As the first zombies made it past the avalanche, Jacob said, “Well whatever you twice damned cowboys want to do, you have better figure it out, right quick.”
Brown and Trevor shared a look, but Brown spoke first. “We’d better put some distance between us and that horde.”
“To’won’t be easy with dem horses,” Jacob said, as he moved to lead the way. “Wez about to hit cliff country.”
“Any way we could skirt the rougher cliffs, hopefully toward the north?”
“Can’t say there is.” Jacob started. “Might be able to cut south, but that would dump us right into the biker’s back yard.”
“Or take us closer to Mexico,” Brown added, “which is where this horde came from in the first place.”
“Well what the hell are we going to do?” Trevor asked his voice rising. As he spoke, the first undead passed through the narrow canyon and drew into sight.
Brown looked up at the towering mountains that blocked out half the night sky to the west and north. “We can’t go back the way we came. We’re going to have to go south. We don’t have a choice.”
“Shit-dandy. If I knew today was gonna be this exciting I wouldduh wore my new suit.” Brown doubted Jacob had ever worn a suit in his life, but he let the little man led them on through the rocky cliffs and gullies.
For the first time in hours, the small party started to descend in elevation. Brown and Trevor still lead their horses, but after a rough section, they dropped into a forested area where things grew more level. The going remained slow in the darkness, but some of the worry over the horses becoming hurt lessoned
A small stream divided the valley they had entered. The pair had just started to guide their mounts through the shallow water when Trevor’s horse struggled against him. The men smelled the foul odor a moment later.
“They’s here,” Jacob said, and Brown knew at once what the old man meant.
And then they came. At least twenty of them stumbled out from the trees and boulders. Rags hung from them and battered feet disregarded the sharp rocks as they lunged their way. As the zombies hands pushed through the thorns of the wait-a-minute bushes, their throats opened and the air filled with their growls. Even in the darkness, Brown guessed they were Mexicans, or at least had been while they lived.
Jacob confirmed his thoughts with a shout. “Goddamn wet back zombies. It was bad enough while they were alive, but we ain’t got no border guards now.” As he spoke he backed up until he drew level with the cowboys. “I hope you boys can handle yerselves, cuz I ain’t got no guns.”
As one, both men drew their rifles from off their horses. Brown also drew an extra revolver and tossed it to Jacob. “It only has six shots, but I hate to see a man unarmed these days.”
Having said his piece, Brown focused on this rifle work. Heads exploded with waves of gore. The blasting of gunfire echoed through the canyons, while smoke started to obscure their vision.
Snarling faces came at them through the smoke and darkness. The horses screamed as Brown’s arms jerked left and right as he put down zombie after zombie. Between the trees, darkness, and the increasing obfuscation of the smoke, he couldn’t be sure if more arrived behind the first group, but he had no choice but to fight on or risk his mounts.
Jacob yelled when one appeared in front of him and he shot it in the face at almost blank range.
A zombie came from their right and charged at Trevor. Before he could bring the gun around, it closed. He got the rifle up between them, but the man-monster grabbed the length of it and fought with him. Brown blew the head off of two more, but then the rifle clicked empty. He moved to the side and kicked the zombie that had Trevor’s rifle in the chest. It went stumbling onto its back but took Trever’s rifle with it.
“Son of a bitch,” Brown growled as more came pouring out of the underbrush. “Trevor, take the horses and just go. Jacob, cover him.”
“I only have three shots left.”
“Then use them damn wisely!”
No more arguing came and Trevor and Jacob hurried to take the horses west.
Brown drew his pistol and emptied it as quickly as he could into those closest to him. He had wanted to grab Trevor’s rifle, but when another dozen came pouring at him, he gave up that goal.
After stuffing his pistol into his belt, he kicked one zombie into two more and then used the butt of his rifle to smash another in the face. He backpedaled a few feet and the half-moon appeared from behind a lingering cloud, he saw that at least forty zombies lurched at him through the forest.
Setting his jaw, Brown turned and hurried to catch up to the others. Before he reached them he heard sounds to the north. The other horde had caught up to them. They were in trouble, some serious trouble indeed.
Come back next weekend to see if Brown and his allies can survive the Eternal Aftermath
The sounds of a thousand undead followed them as they entered the rocky break between the cliffs. Some of the gnashing sounded close while others created a horrid background canopy of marching death as the monsters struggled up the steep slopes the cowboys had so recently passed. Mixed with this, the tumbling sounds also reached their ears when the frequent stumbles of the lurching dead sent them rolling down the rocking cliffs into their uncaring brethren.
Once the cowboys had passed through the front of the passage with their horses, the old man’s voice reached them from out of the darkness. “Stay here. I mean it. Stay here.”
Enough moonlight reached them for Brown to see the look of dismay covering Trevor’s face. Soon that look became replaced with one of concern as the first zombie entered the break between the cliffs.
“We should keep moving,” his friend said.
“The old man told us to stay here. We don’t know our way around. Who knows what type of traps he might have set up?” As a second, third, and then fourth zombie entered the break, Brown began to doubt his own words.
Shaking his head, Brown drew his pistol. He took aim, but before he opened fire a loud smashing sound echoed through the mountains as a series of boulders tumbled down the cliffs and not only smashed the lead zombies into a foul smelling paste, but went a long way in blocking off the passage they had just entered.
The two men stared at the blockade as a cloud of dust enveloped the area. The first zombie hadn’t been hit and Brown put a bullet through its head, while Trevor calmed down the horses.
“Well, you coming, you half brain dead bastards?” The old man said from the darkness clinging to the narrow pass ahead of them. “That won’t hold them shitheads off for long.”
The cowboys exchanged another look and Brown allowed himself a half grin. “Might as well do what our benefactor says.”
“Benefactor, huh. Think you’re pretty fancy with them cleaned clothes and horses. I had a horse once. I ate him last winter.” The bobbing white haired mop came into view ahead of them as they moved higher into the range. “Your horses look pretty tasty. Hope one doesn’t break a leg. That would be a real shame.”
Brown grew more serious. “You can insult me all you like, mister, but when you even hint at threatening my horse, we’ll have an issue.”
“Keep your caps on, lowlander. I’m the best chance yer horse has got.” He turned to face them after they had made it another hundred yards. “My name’s Jacob, by the damn by.” After the two men introduced themselves he went on. “I don’t suppose you have a few hundred rounds with you or anything helpful like that?”
“Can’t say we do and we’d rather not use it all if we had,” Brown answered.
The old timer picked at his teeth with his finger for a moment and then said, “Well can I inquire to what genius inspired plan you two were hatching?”
“I think we had the idea of taking them living dead over the range, dumping them on the west side of the Santa Ritas and then riding our horses home.”
Jacob chuckled and it wasn’t a friendly laugh. “Oh my, oh my. I can see a few things wrong with that there plan. Besides the bears, mountain lions, and jaguars just waiting for the opportunity to dine on some fresh horse flesh, them and the damn steer cliffs you somehow think you can get yer horses over, you have no idea what’s on the west side of this range do you?”
Brown looked Trevor’s way and the man shrugged.
“He he, right after this double-damned apocalypse started, some huge ass biker gang road down to the Golden Valley retirement community. Besides being ruthless evil bastards, you can’t really knock their idea. Hundreds of well stocked homes with only old ladies and half crippled men to protect them. Many of the neighborhoods are walled in too.”
“Those bikers moved in and never left. They been living off the corpse of the old world out there ever since. You head down the west face, you’ll come up right into their back yard. I’m sure they is getting hungry by now. They sure as hell will want to eat yer horses. Hell, you’d be lucky if they don’t want to eat you.”
“Son of a bitch,” Trevor swore.
“Son of a bitch is right,’ Jacob agreed and it was about then that a closer moaning could be heard as the first zombies began to make their way over the avalanche.
Come back next weekend to see if Brown and his allies can survive the Eternal Aftermath
The voice called out at them from the darkness. Brown couldn’t spot its source, but figured it came from somewhere amongst the rocky cliffs that rose to their right.
“I live up here for a whole damn year. I suffer and eke out an existence with almost nothing and you goddamn cowboys lead a whole damn army of flesh eaters right to my doorstep. I should blow your heads off right now!”
“If they don’t know where we are, his yelling is gonna draw them straight toward us,” Trevor hissed.
“Now hold on,” Brown started. “We meant no harm. We have women and children to protect. We’re trying to build a life too. We had no idea we were heading in your direction.”
“Don’t think I don’t know who you are,” the voice called out again. “I’ve seen you down there. Laughing. Riding your horses. Eating well, not a bloody care in the world.”
“Then why didn’t you ever approach us?” Brown asked. “We would have taken you in. We have food to share and can use the extra help.”
The moaning of a hundred throats drew nearer and Trevor spoke up. “I’m not sure this is the time for hand shaking and promises. If we don’t keep going, we’re going lose the horses to these freaks.”
“You ain’t going anywhere but to an early grave, if I don’t say so.”
“I know you don’t want to just shoot us down in cold blood.” Brown made a statement, not a question.
“Maybe if I do, they’ll think they found their quarry and leave me the hell alone.”
“Damn it we got no time for this.” Trevor shouted. “Here they come!”
Before Brown could react, both the horses snorted and pranced with the whites of their eyes showing.
Trevor drew his pistol and began to shoot into the ranks of the closest walking dead. His horse reared and tried to pull away from. This forced him to cease his shooting and grab the reins with both hands.
Brown drew his rifle off his saddle while trying to keep his mount calm. “Listen either cut us down now or help, because I’m not going to risk our horses for a bunch of hot air.”
Having said his piece, Brown took aim and took down the leading four zombies in quick succession, but he knew there were nearly another thousand where those came from. The only thing they had going for them remained that the severe climb up the side of the rugged mountain had caused the horde to become spaced out so that only the first two dozen or so undead had drawn close.
“Son of a bitch,” the older man shouted before taking his own turn at blasting away at the heads of the marching zombies. Rotting grey matter sprayed over boulders and cactus. Limp bodies rolled and tumbled down the rocky slope.
The two cowboys joined in until they had cleared away enough of the undead to buy themselves a couple of minutes.
When the smoke of their firearms cleared, Brown turned to see a grizzled grey bearded man standing not too far off. His clothes looked like little more than rags tied together and every inch of him was filthy enough to make a zombie looked well groomed. “I’m probably going to regret this for the rest of my now severely shortened life, but come on and follow me and get your asses moving. We won’t have much time.”
Brown and Trevor shared a look and then followed the old man into the rocky canyon.
Come back next weekend to see if Brown and his allies can survive the Eternal Aftermath
Brown took one last look at the growing horde of roaming undead to the east and turned his horse toward the west. The sun had just dipped behind the Santa Rita mountain range and he took in a tight breath as he guided his horse up the rocky slope.
It quickly became apparent that the ground was getting too dangerous for a man to stay in the saddle and when the sun set it would just grow worse. Turning to Trevor, he said, “We had better walk the horses from here on out. We can’t risk them getting hurt for multiple reasons.”
Trevor nodded and as he dismounted, he added, “I hear you. I would never want anything to happen to ol’ Smoke, but besides that, we may need their speed to make it back in one piece,” he paused as he looked over his shoulder at the moaning zombies, “and not seven hundred.”
As the light began to fail, the going became harder. Loose stones tumbled under both the horse and human feet. Wait-a-minute bushes and clumps of cactus forced them to alter their path often. The incline also began to take their breath away forcing them to waste time with small breaks every five minutes or so.
Looking back, Brown saw that the terrain took its toll on the walking dead too. Many zombies tripped and fell. Their bodies would roll backwards taking several others down with them, but the rest would plod on. But even those that fell would return to their feet and continue the chase. Where a normal person would be nursing wounds after such a tumble, the zombies would only be delayed. He was pleased to see that some suffered broken legs and other injuries that would take them out of the deadly race, but he also realized that it would also mean that they’d have to go back and put them down later… if they were able to make it to a later.
After cresting another rugged hill, Trevor said, “Should we consider making thing tougher for them. Perhaps an avalanche or two would take some out and slow more down.”
“Might not be the worst idea, but I would like to get them higher in the mountains and further away from our ranch. I also don’t want to lose our lead of them.”
“I hear you,” Trevor said. “You would think with how slow they usually are that we’d be whopping their asses up these hills, but they never need to stop.” He looked back the way they came. “I think they might be gaining on us boss.”
“Yeah, unfortunately I think you’re right.”
They set themselves to quicken their pace. Forty more minutes passed before the shadows of darkness had finished claiming the land. Branches reached for them as if the zombies had somehow found a way to cut them off. Pits of blackness formed under trees and beside the looming cliffs of stone. Trying to press through the imagined dangers, he hurried them along.
When they reached the crest of the next range, they paused to catch their breath and assess how well they did staying ahead of the growing horde. Again Brown found they had mixed success. The mass of zombies had splint into a strange dichotomy as they lumbered after them. Many had fallen behind and struggled up the slope, so that what was once a cluster of hundreds had spread out into different groups of various numbers that covered a space that could have been as large as a mile between the fastest undead and the slowest. The bad news remained that the zombies van guard still seemed to be gaining on their position. Some of them were as close as a few hundred yards.
“I’m almost tempted to swat these horses on the rump and have them find their way back.”
Even in the darkness, he saw Trevor flash him a harsh look.
“But I still won’t. I’d refuse to let there be even a small chance of them being cornered and attacked. Besides at this rate, we may end up on the western side of the range and might need their help getting back.”
Trevor nodded, but didn’t waste breath on a comment and soon the pair took up their journey once more.
They might have gained some ground on the undead, but then they came to a series of cliffs that would have been impossible for the horses to cross and were forced to backtrack. This took them dangerously close to the moving zombies. The horses snorted as the foul odor of death crept through the forest. Brown found it unnerving to be hearing more than seeing them progress closer. Random snaps and moans echoed through the darkness and it became almost impossible to determine how close they were.
They managed to get the horses up a three foot stone cliff that would be difficult for the undead and the pair took a quick break in order to catch their breath. “Once we make it up to the top of this crest,” Brown began, “We’ll hold up there for a while and try your plan of started to waste them with rocks and avalanches.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” an angry voice called out to them. “You bastards brought these flesh bags right to my doorstep and you’ll take them somewhere else or I’ll put a bullet right between your eyes.”
Come back next weekend for the next episode of Brown’s dangerous journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.