Saturday, July 23, 2011


The inter-com speaker spat at him, “Brookings!”
Harold sighed and finished drawing the line in the schematic.
“Brookings! Damn it, get in here!”
His boss must have promised something to someone and now he needed someone else’s lap to dump it in. It was a habit that had grown the last few months. Harold reached over and flipped the switch on the inter-com. “Yes Sir, Mister Sharpe. I’ll just be a moment.”
He made a notation in the margins of the sheet and set his pencil aside. A full year of studying computer assisted drafting and the only job he could get was with a company stuck in the dark ages of technology and working for a department manager who was barely above an illiterate caveman. Opening a drawer he removed a breath mint and popped it into his mouth; he wasn’t concerned with his own breath, but the mint would help to disguise his boss’s though. Stepping outside his cubicle he turned right and walked past the empty areas where other engineers should have been working; the company was dying a slow and unremarkable death.
At the end of the aisle he walked into the corner office and stood before the desk of his department manager, Gary Sharpe, “Yes, Sir?”
A roll of paper plans was pushed across the desk, “I need preliminary sketches by next Friday.”
The ass didn’t even look up at him. “Am I to assume the Merkel project is on hold?” Harold asked.
“What?” Sharpe looked up as though he was puzzled. “You’re not done with Merkel?”
“No, Sir, remember we discussed the time frame you assigned to the job?”
“Yeah, and I told you Merkel needed to be done yesterday!”
“No, Sir, you gave me the new spec sheets yesterday.” Harold sucked briefly on his breath mint before continuing, “You said I had a week to finish the new drawings and get them back to you.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Yes, Sir, it was.”
“God damn it Brookings, don’t you try to tell me what I said! I know what I said!”
“Apparently not.”
Sharpe stood up and leaned across his desk as Harold tried to retreat from his breath. “Look at you! You can’t even face me man to man, and you’re supposed to be a combat veteran? What a crock of shit! Take those plans and get your ass to work! I want the preliminaries by Friday and I want the Merkel project wrapped up and put to bed by tomorrow, got it? Do you understand?”
“I understand what you want, Mister Sharpe.” Beneath the calm exterior Harold was seething.
Sharpe settled back into his chair with a smug grin on his face. “That’s what I thought; now get out of my office!”
“Absolutely, Sir.” Harold turned on his heel and exited the office in the direction of his cubicle. When he arrived he picked up his jacket and the briefcase he carried his lunch in and walked down the hall to the elevator where he pushed the down button and waited until the doors opened and stepped in. Pushing the button for the ground floor he leaned back against the wall as the elevator dropped away and then jolted to a stop, the doors groaned and slowly opened, on the third floor.
“Shit.” Harold slipped out the doors by stepping down about a foot to the third floor lobby, and then walked to the stairs, “Screw the damn elevator.”
In the lobby of the building he waved to the security guard before he realized the kid was wearing headphones and was bobbing his head to music and not in greeting. Luckily there was nothing in the building worth stealing or the company was going to be in deep shit. Hell, the security guard would probably help any thieves load up the worthless crap they stole. In the parking lot he worked the key of his fifteen year old Ford Ranger into the door lock and played with it before finally giving up and using the passenger door which didn’t lock anyway. The truck was visually a piece of shit, and maybe the driver’s door wouldn’t unlock with the key, but the motor and tranny were sound plus the little four banger engine and five speed transmission racked up the miles per gallon quite nicely.
He started the truck and pulled out of the parking lot onto Gary Avenue and headed north to the I-10, pulling onto the freeway he merged with the traffic and then exited on Mountain Avenue. Turning north again he drove up to Mickey Ds and grabbed a large hamburger combo to take home; he was going to need to stop with all the fast food he had been eating lately, just not today. In his apartment he sat down and started to eat, but his cell phone rang and he glanced at the name, “Sharpe” was displayed on the face.
He flipped the phone open, “Hello.”
“Brookings, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Eating my lunch.”
“What? I told you to bring your lunch so you could work while you eat. Where are you?”
“In my kitchen,” he answered.
“Did you say your kitchen? You have twenty minutes to get back here and get to work or you’re fired, do you understand me?”
“I understand perfectly.”
“It is eleven forty-eight, you better be here in twenty minutes.”
Harold smiled into the phone, “Twelve oh eight, yes sir, I understand.” The line went dead and Harold set the phone down on the table and continued looking out the window of his apartment as he ate his lunch, chewing the sandwich slowly and ensuring that each French fry was liberally coated with ketchup. One of his neighbors came out his front door dragging his wife/girlfriend by her hair and shoved her out into the walkway before closing the door behind her. She walked to the door and started pleading to be allowed back in, but Harold knew how the situation would end; the same way it always did. The man would come back out, slap her around a bit and then allow her in for a session of make-up sex.
He shook his head and wished the pretty little Hispanic girl would leave the son of a bitch; you could look at the man and tell he was no good; she didn’t though, so it wasn’t Harold’s problem. He finished his burger and fries and sat there quietly sipping soda through the straw; finally he set it aside and opened the newspaper to the help wanted ads. There wasn’t a single listing for electronic engineers. Maybe a job digging a ditch, no, he couldn’t speak Spanish. Some kind of construction maybe, nope, there was that Spanish thing again. There used to be a lot of good paying jobs in construction; it was what he did when he was attending classes to learn CAD after he got back from Iraq. Not anymore though, not if you didn’t speak Spanish. More often than not the good paying blue collar jobs had been taken over by the illegals. Yeah, illegals only do the work Americans don’t want to do.
Okay, tomorrow he would go to one of the employment agencies and see what he could find, in the meantime he opened a beer and slowly sucked it down as he waited for Sharpe to call him back. He never did though, too bad; at least, not until the next morning.

The cell phone rang and Harold picked it up as he spooned another mouthful of cold cereal into his mouth, “Hello?”
“Brookings, thank God!” It was Sharpe and it was the first time Harold could remember him not yelling at him. “I need help.”
“Sorry Mister Sharpe, but I no longer work for you.”
“What? Work? No, no, I need your help. I’ve been trying to call the police, but no one is answering 911!”
“So why are you calling me? I’m not a cop or paramedic.”
“I know, but you were in the Army, right? You probably own a gun and you can come get me, help me get out of here.”
Harold put his spoon down, “Sharpe, what the hell are you talking about?”
“The riots! I haven’t been able to get out of the building, the security guard is dead and I can’t get out!”
What the hell was he talking about? “Listen Sharpe, you’ve treated me like shit since the day I started working in your little kingdom, you have a problem, call the cops.” Harold started to flip the phone closed, but hesitated as he heard Sharpe’s words.
“Please, Harold, I can’t get through to the police; all there is, is a recording and sometimes there’s not even that. Please, you were a soldier you know how to fight and how to use a gun right?”
“I know how to use guns, yes, so what?”
“Listen, just grab your gun and come get me out of here, shit I’ll give you a month’s pay as a bonus.”
A month’s pay? There was only one problem though; Harold didn’t own a gun. He planned on purchasing one, but not until he returned to Arizona where he could get the type of weapon he wanted and not one of the People’s Republic’s ideas of politically correct firepower. Nope, no gun until he lived somewhere people were still free and the government wasn’t afraid of a citizen’s choice of weapons.
“Sorry, Sharpe, but I don’t own a gun.”
“You mother fucker, this is your way of getting back at me because I was your boss, isn’t it?” His voice started to become shrill, “Get your fucking gun and come get me you bitch!”
Harold’s hand folded his cellphone over and closed it, what an idiot. Riots, what riots? He hadn’t heard anything about riots. He switched on the TV and waited while it warmed up before settling in front of it with a cup of coffee. All he saw was the emergency broadcast symbol as he shifted through the channels until finally he reached Fox News and he stared at the screen, what was this? There was an outline of the continental United States with a series of red dots here and there, mostly along the West Coast and East Coast though there were a few located in cities across the lower southwestern states. As he watched the screen Phoenix turned into a red dot. At the top of the screen was a notation, Locations of Reported Infection. Infection? He glanced at the bottom of the screen and read the banner running by.
Fox News is currently broadcasting without the permission of the FCC, and against the explicit direction of FEMA and the Office of the President. As a public service, we will continue to broadcast information regarding the outbreak until forced from the air. The President has announced he will address the Nation at 11:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Secure your home, arm yourself, and be prepared to defend yourself and family with deadly force. This is a public safety announcement. Please stand by.
Deadly force? What the fuck! “What the hell have I been missing?” He scanned a few more channels, but returned to Fox and left the channel there. Digging through his closet he found his old stereo, plugged it in and adjusted the channel selector of the AM/FM until he found someone talking.
“…gangbangers. Okay, I was wrong, but it was a natural assumption to make with all the trouble these damn illegals have been causing us. Now the government is going to make us wait until late tonight to tell us what is going on? We know what is going on! Look out your freaking windows people and look what’s happening! People are slaughtering each other in the streets! And yes, you heard it here, they’re eating each other! You heard the live reports from the hospitals in Englewood; they’re eating people out there!”
He shook his head, this guy was nuts and he was still on the air? Through the window of his apartment he heard the Hispanic girl across the way screech at her boyfriend, “Let me in, Carlos. Please, let me in!” Geez, had he thrown her out again? Then she started pounding on the door with her fists as Harold glanced at the TV screen. “Carlos! Let me…” Her voice broke into a shrill scream and Harold jerked his head back to the window.
A twenty-something in baggy jeans was lunging after her as she back-pedaled away from the door. The only reason he wasn’t catching her was the baggy pants were around his ankles as he tried to reach for her. Throwing open his door, Harold shouted, “Hey! Get away from her you asshole!”
The man didn’t even look at Harold though, he turned to the girl’s boyfriend who had opened the door of their apartment and punched him in the side of the head. The guy in the baggy pants didn’t even flinch as he grabbed the boyfriend and pushed him backwards through the door and to the floor where the boyfriend began to scream. The girl came running back and was trying to pull no-pants off of Carlos as Harold dialed 911 and waited, nothing, no ring, nothing. He closed the phone and rushed out the door to help the girl.
Leaping over the brick planter separating the two sides of the apartment complex he ran up behind the girl, grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her out of the doorway so he could reach the two men struggling on the floor. “Get out of the way!”
Harold threw his arm around no-pants’ throat and pulled backwards, but as he did he was shocked by a sudden spray of blood that coated the open door. He had seen something similar in Iraq when he had shot an insurgent in the throat and severed the artery on the right side of the neck. Carlos was losing the struggle in a big way. As he pulled the man back he shouted at the girl, “Go to my apartment!”
She didn’t though, she started punching the restrained man in the face as she screamed Carlos’ name. Harold was strong, he knew he was even if he was a little out of shape, but this guy was more than a handful. They struggled back and forth and then no-pants managed to hang onto the girl’s arm and sink his teeth into her shoulder; her scream was so piercing it hurt Harold’s ears. Harold spun the man to the side, forced his forearm under his chin, and then lifted the man with his other elbow under his crotch. The man’s body went up and backwards as Harold drove his head into the edge of the brick planter. He heard a combined crunch and snap as the skull was crushed and the neck broken.
“Jesus,” he said. “I killed him!” But the girl was gone, the door to the apartment closed and he could hear her wailing inside. For a moment he panicked, “Oh shit! I could end up in jail or prison!” He walked quickly to his own open door and shut it behind him as he passed through. Did any of the neighbors see what happened? Would they testify on his behalf? He was only trying to help! Shit!
He dialed 911 again and this time it rang, but all he heard was an automated response saying all lines were busy. Great! Just great! Now what? He thought about packing his clothes and leaving, but the cops would be able to find him eventually and that would be harder to explain; it would only make it worse. He paced back and forth from the kitchen to the living room. In the end he sat down and listened to the radio as they talked about the riots and the disease that seemed to be spreading rapidly around the city.
He discovered there was a curfew in effect and no one was supposed to leave their homes in the interest of safety, but problem was, even the people who were not out and about were in danger. Callers in to the radio program began referring to the rioters as zombies; people could be so stupid sometimes, zombies were already dead and couldn’t be stopped unless you…shot them in the head, or…bashed their heads on a brick planter? No, no way, the man with his pants around his ankles had been breathing; Harold was sure of it. He must have been high on drugs; that must be it! There must be a batch of bad drugs on the street that was causing people to act crazy! Of course! He found himself relaxing as what was happening started to make sense. That’s what it was, drugs. He couldn’t be blamed for protecting his neighbors from a drugged out gangbanger, right? Hours passed as he listened to the wild rumors on the radio and each successive rumor seemed worse than the last.
The Hispanic girl had long since stopped her wailing and Harold wondered if he should check on her. Did she have medical supplies to treat her wound? How was Carlos? He thought of the splash of blood he could see on the front door through his window and shuddered, Carlos couldn’t have survived the loss of so much blood. Maybe he should check on her, just to make sure.
Stepping out of his door he looked around and saw no one, then he walked to the blood covered door and knocked. After a few moments he knocked again, but there was no response. “Hey,” he said loudly. “I just wanted to check on you, are you all right in there?”
With still no response, he turned the door knob, but it was locked. Okay, he had tried to help and there was nothing he could do if she refused to open the door. He returned to his own apartment and fixed a sandwich for dinner he never ate; it just sat there next to some chips and a glass of milk.
More time passed as he waited for the scheduled Presidential announcement and outside there was no movement in the courtyard. No one was venturing outside and frankly he didn’t blame them. Most of his neighbors were undocumented and normally avoided getting involved in anything, but he wondered, how do they know about the curfew? Then he realized they were probably listening to, or watching the Spanish language radio and TV channels.
Maybe it was time to pack up and leave Southern California, he no longer had a job and the prospects looked bleak at best anyway. Yeah, he had family in Prescott and Yuma, but he wasn’t real excited about Yuma; he hated the desert. Prescott, he decided, and he started packing up the few belongings he had unpacked when he first moved into the apartment. He began going through his unpacked boxes and realized there was very little he really wanted, most of it was cheap junk he had no real attachment to, so he left it lying about the floor of the bedroom; he could use the boxes to move his clothes in.
He finished sorting his belongings and stacked the few boxes he was taking with him by the door and then decided he was hungry, but the sandwich he made earlier was dried out; he threw it away, made another, and then sat down in front of the TV, it was almost time for the President’s announcement. He sat there a few minutes until the Speaker of the House appeared and realizing there might be a few minutes before the President spoke he went to the refrigerator to get a beer. Then, as he was popping the top of the can he heard the Speaker begin to talk and he returned to his worn out couch to listen.
“Good Evening America, I come to you tonight at a time when our great nation teeters on the precipice of disaster and we are confronted with the worst calamity we have ever faced in the history of our land. As you may know, riots and murder are sweeping through our peaceful neighborhoods as I speak. The poor people who are carrying out the crimes we are experiencing, are not to blame for what is happening, they are as much victims as the rest of us are, therefore we must first address the underlying reasons, the conditions, which have allowed this terrible event to occur. Under the leadership of the President, and the Vice-president, we have seen a reduction to the internal security of our nation, our homes have been thrown open to the will of foreign terrorists and now we, all of us, are paying the price. Because of the ineptitude, or the will, of the President, the Vice-president, and certain others of the opposing political party, this evening I have been forced to have the President, the Vice-president, the Whitehouse staff and five members of the United States Supreme Court arrested and incarcerated in a location to be revealed when the current crisis is resolved. I know this is a frightening scenario, but a necessary one. I was sworn in as President of the United States of America under the rules of succession, less than one hour ago, but I assure you I am completely in command and will soon order the distribution of the cure and the vaccine for the disease, which is at the moment ravaging our nation. Naturally, under the conditions we are faced with, I am hereby declaring a state of national emergency and I am imposing martial law. Both houses of Congress will be suspended and I will lead by presidential decree until enough of the membership of Congress can be located and brought to the Capitol to form a legal quorum. Please be patient and know help is on the way. God bless you, and God bless the USA. Good night.”
Harold sat there alone as what the Speaker had just said sunk in to his mind. Had he heard correctly? The Speaker had the President arrested and was holding him at a secret location? No, this kind of crap happens in third world nations, not in America. She needed to wait for a legal quorum to be assembled in Congress? Bullshit, Congress was already in session, they weren’t on vacation or anything. Presidential Decree? It was a fucking coup! The government had been overthrown!
Breathing heavily he wondered what to do, shit! The first thing they would do is cut communications; that was why there were no TV channels working except Fox, and the telephone service was so sporadic! Next they would forbid travel, that’s why there was a curfew! He jumped up from the couch and walked to the door and opened it; he wasn’t going to wait for an official announcement, he was leaving now!
Putting on one of his old BDU desert camo jackets, and then picking up the first two boxes he walked out into the courtyard and headed for his truck. In the parking lot he threw the boxes in the back and returned to the apartment for the next boxes when he noticed his neighbor, the Hispanic girl, standing in her window watching him walk by. He turned to the window and walked over to it.
“Hey,” he said loudly. “Are you alright?”
When he got close enough to make her out better he saw the red stained blouse and eerily, there were bloodstains around her mouth and on her hands as she pressed them against the glass. “Are you okay?”
She bared her teeth in an expression of rage and slammed into the glass with her body. Harold stepped back in startlement, then again as she hit the window a second time, and then a third. The window cracked and when she hit it again with the full force of her body the window exploded out as she fell through to the courtyard. As she jumped to her feet Harold saw several large cuts in her abdomen, but she ignored them while she ran at him. He sidestepped her lunge and threw her away from him as she began to scream at him incoherently, when she began to rise he punched her in the side of the head as hard as he could and she crumpled to the pavement, stunned but not unconscious.
“Screw this,” he said, and ran for his truck. Apparently, so did everyone else.

The traffic was gridlocked and nothing was moving anywhere. Harold had started for the I-10, but now he was blocked and couldn’t go forward to the freeway, or return to his apartment. The access road of the railroad tracks crossing Mountain Avenue beckoned to him, but the way he was boxed in there was no way to get to the only escape he could see. People were honking their horns and in the distance he could hear gunshots and screams; this was turning into a very bad place to be.
Opening the door of the truck he stepped out and looked down Mountain towards the freeway. For as far as he could see the traffic was bumper to bumper and people were beginning to abandon their vehicles; that was only going to complicate things worse. He jumped into the back of his truck for a better view and saw a group of people running between the lines of cars in his direction, some tried to turn off to the houses lining the road and were pulled down by others who were chasing them. The people chasing others would grab someone, pull them down and then race after someone else; he needed to get out of there, but he didn’t know where to head for safety.
Reaching down he grabbed the smaller of his boxes and jumped to the pavement in time for a woman to run into him and then scratch and claw her way past. Pandemonium was breaking out as his box was knocked from his grasp and then kicked under a car where he couldn’t reach. Panic was beginning to confuse his thoughts and finally he broke and ran with those around him. North, he ran north and began to pass people who were older or slower while others passed him. Finally he ducked into a row of shrubs and watched people run past his hiding place; some were running for their lives and some were on the hunt.
Several times he broke from cover and ran to new locations, each time staying as long as he dared before moving on again during intermissions of screams and attacks. There were many people who were wounded and were being helped by family members, friends, or in some cases strangers. He began to loathe the fact he had run and not helped anyone, but what could he do? He had no weapons and had no idea where to go for safety.
In the darkness between street lights he paused to catch his breath and saw a woman clutching a small girl to her hip turning in circles, she was confused and disoriented. “Lady! Lady, keep moving north!”
“My husband! I can’t find my husband!”
Harold stepped next to her and she shied away, “It’s okay, I’m not one of the crazies, where did you see your husband last?”
She pointed vaguely down Mountain, “Back there, back there somewhere.” She sobbed, “Some of those people were catching up to us and he told me to run with Tabitha and he would catch up to us later. But I can’t see him.” Jesus, he was probably dead, or worse.
“What’s your name?”
“Chrissy McDowell.”
“Okay, Chrissy. What we’re going to do is get you and your daughter to safety, and then we’ll worry about where your husband is, all right?”
“No! He said he would catch up, but how will he find us if we keep running?”
“Lady, Chrissy! Your first priority is your daughter; let’s get her to safety like your husband wanted!”
“I don’t know what to do, Tabby is so tired. We’ve been running and running and I don’t think she can anymore!” The woman looked as though she was on the verge of totally losing it.
Harold crouched down next to the girl and saw she was carrying a Hanna Montana backpack in one hand. “Hey, sugar,” he said. “How would you like to ride on my back?”
She shook her head, “My dad said I shouldn’t talk to strangers, or get in their cars, or help them find lost puppies, or…”
He smiled at her, but cut her off, “It sounds like your dad is pretty smart, but your mom is right here and if she says it’s okay I’m sure you dad wouldn’t mind, right?”
“I guess.”
Chrissy grabbed Harold by the shoulder of his shirt, “Those people are getting closer!”
Harold dropped and turned his back to Tabitha, “Climb on, sugar and let’s get going okay? We need to hurry!”
Tabitha wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as he stood up, “Let’s go Chrissy!” He turned north towards Foothill Boulevard and hopefully somewhere safe for the mother and child. He felt better now, he had a purpose and someone to protect, someone more important than himself.
Harold jogged steadily on into the coming dawn as Tabitha bounced on his back and Chrissy followed close behind. God, was it almost morning? At one point a man with oily hair and a look Harold didn’t like ran beside them and asked Tabitha if she had any water in her backpack and Harold warned him off, finally with a shove when he persisted. He needed somewhere for the girls to take shelter, and soon. Chrissy was beginning to fall behind.
At Foothill he turned west and weaved his way through the cars on the road, sometimes climbing over them as he crossed the road. Once he had to pick Chrissy up from where she had fallen between cars. He reached the sidewalk on the north side of Foothill and waited for Chrissy to climb over the final car to join him, but as he looked around he saw a man running in their direction and crazies about fifty yards behind him chasing him straight towards Harold and his two charges. Shit!
He looked quickly around and ran for the security gate of a nearby apartment building, but when he reached the gate it was locked. Damn it! Near the next gate were ten or more bodies with gunshot wounds to the head, someone had been shooting crazies and it might be a good place to take refuge. He ran to the next one and again the gate was locked, but the running man joined them.
“Here,” he gasped and stepped forward with a crowbar, jammed it into the gap between door and frame, then popped the door inwards with a violent wrench. Harold pushed Chrissy through the opening and followed as the young man jumped inside and tried to latch the door. “Oh shit!” He exclaimed.
“What?” Harold asked.
“Uh, the gate won’t latch!”
Harold swung Tabitha down, “Chrissy! Take your daughter upstairs and see if anyone will allow you to come in!” He threw his shoulder against the gate as one of the infected slammed into it trying to get through. “Drop down and put your back against the gate and your feet against the wall!”
The young man did and shoved against the gate; it held as Harold stepped gingerly back, ready to throw his weight against the gate if the kid couldn’t hold it. “I’ve got it.” The man said and then held up his open palm to shake hands, “John Baker.”
“Harold Brookings, good thing you had the crowbar.”
“You wouldn’t have needed it if I hadn’t led these fuckers to your door.”
“Yeah, well things are a little screwed up right now.”  
“No shit.” Baker looked around but there was nothing available to block the gate with. “I guess I get to be door stop, huh?”
“For now, I’ll see what we can come with, but you’ve got the gate for now, right?”
“Sure, just don’t forget about me.”
Harold walked away and then down the hallway of the first floor apartments; Chrissy and Tabitha were nowhere to be seen, so he went upstairs and found them sitting with a small group of diverse people on the carpeted floor. An attractive young woman stepped into the hall and motioned the group into the door she had come out of; she was carrying a rifle and a pistol was hanging from a belt in a holster.
“Hey! Do you live here?”
“Yes, we have some room, you can come in too.”
“I’m more concerned with the gate; we can’t get it to lock.”
Her eyes widened as she walked towards him, “Let’s go take a look.”
They walked together as she asked, “Do you have any skills? You know, do you know how to do anything?”
“I’m an electronics engineer and I used to be in the Army, why?”
“My neighbor, he said we needed people who knew how to do things.” She walked faster and started down the steps to the first floor. He followed her downstairs and to the gate where John still sat; they seemed to draw the attention of nearby crazies and they started trying to force their way through the gate again. “That’s not good,” she said as John shoved back against the gate.
“Yeah, do you have anything we can use to block the gate?”
“I don’t.” She stared at the gate chewing her bottom lip and Harold suddenly felt drawn to her. She was maybe five foot six, slim with reddish brown hair, and cute.
“There must be something we can use,” he said.
“Do you have any ideas? Can you make something?”
“I’m an electronics engineer, not a metal worker.”
John shook his head from the floor, “I’m starting college next semester, but I can mow a mean lawn.”
“I don’t know, I mean…wait! Let me go wake up my neighbor and see if he has any ideas. He always seems to know what to do.” She started to turn away.
“Hey, can you leave one of your guns? Just in case.”
She nodded and handed him the lever-action rifle, and then pulled ten rounds from the leather bandoleer across her chest. “Take these too.”
“What’s your name?” John asked from where he sat.
“I’m John, that’s Harold.”
She ran up the stairs as Harold glanced over the rifle and familiarized himself with how it functioned. John glanced after the girl, “Nice ass.”
Harold looked up from the rifle, “Nice gun.”
“Nice combination.” And they both laughed until a woman crazy slammed against the gate and then a male. Both of the infected people shook the gate and then just stared at Harold. It was creepy as shit. A few minutes later Catherine was back with another man in tow; he was shorter than Harold, but stocky and well-muscled with shoulder length hair. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like he had just been awakened.
He looked at the gate and then said, “Well shit, what happened to it?”
John raised his crowbar up, “My bad, but I’m not going to apologize. We were in a hurry.”
Harold spoke up, “If it wasn’t for John and his crowbar, we’d all be dead, or infected. He did the right thing under the circumstances.”
“Of course,” the newcomer said. “I’m not complaining.” He rubbed his temples for a moment as he seemed to think.
“Michael?” Catherine had one hand on the grip of her pistol, the other on his shoulder. “Are you okay?” The infected slammed against the gate again. John slid forward a little as his legs momentarily buckled, but he shoved back.
“Uh, can we get something going here? My legs are getting a little tired.”
Michael closed his eyes, “I’ve got a really bad headache, my neck hurts and I’m not feeling real good.”
Harold raised the rifle and pointed it at Michael’s face, “Have you been bitten?”
Catherine pushed the rifle away from Michael’s face, “No, he hasn’t been bitten. He was in a bad car crash yesterday and was unconscious for several hours. He probably has a concussion.” Harold swung the rifle back to the infected.
At that precise moment, the female zombie at the gate opened her mouth and a deafening screech issued forth. It wasn’t the first time Harold had heard one of them make a sound, but this scream was piercing. Michael pulled a pistol he was wearing on his hip and stepping forward fired one round into her forehead and a second into the head of the male infected who suddenly screamed also.
“John,” he said. “Get up and let Mister BDU take your place. Now!” The two men smoothly exchanged places and Harold handed John the rifle. Michael turned to Catherine, “Come with me.”
As they walked away John said, “Dude that was fucking cold.”
“Yeah,” Harold said. “But at least now we know who should be in command.”
They rounded the corner as John agreed, “Yeah, quick and ruthless might be the best personality for a while.”
Harold sat there thinking, what John had just said sounded much like something his platoon sergeant had said as his unit crossed the border when they invaded Iraq. He wondered if Michael had military experience, but for now it didn’t matter, Harold had someone to follow.
Michael and Catherine returned with a short piece of chain and a bolt which he quickly wrapped around the frame of the door and the metal post the door was supposed to latch to and tightened the bolt to hold the chain in place.
Michael seemed to sag a little, “Okay BDU, you can relax.”
Harold stood up and examined the chain as another zombie crashed into the door, it held. Turning to Mike he smiled, “Now I see why Cathy has so much faith in you.” He held out his hand, “Harold Brookings, or BDU if you prefer.”
He smiled a little sheepishly, “Hi Harold, Michael Moore, Mike.”
John shook his hand also, “John Baker.”
Mike nodded, “John.”
“Pretty bad headache huh?” Harold asked.
“Drink a lot of coffee? Had any today?”
“At least a pot every morning, and no, not so far today.”
Harold chuckled, “Welcome to caffeine withdrawal. Go drink some coffee and lay down for a while, you’ll be okay.”
“Later, I have to check the rest of the security gates.”
Catherine took Mike by the arm, “Harold and John can do it.” She turned to them, “Through that doorway and into the garage marked 22A. There are bolt cutters, chain, and bolts. Okay?” Harold and John nodded and left for the garage. “You are going to drink some coffee and then lay down.” They heard her say as they walked away.
As Harold walked into the garage he was beginning to feel better about what was happening, not the infection, not the crazies, or zombies, or infected, but about his chances of surviving. They had a place of relative safety, an attractive woman, a man who could lead and who Harold could follow. It was a start.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Annette lifted her pack, then her duffel, and shoved them into the back of the transport truck. Before she climbed into the truck she looked behind her one more time and hoped her mother and sons were somewhere out behind the fence watching. A foolish hope, but one she held anyway; they weren’t there, anywhere, and neither was her husband, she hadn’t expected him to see her off. She had already said her goodbyes though, dried her sons’ tears, and kissed her mother bye the night before, now they were leaving the staging area having received supplies, replacement vehicles, pistols, and all the accouterments of a Military Police Company.
There were ten people in her new squad, and the squad was commanded by Sergeant James, a veteran of Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan; she felt comfortable with him in command, but still, she wished she wasn’t going, especially where they were going. Campbell couldn’t understand why they were being sent to Los Angeles, there had to be MP companies down south.
“Specialist Campbell, would you care to join us?”
Annette looked up and met James’ dark eyes and black face below the rim of his helmet, “Yes, Sergeant!”
“Then maybe you should climb in before the convoy leaves without you?”
“Yes, Sergeant!” Annette climbed in and two other soldiers, the driver and the assistant driver, both of whom were women, closed the tailgate. As she sat on the bench she immediately wished she had gotten in earlier, she was sitting next to Corporal Bing and knew she was going to regret it. Unlike Sergeant James, who was around five foot eight, black, and wiry, Bing was a good six foot four, blonde and a full on red-neck who thought every woman in the Company wanted to sleep with him, probably a holdover from his High School football days.
“Waited to see where I sat so you could be close to me?” Bing asked.
Before Annette could respond James did, “Knock that crap off, Corporal.”
Bing straightened a bit and pulled his leg away from Campbell’s, “Sergeant!”
Lieutenant Banks appeared at the back of the truck, “Sergeant James, we’ll be leaving as soon as the Captain is ready, are you squared away?”
“Yes, Sir!”
“Alright, we’ll be taking the 99 south through Bakersfield and there’s some talk now that we may be issued additional weapons at the Guard post there, are your personnel qualified with the M4?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Anyone qualified as a Designated Marksman?”
“Not officially, but Specialist Campbell,” James pointed to Annette. “Has qualified expert with the M4 and has a reputation of being a damn fine marksman.”
Banks looked up at her, “Is that correct, Specialist?”
“Yes, Sir!”
“What’s your experience level, Specialist?”
“I’ve been shooting pistol and long-range competition with my father since I was twelve, Sir.”
“Good, Sergeant James, if we are offered a DMR, issue it to Campbell unless you discover someone else you think might be better.”
As the Lieutenant walked away Bing snorted, “Shit Sergeant, I could outshoot any woman any day.”
“Funny,” James commented. “I don’t remember seeing that in your file. In fact, it seems to me you failed the last two times you tried to qualify with the M4.”
“I qualified the second time around both times!”
“Barely, with the minimum score possible.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s better than me, Sergeant!” He sneered at Annette, “She said she competed, she didn’t say how well she did!”
James locked eyes with Annette, “Specialist?”
“Top five the first two years, first or second ever since, Sergeant.”
“Good enough for me.”
The trucks around them started up as the exhaust pipes belched black smoke and began to pull forward, one following the next. “Get comfortable people,” James said. “It’s going to be a long ride to L.A.” He crossed his arms and let his chin rest on his MOLLE vest as the trucks bounced into the street and then turned onto the 50 Freeway.

Annette and seven other members of the squad were laying down heavy fire into the crowd of infected storming up Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. Most of the squad were using abandoned cars or trucks to steady their aim and were using their M4s on single fire; the three round burst option was too wasteful of ammunition. Annette sat cross-legged on the roof of a car and was using the additional height to see her targets more clearly, almost every shot was hitting the heads of the on-coming crowd, but there were so many!
She slipped an empty magazine from her M4 and inserted a fresh one, “Campbell! Where the fuck is Bing?”
She looked down and Private Huron was looking up at her, “He said he was going for ammo!”
“Bull fucking shit! He probably bugged out again! What the hell are we doing? There are too many of the fuckers!” Huron was on the verge of panicking.
Annette fired three rounds, and then answered him, shouting above the gunfire, “We do what we were told to do! We hold this intersection until the shelter is evacuated! Now return to your position and start killing Locos!”
“We’re running low damn it!”
“Then fire with more accuracy!”
“Bing left, why are…”
Annette turned and faced him fully, “Return to your position, Private, and do as we were ordered!”
“Shit!” Huron jumped onto the hood of the car Campbell was on and started firing again.
Annette slipped another empty mag into her dump pouch and reloaded. The infected were getting close, too damn close. She looked over her shoulder and saw the last of the civilians running up Main from the shelter. “Okay, Team One! Continue to fire! Team Two! Withdraw fifty meters and lay down fire as Team One bounds!”
The fire towards the infected slackened as the second Fire Team ceased fire and ran back up Main before stopping and then starting to fire again. “Team One! Withdraw!” Annette leaped from the top of the car to the hood of another and then to the pavement while she ran as fast as she could past Team One and stopped fifty meters past One. She climbed on top of another car and began to fire as Team One began to withdraw.
Behind her she heard a shrill whistle and when she looked around, she could see Sergeant James waving frantically, he signaled “form on me” and then pumped his fist up and down rapidly. She brought her own whistle to her lips and blew a long blast; the firing tapered off as everyone looked at her and she pointed to James and pumped her fist up and down. “Team One fire until Two reaches us and then withdraw!”
She starting firing again as Team Two raced to where she was and then all eight of them ran for their lives. When she reached James he waved everyone past him and then caught up with Annette, “Where’s Bing!”
“He said he was going for ammo!” She shouted as they ran between cars.
“We’re going up two blocks and then east three blocks as fast as we can!”
“Negative! Another shelter and we do the same thing again!”
“Sergeant James! We… are running out of… ammo!” Desperation was creeping into Annette’s voice.
“Campbell, shut up and run!”
They reached the final intersection and James waved for everyone to stop as they gasped for breath. “We make a stand here while second squad escorts the civilians out of the next shelter.”
He looked at the gasping faces around him and then he pointed to five members of the squad, “You five, keep the mags in your weapons plus one, and give the rest of them to the other four of us!”
Huron’s mouth fell open, “What?”
“You heard me! You five are the worst shots at longer ranges and the four of us are better.”
“Bullshit! What the fuck do we do when we run out of ammo?”
“Use your fucking pistols, and when you run out of ammo for those, fix your bayonets!”
Huron took a step back, “Bullshit! I’m not giving up my mags and I’m not fixing bayonets!” He turned and started up the street through the cars.
“Private Huron!” James shouted, “Stand where you are!”
Huron held up one hand and gave James a one finger salute as several others began to inch away in the same direction. Sergeant James looked at them, shook his head, and then before anyone else could move he brought his weapon to his shoulder and put a single round through Huron’s head. The soldier collapsed in the street unmoving.
“Specialist Campbell, get that deserters weapons and ammo!”
Annette stood there frozen for a moment, and then, “Yes, Sergeant!”
She ran to Huron’s body and started stripping his carbine, pistol, and ammo. She felt queasy as she rolled him over to remove his vest and fluids seeped out of the holes in his helmet. Jesus, the Sergeant shot one of his own men!
James looked at the rest of the squad, “Anyone else want to disregard a direct order?”
Everyone was quiet as Annette laid Huron’s gear on the sidewalk next to the Sergeant’s feet, “That’s all his gear, Sergeant James.”
“Four loaded, eight empty for the M4, Three for the M9.”
“Give me one, you take one, give the remaining two mags to Hodges and Burke. The rest of you, like I said keep the mag in your weapon and a spare, and then hand over whatever else you have.” The four remaining soldiers started pulling magazines from their pouches and handed them over; when they were done Annette had three more magazines, not a lot, but more that she had before. Bending back down to Huron’s gear she removed his dump pouch and had Hodges add it to the back of her MOLLE vest. Bing might show up with ammo, but he had been more than a bit flaky lately and she doubted he would.
“Campbell, did Bing say where he was going to find the ammo he was going after?”
“No, Sergeant.”
“Alright people,” He waved his arm through the intersection. “Space out along this line and when the crowd reaches the far intersection those of us who just received extra mags will open fire. The rest of you do not fire until the infected are within fifty yards. I do not want any more wasted ammo.”
Campbell climbed back on top of a car, sat down, and rested her folded arms are her knees. She started making a concerted effort to control her breathing as she watched the intersection three blocks away. Finally, they appeared and turned in the squad’s direction.
“Fire when you’re ready, Campbell.” She began to squeeze the trigger and the infected began to fall, sometimes she missed, but almost every round downed one of the approaching mob. At two blocks from their position, James and the other two soldiers began to fire and at one block the rest joined in.
From her left she heard Hodges shout, “Sarge, left flank!” She turned her head for a quick look and was stunned to see infected within seventy-five feet, a lot of infected and coming their way!
James blew his whistle in three sharp blasts and started running north as the squad’s gunfire tapered off, “North!” He shouted, “Head north!”
Annette leaped from the top of the car and ran after him, if she had to keep running like this she wasn’t going to get far. James cut to the east at the next block and then north again. Campbell didn’t even know what street she was on anymore, but she doggedly stayed close behind him. Somewhere behind her she heard a sharp cry for help and then a scream, she kept running.
After two more blocks James slowed to a walk and kept plodding on. “Sergeant, where are we going?”
He looked behind and so did Campbell, they were being followed by only three men, they were down to five now.
“The assembly area,” he gasped. “Any squad over-run is supposed to report to the assembly area.”
“Where is it? I have no idea where we are,” She said.
“Close, should be just another block, or so.” He pointed ahead, “That way.”
“What about the civilian shelter we were supposed to protect?”
He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder in the direction they had come from, “That way.” He took several breaths, and then, “I’m not losing any more of my people.”
“Shut up, Campbell.”
She allowed him to pull ahead and followed him. On the one hand she was glad he was pulling them out, on the other, she wondered what was going to happen to the civilians at the shelter they were supposed to protect. She wanted to go back, but her family; her children were the other way, away from this insanity.
Another block and the squad passed an M240 team covering the road they had just come up; she nodded to them and wondered if her expression reflected their own, hopelessness and fear. Finally they reached the assembly area and Sergeant James waved her past the Command Post as he entered to report. Campbell led the remaining three men to a supply truck and they accepted MREs that were handed to them and Styrofoam cups of coffee. When she walked around the side of the truck she heard his voice.
“…the position was untenable, but the Sergeant ignored me. Then the fuckers just swarmed over us and the only thing to do was cut and run.”
“Yeah,” another soldier was saying. “That seems to be happening with a lot of regularity.”
Annette stepped around in front of Corporal Bing and looked down at him, “So where’s our ammo Bing?”
Bing looked up with his eyes wide, “Shit Campbell, you made it out too?”
“How the fuck would you know one way or the other? You took off as soon as the shit got deep.”
“What? Bull shit! We needed ammo, so I showed some initiative and went for it, for the good of the squad!”
“Two hours ago! You son-of-a-bitch there’s only five of us left!” She lifted her booted foot and kicked the coffee cup from his hand. “We could have used that damned ammo!”
Bing leaped up, grabbed Annette and pinned her to the truck, his hands around her throat, “Shut the fuck up, bit…!” His voice silenced as she pulled back the hammer of the M9 she had pressed to the soft area under his chin.
“Stand down!” James said as he walked into Annette’s peripheral vision.
“Put her down and release her, Corporal! Now!”
Bing lowered her to her feet, her automatic still pushing his chin up.
“Campbell! Holster that sidearm! Now!”
Annette lowered the pistol and settled it into its holster. “Next time, Bing,” she choked out, it was difficult to breathe.
“Christ!” James shouted. “Isn’t it bad enough the Locos are killing us? Now we’re going to kill each other! Bing, take Hodges to the ammo truck and requisition two cases of ammo for the M4s, and then get your asses back over here; see if you can find your way back this time!”
Annette sat down on the box Bing had been using and rubbed her throat before using her bayonet to slice through the packaging of the MRE. James squatted beside her, “I need every soldier I can get for now, but Bing has some shit hanging over his head, count on it!”
Annette nodded and then a tear trickled down her cheek, she quickly wiped it away before anyone could notice. “He’s a liability, Sergeant. Sooner or later he’s going to get someone killed, maybe all of us, and I want to get home to my kids!”
“I know, for what it’s worth it looks like you may get your wish, not right this moment, but soon.”
She looked at him, “Why? What’s going on?”
“What’s left of our squad and six troops from second squad are all that’s left of our platoon. Lt. Banks is combining us with 1st platoon under his command and he’s going to send us, our reinforced squad, to hook up with what’s left of the CO’s platoon over in some place called City of Industry. Once we locate them we’re bringing them here and then we’re heading back to Placerville.”
“Placerville, really?” He nodded. “Why not just radio the CO, get them rolling and we can meet up with them somewhere?”
“They lost contact last night, so we have to go find them.”
A chill ran down her spine, “Nothing since last night?”
“No, finish your chow and draw enough MREs for four days for twelve personnel. Then load up every magazine you can beg, borrow, or steal. We’re going on foot and I want every round each man can carry. No SAWs, they waste too much ammo, but get a shitload of those Bee Hive rounds for three grenade launchers.”
“Yes, Sergeant. One favor though?”
“Ask it, if I can you have it.”
“I don’t want Bing behind me at any time.”
“You got it. That boy is a real thorn in my side.”

The Sergeant’s fire team was thirty feet ahead of Annette’s and he was scanning the Freightliner dealership with binoculars. It had taken a day and a half and two more people to reach where they were. Someone, probably the CO’s platoon, had tipped a bunch of the trailers on their side and attempted to use them as protective wall. There didn’t seem to be any movement they could see between the gaps and twice today they had seen infected in National Guard uniforms, one of them Annette had known personally; he was the coach of her oldest son’s Little League team.
James looked back and waved her team forward, when she crouched next to him he said, “Bing and I are going in to check things out, has the RTO made contact with the Lieutenant?”
“No, not for over three hours.”
Bing shifted around and looked at James, “Why am I going? I should be here in command of the squad while you do the recon.”
“Campbell has it covered and I don’t want you going on another ammo run when I’m not looking, that’s why. Anymore questions?” Bing looked away and James said to Annette, “Anything goes down you’re in command, take what’s left back to the assembly area, got it?”
She nodded, “Yes, Sergeant.”
James waved Bing forward and then followed him from one abandoned car to the next. Stopping at the overturned trailers they studied the area and then slipped inside. A few minutes later they worked their way back until they rejoined the squad.
“Dead, they’re all dead.” He rubbed at his eyes and sighed.
“Any ammo we can use?” She asked, “We’ve got more empty mags than full.”
“No, it looks like they ended up with fixed bayonets.”
Annette shivered, “What now?” she asked.
“We head for the assembly area and get the fuck out of Dodge.”

Annette peeked around the corner of the building, raised the binoculars to her eyes, scanned the assembly area, and then shifted back out of sight. The whole area was swarming with infected. God, she thought, we’re not getting out of here.
“You see the same thing I saw?” James asked.
She nodded, “Yeah, it must have happened fast if they couldn’t get a call out.”
Anders moved up next to James, “Sergeant, just received a general call over all frequencies, any surviving military units are to withdraw immediately and try to reform at someplace called Gorman on the I-5.”
James removed his helmet and scratched his head, “Gorman? Where the fuck is that?”   
“The night we pulled in here,” Annette said. “We passed it on the freeway. It’s up above the Santa Clarita Valley.”
“Okay,” James said. “Let’s clear out of here and see if we can find some kind of transportation; it doesn’t look like we’re going to get our own vehicles back anytime soon.”

The squad spent days trying to work their way up Interstate 5 only to be turned back time after time by hordes of infected. Finally, in desperation they headed east instead. Then came the Big One, the earthquake, and they lost three more men when the building they took refuge in for the night partially collapsed. Days turned into weeks as they creeped east and when the solar charger for the radio batteries took a shit they lost all communication with command; they were totally on their own.

“Campbell, hey, Campbell!”
Annette rolled over and looked up at Corporal Bing, “What?”
“Sarge wants us to go on a supply run.” He looked nervous, “I think it’s bullshit, but you better get up because you’re going.”
Annette crawled out of her sleeping bag and groaned. They were holing up in a damaged high rise and the concrete floors were killing her hips. “Give me a minute to work out the joints, okay?”
“I’ll be with the Sergeant; I’m going to check on the fact he’s sending me instead of someone else, hell, Anders hasn’t been out in a while.”
Bing hurried out, as Annette pulled on her boots, “Yeah, you do that,” she mumbled to herself. When she was dressed she emptied her pack, slung it over one arm, and then left to find Bing and Sergeant James.
They were in a damaged fire corridor. “Anders is down with the flu or something, so he’s out of the rotation. I’m sending Campbell with you because she has her shit together.”
“Sarge, shit, we don’t even have any ammo in case we run into trouble, at least give me your magazine for the M9.”
“I’ve got seven rounds left and you know what they’re for, so just shut up and do what I told you to do.” He looked over and saw Annette, “Both of you take an empty pack, that collapsed grocery store we passed is probably your best bet. This time see if you can find something besides concentrated canned soup, I want something I can chew for a change!”
Bing stomped down the stairs as Annette joined the Sergeant, “Any chance I can get someone else to go with me?”
“I know he’s a pain in the ass, but he has to pull his weight like everyone else. What am I supposed to do, let him sit out every detail because he doesn’t want to do it?”
Annette pulled her bayonet and after testing the edge attached it to the end of her M4. “I guess not, it’s just he complains constantly and does exactly what you said; he doesn’t pull his weight.”
Downstairs, Annette gathered up Bing and together they set out through the parking lot of the building and into a residential area. “A lot of good these bayonets are going to do us,” Bing muttered.
“Keep your voice down and quit your bitching,” Annette responded.
“Hey, I’m the fucking corporal and I intend to talk when I want to talk.”
Annette didn’t answer; she just sped up and took the lead while he talked to himself behind her. God, the man was scared shitless, yet constantly did things that made everyone’s lives more dangerous! Walking ahead she kept an eye on the surrounding homes and wondered if they should try scavenging them instead of the market, they were closer, but most of them were in pretty bad shape. She discounted the thought and moved on. After an hour they approached the market and she hid in some tall grass while watching the ruins, there was a substantial portion of the roof collapsed, but it was mainly still intact. If they could work their way in there they might find quite a bit.
“Fuck it, Campbell. Let’s go back and we’ll tell James we couldn’t find anything.”
“Be quiet!”
“What the fuck! Why doesn’t he come out here and do this shit! What makes him so special!”
She turned to Bing, “Shut the fuck up! God, can you go five minutes without bitching?” Not waiting for an answer she rose to a crouch and ran forward to where she had a little better view, then forward again and waited. She was preparing to move again as Bing joined her.
“Look over there,” he said while pointing. “See those cans?”
She nodded, “Yeah, I see them. I also see how out in the open they are and with little concealment if another band of Locos wander by.”
“So? We run over there, fill our packs and haul ass before any of those fucks show up.”
“Good idea, Bing. Have you got a schedule of when they’re going to come?”
“You know what? Fuck you!” He jumped to his feet and ran into the depression where the cans rested, pulled off his pack and started filling it.
Damn it! She thought. She rushed forward and started filling her pack also, but the cans of food were not enough. When they had gathered all that was available she started moving through the rubble picking up some cans and discarding others. At one point she froze and listened, for a moment she thought she heard the faint sound of a car, or truck, but she didn’t hear anything else.
After a half hour Campbell had her pack almost full and started putting cans into the empty magazine pouches of her vest when she caught movement down by the road. She rose up a little and saw a large group of Locos walking by in front of the market. Bing was bent down pulling cans from under a collapsed shelve unit.
“Bing!” She whispered, and then motioned him to stay low. “Locos!”
He froze for a few moments and then raised his head and looked over the top of the rubble before dropping back down. “Shit, they may have seen me!”
“You asshole!” He started to rise up again and she pulled him down “Stay down!”
“What if their coming!”
Annette could see the panic growing on his face, how could this asshole have survived as long as he has? She wrapped her hand around the collar of his jacket, “About fifty meters that way,” she pointed. “There is what appears to be a cavity under the roof. If they…” Bing jumped up and ran in the direction she had pointed, “Shit!”
She rose partially and saw the Locos starting to move towards Bing, she jumped up and ran after him. Bing entered the opening as she heard a gunshot, followed by several more and then she was inside; she spun around and faced the opening. “Bing! Someone’s out there and shooting at the Locos, let’s guard the entrance and together we can stop any that try to…”
She lunged forward and impaled the right eye of one of the infected as it tried to enter the opening, “Get over here, damn it!” More gunshots, but of a different type, sounded and she saw several of the infected around the entrance to their shelter fall, others began to turn around and move away. She stabbed another as it tried to enter, and then another. The long fusillade of gunshots stopped and she stepped into the entrance and looked out.
There was a single man dressed in what appeared to be faded black motorcycle leathers and helmet stabbing an infected with a bayonet attached to an old M1 Carbine. The weapon was jerked from his grasp, but he didn’t try to recover it, instead he used a tomahawk to kill the final two and then finish off the wounded one on the ground. She stepped out of the cavity and started walking towards him as he returned the tomahawk to its sheathe and then swapped magazines in the carbine.
“Clear,” he called out.
It was hard to tell anything about him; even his face was covered by some sort leather covering. He was wearing old style web gear and there was a longer rifle hanging on his back. When he turned and looked all around himself she thought the second rifle on his back looked like a Russian Dragunov, but she wasn’t sure.
As she approached he turned and asked, “Don’t either of you have ammo?”
Annette looked at Bing and then answered, “No Sir, we ran out about three days ago.”
“How many are there in your group?” He asked.
“There are seven of us.” Bing answered.
“And none of you have ammo?”
Annette shrugged, “Sergeant James has seven rounds for his M9. He was saving them for us if it came to that.”
“Where are you holing up at?” He scanned around us as he spoke.
“There’s a five story building about two miles east of here, which is still standing…” Annette answered.
Bing interrupted, “Sort of standing.”
He nodded, “Follow me,” he said and then walked away. Annette looked at Bing and raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question; Bing shrugged, so they followed.
They followed the man for a short distance where he retrieved a bicycle hidden among some bushes and then several hundred more yards to a Jeep parked beside a tree. At the Jeep the man told Annette to put her pack in the back behind a half-cab and then get inside, Bing he told to ride in back with the packs and the bicycle.
“Hang onto my bike,” he said.
He climbed in and started the motor and Annette was surprised by the sound of a diesel motor, she hadn’t known Jeeps came with diesels. Putting the vehicle in gear, he pulled out and starting weaving his way through the streets.
 He wasn’t headed for the building though, he was going the other way. “Where are we going?” She asked.
“A place I know.” That was informative.
“Why are we going?”
“Supplies.” The guy certainately wasn’t very talkative.
“What kind of supplies?”
“Some you need some I need.” The only thing he knew for a fact they needed was ammo; did he know where there was some?
“You’ve been there before?” She asked.
“Once, long time ago.” Well, it might still be promising.
“Why do you wear the covering over your face?”
“I don’t want to get bit.”
“Is that the reason you wear motorcycle clothes?” She asked.
“Yes.” It had to be hot though, dressed it all that leather.
“It’s a good idea. I’m going to ask the Sergeant if we can do the same thing. Can’t be much hotter to wear than all the shit we’re wearing now.”
He didn’t say anything though, he just watched the road ahead and the sides of the road as he passed, continually looking in the rearview mirror. His head was moving constantly and Annette realized he had to be guarded all the time. She wondered if there were others he was holing up with and if so, where? Finally he pulled onto a street that ended in a cul de sac, parked the Jeep pointed back out the way he came in, and got out.
There was a pedestrian tunnel passing under the freeway and Annette eyed it warily. “Why did we come here?” She asked.
“In order to get to where we need to go.”
“Look,” she said. “We appreciate the help you gave us, but I’m getting a little nervous about this whole thing. I am disobeying orders by being here. We were supposed to forage for food and return, what are we doing?”
He looked at her for a moment, and then sighed. “Ammo, you need ammo.”
“You know where we can get some?”
He nodded, “It’s not certain, but a good possibility.”
Bing climbed out of the back after the man took his bike down. He reached behind the front seat of the Jeep and removed a shotgun and a bandoleer of ammo for it that he handed to Bing and motioned for him to put the M4 in the cab. He removed two cans from Annette’s vest and put six magazines for the Carbine in the pouches, and then handed her the weapon. Reaching back behind the seat he pulled out a pouch, which originally was made for a military gas mask, but now looked as though he used it to carry the spare mags for the longer rifle. Then he directed both Annette and Bing to dump the contents of their packs on the passenger side floorboard of the Jeep and he removed a pack of his own from behind the passenger seat.
The two soldiers emptied their packs on the floorboard of the Jeep and then the man directed them to the porch of a nearby house and told them to bring the bikes that were there. They returned with two cruisers and the man set off for the pedestrian tunnel under the freeway.
“Whoa, hold it buddy.”
The man stopped and looked at Bing, a question in his eyes.
“Are you expecting us to go in there?”
He looked at the tunnel. It was black in there. “Both of you have LED lights on the weapons I gave you. My bike also has an LED head light, what’s the problem?”
Annette switched on her light and headed for the tunnel and he followed fast enough to catch her and then pass as they entered. He didn’t look behind to see if they were following, but he stopped about twenty feet in and let Annette catch up while he switched on the bike’s headlight.
“What’s your name?” She asked when she drew even.
He stared off down the tunnel for a moment, and then with a slight shake of his head, as if clearing something away, said, “Michael Moore.”
 “I’m Specialist Annette Campbell, California National Guard.” She looked back over her shoulder. “The guy following us is Corporal Bing. We’re both attached to a MP unit out of Placerville, the 270th Military Police Company. They mobilized us to try and contain the plague under direction of the CDC. What a joke that was.”
Corporal Bing caught up with them as Campbell continued, “By the time we were mobilized and got down here it was already too far gone for us do anything. Shit, we saw infected in Bakersfield when we passed through. They should have turned us around then and repositioned us further north. Maybe we could have done some good.”
Bing snorted, “The whole thing turned into a cluster fuck when the Speaker deposed the national leadership. General Harris recognized the Speaker as President and ordered the California National Guard to support her claim.”
“So she’s President?” Moore looked angry.
“No,” Bing said. “Harris was taken out within hours by units of the CNG under the direction of junior officers who were loyal to the Constitution. The Army found the bodies of the President, the Vice-President, and everyone the Speaker ordered arrested. They’re all dead. Last we heard; Army, Navy, and Air Force were running the country with a military tribunal until they could find someone in the line of succession, but then we lost contact. We came down here with 116 officers and enlisted, there’s only seven of us left that we know of.”
“What about the Speaker?” Moore asked.
“Word has it she was hiding out in San Francisco with a bunch of the people who supported her overthrow of the government,” Bing answered. “If she was, she’s gone now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Frisco,” Campbell said. “It’s gone, and I don’t mean like here, destroyed, it’s gone. The Bay is three times the size it was. The only thing left is the suburbs in the hills. The whole region dropped, including the San Joaquin Valley. It’s an inland sea now.”
“What else have you heard?”
“Well I suppose the general political picture in America is going to be a lot different than it was before. Both of the coasts have been smeared pretty badly, the West Coast by the Earthquake and the Plague; the East Coast by the Plague and fire in the major cities. About the only people alive there are the infected. Rumor had it a lot of the inner states west of the Mississippi were declaring their locations as refugee centers. We also heard the New Madrid fault in the Mid-West went the same time as ours, if it did like the geologists said it would, it’s got to be bad there too. Anyway, the greatest portion of Liberals and Progressives were on the coasts and the big cities, most of them are probably dead, or infected.”
Moore said, “Turn your lights off,” as they neared the end of the tunnel.
The lights went out. “How far do we need to go from here?” Campbell was staring hard at the end of the tunnel.
“Just a few blocks.” He stopped well back of the exit, watched, and listened. It seemed quiet and no one could see, or hear, anything out of the ordinary, but what was ordinary?
“Let’s go.” Moore said as he swung his leg over the seat and pushed off beginning to pedal the bicycle to the center of the street. They got to the store fairly quickly and Annette began to think maybe they should get bikes of their own.
The store walls were reinforced cinderblock and only one story; part of the roof had collapsed, but not a large portion. The thing, which concerned them the most was the front security gates had been ripped off and were lying in the middle of the street, one end of a chain still attached. The double glass doors were shattered; someone got there before them. Annette felt a growing disappointment as she followed Moore and his bicycle into the store, shelves were overturned and the glass display cases at the back of the store were shattered. Moore leaned his bike against a counter and went to the broken display cases where there were still a large number of handguns scattered about, then he waved Campbell and Bing over and pointed at the handguns.
He walked behind the counter and looked at the shelves underneath; there were rows of boxes lined up. He started scanning down until he came to the boxes he was searching for and looked up at Annette, “Campbell, is the Beretta 92F the model the National Guard uses?”
“We call it the M9.”
He pulled six of them out from under the counter and pushed them towards her, “Take these.”
“Oh shit! Are there extra mags?”
“Still looking.” Moore moved to a doorway to the back as she and Bing started loading one of the packs. While Moore was out of sight Bing and Campbell searched for, and found, spare magazines for the pistols, they were only ten rounders, but definitely better than nothing. After dropping the magazines in a pack, they searched for and found, magazine pouches; they weren’t designed for MOLLE gear, but they could probably modify them.
Bing was busy loading other items in his pack as Campbell studied the racks of rifles; maybe she could find a good heavy bore rifle for longer range. Over her shoulder she heard Bing, “What did you find?”
Moore answered, “5.56 NATO, nine cases.”
“Son of a bitch!” Both of the soldiers ran into the back room and started carrying cases out. Moore followed them, but was looking for something else. He scanned the shelves, and then started carrying cases out to his bike where he left them and then returned to the stock room.
“How the hell are we going to carry all this stuff?” Bing asked.
“We’ll have to tie it off to the bicycles somehow,” Annette answered.
“With what?”
“Moore brought rope and duct tape, so he’s probably done this before.”
Mike returned with two smaller cases he sat down and then left again, when he returned he had two more cases the same size and Annette noticed they were nine millimeter. One more trip and he carried out two cases of .30 Carbine ammo. He turned his bike so it was pointing to the door and removed a coil of rope and a roll of duct tape from his pack and started showing Bing and Campbell how to tie off the cases so they wouldn’t interfere with the pedals of the bikes. When Bing started tying off his Moore sent Campbell to the door to keep watch.
It seemed as though Moore had tied things off to his bike numerous times; as a result he was done well before Bing finished his, so he went to the counter and looked over the pistols. He finally settled on a revolver and dropped it in his pack before gathering several other items which he also added, and then he studied the rifles as Annette had done. Eventually, he removed a lever action western style rifle and carried what he had gathered to his bike where he tied the rifle off to his handlebars.
When he was done, Moore said to Bing, “You ready?”
He nodded and looked at the rifle on the handlebars, “Why would you want that?”
“Sentimental reasons.”
“Okay, but I hope you never need to cover my ass with it. Those suckers are slow to reload and…”
“I said sentimental reasons.”
Bing looked at Moore oddly and then shrugged, “Sure, I’m just saying, you know?”
Moore walked to the front of the store beside Campbell, “We clear?”
“Let’s go.” He headed back and checked how Bing had tied off the ammo. Then he shook the bicycles violently side to side before taking his bike to the door, pushed it out and took off with Bing and Campbell following close behind. They maneuvered into the middle of the road and started for the tunnel and the Jeep. They were about half a block from the tunnel when Campbell looked behind them and saw a group of Locos following at a run.
“We have company!”
Moore stood on his pedals and turned his body to see behind him, there were six infected running down the street after them. With their bikes as heavily laden as they were Campbell was concerned if they tried to push it they might be damaged, or disabled. Moore waved Bing and her on, then braked and dismounted letting the bike lie on its side. He swung his rifle to his shoulder and fired at the first and he fell, the second was a miss, but the third shot took him out. The rest fell one after the other, the last fell less than twenty feet from him. He ejected the almost empty magazine and inserted another. Mounting up again, he pedaled to the tunnel and through it to the other side. They loaded the ammunition and the bikes; all three of them, on the Jeep leaving Bing perched precariously on top of the ammunition and hanging on to the bikes. Moore started the Jeep and they drove away in the direction of the building the National Guard was using as a headquarters/hideout.
Annette studied the masked profile of Moore as he drove and purposely pushed aside the nervousness she felt when she looked at him. He seemed strange and disconnected while at the same time hyper alert to his surroundings. What had he seen in the last months, what made him what he seemed to be? They all had seen and experienced things that would guarantee nightmares, but what had he seen out here alone all this time? What had he become? Was there something he kept hidden? Was there a darkness behind the veil he wore?
Only time would tell for sure, and for the first time in months she felt there was a glimmer of hope. There were fewer infected, and now they had a supply of ammunition, maybe she could start thinking about getting home to her mother and her children again. Maybe.