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.