Samantha rolled over and stared at the sky. That is she tried to stare at the sky; her left eye wouldn’t open and her right was blurry. What happened? She rolled to her side and then to her stomach as she fought back nausea, but as she tried to bring her knees up beneath her she blacked out…again? Maybe.
Samantha rolled over and stared at the sky. Well, she tried…hadn’t she done this before? Raising her hand she rubbed at her left eye with her fingertips and was rewarded with a dim reddish light through her eyelid. What happened? She could taste blood. I’m injured? She rolled to her side, wait! Don’t do that! Too late.
Samantha started to roll over and stopped. “I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work.”
“Hey! Lady! Can you hear me?”
“Hey, guys, I’ve got a live one!”
She rolled over and finally rested on her back, “What happened?”
“It looks like you were thrown out of the back of the truck you were riding in.”
The back of a truck? Why would she be in the back of truck? The back of a truck was an extremely dangerous place to ride. She would never ride in the back of a truck.
“I can’t see.”
“Yeah, you have a lot of blood on your face from a cut on your head. The rest of the guys are coming and we’ll get you back up the embankment where we can clean you up some, okay?”
“Okay.” Sam touched her face and then ran her hands up to her hairline. Yeah, there was a lot of dried blood and some that wasn’t quite so dried, it was sticky. She felt someone pull her legs straight and then another set of hands slid beneath her shoulders in preparation of pulling her.
“You sure she’s not infected?” Another voice. “I’m not touching her with all this blood if she’s infected.”
“No, she’s not infected. Now grab her and…”
“How do you know?”
“Because she’s not trying to kill and eat us you idiot!”
Infected? Something was squirming around in the recesses of her mind, but it was fuzzy and far away.
“Dispatch to Unit Four.”
Samantha depressed the send button of the microphone, “Unit Four, go ahead Dispatch.”
“Unit Four, we just received word from the County Emergency Center; no further patients are to be delivered to any hospital in the Sacramento region. We have lost control of every one of them.”
Samantha turned to her partner, Norman, “What?” Keying her microphone, “Dispatch, where are we supposed to take our next transportees, over?”
“Unit Four, there is nowhere to take them, the entire system has broken down and the hospitals are complete bedlam. It’s over, find somewhere safe and crawl in. This is the last message you will receive from Dispatch, we’re closing down and bailing out. Good luck, Unit Four. Dispatch, over and out.”
Norman switched off the emergency lights of the Ambulance and coasted to the side of the road. “Jesus, what are we going to do now?”
"We go home to our families," she said.
"We go home to our families," she said.
“My Husband! And my children! They were in the front of the truck and I rode in the back to make room for the kids!” She struggled to sit upright.
“Easy, Lady. Was the truck a red Ford dually?”
“Yes! Is it close by?”
“Uh, hang on a minute.” Samantha heard his movement as he walked away for a moment and then returned. “Some of the guys checked the truck already, but there was no one inside. Both the doors are open, so maybe your husband and children got out?”
“Can you check again? Mark wouldn’t leave without me.”
“Lady,” after a slight hesitation, “What’s your name?”
“Samantha Hagen. I’m a paramedic and after dispatch called an end to rescue operations I went home to join my family. We packed up clothes and food and were going to my husband’s parents’ farm near Bakersfield.”
“Listen, Samantha, we checked and there’s no one in the truck and the cab is mostly underwater.” The man took her hand and squeezed it gently. “Like I said, both of the doors are open, maybe your husband got the kids out okay.”
“Water? What water?”
“The river here. I don’t know the name of it, but it’s fairly wide and deep.”
Her voice broke, “Will you help me look for them? Maybe they’re on the shore somewhere, maybe…”
“I’m sorry, but we have orders to head south on the 99 and get the hell out of Sacramento. We’ll take you with us.”
“No! No, just leave me here and I’ll search for my…”
A fusillade of gunshots roared around her as men shouted orders and warnings. She could hear their feet scrambling around her and then two, or more, people lifted her and placed her in the back of a truck. Samantha could hear others, women, children, and even some men crying in terror around her.
Sam looked at the side view mirror on her side of the cab, “We lost our police escort somewhere.”
Norman looked into his mirror, “They were there a minute ago.”
“They must have been notified also.” Samantha looked around the outside of the ambulance and shuddered, “Okay, our cars are in the hospital parking lot and I’m thinking that’s not a good place to be.”
“Do you have another car at home?”
Norman shook his head, “No, my ex-wife has it.”
“Okay, my husband has a pickup, so drop me off and you keep the ambulance.”
“Alright,” Norman said as he looked into his mirror again. “We need to get going anyway.”
Sam looked into her own mirror and saw the crowd of people running towards the ambulance from behind. It was easy to tell they were infected with the rage virus, “Hurry!”
Samantha could feel a wet cloth applied to her eyes as someone attempted to clean away the dried blood holding them stuck closed. It hurt. Reaching up, she felt the hand holding the cloth, “Let me have that and I’ll do it, okay?”
A woman’s voice answered, “Sure, are you alone?”
“I was with my husband and children, but I guess there was an accident.”
Sam worked the wet cloth over her eyes until she was finally able to see with one of them. She was indeed in the back of a large military type vehicle and all around her were people crowded together on benches. There were so many frightened faces.
She asked the woman who kneeled beside her, “Where are we?”
“Placerville, the soldiers were going to take us to Bakersfield, but now they say everything there has been over-run also.”
“Placerville? Good, maybe I’ll be able to go back and search for my family.” Samantha began to work on the eye that was still closed, but the pain made her gasp.
“Hey, take it easy. You aren’t going to be going anywhere for a while. The doctor here says you’re banged up pretty bad.”
“I have to.”
“Well, just so you know, the soldiers picked up a duffel bag from the wreck site, they assumed it was yours.”
In the distance she could hear frequent gunshots.
In the distance she could hear frequent gunshots as Norman slowed to a stop behind the long rows of vehicles parked along the on ramp to the I80. “I don’t want to pull up too close,” he said. “We might get blocked in.”
“No, I think we better stay away from the freeway and any major roads.”
Up ahead, they watched a group of men exit two separate vehicles and pull rucksacks from the cars.
“It looks like some of those up there have decided to walk out,” Norman said.
As Samantha watched, the six men retrieved rifles from their vehicles and then started walking away from the freeway. “I don’t care much for the looks of that.”
“Relax, Sam, if I had already been home I’d have a rifle too.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
As the men approached one of them pointed at the ambulance and they shifted their path towards Norman and Samantha.
“Yeah.” He placed the ambulance in reverse and started to back up, but one of the men quickly raised his weapon and fired three shots through the front windshield.
“Shit!” Samantha shouted as Norman removed his foot from the gas pedal. “Norman! Go! Go!”
Glancing over at him she froze, both of his hands were clasped about his throat and blood was pulsing from the right side of his neck. One of the men reached Norman’s door and jerked it open before reaching in and pulling Norman out to fall on the pavement. Walking beside the slowly moving ambulance and leaning into the cab, he slapped the shifter into park and then raising his weapon, he pointed it at Samantha.
“Out! Now!” There was a large black swastika tattooed on his neck.
Sam laid her hand on the door release, but the door was suddenly jerked open and another man pulled her roughly out.
The nurse removed the rest of the bandage over Sam’s left eye.
“Not too bad.” She lifted a small flashlight and quickly flashed it front of her eye, “Good, the pupil is responding; we were a little concerned about that eye. How’s your vision?”
Samantha glanced around the examination room, then again while she covered her right eye with her hand. “I think it’s good, I seem to be able to see alright.”
“Good, that must be a relief.” Raising Sam’s tee shirt she examined the left side of her ribcage. The massive bruising that had been so noticeable the week before was now turning purple and in some areas greenish. She prodded the ribs, “Still sensitive?” She asked as Samantha winced.
“Okay, I’m going to clear you for exercise, but nothing heavy, okay?”
“I need to get back to Sacramento.”
The nurse shook her head, “Samantha, it’s been seven days since they brought you in. Do you really think you’re going to find your family?”
“I have to try.”
“No, you have to heal.” When Samantha tried to respond the nurse spoke over her objections. “A lot of survivors out of Sacramento are coming this way. What will happen if your family comes through and you’re in Sacramento looking for them there?”
The man who pulled her from the cab pointed a short, stubby rifle at her, “Please,” she said. “I just want to get home to my family. Take the ambulance, just let me go.”
He raised the rifle and aimed at her face.
“Jason!” The one who had shot Norman said. “Put her in the back with the rest of you.”
“She’s a gook.”
“Do as I said and let’s get out of here!”
The rifle lowered and then “Jason” pushed her towards the rear of the ambulance, “Get in Zipperhead!”
Samantha climbed into the back of the ambulance and sat down as four of the men joined her. When they were in, the one who shot Norman put the vehicle in gear and proceeded to turn it around and drive away.
“Please,” Sam said. “I just…”
The man across from her slammed his fist into her mouth and the back of her head bounced of the inside wall she was leaning against. Fighting back fireflies in her vision, she covered her mouth with her hand.
“Do yourself a favor and keep that mouth shut until we have a need for it.”
Samantha began to tremble and inside her mouth she could taste blood. What could she do? She had to get home!
Another man leaned forward and shouted through the opening to the cab, “Mick, we still going to The Gun Exchange?”
“Yeah, first we stock up on ammo and then we head for Idaho and the compound.”
The Gun Exchange, Samantha had been there once with her husband when he wanted to buy a shotgun for trapshooting, but she had managed to dissuade him from making the purchase. If she could somehow escape once they arrived she wouldn’t be that far from home!
A good twenty minutes passed before the driver began to curse. “Shit! I’ve had to make so many turns to avoid traffic I’ve gotten turned around!”
One of the others asked, “So you’re lost?”
“Great, just fucking great!”
Samantha’s mind began to race, if they became frustrated and angry they might decide to take it out on her. If they became seriously lost she might end up farther from home than she was already.
“GPS,” she said.
Jason leaned towards her with his fist clenched, “I told you to…”
“Hey,” one of them said. He turned towards Samantha, “What about GPS?”
“There’s one on the dash. Just program in where you want to go and it will tell you how to get there.”
“Mick!” The man shouted. “Did you hear that?”
“Yeah,” the driver pulled the GPS from its holder. “I’ve never used one.”
“Give it to me,” Samantha said. “I’ll show you how.”
The front seat passenger passed the GPS to Jason and he handed it to Sam, “You better not be fucking with us.”
“You have guns and I don’t, why would I screw with you?”
She quickly entered the information and then handed the device back to the passenger in the front, “Just turn where the GPS indicates and you shouldn’t have a problem. You guys might need other supplies; do you want me to find you a grocery store too? You can’t have very much food in your backpacks.”
Jason smirked, “With these,” he held up his short, stubby rifle. “We can get what we want when we want it.”
One of the other men glanced at Jason’s rifle, “Fuck, Jason, get your finger off the trigger and put the safety on! How many times do we have to tell you!”
Chagrined, Jason quickly removed his finger from the trigger and Samantha watched as he engaged the safety.
Samantha pulled her duffel bag from under her cot and opened it. After removing several items of clothing she pulled out the rifle and ammunition pouches from where she had stowed them.
“Wow,” the young girl who slept next to her said. “That gun can’t be legal in California.”
Samantha turned the weapon around as she examined it, “I don’t know if it’s legal or not.”
“Where did you get it?”
Mick pulled the ambulance into the parking lot of The Gun Exchange.
“Okay, Jason, you stay with our guest and make sure she doesn’t go anywhere. The rest of you, lock and load, there’s a bunch of those crazy fuckers between us and the store. Jason, I want you to keep an eye out for us because we’ll probably want to get into the truck pretty fast when we get back, okay?”
Jason gave Samantha an evil grin, “Don’t worry, Mick, I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Mick turned around and stared at Jason, “Don’t get distracted, Jason. If you want to play hide the weenie do it on your time, not ours, got it?”
Jason straightened up, “Sure, Mick, whatever you say.”
Sam watched as everyone but Jason left the ambulance closing the doors behind them. She immediately heard gunfire.
“Man,” Jason said as he looked out the rear window of the ambulance. “There’s a lot of those fuckers out there!”
Samantha eased open the drawer of the cabinet next to her and removed a scalpel sealed in sterile wrapping.
“Yeah,” Jason said with a great deal of enthusiasm. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel! I wish I could have gone with them!”
Samantha rose from her seat and stepped lightly behind him, raising the scalpel to her shoulder she stared at the back of Jason’s exposed neck. Gritting her teeth, she plunged the blade into the right side of his neck while she wrapped her left arm over his shoulder and grasped the right side of his chest mounted ammunition pouch.
He squeaked shrilly as she plunged the blade in repeatedly while he twisted and turned trying to break loose from her grip. Finally, a spray of bright arterial blood erupted from his wounds and she stopped stabbing him, instead, she merely tried to stay on his back with her legs wrapped around his hips as he bled out. Once his body was still, she started to work her way through to the driver’s seat, but she saw the keys were not in the ignition. Mick had taken them when he left.
“Do you know how to use that?”
Samantha glanced down at the weapon slung across her chest and then back to the Placerville Police Sergeant, “I know how to put the safety on or off, and how to load it, but to tell the truth I’ve never shot it.”
“I see. Well, I admire your desire to help, but putting an inexperienced shooter out there could be dangerous.”
“I’m a quick learner; maybe you could give me some lessons?”
“Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time.” He looked around until his eyes found who he was searching for, “Hey! Chester!”
An elderly man responded and walked over, “Yeah?”
“This lady wants to help with the clearing of the city, but she’s never fired her gun before. Do you think you can train her?” The policeman turned to Samantha, “Chester has been teaching gun safety, and use, out at the rifle range for as long as I can remember.”
“I don’t see why not,” Chester said as he smiled at Sam. He examined Samantha’s weapon. “Huh, where did you get this?”
“I got it from someone who didn’t need it anymore.”
“I see,” he watched the policeman walk away and then turned back to Samantha. “This gun is illegal in California, but I don’t think most folks care much now days. Do you have more of those thirty round magazines?”
“I have three more clips and a chest pouch type thing in my duffel bag.”
“Magazines, clips and magazines are different. This weapon uses magazines. Do you know what this is?” He asked, and when she shook her head “no”, “It’s a Romanian AK 47 in a bullpup configuration. I’ve never actually seen one, just pictures.”
“Like I said, I sort of picked it up.”
Returning to the back of the ambulance, she stripped off Jason’s ammo pouches and then his rifle. Looking out the back window she saw the remaining five men enter the gun store. “I’ve got to get out of here before they come back.”
She located her lunch box and removed the two bottles of water and sandwich she had brought to work. The sandwich she stuffed into one of her front pockets and the bottles of water went into the cargo pockets of her duty pants. If she exited the rear doors she would be visible to the men in the store, so she worked her way back and into the front cab. Looking quickly about, she saw several people who were obviously infected approaching the store where she could still hear gunfire. She might be able to escape if she kept the truck between herself and the gun shop.
“Name?” The man taking her information gave Samantha a cursory glance before positioning his pencil over the ledger.
He looked back up at her, “That’s an odd name for someone of Asian descent.”
“I took my husband’s last name when we married; he’s Caucasian.”
“Okay.” He looked back down as he entered her name. “Where are you staying?”
“I’m staying at the temporary housing in the county psychiatric facility.”
“Persons of interest?”
“My husband, Mark Hagen, and my three sons, Mark Jr., Anthony, and Timothy Hagen.”
Opening another ledger he leafed through the pages marked with an “H”. “No one by that name is listed.”
“But now you are, so if someone comes in looking for you we’ll know how to contact you.” Closing the registry he looked back up at her, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
She shook her head, “No…thank you.”
Crouching beside the hedge surrounding the Macon’s front yard, Samantha leaned out and looked down her street. There was a group of infected in the front yard of a house near the end of the block, but it was clear to her own front door. Pulling her keys from her pocket she picked out the one for the front door and held it between her thumb and index finger, glancing once more down the street, she jumped out and sprinted the short distance to her family’s home. Inserting the key, she twisted and pushed the door in, stepped through and quickly closed the door behind her before locking it.
She listened intently and heard the audio of the TV in the den. Rushing through the doorway of the den, she found her family sitting on the couch. “Mark!”
Her husband leaped to his feet and embraced her, “Oh, Christ, Samantha!”
She held him for a long moment before dropping to her knees and enveloping her three boys with her arms. “I was so worried about all of you!”
“Sam? All the blood on you, you’re not hurt are you?’
She looked down at her blood stained uniform, “No, it’s someone else’s.”
“We’ve been waiting for you and worried sick the whole time!” Mark Jr. said. “I wish you would have stayed home like I asked.”
“Honey, you know how I feel about my job and you know how important it was for me to be there and help.”
“Well, you’re home now,” her husband said. “And you’re not going back, it’s not safe anymore.”
Sam shook her head, “No. I’m not. The County Emergency Center has closed down the hospitals because they’re swarming with infected.”
“God, everything is snowballing downhill and I don’t think it’s going…” Mark suddenly noticed the rifle and spare magazines she was holding. “Sam, what’s with the gun?”
Her eyes began to tear up and with a trembling voice, she said, “Mark, I killed a man.”
Sam stood amongst the group of armed men as one of the Placerville policemen called out names. “Samantha Hagen!”
“Here,” she said as she lifted her backpack and stepped forward.
“All you need is your weapon and ammo; we’ll provide you with water, a meal and you’ll be back before dark.”
“I know, but the pack contains my first aid supplies and I’m a trained EMT.”
“Really? Good!” Pointing to the row of parked trucks, he said, “See the blue Chevy pick-up? Climb into the back of it.”
Walking to the back of the truck she placed her pack on the tailgate before a young man reached out and took it from her. “Thanks,” she said as she climbed in.
The man who had taken her pack passed it off to the other occupant of the truck’s bed and then held out his hand. “I’m Harlan Benson, but most folks call me, Mouse.”
She could see why, he couldn’t have been over 5’4” and probably wasn’t a lot heavier than a hundred pounds. His bright red hair was probably what kept him from becoming lost in crowds.
Pointing over his shoulder at the other man he introduced him as well, “That’s Jack Spencer; my wife and I met up with him when we were getting out of Sacramento and he let us move into his family’s home with him.”
“Hi,” she responded. “I’m Samantha Hagen and I guess I’ll be acting as sort of a medic if anyone gets injured, otherwise I’m another shooter.”
“A medic? So you’re a nurse or something?”
“Actually, I’m a trained EMT.”
“Do you know anything about childbirth?”
“Some,” she smiled. “I have three sons and if there are no complications I could probably assist a woman giving birth, why?”
“Well, my wife is expecting in a couple of weeks and we haven’t found a doctor yet.”
“There’s several here in town…”
“Yeah,” Harlan said, “But they’re swamped with patients and none of them want to take on anyone new.”
“To tell the truth, Harlan, I’m not planning on sticking around very much longer; I need to go and look for my family.”
“Where?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, I know. That’s pretty much the same response I get from everyone.”
Both men were quiet for several moments and then Spencer said, “I was at CSU Sacramento when the crap hit the fan; if it wasn’t for the National Guard I’d probably be dead right now. Were you on duty during the last days down there?”
“Then you know how fast everything collapsed. You know how fast the rage virus spread. It’s been three weeks, how many people do you think are still alive and normal down there now?”
The children were asleep while Mark and Samantha spoke quietly to one another.
“We can’t stay here much longer, Sammy.”
“I know, Mark, but if everyone cuts and runs the way you want…”
“Honey, our first responsibility now is to the boys.”
Nodding, she glanced at her three children and then back to her husband’s eyes, “All right. We can start in the morning and…”
“No, we start getting ready now and leave as soon as we finish.”
“In the dark?”
“The nights you were gone I noticed the infected seem to be less active, but if we don’t leave soon there will be a lot more of them to contend with.”
“All right, are we going to your mom’s and dad’s?”
“I can’t think of a better place for us to go. Even if my sister is there with her family we can use the rooms above the new barn.”
“I guess, it’s just the smell, you know?”
He smiled, “I know, but you’ll get used to it pretty quick.”
Bradford Grant stepped out of the cab of the truck and studied the front of the house for a moment before he closed the truck door. Bradford was the leader of Samantha’s response team and she couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather follow into a den of infected. “Okay, folks, let’s see what we can find.”
Samantha dropped off the side of the truck and was quickly followed by Jack and Mouse. “How many did they say were here?” Samantha asked as she rotated her weapon over and then pushed the safety lever down with her left thumb.
“Two,” Brad answered.
“Same as the last time?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Brad answered. “You and Mouse take the rear, Sammy, Luis, and I will take the front.” Brad turned to the Hispanic male who had shared the cab of the truck, “Luis, go with Jack and Mouse and when they’re ready come back around and tell us. We need some damn radios.”
The three men walked up the driveway beside the house with their weapons held ready until they passed from view. Sam kneeled and aimed her bullpup AK at the front door as Brad retrieved his shotgun from where it leaned against the seat of the truck. “What do you think, Samantha, are you ready to take the lead?”
Brad was a big man and when Samantha followed him through a doorway she could never see past him. With Brad’s height, he could easily shoot past her and the bullpup was short enough to allow her to quickly cover the inside once they entered the front door. “Okay,” she answered.
Luis jogged around the corner and joined them, “They’re ready anytime you are.”
Brad stuffed foam plugs into his ears as Sam and Luis followed suit, gunshots indoors could quickly damage a person’s hearing.
“Okay,” Brad said as he released a deep breath. “Let’s get it done.”
“Let’s get it done,” Mark said.
Samantha looked at the front of the house, their home. “It’s not fair; we worked so hard to build a life here.”
“No one promised us life would be fair, Honey.”
“I know, it’s just everything we have is here.”
“We have what’s important,” he said as he wrapped her in his arms. “We have each other and the boys and that’s all that matters.” A moment later he added, “You should drive.”
“No, you drive; that heavy duty clutch you had put in kills my legs when we get into traffic.”
“I don’t like you being out here exposed in the back of the truck.”
“I have that gun I brought home in my duffel bag.”
“Yeah, about that, are you going to keep it? I mean with the boys and all, should we just get rid of it?”
“Mark, I saw those men who were not even infected, kill a good man. Norman didn’t deserve that and neither do we. I’m not taking any chances and besides, it’s in the duffel, okay?”
Mark solemnly nodded, “I just thought after I wanted to buy a shotgun for trapshooting and you talked me out of it…”
“That was a different world, Mark, and the single shot one we could afford wouldn’t help us much now anyway.” Samantha climbed up the back of the truck and settled herself amongst their belongings. “Like you said, let’s get it done.”
Samantha approached the door and rested her left hand on the knob, the bullpup pulled firmly into her shoulder with her right. “Ready?” She whispered.
“When you are,” Brad answered.
Turning the knob she pushed sharply and the door swung inwards…nothing but an entrance hall. Stepping lightly over the threshold, she walked forward in a slight crouch.
Behind her she heard Brad whisper, “Stairs to the right, living room and dining room to the left. Luis, cover the stairs. Sammy, I’ll follow you into the dining room.”
Samantha turned to her left and entered the opening into the dining room and then to the right into the kitchen. In the kitchen she saw a woman kneeling on the countertop and sucking on the faucet.
The woman’s head snapped to face her and Samantha saw the wild look in her eyes.
“Do it, Sam!” Brad said behind her.
She jerked the trigger of her weapon and it shoved into her shoulder as it recoiled. The bullet struck an inch into the left side of the woman’s head and that side blew off and slapped the cupboard door behind her. Sam squeezed her eyes shut as the woman’s body collapsed and then slid to the floor like a ragdoll.
Brad leaned forward and asked, “You okay?”
She nodded quickly as she reopened her eyes, “Yeah.”
There was a sudden gunshot from the living room where Luis covered the stairs and both Samantha and Bradford rushed back the way they came. At the bottom of the stairs they found Luis on his back trying to fend off a young teenaged girl who was astraddle his waist, her teeth snapping at his forearm. Firing one shot to her head, Brad killed her instantly.
Pushing her body off, Luis sat up and leaned against the wall. “Damn it,” he said as he looked at the bleeding wound on his left wrist. The teeth marks were unmistakable.
“Oh, no!” Sam froze for a moment before laying down her weapon and swinging her medical kit off of her shoulders.
“No, Samantha,” Luis said. “Save it for someone you can help.”
She looked into his soft brown eyes and saw the resignation. “We’ll disinfect it and…”
He shook his head, “You know it doesn’t work; we all know it doesn’t work.”
“We have to try!” She shouted as she opened the kit and began to pull items out.
“Sam,” Brad said. “We’ll take Luis to the Med Center and let them make the decision, but in the meantime go ahead and disinfect the bite and bandage it.”
Mark stopped the truck and then started the process of once again turning the dually around to search for another open road. The sun was beginning to rise and they had already been on the road for two and a half hours, but still hadn’t gotten out of the city. “I should have stayed home,” Samantha thought. “We should have left sooner.” But her desire to help injured people had overcome her instinct to protect her family.
“How could I have known it would get this bad?” She asked herself again.
Mark finished turning the truck around and then stopped. Opening his door, he stepped out and said to Sam, “This isn’t working very well.”
“I know, Mark, I’m so sorry I insisted on going in to work.”
“Water under the bridge, Honey, I think our best bet might be to try and find a route other than the 99 to get to Bakersfield, at least until we get clear of Sacramento.”
“Okay, if we can get across the American River we can catch the 50 north and take that road down towards Jackson.”
“Do you remember the highway number?”
“Neither do I, but I think I’ll recognize it when I see it.”
“Okay,” Samantha said. “We shouldn’t stay here much longer; the infected seem to congregate around noise.”
“One other thing, Hon, remember the Toyota that passed us a ways back?”
“Yeah, I didn’t like the way the passenger looked at me as they went by.”
“I think they were arguing about us and our truck as they passed. The passenger started to roll down his window, but I think the driver made him stop. As they drove past the passenger held up a pistol and mouthed ‘You’re lucky’.”
“I guess I could take the gun out of my bag?”
Mark looked into the interior of the truck where their oldest son watched them, “I don’t know; I don’t want our children thinking guns are the answer to problems, and riding around in the back with a gun could get us arrested, but…”
“I know, and me riding back here would be sure to draw the attention of any LEOs we might come across. Of course, I don’t even know if there’s anyone interested in enforcing the vehicle code now.”
“Sam, I am totally unprepared for what’s happening. I don’t really know what to do.”
Sam reached out and squeezed his hand, “But you do know what to do, and we’re doing it. We’re going to Bakersfield.” Sam looked around as she heard more shots in the distance, “In the meantime, let’s get going, okay?”
Mark returned to the interior of the cab and pulled back into the lane. As Mark drove Samantha watched around them, hoping she would be able to spot trouble before it saw them.
Samantha accepted the egg sandwich offered to her and stepped to the coffee urn where she poured coffee into a cup, finding a seat at an empty table she sat down to have her breakfast. The refugee center at the psychiatric hospital was slowly emptying out as people were allowed to move out and into the abandoned homes and apartments in town, but Sam hadn’t bothered looking for a place of her own, she still wanted to return to Sacramento and search for her family. She had come to a decision the night before to leave as soon as the rest of her clearance team arrived to pick her up. Bradford, Mouse, and Jack had all decided to accompany her for the dangerous trip and she was thankful for that.
Finishing her meal, she gathered her weapon from the tabletop and left the cafeteria to gather the rest of her gear. “Strange,” she thought to herself as she walked the corridors and passed others who were armed as she was. “Three weeks ago someone would probably have called the cops if they saw another person walking around with a loaded gun, now people thought you were suspect if you didn’t. How quickly society has changed.”
Outside, she waited patiently until Brad pulled up in front of her. Mouse and Jack were sitting in the back, so she joined Brad in the cab. “Hey,” she said.
“Good morning, Sam. The guys and I want to stop by the hospital and check on Luis before we leave, do you mind?”
“Of course not, I was going to see if you guys wanted to stop there as well.”
Samantha was lost in her thoughts until Brad stopped in front of the Med Center and then climbed out of the truck, “I’ll run in and check on him, okay?”
Sam nodded, but she exited the truck also and leaned against the bed as she, Jack, and Mouse kept an eye on the surrounding area. Placerville was steadily being reclaimed, but the infected seemed to spring up at odd times and places.
Less than ten minutes later, Brad rejoined them.
“Luis opted out,” he said. Those who were infected were, for all intents and purposes, guaranteed to become one of the many ‘ragers’, so they could choose to be humanely euthanized before they became violent, or accept a more direct method after they had changed.
All three remained silent for a moment, and then Mouse asked, “Do we need to make arrangements? He didn’t have any family left.”
“When Luis was admitted he told them to cremate his remains; it’s already been done.”
The four of them stood quietly for a moment longer.
“Well,” Brad said. “Let’s get down to Sacramento and see if today we can make something good happen for a change.” Turning to Samantha, he asked, “Where exactly do we need to go?”
Sam closed her eyes for several seconds before answering. “I’m not really sure, Bradford. My memories before I was injured are pretty fuzzy and I couldn’t see after the National Guard found me.”
“I know you were banged up pretty bad and I know you’re still recovering, but we at least need someplace to start.”
“The man that found me said my husband’s truck was in the river, so I’m assuming it was the American.”
“There are roads parallel to the river and a shitload that cross it, Sam,” Jack said. Was it close to Folsom Dam? Downstream farther?”
“I…I don’t know…I was unconscious a lot after they found me…I couldn’t see and…” Samantha stuttered to a stop. “I don’t even know where to start.” Her voice broke.
Bradford slipped his arms around her and held her, “Sam, the three of us would like nothing better than to help you find your family, but to just wander around and hope you remember something…”
She nodded into his chest as she began to sob.
Mouse rubbed her back gently as Jack said, “Listen, Sam, I was talking to one of the deputies and he told me when they tried to make it into Sacramento they couldn’t get past the interchange because of all the abandoned cars. They’ve been searching all of the alternate routes trying to find one they can get through on. Maybe we should wait a while and see what they can turn up.”
“I keep thinking of Mark trying to take care of the three boys without me and it’s tearing me apart.”
Brad squeezed her tighter, “Hey, didn’t you say you and your family was headed for his parent’s farm in Bakersfield?”
Sam stepped away and wiped her eyes, “Yes.”
“Then maybe the place to start is there and work our way back, what do you think?”
Samantha looked up at him, “It’s a long way for all of you to go and Mouse has his wife to care for.”
“Mouse needs to stay with his wife,” Jack said. “But there’s nothing holding me back from going.”
“All right,” Brad said as he smiled at Samantha. “Let’s spend today getting ready and we can leave in the morning.”
Samantha’s attention was drawn to her right from where she sat looking over the rear tailgate. There was a group of people mounted on street racer motorcycles watching as Mark drove past the intersection they were stopped at. Several of them pointed at her family’s truck and as she watched they pulled out and began to follow.
Turning around, she tapped on the rear window, “Mark! Those motorcycles are following us!”
She watched as he looked at his side view mirror, then the rearview and nodded to her. She felt the truck begin to accelerate. Behind them, she heard the motorcycles do the same and she quickly realized there was no way the truck would outrun the motorcycles. She began to try and open the duffel bag holding the rifle she had brought home with her, but the bikers caught up so fast and the rifle was entangled in her belongings. “Oh God,” she thought. “I should have taken it out before now.”
The first biker pulled up next to Mark’s open window and shouted at him, “Hey! Pull over, man!”
Mark shook his head and kept driving.
“Dude! We just want to talk!”
Sam glanced over the group of bikers and realized all of them were armed with pistols, shotguns, rifles, and some of them had machetes or axes strapped to them. Leaning out she shouted at her husband, “They have weapons, Mark!”
She felt the truck surge forward as she once again tried to pull the rifle from her bag. Then, one of the motorcycles raced past the truck, pulled in front of it and started to slow down. Mark didn’t slow down though; he kept pressure on the accelerator and bumped the rear tire of the bike trying to slow him down. The front bumper of the truck rode up the rear tire of the motorcycle which promptly blew out causing the rider to tumble from where he sat on the bike. Mark kept his foot on the gas pedal and the truck bounced over the motorcycle and its dismounted rider, but something happened to the truck also. It swerved radically to the left and as it hit the curb and then over the adjoining sidewalk, Samantha was thrown from one side of the truck’s bed to the other. First, her ribcage impacted the wall of the truck bed and she was thrown to the other side where her cheek and eye socket slammed into that side. A split second later, she found herself tumbling through the air and finally impacting on a grass covered slope.
Samantha blinked and then looked out the front window of Brad’s truck. Ahead lay the twin ribbons of the 99 freeway disappearing as it performed a long sweeping turn to the west. “Where are we?” She asked.
“You were a million miles away; are you okay?”
She nodded quickly, “Yeah, I just remembered something, the accident when I was thrown out of the back of the truck.”
“We’re coming up on the turn-off at Oildale,” Brad replied.
“Good, we’re getting close.”
“Care to guess how close we are?”
“Ten minutes maybe, my husband always drove and mostly I slept or kept the boys under control.”
Brad smiled, “Did you have to do that a lot?”
Sam glanced at him, “What?”
“Keep the boys under control.”
A faint smiled gifted her lips, “They were boys.”
“So they kept you busy.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
“Yes, but not in a bad way; they were…are all very smart and inquisitive. They are always underfoot and digging around, you know?”
“I was the youngest of my siblings, so I never had the benefit of being around a younger sister, or brother.”
Lapsing into silence, they stared ahead as Bradford slowed and then exited at their turn-off. Turning right, Brad began to accelerate, but then slowed as they met a short column of motorcycles going in the opposite direction. A woman riding behind the front driver waved excitedly for them to stop.
“Don’t, Brad, don’t stop!”
“Easy, Samantha,” he said. “Let’s just see what they want; it could be important.”
Brad stopped and the first big, fully dressed, Harley pulled up next to his window.
“Hey,” the motorcyclist greeted them. He and the woman behind him were African-Americans.
“How’s it going?” Bradford asked.
“We’re doing better than ten minutes ago; you folks from around here?”
Samantha caressed the pistol grip of her bullpup as she pushed the safety off with her left thumb.
“No,” Brad replied. “We’re out of Placerville, but this lady’s family,” he pointed at Sam. “Lives just a little way up this road.”
“Her family lives on this road?” The man asked.
“Yes, is anything wrong?”
“Yeah,” he looked past Brad at Sam. “About ten minutes back we ran a gauntlet of crazies around a small farm house. If there are people in there, they’re probably in bad trouble.”
Samantha leaned forward, “Was it a two story white house with light blue trim? Did it have a big new barn a short distance to the west?”
“No, this house was single story,” the biker answered.
The woman riding behind him added, “The house you’re describing is west of where the infected were. When we passed by there were some people on the front porch watching us and I waved, but none of them waved back.”
Sam grasped Brad’s arm, “Brad!”
“Hang on, Sam,” turning back to the bikers Brad asked, “Where are you going?”
“We heard some of the smaller towns managed to hang on after the outbreak, so we headed up this way hoping to find somewhere to park and help out. We haven’t had a lot of luck so far though.”
“Yeah, some of the smaller towns are having trouble feeding their own without letting others in.”
“What about Placerville?” The man asked.
Bradford looked back to the row of stopped motorcycles; behind them was a flatbed truck with piles of gear and metal drums. “Is that gas for your vehicles in those drums?”
“If you have enough to get there, Placerville will take you in.”
“You think so?” There seemed to be hope in the man’s eyes that hadn’t been there before.
“I know they will and the town has a lot of supplies for the time being. If anyone asks, tell them Bradford Grant sent you along.”
“Yeah,” Brad said as he reached out the window with his right hand.
“I’m Jerome Willis and this is my wife, Kiesha.” The woman smiled and nodded as the men shook hands.
Brad frowned and asked, “The house with all the infected around it, you don’t think you could have helped?”
Jerome slowly shook his head, “Three weeks ago there were forty-six of us on twenty Harleys and in two trucks; what you see now is all that’s left. I guess we should have been a survivalist group instead of a motorcycle club.”
Brad nodded, and then asked, “No guns?”
Jerome reached down and pulled a sawed-off double barrel shotgun from the other side of the motorcycle and held it up, “I’ve got six rounds of #8 bird shot; not enough to be going to war with the infected.”
“Not even close,” said Brad as he turned to Sam. “Sam, hand me my Remington and my bandoleer of ammo.”
Samantha did as he asked and he handed the shotgun and ammo out the window to Keisha. “You can borrow this until you get to Placerville; just drop it off at the Police Station and tell them I’ll be by to pick it up, okay?”
“Are you sure?” Jerome asked.
“Yeah, they have loaners they give to folks without weapons now days, so you’ll all be armed once you get there. Listen, we got to go, so we’ll see you people in Placerville, okay?”
“Thanks, Bradford! Let’s hunt each other up for round of beers!”
“You bet!” Brad waved as he stepped on the accelerator and pulled away.
Samantha stared at Brad, “Uh, you just gave away your gun.”
“Reach behind the seats; see that towel hanging on the back wall of the cab?”
Samantha pulled the towel away and exposed a short black carbine. It was held in its supports by two small bungee cords. Releasing the weapon, she turned around and held it on her lap. “You have two guns?”
“Three, I’ve got a Beretta pistol in a shoulder holster under my jacket.”
“So, what kind of gun is this?”
“I call it an Mforgery because it’s set up similar to the M4 Carbine I used in Iraq, but it’s only semiautomatic like your AK.” He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Jack watching their rear, “There should be some web gear behind the seat; can you get that out also?”
Looking back again she found the suspenders, belt, ammo pouches, and canteens, “Here it is.”
“Take out one of the magazines for me.”
“Your gun already has one in it.”
“Yeah, I know, but I want a spare in case I have to reload and I don’t want to be fumbling around trying to get one out.”
“Are you going to try and help the people in the house Jerome talked about?”
“We should try to help if we can.”
“We should try to help her.”
“Bull shit! They ran over Benny!”
“I told you they would probably be scared and not want to stop!”
“Do we look like outlaw bikers or something? Shit, I wanted to find out if they knew how to get out of the damn city and that’s all!”
“Yeah! And now Benny’s dead, this lady looks like she isn’t going to last much longer, and we still don’t know which way to go, do we! Maybe you’ll listen to me next time!”
“Fuck you, Jimmy!”
Samantha vaguely heard footsteps moving away and then someone touched her shoulder, “Lady, I wish I knew how to help you, I really do.”
From farther away another voice, female, shouted, “Jimmy! Everyone is leaving! We have to go!”
She felt his breath on her cheek, “May God bless you and hold you close to him. I’m sorry.” She dimly realized he was leaving and moments later she heard the motorcycle start and then pull away.
They hadn’t been trying to hurt her family; they were just a bunch of kids trying to escape the same as her. How many people have died since the outbreak because of the all-pervading fear and distrust?
“Are you all right?”
She looked around herself and shifted back into the present, “Yeah, I just remembered something about the day I was injured.”
“Does it have any meaning on our present situation?” Brad asked.
Looking out the side window, she shook her head, “No, not really, not anymore.”
Bradford was looking ahead again, “I think that must be the house that Jerome was talking about.”
Samantha followed his eyes and saw the crowd of people around the house they were approaching. Turning around in her seat, she tapped on the window until Jack looked inside at her. Holding up her weapon she then pointed ahead; Jack nodded and stood up behind the cab so he could see where they were going.
“What’s the plan; are we going to try and help?” Samantha asked Brad.
“Depends on what it looks like when we pass by. We may have to act fast, so be ready.”
Brad slowed the truck and the three of them studied the milling crowd around the house as they passed. Bradford shook his head from side to side, “There’s infected inside.”
He applied pressure to the gas pedal and the truck began to speed up. “How much farther to your in-laws home, Sam?”
“Another mile or so,” she answered. She realized she was short of breath and her hands were trembling. “We should tell Jack.”
Brad studied the house they had passed in his rearview mirror and then slowed to a stop; he decided they were far enough away. “Jack!” He shouted out his open window.
“Sam says our destination is the next house, so be ready, okay?”
Brad began to accelerate again, “We’ll do a quick drive-by and then turn around for another, slower pass, okay?”
As they were approaching Samantha leaned forward and watched the front of the house. There were two people milling about under the overhang of the full length porch. “Brad! That’s Mark’s dad, my father-in-law!”
“How does he look to you? Does he look like he’s okay?”
She looked over her shoulder out the back window as they passed, “It’s hard to say; I’m not sure.”
“Did you recognize the other person?”
“No, I don’t think I’ve seen him before.”
“It might be a neighbor visiting, or something.” Brad slowed down and made a U-turn in the road and started back towards the house. “It’s a good fifty yards to the house from the road and the driveway is bordered by fencing; if we have to bug out it will have to be in reverse.”
“I know.” She watched the house steadily as they once again approached the front of the driveway. “Just stop on the road and I’ll go in on foot.”
“No way is that going to happen, there’s a pair of binoculars in the glove box, get them out.”
Opening the glove box, Samantha removed the binoculars and held them to her eyes as Brad slowed to a stop. Her father-in-law limped to the front steps and stared at their truck. “Mark’s dad had surgery on his leg years ago, but he’s always needed a cane to get around; he doesn’t have his cane.”
“That doesn’t really mean anything.” Brad leaned forward so he could see past Samantha. “Alright, I’m going to approach them on foot…”
“It should be me; he knows me.”
“What’s his name?”
“George Hagen, but…”
“You and Jack stay here and cover me; there may be more people in the house, okay?”
“No, Brad, he knows me and not you. I don’t want to take the chance of something going wrong because someone he doesn’t know starts walking towards his home with a rifle. Besides, both you and Jack are better shots than me.”
“Don’t start that weaker sex and needing to be protected crap. It should be me and you know it, so I’m going.” With that, Samantha slid out of the front seat, and swinging her AK to the front began to walk up the driveway towards the house.
“Damn it!” Brad said as he exited the vehicle also. “Jack! Watch those guys on the porch! Sam is going to try and make contact; she says one of them is her father-in-law!”
“Uh, maybe one of us should have…”
“Nope, she says it has to be her because she knows him.”
Jack dropped to his feet with the truck between himself and the house and then rested his rifle on the side of the bed. “I hope she knows what she’s doing.”
Brad stood next to the left front tire and sighted towards the house with his carbine over the hood. “Damn it, I don’t like this at all!”
Samantha walked steadily up the driveway with each step raising miniature puffs of talcum like dust. She kept her eyes on George, but she watched the second man with her peripheral vision. They both began to come down the front steps from the porch as she approached and tentatively waved, but just when she began to relax somewhat, the second man broke into a sprint directly towards her. Her father-in-law flinched as the other ran past him, but then shrieked and began a stumbling run towards her.
She swung her AK up and pulling it firmly into her shoulder, she fired three quick shots at the man closing on her. All three missed and she realized that she herself might be blocking Brad and Jack’s aim; she knelt down and squeezed the trigger again hitting the man directly below the center of his nose. He dropped like a jointless puppet and tumbled in the dust of the driveway.
George was still stumbling towards her as she re-aimed and then shouted, “George! Daddy Hagen! It’s me, Samantha, please stop!”
He kept coming.
“Please,” she shouted. “Please Stop!”
His eyes were wide and there was drool escaping from the corner of his mouth.
An angry bee zipped over her head and George’s head snapped back as he tumbled to the ground almost at her foot and knee. Samantha stared at where the back of his head should have been, squeezed her eyes shut and began to sob, her weapon hanging forgotten from its sling. She vaguely heard running steps behind her and then Bradford was kneeling beside her.
Covering her eyes for a moment she finally said, “When Mark and I became engaged, my parents disowned me. They said there were over a billion Chinese in the world and there had to at least one of them I could marry. Mark’s mom didn’t really like it either at first, but she came around. Mark’s dad though, he was wonderful; he opened his arms and sucked me into his life with complete abandon.” She wiped at her face as she realized there was a string of snot hanging from her nose.
“Jack,” Brad said. “Have you got the house covered?”
“Yeah, it looks clear for now.”
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he offered it to Sam, “Here, take this.”
She blew her nose, folded the cloth and then wiped her face, “Thanks.”
“Do you want to check the interior of the house?”
Resting her gaze on the open front door she said, “Probably not necessary, but I need to know for sure. I need to know Mark and my boys aren’t here.”
Jack said, “Brad and I will go in, there’s no reason for you to go.”
She shook her head, “I have to go; I have to see for myself.”
Brad helped her to stand and she started for the house with trembling knees. At the steps up to the front porch she hesitated.
“Sammy,” Brad asked. “Do you want me to go first?”
“No, you can shoot over me.” She stared at the open door and then said. “Through the door is the living room; to the right are the dining room and then the kitchen. To the left is the stairs to the second floor. I didn’t see either of Mark’s sister’s cars, so the only people here should have been just Mark’s parents.”
“Go when you’re ready,” Brad said.
She crossed the porch and entered the living room where she was greeted with the rotten stench of decomposing flesh. Burying her nose in the crook of her left arm for a moment, she continued into the dining room and then the kitchen. Nothing, no one. They returned to the living room and climbed the stairs to the second floor where the stench was overpowering. They found her mother-in-law lying in the hall outside of her bedroom; much of the meat on her had been consumed. Except for her mother-in-law’s body, the house was empty.
From the house they walked to the barn and there they found a dead steer and two dead horses. All three had been fed off of. Upstairs above the barn they again found no one in the rooms Mark had thought they might have to live in.
“Well,” Jack said. “Your husband and your boys aren’t here, so I guess it’s kind of good news.”
“No news is good news, isn’t that what they say?” Samantha asked.
“Let’s head back to Placerville,” Brad said. “When we get there we’ll figure out what to try next.”
The three of them walked slowly to the truck and climbed back into their places.
“I’m not giving up, Bradford.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to say anything else, Samantha.”
“I will do anything to find my family, and no one should ever get in my way. I will pay any price, no matter what it is, to find them again.”
The hair on Bradford’s arms stood on end as he heard the tone of her voice; God help anyone who did get in her way.