack and a couple of other guys started walking slowly to the van. As they walked the block to where it was Juan could smell gasoline and blood.

"You came looking for me, right?", asked Jack to Juan.

"Sì. We need to find a bus or two, maybe a semi too. I think we are moving to Sky Ridge, we wanna send some people over to take a look at it first, the highway should be open, it was this morning when we came through to get back here anyway. You know anyone who would want to go?"

"Hm tough getting people to leave, plus brother, I don't know the way to Sky Ridge, it's now the place people like me get their medical care. I could get you to Denver General though. Hold that thought, lets take care of this first."

They approached the van slowly, there was movement inside of it. The thing was a wreck, with dozens of bullet holes in the side, both rear tires were flat and gas and anti-freeze were leaking all over the pavement beneath the vehicle. At least one of the bitten had turned and was feeding on the others, who all looked dead or close to it. Jack approached the door and the squirming mounds of flesh inside it. Aiming his gun into the van, he pulled on the handle of the door, spilling a couple of the bodies half out into the street.

One of the bodies was moving like a slow zom and drew Jack's attention, he put a bullet in its head before Juan even knew if it were a zombie or just a badly wounded man. Turning towards him, Jack said, "I am in charge of security, anyone kills one of my guys they can't expect me to let them in. These guys are all dead anyway Juan, all bitten, except her." He pointed to a woman in the back seat, who had taken a bullet to the head, "She claimed not to be, I'm going to shoot all these guys in the head so they don't come back." Jack then proceeded to do so, while the two guys with them watched for other zombies attracted by the noise and shot two of them as they approached. Juan just watched and waited. When Jack had all the bodies out of the van and on the ground he rummaged around and pulled out all the guns and bags he could find, going through the bags for ammunition, there was a lot of it to go with the hunting rifles and shotguns, plus some rounds for a Glock style plastic pistol one of the men had one him. Jack, Juan and the boys brought all the guns back with them, where the work was continuing on moving the cars.

"Fuck Juan, you know I issued instructions that got one of our guys killed. It could have been you or that kid you came in with, Kevin, or any of us. I don't know if I am cut out for telling people to do things that will get them killed."

"Sì. You did like we decided; I would have done the same."

"Maybe, maybe I should have spoke up against turning people away instead." Jack said sadly.

Juan reached over and grabbed Jack's shoulder, stopping him and turning him them both face to face. "You did the right thing, you hear anybody blaming you for what happened? No? That's right, 'cause they all, all these people, would have done the same thing, you know why? Yeah, sure you do, because it is the right thing to do. Some of us are gonna die Jack.", smiling he continued, "Well some of you. Not me. Not from a zombie. My old lady will kill me when she finds me in bed with another woman fifty years younger than me."

That got half a grin on Jack's face. "You saying I can't afford to over think this huh?"

"Sì amigo. Sì."

Jack seemed to digest this and they walked the rest of the way back to the group in silence, once there he turned back to Juan and said, "So Juan, why are we still working on the perimeter if we are leaving this place, shouldn't we just get packed up to go? I can have twenty of these cars moving in fifteen minutes if you want to go today, take three or four over to scout the place then come back for everyone else if it is clear."

"Doc said, maybe we could keep this place too, it is built like a fort, we hold it and the supplies and use the hospital to live in. Doc has been to the hospital, I think I could find it if he gave me directions, I'll go."

"What? Our Segundo getting into the line of fire? No way, not on my shift you ain't."

"Hah, who will override me? You? You are just a board member." Juan joked.

"Oh playing politics are we? I'll have you know, rumor has it anyway, that our Jefe, wants a couple of women on the board, I was thinking of nominating Nanci and maybe your mom, what was her name? Gloria?"

Juan's face paled, "You wouldn't!"

Laughing Jack shot back, "Maybe we can come to a deal without me resorting to such extreme tactics?"

"What did you have in mind?"

Jack looked thoughtful for a few seconds, "Okay, I go, you go, one of the nurses goes, that guy Charlie, plus three others for the extra guns and eyes, we take pickup trucks with extended cabs. This way we have a nurse to get the supply inventory, and the trucks to carry some of it back, if the place is clear or mostly empty, then we just bring back a few days worth of medical supplies, if it isn't we do a quick snatch and run back here with whatever we can get away with. Sound good?"

"Sì. Yeah, sounds good, I want to go now, before Hank wakes up and 'modifies' our plan any. He is too hurt to come with us, you know how he is though, he would want to come, this way we will be gone before he wakes, if not back before then." said Juan.

"Okay I will get Charlie, the three others and two trucks lined up. You go talk to old man Gonzales get him to at least cut us some bottled water."

"Sì." Juan turned and headed back to the building.

Chapter 11

Before looking up Cisco Gonzales to get some bottled water Juan went looking for Nanci. He found her in the back of the store where a dozen grills had been set up to act as a makeshift kitchen. Nanci was busy cooking up dinner, which was still several hours away by Juan's thinking, however he had never cooked for two hundred people either. He knew more than half of the grills were set up to smoke all the meat from the deep freeze into a more portable form, dried jerky. The freezers were still working, but they drew a lot of power, Alfonso, their only electrician, didn't think they could keep everything running, if they could shut down the deep freezers that would allow them to have that much more power for the industrial sized refrigeration units. Men and women had spent quite a bit of the morning reorganizing the refrigerators, packing stuff in for storage as opposed to leaving it in the display cases. They had also duct taped all the doors closed to make them more efficient, except for one refrigerator door, which they now used as an access point. This way they would not have to open and close the fork lift sized door on one side of the refrigerator very often. If the power did go out the deep freeze would be shut down, the food would stay very cold for a few hours, maybe a few days, but they would move as much of it as possible to the refrigeration units, which should be powered by three of the generators on the roof. How long that would last depended entirely on how long they had a fuel supply.

Juan approached Nanci and she smiled tentatively at him from where she was cooking, then frowned as she read his expression. She always could read him like a book.

"I know that look." she said in Spanish, "It is the look you get when you want to tell me something I am not going to like. What is it?"

Sighing Juan outlined the plan to scout out the hospital. Nanci looked at him for a minute, her face displaying a variety of emotions from sadness, to anger, to a flushed embarrassment, she finally settled on a cross look of sad anger before she said, "Fine. Go. You don't have to, but you will, someone else could do this, but you have to be the one. Yes? Always you now. I was proud when you got Segundo, more than proud, but I was also happy, I thought maybe you would be sending others out for things like this. Not risking yourself, so I was happy because you would not come back dead or as, as, one of them!" Nanci then lowered her head into the dishcloth she held in her hands and started to cry. Acutely aware of the hostile looks the other women in the kitchen were giving him, Juan stepped forward and pulled his wife into a hug. "I will be careful, mi amor. I will come back okay, no one wants to go, if the people they put in charge do not lead, do not take any risks, then they will not be in charge very long. I will be fine, you'll see. I have to go. I need water for six men, is there any here or do I need to talk to Gonzales?"

Pulling herself away from Juan, Nanci kept the towel to her face and pointed to the deep freeze, her muffled voice said, "We keep some water in there for us to use for cooking and drinking, there are some coolers, just take one, we'll get another. Be careful Juan! If you don't come back I shall hunt your corpse down and kill it myself!"

"Only after lecturing me on the error of my ways and how you were right. And I will deserve it too."

Ruffling his wife's hair and then pulling her in for a quick kiss, Juan turned and headed for the freezer, where several coolers filled with water bottles were sitting, he picked one up and headed out to meet Jack.

Jack was waiting in the parking lot with the 'men' he had selected. Charlie was there along with three women, one Hispanic and two gringos. Raising his hands Jack said, "I asked for volunteers, these women all raised their hands first, Terry, Jen, and Mary. A lot of guys wanted to go to, but the women said something about equal representation, so I chose them."

Charlie had changed his pants and t-shirt, he carried a rifle, had a pistol in a holster on his belt and had what looked for all the world like a doctor's little black bag at his feet. Terry was an older white woman, perhaps forty years old, she had a pudgy stomach and legs like solid oak trees that sprang out of her gray shorts. To top it off she was wearing an over-sized Nascar t-shirt, her brown hair and silver earrings offset a face that only a mother could love. To say she was ugly would be an insult to ugly people everywhere. Something was just not right with her face, it appeared to be slightly misshapen, with a large nose, mis-sized eyes and a tight, pursed set of lips that made it seem unbalanced. In Juan's experience he had gotten along with ugly women a lot better than pretty women, so her looks didn't bother him at all, after all he was not going to sleep with this mujer, just ride with her. Jen was also a middle aged woman with raven hair, brown eyes and a slight scar across one of her cheeks, it had faded with age, but was still visible, she had broader hips, but looked like she was an outdoor type, tan skin, hiking shoes, and a shotgun completed her ensemble. Last but not least was Mary, a kid really, she was probably seventeen and Hispanic, acne had already taken her smooth skin away from her, leaving parts of her face pock marked with scars. Still she was dainty and attractive in body, not rail thin, not overweight, her brown hair and dark brown eyes were typical of Hispanic heritage. She was wearing a rugged western style shirt, blue jeans and boots. And she was holding the rifle like she knew how to use it. At her belt was a fanny pack, that was bulging and hanging low.

"Sì." Juan nodded to the women and to Charlie. Behind Jack sat two pickup trucks, both Ford F-150s both white and late model. Very nice. Juan could not wait to get into one of them and crank up the air conditioning.

"Good I am driving this one, taking Charlie in the back seat and Jen is riding shotgun. You get to ride, Terry is driving. You have the shotgun position and Mary rides in the backseat. The 'shotgunners' carry shotguns. Funny, huh? The driver has one too, the back seater has a hunting rifle and all of us get pistols and bats. Oh, each of these trucks is benefiting from new CBs, tuned to channel 12 and plugged into the dash, they are not hard wired, maybe Alfonso can get to it when he has time. We have walkie-talkies for each of us too, nice Motorolas with a four mile range, finally there are two cell phones in each glove box, charged and ready to go. See Juan? This time we are not going to lose contact with each other or with the 'home base'. I got one of my guys carrying a cell phone to answer us if we call him, we have to report in every half an hour on the half hour. Divvy up the water and lets get moving."

The way he said it left no room for arguing, Juan was not going to drive. He waited for Mary to ride in the back seat, saying "After you" to her in Spanish as he opened the door, she looked at him and said, "What? Sorry Juan I don't speak much Spanish."

At the drivers door Terry smirked at Juan and said, in fluent Spanish, "Stereo types. You gotta love them huh? I lived in Mexico city for four years when I was younger. The gringa speaks Spanish, the Hispanic speaks none. Pleased to meet you Juan."

In Spanish Juan answered, "The pleasure is mine.", he liked the woman ugly enough to scare away small children already.

Hopping in, Terry continued in English, "I have been to Sky Ridge, so I know the way there, you have been on the highway this morning, so you know more of the local roads. At least for now we are taking the lead. We haven't decided who gets to lead on the way back. So? Which way to we go?"

"I would go down to Arapahoe Road and go west, if it is clear, we could go back via Broncos road to Peoria, I suppose that should be mostly clear, but there was a bad wreck. I think highway twenty five is clear all the way, some army guys came through there this morning, we think." Juan explained what had happened on the road that morning and about the pile up, the dead military men in the body bags and how the road appeared to be clear on the southbound lane.

Terry nodded. She drove on the way Juan had said and then started to say something to him, stopped herself, shook her head, then started again, "Juan, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Why do you think this happened? You religious? Is this Armageddon?"

Shit, Juan thought, "I don't know. I don't really want to think of it too much Terry. We got to live first if we get to a safe place, maybe we can think of why stuff happened later."

"You know when it started? I heard that guy on the radio, Blake 'the Snake', he said that the dead have overrun most of the city, you hear him talk yet?"

Seeing Juan shake his head she turned on the radio and tuned the dial to what appeared to be the only station playing. There was a man on the station giving directions on how to get out of town.

Terry looked at Juan and said, "He does more than that, he tells how to kill them, how to keep your water safe, gives highway reports. I haven't had a lot of chance to listen to him today, I was on 'zombie killer duty', watching them come up to the lines of cars, then we club em to death as they try to get over the cars. We had radios going full blast listening to the guy, but then this morning we got mob rushed, not too long after you came in. Not everyone knew what was going on 'cause the radios were so loud. Jack made us turn them all down so we could at least hear each other screaming, then we decided it would be better not to have the distraction, so we left them off."

"Does he say where he thinks they all came from?"

"No, he doesn't, but he has callers who do, everything from government secret labs, to aliens to Armageddon, you went out after leaving a safe place, your opinion matters more to me than some guy hiding in his basement who calls in to a radio show scared out of his mind and full of crack pot theories. Sure we all had to deal with them to get to the Club, but you are the only one who left the Club after you got there. Actually this will be twice now, won't it? Why Juan?"

"I can't really say, I am just doing what has to be done. Why did you come?" turning in the seat a little he looked back at Mary, "Why did you come too?"

Terry answered first, "I wanted some of your fame, I wanted it to rub off on me. I didn't want to be afraid, you don't look afraid to me."

"Me?", asked Mary, "I was just tired of moving cars and clubbing zombies. I would rather shoot zombies than club them. I am better at it and my arms don't get so tired."

"Really? How did you get to the club?" asked Terry, glancing in the rear view mirror.

"I am from Castle Rock, I belong to a gun club and we had a shoot on Sunday. My mom let me off school on Monday, we had a shooting match up in Laramie on Sunday, took second place for my age too, regionals, so that is pretty good. We got back late on Sunday night, well Monday morning really, I crashed with Shelly, my friend in the club and then we slept through the first part of all this. We knew something was wrong when we went out to get some fast food. The zombies got Shelly, I made it back to her house by running, but for what? I waited for her parents to come home, called my parents at work, at my house, everywhere, nothing. No one answered. After a couple of days I set out to go home, to see for myself what happened to my family. I was so scared, there was this one zombie that was in the back yard of Shelly's place, he was like, I dunno, a business guy or something, only dead. I had heard Blake on the radio, saying how to kill them. I knew I had to do this guy in the back, if I could not take him out, how would I ever take any of the others out and get home? I made it easy, opened the bathroom window in my friend's house so I could see the zombie, sighted him in with Shelly's dads' thirty ought six and squeezed off the shot. He…it, fell dead right away. Easy. I had my car out front, we had taken Shelly's to grab a bite to eat when we got caught by them, in the goddamn drive through, couldn't go forward, couldn't go back 'cause some guy had pulled in behind us. The line was not moving, then the mob showed up, the zombies started dragging people out of the cars. We ran, but one of them was faster and pulled Shelly down. I left her." Mary, looked straight into the rear view mirror into Terry's eyes, daring her to say something, with no words coming out in response, she continued, "I opened the garage door of her house to leave and plugged five zombies in ten seconds, then got in my car. I drove it into her garage and shut the door, easy as that. I loaded my shit up, along with anything else in the house that I thought I would need and headed out. There was nothing at my house, no parents, no zombies. Nothing. After spending one night there were a dozen zombies around the place. I didn't have the light on or nothing. So I decided to leave. I got the car loaded and hit the highway. I was going to go up to highway seventy and head west, but the road was all fucked up, I didn't have the radio on to find the ways around the jams. I should have, I might have made it, or known not to head towards town. I totally should have headed out toward Rampart Range park. Instead I ended up log jammed on highway two twenty five, when they came for me I ran again. I took the thirty ought six instead of my target gun, not as accurate, but more practical, I mean you just can't break a good thirty ought six right? I ended up running right up to the Mike's Club, saw some guys waving at me, not zombies, just Hispanics. Talk about luck. I ran to them, they helped finish off the interested zombies and pulled me into the club. I wouldn't let them take my gun from me. I still have a couple boxes of ammo for it too. I came because I want to kill zombies, just not with a bat. I won't shoot if it will give us away, I promise. I hate them."

Mary sat back into her seat. Juan cleared his throat, "You know, no one has a good story about how they got to where they are right now. I am sorry about what happened to your friend and family. I am glad you lived through it, someone good with a rifle will always be handy."

Mary just nodded and went back to scanning outside the truck. Terry kept her speed down, barely hitting twenty miles an hour when the road was free and clear.

"What about you Terry? How did you get to the club?", asked Juan.

Terry smiled and said, "Nothing you haven't heard before Juan, but not from me. I made it.", her face turned sad, like that of a little kid who just dropped his ice cream cone into a running stream, "Pretty much all you need to know is I lost my kid, my husband he ran off years ago. I lost my mom, my dad, my kid. And my dog. But I am alive and there has to be a reason for that. I was at work, rushed to the day care to get my son, wall to wall zeds. My parents were dead, true dead, not zombies, someone else had killed them after they turned. I drove to the club, that new Subaru wagon in the line? That was mine. Don't much matter now."

Juan was about to ask for more, when the cb chimed in, "Breaker one-two, anybody there? Come on back truckers and talk to teddy bear."

Terry broke out laughing, Juan didn't get it, she saw his face and said, "It is from an old song." Before she grabbed the mic and said, "Well you got it Teddy Bear! What's up?" She was giggling like a school girl, trying not to laugh into the mic when she spoke, but doing a poor job.

"Well, what is your handle momma? You sound hot to me, 'Hot Momma'?"

"Anything you like Teddy Bear!"

"Well Hot Momma, me and the little bears are wondering why we are going so slow, put the pedal down! We wanna get there before Mary turns eighteen!"

"Oh now Teddy Bear you know we gotta get there and back, I ain't gonna blow a tire running over a bunch of stuff, just 'cause you want me to go cruising along at an ungodly thirty miles an hour!"

"Alright, alright 'HM', I hear ya. Just spoke to Mother Goose, back at the home base, as planned. It seems 'Father Time' has woken up in a bad mood, you might be getting a call as his best friend is riding with you. Thought you could use the warning."

"Thanks for the heads up 'TB', we'll deal with Father Time if he calls. Hot Momma off.", Terry turned to Juan, still giggling, "What?"

Juan waved his hands at the CB, "What was that all about?"

"You mean 'Hot Momma' or the Teddy Bear? Or the Father Time?"

"No, I think I get 'Father Time', Hank right? Why Teddy Bear or Hot Momma?"

Terry laughed some more, then turned on Juan accusingly, "What, you don't think I am a hot momma? Is that it?", seeing Juan cringe back, she laughed again and said jovially, "Cut it out Juan, I'm ugly, not blind. Teddy Bear is from a song in the mid seventies, got popular for awhile, kind of a sad song, not funny at all, just funny that Jack knew about it. He had to be a kid when he heard it, just like me. I don't have a 'handle' on the cb, Jack was just being nice. I don't like pity, but I don't mind nice. Who would you be Juan?"

They spent the next ten minutes running through a list of cb names for both Juan and Mary, Mary ended up taking "Shooter" and Juan simply couldn't pick, he thought maybe "Segundo", but Mary and Terry both thought that was too lame, so the debate continued. Somewhere during this time they made it to highway twenty five, there were zombies congregating under the highway overpass, which they had to drive through in order to get to the highway. "Want to shoot them Mary?" asked Juan.

"Sure thing, only about a dozen of them, it'll make it safer for anyone else who comes by later too."

Juan popped open his door, to get the rear passenger door open and Mary leaned out of the back and gestured for Juan to roll down his window so she could use it as a gun rest. She took aim and hit a zombie in the neck from about thirty yards away. The zombie went down, but was not dead. Mary swore softly and took aim on the next one rapidly. She hit another four zombies before she had to feed more bullets into the gun, then made five more shots, including two shots to finish off the two zombies who she only managed to wound the first time. It probably took about fifty seconds, including the reload time. Mary hopped back into her seat while Juan whistled his appreciation. Terry nodded and said, "Good shooting." as she eased the truck forward.

"Nah, not real good, this thing is only okay, but is has a five round capacity, which makes it better than my tournament gun, which was a bolt action single shot. I missed a couple easy shots, especially that first one." Mary shrugged, "I will do better next time."

Terry pulled the truck up onto the on ramp and they merged onto the highway, there were no other moving vehicles on the road. As it had been further north where Juan and Hank had driven down it earlier in the day, the highway was clear as far as they could see. There were few zombie wandering around, but mostly there were just corpses. Those zombies that were around tended to be near the off and on ramps to the highway, like they had just wandered into the area. Terry drove them a few miles to the East Lincoln Avenue exit and took it west. Terry nodded to her left, "That's it there, see it?" Terry pulled the truck onto a street that led up to the hospital and then stopped, letting the truck idle.

Nodding 'yes', Juan said, "It is very big, looks new. There are a lot of cars though, might be a lot of zombies."

"Well I don't see much yet, not zombies anyway, oh, no, wait, there is one, see her?"

Terry was speaking of a younger looking zombie in a nurses uniform, who was stumbling down the road towards them, still some distance away.

"Hot Momma, Hot Momma, you gonna park there and make us walk up, or are we driving in?", the cb startled Terry and Juan both. Reaching for the cb mic Terry responded, "Teddy Bear, this is Hot Momma, we were just scouting it from here, I will proceed up the road so you don't have to walk. Over."

"Affirmative, uh, over?" came Jack's reply.

"Uh, over?" Terry mimicked to Juan and then laughed, "He kills me Juan!"

Terry shifted the truck back into drive and they started up the road towards a large building about half a mile away. As they passed the nurse, Juan said, "Let's leave her, not draw attention to ourselves if we can help it?"

"Oh, okay, I was ready though", responded Mary.

They drove the truck up to a side street and Terry got on it, the street looked to circle the entire complex. She pointed to the mic and told Juan, "Tell Jack we are going to circle around and see if anyone signals us or what the situation is inside."

Juan got on the cb and told Jack what we they were doing, he agreed that they were doing the right thing and went on, "Well the damn thing is huge, we could fit a lot of people in there, but who do all these cars belong to?"

As he was saying this Terry braked the truck to a halt, "We found em!"

Up ahead of the truck was a mob of hundreds of zombies they were concentrated around the emergency room doors, which were still operating and were constantly opening and closing. Stopping alongside of them Jen in the other truck rolled down her window, while Terry did the same. Jack yelled across, "Well?"

Terry, yelled back, "Well what? You want to go into that mess?"

"No, not yet, but we brought a lot of ammo for the guns, I say we shoot as many as we can and see if they keep pouring out of if this is the lot of them. There are bound to be some fast ones though too. We'll have to be careful. What's a good range for you Mary?"

Mary looked at him, "Me? Here is not bad, am I shooting alone though? I mean fifty yards is a bit far for a shotgun, and about useless for the pistols. Look they are already coming at us."

"Okay let's get turned around here, drivers stay in position, ready to roll, shot gunners and passengers get into the bed, so we can creep along, keeping a constant distant between us and the mob." directed Jack.

Once the pickups were turned around facing the other way, with two people in back of each of them they started shooting the zombies. Most of the zombies were slow, but a moving target is a moving target, plus the trucks were slowly moving too. As a result Juan made maybe one in three shots to the head, and even Mary was only making half of hers. Charlie and Jen, in the other truck were having even worse luck, hitting perhaps only a quarter of their targets. They all ran through two boxes of ammunition as they made their way halfway around the hospital. This resulted in a little over a hundred zombies dead with perhaps a dozen turned into crawlers or twitching on the ground. The mob appeared to be smaller, but not much. A growing number of zombies were coming out from in between the cars to join the slowly moving mob.

"Lets try leading them down the road away from the hospital, instead of circling back around. This road lead out again to Lincoln?" Jack asked Terry over the cb.

"Yeah, there is a, whaddya call it? Rotary thing? Up here, just veer right and take the first right hand turn, that leads back to Lincoln." she replied.

"Okay we'll go slow and see if they will follow, then high tail it back to see what else is in the hospital. I gotta check in with the home base here, it is about that time. Talk to ya in a few."

Terry stayed side by side with Jack as they got back onto the main street and drove across the front of the hospital, leading pack behind them. By the time they led the zombies out to Lincoln they had a mob trailing them half a mile back. The gunner's steady work had dwindled the mobs numbers substantially, but Jack got on the CB long enough to tell them to stop shooting, as he knew they were down to their last box or two of ammo. The noise was starting to draw more zombies from in front of them too. Terry responded that they could still see the hospital from here and it would be better to lead the zombies further away into suburbia, she told Jack to follow her and sped away in the lead, then paused for a few shots to keep the mob coming after them. Terry kept driving up Yosemit Street until she saw Park Meadows Drive up ahead, then spoke to Jack again, "Okay Park Meadows Drive loops around and become Park Meadows Boulevard, I say we speed up here, and then race back to the hospital, we'll lose them for sure then. How are things back home?"

"Uh, ten four on the plan Big Momma. Home base says things are fine, wishing us luck and not to take any chances."

"That's 'hot mamma', Teddy Bear. H-O-T. Not B-I-G. Okay tell Jen and Charlie to sit down." Putting the cb mic down she yelled out the back window of the truck to Juan and Mary, "Guys siddown! I am gonna lose 'em now, okay?" After she saw them settle in for a higher speed, Mary increased the speed of the truck to beyond walking pace and took the lead. The street remained clear enough to navigate, but there were still wrecks and the odd zombie now and then to contend with as she drove back to the hospital.

Chapter 12

After a brief five minute drive Terry was back to the hospital again, leaving the horde behind and out of sight. They pulled up to the emergency room and found a few stragglers wandering around, Terry backed the pickup in front of the ambulance, while Juan and Mary shot the remaining slow zombies that they could see. Jack pulled up alongside the other truck and Charlie hopped out of the back.

"Jack says, Jen, Terry and him will wait outside, the three of us will go in on a quick recon mission to see what we can find. He also said to try and grab one of the ambulances as it probably has most of what we need already. I didn't work for this hospital, but I know how most hospital's work, the ambulances are run by private companies, which means we need to find one with supplies in it if possible, because the hospital does not re-supply the units. Got it?"

Juan looked at Mary, they both shrugged, obviously not really getting it, but Juan said, "Si." anyway and they moved on.

Sighing Charlie said, "Okay, don't worry about it, just follow my lead. Let's see if we can find the keys to one or both of the ambulances here."

They searched the bodies on the ground and came up with quite a few sets of keys, eventually they found one set on one of the paramedics that fit the newest looking ambulance. Unfortunately Charlie said it was mostly empty of supplies and the other one was not in much better shape. During their time in the ambulance bay Jen and Jack had to put down another half dozen zombies, the noise seemed to be drawing more of the slow zombies back towards the bay and out of the emergency room through the automatic doors.

"Shit. This might not be such a good idea." said Charlie.

Juan looked around and said, "Sì. We need to at least look inside though, go up a floor or two and see how bad it is, maybe with ten men, er, people, we could clean the place out, but we should take a quick look now so we know better what to expect." Something about the place seemed to draw Juan in, he shook his head to try and make the feeling go away.

Nodding, Charlie replied, "Agreed. Lets shelve the idea of taking an ambulance with us. I got my walkie-talkie, you got yours? Good! Lets head in nice and slow.", yelling over to Jack while he approached the automatic doors he said, "Let us know if too many of them start showing up so we can get out of here!"

Jack replied on the walkie-talkie, "Sure thing, try and be back in less than fifteen minutes, I don't want to risk getting too low on ammo."

Nodding, Juan followed Charlie into the ER, with Mary bringing up the rear. They were using the civilian entrance, which consisted of a double set of automatic doors, once inside the first set it closed behind them and they could see into the ER proper. There were still a dozen zombies in the waiting room. Charlie nodded to himself and raised his rifle pointing it towards the closest one as they all stepped into the room. From the side a faster zombie jumped Charlie before any of them could even get off a shot, the zombie was not interested in biting him, only in knocking him over. Immediately after knocking the man down he turned on Juan. This zombie was young, his frame was lanky and his clothing was blood stained. He had a feral grin and as he jumped towards Juan he spat out, "Die meat!"

Juan didn't even try to get his gun up in time, he jumped forward into the room and the zombie missed knocking him over. However the youth quickly recovered and slammed into Mary, who was not so quick as Juan at dodging, knocking her down to one side of the automatic doors. The zombie got hung up on Mary's gun though, and was unable to turn in time to react to Juan, who had turned around and pointed his shotgun at the teen. Only his fear of hitting Mary stayed Juan's trigger finger. The zombie, busy recovering, did not look up until his face was almost at the level of the shotgun pointed less than three feet away. Sizing up the situation the zombie ducked back down and rolled off of Mary. Surprised by this Juan did not take advantage of the momentary window to shoot and the zombie was able to roll Mary's body over his, using it as a shield.

Meanwhile Charlie had gotten to his feet and was firing his rifle at the dozen or so approaching slow zombies, "Shit! Juan, Shit! I shoulda took a shotgun!"

Five shots later and he dropped the rifle and pulled out his handgun. Juan was trying to maneuver around to get a shot at the zombie on the ground who continued taunting him, "What's a matter meat? Afraid to hit your girlfriend?" The zombie kept jerking a protesting Mary around making a shot all but impossible for him. Despite her flailing limbs Mary was unable to get free of the zombie either. As Juan watched and tried to figure out a way to save Mary he saw one of the zombies legs was usually sticking out well away from the girl's, still pointing his gun at the things face he lowered the gun a fraction of an inch and fired. The smart zombie's scream almost drowned out Charlie behind him, who yelled, "I am out! Help me Juan there are three more!"

Turning Juan sighted the first one just before he grabbed Charlie, who was trying to reload his pistol and pick up his rifle at the same time and doing neither action very well. Behind him Juan could hear the zombie yelling, "You bitch! You filthy bitch!" and then Mary started screaming. Juan had to move aside to get a shot on the second and third zombie, telling Charlie in a strangely calm voice, "Get behind me, help Mary!"

Letting his rifle go Charlie did just that, without any further obstacles in his way Juan was able to shoot both zombies, though he had to put two bullets into one of them. Turning back to Mary he saw the zombie in hand to hand combat with Charlie and Mary. The girl was on her hands and knees trying to punch the zombie, while Charlie pistol whipped it repeatedly. The zombie's leg looked almost intact, as he watched, it actually looked like it was healing before his eyes, as did the blows Charlie was raining down on him. When Charlie saw Juan was up with his shotgun he pushed the zombie away from him, calling for Mary to push too. Both of them shoved the zombie backward and it stumbled about ten feet into the waiting room and almost fell over a half eaten corpse of an old lady in a floral print dress. Juan said, "Gotcha, pendejo!" and pulled the trigger, an audible click filled the silence, then several things happened at once, the zombie realizing Juan was out turned and took off down the hallway towards a set of double doors at the end, Mary scrambled backwards for her rifle and Charlie yelled "No!" and tried to reload his pistol.

Juan reached into his pocked and plucked a shell out of it to load into his gun, he had the shell chambered by the time the zombie was to the door, his shot and Mary's rang out simultaneously, the zombie was propelled forward into the doors by the dual hits, unfortunately neither of them scored a head shot. Mary's second shot hit the things hand as it pulled the door, then it got it opened and slithered out of sight.

"Fuck!" yelled Charlie, still fumbling with his pistol.

Gently Juan reached over and took the pistol from him, released the clip and handed it to back to him. Turning to Mary he asked her, "Are you alright?"

She shook her head from side to side and said, "No, check my back, that bastard bit me didn't he?"

Turning half around to show Juan her back she grimaced in pain as her fingers automatically reloaded her gun, much as Juan's hands were busy reloading his. Juan and Charlie both saw the blood coming from Mary's back, her clothing hid the wound from their sight.

Charlie, shoved his pistol back into Juan's startled hand and grabbed Mary up, "Come on! We gotta disinfect the wound right now! Cover us Juan!"

So saying he hustled Mary into one of the rooms which lined the hall the zombie had gone down, lucky for them it was empty. He shoved Mary face down onto the gurney that was there while Juan took up a position by the door and finished loading Charlie's pistol. Finding what he needed Charlie went back to Mary and ripped the back of her shirt open, exposing two bloody wounds close to her spine, one near her shoulder the other, bleeding profusely, was more on her neck. He began pouring disinfectant into the wounds, causing Mary to howl, "Ow! Oh God it hurts! Stop it Chaaarleeeeee!"

Charlie did not stop, when the bottle he had ran out he went and got another, pausing only to slip on a pair of latex gloves and grab some gauze he returned to Mary's side and started probing her wounds, while pouring more disinfectant on her. Juan reloaded Charlie's pistol and set it down on a metal tray and stepped out of the room to grab Mary and Charlie's rifles. When he got back he loaded them as Mary whimpered and Charlie scrambled around for more gauze. Sitting the rifles by the side of the doorway he pulled up his Walkie-Talkie and said, "Jack?"

"Ten four, Juan, go ahead." came the reply.

"There were a lot of them in the ER, we came in gunning for them, but a fast zombie hit Charlie from the side, tried to knock us all over, but I got out of the way, he knocked Mary over and then used her body to shield himself from me. He bit Mary in the fight."

There was a long pause, then "She okay otherwise? What is your status now?"

"She got bit a couple of times, that is her crying in the background, Charlie is trying to disinfect the wound. Me and Charlie are banged up but okay. I am watching the door. The fast zombie got away Jack. Make sure it doesn't come around at you."

"Get her cleaned up, then back out, we need more people to clear this place. Got it?"

"Ten four." Juan replied.

Charlie was busy probing the wounds with more cotton while he poured on even more disinfectant. Mary was quieter now, but winced at times when Charlie probed too hard. After watching for another minute or so Juan said, "Charlie? Charlie!"

Looking up Juan could see tears on Charlie's cheeks, he angrily replied, "What."

"We gotta blow, is it as clean as you can do?"

"Gimme another minute okay? Another minute of this stuff then I will stitch her a little and apply a bandage to try and control the bleeding."

"A minute? You got about that, look we can put you both in the same truck if we need to. Any of this stuff worth taking, anything the doc said we might need?"

"No, not really. The club has disinfectant and gauze and even latex gloves, no we need medicines and stitching, we can take that out of here. We should have gotten to a supply closet, still could if Jack lets us."

A new voice came from the hallway, "Mee-eeat! I can smell you there, I still taste the woman, delicious!"

Chapter 13

Making 'what the fuck' faces at each other Juan turned his attention back to the hallway, the door at the end was propped over a little, Juan could make out an arm on the floor holding it from shutting completely. He took careful aim at the side of the door and when the voice started again he fired. The voice started laughing and said, "I am not that dumb, you are mine, you stupid, little Mexican, I will feast on your guts and when you die I am gonna feed them to you too. You will be my slave!"

Looking at the walls Juan could tell they were made of drywall, he slowly lowered the shotgun and picked up Mary's thirty ought six, saying to Charlie, "You got her ready to go yet?"

Juan silently estimated where a person would stand at beyond the door while the zombie rambled on about making Juan eat his girlfriend and then would tell him everything about where they came from. Juan was squeezing the trigger when the voice taunted, "You will be mine too. You know I can make any zombies I create do whatever I want them to do? That is the way it works. You don't even know who you are messing with, in a way you are lucky I am here, you at least had a chance. My master went to deal with that DJ, otherwise you would already be dead!"

"Master? So you are just another fucking punk then?" shouted Juan.

A heavy fist pounded on the right hand side of the door, denting it through both layers of metal, and giving Juan the side of the door his adversary stood on.

"Punk! I'll show you punk when I am feeding you your own di-"

Juan's shot rang out projected where the thought the things head would be at through the drywall of the hallway. Everything fell silent.

Charlie whispered, "Did you get him?"

Shrugging, Juan replied "I gotta go see, get your gun and watch me from here."

Charlie told Mary to stay where she was, he had her in a wheel chair, but he did push her around with her head pointed towards the room's door. He handed her his pistol off the stainless steel tray, so she could cover him while he covered Juan.

Juan crept down the hallway, through the propped open doorway he heard a shuffling sound, the other side of the doorway was not dark, it was well lit and cheery, peeking through the door by pulling is slightly open Juan was able to see a set of feet kicking out frantically on the floor. He did not see any other zombies in the hallway beyond, he slowly eased open the door the rest of the way open and looked at the youthful zombie in front of him. He saw that the thirty ought six bullet had come through the wall and hit the zombie in the back of the head at the base of the skull, but just a little off center. The zombie was trying to move his arms and legs, but seemed unable to control his movements, his skull, Juan noticed was healing. It was not healing as fast as his leg had earlier. Pointing Mary's rifle at the zombie's head Juan said softly, "You were saying?"

The zombie muffled a few garbled words out, Juan said with a heavy Hispanic accent, "I couldn't understand you. I'm just a 'stupid little Mexican' so maybe you need to speak slower, my English, is no so good señor."

The zombie looked up at him in rage and what Juan saw next would have his hair raising up on the back of his neck for the rest of his life whenever he thought of it, the zombies eyes glowed. Even in the brightly lit corridor, the zombies eyes were brighter, worse the thing started to rise up off the floor, not using its hands or legs at all, it was just floating upwards, at least that is how he would tell the story later, when he finally talk about it. Fear startled him into movement and Juan swung the end of the rifle around like bat, crushing in the top of the zombie's skull and ending its second life. A feeling of euphoria cascaded through Juan's body and he felt a pull towards the stairs. Barely reigning himself in he made a quick check of the hallways in all directions then waved at Charlie and called out softly, "It looks all clear now. You get Mary out to the truck I am gonna run through a few places and see if I can find any more of them deeper inside." After saying this Juan ducked through the door and disappeared.

"No! Come back Juan!" shouted Charlie. Juan disappeared into the building. Juan opted to take the stairs upwards, not sure what he was looking for or even what he was doing. A strange urge had come into him and he was almost to the second floor when his walkie-talkie sputtered to life.

"Juan! Its Jack. Charlie came out of the ER screaming for help, that you ran off, what the hell are you doing?"

Slowly Juan pulled the walkie-talkie to his lips and said, "I am doing what has to be done, we gotta know Jack, we gotta have a better idea. Give me five minutes, it'll take Charlie that long to get Mary squared away, okay?"

"No goddamn it! We can come back again later with more men!"

"I think it is empty Jack, I think there are not any of them in the building, the fast zombie pushed them all into the ER, I think. Just let me check."

"Fuck no! We can check later! Goddamn it Juan! Get back here!"

He was not sure why he wanted to see what else was in the hospital, but he felt compelled to continue. On the second floor he saw several signs directing him to various parts of the building, looking up he grimaced, one word stuck out at him and he knew he had to go there.

"Jack, stop, listen!" after Jack stopped talking, Juan continued, "Stop and listen to me. I know why I gotta go, I know now I gotta go check something out. The second floor seems cleared of them okay?"

"What do you gotta check all alone? Just wait, I will catch up. I can catch up with you and we can go together." The man pleaded, "Goddamnit Juan if something happens to you Hank will kill me! And he would have to stand in line behind Nanci! Just wait for me where you are."

"I'm on the second floor; go through the doors to your left towards the elevators. I am heading toward the maternity ward. Okay amigo?"

"Aw, Juan, no man, no! You know they eat everything, don't do this Juan!" Jack's voice pleaded with him.

Juan put the walkie-talkie back on his belt and turned the volume way down so he would not have to listen to Jack as he pushed his way through several sets of doors between him and his goal.

He moved along swiftly, but as quietly as he could, Juan had a suspicion, he could not tell where it came from, but he had a gut feeling that the babies were still alive. He made his way around the last corner to the maternity ward and saw a lone zombie standing outside of a traditional baby viewing area, the zombie turned towards Juan and his eyes started glowing a faint orange, easier to see here under purely florescent lighting. Juan felt something stirring inside him, an urge to run, lay down, sleep, run, flashing through his mind in quick succession. His anger grew as he forced himself forward, a primal scream tore itself from his throat and he hip fired the thirty ought six at the beast in front of him, striking it in the shoulder. The wound, unsurprisingly, healed almost instantly, as did the second one Juan put in its guts. The second wound however tore its way out through the thing's spinal column and it lurched sideway for a second, during which time Juan felt the compelling presence in his mind abate completely. Using his anger to keep the thing out of his head he propelled himself down the hall towards it. The zombie should have been twitching helplessly on the ground, instead it held itself upright, Juan knew this was not possible.

Juan made as if he were going to swing the rifle as a baseball bat, barrel end out, as he did so the zombie grabbed the barrel and jerked it out of Juan's hands. Which was fine with Juan, in fact he did not even resist the thing grabbing the rifle away from him. The zombie's over zealous pull turned it around like a top from a lack of resistance, slamming the end of the rifle into the metal support of the window, breaking both the glass and a chunk off of the wooden butt. Juan, meanwhile, pulled the pistol from his belt, brought it up and fired three shots point blank into the back of the thing's head.

It went down silently and Juan stepped over it and fired another three shots into its head, yelling as he did so. Again he felt a surge of energy wrack through his body. Behind him he heard the doors swinging open and he saw Jack pelting towards him, shotgun at the ready, he backpedaled when he saw Juan and his feet slipped on the smooth, still clean and sanitary floors and went out from under him. He landed on his butt and said, "Wha-what-what the fuck was that! What happened to you Juan!"

Juan stood there for a second, contemplating things, then said, "Nothing, nothing Jack, I am okay amigo. I just found this one here and I think the babies are alive. I am okay. In fact I feel…just fine."

"No, no something is not right, just for a second, it looked like your eyes were glowing, kinda yellowish or something. Must have been a trick of the light.", he said in a tone of voice indicating it was not a trick of the light.

Getting up and dusting himself off he pointed into the baby's room, the window was splattered with black ichor and cracked, but Juan could still see inside the room. Not only were most of the beds filled, but crouching down among the babies were their mothers, nurses, doctors and various other people, all of whom were looking at Juan as if he were some sort of incarnation of God.

"C'mon amigo. Juan?" Jack asked tentatively from behind Juan, getting up to his feet as he did so.

"Look." said Juan, pointing through the splattered and cracked glass into the baby ward.

"Shit, I see, man, I see. Aw fuck. Remind me not to bet against your 'gut feelings'."

Jack pulled out his radio, while Juan looked for a way in. One of the few men not dressed in hospital garb came to the glass and yelled, "Through there, but they got three of the husbands they turned into zombies in there too, they can't get in, we can't get out."

Nodding grimly Juan went to the indicated door and looked back at Jack.

Meanwhile Jack had contacted Terry and filled her quickly in on the situation. He put the walkie talkie back on his belt and moved over to cover Juan. Once he was in position Juan asked him, "You ready?"

Jack answered, "Sì." and Juan pulled the door open. The zombies were in a small room that looked like a nurses station and had a counter dividing it into two halves. All of the zombies were on the same half of the room as Juan and between him and the door to the maternity nursery.

Jack watched as Juan popped the door open, pulled his rifle into position and rapid fired three shots into the narrow half of the room before Jack even had a good idea of what was in there. He said quietly to himself, "Holy fuck!" and Juan looked back at him while his hands automatically popped the magazine out of the rifle and reloaded it of their own accord. Juan's look was one of questioning.

"Did I say that out loud?" Juan nodded 'yes' to him. "Well what the fuck was that? What happened to you? I mean talk about fast, you were a blur there man, you had the door open and those zombies were down before I even counted them up! What the hell is going on?"

The door at the end of the hallway opened up and several men and woman began running towards the two men, hailing them as heroes. Most were crying and upset. Two of the women stopped over a couple of the bodies, sobbing quietly.

Jack held up his hands and said, "Whoa, whoa, people calm down here! We were just checking this place out, we were glad to save you, right Juan? Happy to do so!"

The small crowd forced its way into the hallway, with everyone clapping Juan and Jack on the back before heading to the rest rooms down the hall, a man in scrubs explained it had been awhile since they had been given bathroom breaks. Jack, concerned, ran ahead of the crowd and cleared both bathrooms before letting anyone in, then he stationed himself at one end of the hall while Juan stood at the other. Jack knew he was supposed to be watching for zombies sneaking up on them, but his eyes kept being drawn back to Juan. The man was standing larger than life at the other end of the hall. As the men and women finished in the bathroom they seemed drawn to Juan, before long the entire crowd, Jack included, had gravitated close to him.

The walkie-talkie on Jack's belt crackled to life, "Hey buddy, what is the situation there?" came Terry's voice.

Jack pulled his up and responded, "Hey Terry, we got about ten, no eleven adults and.. Uh doc? How many babies? Oh. Okay we got twelve kids, uh babies really. The doc says they can't move three of them, they were premature and need the equipment."

"Shit. So what do we do? Hold on the cell phone is ringing, Mother Goose is calling for their status report. I will tell them the situation and see what they recommend."

A few minutes later Terry got back on the Motorola and said, "Can we hold out here and wait for a relief column with food and the walking wounded?"

Relief poured into Jack, and he was immediately ashamed because of it, however the mere thought of not having to leave the hospital again made him feel better, he answered, "Sure, the ammo is low, but we can barricade the ER doors, check the other entrances and do a quick sweep of the hospital to see what we can see. Plus some of these guys are pretty able bodied, they could handle bats at least and maybe some of them are shooters. How is the crowd outside?"

"Minimal, we aren't shooting them, just clubbing them if they get too close. Mary is helping and she is bitching about her sore back again, maybe she will be okay, eh?"

"Yeah, sure thing, I mean Charlie dumped a gallon of disinfectant on her right? I am sure she will still be bitching about a sore back tomorrow. I will go over to the other side of this floor and see if the mob is still following us back up the hill, then I will come down, help you secure the doors and bring you up here."

"Ten four and out."

Juan and the other adults looked at him and Jack found himself taking charge, first he determined that none of the men, or women, had any experience with firearms, however almost all of them had been in youth sports and some of them still did adult recreation to this day, and could easily handle a bat or club of some sort. A couple of the women were new mothers and while modern medicine said they should be up and moving quickly, common sense said they should rest and recover, so he put them, the two doctors and three nurses back in the nurses station and the maternity ward. He took the other four people he had classified as adults and got them to work clearing the bodies out of the nurses station and moving the last man Juan had shot down the hall towards the ER. After that he took one of the 'men', a kid named John, who was just an older teenager really, with him to try and get a look outside the north side of the building. His goal was to see if any large groups of zombies were headed their way. They encountered no zombies, but did find several more corpses with terminal head wounds along the way.

"Say John, was there a fight at the hospital?" asked Jack pointing at the latest victim.

"Uh, no, not really, the zombies were kind of organized, um, they had a leader guy and he was uber scary, like a big demon, I friggin' pissed myself when I saw him, he was like telling them what to do and everyone did it. He left, like, this morning, told us he had to go kill a relief column and shut the radio dj up for good. You hear the dj?"

Nodding his head, Jack said, "Yeah, who hasn't, Blake the snake, broadcasting twenty four seven until the zombies get his brain. One brave mother-fucker if you ask me. On what WWEB station right?"

"Yeah, thats the guy! They let us play it, but they laughed at us a lot, you know? Hey, Jack, what happened to Juan?"

"I dunno. You were gonna tell me about these bodies though?"

"I mean his eyes, they like…" seeing Jack's face, John paled and continued, "Yeah, um, right, this leader guy, he was saying that they had to keep us 'meat', that's what he called us, 'meat', alive and not make any more zombies when they fed, there were already too goddamn many. He thought, well he sort of implied, that most of them would be 'used' up in something big coming up. He did this then, when they ate, they drained the blood, ate bits of the body and then bashed the heads in or shot them so they would not turn into more zombies."

"This leader guy, he say anything else? Like where he came from or anything?"

"Ah, Disney Land."

"What?!"

"No shit, no I mean really that is what he said, he said, 'My master sent me from Florida, not too far from Disney Land, to take over Denver.' He was totally talking to the doctor, but all of us heard it. Doc McAfee had a good conversation with him. That was back when there were like, eighty of us. The leader guy he kept feeding us, to the other zombies to make them stronger, better, smarter. He never said why this worked, but we could all see it working."

For a few minutes both men were quiet as they made their way down a wing of the hospital to peer out the northern windows. Looking out into the afternoon heat Jack was relieved to see only a smattering of zombies wandering around the hospital grounds.

"Jack, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure John, shoot."

"Have you seen what happened to Juan before?"

"No John, I haven't."

"So you don't know what it means?"

"No John, I don't."

Chapter 14

Back at the maternity ward Juan worked with the men to clean up the hallway, paying particular care to get the window cleaned off, it just looked filthy to him and long after he had wiped it clean he kept staring at it, as if he expected it to be grimy again. One of the Doctors approached him and asked if he was alright.

"Oh si, yes. I am fine. How are the women and babies doing?"

"They are good Juan. Look, the group has a few questions about you, about the guys you are with, who sent you and all and about you, you. I mean, we all knew about the zombie Rafael, you didn't, he, well he killed people right in front of us, usually by beating them to death then biting through their throats, this was before the group got so small, in the west wing of the building before they smoked the chaplain out."

"Chaplain? Tell me about that."

"In a minute okay? You first, then I will go."

Juan proceeded to tell the doctor, Sam McAfee, about what he and Hank had been through since the whole mess had started. He summarized it quickly and was done in about five minutes. He kept thinking he was leaving something out, after all on the rooftop it had taken Hank most of two hours to get through the story when telling Kevin. Hank was more of a story teller anyway, Juan guessed. He ended with Mary getting bitten downstairs and then looked to Sam, saying, "Okay now you, what happened to the chaplain?"

"Well it was weird, we have a chapel here, St Joseph's Chapel, and we have a full time chaplain, and one part timer too, although he was not here three days ago when all this happened. The chaplain on duty was trained Catholic, he moved over to become our private chaplain about two years ago. His name was Brian Donahue, he was a priest too, but working here with us became his calling. I knew him pretty well and he was going to go back to the official clergy in another few years, but right now he felt called to serve here. He made damn good money too, but always kept his wages to what he would have earned had he been the head of a parish somewhere. That took a lot of balls too, I mean this is not exactly low end hospital and his wages had to be five or six times what he would have earned elsewhere. Anyway he was very devout, gave probably half of his earnings back to us in the form of private donations and the rest of it went to his local church. I remember the fuss about that, let me tell you! He had his paycheck set up to take the percentage out and have it deposited directly into his choice of charities and when the local administrators found out how much he was giving away, man you should have heard them, you'd think he was giving away their money!" Sam got a faraway look in his eyes.

"So what happened to him?" prompted Juan, who was Catholic himself and now had more than a passing interest the fellow.

"Well I only have the story second hand, anyone who was there and saw anything is dead now. I think John, that kid who went with Jack, was there, but he didn't see anything, he was in the west wing, I think. Anyway I heard from one of the other guys who made it over here after….well after they killed Donahue, what had happened.

He said that he was standing in the west hallway, looking towards the chapel and saw their leader, never knew his name, but saw him calling out to Donahue through the doors of the chapel. Donahue said he would not come out and if they felt they could overcome God's will they could come in and get him. That is just it though, the zombies, they wouldn't go into the chapel. Even the stupid ones that their leader tried to force through. It was a standoff, only Donahue was not exactly doing anything to the zombies except praying for them and trying to compel them to go to their final rest. He was telling them to resist Satan and a bunch of other things. They guy who told me this said sometimes it worked." Juan felt a faint tingle inside of him, some inner voice that said things might not be that bad after all.

Sam let that hang out there a minute before continuing, "Finally the leader he had had enough, the father was in there with about thirty patients and their families and while he didn't seem able to go into the chapel himself, he didn't seem to have any difficulty firing guns into the chapel, he ordered some of his brighter zombies up front and center, gave Father Donahue one last chance then fired into the chapel, it was a slaughter. From what this guy told me anyway, Father Donahue was kneeling in prayer before the alter, he was the last one shot, and get this, even after they were all dead the zombies still couldn't go into the chapel, couldn't or wouldn't."

"So Juan that answers you about the chaplain, now are you going to tell me how you managed to kill their leader's third biggest bad boy in about ten seconds? And tell me what the hell happened to you when you did. Because, Juan, something happened to you. We all saw it through the glass."

Juan looked at the doctor, cast his face down and turned away without a word, he walked about fifteen feet away and assumed a guard like stance in the hallway. The doctor started to go after him, but stopped when Juan looked him in the eye and shook his head slowly from side to side. Sighing Sam shrugged his shoulders and said, "Maybe later, huh?" and ducked back into the maternity ward, leaving Juan to answer an empty hallway, "No, not even later."

Jack and John got back a few minutes later to find Juan alone in the hallway, they looked at each other and then Jack said, "It is pretty clear, John says the zombie's leader cleared everybody out to hike after the radio dj yesterday. We found a few dead people, but no one alive or zombified."

"Sì. No problems here either, ready to go get the others and get the doors blocked up?"

Jack and Juan left John to guard the doctors and nurses and went down the hallway to load the corpses onto a gurney and take them down the elevator to the ER. As they passed the other zombie that Juan had killed one of the men, paused to kick him several times, explaining he had killed his wife, then they tossed the body on top of the other four and continued out into the ER. Once there they moved all the other bodies out of the way to make a path to the door, where they took their burdens outside to the corner of the building and dumped them. Several more trips and all the bodies in the ER were gone but the place was still a gory mess. A couple of the men got mops and did some clean up while the rest of the group figured out how to turn off the automatic doors. Outside the zombies were still trickling in, but they were all of the slow variety and easily dealt with. The crew from the club salvaged everything they could out of the trucks before they filled the foyer area between the inner and outer doors with furniture from the lobby, it was not fool proof, but nothing was going to get through there without a lot of effort and a lot of noise. Then they called back to the Mike's Club and heard that the other convoy was just getting underway, eight vans, cars and trucks filled with the first thirty people and some of the supplies was heading out and should be there within an hour. Among other things they were bringing about a thousand shells of shotgun ammunition.

The group in the ER went back upstairs to let them know what was going on and then they split into groups one headed down to the hospital cafeteria to clear it for the incoming food, and maybe get something to eat. The others stayed up in the maternity ward, including Charlie and Mary, whom they put into a room nearby, the Doctors were all over her when they heard she had been bitten. The others, including Terry and Jen, just kept watch on the hallways, in case there were some zombies running still around that they had missed in their quick sweep of the building. The group that went into the kitchen had an unpleasant surprise in the form of one of the cooks who had turned into a zombie. This woman jumped out at them from the shadows before they had the chance to turn the lights on. Luckily she was a typical slow zombie and other than the initial scare factor, she was easy to put down. They tossed her body out the back of the kitchen into the loading dock area for the cafeteria then quickly locked the doors against the three or four zombies that were drawn to their movement when they opened the door in the first place. Again the men from the maternity ward got out mops and cleaned the area, spraying disinfectant over all everything to make the decontamination complete.

Juan was curious so he asked one of the men, "Why are you always cleaning up everything? The mops in the maternity ward, yeah I get that, but to do the ER and now the kitchen, man that is a lot of work, we can get it later, right amigo?"

The man just looked at Juan and replied, "No, Juan, they might pass this by blood contact, you get an open wound you get infected, you die, you turn, you make them stronger and us weaker. The doc said to clean up and disinfect to the best of our ability, so that is what we do, and the kitchen, well I get the impression you are going to be moving in here with us and we are going to need this to be working. So cleaning it up is very important."

Juan left him at it and rummaged around for some food they could make quickly, he didn't find any. Didn't the hospital have any snacks? Apparently not. He found plenty of raw chicken, hamburger patties and other frozen meats, even steak and fish, but nothing that fell within his domain of cooking experience. Admittedly his abilities were very limited. Nanci took care of the cooking, unless it was on the grill. They were a very liberal 'traditional' family. Nanci still managed the household, Juan managed….to earn the money. Their system had worked out so far even if it hearkened back to the nineteen fifties.

Sighing Juan turned towards Jack, who was also sighing and turning towards Juan, their eyes locked and they both laughed.

"You thinking what I am thinking?" asked Jack.

"If you are thinking that I hope Nanci is coming with them, then yeah." answered Juan.

"Well I was thinking something along those lines, do we dare ask Jen, Terry or Mary for help in this or do we just say there was nothing we felt we could cook?"

"Uh, I think we just say we can't cook and let it go at that, if they volunteer good, if someone volunteers good. Not Mary though, she is hurt."

The other men were finishing up with the last of the pans that had been sprayed and after a quick question confirmed they were not much in the way of cooks either. They went into an adjoining hallway and blocked it off with furniture from the cafeteria to cut it off from the western wing, then headed up to the second floor to rejoin their friends and see how Mary was doing.

The first thing they saw was a group standing outside of the door where they had put Mary. Terry turned to Juan and approached him, saying in Spanish, "They don't know anything, they cut her up a bit, disinfected her more and started an IV, but they don't really know anything about stopping an infection like this. Hell Juan from looking at her wound I almost think it came from a chair leg, not from being bitten."

Shaking his head Juan replied in Spanish as well, "No, the zombie, he said he had her taste, I don't think he was lying, maybe he was." Shrugging Juan, went on, "Can you cook? We can't, all the stuff down there needs to be made, like chicken or beef or whatever. I could warm up some green beans. Like a gallon of green beans. Not a very good dinner though."

It was Terry's turn to shake her head, "Never was much good for industrial cooking, I can help, or we can wait, I think these folks are hungry though, didn't they have any fruit or anything to tide the mom's over?"

"Uh I didn't see any, do you want to come help me look again, maybe I missed it."

"Sure I'll go with you, let's take Jen too, she is feeling useless up here, grab the janitors and lets head back down."

"Janitors?" Juan asked.

"You didn't know? Yeah they work here, the doctor played them off as nursing staff, which I guess they are, that was the only thing that kept them from being killed by the zombies. The zombie leaders thought they were professionals or something. They are though, aren't they?"

Juan nodded, "Well that explains how they always know where to find the cleaning supplies. I'll get them."

They went downstairs and this time Juan asked the janitors if they knew were the fresh food was kept. They went to another door that Juan thought led to a deep freeze, but was, in fact, just a giant walk in refrigerator. The janitors also knew which door led to a pantry full of dried foods. Soon enough the group was back with a bag full of crackers and fruit, the new moms ate first, but all the former captives had a couple pieces of fruit, the group from Mike's Club shared their granola bars around and they waited for word from the caravan while they watched the sun creep steadily towards the mountains.

Back at the Mike's Club they were keeping close track of the caravan, which was creeping along at very slow speed towards the hospital, maybe making twenty miles per hour, so it would take them about forty five minutes to reach it. Among the riders on the caravan were the most hurt people from the club, those who needed medical attention the Doc could not provide for them. There weer also several non-combatant women, a couple of children and of course, Nanci. She was in the first car of the caravan, urging her driver to hurry and be cautious at the same time.

Finally getting irritated he turned around and told her to keep her eyes on the sides of the road around them and stop being a back seat driver, even if she was in the back seat. Disgruntled, Nanci sat back and did as she was told, fingering the shotgun safety as she prepared to blast any zombie stupid enough to get in the way as she made her way back to the man she loved.

Chapter 15

Back at the Mike's Club warehouse Hank was not happy. The doc told him he was going to have to lay low for a couple weeks, take it easy and concentrate on mental tasks while his body repaired itself, however with his best friend out running around clearing zombies from a hospital he could not 'rest easy'. One thing Hank had learned in his years was that good friends, truly good friends, could never be replaced. It had taken Juan and his family a long while to convince Hank that just because he had been through hell once, not everyone was like that. The funny thing to Hank was he didn't think all people were bad, or evil, only that a very small percentage of people were, maybe one in ten thousand. No, the problem with Hank was not that he believed most people were good, his problem was he no longer trusted implicitly his ability to tell the good people from the bad ones.

When he was a young pup he was more than happy to choose and stand by any of his friends and family, until death if need be, he was that sure of himself and that sure that he was bullet proof. Then came his ex-wife, after that mess it was a wonder he didn't spend some time in a sanitarium somewhere. Not that Hank ever would have admitted anything in so many words, hurting was not something he had been raised to share around. Now when he was stuck sitting in a lazy boy discussing work shifts of the people at the club with the Doc, or reading the kids stories, or snoozing like he was supposed to be.

When he woke from his nap and found that Juan had gone without him, well that made him feel…lost, almost. He and Juan had been together for a long time almost inseparable for the past three or four years and now Juan was gone, and Hank might not ever see him again. Nancy was on the edge too, and Evaine was trying to keep both of them sane, but really only made matters worse. Hank had to give her credit, because she then did the only thing that could have helped, she backed off and left them to stew alone. Cage and Sylvia came by, Sylvia had their shoes, Cage wouldn't put his on, he said the other boys weren't wearing them and he liked the way the concrete kept his feet cool in the hot warehouse. Hank held on to both of them for awhile, shoes or no, but they only stayed with him for a little while before being caught back up into the pack of tweens running wild through the warehouse. Well, not quite true, they were still being shadowed by a group of older girls, who were quick to step up when any of the kids tried to do anything the adults wouldn't like.

This left Hank alone to think, old man Gonzales was handling most of the current moment to moment things. Everyone could tell Hank was in a funk, heck, Hank figured they could even have handled the rotating shift problem without his input, but he thought they wanted to make Hank feel a little better by giving him something to do. Feeling useless was new to Hank and didn't care for it. Worse his side itched, under the bandages, itched something fierce, but every time he moved around to scratch or touch the wounds, he writhed in pain. The Doc just told him to pop another pain pill.

Finally Kevin stopped by. He plopped into the seat next to Hank and said, "I think we feel the same way. You stuck on your chair, not out bashing heads with your friend, me not able to do much outside, Doc ordered me inside, said to rest. So I have to rest, but Juan can go shoot zeds? What is up with that? I mean, we all three came in together and only you were really busted up a bit. I was just tired and slept most of the morning away. Been playing video games with some of the other teens."

"Winning?" asked Hank.

"Sure, I schooled em good, an old timer like me, that surprised 'em too." Kevin snorted, "Me! An 'old timer'! Still I got their respect at video games. Probably the last generation of games out now, huh? I mean we ain't gonna be seeing a new Playstation or Xbox anytime soon now are we?"

Hank slowly shook his head, "Even if I knew what you were talking about I would have to say, 'No, I guess not'. So you even beat old man Gonzales's grandson? I heard he was pretty good."

It was Kevin's turn to shake his head, "No we haven't played yet. And yeah the dude's practically a legend, the older boys all talk about it and want me to play him, to see who is better, we are gonna do five matches tonight, ten minute rounds, go three out of five. They have some system worked out, like, so if I own him most of one match it counts as more or something. I don't care, I play the game, I win the game, plus this Al, right? He is like old, twenty or something, his reflexes gotta be giving out by now."

"Twent..twenty or some… Old!" Hank sputtered.

Kevin started laughing, "Gotcha! See your girl, she is good for something, told me to come over and wind you up a bit, take your mind off Juan being gone."

Hank laughed, "Oh, okay, I get it now."

"I did want to go with them though, the doc told me to stay here and get some rest, he said I was beat down hard and needed a break to recover, at least a day, maybe two. You know what the worst thing is Hank?"

"No, what?"

"The stupid doctor is right. My legs are sore, my back is sore, my mind is still running at a hundred miles an hour, I can't stop thinking about my mom. My family. Everything that happened. I don't know that I ever will. You're lucky you know, you got your best friend and your neighbors, who care about you a lot." Kevin held up one hand in front of him in a stop gesture, "No, I ain't going down pity road or telling you to 'man up' or anything, I just think you are lucky and I am happy to know you. And thanks, really, thanks for giving me a hand up with I was just spent. I wouldn't have made it without you and Juan."

"Aw, well, you seemed like a pretty nice guy. I mean there we were on top of the gas station, there you were running in the alley away from a few fast zombies, heading right towards the pack that had us treed. I said to myself, 'I could just let him run into the pack, distract them so me and Juan could get away.' But then Juan, that old softy, said, 'Give him a hand up Hank'. So what could I do? I didn't want to look bad in front of Juan."

Kevin snorted, "Yeah right old man, I don't believe that for a second!"

Hank smiled, "Oh no? You don't think I can be ruthless?"

"Oh no Hank, you can, but not to anyone younger than you are, which is most of the population now." that brought another laugh to Hank and after awhile they started chatting about what they were going to do if the hospital was clear and what they would do if it wasn't. Eventually word reached them that the scouting party had found survivors in the form of doctors and nurses and new mothers, and there were babies who could not be moved from the hospital.

The doc, old man Gonzales and Beth came over to talk to Hank about it. Kevin stayed in his lazy boy, so he could add his two cents in and Evaine was shadowing the group, keeping one ear on them while both eyes were on the toddlers in their makeshift pen.

Doc started the conversation off, saying, "They found eleven survivors in the hospital, and an unspecified number of babies, we have to decide what we are going to do. It took them about an hour to go the four miles and lead a pack of slow zombies away from the emergency room entrance. I think we could send a relief force to them with some of the able bodied men and women, plus all of our walking wounded, food and ammo. No kids or anything yet, just people to clean out Sky Ridge and hold off any hordes of zombies. The rest of us lay low here, even if we send out fifty people there will be over two hundred and fifty of us left, and at the rate survivors are trickling in we'll replace the fifty by sundown. Those are my thoughts, anyone else got an opinion?"

"You were thinking fifty people then? We got enough cars for that?" asked Hank.

Gonzales answered "Not without taking some off the line, giving up a little space, we got drivable vehicles, but that would take, what? A dozen cars?"

"Okay then, how many free vehicles do we have?"

"We-ell" Gonzales began in his Spanish accented drawl, "I got nine I could spare pretty easily, plus we got the semi and trailer, but we need a bus, you know?"

"But if we send all the cars to the hospital, how long will it take to get, say another ten cars ready to go? If we need to caravan to another place."

Gonzales thought about it for a minute, his wrinkled forehead flexing while he thought, bringing his gray white eyebrows almost together, "About forty minutes, is all. For the good ones, I mean we are putting a lot of em into the wall, but we try to hold back the better vehicles."

Kevin volunteered an idea, "So send eight cars, while Gonzales starts pulling ten from the line, send em in twenty minutes so at least half the cars are ready in case of an emergency and get the truck ready to roll in case we have to bail out of here."

"That is a pretty good idea, anyone see anything wrong with it?" asked Hank again.

"No, well, we won't be able to send fifty people though, not in eight vehicles, figure four each, that is thirty two people, I can ask for volunteers, but probably half should be the worst hurt, we have a lot of broken bones and that guy who got electrocuted trying to hook his generator up, he should go now, they probably can't do anything for him, but they can do more than I can." said Doc.

"Good, that all sounds good to me. Do I qualify as one of the most wounded?" asked Hank.

"No!" the others said in unison. Doc continued, "You are stable, probably a second tripper, unless you start going all pale and pissing out blood. Yeah I want to get you checked out better, but we have bones that need to be set, they take precedent. You stay. For now."

Sighing, Hank conceded with bad grace, "Fine. You get me to stay here, any ideas on who else should go?"

"You better send Nanci!" Evaine called over, then returned to watching the toddlers.

Hank thought about it and nodded once, "Yeah, we better do that. Gonzales you and the doc get the people worked out, you know who is who and who we still need here better than I do, then you work on getting some basic supplies sent over, maybe some of the shotgun ammo, I bet they could use it. Kevin why don't you help him by either pulling the cars or the supplies, you volunteered an idea, so now you get to do some of the work."

Kevin smiled to show his willingness and soon the three men moved off discussing what to do and how they were going to get it done, leaving Beth to check Hank's bandages and smile at him, "Trying to weasel out of here huh? Why don't you like us?" she held up a silencing finger, "Don't deny it! Oh I know you just want to be reunited with Juan, we all want to cover our friend's backs, so I get it. You really should have time to rest though; you have done your part, right? Killed a hundred zombies with your bare hands, fought Dave to a standstill inside the Quick Trip. You are like a living legend already!"

"Aw now, don't you start in, people are not really saying that are they?"

"Well, no really the kids though, you rescued Cage and Sylvia, well they are talking you up a lot. The stories get back to the adults who are taking care of them and then get talked about more, so you are practically a legend. Not quite there yet. You mind if I ask you another question?"

"Sure, shoot." said Hank a little puzzled.

"How many zombies did you kill since you left the clinic anyway?"

"You're pulling my leg right? I mean, you think I kept track? Juan and I shot a lot of them, I had a lot of head bashing to do, probably a couple dozen shots and eighteen or twenty head bashes. Does it matter? There are surely a lot of guys out there that have taken down more than that. Juan, for one."

"I suppose it doesn't matter, but I can at least tell everyone the rumors are wrong. Yeah, you killed more than we all gave you credit for. So how do your ribs feel?"

"Well better, now that you have tightened the bandages. It's the fact that I can hardly breathe that bothers me now."

"Deal with it, hero. I will be back to check up on you before you hit the hay. Unless I am wrong your lady friend wants to talk to you without me around." Beth glanced briefly at Evaine, who was still standing close by, near the children. "I will leave you two to it, no rough activity though, got it?"

Hank's face turned red and he nodded, "Nothing like that, she is just a friend I dated a couple times."

"Sure, Hank, sure." Beth nodded and walked away.

It took about five minutes, then Evaine managed to find her way over to Hank's chair. Hank had picked up the latest and probably last 'Field and Stream' magazine someone had left nearby with another cup of juice and was reading an article on Bass fishing in Michigan. Evaine stood near the foot rest, put her hands on her hips and said, "So, you know that woman?"

"Beth? Yeah, sure Doc's nurse, we rescued her and doc out of the clinic, gave 'em our car and directions on how to get here. Why?"

"I think she is too old for you."

"Oh?" Hank didn't really know what to say to Evaine. Sure, they had dated, but that was about it. Hank liked her, thought she was great, and had no intention of saddling her down with a man thirteen years older than she was. Not even if it would make Nanci happy. "Ah, what makes you think I am interested in her anyway?"

Evaine made a slightly rude noise and said, "Maybe not you so much as her, but every man has needs Hank, even cold men like you, I just don't want you suckered in by the first thing that comes along."

Hank made a look that suggested 'who? Me?' and laughed, "No need to worry about that darling, plus I got you looking out for me right? I'll be okay."

"Sure Hank, you'll be fine." Then Evaine switched to Spanish and muttered, "better than fine when you finally get over our age difference, then you will be mighty good indeed!"

Continuing in Spanish Hank said, "Oh yeah the old 'Spanish Culture' thing, huh? Funny how you always see young girls marrying old goats and never young boys doing the same thing. Makes you wonder which is the smarter sex?"

A rather uncomplimentary word spilled out of Evaine's mouth, along with a good natured smile and she turned back towards the children.

Chapter 16

John spotted the convoy first, when he did he excitedly yelled out, "Juan! There they are Juan! Do you see em?" The eighteen year old was dressed in green hospital scrubs badly in need of changing. He stood about five foot ten inches tall, had black hair and hazel eyes with long soft looking eyelashes. His hair was, like his clothing, in need of a good washing, his face had the pall of someone who has been up too long and is running on pure adrenaline and caffeine.

Juan was in the bathroom, which did have a window, however he was sitting down and could not see outside, let alone back along the road leading to the hospital, "No. I don't see them, Give me a minute to finish! Jesus wept! Call it in to Jack, let them know they are coming, okay?"

"Sure thing!" pulling the walkie talkie of off his belt he pressed the send button and said, "I can see them Jack, they are pulling up the street now. Juan is on the pot, so I am calling to let you know."

Some laughter came back at John a moment later as Jack replied, "Thanks, we'll open the doors for them and tell Juan not to rush things, cleanliness is next to godliness, right?"

John looked puzzled for a second and looked at Juan as he came through the bathroom door, "What did he mean by that? God that guy is so weird sometimes!"

"Sì. Don't worry about it. Next time you don't have to mention I am on the pot, right?"

John's face blushed as realization dawned on him, then he turned quickly to look out the window again with a clipped nod. "Say, Juan, you guys got a humvee, eh? That must be nice, did you run into military guys then?"

Turning to look, Juan shook his head slowly, "No, no they didn't when we left, maybe someone came in or something, I better tell Jack, make sure it is who we think it is." Putting his lips near the talkie he said, "Jack."

On the other end, Jack answered, "Juan old pal, you all buttoned up already?"

"Good to go. Jack one of the vehicles coming up is a hummer. Did we have a hummer that I didn't see at the club? It is painted in a camouflage pattern."

"What? No! I don't think so. Aw hell Juan you don't think they are bad guys do you?"

Peering at the vehicles closely Juan watched for a few seconds, shaking his head he answered, "Not bad guys, they look okay to me, but they have lots of guns and stuff, you better try and call them on the cell before they get to much closer!"

"Affirmative, right away!" the walkie talkie went silent for a few minutes while John and his Spanish counterpart watched the convoy approach with trepidation.

"Its them Juan! Its them! They picked up a straggler, but it's okay!" Jack's voice brought the welcome news over the walkie-talkie.

"Gracias a Dios!" Juan muttered quietly, then said, "Good, glad to hear it, me and John will stay here until you send someone for us, okay, just to keep a couple eyes out."

"Yeah, as planned anyway, well send someone up there to relieve you soon, we have to figure out how we are going to proceed, probably me and a couple other guys will come up and we'll shoot the shit about it in fifteen minutes or so, okay?"

"Yeah, super, we'll be waiting.", Juan said, turning to John he continued, "You still got that deck of cards you found?"

Closer to twenty minutes later Jack showed up with Nanci, a man in an Army uniform and no one else. The man in the uniform looked a bit shabby, he was shaved, but the uniform was a little big on him. He was wearing a military style cap, though he had a Kevlar helmet hanging off of his belt. He was also dressed in full body armor, which may have contributed to making his uniform seem overly large. His hair was not close cropped in a crew cut, just a normal looking haircut. His face was tanned, not Hispanic and he had brown eyes. His eyes conveyed the look that Juan was familiar with these days, Sylvia had the same look, so had Kevin. The two thousand yard stare of a man who had seen so much his mind was no longer quite focusing on the here on now, so much as the 'there and then'. Juan had only a second to take this in before Nancie grabbed him by the neck and kissed him, she then started hugging him tight, while whispering endearments and praises to God that he was alive. The look on Jack's face told Juan the other man had news, and that it was not good. After a few seconds Jack cleared his voice and said, "It will just be us talking Juan. No sense pulling everyone into this. Juan this is Ted Jenkins, Ted, Juan and John."The men shook hands all around, "John you and Ted get to watch and see how we do things, if you have anything constructive to add, jump in and say something., Turning to John he said, "You might know parts of the hospital better than we do, did you work here or were you visiting?"

"I had part time hours here after school, they called me in when people didn't show up to work their shift. I just swept the floors." replied John.

"Good enough, you know the main hallways and can help us figure out where to go. I want to basically try and isolate the cafeteria, maternity ward and ER, if we can keep these places clear it will make it easier to eat and escape if we have to. Of course the guys back at the warehouse will get a call if there are any problems. Doc tells me they are getting another load of vehicles working now if we need reinforcements. They sent over twelve men, plus we got Ted and his two more guardsmen.", pausing he pulled a box of ammunition out of his jacket and handed it to Juan, "Oh they sent a ton of shotgun ammo, you might want these, huh?", Juan took the shells, opened the box and while they were talking he busied himself tucking the shells into his various pockets.

"Okay, John, any thoughts on how to block the hallways or anything between the areas we want to isolate and the rest of the hospital?" asked Jack.

John thought for a moment, rubbed his chin and said, "Yeah, the fire doors! We can just shut and lock them from the central panel, I think Tim has a key and knows how to do that, he can shut the maternity ward off on the second level and shut the doors between radiology and the ER on the ground floor, there are not any doors between the cafeteria and the main entrance, but the other ground floor rooms can be cut off. We had a problem with one of those doors locking once, it was a big deal, had to call in a contractor, patients and doctors had to go up the stairs and down the other side to get to rooms, it was a big mess….Sorry! I didn't mean to go on there, uh, yeah we can mostly do it, except for the cafeteria, the stairway exits all open out and can be locked from this side, nothing would get through, but we could get out."

"Okay, we can build more barricades to seal off the cafeteria from the main entrance better, we already got one up, but it is pretty flimsy. Why don't you go ask Tim about it and get stuff locked down now John? And thanks for your help."

John got up to go, saying, "No problem" and as he left Juan could not help but wonder at how smoothly that had been handled by Jack. Ever since the group came in, Jack had been a little edgy and Juan was pretty sure it was because of the Guardsman, Juan recognized what Jack did as a way to get the kid out of the room so Ted could talk to them in private. Jack waited until he heard the door at the end of the hallway clang shut and then turned to Juan again, "We may have a problem."

"Sì? I got that, what?"

"Bad news from Sergeant Ted, I am afraid. You guys saw how the road was cleared and how there were a few body bags here and there as they did it?" Juan nodded, "Well, the military was trying to go and relieve that dj, who is holed up in his building, broadcasting instructions and news on how to deal with the zombie threat, well, shoot, I better let him tell it." Jack cast a glance at Ted and nodded.

Ted spoke for the first time, his voice was gravelly and not unlike Hank's in many ways, he said, "We are from the depot between Colorado Springs and south Denver, near Larkspur. My unit, part of the 36th Infantry Division, was attached to the 36th Aviation Brigade, a National Guard unit, when this mess started we were equipping for rotation in the middle east, we had three days to go until we shipped, that would have been, why today! Anyway we were confined to base to keep some of the younger guys from going AWOL at the last second, usually by having car trouble or drinking so much they passed out or getting into a bar fight and thrown in the drunk tank the night before, there has been a real problem since the wars started. So we got to sit on the base and almost mutiny before the army gave us our orders. This whole thing took the military by surprise, I can tell you that! A foreign war on foreign soil, sure, but a horde of zombies in our own back yard? How can we fight that?"

"Well yesterday we were ready to do it, break out and go home, find our loved ones and kick some zombie ass. We were ready to go with or without official sanction, then word comes down of a mission that might do more good, rescue one guy, a hero of sorts, and use rescuing him as a reconnaissance mission to plan future attacks into the city to rescue other pockets of humans still alive. None of us liked it much, we all wanted to rescue our families and check on our friends, however in the military they train you to know that ten individuals are not as effective as ten men working as a team. This was a military situation; our country is being overrun, even if our foes were unconventional and unarmed. A few lectures by our superiors and most of us bought into the strategy, even if we did not like it. Plus, I have to admit, we were afraid, the only news we got was from the dj, and according to him there was a sea of zombies around and in his building. What could we do alone?"

"So we spent a restless night griping and getting what rest we could. I think all of us planned to take our vehicles and head out on our own when we reached town, most of us are from up and down the front range, maybe twenty percent are from down south where the unit is 'Officially' stationed, Texas and Oklahoma. My two guys, in the humvee were from Aurora, like me. We thought we'd scope the situation, get this Blake guy first, then head east to get our families. A humvee can hold eight easy, and we had a total of eight family members to go and find. Not a coincidence, but a stroke of luck that we were one of the 'short' vehicles. The plan was to go in rescue any civilians we could, take down as many zombies as we could, at least put a dent in their numbers and then get the hell out. We had tanks, a couple of the 'Interim Armored Vehicles', the newer ones, with the turreted twenty millimeter guns that can be slaved to take down aircraft, like on those navy ships, you catch that in the news a year or so back?"

Jack and Juan shook their heads 'no', Ted shrugged his shoulders and continued,

"Oh, that is a sight to see, works great with drones anyway and they have some anti-missile capabilities too. Anyway they mount a twenty millimeter 'main' gun, and an M2 fifty caliber machine gun, same gun we have on the humvee

Then they loaded us up with ammo, an extra quarter ton of the fity caliber rounds, three extra cases of belt fed twenty millimeter ammo for the IAVs and two cases of the hundred and five recoilless rifle high explosive rounds. Plus we had two fifty gallon drums of fuel and medical supplies. Not much fucking room in there with that garbage loaded up. No problem, we knew how to deal with excess. Heck it ain't like any of us were going to have docked pay or worry about a court-martial."

"So we climbed in our M1132 humvee, I was in command and I put Thompson on the turret with the old fifty caliber and Sanchez on shotgun. Thompson didn't have to be up and out for the ride, so we chatted about our plan on the way up from Larkspur. It would be cake to do a fade out and we wanted to go back to the base, there were no zombies there, we hadn't even seen one until we hit Castle Rock. Me and the boys only saw dead ones until we got into the Tech Center. Oh and we were the tail too, we rode about a klick behind the last vehicle with orders to call in if we saw anything creeping up our ass. Mostly we were supposed to be there for re-supply, something we would not need, I mean the zombies didn't even have guns and could not fight back, right? We were a wasted resource and fading to get our families would be no big deal, especially on the way back."

"Well when we hit Denver everything slowed way down, we had major, I am talking major crashes to content with, we were lucky to make four clicks an hour with all the moving we had to do, I guess the Major was not so stupid after all, to have brought up our heavy movers and equipment. We heard the gunfire at the front of the column before we saw any hordes of zombies, the scuttlebutt that came back to us was that the zombies were hiding in wrecks or on overpasses, or coming up the ramps at us when we stopped. I ordered Thompson into position, it should be a cake walk, the new lightweight cupolas are real effective against small arms and fragments and our enemy didn't even have guns. He wasn't worried, I wasn't worried. Still when that first mob came up the on ramp at us they made it all the way to the rear bumper before he stopped them. You ever see what a fifty caliber bullet does to a man? This gun can plow through cement walls about a foot thick with the armor piercing rounds, the standard rounds we were using don't have quite that penetrative power, but when they hit." the sergeant made a ka-plowing sound with his mouth while opening a fist with one hand, "when they hit, they make great big holes in things. Especially meaty things."

The zombies were not stopped though, they kept on coming over their dead, the slow rate we were moving kept the rain of bullets just beyond the back of the vehicle and then some of them hit us from the side. I was never happier to have Sanchez than yesterday, he knows how to work his AR-3. He muzzled it out of the firing port on his side and kept that clear and I used my pistol out of my side. Sanchez had to squirm into the back to shoot out of my side, he ended up staying there for the rest of the trip. Because he could hand Thompson ammo from there too."

Anyway by the time it ended we had burned up half our allotted fifty caliber rounds, and most of our small arms ammunition. The Major had us catch up to the tail and we got more small arms ammo out of an actual supply truck. He told us it was 'open' firing too, but not to waste ammo on things that were not heading towards us or were too far away to be a threat. We took extra small arms ammo, a triple load and I grabbed a rifle off the truck too. Normally the driver just carries their side arm, the army doesn't want a driver getting his crew killed because he is not paying attention to his job: driving. I took the rifle, just in case."

We had taken our first casualties then too, while we were fighting off the zombies at the rear, others had been bushwhacked all up and down the line. This was our first clue that someone was planning the attacks against us. I mean people just don't attack at the same time, unless they are ready to do so, this was not a case of 'Fred Zombie' hearing gunfire and coming over to join the fray, this was a case of three hundred and fifty 'Fred Zombies' waiting until they were given orders to run up the ramps and attack us. A lot of the guys were just in trucks, not even humvees, the trucks just had canvas walls and no guns mounted. They took it the worst we had maybe thirty left in body bags, all with a bullet into the brain, as most of them had come back during the fight, now if anyone died, we were to put a bullet in their brains first thing."

We made steady progress into town, the God damned radio station is in North East Denver, a rifle shot away from the Denver International Airport, by the afternoon we had made it to the station, we knew what was there, the 36th is an Aviation Brigade, which means it has helicopters, and it had done a few recon flights over the building, then they had come back and made strafing runs until it ran dry. They said there were a few left for us to mop up. They were wrong. The damned zombies just got under cover, or if they could not do that they just laid there pretending to be 'dead again', the details that can be seen from a helicopter are not that good for determining if a guy is faking it and just lying there or actually does have a head wound."

"I know where we were told to stop was a four way intersection, between two major thoroughfares, each four lanes, plus turn lanes, I am talking a lot of room there. And there were bodies everywhere, the helicopter had done its job well, even sawed off a street light, clean as butter, I know because I parked right under it. We had to drive over bodies to circle the wagons, nothing was moving. You ever see what a twenty millimeter round does to a building?" shrugging again, Ted said, "No? I suppose not. Anyway, for one thing calling a twenty millimeter shell a 'round' pretty much says it all. You know in the old world war two they had anti-tank guns that were that big? It is a round that used to be for taking out a fucking tank, and nowadays we run that size through machine guns on our helicopters, is that crazy or what? Anyway, you can just imagine what the surrounding buildings looked like, the bullets go through the walls, sometimes they collapse the building, sometimes they fly all the way out the other side and into the building beyond that. Sometime even through that other building. These rounds were fired from above so a lot of the angles were up to down, the streets were uneven and pocked, kind of puckered up, like Satan's mouth blowing raspberries at God."

"I can't really say much about the fight itself, we were so far removed from it that most of it was over before it was obvious that we had lost. The tanks were overkill, a hundred and eighty millimeter shell is great against soft targets or infantry that could actually bleed to death from a fragment, against zombies? Tanks against zombie, well let's just say they didn't do that well.", shrugging yet again Ted went on, "Our part of it was a bit chaotic. The column had split into groups as we were supposed to, our group was to be the reserve, just hanging back in case we were needed. This really met that we sat a a four way intersection and waited. The soldiers were getting a little edgy, and started screwing around a bit, but for the most part our group was in good shape. The other groups were in three columns with an old tank leading each one followed by a couple LAV's those nineteen ton 'Light Armored Vehicles' we spent so much money developing, then found out they aren't worth shit against a common mine or roadside bomb, remember that on the news? Anyway we had nine of those, two in each column and three in the reserve pool in case they were needed. There were no extra main battle tanks in the reserve. We have another tank in the platoon, it is still back at the base in the garage, undergoing maintenance." Sergeant Ted paused in telling his tale and took a long pull from his canteen.

"Except for the LAV's we were the only unit with a mounted machine gun and we were positioned, once again, to watch our asses, make sure nothing crept up on us and to keep the way to retreat open. Hah! That is a joke, we drove right into them, not knowing what they were. We let them surround us completely and then we were surprised when they rose up off the ground almost in unison to attack us. At the same time the ones got up off the ground more rushed out of all those buildings. I saw this one guy, right before it started, at the urging of his buddies, creeping towards an open doorway, a dark open doorway. He got about eight feet from it and froze, after that, as my old drill instructor would say, 'the foul excrement hit the air moving rotary device'. The guy I saw by the door fired wildly into the building while turning around and running back to his buddies, they were laughing their asses off; I saw he had pissed himself, and keyed Tompson that they zombies were gonna hit us, that was all I had time for."

"A second later the screaming started, the zombies got up off the ground and distracted us from firing at the ones rushing out of the buildings. The LAVs did well, we did fine, I thought we were going to make it. Then a good old fashion Molotov cocktail hit one of the IAVs, some of it must have gotten in through the rear deck too, got sucked into the air intakes, 'cause soon that thing was dead in the water. The men weren't dead, but they lost power and could no longer rotate the turret. The other two, and me, started moving our vehicles, instead of leaving them stationary for more accurate fire. Just in time too, 'cause more of the Russian specials came raining down into the trucks off the rooftops. They did not hit us, but a couple of them landed on the trucks where the infantry were fighting, which forced them to bail. What a choice huh? Burn to death or get eaten to death?"

Tompson did good work. No, he did great work with the machine gun, he didn't hit any friendlies, I know that, but he would walk that gun right up to them and back. The problem is, these god damned things have to be hit in the head to take them out, sometimes a shot to the spine will disable them, not always. Anyway Thompson's strategy seemed to be more along the lines of 'saw their legs off', one I approve of. I had to keep moving the hummer forward and back, to clear the zombies away from the doors. A Sanchez was busier than hell trying to keep the doors clear. He thinks he tagged one of our guys too. That would be as much my fault as his though, I was moving the vehicle and he had a limited arc of fire, and, as I said, things were bumpy with all the pock marks and bodies all over the ground."

I watched zombies rip apart guys, full body armor or not, I saw men screaming for their buddies to shoot them in the head, to kill them and not let them be ripped apart by the mob. I saw horror. In a normal battle you kill a few people and the rest get demoralized and run away, it was always the other guy who broke too, after all who can face down the fire power of the good ole' US of A? We fired and fired, the infantry fired and fired, the LAVs were fucking priceless for the amount of shots they could pour out and here was our enemy, not even trying to take cover or shoot us back. And they demoralized us. No other words for it. They. Just. Kept. Coming."

Ted got a faraway look in his eyes, then gathered himself together and continued, "I also saw such courage as to make me cry. You know that some of the guys managed to form a circle using one of the trucks as an anchor and forming up around it, three guys in the bed, keeping zombies off on that side. Two guys were needed on the underside, at first, to keep the zombies from crawling under the truck. After five minutes the zombies were piled high enough to keep anymore from crawling through and they put one of the walking wounded there to shoot any more that squirmed through. Around the outside of the circle the bodies were getting higher too, some of the zombies though, were not dumb, they were taking cover or ducking into the buildings, I pointed them out to Sanchez as I saw them, I made one pass in front of the semi-circle to try and clear out the bodies, not a good idea in a soft skinned vehicle, a couple rounds got through from the guys and their rifles and Sanchez was like to die screaming and praying when a bullet snapped through his pant leg, didn't even touch him, just went through his pant leg. My pass made things a little better; I did manage to push a bunch of bodies into lower positions, to crush them with my tires. A few minutes later the bodies were piling up again. By this time all the survivors who were going to make it were in the semi-circle formed by the infantry, there were even a couple medics doing their jobs, with IVs and everything, it was surreal. The vehicles that were not part of the fortification kept circling so as not to get bogged down or overwhelmed, the marines were firing with everything they had. Thank God for small favors, the one truck they had formed up around was full of small arms ammo. Then again that master sergeant was one smart fellow, so I doubt luck played much role in his selection of trucks to defend."

"When a zombie managed to firebomb the front of that truck I knew they were in trouble, the attacks increased in intensity, I remember a zombie jumping up on the hood with an iron bar, maybe a crowbar, he swung back and then his head disappeared when Thompson swung the gun around and let off one shot at point blank range. I was done then, wanted to bug out, fuck my friends, my fellow soldiers, it was time to go. The last of the reserve was feeling the same way, and they made a break for it after that rush. They were spearheaded by yours truly and the two remaining LAVs, some of them even made it out, including the sergeant.

"Of course, all the while the three columns were being hit too, screaming at the reserve to move up here or there, eventually I had the Major talking to me, asking where the hell the reinforcements were. I had to tell them they were dead, there were just the two LAVs, one with two flat front tires, the other with no ammo for its main gun, and us. He told us to bug out, load up who we could, then he gave the retreat codes over the radio. There was nothing much we could do. Our group survived, the LAVs drove turret reversed behind the main body of, oh, I dunno, maybe fifty guys on foot, we drove in front clearing the way and finding the path."

"There were so many of them, it took us awhile to get to a point where we could stop and pass out some of our ammo to the other two vehicles. Between them they had two spare tires to get the LAV with the flat tires rolling again and we gave them each a third of the ammo we had carried up there. By now it was getting dark, we had been fighting a running retreat for four hours. I think the only reason we did not run into another ambush is that I was choosing turns randomly, never going with the easiest looking path, never going back the way we had come from, two of the best ways to avoid ambushes. Dark was a bad thing though, we had some night vision gear, the LAVs had it built in, the infantry's was in the trucks, so they had none, and they were running out of ammo, plus they had about a dozen walking 'bitten' with them, which we were all worried about. All the seriously wounded had been left behind."

"I need to be clear about this too, we did have some contact with one of the other columns. Not me, right then I was not doing so good radio wise. Remember the zombie on the hood with his crowbar? When he was shot off he rolled over our antenna, he didn't knock it off completely, just broke it. We could still talk to the LAVs pretty well, but I could only catch a few phrases and clips of words from the other columns, the Major sounded like he was rallying them. Maybe. Not winning though, definitely not winning. The LAVs picked up more communications for awhile, then nothing." Ted gave another one of his his characteristic shrugs, "Maybe the columns antenna got knocked off then too. Anyway we looked for gun stores, finding one in north-east, liberal Denver was harder than finding fault with a playboy centerfold, in other words we didn't find one. Not even a fucking k-mart or wal-mart where we at least could maybe have gotten shotguns and small caliber weapons. We took refuge in an abandoned Barnes and Noble. There was a small fight inside; maybe ten really slow, stupid zombies were in among the books, nothing we could not handle. The vehicles circled up out front and formed the perimeter; we broke out the fuel and topped off the armored cars, and the humvee. Johnson, a decent guy, a mechanic, he got our antenna fixed again, probably with duct tape and spit, anyway it has been working okay for us since."

"The infantry went up on the second floor of the bookstore to bed down, the second floor had a really good view of the store front. Plus there were no windows on the sides of the building only towards the parking lot and only one way up to the second level, the escalators. The power was still on, but we just moved the elevator to the second floor and hit the emergency stop, the buzzer went off, so Johnson disconnected it. Not a bad defensive position, we weren't in a fire base situation though, we were on our own."

"The LAVs contacted the base and they told us to sit tight, they were not going to do anything unless the zombies found us and mobbed us, if we kept our heads down they said we should be alright. We heard the helicopters all night a few miles to the east and then to the south and east and then just to the south. From how the helicopters sounded it was like they were providing cover for one of the columns, so I think something got out from the fight at radio station."

"The night passed quietly for the simple reason that the enemy was preoccupied elsewhere. Of the twelve who were bit, eleven of them died and came back that night, one guy was fine. I almost felt sorry for him, you should have seen how everyone was watching him all the time! Come morning we started looking around the parking lot and checking the pockets of the few dead people we could find in the store, we came up with seven civilian vehicles, I topped them all off with some of the fuel I still had, we've got maybe twenty gallons extra left now. Seven vehicles for thirty eight men, we wanted to take on a few, but the lieutenant in the LAV overrode me, the men were not trained in the vehicles and would get in our way if the shit hit the fan, that was the official reason. Besides there was something else the Lieutenant needed us to do. The guy, the deejay, was still on the air, he was still alive and our mission had not changed. We had to go back and see if anything was left of the columns. And if the zombies were all gone, we were to see if we could get the guy out. However we could and would, break off as soon as we saw a major group of zombies, those were his orders. The rest of the group was going to head back to the base, probably by using back roads, going down Sante Fe drive and heading south through Salida along the new highway. If the base could, they might send a helicopter for the troops, otherwise they would make do with the civilian vehicles."

"When we got to the radio station we were to radio back to them what we found and bug out quick. After hearing our orders no one else wanted to ride in our hum-vee. Me and the guys didn't mind, you see 'plan B' was forming in our minds. I mean if all the zombies were here, they couldn't be where we lived. So we said, 'Sure Lieutenant, sir, we will do your reconnaissance for you, yes sir we understand why a flyby of the helicopter might not be as good as eyes on the ground, sir! You can count on us sir!' and we left. Funny thing is we did go back to the station, at least as close as we could get, there were millions of zombies there. I swear to God, millions! I saw them and got the hell out of there. Some of them were wearing fatigues and body armor now too."

"We radioed to the LAVs what we found, they have higher powered, longer ranged communications gear, ours could not make it to the base. They relayed the message and we were told to cut and run, pronto. They emphasized that we needed to leave the area quickly. Blake, the dj, saw us and he told us to get out too, we had him on the fm we stole from the Barnes and Noble. No fm radios in humvees, go figure. I felt so bad for that guy, I mean we were his last hope really, if an entire armored column couldn't free him, what could?"

"We were headed home, via Aurora, along the way we lost contact with the LAVs, Sanchez unplugged our GPS transponder and I turned the radio off, we were on our own to check on our families."

Listening, Juan spoke softly, "What did you find?"

Looking up with a haggard expression, Ted said sharply, "Did you see any fucking family members come in with us?" he cast his eyes down and wiped a dirty hand across his face, "I'm sorry man, I just met you, I am sorry. It was the same for all of us and all bad. The kids were the worst, I would have suicided, Sanchez would have at his house, Thompson at his, somehow, we didn't form a circle at Thompson's house and do each other. I mean my place was first, I saw my kid at the end of the block, eating….eating… I was so angry, so mad, I ran it down, it was not my kid anymore. After my house we checked on Sanchez and his kid, wife dead, kid not around, blood everywhere. Both of us hoped, maybe you know, something would be left for Thompson, anything worth living for. There wasn't, at least he and I knew for sure, Sanchez will always wonder if his kid got away or turned or didn't. We at least have closure. In Thompson's driveway we shared a moment, looked at each other and we all had 'that' look, the despair, the pain, the 'nothing worth living' for look. Sanchez asked if Thompson was Catholic, Thompson said, no and then Sanchez asked him to kill him, he couldn't do it himself as he still believed it was a mortal sin. He said he wanted to die. Thompson raised his gun, up to stomach high, Sanchez closed his eyes. I will always remember the sweat breaking out and beading on Thompson's forehead, he was going to do it, I thought. He stood that way until I pushed his rifle away and said, 'Fuck it. Lets get in the truck and go'. They didn't argue, they just got in the truck and we went. I made my way back to the highway and we headed south, where I ran into your people."

"Did you hook your radio up again?", asked Juan.

"No. Not yet, we can do it anytime. We don't want to go back. You mentioned a warehouse club? With other people? We might be able to take them to the base, get you almost there, if Thompson and Sanchez want to go with you, you could leave me with the humvee."

"Alone? We'll see, we should contact the military and see what they say, see if your friends got back okay, find out if they have any information." said Juan.

Jack chimed in, "Ain't nothing we can say to you Ted. We have mostly been pretty lucky so far, we know the world has gone to hell, but our part of it is still alive and we need to protect it. You could stay with us until you decide what to do. Or just stay with us."

"Yeah, it is getting dark now, I won't drive again tonight, even with the night vision gear. We'll stay here tonight and figure out what to do in the morning." said Ted.

"Okay, your machine gun still have bullets?", asked Jack.

"Yeah, over ten thousand rounds give or take. That is quite a lot, enough for any slow zombies that might come crawling around. I think we would do better not to be making a bunch of noise, it seems to attract them."

"Oh yeah. No I was thinking towards the more distant future, not for right now. That gun could be useful."

"Maybe. Look Jack, you are not a military man right?"

"Me? No way brother, liberal military hater all the way."

Raising his right eyebrow questioning Ted said, "Well machine guns, especially the new ones actually require a lot of maintenance, we can clean ours out and keep it firing, but the barrel is usually changed out every three thousand rounds or so. We have already fired four or five times that through it. It will still fire, it is just the accuracy is going to go down on it."

"What? Every three thousand shots? Is that possible? I mean that is like what, three minute of fire?", asked Jack.

"No, more like eight minutes or so, they fire about six hundred rounds per minute, but they use a hundred round cans of ammunition, reloading takes time, so push that to ten minutes overall use, most fire fights are over before that and you have to realize the gun is not going to be fired full out the entire time either. Nothing like what we just went through was envisioned when they designed the gun. Most enemies take cover, they don't stand there and let you mow them down. Our gun is a new E50, basically a field upgrade that makes changing the barrel a twenty to thirty second job and improves a few other aspects of the gun too. The problem is we don't have any other barrels. I know the LAV's had at least one spare each, they changed them out last night, but if we want a new gun barrel we have to head back to the base for it." said Ted.

Nodding Juan spoke again, "No need to worry about that right now. You tell anyone else your story?"

"No, but I didn't tell the others to keep their mouths shut either, so probably everyone knows by now, why did you want us to keep it quiet?"

"I would rather you tell them, so they have a better idea of what we are facing. I am glad you told me what happened, and Ted?" Juan asked.

"Yeah?" replied Ted, who was turning to walk away.

"I am sorry for your loss."

Ted nodded his head once, then turned and headed back down the hall towards where the main group was gathered. Thinking while he walked back to his men that maybe he should have told them the whole story…

Jack turned to Juan and Nanci after Ted had passed through the fire doors at the end of the hall, "Well what do you think?"

Juan spoke first, "About what? He has been through a lot, probably more than most of us here."

"I don't know, something is not right, he seems too…I don't know, together maybe? I mean for a man who just lost his family and seen most of his friends get slaughtered. What is keeping him going now?" asked Nanci.

"Yeah, yeah that is what I mean, Nanci. I don't think he lied about anything, I really don't. It's just…well something does not seem right. Is there any way to check up on him, maybe talk to the other guys?" said Jack.

Juan nodded his head slowly, "Well, si, if you think I should. Look Jack we took dozens of people's stories at face value at the club, heck even here at the hospital, what makes Ted different?"

"He works for the government man! He is one of them, the people who caused this problem. Not one of us."

"Nah, c'mon Jack half the boys on the block served the military, and Ted wasn't even an officer, you know? He didn't cause this."

"Yeah, sure Juan, you think only the officers get dirt on them? Special Forces guys, they ain't officers you know, most of em are just grunts, E-4s or so." said Jack naming a common low military rank.

"E-whats?", shrugging his shoulders Juan said, "So what would he hide, like that he knew where they came from or that maybe he sabotaged the radio station battle somehow? I admit maybe he glossed over a few things, things he was not proud of, but that doesn't mean he outright lied to us."

"Yeah Jack, Juan is right, we can't question everyone who comes in, Ted doesn't even want to go back to the base, you heard him, even if he worked as one of 'them', he wants to be one of us now. So let him be one of us, okay?" said Nanci.

Jack looked at Nanci and Juan and shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe, or maybe they just want a spy in among us, to keep tabs on us or something. I will let it go, alright? However I may keep an eye on Ted, just to make sure he isn't up to anything fishy."

"Sure Jack." Juan started humming an old song from the seventies, by the Kinks, something about paranoia and how it could destroy you.

Jack caught up the tune, as they all headed towards the door and looked back over his shoulder at Juan, flashing him a smile he said, "Asshole!" which got a laugh out of both Juan and Nanci.

Chapter 17

'Those fuckin' bastards.' Dave had his ups and downs since joining the winning team, this was definitely a 'down'. First he had his goddamn hand blown off. That was a bitch, oh it healed, everything seemed to heal these days, but there was a lot of something Dave interpreted as 'pain' involved. His feelings were all strange lately, sensitive in some areas, almost dead in others, the shot to his hand had burned like fire and when he healed over he was afraid it was going to dumb him down a bit. Dave's theory was that he only regained his mind after he had consumed maybe a whole living being, or at least their blood, which his eyes now saw as a rainbow of beautiful color. His sentience though, seemed pretty secure he did not notice any loss of memory or reasoning, but strength? Yeah he was definitely weaker than he had been, the bullets had torn through him outside of the gas station and the hail of fire he had come under from the next ambush he had ridden right into had made his condition even worse.

Talking to himself he said, "See Dave, that is the thing, prey on the weak, let others take on the strong, otherwise you get what you have right here: You, weak as a kitten, unable to get stronger. You are a dumbass Dave for wanting revenge, revenge is of the old world, the new world is full of opportunity for those who don't succumb to the old ways."

His tirade against himself finished, Dave shut up and watched intently as a blue minivan approached the street to the Mike's Club, some talking seemed to go on for awhile, then the minivan did a slow u-turn and started to drive away, all the while the men at the car barricade kept under cover and kept their guns trained on the vehicle. The van went around the corner, and Dave moved along the roof top he was on to keep it in view. It stopped about halfway down the long block and sat idling. A plan came up, if only the people would wait for a bit.

Ken and his wife Amber were sitting in the van along the street arguing. The guys at the Mike's Club would not let them in, Amber had been bitten, twice, the kids were silent, only after Ken had yelled at them to quiet down so he and Amber could talk. They were in the middle of their own argument when Ken saw a man come around the corner from the Mike's Club.

"Aw shit Amber, here they come, they probably don't want us sitting here on their street now. Bunch of dumb fucks, like they can keep us out of the goddamn club, what gives them the right?" Ken said, he kept his eye on the man approaching them. The guy was wearing boots, carrying a bat and had a revolver tucked into his belt, he was also wearing a jacket with a name tag on it, Ken made it out to be 'Dave' as the guy approached. He powered down his window so he could talk to 'Dave'.

"Listen man, you can't stop us from parking here to decide what we are going to do now that your little group has booted us the fuck out of a goddamn public sto…" Ken's explanation, if indeed that was what he was attempting, was cut short when Dave shot him through the window in the chest. Amber started screaming, the kids started screaming. Dave looked them over, seeing no weapons, he calmly gut shot the woman, not killing her and leaned in through the window to rip out Ken's throat with his teeth. The warm, salty blood thrilled Dave to no end, it was almost orgasmic. Dave didn't think it quite approached the same level as sex, but unlike sex he could do this all day. While he was in the middle of his meal the woman had managed to fall out of her door and pull the side door open, she was on the ground trying to reach up to get the kids out of their car seats.

'Stupid, stupid', Dave thought as he came around the car, 'First stupid to waste Ken like this, chances are good I won't get back to him, then stupid thing number two was to let the woman get out and open the door, the screaming might bring some heroes from the Mike's Club over, and stupid thing number three was the fact that the car seat manufacturers made seats a four year old couldn't get out of in a hurry.' Not ever having kids before Dave really had no idea what he was talking about, the whole point of a car seat was to ensure the kids did not get out on their own.

Dave plucked the woman off the ground and shoved her into the van onto the floor in front of the bench seat. He shut the door, which jammed up with a crunching sound on the woman's foot, undoubtedly breaking it, then he punched the woman a few times in the gut until she stopped moving. For good measure he slugged one of the kids too, the other got the idea pretty fast and shut the hell up. Pausing a moment Dave looked the kids over, while thinking of the parapet on the roof, smiling he closed the side door, the passenger door and moved back around to the driver's side of the still idling van. Ken was still alive, Dave took another thirty seconds to suck enough blood out of him to kill him, then pulled him out of the van and casually smashed his head in on the panel beside the door. Dumping his body on the pavement he hopped into the van and drove it away.

By nightfall Dave was back on his rooftop perch watching the men at the Mike's Club intently. He had missed the caravan leaving, but he noticed a few of the nicer trucks and cars were gone. 'Interesting' he thought, 'I wonder what the plan is now?'

One thing eating had done for him was clear his head. Revenge might be overrated in today's new world, but a steady food supply was not. He thought, maybe, he could prey on the edges of this group, pick off a few here and there, or at the very least get the ones they turned away easily enough. A new softailed Harley-Davidson motorcycle sat in the alley fairly well concealed between two dumpsters. The hog should make catching up to anyone this group turned away a piece of cake, the new glock he found in Ken's van with a box of ammo, rounded out Dave's trusty pistol very well too. Dave was a bit of a throw back when it came to firearms. Automatics were nice, but for ultimate reliability and jam free action you simply could not beat a revolver. Hunkering down on the roof for along night Dave watched the club intently.

Chapter 18

"You ever think we were being watched?" asked Kevin to the men was sharing his watch with.

"Oh sure, yeah, all the time, I know they are out there. Not the dumb ones either, the smart ones, they are there, I can feel them." said Jeff.

Kevin liked Jeff, he was not bad for a know it all white guy in his forties. He had a beer gut or 'pony keg' where his belly should have been and the wife beater he was wearing in the cool night air was stained with sweat and Gatorade from the day's work. He was about six feet tall and had brown hair, eyes and an unshaven face. He carried a pistol that looked pathetically small, tucked into his belt, no holster. When he spoke his eyes never left off scanning the houses and businesses across the street from them. "I know those fuckers are sizing us up, casing the joint, if you know what I mean. Only makes sense, the dumb ones stopped coming about midday yesterday, you think they left on their own? No way man, the smart ones, they called em back, I bet they are getting ready for an all out assault right now, probably hit us in the morning, or maybe at sunset tomorrow night. That is what I would do anyway."

One of the other men made a 'pah' sound and Jeff looked up sharply, "Yeah, you don't believe me Doug? You just wait and see then."

A voice came back out of the dark, "Just watch Jeff, just watch and keep your cake hole shut. We don't need to be keyed up anymore than we already are, okay? You get us all scared and we'll end up blasting the next guy that comes around the corner and maybe it will be someone alive instead of a horde of zombies."

"So? Don't believe me hey? Care to put some money on it? I have a thousand dollars that says they attack at dawn." Jeff retorted.

"Only a grand, sure I'll see your kiddie bet, wanna throw in something useful, like our guns? I could use a spare."

Jeff stammered a bit then said, "Naw, we can't do that, I don't want you unarmed when I win, even if I disagree with you."

Mockingly, Doug's voice came back, "Sure Jeff, I understand."

Kevin's shift ended at sunrise, so he was looking forward to seeing who won the bet. He noticed movement on the rooftop on one of the corners, hissing he said, "You see that Jeff?" Kevin pointed at the building, "On the roof?"

In the pale light of the moon Jeff nodded, "Yeah I got it." louder he said, "Something on the roof on the corner, no bullshit, something moved."

Voices came back softly, indicating they understood and for a few moments every eye was focused on the building's roof, just when everyone started to look elsewhere again the movement came again, drawing them back in.

"See? I told you a dawn attack, that is their scout!" said Jeff.

"Jeff it ain't dawn! It's like three in the morning." retorted Doug from the darkness.

"Don't mean nothing, they are getting ready to attack. Can anyone see anything?"

A chorus of 'Nos' came back.

No one noticed a shadow detach itself from the middle of the street and scramble over the barricade about halfway between the more heavily populated corners of the 'wall'.

Chapter 19

'They deserve to die.' Dave thought, 'This is going to be almost too easy.' As the night wore on into morning he noticed the groups move away from the centers of the walls and people congregated in the corners. There were still a few small groups with bats wandering around inside the place, checking on the people they had confined in the parking lot and making sure no one was asleep. He saw them bring out snacks and drinks a few times too, sometimes they stood watch so people could head back in to the building. Probably they had to use the bathroom. There was a thought Dave hadn't had for awhile. No bathroom breaks for him. No urges anyway. He had 'voided' a few times, more to release pressure, especially out the 'back door', it was always a foul smelling ichor that poured out, never solid chunks. The interesting thing was he had no urge to go, he could have held it forever, and maybe just got fatter and fatter? Nothing to think about now, not when he was waiting for the next trio to march along the wall towards him. 'Here they come now', he thought, readying himself for two quick kills and a leisurely meal. He had to be quiet though, with groups less than twenty yards in either direction he could not afford any unnecessary noise. Crouching further into the shadows between two cars he calmed himself and prepared for what he was about to do.

The group he had his eyes on consisted of two women and one man. The one woman was usually in the lead while the man and woman lagged behind, Dave had seen them smooching quickly and his brain scorned the 'young love' that was developing between them. 'This', he thought again, 'was going entirely too well.'

First bringing one of the brats back had been pure genius, with the kid up there with orders to crawl for a ways then stand up and walk for a ways, then crawl and never to stop moving, it was a great distraction, just like Dave thought it would be. The little girl seemed to come back pretty quickly too, she took less effort to bring back to some sort of intelligence and while she was not back to talking yet, Dave could see a cold fire of intelligence in her eyes. The little girl may have outlived her usefulness after this venture. Dave knew he could exert a form of mental control over her, but was not sure how much of one he had and suspected that given the opportunity, the girl would turn on him in an instant. She had no name, Dave hadn't asked, his thought was that you didn't name your tools, just used them until they broke and then replaced them.

The trio approached Dave's hiding place and were about three steps beyond him towards the next corner on their route when Dave quietly jumped up and smashed the back two, one man and one woman together. Now in the movies smashing two peoples heads together was a sure fire way to promote an extended period of unconsciousness with no blood and small effort. Dave found that using his enhanced strength it actually was a fairly quiet affair, though not bloodless. The lead woman had been about three paces ahead of the other two, and half turned at the noise. Dave leapt at her and was astounded to see her duck out of his way! Not only that but she smashed him in the face as he went by! The bitch! Reaching out with one hand he tried again to get a hold of the woman, she looked to be about twenty five, white with a figure that had appeared to be a little plump. Now Dave realized it was not fat, it was her hoodie and sweat pants, she was actually in shape; his first blunder of this affair. Fortunately for him she was making a blunder too, she was not calling out for help. In fact she stood there, eying him warily, waiting for his next move, while slowly inching back into the main encampment. She had a baseball bat in one hand, but was not swinging it like a slugger, just holding it steady. Dave lunged forward suddenly, starting high and ending low, he thought he had her ankle, but he didn't, she had jumped up, anticipating his move. Adding injury to this insult she brought the bat down hard on his left shoulder, they both heard it crunch and break. Dave rolled sideways, which did seem to take her by surprise, however she recovered quickly and smoothly moved further inwards. Suddenly she seemed to realize what was going on, smiled slightly and screamed for help!

"Fuck!" Dave spat out, pulling out his Glock he fired at the woman, who at least had the sense to dodge to the left as Dave brought the gun up. The gun jammed. It didn't even fire once, just clicked and did nothing. "Fuckin' gimme a break!" he swore. He put the Glock into his left hand and reached around back to pull out his revolver when the first shot hit him in the left arm. He quickly decided that he had enough of this adventure and vaulted back over the car barricade, he could not resist taking a quick shot the woman who had gone prone behind a tire on the ground. She probably thought he could not see her in the dark, not knowing about his ability to see the wonderful colors of human blood flowing through her veins. One quick shot and then he backed up, then he took a couple more deliberate shots at each of the groups with guns before he turned and ran.

Chapter 20

The screaming started just as Jeff was 'taking a bead' on the movement on the roof. Kevin jumped about six inches and turned towards the sound, pulling his gun out as he did so. Kevin had been given a pistol, a very small pistol in his mind, but it was better than a bat. He pointed it in the general area of the screaming, but could not see much from the lights between his position and the other corner spot.

Jeff said, "Looks like they came through the middle, get some lights on that area boys, then open up."

Kevin just ran forward hearing someone curse in the night, slowly a tall dark figure came into view, back light from the other position, with a chill Kevin recognized Dave. His gun came up immediately and he fired off a shot. 'A head shot!' he thought excitedly, 'I finished the bastard!'

Then he saw Dave reel and swing about, before he jumped out of the light that was directed to the area and back into the street beyond the cars. A second later three shots rang out, one came dangerously close to Kevin's ear and he immediately ducked down by the nearest car.

Jeff ran past where Kevin had taken cover then screamed, "Jesus Christ! The zombies have guns!" before reversing direction and running back the way he had come, apparently firing blindly into the darkness. Kevin was pretty sure it was one of Jeff's bullets that plunked into the fender of the car right next to his shoulder. Kevin had a second to look at the interesting pattern the bullet made on the car fender before the pattern started to run off in crimson droplets. It was blood, the next thought that ran though his mind was, 'Where did that come from?' then his shoulder felt like it was on fire and he knew he had been shot. His vision started to fade as the adrenaline kicked in, he started a mantra, 'I will not pass out, I will not pass out!'

His ears took in the sounds of a few more bullets, before he heard someone screaming to stop firing, after another second he realized it was him yelling for everyone to stop firing. A moment after that there were no more gunshots ringing out and Kevin rose in a half crouch from behind the car, more angry than hurt. Bright lights flooded the area from emergency spotlights running off of car batteries. The lights chased away the darkness and revealed three bodies on the ground between the corner posts.

Two were not moving at all, the third was taking cover behind a spare tire that had been left with other detritus inside the protected space of the parking lot. Now everyone seemed to be pouring out of the Mike's Club, one of them called for crew with the spot light to point it outside the barricade and the pool of light slide through over the cars into the street beyond, there was nothing there.

Kevin used this time to dart forward to the woman he could still see in the dim light behind the tire. She looked to be okay, the same could not be said for her companions. The woman knelt down and looked like she was checking their pulse, then shook her head 'no' to Kevin grimly. Still kneeling she thrust her hand out at Kevin, he pulled her up with his left hand and was surprised when she immediately kissed him!

"Thanks for that shot! I think you saved my life." she said.

"Oh. You are welcome, any time you need me, let me know." Kevin replied, he had been going to say, 'no big deal', but it was a testament of his maturity over the last few days that he didn't. Saving someone's life was a big deal.

"My name is Kristal, yours?" asked Kristal.

"Kevin."

Kristal's eyebrows went up a bit, "The Kevin? Hank and Juan's Kevin? I expected you to be ten feet tall with eyes of glowing fire!" Kevin laughed, then winced. Kristal noticed and said, "Well Kevin, you're bleeding."

By this time a group of people were up to them, including Jeff, who was 'leading' a small group of people from the corner where moments ago he had been advising Kevin on how to take care of the zombie menace. Kevin looked at him and the anger returned to his face.

"Hey Kevin, they got a piece of you man? Aw that sucks, not bitten…."

Kevin raised his gun which was still in his hand and pointed it right at Jeff, who started stammering in confusion. His voice took on an icy anger that he had never used before as he said, "Jeff, I got shot, you wanna take a guess on who shot me? I will give you a hint, I got shot from behind right after I ducked down behind that car" Kevin pointed, "over there. Guess away you son of a bitch."

"Hey, hey, what is going on here?" asked a voice Kevin recognized from the crowd.

"Nothing Hank, shouldn't you be restin'?" replied Kevin.

"Nah, shoot I am alright, been sitting in that damn chair all day, I am feeling right as rain now, really. What is going on Kevin?" Hank said eying the gun Kevin was pointing at Jeff.

"This son of a bitch ran away and shot me from behind, I had cover between me and the other corner, and the bullet hit me from behind, went through my shoulder and hit the car I was hiding behind. I am trying to decide if I should return the favor."

Jeff started talking real fast, "No! No Kevin don't! I didn't mean it, I mean I didn't even know I hit you. How do you know I hit you? It could have been someone else!"

Hank waved Jeff to silence, "Quiet down there, you aren't helping." Looking around he asked, "Who else fired from the south west corner? Raise an arm if you did."

No one raised their hands. "Okay then from the south?" This got two people to raise their hands. "Did anyone see anything?"

Kristal piped up, "I did, about when I screamed I saw the zombie pull out a gun, it looked plastic and he tried to shoot me with it, only it didn't work, then he pulled another silver gun out, a cylinder one, I remember that, the round part looked huge, like from a western movie and when he pulled it out I caught Kevin running towards me out of the corner of my eye, I saw him shoot the zombie. The zombie then took a shot at me and fired at each corner a couple of times before jumping back over the cars. Then I saw Kevin duck and this guy," she pointed at Jeff, "Ran past him and then turned around and ran the other way. But as he ran I saw some flashes of light as he fired back towards us. I didn't see Kevin get hit or anything, only the flashes of light."

"Huh, we do have a situation here then. I think we have a case of friendly fire Kevin and it sucks to be you, but shooting this guy… who are you by the way?" Hank asked to Jeff, who responded with his name, "that just isn't right, there are too few of us here to start killing each other." said Hank.

"I don't care Hank, the man shot me, he wasn't aiming he could have killed one of us! Something has to happen for that, he can't just shoot someone and have nothing happen to him. My momma, she read the bible to us, you know? I was never in much for that stuff and maybe that is why all this is happening, dead coming back and evil walking the land. Maybe the bible was right, that whole 'Eye for an eye' thing. I think I get an 'eye' right now."

Sighing, Hank said, "Kevin, I am not much on debating religion right here while you got a gun pointed at a guy, but the bible is quoted out of context all the time, mostly what it says is 'Don't do bad things'. Kevin, shooting Jeff…that would be a bad thing."

The crowd stood around Kevin and time was sliding by slowly, finally Kevin took a deep breath, and lowered his gun, he put the safety on, as he had been taught earlier the previous day and put the gun in his pocket, before turning away from Jeff to face Hank. "Probably. Yeah, you are probably right. You can explain to me how letting him," he pointed at Jeff, "have a gun is a good thing though? The fucker didn't even aim Hank, he didn't aim! Something should happen to him, some sort of punishment."

"Yeah, you're right. Jeff? No more guns for you until you learn how to control yourself, give it to one of your friends to carry for now."

Jeff looked for a moment like he wanted to argue, spying the crowd he knew better and handed it over to Doug, who pointedly put the safety on and tucked it behind his back in his belt.

Another member of the crowd yelled out, "What, he shoots one of us and gets off with having his gun taken away? I say we boot him out!"

The crowd seemed to follow this sentiment and after only a few seconds they began jeering Jeff and working themselves into a frenzy. Hank finally relented and asked a couple of them to put Jeff into one of the management offices, away from everybody else until they could decide what to do with him.

"Okay, okay, lets calm down, we'll deal with this mess later when we are all more awake and calmed down. A couple of things for now though; First check your fire people, if you cannot see your target, do not fire your gun, we clear on that? Second someone needs to explain to me just how the hell this happened in the first place, I mean where were the guards?" Everyone started talking about how the guards worked and debating on how to make it better so this would not happen again, Hank leaned in to Kevin he spoke softly under the babble of the crowd, "Why don't you go get the doc to look you over, and Kevin?"

"Yeah Hank?"

"Thanks for not shooting that asshole."

Chapter 21

The night passed quickly, but not uneventfully. The group at the hospital was busy for a couple hours after sunset going through all the rooms in the eastern wing of the hospital where they had taken up residence. There were no fast zombies on any of the floors, but they did run into maybe eighteen slow ones that had to be put down, most of these were previously the elderly or people in for major operations, as zombies they made for a decrepit group, easily taken down, yet disconcerting too. No one, it seemed, wanted to cap grandpa or grandma in the head. Juan watched the crews move into the rooms and took his own turn leading the others into the various rooms to 'clear' them too.

Their group formed a wall with the vehicles they had to block off the emergency room doors and throughout the night they kept this area well patrolled and clear of zombies too. Towards the morning this area had drawn the attention of a lot of zombies, in fact it was pretty much a raging battle. Juan had not slept all night, he felt mildly euphoric when the sun finally peeked above the horizon. They had limited their shooting as much as possible, so as not to draw even more zombies attention, but there was a crowd of probably fifty to sixty zombies milling about outside the wall of vehicles. Juan was not sure how they would be able to get out without opening a hole in their line of defenses.

Probably they couldn't do it, however no one had said anything about leaving, in fact most of the crew who had stayed here over night were quite content with staying where they were, the beds were far better than the floor of the Mike's Club and the rooms all had heavy doors too. The doors could be busted through, but anything trying that would at least make a lot of noise.

Right now Juan was on solo duty behind the wall, they had found having too many living humans also drew the attention of the zombies, but one or two people under moderate cover created only a small 'draw'. Juan smelled the coffee long before he heard the emergency room doors slide open in back of him. As Nanci walked up behind him he sniffed in appreciatively and said, "Ah mi amor, gracias. That smells wonderful!"

Unseen Nanci stiffened, then said, "How did you know it was me?"

Laughing Juan imitated Hank's southern drawl and said, "Darling you have been bringing me coffee every day for the last twelve years, who else would it be?"

Still a little unsure, Nanci said tentatively, "Juan, you know, the others, well Charlie, he said something happened to you?"

Juan scowled "Me? No I am alright, nothing bad happened."

"Charlie didn't say anything 'bad' happened to you, but that he saw you after…after you killed one of the zombies and you, well you looked different is all."

"You think I look different?" Juan asked, raising his eyebrows. "I hope my pants are two inches too short, I could use a little height."

Nanci smiled then looked him over more closely, "Yeah, something is different, I can't say what it is, but there is like an air about you now, something different."

"That's helpful."

Punching him lightly on the shoulder Nanci said, "You hungry? They would not let me cook, they have it handled, so you get whatever they make, but Terry said you'd like it."

"How is Mary doing? Anybody check on her?"

Nanci frowned, "I don't think she is doing so good, they wouldn't let me see her, that is not a good sign. I'll ask Terry though, when I get breakfast, I saw her coming out of Mary's room this morning when I got up. I thought you were going to come to bed last night?"

Shrugging his shoulders Juan replied, "Shit. Too bad about Mary. I just never really got tired last night, I am still not so bad now. How was the bed?"

"Lonely." purred Nanci, "but better than the club, the door was great, it shut out all the noise, did you guys shoot last night?"

"No, well a couple times, maybe three, mostly we just batted them if they came over or under the cars. We gotta watch that truck" Juan pointed at a four wheel drive truck with several bodies underneath, "it is too high off the ground, they keep trying to get under it. We shouldn't have put it there as part of the wall. I think it is worse than the humvee would have been. It has gotten really quiet now, I think they have learned not to try and get in here."

"Well we can move the truck today once we figure out what the plan is. Let me go get breakfast, and I will send someone out here to relieve you so you can come in an eat and maybe sleep a couple hours too."

Seeing Juan nod, Nance went back inside and made her way to the kitchen where Charlie, Jack and Terry were standing drinking coffee and several other yawning residents were eating at some of the tables.

"Well?" asked Jack.

"Nothing, he is hungry, that's all." Nanci replied.

"He hasn't noticed anything weird yet then?" Charlie pressed her.

"No, if he did he didn't say anything. We got more food ready? He'll come in and eat and then you can see if anything changes."

"It will, you'll see." said Jack. What they were talking about was the fact that over the course of the night several people had noticed that if Juan was on guard the zombies tended to hang back and not attack, which is exactly why Juan was out there alone now. He had been 'on watch' for almost two hours and not a single zombie had tried to get past the line of cars. Some of the others who had stood watch with him, Charlie included, had noticed that the zombies never seemed to try and attack Juan, they just ignored him, treated him exactly like he was one of them.

"Alright, let me get a couple-three of these guys to go cover the exit and we'll bring Juan in. Terry there is grub right?" asked Jack.

"Oh sure, for everyone and probably more. Anyone seen the army guys yet this morning?" she counter questioned.

"No, they needed the rest though, they hadn't had a good night's sleep for a couple days, I gotta say the sleep I got was great, this place just feels safe and well built." said Charlie.

"Yeah, built for the rich with the money of the poor. Well it don't matter, right now it is ours." said Jack, "I'll go check on the army dudes as soon as I get Juan back in here."

A few minutes later Jack was back with Juan and two men and a woman had taken over guarding the ER entrance. Charlie refilled his coffee and sat down on one side of Juan, Nanci sat on the other and started to make headway into her own plate, both watched him eat.

"This is good, eggs, potatoes, good stuff, I could eat a horse." said Juan speaking in English for the benefit of Charlie.

Terry overheard and said, "Thanks Juan, I bet it is not up to what you are used to, but I am cooking for a group here, so I am doing the best I can."

Juan nodded and continued to eat, then asking for, and getting, seconds. A few minutes later Jack came back in and sat across from Juan. Looking up Juan said, "Ah, you guys eat already?"

Jack and Charlie both nodded 'yes' and continued to sip their coffee. Jack spoke up, "The army guys seem fine, they are just sleeping, woke one of them up and I got to see his lightning reflexes, he scared the crap out of me, even though he was only pointing one of his boots in my direction. I told him to go back to sleep, I was just checking up on them." Jack's face turned troubled, "Mary though, I don't think she is going to make it."

Juan put his fork down, "That ain't good breakfast news Jack."

"Sorry Juan, Nanci. Sorry, wasn't thinking there. She hasn't turned or anything, just ain't looking too good." Juan resumed eating, slowly.

"Hey I stopped by the ER entrance too and looked out before coming back here, the zombies are getting restless again." said Jack.

Jack, Charlie and Nanci shared a look and Juan noticed it. "What?" he asked, "C'mon, what?"

"We-ell", started Charlie.

"No, let me", interrupted Jack, "Juan, how many zombies tried to get through in the last couple hours you were out there by yourself?"

"Uh, none, they had all quieted down, which is why everyone went off to bed, they were just in the lobby if I need them though. Why?"

"You left and the zombies started in again." said Jack.

"So? Could be the sun coming up or them noticing the movement, or maybe somebody made some noise. Could be anything really."

"Yeah, I suppose it could. Let's explore that though, the anything could include you and that is what I want, no need, to talk to you about."

Shrugging Juan said, "So. Talk."

"I, no, we, think it is you. The zombies don't seem to want to attack you and from what Charlie says something happened when you killed that super zombie yesterday, and, well, we don't know what else to say."

"I don't think it is me." replied Juan.

"Okay, so we have to convince you too, so we could try something, right? You wouldn't care?" asked Jack.

"Depends on what you wanted to try I guess."

"How about you get close to a zombie and see what happens, see if it goes for you. Not unarmed or anything, I mean you keep your gun out and pointed at its head and we'll be there, but something happened and I think the zombies don't want you anymore, not for food anyway. Also we let Charlie check you out, you know, physically."

Puzzled Juan, asked, "Why? I didn't get bit or anything, they hardly touched me as it was."

"Yeah, yeah, we know Charlie was there, Mary was there, they said the same things, but we should still check anyway."

Sighing Juan said, "If it will make you feel better, I guess. Look Jack, Nanci, Charlie, something did happened, I felt strange, sort of, not like superman or anything, just weird for a little while, the feeling went away, I got nothing now. Nothing unusual anyway."

"Well, let us all check on that, okay?"

After he finished eating they headed back to the ER into one of the two rooms the group had elected to keep empty for emergencies, the rest of the rooms were occupied with men and women ready to spring to the defense if they were needed. Snores came out of several of the open doorways. Turning the lights on in the empty room Charlie gestured for Juan to hop up on the gurney. He checked Juan's pulse, listened to his heart and all but had him strip naked to look for scratches, bruises and injuries. He found nothing, all four of them were silent for a very long time, before Juan said, "What? You didn't find anything, that is good right?"

Nanci said, "Juan when you came back with Hank yesterday at the club, the car was a mess, you had bruises, you had some cuts from the glass. They are not there anymore."

Juan thought about it, he didn't recall getting cut up or injured in the last couple of days, he had been living pretty rough and could remember the doc putting hydrogen peroxide on some cuts he hadn't noticed after they had arrived at the Mike's Club. Look himself over he didn't see any cuts, scraps or even half healed scabs where he thought there had been minor wounds. Nothing. He stared at them for a moment. Then said, "Well maybe…" he shook his head, then said, "Madre de Dios, what does this mean?"

No one answered him right away, then Jack spoke, "Keep your mind open partner, lets go see how our zombie friends like you?"

Still shaking his head Juan followed the three to the ER exit and went towards the cars acting as a wall. The zombies were definitely more active now, they had started pressing around the cars trying to get in at the three humans defending the area.

Jack pointed to one side of the cars, "You move over there Juan and the rest of us will get over on this side, don't do anything if you don't have to, okay, this is a test. Then again don't let them get too close either."

Juan took up a position in front of a zombie that was clambering over one of the trucks, the zombie turned his head up and looked at him, or through him, and just slowed down, the effect was immediate and everyone noticed it. On the other side the group of five people was agitating the zombies even more, the monsters made haste in their efforts to get past the vehicles before any of their brethren. Of course fast is relative and the group was easily able to cut down any who led the pack. Meanwhile Juan's zombie just stopped in the bed of the truck. On his knees the middled aged man with bald head and green pants just waited, looking at Juan. Juan looked at him. A staring contest of sorts came about, the others put five zombies down while 'farmer green' just stood staring with Juan. Jack called out from where he was, "Hey Juan, maybe get closer to him and see what he does?"

Juan stepped forward, the zombie did not move, but he did cock his head sideways, as if looking at Juan for the first time. His head remained at that odd angle when Juan took two steps back. The zombie stayed in the truck bed. Juan started talking to the zombie, "Go away, leave us alone, get out of here."

The zombie rolled over the other side of the truck's pickup bed wall and started shambling away. Charlie let out a whoop of delight, "He is a zombie whisperer!" This brought a laugh from the others.

"Hey man, try it from there on the ones coming over the car on this side." called Jack.

Juan turned towards the zombies and said "Go away! Don't ever come back!"

Most of the zombies reversed course, one, just looked at Juan and hissed angrily in his direction. While it was distracted, Nanci took a step up and clubbed it with a round house swing that connected to the back of the thing's head. Juan took up a more central position along the wall and the zombies on the other side stopped actively coming towards the ER, they resumed their listless wandering and milling about.

The doors to the ER slide open and Ted came out followed by Sanchez and Thompson. Ted said, "Good morning." curtly and he and his men made their way out to the Humvee, killing a few zombies that were milling about as they went.

"Uh, good morning, ah Ted?" said Jack, "What are you doing?"

"We are going to take the fifty caliber machine gun and set it up on the roof, we will get a good field of fire from there, practically unbeatable, plus we'll take the radio, I am not sure I want to turn it on, but if I do it will get better reception up there than down here surround by the hospital's walls."

Jack moved forward to grab a box of ammo from one of the men, "So are you staying then? Need a hand to lug this stuff up to the roof?"

"Staying?" Ted paused, then nodded, "We aren't going anywhere, we decided that last night. We were just too dog tired to move the gun and stuff then. If you want to help us, I would appreciate it, plus I want someone else to learn how to fire the fifty and to take a look at our rifles, just in case we can get more guns sent down here. So if you and a couple other guys want to help us, sure. Choose who you want to learn the guns."

"I can stay here, and watch the ER, take the other guys, alright?" said Juan. Nanci immediately chipped in that she would be staying down with Juan too, in case he got tired.

Agreeing Charlie organized Jack and the other three relief guards into pairs with the military men and they set off, each pair carrying a part of the gun, a box or two of ammo, or some other boxes and crates that Ted pointed out. During the process of unloading Juan just thought 'Stay Away' as hard as he could out at the zombies, it seemed to work and Ted noticed.

"Why're they acting like this? Normally they attack when we get this close, they are just milling about."

Charlie answered, "We don't know, Juan was out here this morning and he said they have been acting weird all night. Part of me is paranoid about it, like something is holding them back, trying to get a force up here before it attacks. So, like, we better move this gun up to the roof quick, huh?"

Nodding agreement, Ted hustled them along faster. Soon Juan and Nanci were left alone in front of the ER, every once in awhile people would come through, bring them coffee or ask if they needed a break. Juan politely refused. Jack and Charlie came back through with Sanchez and Thompson, to get another few boxes of equipment and to warn Juan and Nanci that they were going to fire off a few rounds of the machine gun and probably take a few shots with the soldier's AR-3 rifles as well. As they left Juan and Nanci watched the sky turn from light blue to pink in the pre-dawn light.

The crash of the machine gun shattered the quiet morning and made Nanci jump about six inches, though Juan barely stirred at the noise. The gun stopped for a few minutes then another series of shots rang out. Juan didn't know what they were aiming at, apparently the gun was not facing towards the ER. It would make more sense to put it around on the other side of the building to over look the highway which was far more likely to bring zombies to the hospital than the scrub covered hills that the ER faced.

The rifle fire sounded far less intimidating than the machine gun and went on for a shorter period of time. Just after sun rise Charlie and the three other original day guards were back to grab more ammunition for the guns, they were loaded up and heading back into the building when Juan heard Jack's voice yelling from the roof, five stories above, he was screaming and at first they could not understand what he was saying, then they understood him to be yelling for Juan and Charlie to come up to the roof right away. He yelled harder when they did not move right away. As he was yelling a flash of light brighter than anything any of them had ever seen before back lit Jack's body, it was like someone had set off the largest photo flash ever invented behind the man. A few seconds later they all heard a distant rumbling, like a stampede of cattle, the sound was from the other side of the hospital and washed by the ER leaving behind a weird echoing that bounced off the scrub hills back at them.

Chapter 22

By dawn most of the people involved in the racket out in the parking lot of the Mike's Club a few hours before had calmed down and gone back to bed. Kevin was sleeping, after Doc had looked his shoulder over and pronounced him a lucky son of a bitch. He had cleaned the wound and stitched it up as best he could, then bandaged it and forced some pain killers down Kevin's throat with orders for him to get some sleep. Doc even warranted that Kevin rated one of the few mattresses to sleep on.

'Funny thing', Doc thought, 'when I first showed up the mattresses looked like enough for a small army, turns out that eighteen mattresses aren't nearly enough. Ah well, soon enough we will all be used to sleeping on the floor.'

Doc went by and checked again on Hank, who was doing far better than Doc would have ever thought possible. Broken ribs do not heal up, yet Hank was managing, getting himself to the bathroom, running around in the middle of the night while people were shooting each other, never complaining. Doc edged over to him and touched his forehead, checking for a fever, nothing. As Hank lay in the lazy boy that had become his home, Doc peeled back the bandages on his wounds slowly.

"You know that hurts more when you do it slow doc." Hank said, startling Doc.

"Sorry, I thought you were asleep." Hank gave him a look indicating that he had been, "Sorry. I just got done with Kevin, I thought I should check you out before I went to get a couple more hours of sleep myself." replied Doc quietly.

"What? It is morning out, no sleeping for us now." Hank said, pointing to the doors of the Mike's Club where the dawn light was clearly visible.

Nodding, Doc said, "You are probably right, but I am tired and need to get a little rest, the last few days have been pretty hard." Doc continued working on the band aid around Hank's ribs, not quite removing it, but pulling it up and shining a flashlight down into the crevice created between Hank's skin and the bandage. The bruising was very mild, almost gone in fact. As he worked his way over toward back he had to have Hank roll over. "Sorry Hank, I know this is a pain in the ass, but if there is an infection I want to nip it early, we don't have the means to deal with full scale sepsis." Behind the doctor the doors to the Mike's club flashed brilliantly, lighting the entire building briefly. Both Hank and the Doc looked around, thinking that someone had just taken a picture of them, when they saw no one nearby they looked to the door where people were scrambling around outside. Then a wave of sound hit them, rumbling through the ground, through the building and waking everyone from the smallest child to the oldest adult among them from their slumber, save one. Kevin would always regret the fact that he was blissfully unconscious and asleep when what remained of the government started fighting back in earnest and dropped a nuclear bomb on North East Denver.

Chapter 23

Dave threw another rock at the zombie kid, it was a heavy stone, and it hit the kid on the forehead and bounced off high into the air, coming down on the parapet of the roof before spinning on the edge and then falling off into the alley below. The kid's head looked dented and Dave laughed at the trickle of black blood that started to slowly ooze from the wound.

"Stupid little fuck, didn't dodge that one, did you?" Dave laughed again and reached for another rock from the top of the flat roof they were on. He had moved about three blocks away from the Mike's Club, the new plan was to ambush people trying to get to the club and to that effect he had parked his motorcycle in the middle of the street. On the seat of his bike he put that piece of shit, plastic fucking gun. He figured if the bike was not enough of a reason for people to stop, the gun might draw attention. It was just after dawn and business was dead. He plunked another stone off of the kid's head, aiming for the eye, he hit it, Dave had to admit that his accuracy throwing things had gone way up since 'passing on'. The rock was not large enough this time to do more than bruise the eye lid, it did not even draw blood. Still the kid slowly raised his hands to his face and held one over his eye while holding the other out towards Dave, as if trying to block any more incoming missiles.

Dave didn't know how old the kid was. Three? Eight? He hadn't been around kids much, who knew they could be this damned fun? Dave reached down and grabbed a handful of pebbles and threw them half-heartedly at the zombie kid, just to see what it would do. The kid flung his hand around ineffectively and let out a kind of moan.

"First thing kid, is I am gonna get you some food, once you are smart we are gonna start rounding up others, probably little ones, like you, I get a whole pack of you and we go after any hold outs we can find. I got a plan, a good plan to get into Mike's, and you are gonna help me do it. Holy…"

Only halfway through his planned speech Dave was interrupted by the flash of a nuclear blast many miles away, it caught the corner of his eye and drew his attention in as it grew. Dave quickly made himself look away and threw himself over the kid, knocking him down as well. He was not sure if he could go blind anymore, but nothing would be worse than being a blind zombie looking for food.

'The funny thing', Dave thought, 'is that I have never seen a nuclear blast before, yet I know what that was a nuclear bomb.' Thinking about it more Dave was curious as to why was the bomb dropped there? The bomb, as near as Dave could tell went off North of downtown Denver. He saw the light silhouetted by the large buildings. What was in that area to bomb? The airport? Going to the airport had not even occurred to Dave, maybe there were a lot of living out there and hence, enough zombies to make dropping a bomb worth it. Still a lot of people would die too and that did not seem like something the government would do. Or maybe it did. Now he had to think, how was this going to change his plans? 'Probably not at all', he thought, 'unless they drop more bombs, make the place a glass plain or something.' Dave sat up, pulling zombie boy with him. Dave looked the kid over, checking his eyes particularly carefully. "Can you still see you little fuck? Answer me!"

The boy nodded slowly, really slowly. "Goddamned retarded zombie, just what I need. We got to get you some food, I sure hope the gun trap works cause I can't stand having such an r-tard follow me around." Pushing the kid away, Dave looked over to the ballooning mushroom cloud.

"Huh, you know you seen pictures in books and the film of the bombs and they just don't do it justice. No wonder all those peace-niks of the fifties wanted to ban these things. Look at how high the smoke goes. Shit." Dave sat back on his well worn denim jeans and looked at the cloud for awhile. "It just goes so high, it is beautiful, just beautiful." he whispered to himself.

Chapter 24

"Let's go!" Juan yelled to Charlie, pulling Nanci along with them. They ran into the ER and Charlie yelled at some of the 'backup' men and women to go cover the entrance, something bad had just happened on the roof.

Running to the end of the hall Charlie hit the elevator button and one of the doors opened immediately, they hopped in and Charlie hit the top floor button and the elevator started to rise. Then, abruptly, the lights went out and the ride stopped.

"Shit!" Charlie screamed. "I hate elevators! Why didn't we think about that? A bomb goes off on the roof and of course the electricity is going to go out."

"I hope Jack it alright." said Nanci, then she went into a litany of prayer in Spanish. Shrugging Juan joined her after she had completed two verses.

Charlie looked at them, "What? What are you saying, I am not getting all the words, speak English."

Juan stopped, "Prayer Charlie, that's all, asking God to look out for Jack. Doesn't the hospital have automatic generators to power up when the grid goes off? Like if they were in surgery or something?"

It was Charlie's turn to shrug, "I guess, they should, I mean they do surgeries here, maybe the elevators are not considered a medical necessity?" As he finished talking one of the lights flickered on, then the elevator alarm started buzzing. The buzzing stopped and the button light went off, then the elevator started moving up. It stopped faster than Juan thought it should and the doors opened, they were on the third floor. Not hesitating Juan jumped out, followed closely by Nanci and Charlie. "Stairs okay?" Juan asked. No one objected and they were soon pounding their way up the remaining floors to the roof access. The roof door opened to the north and as they made it out onto the roof they stopped dead in their tracks.

"Madre de Dios." Nanci gasped and crossed herself as she went to her knees.

Before them was a cloud they have never seen before, yet they all knew what it was from textbooks and old films. Someone had dropped a nuclear bomb on Denver, north of the downtown area, it looked more like they had bombed the airport. Juan put his arm around Nanci's shoulder and they stood staring dumbfounded for seconds which seemed to stretch into hours before they heard a voice behind them.

"Hey, I'm okay, thanks for checking man!"

Looking over his shoulder, Juan saw Jack, he was pale and looked like he had seen a ghost or worse yet kissed one.

The snappy retort Juan had been going to call out died on his lips, replaced with, "Jack, what man? What is it?"

"Oh you mean aside from 'the man' bombing the working class to save themselves? Yeah it is worse. What's missing Juan?"

Looking around Juan couldn't tell, he saw the machine gun sitting up where he thought it might be, facing down slope to the north. The boxes of ammo were beside it and the whole mess had a tarp pulled halfway over it, probably to fend off the afternoon rains. It looked like the guys had set up their radio too, on a couple ammo boxes sat what looked like a satellite disk, pointed slightly south and west. Juan didn't see anything unusual and shrugged his shoulders slightly and shook his head at Jack.

"Maybe I should ask, 'Who is missing?'"

A light went on in Juan's head, "Ah! Where are the guardsmen?"

"Dead." came Jack's flat reply.

"What?! What happened?" asked Juan, looking around for zombies or bodies or something to indicate what had happened, seeing nothing he repeated his question, "What happened?"

Nanci and Charlie turned to look around and face Jack, who sat down on the boxes the satellite dish was on.

"I went with the guys back down, right? After the lesson on how to fire, reload the guns, they even gave us a primer on cleaning them too, though we didn't do that, they left us a manual. Anyway I headed downstairs, carrying this rifle and thinking, 'Why the heck am I going downstairs?' I mean I can't carry an ammo box by myself and we had an odd number of guys, so I am going along humping this gun as a guard? After we stopped for a bathroom break in the ER I told the others I would wait for them on the roof. So I get on the elevator and headed up here and the door is shut. We had propped it open with a piece of wood to make it easier to pull the boxes up here, right? So I was like, 'this is weird' and went to push the door open, no go. And I know that is wrong, because the door has a push handle, it cannot be locked from inside. I push harder and still nothing, so I thought they were fucking around with me, you know mess around with the wanna-be hippie or something, maybe a little military hazing to get their jollies. I hear Ted talking on the radio, he is speaking to somebody, only I can't hear what he is saying, he is talking kinda low. So I yell out, 'Hey, open the damn door!', they didn't, so I yelled louder, then started swearing, nothing. Well, I thought about it, this place has a couple of wings, so maybe there is another roof access door, only we haven't cleared the other side yet, so no way am I going through the stairs on the other side."

Taking a breath, Jack continued, "So I got a little harder on the door. Really pushing it, then hitting it and it started to give a little, I couldn't see out, but eventually I could work my hand through and felt a piece of wood they had propped under the door handle on the outside. A bit more shoving and I was able to work it free and get onto the roof."

"Ted was the only one I saw, he was standing over there, heading towards the vents." Jack stood up, he headed over to the venting and various pipes that snaked up through the roof. Walking around on the other side of them the group saw three ropes tied off on three different pipes, the ropes were taunt and led over the side of the building.

"Anyway I see Ted over there and I am like, 'Ted? Man what is going on?', all he said was he was sorry, then he pull a loop of rope up off the roof and wraps it around his neck and jumps off the fucking building! Right in front of me! I ran to the edge and tried to pull him up." Jack gestured to the edge of the roof, Juan and Charlie peered over cautiously, Charlie pulled back quickly, Juan just stood there leaned over the edge of the building looking down, he stood that way for probably thirty seconds, looking at the three bodies that dangled about ten feet from the top of the roof, none of them were moving, all of them looked like they had long necks, obscenely long, boneless necks. One of them, Sanchez? His tongue was protruding, dark purple and glistening wet from between his lips, all of the corpse's eyes were open.

"Juan?" Jack called, pulling him by the shoulders, back from the edge. Juan looked blank for a second then turned to Nanci and held her tight for a quick hug.

"Let me finish, here, before we decide what to do. I saw Ted do this and was trying to pull him up when the radio came back on, some guy on the other end, asking for Ted, I grabbed it, said, 'Ted is dead'. The voice swore, then came back on and said there was a bomb on the way, thanks to the relay booster Ted had set up, there was little immediate danger in my area, but I shouldn't look north for about a minute, in fact, I might want to get under cover. I asked where? Where was the bomb going to impact at? Thinking of the Mike's Club store, he just came back and said, the radio station, then, impact in twelve seconds. That's when I came over and started shouting for you."

"Shit." shaking his head Charlie continued, "These guys relayed the coordinates for the drop! These guys nuked us!"

Nodding, Jack said, "Looks that way. I wonder how much of what they told us was true? Probably it was a mix, huh? I just don't get why they would kill themselves."

Juan pointed to the satellite disk, "That still work?"

Shrugging Charlie said, "Don't know. I doubt it, ain't there supposed to be an emp wave or something that kills all batteries and radios when it goes off?"

"It won't hurt to try." Juan went over and clicked on the rather old fashion microphone, "Hello?"

Immediately a voice came back, "Who is this?"

"This is Juan Bustillo, who is this?"

"Juan this is Ed Stanson of the 19th Special Forces Group, currently stationed out of Fort Carson. Where are you Juan? Has there been an explosion nearby?"

Laughing quietly, Juan replied, "An explosion? Yeah, there was a bomb dropped up here."

"Okay how safe is your position? Were you close to the explosion, did you feel a heat wave or have any debris or dust fallen near you?"

"No, no we are far away. The bomb fell over by the airport, I think, we are on the south side of Denver, probably twenty miles away."

"Good! Juan that is good! Are you further to the west than the explosion? Further west of it?"

"Yeah, yeah we are, why?"

"The winds, they will carry the dust from the bomb and the dust will be radioactive. I think you are out of harms way. Do you know the address of where you are at? Do you see any street signs?"

"Ah, no, no address, I know where I am, you aren't going to bomb us are you?"

"What? No, no, what are you talking about? We want to rescue you, send people to come and get you."

Chapter 25

Dave was crouched down behind the broken glass of the store front, he was looking out at the group edging towards his motorcycle, there were eight of them. A stranger group he could not have imagined. Just kids, older kids, they had weapons, not just bats or pieces of pipe, but what looked like actual swords, one of them had an ax, some of them were wearing what looked like armor, chain links woven together in an integrated pattern. Pretty really. And pretty stupid, Dave thought, bullets were not stopped by the stuff they were wearing and he doubted the large shields three of them were toting would do much to deflect a thirty eight caliber piece of lead either. Dave loved stupidity. The kids had a couple of little ones with them too, a boy and a girl.

"So." he whispered to his boy, "You want a boy for a friend or a girlfriend?" The boy, who Dave had named, 'Nuke', was much better than he had been at six this morning. Thanks in large part to a man who had fell for the old, 'gun on the seat' thing around seven thirty. The guy was massive, three hundred pounds if he was a hundred and he was slow, which was awesome. Dave just waited for the fat slob to approach the gun then he and the kid stepped out of the store and got his attention. The man, almost to the gun, was already sweating beads in the cool morning air and he did not stop to look at Dave or the kid, he knew he had to get the gun and when he did, he whipped it around and pointed it at Dave. Dave had kept coming closer, in a slow walk, not even bothering to take his own pistol out of his holster. He had kept the gun loaded, but not with a bullet in the chamber, the fat guy surprised Dave by knowing how to chamber a round, but when the gun simply clicked, the guy had deflated, he had looked noticeably smaller and pale. Dave kind of wanted to drag it out, play with the dude a little, however the man was so pathetic looking that he opted for a quick pistol whip upside the head, while the guy was down Nuke jumped on his leg and started feasting, the fat guy was not out though, after being bitten and pistol whipped he still swung around and punched Nuke a good blow to the head. It never ceased to amaze Dave how people fought for their lost causes. He had to hit the guy three more times before he went down and then they both enjoyed a good breakfast. Dave had been taking a lot of hits lately and the extra charge he had gotten from fatty seemed just the thing to push him back up to full strength.

Nuke seemed to benefit far more from his meal than Dave, the pure amounts that he consumed amazed Dave and by the time he was done eating he could not only talk coherently, but his little belly was so distended that Dave was tempted to call him 'Ethiopia', instead of 'Nuke'. That was a couple hours ago and Nuke had vomited a vile ichor and shat more of it out, once in his pants, which disgusted Dave so much that he beat the boy and had made him go naked until he was sure he was not going to go any more. Now Nuke had on some loose sweat pants, easy to get down in emergencies, plus a pair of Nike's which seemed to fit him well enough, on top was Rockies t-shirt two sizes too big.

Answering his question, Nuke said, "Boy, no girls."

Dave smiled cruelly and said, "Shows what you know stupid. The girl can open doors your wanker never will. Adults go ape shit for girls in distress. I'll take them both. No, you'll take them both and if either of them winds up dead, so will you. I got no use for people who don't do as I say. Got it?"

Nuke nodded and they continued to watch as the group outside had a discussion, about eighty feet away at the end of the block. One of the girls had a bow, a goddamn bow and arrow. Dave smiled. "Christ, girlfriend, this isn't some sort of stupid game." Still it would pay to be prudent, what if she knew how to use it. Shoot her first, or at least at her, then take out the bigger boys. Six shots for six people, and Dave knew he would miss. At least once, probably; he would be lucky to hit three of them, they were not slow zombies he could throw rocks at. Yeah figure on getting three of them down, then either re-load and shoot the rest of them or just go mano-a-mano, there was no way in hell they could win, Dave was feeling very, very strong right now.

Turning to Nuke Dave said, "Get the kids knocked out or break a leg or something, so they can't go fast, then make sure any of them I shoot stay down, then jump anyone I am fighting from behind. You are not to run away, you die out there to keep me from dying, got it?" Dave put an extra mental push into his words, it gave him a feeling that Nuke could not disobey him, he was not sure if it would, time would tell.

Ah good, the group was making a decision, the right decision, to investigate the motorcycle and gun. The group came forward warily, at about forty feet from the motorcycle two of the heavily armored guys and the boy came forward, the rest of the took up a holding position. The third guy with a shield and the ax had a revolver, he took it out and held it down along his body. He looked inexperienced holding it, funny really he looked more confident when he had been holding the ax. 'Target One' changed to him in Dave's mind, revolver guy gets two bullets, girl with the bow, gets one, two guys in front each get one, then whoever looks most threatening gets the last one. Plus there would be misses. The boy in front had a long dagger out, probably nothing to worry about, he was half Dave's size. "Watch the boy he has a big knife.", Dave said to Nuke, who stood quietly watching with big eyes as the trio approached the cycle and gun.

Dave had told Nuke earlier that the signal for the attack was when anyone touched the gun. His reasoning was that anyone who grabbed the gun would be distracted by it, try to get it to work and in those crucial seconds where they figured out it didn't work, they would be dead.

The three guys stood there looking at the bike from about fifteen feet away, Dave could not quite hear what they were saying, but they were pointed to the blood on the ground where fatty had died. 'Shit', thought Dave, 'I should have moved the fucking bike twenty feet away or so, it is so obviously a trap they will never fall for it now.'

Yet they did, the older guys stopped and looked around, they sent the boy up with his knife, he approached the bike, and flicked the gun off the seat. Dave said, "Good enough, go!" to Nuke who looked confused as to if flicking the gun off the seat with a knife was the same thing as touching it with their hand. "Go!"

Dave pulled his revolver out and got a bead on the kid with the gun. Meanwhile Nuke scrambled towards the group out the front door of the building they had been hiding. Dave watched him go and also watched as the older boy with the gun raised it and prepared to fire. Dave pulled the trigger and fired until the young man went down, 'Was that two shots? Or three?' he thought to himself, 'Goddamn it! I am too far away!'

Pulling himself up Dave burst out of the front of the store and watched as the girl with the bow put an arrow into Nuke from about twenty feet away, Nuke was running for the little girl first and the arrow, which went through his forearm and pinned it to his neck, not slowing him up in the slightest.

'Gotta get closer to the chick with the bow!' this was Dave's only thought as he charged towards the 'rear' group to get a shot off, ignoring, the three people closer to his motorcycle, who were about fifteen feet away. Nuke slammed into the little girl, an all pro football star could not have done a better job of knocking her on her ass. As they went down Dave closed to within 'accurate' pistol range, or about thirty feet from the young woman, he sighted down the gun, going for a torso shot and just as he was about to pull the trigger he hand was knocked aside and the gun went flying. Staring in amazement at his arm Dave saw a long sliver of metal sticking out of it, about eighteen inches long.

"Sonuvabitch!" he cried, it was the little kid's dagger, sticking through his arm! Dave had expected the trio to run away, not stand there facing down a guy with a pistol. Turning Dave saw the little kid looking smug and worried at the same time, obviously happy with his throw and afraid of what was coming. Only he was not alone, the two larger boys jumped in front of him and stood shoulder to shoulder, one of them yelling to the boy, "Stay back Matt!" and the advanced on Dave.

Giving them his full attention, Dave mimicked them, "Oh yes, stay back Matt! And stick around, me and you are gonna have a long talk once I get rid of these bozos!" As he said this an arrow appeared out of his shoulder. "Fucking Christ!" Dave yelled, a little higher and the arrow would have hit him in the head. To prevent any further bow shots Dave jumped forward into the two young men, 'let bow and arrow girl get a shot off now.' he thought, thinking she wouldn't risk firing for fear of hitting her friends.

As he slammed into the taller boy's shield both of them took swings at him with their swords. One sword bit deeply into Dave's lower leg, breaking the bone, however as he spun aside he was able to dodge the other blow entirely. Not quite breaking through the two Dave jumped back, keeping them between him and the archer and trying to buy time for his leg to heal to the point where he could use it again. The boy Matt had picked the Glock up off the ground was trying to figure out how to use it. Dave saw Nuke running at him from the side, Nuke had sprouted two more arrows, one in his back and another in one of his legs, neither of which stopped him from tackling Matt into the Harley.

While this by-play was going on the taller young man had lumbered forward and tried to hit Dave, they were talking quietly to themselves, planning their moves and Dave figured he had better just handle them one at a time. Behind the young men the bow woman was trying to get a shot on him or Nuke, the other two in that group were bent over the guy on the ground and the little girl, checking to see if they were alright.

Dave feinted back at the smaller boy, then jumped sideways into the larger one, knocking his sword aside with ease. Once close in Dave smashed the kid in the face three times, then swept his hand down on the kid's shield arm, probably breaking it, the kid was tough and spun away from Dave and stayed on his feet, shrugging off the pain of his broken nose and split lips and trying to bring his shield back up into line. He did get his sword up and between them, which put all three of them in a line giving the archer another shot, which took Dave right in the neck, he gurgled and pulled at the arrow. He felt, then saw the slender blade of the other kids enter through his back and come out of his stomach, with Dave impaled the bigger boy stepped up and swung at Dave's head, trying to end the combat. Dave's gestures were a ruse however, the neck shot hurt like hell, but was not a blow that slowed him down, and the impalement? Well the kid in back should have taken a head shot, not stabbed him through the chest.

The kid behind him yelled, "No!" as Dave twisted sideways and pulled the sword hilt out of his hands with his body's weight. Then Dave lifted his hand up and deflected the sword by hitting the flat of the blade, which bent the weapon slightly. Continuing his twist he backhanded the shorter youth, knocking him to the ground. Dave briefly saw Nuke fighting with the kid on the ground and he turned full circle and and stood facing the the taller kid once again. Dave spread his arms wide, ducked briefly to let another arrow fly past his head and then leaped on top of the youth, knocking him down and landing on top of him.

In a classic bully on the school yard method Dave pulled himself and the blade of the sword up the kid's body and then sat on his stomach and delivered another volley of fists to his head, stunning or knocking him unconscious, Dave could not pause to find out. Reinforcements were arriving in the form of one of the girls who had hung back and the other, young kid who had been checking on the guy Dave had shot.

Quickly standing and putting the new combatants between himself and the archer Dave stretched, then reached up and casually tore the arrow out of his throat, followed by removing the other arrow from his shoulder. Rotating his shoulders and clearing his throat Dave tried to talk, his damaged throat would not allow it yet, though his leg seemed to be completely better. Cracking his knuckles Dave then reached behind him, grasping for the hilt of the sword under his left shoulder blade with his right hand. It was a tight reach, until Dave used his left hand to push the blade back through his body, making the hilt stick out a little more and easier to grab.

Clearing his throat again, Dave wondered at why they were not jumping him, instead they seemed to be watching him, waiting to see what he would do. Glancing quickly sideways he saw Nuke pinned under the bike with the other brat on top of him, pistol whipping Nuke with the Glock! Well there was nothing Dave could do for him now, he would live or wouldn't. Shrugging his shoulders and clearing his throat yet again, Dave found he could speak again, albeit his voice was rough, "Wh-hat are you waghting for?" he asked them.

The girl, who had a smaller shield on her arm and a long sword, answered him, "You."

"What? Why?" he asked.

"It is the damage moron, the more you use your body to heal up damage the slower you become, you lose your reflexes, we've seen it before.", she answered smugly.

'Huh?', thought Dave, he hadn't really noticed that, though it made sense, still he had gone into this fight well fed and was sure he was still stronger than he had ever been. He tried a feint with the sword, the woman didn't even flinch. Instead she said, "Oh please, you are not even in reach of me yet!"

Snorting, Dave lunged into reach and stabbed at her, using his speed to take her by surprise, only she was not where he stabbed, she had sidestepped and delivered a sharp thrust to the side of his head above his ear. A thrust which he barely was able to pull back from before it shattered his skull! Further her companion, had stepped forward and slashed at Dave's legs from behind, cutting through his denim into his calves! He almost went down, instead staggering forward and beyond the reach of their swords. Turning he put his back to the archer, and watched them intently, when he heard the arrow released he stepped right, to the other two it was as if he had just disappeared and reappeared two feet to the left of where he had been, the arrow, unimpeded, smacked into the boy's shield.

Casting the boy a sidelong glance the young woman said, "Ron, you better let me handle him."

"You sure Whitney?" said Ron.

She nodded which was enough for Ron, he then stepped back behind her, saw the little kid still pistol whipping Nuke and then stab his another dagger into Nuke's head. Nuke's back arched lifting the whole motorcycle off the ground momentarily, then he stopped moving. Dave got pissed, Nuke was his, his, well just his, no one else got to kill him. Only Dave got to do that. Leering he moved up towards Whitney, "You'll handle me? You'll handle me? What makes you think so? You cocky, young bitch?" Gripping his sword in two hands Dave strode forward on unhealed legs and started beating on Whitney.

For her part she managed to dodge some of his blows and took the rest on her small shield, until the shield started to come apart in her hand. Then she realized she was going to have to fight back, not wear her opponent down, she went on the offense and Dave was amazed, where as the young men were all brute strength and force, she was agile and did not telegraph her moves, making it harder for Dave to dodge her blows. They traded blows, with Dave nicking her thigh and Whitney opening up Dave's stomach, his entrails spilled out over his legs and almost by mutual consent they both spun away to drier ground. Guts hanging around his legs like an obscene kilt Dave and Whitney fought on. Dave started to get tired, Whitney was also breathing heavily. Dave knew any breaks in the fight would only serve to give her time to rest and, if she had told the truth, make him slower as his body healed up any damage he had already taken. He kept the fight up, jumping right back into combat with her, at a pivotal moment Whitney and he crossed blades. Dave pressed in close, both hands on the hilt of his weapon and his body pressed up against hers. His strength was winning the contest, pressing her downward, seeing an opportunity he swept out with one foot sweeping her off of her feet, at the same time she 'gave', shoving the hilt of her weapon into his face, breaking his nose and causing him to lose vision in one eye, both stumbled and fell backwards to the ground. He was quicker to regain his feet and slashed his sword across her torso as she rose. The blade did not seem to penetrate her chain armor shirt, but it threw her back to the ground, as he raised his sword over his head for a possibly killing blow he felt a sword slash to the side of his head, clipping the bottom of his ear off. As he had raised his own sword it had inadvertently blocked the blow from Ron, who had sneaked up behind him.

As he fell sideways away from the blow Dave snapped his foot out, catching Ron in the groin with enough force to actually lift the young man off of the ground. Rolling sideways Dave sat up on the ground and got his bearings. He still held onto his sword. Ron was throwing up off to one side, Whitney was climbing wearily to her feet, the bow woman had an arrow drawn and pointing toward him, but was not firing, that left…..

"Ow! Goddamn it!" the kid hit him over the head with the Glock, the pistol shattered as it hit Dave's head. Dave reached back and grabbed the kid as he was trying to backpedal. "No, fucking no! Sonny Jim! I have about had it with you guys." Holding the boy with on hand clamped like iron around his leg, Dave struggled to his feet. As he stood up he pulled the boy's leg with him, jerking him easily off his feet. He pulled the kid up through his guts and used his other hand to lift the kid above his head. Once he hand him there, he took an arrow in the chest, wheezing he threw the kid at Whitney, knocking them both down hard, plucking at the arrow he turned towards the young woman with the bow.

"You missy, are getting on my fucking nerves!" Dave stomped towards her as she calmly drew arrows and fired at him, Dave ducked the arrow that would have hit his head, knocked one aside with his sword and took one to his thigh before he reached her. Stepping on top of the guy he had shot as he made his way towards her, Dave continued his tirade, "I mean come fucking on, how many zombies have you killed with your goddamn bow?" she continued to fire as he stepped off the guy, "For fuck's sake girl, his gun" he pointed at the slightly moving body on the ground, to the ax and revolver laying beside it, "is right fucking there!" She had spunk, Dave had to give her that, she fired another arrow almost right into his face, he barely deflected it with the sword hilt. Swinging the sword around viscously, she blocked with the only thing she had in her hand, her bow, which was cut into two parts. Panting heavily, Dave yelled into her face, "His gun is right fucking there!", he then pushed her backwards trying to knock her over.

The young woman took two quick steps backwards but managed to stay standing, she then pulled out a long dagger. Dave spat at her, "Oh Jesus fucking Christ! Don't you know when you are beat? look at 'em! All your friends are down bleeding, unconscious or dead and you wanna pull out another toad sticker and go mano-a-mano with me? I mean if you had ran I might have let you go. Now I changed my mind you stupid little cunt!"

Dave took a step forward and his back leg was swept out from under him, he spun around seeing sky then pavement then sky again. He did keep enough presence of mind to roll over and foil anyone's shot on him, when he finally stopped and sat up he was about fifteen feet away from the kid with the ax, the one he had shot, who was sitting up pointing his revolver at Dave's head.

The bow girl rushed to his side, trying to hold his armored bulk up. The kid had blood pouring out of his mouth, however the gun in his hand was rock steady. Dave noted that his foot had not made the journey with him, and was still standing upright not two paces in front of the kid.

"Dammit, I liked that foot!" he shouted, then twisted sideways as the first bullet tore into his body. Several confused seconds passed before Dave realized that he was still alive. He was on his belly crawling away from the ax guy, his arms were not moving right, not quite right, one of those bullets must have come close to taking him out, he awkwardly put his right hand on the ground and tried to push himself up, looking back over his shoulder he saw a grim faced bow girl striding towards him with the ax. She jumped and landed on his back, forcing him to the ground once again, Dave felt the strength draining out of him, he tried to scream that it was all a mistake, the last thing he felt was the blade of the ax entering the top of his head.

Chapter 26

They were lucky they were so close when Dave jumped them, otherwise the kid would have died. That's what Hank thought anyway. Still, he reflected, the kids were lucky any of them had made it. He was surprised to see them alive and knew they would have a story to tell, he would get the rest of it after he finally figured out what the hell was going on at the Sky Ridge facility. The electronics still worked, which surprised Hank, he thought they would have been destroyed by the nuclear bomb, he seemed to recall that nuke's messed up electronic devices, destroyed batteries, that sort of thing. When the power went off, shortly after the bomb had burst, he was sure there would be no more television, cell phones, cars, anything. Doc said something about the EMP, electromagnetic pulse, only knocking out electronics close to ground zero. Doc also conjectured that the bomb had been a tactical nuclear bomb, designed to take out a small, compact force, not rain down destruction over a broad area. Doc seemed to know more about it than Hank, all Hank really cared about was the radiation, were they all going to die? Did they need to move? He was in the middle of these questions when Michael and his group trickled in and Doc had been called away to try and save them.

The answers Doc gave were heartening, no they probably were not going to die of radiation, Doc thought the zombies were far more likely to overwhelm them, as he doubted the bomb had got them all, and they made more where ever they went. Doc also said 'No' to moving too, at least until someone who knew about the weather patterns could them which way the winds blew. Doc thought the winds blew kind of south easterly, which should mean not directly at the club. The one thing Doc was really concerned with was radiated zombies, if some of them were exposed they could spread the contamination to whomever they contacted. This was something Hank was not going to worry too much about, if a zombie got close enough to give you radiation poisoning you probably had other, more important, things to be worrying about.

Picking up the phone the other board members had given him, Hank put call through to Juan. The phone rang a few times, then it clicked as someone picked up, "Amigo?" Hank asked, "You there Juan?"

"Si."

Ah just like old times, Hank thought, " How're things going? Ya'll see the blast this morning? Well of course you did, everybody okay?"

"Si, well sort of Hank. Don't know 'bout Mary, she is alive, but bitten. Charlie ain't letting visitors in, he seems worried. You okay at the Club?"

"Er, yeah mostly. Say Juan you remember those kids at the clinic right? The ones with the swords and the ax and stuff? All dressed up like knights? They said they would hook up with us here after checking on their parents?"

"Yeah, yeah, oh yeah! They come in?" asked Juan excitedly.

"Well yeah, but Juan, ah, they ran into Dave before they got here."

"Mother Mary! That guy almost killed you and you are the toughest guy I know, pretty stupid, but tough. What happened Hank?"

"Most of them made it through with bruises, you ain't gonna believe this amigo." pausing for a moment, Hank continued, "They got him Juan."

Silence on the other end of the line, then, tentatively, "They got him? They got Dave?"

"They seem to think so, Whitney split his head open with that ax Michael had. Everyone was hurt pretty bad, the least of 'em were bruised up, one kid looks to have a God damned broken testicle, Doc says they will pull through, they got an ass kicking they will never, ever, forget. You know how you said you felt all weird after killing that guy at the hospital?"

Warily, Juan answered, "Si."

"Whitney and you, you two are gonna have to have a little talk when you get the chance, she says, and her friends say, something happened to her too."

Juan was quiet for a moment, then said, "Okay, we will talk, maybe all three of us, anyone who killed a zombie up close and personal. Hank, we had something happen here too, you know? I gotta talk at you about it, try and get my head around it." said Juan.

"Shoot partner."

Juan proceeded to catch Hank up with the guardsmen, telling him as much as he knew, with help from a nearby Nanci, about how they had, Juan thought, been a spotter or something to guide the bomb towards its eventual detonation. He went on to say that he was in contact with the infantry and they wanted to send troop carriers up to get people from the hospital and the Mike's Club.

"Well, what do you think?" Juan asked after giving Hank a few minutes to digest the information.

"You talked to 'em, what do you think?" countered Hank.

"I don't think they mean any harm, I think they want to help. I say we meet with them and figure out how we are going to do things."

"So that is what we do then Juan, call 'em back up and tell 'em we'll see them later this morning if they can get up there to Sky Ridge, and I will get down there too, we'll get this shin dig going and see if we can actually get a good night's sleep for a change. Ask them about fallout and if it is safe for us to be outside, Doc is worried."

"Si, I will, probably I would worry about the zombies more than the radiation though, the zombie will get you first, huh?"

Chuckling ruefully Hank answered, "Exactly what I think Juan."

Chapter 27

Juan hung up the phone, he was till on top of the building and was looking out over the distance towards the still visible smoke cloud to the north east. The wind looked to be carrying the smoke to the south east, not so far south, more east, the smoke would miss Sky Ridge and the Mike's Club, Juan was sure of that. He looked at Nanci and smiled. Talking in Spanish he said, "The military guys will be here, they will figure this stuff out. You will see we will be okay again."

Nanci frowned and replied, "Military are still under civilian control, not the other way around, we are still going to need you, Hank and the others as our voice. Plus if the military is dropping bombs on the zombies we are going to be in trouble, the bombs will be gone long before the zombies are."

Looking over at the smoke cloud Juan thought that maybe Nanci was right about this. He took her hand and stared at the horizon for a few minutes wondering, what, exactly they could do about anything. Slowly he let go of Nanci's hand and approached the radio, picking up the headset he said, "Hello? Is Ed Stanson there?"

A reply was almost immediate, "Yes sir, is this John?"

"Yes." a moment later Ed's voice came back at him.

"Juan this is Ed. What is up?"

"Hello Ed, we have been talking a little bit and think we should meet up as soon as we can to figure out what we are going to do. When can you get here? Or do you want us to come to you?"

"No, you stay put, I will fly out to you in say, a half an hour? Will that be okay? If you have any badly injured, I am talking the worst couple of cases, not a whole bunch of people, we can take them with us when we leave. We pulled up a map of your location and should not have any trouble finding it, there is a helipad on the roof of the hospital right?"

"Oh yeah sure, I am almost standing on it now, I will wait here for you, okay?"

"Yes, that is perfect son, I'll see you soon!"

Nanci mumbled something about getting them coffee and Juan decided to stay up on the roof, he walked over to look down at the emergency room entrance and was not surprised to find the zombies had gotten closer. Concentrating he urged them to move away from the ER. As one the small crowd of them looked up at him, when they looked, the guards on the entrance also looked up, seeing him looking down they waved and said something that was lost in the distance. Juan waved back and nodded trying to convey an 'Everything is alright' sort of look. By now though the rumors of the soldier's death had traveled through their small community and the door behind Juan opened up much too soon to be Nanci coming back with coffee.

Seeing Jack and Charlie over by the ropes that led to the bodies dangling over the side of the building Juan started to walk in that direction, he was joined by a few of the people from inside the building. Jack explained what had happened as best he could, pointing to the smoke cloud was was now just a steady stream rising into the sky.

One of the men, he looked like a medical intern, said, "That doesn't look like a nuke, at least not what I thought one would be like. Is it true the Army guys killed themselves?"

Nodding yes, Juan announced loud enough for everyone to hear, "The Army guys hung themselves, they called in a nuclear strike on the radio station, barricaded the roof access door from the outside and hung themselves right here."

The group of men and woman babbled a bit hearing this news, one of the women actually got sick, vomiting onto the gravel rooftop, the acidic smell caused Juan to wrinkle his nose.

"Please people, stop for a minute here, that is not all." Juan held out his hands, gesturing at everyone to quiet down. One of the men helped the sick woman away from her pool of vomit and handed her a dishtowel he had draped over his shoulder to wipe her face off with. "First." Juan held up on finger, "We are not in any danger from fallout here at the hospital." One of the men called out asking how Juan knew, the others became more agitated, "Okay, let me start again. First, I just got off the radio behind me," Juan used his finger to point at the army radio sitting on an ammo crate behind him and then continued, "The army guy, I think he is a Major or something, he said we should be far enough from where the bomb went off at that we should be okay. Plus the winds should push what limited fallout there is to the south east of the explosion, but we are not in that range. That is the second thing I guess, we are not in any danger from the fallout from the bomb. Plus we didn't get hit by a pulse or anything that destroyed our electronics, another sign that we were far enough away. Third," Juan held up a third finger, "The army guys did hang themselves and are dead, I think we should pull them up and try to take care of them we I get done. The last thing, number three? Four? Okay number four is that this Ed guy, the Major I spoke to on the radio, he is coming here by helicopter, he is going to be here in fifteen minutes or so to look over our situation and see what he can do to help us out, maybe even move us to the south to the National guard base where they are at. He wants to see our set up first, then talk to us a bit. So, well so we need to get organized, I think some of us should pull the bodies up and get them into the…morgue? Is there a morgue here?" One of the people dressed in green scrubs called out 'yes!' and several people nodded.

Juan went on, "So we get the bodies into storage. I think we should do a quick count of inventory, list all the cars and trucks we have keys too, the number of phones we have working, how much food we have and how much space we have cleared here. Think we can do that in twenty minutes. I am not saying to count every packet of sugar or anything just more like how many days we could go without food, how long the generators could last before they run out of power, that sort of thing." Juan was not sure how he was going to get people to volunteer for these jobs, however Jack jumped in and just started pointing at people and telling them what to do, adding several things that Juan had not thought of before turning back to a few men, including Charlie and Juan on the roof and saying, "We get to pull up the bodies." He sent three men down to the ER for gurneys and then the three men left went to work hauling up the ropes with their grisly remains on the end.

Leaning out over the edge of the building Juan pulled on a rope with one hand and was surprised to find he could pull it up quite easily, bracing his feet against the side of the building he started hand over handing the body up. Charlie and Jack shared a disbelieving look, Juan was a hundred and sixty pounds soaking wet, though he was wiry and strong, the men below were all muscular and probably weighed in at over a hundred and ninety pounds each. Juan was not even breaking a sweat in the cool morning air. The door opened up just as Juan got the first body to the rooftop, Jack and Charlie hurriedly pulled it over the edge, Juan glanced over and saw Nanci standing with a large thermos and a plastic bag that looked to hold many coffee mugs, she was standing there with a slight 'o' on her lips, when she made eye contact with Juan her lips pursed into a grimace and she nodded slightly and continued forward.

"I saw a lot of people running down the stairs, not panicking, just with a purpose, you guys do that?" Nanci asked.

"Kind of a group effort. I told 'em what needed to be done, Jack assigned them tasks." Juan answered.

Holding up his finger and pointed up into the air Jacked nodded at his hand, "Yeah this is a powerful tool. Just point and say, 'You! Do this! You! Do that!', it seems to work. I think I should have pointed at someone else to do this job though." Jack frowned.

Shaking her head, Nanci said, "No Jack, they jumped and did what you said because, you gave yourself the worst job, they know you guys lead from the front and that makes them respect you and want to help you."

"Yeah, probably. I am too smart for my own good. Juan here though, he is doing most of the work himself, me and Charlie are just gawkers."

Juan flushed a bit and shrugged his shoulders.

"You think these military guys know what might have happened to you Juan?" asked Jack.

"I don't know, maybe, maybe not, I don't think the guys at their base were really out yet, you know? They might have seen a lot of stuff though and some of their guys had to make it back, right? Do I tell them anything? Could be risky, I don't want to end up in a room somewhere with doctors prodding me all day long."

Nanci had a fearful look come over her face, "Maybe we shouldn't say anything?" she looked at Jack and Charlie's faces expectantly.

"No probably not, maybe if you could talk to a doctor, if they have one, you know, privately, try to invoke 'patient confidentiality', maybe that would work?" said Charlie.

"Hm, when you put it that way, I say 'Hell no!'. I am sorry I mentioned it, this is 'the man' we are talking about, even if the man does not exist anymore, I mean the whole U.S. Of A. Is not this bad is it?" Jack asked.

The four of them stood looking at each other for a long while contemplating that thought.

Chapter 28

Whitney was laying on a bed with her arms around her sister Lauren. Next to her on one side was a black man, who she thought was named Kevin, he had been shot. Lauren, was softly crying to herself trying not to wake up the other patients, Whitney's tear stained face was a testament to her own grief at not being able to find their parents and almost losing her boyfriend Michael in the early morning battle with the zombie named Dave. Graig was lying on the bed on the other side of her, he was arguably the second most wounded of the survivors, the doctor they had suspected he had a broken arm, a concussion and a broken nose. The doctor has set the nose before Craig regained consciousness. Michael's brother, Matt, was nowhere to be found and Whitney had been trying to find out what happened to him. She loved Michael, and she was afraid of losing another friend more than anything. Whitney was pretty sure that her parents were dead, however she did not know for certain and that somehow made it worse.

An Hispanic woman came by and brought her another box of tissues, taking away a plastic bag full of used ones. Her name was Evaine, maybe Whitney could get some information out of her.

"Miss? Miss?" Whitney called quietly. The young woman, who had been walking away, turned back questioningly, "What happened to the others who came in with us?"

"Oh, your friends?" the woman came over Whitney's beside and put her hand on Lauren's head, "The doc gave the boy a tranquilizer, he was not doing really good and we, well, we had to do something. One of your friends, Angie?"

"Aggie." interjected Whitney quickly.

"Aggie? Okay Aggie is with him, the boy Ron he is feeling better, doc gave him pain medicine, but doesn't think his…his testicles, suffered more than bruising.", the woman blushed, "The other guy, Juan…John, he is doing okay, but doc is pretty sure his jaw is busted. Doc set it up and wrapped him, he is with the other three over with the older kids. Doc said Michael, he needed a surgeon, so he put him in a pickup truck and took him over to the hospital after getting him stable here. Doc doesn't know about your ribs and doesn't want you moving around much, but he says even if they are broken there is not much he can do for them. He", Evaine pointed at Craig, "is probably the worst off person we have here and rates a bed. Your sister, she can probably go with the others or stay here, she is okay, just has some scrapes and bruises."

"Can I leave? I mean, if I feel up to it?"

"Ah, you mean will I stop you? No. We want to bring you down to the real hospital though, on the next trip, you and him." again Evaine pointed at Craig, "You both need x-rays. Hank says there is a guy from the military that is going to meet them at the hospital, so he is going down there and you guys are supposed to go with them. I brought you fresh Kleenexes for the trip, you are supposed to be leaving soon."

"I don't want to leave my friends, if they are not going I am not going. Neither is Craig."

Evaine's smile faltered a bit, "You'll have to fight the doc about that, I don't know who is going on this trip, they want to move all the wounded and children down to the hospital today, you should go though, it is a real hospital and they can take care of you better there. Look here they come now. Please just go get checked out. Michael is there, so you can check on him, right?"

A balding older man approached the beds beside a taller middle aged guy. The taller guy came up and thrust his hand out at Whitney, he spoke with a mild southern accent, and Whitney recognized him, "Whitney right? I remember you from the clinic, Juan and I ran into you there."

"Yeah, I remember, Hank, huh? I don't want to leave the others here. I think we should stay together." said Whitney.

"Yeah, I thought you'd say that. We got a bus, the wounded will take up half of it, I think we can fit everyone in. I just hope no one else complains about you kids getting to go before the other kids, still you killed Dave, and most of you need medical treatment."

"Hank…" the older man began. Whitney recognized him as the doctor from the clinic where they had met Hank. Hank shushed the doctor with a wave of his hand.

"They are all they have, like family, we are not splitting the other families up. They can go together. Michael was already rushed over there." Hank's words carried authority and 'Doc' just nodded. Whitney appreciated the gesture.

Doc spoke up, "We don't have any gurneys or easy ways to get you onto the bus, I wrapped your ribs, but it is still going to be uncomfortable." He held out two tablets in his hands and Evaine got a water bottle from the stand beside the bed. "These are pain killers, they will not knock you out or anything, we need you to be alert in case the zombies hit the bus, we will need every set of eyes we can get. Okay?"

Whitney took the pills, hoping she could trust the doctor. The group moved off and let her relax for a little while. After fifteen minutes she did feel pleasantly numb however when the time came to move it did, indeed, feel uncomfortable.

Chapter 29

When the helicopter landed there were a dozen people on the roof to meet them. It was a small helicopter, it only had three people inside and looked like it might carry six at the most. Hank and the group from the Mike's Club were not at the hospital yet, they were well on their way and reporting very little early morning activity, loading the bus had taken longer than everyone had thought, then there were a few unhappy people at the club who disagreed with who got to go on the bus and in the caravan that went along with it. Juan shrugged his shoulders, the quasi authority they had was just that, they didn't have a way to force people to do anything. His fantasies about building a better society with the survivors had taken a few hits recently, none were a worse blow than the near riot that Hank had to deal with just to get those people over to the hospital. In the end Hank calmed the crowd down by assuring them they should all be moved by the end of the day to the new facility except for a core group of volunteers who were going to be left in charge of defending the club and it's vast array of useful food and materials for the good of the group.

The helicopter wound down and as the blades slowly stopped the man in back opened his door and hopped out. He was Hispanic, which Juan had not suspected over the radio, plus what Hispanic parents name their kid 'Ed'? He approached Juan confidently and put out his hand.

"So are you the leader of this group then?"

"Ah, no, not really, I mean this group at the hospital, sure, but we got another guy really in charge, he is on his way, coming over from the club." Juan answered.

"In a bus?" seeing Juan's nod, Ed continued, "Okay good then, we saw a bus with some other vehicles coming this way from the air, the only vehicles moving, couldn't miss them. Shall we go inside?"

The pilot and co-pilot were getting out of the helicopter, Ed turned towards the dozen or so people and said in a raised voice, "Okay people I am going to talk with Juan and we are going to wait for the guy you chose as a leader to get here to decide what we are going to do. We saw his bus from the air and he should be here soon. I gave my assistant" he pointed at the man whom Juan had assumed was the co-pilot, "the information we have to share with you, so he should be able to answer all your questions. No holding back on anything either, ask and if we know, we will answer. Right now I am going to steal Juan away from you so we can talk before the other guy gets here."

Lowering his voice he said to Juan, looking at Nanci, "Your wife?" Juan nodded, "She is not excluded, but I feel we need to show leadership here to get organized, we can't do that by committee. There has got to be a room we can use to meet right?"

"Oh yes the doctors had plenty of conference rooms, we have on set up, and there is a small auditorium we can use if we need to meet with everyone. We have coffee and food, if you or your men are hungry?" said Nanci.

"Sounds good, coffee is always welcome. Shall we?"

Juan led Ed and Nanci through the doors down to the conference room on the second floor. They spoke for about fifteen minutes before Hank showed up. Hank arrived with some hubbub, he was surrounded by people as he came up to the conference room door and he was having some difficulty getting into the room, not so much because the crowd was mobbing him, but because he was trying to get everyone's version of the last day's events at once. Finally Hank held up his hands and said, "Okay, okay, this is not working, I have to go talk to the General or whoever he sent to speak with us. I will catch up with you people later. The bus is going back for a second run, we need to get some of you double checking the rest of the hospital to make sure it is safe. Most of the wounded are already here with this last load, I am sure we could use more help taking care of them too. I will try and speak to all of you if I can when you are working, if you don't know what you can do to help, just talk to Jack or Charlie, I am sure they can find something to keep you busy."

After saying that Hank pushed the rest of the way into the conference room and closed the door behind him. Looking around in surprise he said, "Oh. For some reason I thought there would be more people here, just the chiefs then, eh?"

Ed Stanson had stood up when the door opened, with Juan and Nanci mimicking his action. Approaching Hank Ed put out his hand and said, "You must be Hank, I am Ed Stanson, of the 19th Special Forces Group." shaking Hank's hand he continued, "I am very pleased to meet you."

"The pleasure is all my, er, General? Mr. Stanson."

"Major, sir." Ed replied.

Turning from Major Stanson Hank shook Juan's hand, then half embraced him before turning and hugging Nanci and saying, "Keeping him out of trouble Nanci?"

"Sì Hank, mostly, you hungry? The cooks made muffins, and we have coffee?"

Hank nodded to both and Nanci went and got him a plate, loading it up with two muffins and making him coffee from long practice the way he liked it. After all four of them had all the muffins and coffee laid out before them and were sitting down in the plush conference room there was an awkward silence. Finally they all started to ask questions at once, then broke into nervous laughter, the Major gestured for Hank to go first.

"Okay then, well what can you tell me about what is going on Ed? Or should I say Major?"

"Either is fine, I probably have more information about the overall situation in the region than you do, but so far as what is happening over all I am not sure you won't know as much as I do."

Juan chimed in, "Is there still a United State? Is help on the way out here?"

Ed looked at them and said, "Of course there is a United States! As for help, we might be a bit lacking. The bomb this morning was supposed to get rid of the major problems in the area, we are, in a military sense, behind the front lines. Even given that most modern warfare philosophies would discount the term 'front line', that does best describe the situation. There were outbreaks of the enemy in Denver, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, New York, and Miami. And that is just in the US, our data on the rest of the world is limited, it seems that every major land mass has had an outbreak, but not as many cities were hit as in the US, which points to us as the origins of the problem. The current thinking is the whole mess started somewhere in Florida, with hurricane Melony just easing up off the coast the area is a mess and communications are very bad."

Hank said, "Okay so you say we are behind the lines, are the zombies that organized?"

"Zombies? Right now we just refer to them as 'the infected', yes, they do have the characteristics of a horror film zombie. Are we behind the organized lines? I would have to say yes and no. There does seem to be some organization at some level, something or some one is directing attacks, like the one on the radio station, we have reports of what we have termed 'Super Infected', er 'Super Zombies' that seem to be the leaders and can control other less able members of the enemy, sometimes some of them even seem to have regained some of their memories and abilities to think. There are other reports as well, of almost, well, lets just say unexplained abilities."

Juan nodded, so did Hank, the Major looked at them and went on, "I see you might be able to confirm a few stories I have heard too. I have to tell you I have not been out yet, this is my first foray into the field to meet you guys. I have been sending out troops on reconnaissance patrols and to keep down any zombies that get close to the base. I have not seen any combat with these things, you guys have me beat there, I would bet, and any information you could give me would help. So far what I know is not good."

"Yeah, okay, we can help with that, some of your boys had to get back from the radio station. I mean the guys that came in here said some made it back or were headed back?" asked Hank.

Shaking his head Ed said, "Not as many as you might think, that was a clusterf..", Looking at Nanci, he amended himself, "a…mistake from the get go. We deal in wounds, a normal enemy is bogged down, demoralized and defeated when he sees the wounded pouring in and hears of the dead left on the field, these things are not affected by wounding, our technological edge is not completely negated by their durability, but it is hampered. We were ordered to secure the radio station and tried to do just that in a conventional way, with only the most basic of information. It was not enough and we did not know who or what we were fighting. I have some video of the confrontation and we are learning from it, most of those men died. The few who made it back are more than half crazy and are getting the rest of my guys, worked up. No one likes to play soldier when their wives, girlfriends, parents and children are in immediate harm's way. Most of those at the base were reserve units, the special forces I am in command of were already serving overseas, I am, was, just pushing paper around on this side of the Pacific until we shipped out to relieve the rest of my unit."

Juan eyed him, "So, what, who you have, are mostly new guys and reserves?"

"Oh it is not like that, you don't get recruited into the special forces off the street. I have a lot of well trained infantrymen under my command, with a core of instructors who are literally the best at what they do in the world. Most of the new recruits are veterans of the war too, they have been around the block a few times, I have too for that matter, I didn't walk into a rear echelon job, I was assigned to it when I was recovering from an IED that hit my command vehicle. We have combat experience. Plus the reserves have already done one tour overseas. The United States Army is the most highly trained armed force in the world and the men I now find myself in command of are good representatives of that training."

Hank snorted a bit "You sound like a recruiter Ed. So the base is mostly empty? Is it more secure than this place?"

"I couldn't make the numbers to be a recruiter, they have a tough job these days, who wants to die in desert half the world away? The base is more secure, but not much more, it is not a fortress, just chain link fences with a guard house at the front to keep the riff-raff out. I have the troops putting up guard towers today, right now we can see things pretty good with our helicopters, but we don't have unlimited fuel and the way things are I think we can safely say we are not going to be getting any more for months, if not years."

"'The way things are', how are 'things'? Do you know?" Hank asked.

Ed looked a bit worried, his clean shaven face frowned at them and again he shook his head, "Not good. Between the edges of Colorado up to the Mississippi there are few reports of enemy activity, the area is mostly secure, but that is a lot of territory, Chicago is a nightmare, it would be worse than Denver, but let's face it, Denver is gone, there is almost no one left here, the enemy moved up into the mountain towards the smaller towns pursuing anyone who got out or they flooded the plains heading towards North Platte and Kansas City. Further south Pueblo is still fighting and they are holding better than Colorado Springs did, New Mexico is still mostly untouched, though there are reports of enemy actions in Santa Fe. Wyoming? Pretty clear right now. The Dakotas are clear and Canada, internal Canada is still clear too, the coasts of the entire continent are dealing with enemy incursions. A bright spot is Mexico City, no reports of enemy activity, over a million God damned people and nothing going on there at all. Yet. Hell I read a report before I left and I could spend half the morning relying the information to you guys, do you have any specific areas you want to know about?"

"Well, we could head north? Try to get to Wyoming or north east to the Dakotas? How is Boulder? Or Fort Collins?" asked Hank.

"Boulder is like Denver, a lot of stragglers, a few humans moving around or trying to contact us with cell phones or radios, Fort Collins is the Pueblo of the north, they didn't get hit so hard, but they have less people to help fight the enemy off, it would be tough to break out with the number of people we have, especially the non-fighters."

"You got a plan, you must, it is what you do. If we can't leave then we stay here. Bunker down and wait the zombies out or for something else to change?"

"Yes Hank, that is what I was thinking, we still have a bunch of, well not even second line machines now, but the older vehicles and civilian vehicles will work to forage food, gather survivors and keep us alive. There is still food and fuel here and in Colorado Springs to keep us well fed and comfortable for years if the number of survivors we estimate we have to care for is even close to accurate. Hopefully we got most of the enemy leaders with the nuke this morning, they could be the real problem."

"I don't know, I am not so sure staying would be a good idea, the food will run out, the fuel will go, what will we do if the numbers you have are off, or if the zombies come back? Can you defend us with the guys you have?" asked Hank.

"If the enemy came back we could not stand against them." Ed let them digest that for a moment before continuing, "It is a numbers game, the base is a fort, we have ammo and guns, we have mines, bombs, grenades and a few people who know a whole lot of dirty tricks. All those pluses are wiped out by the sheer number of enemy personnel that we could be dealing with. I have already said the base is nothing more than chain link fence, heck in some areas it is only a normal barbed wire fence. That means we would be using the guard towers and buildings as firing positions, and they were not designed for that. We don't have a bullet for every man woman and child in the front range, let alone the state of Colorado. When you factor in that each of the enemy must have their brain destroyed, not their hearts or legs or guts…", Major Stanson shrugged his shoulders, "This isn't a Rambo movie, my guys are good shots, but a head shot every time? Against a moving target, hundreds, thousands, even millions of targets, it is just not possible."

"So you are banking on them not coming back?" put in Nanci.

"No, not really, for the short term yes, long term, maybe even sooner, they will get back, when the, uh, food supply runs out. We can prepare for them as best we can, we have the whole of Denver to draw on for resources, three or four of my guys come from combat engineer units, and they know what they are doing, we can pour cement, we can build a fortification, a keep at first then expand the walls and reclaim more territory. We can build silos to store food and water in, we can farm land, raise livestock, prepare and prepare and prepare. This is the worst case. I don't count the United States out yet, we will get a handle on this thing, however until then it seems prudent to prepare."

This little speech had a slow reaction on Hank, Juan and Nanci, they thought it over for a few minutes then Juan leaned over and looked Hank in the eyes and said, "What do we do?"

Hank looked at Juan and Nanci then back to the Major, "This is like a what do you call it, a feudal state, practically, is that right?"

The Major hesitated, then nodded slightly, "Not that far, no Lords and Ladies, we maintain the democratic process, however some things could not be debated, within each position of power people are going to have to be able to make choices and enforce the laws of the community. I am not going to create a government from scratch, that will be your job. I will submit the military to whomever the civilians elect as their proper leader. This is similar to how the national guard operates now, the governor of each state has control over how they are used. This is a good system, as it will not circumvent anything we have in place, we will still have the same chain of command that we are used to. We'll still need 'state' level support, representatives, judges, hell even lawyers, sooner or later people are going to commit crimes against the community."

Hank blanched a bit at that.

"What? Don't tell me there is already a problem? Rape?"

"No, no, last night some ya-hoo on guard duty shot another one of our guys. The shooter was a stupid braggart and that didn't help things. The kid didn't die, but he is mad and everyone was ready to tear this guys head off, I have him isolated for now."

Sighing heavily the Major responded, "We have a brig at the base, it is yours if you need to use it, it might be a good idea to get the guy away from everyone else before mob justice takes over."

"I'll have to get the board together and decide that, it is too big for me to just do on my own. I see what you are saying about the government, no chance we could break out north or south?" Hank asked.

Shaking his head Ed said, "I would recommend against it, right now the enemy, the zombies, have their backs pointed at us, why fight through them to put ourselves in front of them again?"

Chapter 30

Jeff was not happy. He was stuck in some cruddy office waiting for everyone to decide what to do with him, all over a stupid mistake. He had not meant to shoot Kevin, he was being careful, so he got a little excited? Who wasn't? Other people had been firing too, it could have been one of them that hit Kevin, hell they could have hit Jeff! He was lucky he was not dead, yet he had to take the fall for the friendly fire? This was not right and he was going to complain to…to who? Hank was the leader of this group, though Jeff hadn't elected him, no, he had not, in fact no one had, he was put up there by his friends because he had what? Fought some zombies? Sent back a doctor with gun ammunition? Big deal! Hank led the group, Hank thought Jeff screwed up and deserved to be punished for it, Jeff was going to be punished. Not fair at all.

If that prick Kevin had kept his yap shut and covered for him, he knew Jeff hadn't meant to shoot him, yet there he was pointing fingers right after it happened. Kevin was Hank's man through and through. Everyone liked Hank and everyone thought Jeff was stupid and deserved to go down. What would they do to him? Surely not toss him out with the zombies? Kill him? Fine him? Jeff laughed out loud at that, money had suddenly, drastically, become worthless, they would not fine him. What about community service? They could make him do forced labor, he bet Kevin would love that, seeing Jeff working his ass off while Kevin sat around laughing at him. Jeff was in the midst of this mental conversation when the door was opened and a guy he only had seen around a few times came into the doorway.

"Jeff, what are we supposed to do with you?" asked the man.

Spying other men, rough looking men, behind the guy, Jeff swallowed visibly and answered, "Nothing. You, uh, heard what Hank said, he would decide what to do later."

"That is just the thing Jeff, you may not have heard but Hank left, took the guy you shot over to the hospital. He is not here right now."

Letting that sink in, Jeff tried to answer in a confident voice that sounded all too whiny and pathetic to his own ears, "Well, he'll, he'll s-sort me out when he comes back. W-won't he?"

Shaking his head the man said, "No, no, see we all like Hank, but he is a nice guy, too nice maybe, Kevin told us some stories about Hank's life and while we trust him to do what needs to be done, we think" the man gestured over his shoulder at the other men behind him, "he might be a little soft on you. You see I don't have my two kids with me Jeff, I don't have a wife anymore, or parents or a sister or a niece and nephew. You follow me?"

Nodding in confusion, Jeff answered, "Y-yeah man I get you, you lost a lot of people in this mess, I did too, you know I had a girlfriend and…" this was a lie and came out like a lie, which seemed to make the man happy. Jeff's voice trailed off, then he asked quietly, "No, no I guess I don't get what you are driving at?"

"I said it already, I lost everyone, until I found these guys, they are my family now, I know that and they know that. But you, you, don't seem to know that. Anyone here would have laid his life down for yours last night, before you shot a guy this morning, but now? Now I don't think anyone can trust you, no one wants you in the family anymore. You're a fuckup, you shot your brother. You shot my brother. You want to know what is worse? You could have shot my kids, who are the ones we have found around the area. You could have killed my kid. You have shown that you could still kill my kids or my brothers and sisters or parents again. You are worse than they are Jeff."

Jeff didn't have to ask who 'they' were. He saw the look of resolve in the man's eyes and he knew, knew something really bad was going to happen. In a quiet voice he asked, "What are you going to do to me?"

The men moved forward and closed the door behind them.

Chapter 31

It was mid afternoon, several hours after visiting with the Major and ironing out plans, several more bus-loads of people had been driven over to the hospital and the mob of zombies that the group had led away from the facility were being led further away and shot to pieces one undead body at a time. Hank was sitting with Juan at a normal looking hospital bed, if it were not for the fact that Kevin, who was laying in the bed flipping the channels on the remote, could not get a single signal the scene could have been one set weeks before the zombie outbreak.

"So you sure you're gonna be okay, huh?" Hank asked Kevin for the third time.

Kevin rolled his eyes and said, "Man, you know I am feeling weaker now, I think you are wearing me out asking me that question. The docs here said I should be fine, they should know. They even x-rayed me to see if anything showed up, that pea shooter Jeff had would have had to hit something key man, like my head or heart or atorta or something."

"Atorta?" Nanci asked and giggled, it was a refreshing sound to hear.

Kevin pretended to go into a funk and slumped over, "Yeah, yeah, I told ya I was not an ace at school huh? Why do you have to dog me like this, I mean I am okay my atorta wasn't shot up and the docs said I need rest, like real rest, you guys only got in 'cause I told em you were like my family now. Don't make me take you off the list."

Laughing Hank said, "Aorta. Okay, okay, I'll lay off too, you are going to be fine, we'll lay off you and heck if you wanted you could probably be the one operating on aorta's, things are going to get worse before they get better, I think, and the doctors will need all the help they can get, even if it means training someone without a medical background how to operate."

Kevin perked up at that, "Hey you think so Hank? You really think so? My mama would be so happy if I were a doc, I mean really happy."

"The world is changed Kevin, who knows what opportunities are going to be there in the future? If you are interested I will talk to the nurses and docs, if this goes on awhile I can't see them not relying on their assistants more and more as time goes by. I wish I was wrong, I don't think I am. I think all of us had better be looking out for the future in this new world. Things are not ever going to be the same again."

"Yeah Hank? What about you, huh? Are you going to change too?" asked Nanci softly.

Hank knew she was talking about Evaine, or any woman for that matter, he smiled and said, "Nanci, Nanci, Nanci, will you ever stop trying to settle me down? I am a bachelor and I love the life I have now."

"Bah! Men, you always think it is about you, it is about the woman too, not just about men or being alone. So are you?"

Laughing Hank said, "You never give up? How'd we put up with her all these years Juan?"

"Don't you get me into this, you talk to her, leave me out." Juan said taking a step back and putting his hands out in front of him in a defensive manner.

Nanci, on the other hand, sensed weakness in her prey and pressed her attack, "Answer the question gringo!"

Hank smiled, about to give another evasive reply, then looked from Juan, to Nanci, to Kevin and the words died on his lips. He licked his lips nervously while Nanci put one hand on her hip and pointed the other one at him, "I have seen you with the ladies, you don't touch them, not just with your hands, but not with your heart, you love Juan and me and even, Kevin now." she pointed at the black youth as if to demonstrate a point, "You love us more than you allow yourself to love a woman. Why is that Hank? You can't go on grieving forever. You said it yourself it is a new world and you should be looking out for your opportunities. You better be looking out for them? Do you hear me?"

Swallowing, Hank could not say anything he just gave Nanci a short nod, she smiled triumphantly and announced, "Finally! Sense! I cannot sit in this room talking all day, there is still work to be done." She raised a hand to the men, "No you stay, it is good for Kevin to visit with friends while the doctors allow it. I have to go.", so saying she abruptly left the room. Leaving a vacuum of silence behind her.

"I think…", started Juan, before being interrupted by Kevin who said, "You're doomed now brother!"

Hanked nodded wearily in agreement. He walked over to the second bed in the room and sat down on it wearily. The talk then turned to discussing the girl Kevin had run into, his potential to become a medical assistant and how Hank was going to handle the upcoming elections. Hank and Juan discussed Michael a little bit, Kevin had never met the kid, who was only a little younger than he was. It seemed that he might be okay, if there was no infection or other problems from the surgery. The bullet wounds were terrible, one of his lungs had collapsed, he had multiple broken ribs and he still might die. Even with that the doctor who had spoken to Juan had said the would give better than two to one odds that the young man pulled through, Michael seemed to have a very strong will to live. Eventually Kevin asked Hank what he was going to do about Jeff.

A troubled look came over Hank's face and he replied, "Kevin, funny thing, I shoulda mentioned this before, but I got a little sidetracked by Nanci and well, there isn't a good way to say it, Jeff is gone."

"Gone?"

"Yeah, they put him in the office like I said and when I spoke to the Major he mentioned they had a brig they could secure him in until we figured out what to do. Well, I called back to the Mike's Club and asked them to send Jeff on over so they could take him out of here, you know, before anything happened to him and they said Jeff had taken off."

"Really?" Kevin puzzled this over a few minutes, then said, "Hank I didn't know the guy that well, seemed like an asshole, I mean not at first but as the night wore on he just got worse and worse. He was definitely not a brave asshole. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would get the balls to escape. You know what I mean? More like the kind to take his punishment, blame someone else and complain bitterly about it the whole time."

"I kinda got the idea that maybe they knew something else about it too. I spoke to Sanchez, I mean that guy knows everything, don't let his age fool you Kevin" Juan nodded in agreement, "he knows something and he is not telling me. I know he would not lie to me, he wouldn't do that. The thing is, if I asked him directly, 'What happed to Jeff?', would I want to know the answer? Maybe it is better if I don't?"

"Aw shit. You think they killed him?" Kevin groaned.

"I don't know Kevin, I don't know. I suppose I had better find out, I just…don't want to..not right now. Juan? You wanna do it?"

Thinking for a minute he answered slowly, "Sì. Yes I think I do. This is the kind of job the second man gets. The dirty job?"

Hank nodded.

Chapter 32

A small stream flowed between the broken concrete of some long ago finished deconstruction. The old pilings and smashed rubble was put in place to shackle nature to man's artificial designs, to prevent erosion from washing out the banks of the stream during the short flood season, which could cause tremendous damage to the local infrastructure if left unchecked. At the top of the broken concrete there was a zombie, a middle aged man with a stupid, grinning face, he lowered his head to the body he was eating on. The body, in the zombie's eyes had a glowing rainbow color that was slowly draining away, the blood and flesh the zombie was stripping off of the corpse was invigorating the zombie, making it stronger, bringing back memories and opening new vistas in the rotting corpse's mind. The newly aware zombie sat up and said roughly, "David. My name is David. I remember now." looking down on the body he went on, "It tastes so good!" this prey had been easy to come upon, it was beaten and injured and more importantly outside the protective zone that David knew was the Mike's Club. The prey had not even struggled until David bit into its thigh ripping off a chunk of bloody muscle mixed in with the tough denim of the man's blue jeans. That bite had gotten a reaction, a scream and a weak attempt to back pedal away that led to nothing. The prey had been too wounded to fight off even a poor, weak zombie like David. As he started to lower his head again towards Jeff's bloody torso a shot rang out and a thirty-thirty bullet took off the top of David's brain, causing enough damage to end his miserable second life in a fountain of red-black gore. David's body fell across that of Jeffs, who was not yet dead, but well beyond feeling at this point. As his life's blood drained out of him Jeff could only think of one thing; how unfair everything was. If he could do it again he would make it fair, he would make. It. Fair.

Chapter 33

Hank, Juan and Kevin were sharing a joke when the door to Kevin's room opened up and the woman Kevin had met out in the Mike's Club parking lot tentatively inched her way into the room in one hand she held a bouquet of flowers in a green glassware vase.

"Knock, knock!" called Krystal as she forced her way into the room. "You guys got room for one more?"

Raising his eyebrows at the sight of the woman Juan nodded 'yes', while Hank said "Sure!"

Turning to Juan Hank asked, "Is this Krystal? The woman you were telling us about?"

Krystal answered, "Yep that's me, you must be Hank then? And Juan, right? I knew Kevin rubbed shoulders with the big wigs, it is the only reason I warmed up to him. Enjoy these flowers Kevin, I know they are not very manly, but there are not going to be many of them in the future, the hospital gift shop only has a few vases left."

Hank took Krystal's proffered hand and then offered to take the flowers from her, she relinquished them with good grace and he set them onto the nightstand behind him.

"Hate to bring you bad news boys, but Nanci says to get out. Hank has his own room he should be resting in and Juan, well, I guess Juan has things he is supposed to be doing too, so scoot you two. Nanci's orders. I think she is running things around here now."

Looking at each other Hank and Juan left Krystal and Kevin to themselves. As soon as they were in the hallway Nanci magically appeared and told Hank he was supposed to be in the room next door to Kevin's. The doctors wanted him to rest up, after all broken ribs were no laughing matter. Hank grunted in assent and trudged to his assigned room while Nanci led Juan away with a quick goodbye.

Back in Kevin's room Krystal approached him warily, "I just wanted to say thanks for this morning." she gestured at the flowers.

Kevin nodded, "Aw, yeah, it was nothing, you'da done the same for me, I know it."

Krystal raised her eyebrow and responded, "Maybe…I like to think I would have anyway."

"You would have, I know you would, you're, I don't know, different, you're good, I can tell."

"Thanks Kevin, I appreciate that and I like that you see that in me." Krystal shrugged, unsure of how to proceed, haltingly she said, "So, uh, tell me your story, how you ended up at the club and all. You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine? Okay?"

Kevin nodded his agreement and the two spent the afternoon listening, talking and eventually crying together.

Hank shut the door to his room behind him and looked longingly at the bed. He had not slept well in ages and a real bed and getting some real sleep appealed to him. He was unbuckling his pants when the bathroom door behind him opened up, he was startled and turned to face Evaine, pants half undone.

"Oh Hank!" she stepped forward and embraced him, "Finally! Some action!"

Turning red Hank stammered, "Uh, Evaine. I uh, didn't know you were in here! Nanci didn't say, she just said this was my room." Hank started doing up his pants and belt, when Evaine put her hand on his, stopping him.

She looked him in the eye and said in a low whisper, "Hank, I wasn't kidding." Evaine didn't move her hand as she continued, "I am ready for that."

Epilogue

The stream tumbled over the rocks behind the Mike's club, babbling like a first grader playing the part. It takes a long time to die when no major arteries are nicked. A trail of blood wept from Jeff's body down past various insects thrilled with the sudden, unexpected red bounty, and ultimately it ran into the stream. The sun set. The persistent noise from the Mike's Club died to almost utter silence, slowly the birds stopped chirping, leaving only the babbling stream. At last the blood stopped flowing, with a great heave and an exhalation like air leaving an untied balloon, Jeff's body grew still. Nothing broke the noise of the stream. Then, slowly, very slowly Jeff's head lifted off of the broken piece of concrete it was resting upon. He rose quietly and shoved David's body off of him. The body held no interest to Jeff, it was dead and black, no color at all. Above him, near the top of the ravine, beyond a short stairway leading to the loading dock door stood a lone guard watching the night with a pair of binoculars. Jeff couldn't smile, not yet, but he recognized instinctively what prey looked like when he saw it.

Author's Note

First I have to say, I am rather fond of author's notes. It is a chance to break out of telling a story to say whatever I want. I feel pretty confident doing so because, hey, who reads "Author's Notes" anyway? I look at some of the writer's I admire and they always seemed to have these notes at the end that I rarely read, until one day I started reading them. Usually the information was of only trivial interest to me. Who cares how you came up with your character "Ted"? Or that the book was written on a bus ride from L.A. to New York? Just give me more "Ted"! Now! Now! Now! These days I do tend to read the author's notes, I see it as a sign of my growing maturity. Oh and I find most of them interesting too.

"Undead Advantage" started life as "The Ballad of Hank and Juan" which was shortened to "Hank and Juan" then the title search got left to stew for awhile until I did the editing. The book does not really end; it just comes to a stopping point where I know it can be left to the imagination on how things go from here. I could write more on the group, but I don't think there will be an "Undead Advantage II". Hank and Juan will be looked in on from time to time, especially a decade and a half after z-day, but for now their story is finished.

This book was the second one I started and the third one I finished. Between starting it and finishing it I wrote "Found" and I cannot imagine why I did things that way. I have always been one who jumps around with different writing projects, then looks in surprise at those I have finished, wondering "Now just how did that happen?" Please don't misunderstand me; I usually do a great deal of plotting out what is going to happen and how each book will end, I just don't write them all at once. I am settling into a pattern where I am getting closer to that goal, to focus on a single item at a time, but I am not there yet.

I write zombie books because I like writing about zombies, not because I have any illusions that my works are great world literature. The point of fiction is just to give the reader a bit of a break from a 'normal' life and if I did that, then I did my job.

Thank you for reading!

Mark Clodi

June 16th, 2009

Revised July 3rd, 2010