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.