This serial began 8/15/15
Stopping only long enough to toss the dead rattler over his shoulder, Mitch headed east, deeper into the canyon, as the zombies poured in from the west. He jogged a hundred yards before the canyon turned to the northeast. Mitch cast a glance over his shoulder and saw the undead behind him stretched wall to wall.
“One mistake and I’m done,” he whispered to himself, but then focused on the tracks below him.
The footprints of the two young men led onward. A single drop of blood confirmed that one of them had been bit by the rattlesnake trap he had set for them.
He jerked when gunfire barked ahead of him. At first he thought they were shooting at him, but then realized that the tweens must have run into some zombies. “Damn kids, firing at shadows. Going to bring hundreds of deaders down into my home.”
After checking his new rifle one more time, he headed after them. It didn’t take him long to reach the three recently slain zombies. They couldn’t be too far ahead of him.
Mitch slowed his pace. From the looks of the tracks, one of the men was helping the other. More drops of blood made dark circles in the dry dust.
Before him the rust colored walls reached greater heights. He knew this could be both good and bad. It might be less likely that zombies could be entering the rift ahead of him, but climbing out would be more difficult.
He paused to listen as he allowed himself a moment to catch his breath. The rough canyon slowed the zombies following him and he had increased the distance between himself and them, but if the youths pinned him down he would be in a tough spot. He could easily find himself with gunmen on one side, zombies behind him, and difficult canyon walls on either side. He went forward anyway.
Then he saw them. The tweens remained far to focused on moving forward to notice him behind them. They had reached an area where the canyon opened wider and loose sand and rocks spread out between the sides of the rugged cliffs.
From the looks of things, Rus had been the one bitten and Mitch couldn’t have been happier. It looked like a leg wound for he was limping while receiving help from Eric, He leaned on the younger teen’s shoulder as they moved over the small dunes of sand created by the infrequent flash floods.
Mitch contemplated his options for a moment. The youths had insulted him, stolen all his gear, and then shot at him. Eric might not have joined in with the shooting and was certainly the most innocent of the original three, but one could never be sure what choices a kid could make under stress. Rus on the other hand have been an ignorant and aggressive asshole from the moment they had cursed Mitch’s life.
He decided that the world would be better off without him.
Mitch found a rock to brace the rifle on. He had never done much shooting before the apocalypse, but over the last year his skills had improved. He got the back of Rus’s head in his sights. Behind him the groans of the zombies drew closer. He would have to make sure he did this right.
A single shot echoed through the hills and Rus fell without so much as a shout.
Eric panicked and fumbled for Rus’s rifle as Mitch stepped forward.
He raised his hands, but kept the rifle in his left. “Hold on, boy. You don’t seem as nasty as those other two. I’d like to let the fight end here. We got plenty of other problems. All this shooting is going to have zombies crawling over these hills for weeks.”
Eric had the rifle in his hands, but just stared at Mitch over the barrel pointed his way.
“What do you say, kid? Whanna try to help each other get out of here? There isn’t enough of us breathers left to be killing each other over scraps.”
“What are you saying? You just killed my two friends.”
“Were they really your friends? Seems more like your abusers to me.”
Eric’s face grew red and his hands trembled as he kept the rifle pointed Mitch’s way. “What would you know about it? We were a team. We survived through a lot of shit.”
“I’m sure you did,” Mitch said as he took a step toward Eric. Behind him the moans of the undead grew in volume. They would be on him soon. “But they tried to kill the wrong guy in the wrong place and there is no going back now. The only question is how do you want to go forward? Sure you could shoot me, but then you would be left alone in an area I’m sure you don’t know well. Or you could let me help get you out of here and to someplace safe…”
Eric’s hands shook and for a moment Mitch thought the kid was really going to shoot him. Instead there was a loud rattle as he dropped the rifle onto the rocks.
Mitch walked forward allowing himself a smile.
* * *
Am hour later for the two men, both young and old climbed out of the canyon and looked back to the west as the sun had just begun to tint the sky over the distant Tucson Mountain range a light purple.
The undead spread over the foothills and continued to hunt them. The next few weeks wouldn’t be easy, but Mitch knew enough places to hide and stay safe that he figured they’d be okay. The mop up would be the hard part, but he was the master of making traps and with Eric’s help they’d figure something out.
With a sigh, he turned his back on the scene and led the way toward higher ground.