Jake withdrew from the crest of the cliff and shook his head to clear the sight of hundreds of zombies surrounding his friends from his head. Droplets of rain fell away from him like wet dog. As he turned, the wind picked up and dashed a gust of water into his eyes. He struggled for a good grip and his foot slipped. Pebbles ground against his chest as his body slid three feet, but at the last moment his fingers found a thin lip of rock and he arrested his fall.
“Son of a…” he grumbled as he hurried over to his allies.
Flack stood like a wet scarecrow. Only his M4 destroyed the image.
Scent clung to Tops. She might have been crying.
“We’re facing more than before,” he said. He tried to wipe the water from his eyes, but his soaked jacket only made it worse. “Closer to five or six hundred now.”
“Well crap,” Flack said. “We need to head back and get more people.”
“And what, waste hundreds of rounds and probably lose some of us on the way.” He looked from face to face. “Listen we need to cliff hammer them.”
“Cliff what?” Tops asked.
“Like I did before. Try to get their dumb asses to push each other over the cliff.”
“But wasn’t they a ledge the last time you did it?” Flack asked. “There’s nothing like that around here now.”
Jake’s eyes hurried to pierce the fog building around them. A tree rose from the mists. “Maybe that pine can help us.”
“Will they go for you there?” Flack asked. “I thought they wouldn’t kill themselves so easily.”
“No they won’t, but if we could drop a log from the cliff onto that big branch, we can-”
“Wait, what?” Flack Demanded. “You want us to do something from the top of this cliff that’s swarming with undead?”
“The undead are focused on Tal. Hopefully he will see what we’re doing and assist us by making noise. But if we can get a log stretched from the cliff to that tree they might make a go at trying to crawl across.” He meet Flack’s stare. “I’ll have no problem being bait.”
* * *
It took the three men twenty minutes and all of them carrying it, but they were able to get a fifteen foot log up to the ravine where they entered the canyon. Keeping low and to the edge of the cliff, they headed south with their massive burden. Fingers slipped and grunts were contained as the men dug deep and pressed on.
Tal must have guessed what they were doing, and as Jake had hoped, his trapped friend took a few shots at the zombies thrashing below where he sat in the tall tree. That stirred them up and also kept them focused on the two men trapped in the tree and not the three men carrying the log.
They reached the cliff face near the other tree growing out from below the edge. Scent was already up in the tree, but above the branch they hoped to drop the log onto. The men nodded and then drew the log up like they were planting a flag pole. Double checking everything, they tried to lower the log onto the branch as slowly as they could. The process started well, but when they reach about a forty-five degree angle, it slipped from their hands and landed on the branch with a loud crash.
Jake feared the worst, but the branch held. While Scent hurried to secure in it place on the tree end, Tops used rocks to help brace it along the cliff.
“Good work guys,” Jake said. Turning toward Flack, he continued. “Now, my friend, it’s time to open up.”
And that’s what the two men did. Flack’s rifle tore a huge hole in the back of the horde’s ranks, while Jake’s pistol barked out.
It didn’t take the zombies long to start heading their way. “You guys, get out of here!” Jake ordered. “Scent, out of the tree.” After firing off a few more shots, Jake got on the log and started to make for the pine tree.
At once he realized a flaw in his plan, for the log remained slick. He dropped to his hands and knees, but the going was slow. He tired not to look down at the forty foot drop or listen to the approaching zombies as he struggled for every inch.
He had neared his goal, when Scent cried out from below. “Jake look out they have almost reached the log!”
He attempted double time, but then the first zombie stepped on the log behind him. It only lasted a moment before it toppled off to explode like a balloon filled with grey viscera on the rocks below. But even that small moment had almost knocked Jake off the log.
He hurried, but when the next zombie shook the log he almost fell off. Cursing, he hugged the log to his chest and inched forward. The loud moans mixed with his buddies urging him on. More and more zombies reached the log and fell. It was shaking so violently that all he could do was hold on.
Then shooting broke out from below. Flack was wasting the zombies before the log. This gave Jake enough time to reach out and grab a tree branch, seconds later; he was the safest of all of them from his high perch over the canyon.
After getting comfortable, he watched with a sick fasciation as zombies ended their own sad existence by the dozens. It only took thirty minutes for five hundred limping sad forms to perish on the rocks below. He watched their hungry eyes and snapping teeth. Each one sought his death, but only found their own.
A few dozen had kept their focus on Tal and Mooky, but with the combined effort of both teams, they were shot down.
“I can’t believe you saved us at all and certainly not like that,” Tal said as he gave Jake a giant hug.
“Hardly even used a clip,” Flack said.
Tops grin stretched ear to ear. “We sure as hell cliff hammered them, huh Jake?”
He nodded, just happy there had been no additional casualties. “I supposed we did.”
Flack looked at the rest of the team, but then stayed on Jake. “When we get back to Captain Mitchum, I’m going to tell him what happened and what you did, Jake. This is the second time you have used that trick to save us. I’m also going to suggest that we give our a team a name. From here on out, we’ll be known as the Cliffhammers, if that is okay with you.”
Jake allowed himself one of his rare smiles. “Cliffhammers? Yeah, I think I like it.”
Jake cast one last glance over this shoulder to where his two friends clung to the branches of a pine tree over the swirling horde of undead, and then took in the new group just forming out of the mists, which cut off their escape route to the north. More moans to the east let him know that more zombies lurked in that direction as well.
“Come on,” Jake hissed through clenched teeth. “To the canyon, it’s our only chance.”
“What about Tal in that damn tree?” Flack whispered back.
“We can only help him if we’re alive. Let’s go!”
The zombies had spotted them and their groans increased in volume as they moved faster over the soaked forest. The four of them leapt over fallen logs and rushed through clusters of grey stone. The rain still hammered the wooded fields and hit them harder when they neared the edge of the canyon.
Rough stones rose on either side as they splashed into a ravine that led to the canyon. Two feet of water filled the ravine and disappeared into a waterfall landing a hundred yards below.
“Careful here,” Jake said. “One misstep and zombies won’t be your biggest problem.” They made it to where the cliffs of the canyon met the field. Jake led the way and took them toward the southern side of the ravine.
He turned to the others and watched the rain dripping from the ends of their hair and clothes, as he said, “We’re going to need to cling to this cliff face and we might as well head south so we’re closer to Tal. Once we reach the side of the canyon closest to him we’ll try to figure out a way for us all to survive through this.”
“Survive through this…” Tops said, while making wild gestures with his hands, “We’ll be lucky to survive this climb you want us to do?”
Jake moved in closer to the younger man. “Listen up. Our group has only survived because of the cliffs of this canyon. How do you think we have made it through the last year? How did I kill the original horde that followed us here? We’re the masters of this canyon, the Cliffhammers! If we can’t make this happen, we don’t deserve to survive.”
The two men eyed each other until Tops girlfriend, Scent, said, “We have to do something, they’re almost here.”
Jake was an accomplished climber, but the journey proved harder than he would have through. The steep cliffs remained covered in water and everything remained slick. They passed under several spots where the rushing water poured off the fields above in frigid waterfalls.
Once Scent slipped and would have fallen if Flack hadn’t grabbed the back of her jacket, she screamed as her staff when tumbling down the cliff and shattered on the rocks below.
“This is bullshit,” Tops spit past the rain running over his face. “You’re going to get us all killed.”
“What other choice is there?” Jake shouted back.
“We just climb down and head back to camp. Warn them and cut our losses.”
“And leave Tal there?” Flack demanded.
Jake spied an area that had some shelter from the storm and would provide as least a few feet of safety for them to stand on. “Over here is a ledge. Let’s stop there and figure it out.”
No one complained and they reached the ledge without mishap. Once they had all found safe footing, Jake said, “Stay here, I’m going to scout out what’s above us and see how close we are to Tal.”
Without waiting for an answer, he set off. It was a hard climb, but he’d seen worse. Three minutes later he had reached the upper edge of the cliff. Attempting to stay hidden, he peered over. He didn’t like what he saw.
He could see Tal, and it looked like Mooky clinging, to the wet tree branches, but even more zombies had arrived. Jake felt his pulse quicken as more and more undead poured into the clearing. Some town must have emptied out, he thought to himself. But as more and more walking corpses appeared, he wondered how he’d be able to get any of them out of this alive.
Come back next weekend and continue Jake’s dangerous journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.
Jake’s sledge hammer swung out and knocked another walking corpse back into the mud streaked gully as the sounds of the gunshots faded into the forested hills.
“Three shots means trouble,” Flack said, as he used his rifle to push two zombies back into the gully. The two took three more with them and they all splashed into rain flooded stream below. “Maybe we should use our guns.”
“I’d rather not lose what advantages we have,” Jake called out. “Let’s just try to do this.” He moved into the fray swinging his hammer as quickly as he could. He tried to hold the bank, but noticed that Scent couldn’t guard her section and had to fall back.
When Tops moved back to protect her, he and Flack were forced to retreat or risk be flanked by the undead.
Flack cut through half of one’s neck, but then turned to him and yelled, “I think we have to switch to guns or we’ll be overwhelmed.”
“Son of a bitch,” Jake said, but then drew his pistol and dropped six zombies with well placed shots.
Flack fired his M-4 in small bursts. The drenched zombie’s exploding heads splashed gore over the churning mud. Corpse after corpse fell until the two men had completed their grim task.
Tops and Scent went through the downed undead putting any survivors out of their misery while the two gunman caught their breath. Overhead the raging lead colored clouds showed no signs of breaking up. Jake sighed when the rain grew stronger and walked over to where Flack loaded more bullets into a spent magazine.
“So what now?” the tall road warrior asked him.
“We were tasked with finding Tal and that’s what we’re going to do.” Flack nodded and Jake clasped him on the shoulder. Once the others had collected themselves, the group headed south.
The run in had sobered them and gone were the lighthearted jokes. The good humor was replaced by careful footsteps and nervous glances into the drenched woods. As they traveled the rain picked up and a thin mist rose from the ground. Within minutes the rain muffled all other sounds as the mists brought down their visibility.
Gritting his teeth Jake led them through the obfuscated forest. Their soaked clothes hung heavy from their arms and back. Each footstep became harder as mud stuck to their soles and created slippery paths through the fields.
They found a thick cluster of trees and Jake had the team stop and get their barring.
“I wish he’s fire three more shots,” Scent whispered.
“Maybe we should fire three of our own,” Flack suggested.
“I’d rather hold off,” Jake started, “because—wait, do you guys hear that?”
“Sounds like a drunk gorilla hitting a drum with a broken stick,” Tops suggested.
“It’s coming from this way,” Jake said. “Let’s go.”
A tree covered hill loomed before them and Jake made for it. To their west he could see they had drawn closer to the canyon. This comforted him, more than a little, for at least he knew nothing could head at them from that direction.
The team made it up to the thick cluster of trees and despite the mists they had no trouble seeing the scene unfolding below them. Scent gasped and Jake felt like joining her when he saw Tal and one other person sitting on the branches of a pine tree ten feet above an undulating mass of easily three hundred undead. The zombies swirled and trashed under his friends like an eternal mosh pit of death.
Flack sounded breathless as he said, “We need to go back and get more people.”
But before Jake could replay, he heard Scent cry out. Looking over his shoulder, he saw her backpedaling toward the huge group before them. At first this confused him until he saw the shapes looming up out of the fog.
Another group of undead had come up behind them.
“Shit,” Flack hissed. “Now we’re cut off from camp.”
“Worse than that,” Jake started, “We are stuck between two packs with no easy escape.”
Come back next weekend and continue Jake’s dangerous journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.
You can explore more of the Eternal Aftermath here!
With two teams missing in the forested canyons, the Cliffhammers were spread thin. Also with the sighting of the recent zombie tracks, they couldn’t afford to leave the main camp compromised, so Mitchum had only allowed Jake three people to accompany him on his search for Tal’s missing group.
Jake had taken Flack, mostly because he had one of the best weapons around, although firing off his M-4 was about the last thing he’d want to see happen. With them also went Tops. The skinny kid had earned his name by smoking anything he could get his hands on. He’d smoke swamp weed and the bark of trees if he had nothing else to cram into his endless supply of rolling papers. For a weapon he used an axe with a sawed off handle.
His girlfriend, Scent, had also come with them. Jake wasn’t too thrilled to have the young girl along, but figured if she had survived a year of the zombie apocalypse, she should be able to hold her own, even if her choice of weapons appeared to be a sharpened stick.
The four of them set out south as the storm grew worse. The driving rain hammered at them and soaked them completely before they had moved past the outskirts of the camp. Overhead dark clouds showed no signs of breaking. Every branch he hit send thick drops onto his head and often found their way his back. Gripping his big sledge hammer tighter, he pressed on.
“Hell,” Flack began. “Tal could just be lost due to this crappy weather.” He pushed a strand of his long wet hair behind an ear. “Shit, we might even get lost trying to find our way back.”
“Yeah, what the hell?” Tops said, obviously frustrated that he couldn’t get his smoke lit. “This is Arizona, not Oregon. I thought we were supposed to stay high and dry up here.”
Jake kept his voice lower than the others, but said, “Humans have been changing the environment for years. Who knows how them suddenly disappearing will effect the Earth?”
That clammed them up and the moved silently into a place where the trees thinned out into an open field. Jake didn’t like being exposed. There could be things more dangerous than zombies lurking in the mountains. He took the group to an outcropping of rocks and let them catch their breath while he scanned the area before them.
Flack drew up next to him. “Tal might have gotten lost, but he’ll know what direction is north. I’m more worried about his missing the camp to the east or the west. We could be heading further south for no reason.”
“Just consider this a hunt. We’re hunting for Tal’s group, stray zombies, game, whatever we see first.”
“I sure wouldn’t mind some venison,” Scent said as she cupped her hands around Tops’ smoke, which he was finally able to get lit.
“Yeah, but firing shots is always a risky gamble. We wouldn’t want to lure any wandering herd back to camp,” Jake said.
“I’ll risk it,” Tops said. “Besides I could use a little action.
The rain let up some so Jake took the team south again. The area became rockier and they were forced to move into gullies that contained small streams of rushing water. Frogs and insects sung songs of life that pleased him. Then, just as suddenly, he heard nature’s opposite, the foul moans of the undead.
Flack stopped as they were about to climb out from the wash. “Looks like a lot of them.” Maybe thirty zombies lumbered their way. Looking back at Tops, he said, “Careful what you wish for, we just got the action you wanted and it’s more than we can handle.”
“I call bullshit on that,” Jake said. “We have to waste these geeks ourselves. We can’t have them showing up in our camp in the middle of the night. Follow me.”
“Them without waiting for them to answer, he climbed up the small incline they had just descended and waved his arms over his head. “Hey losers this way. Fresh food.” The others soon had no choice but to join him.
The undead’s moaning increased as they stumbled through the field heading straight toward them. Empty eyes gazed in blank stares as their wet ragged clothes hung from strings to their bloated bodies. They pushed through the trees oblivious to the damage the sharp branches caused to their weak flesh.
“Alright everyone,” Jake started. “Grab as many fist and head sized boulders that you can. Then, when they’re in range start wailing on them. Hold back on using the gun unless there isn’t any other choice.”
The zombies would have a ten foot gully to cross that would help slow them down, but it would still be almost ten to one against them.
The group didn’t wait until the zombies reached the gully. They threw their stones as soon as the undead have moved into range. The stones did damage, but these weren’t men. They left marks and smashed noses, but they had only made three kill shots before the pack reached the small ravine. Seconds later they toppled into the wash. Again a living person would be in pain from such falls, but the undead picked themselves back up and came for them.
The team switched to the head sized stones and maybe dropped nine more before Jake called out. “Hand to hand weapons now! Try to hold the ridge it will give us an advantage. The four of them drew their weapons and was about to lay into the remaining twenty zombies when gunshots rang out to the south.
“Shit,” Jake said as he smashed his first zombie in the center of the head. “That must be Tal and he would have to be in deep shit to risk firing a gun!”
Come back next weekend and continue Jake’s dangerous journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.
Jake threw another log on the sparking fire and then looked back up at the fading sunset. The last stands of violet blended into the darkening greys of an approaching storm front. All around him his friends and allies hurried to set up tarps and bring their meager gear into concise piles. He felt like the calm eye in the center of a storm of activity, but then again he had prepped his supplies hours earlier.
Heavy boots paused next to where he sat. He knew they belonged to Mitchum before he spoke. “I needed to ask you something.” Mitchum had been a retired officer in the Air Force long before the zombie apocalypse had begun. His leadership and knowledge had helped keep them alive, although since Jake had saved the entire camp by luring thousands of undead to their deaths, he had gained the man’s respect and trust.
Jake looked up at the older man. White sideburns phased into a greying head of close cropped hair. “What is it?”
“I was out hunting earlier and I discovered some geek tracks to the south.”
Jake poked at the blaze just as the first drops of rain created dark round spots on the forest floor. “Well, with us headed further south through the canyon every month, it isn’t to surprising that we’d run into something from that direction.”
“True, but Tal had taken a group south to forage and he hasn’t returned yet. Also I’m surprised you didn’t notice that your pal Dag isn’t back yet. You know he took Ellie and Renni with him. Your lady had said something about seeing some eatable mushrooms that way.”
Jake bolted out of his chair. “They aren’t back yet? Son of a… I need to go look for them right now.”
“Wait,” his arm reached out and grasped Jake by the shoulder. “They went north, the tracks were south, near Tal’s group. I need you to take a few men and check on them.” As the Captain spoke the rain moved from drizzle to outright downpour.
“That doesn’t mean anything. Geeks could be anywhere.”
Mitchum’s stern face regarded him. “If they’re heading from the south and you are between your lady and the south, you’re protecting her that way too. I’ll organize a group to search for Ellie, but right now I’m more concerned for Tal. I need you to handle this and with the rain crashing into us, the sooner the better.”
Jake grabbed his throwing sledge and slid it through the steel ring attached to his belt. His hand checked to make sure his pistol remained secure and then hefted up his big war sledge. “Flack still has a loaded rifle right?”
“Yes, but as always try to avoid shooting for multiple reasons.”
“As always, but he’s coming with. I want Boxer to lead the group looking for Ellie, or I’ll do it myself.”
“Done, now get going. This rain won’t be making anything easier.”
“No, it sure won’t.”
Jake cast one look back at the inviting fire that he’d just lit and then headed off to find Flack.
It was going to be a long wet night.
Thanks for reading Mitch’s journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath and come back next weekend for the beginning of a new tale.