Sara ran as fast as her legs allowed. She’d been running for as long as she could remember. The soldiers and the police used to protect her. Then her family had tried, but they couldn’t. She was alone. No one could help her, not even herself.
She figured it had to be almost over. Part of her, a big part, just wanted to admit the inevitable and just give up. If the horror had to happen, she would rather just get it over with. If nothing else the burning in her chest and the ache in her legs would be over. If she owned a pistol she probably would have used it on herself, but giving up as she was would mean minutes of horrible agony. She couldn’t face that. She couldn’t imagine letting them eat her. Feeling them biting off pieces of her from everywhere, all while she still lived.
Sara ran by the dull facades of fast food restaurants and strip malls that surrounded grocery stores. Her stomach ached almost as badly as her legs and each former restaurant she passed taunted her. Like a sick slap to the face, they reminded her of what she had once had, things so easy and normal—a whole life just torn away.
She had tried not to look behind her, but when a growl grew louder than the others, she couldn’t help herself. Over two hundred of them lurched and moaned in her wake. Foul rotting things. Many of them were naked and the sun had baked them into roasted, taunt moving death. Teeth clanked as they snapped open and shut and even though she remained a hundred yards ahead of them, filthy fingers reached and grasped for her.
They dogged her steps. Sara should have been able to outrun them, but she had run for so long and food hadn’t passed through her lips in days, but the worst of it remained the water.
Without water she knew she couldn’t last much longer. With each additional step she felt herself shutting down and growing weaker.
They would catch her soon.
She screamed when she looked back away from the mob and saw two dozen more of the horrid zombies blocked her path. She had almost run straight into their curled claws.
She ran to the left and figured it would only be a matter of time before they had her, but she couldn’t bring herself to give up.
She had almost made it into a parking lot when one of the faster undead grabbed a handful of her blonde hair. It pulled back savagely.
She screamed again as the other zombies drew in for a kill.
This would be it. She was done.
Shots rang out, first one and then many.
Her hair was released, but she could only take two steps before her legs gave out and she fell to her knees.
A hand grabbed her arm with rough fingers. She thought it was another zombie until it spoke. “Come on move, we aren’t out of this yet.”
The voice sounded young, but full of power and confidence. She could see that three men had rescued her, they seemed barely older than boys really, but soon she felt herself being dragged along.
The next few minutes stayed a blur as they forced her to run much faster than she had the strength to do. After a frantic series of twists and turns through alleys, they moved behind a dumpster a slammed a door open.
No words were spoken, nor permission given, before she was dragged into the darkness.
Come back next weekend and Discover whether Sara has been rescued or faces a worst fate as she continues into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath
Brown knew something was wrong long before he could see the ranch. Zombies stumbled and lurched in packs of twenty strong and covered the grassy hills of northern Sonita like moving icons of death. They moaned and reached at him on the back of his horse, but he just galloped past.
Trevor called to Brown, but with him carrying Jacob too, there would be no hope of keeping up.
Moonlight took to his speed. His sleek body tore up tuffs of grass as he raced them through the clusters of walking corpses. More undead hobbled to intercept them every hundred yards. The zombies moved into their path, but Moonlight needed no guidance. He well knew they needed to be avoided. He also knew where he headed, home. But unlike his mount, Brown dreaded what he would find.
His worse fears appeared to be confirmed as they rose over the last crest and saw the zombies everywhere around the ranch. All the livestock, all the animals were dead and by the looks of things the feasting had long sense ceased. He galloped Moonlight toward the ranch while shouting words he would never remember. He was only a hundred feet away when he saw the front door leaning open.
“Jesse! Linda!” he screamed even though he knew it was useless. He was too late.
Why had he left them? Luring the large horde away from the ranch had seemed to be the right thing to do, but when those smaller groups met up with them from the south, he should have known. He should have known that more could have come up this way.
Did they not even have time to bar the door? What had happened? Nine people had been left at the ranch. Had they all…
Then he saw her walking out through the front door. Jesse had only one bite he could see. She must have fought hard, but suffered bad luck. Had she holed up as the sickness took her hoping he would return in time? Had it been she or someone else that opened the front door of the ranch house after they turned?
She looked up at him with milky eyes and let out a loud mournful moan.
“Oh God, Jesse…”
As he watched her stumble his way, he heard Moonlight grow nervous as the undead began to surround him.
It was over, why try now? They had worked and struggled so hard to provide something decent. He wanted Linda to live like a girl should. They had tried.
The sounds of gunfire overroad the constant moans. Five of the undead closest to him were cut down. Their rotting grey matter spread over the dry grasslands. “Brown, snap out of it,” Trevor yelled. “What the hell are you doing and then Trevor saw. “Holy damn.”
When Brown made to move to cut down the approaching zombies or flee. Trevor went on. “Come on, let’s get down there. We can fight our way into the ranch and hold them from there.”
“No, I can’t set foot in there. I’m not sure what I’ll ever be able to do again.”
“Oh shit,” Jacob said, from the back of Trevor’s horse.
“But the ranch, our supplies.”
“The dead own them now. I can’t go back there. I never want to see this place again.”
A decayed hand reached for Moonlight. The horse cried out and something snapped within Brown.
He had been all but ready to let the undead tear him apart until he put a pistol into his mouth, but he realized Moonlight didn’t deserve such a fate. He loved his horse and couldn’t let him end up like that. He considered dismounting and letting him run, but knew Moonlight might refuse, so instead he turned and started to trot north.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Trevor followed without comment and even Jacob kept his mouth shut. They headed north and then west into the sunset, but Brown felt like this was anything but a happy ending. Hiding out was over for him. Maybe some people fought back. He would find them and join their war. It was time to take back his world or die trying.
Thank you for reading Cowboys, Dust, and Death. I hope you enjoyed sharing Brown’s tragic path into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath
Come back next weekend for a new hero’s journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath
Enough old construction sites had dumped abandoned supplies into the desert that Brown discovered an old steel bar. He mounted his horse and took it with him to the back of the cinder block wall that surrounded the housing complex the biker gang had taken over.
It remained only a few hours after sunrise and Brown hoped the bikers behaved like most of their ilk and stayed in bed. As the relentless desert sun cooked his Stetson part of him didn’t blame them for having late nights, which would keep them out of Arizona’s deadly heat.
More concerning was the horde that slowly marched toward his back. Instead of the mountains taking its toll, if anything the horde had grown as it met up with more undead migrating north from Mexico. It marched a thousand strong as least and could have been two or three times that number.
He tied his mount, Moonlight, to a palo verde tree, grabbed his sledge hammer in one hand, the steel pole in the other, and hurried to the wall. He circled around and got to a place a two hundred yards from his horse, but closer to where the horde emerged from the foothills.
He cast a final glance over his shoulder as the horrid odor of decaying flesh rotting in the sun reached his nostrils. They stumbled over the rocks and uneven ground, these human monsters made flesh. Bones poked through tattered skin and black wounds covered more parts of their bodies than the clothes they wore.
He wished, he really wished, he had enough bullets to sit on a high cliff and take them out of their misery to the very last one, but he wasn’t near being so equipped, better to have his two enemies kill each other.
Perhaps leading the undead into the compound was a questionable act. With so few breathers left, they should be uniting against a common foe, but if these bikers had been so cruel to wipe out the elderly who had occupied this complex, than he had no doubts what they might do to the girls back at the ranch and Brown would anything to protect them.
He placed the steel bar between two cinder blocks where a crack had already separated them. Sweat formed on his forehead and behind him he could hear the zombies drawing near.
The bar entered further than he thought it might, but it also created more noise than he would have liked. Not one to hesitate, Brown hit the steel bar again and again. It burst through the other side. Moving to the side, he threw his weight against the bar. At first nothing happened and he had to fight away his panic.
Muscles strained and sweat poured into his eyes. He tried harder. A growl escaped his lips as he gave it everything he had. The upper half of the wall fell away with a crash.
He realized at once that it wouldn’t be enough. He needed to take down the lower three feet of wall that remained.
He heard shouts from within the complex and the moaning behind him grew far too close. He ignored them both and drove the pole straight down through one of the exposed cinder blocks. He pulled at the remaining walls. It didn’t give, so he jammed the bar forward.
More yells echoed up from the compound and he could hear the shuffling of clumsy feet as they tore through the desert floor just yards behind him. He pulled the bar back and then jammed it forward again. The top two cinder blocks cracked and then broke apart. He moved the bar two feet to the right and started the process again.
Forward, back, forward, back.
Shots rang out and powder broke away as a bullet hit the wall to his left. Another disturbed the dry dirt before him.
He grit his teeth and a cinder block broke away as he slammed the bar back. At least my friends and the girls will be safe, he thought to himself, but then jerked at the first set of hands clawed at his back.
With a yell, he dove over what remained of the wall. Bullets buzzed around, him and several hit the zombies and their bodies jerked in a foul dance of death. Reaching up, he grabbed the steel bar and pulled it back in toward him. With a crash, the rest of the cinder blocks in the break fell away and the undead came pouring in.
The shouting behind him increased into a frenzy as the zombies entered the complex, but Brown was on his feet and running. Two filthy, dark bearded bikers had drawn in closer to him and appeared to be more set on revenge than holding back the horde. Brown drew his pistol and dropped to one knee as more shouts ripped by him like angry hornets.
He held his breath and hit one in the center of his chest. The other kept firing until Brown’s third shot got lucky and took the man in the eye. He stood up just in time to feel fingers grabbing at his head. They came away with his hat.
A female zombie clutched it in her hands.
“No one touches my Stetson.” He said and blew off her head at point blank range. His left hand grabbed the hat before it hit the ground and he tossed it back on his head as he turned to run.
The undead lurched after him and bullets continued to crash into the cinder blocks as he passed, but he made it to the wall near where Moonlight had been tied. It scared him to see how close a few dozen zombies were to his mount, but he leapt the wall as a fury of bullets came his way.
He freed Moonlight and hopped onto the saddle and with a whoop, he galloped away from the conflict as the horde flooded into the biker complex by the hundred.
Come back next weekend for the climax of Brown’s journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath
Brown fled the new cluster of zombies to the east, just as the original horde began to flow down the mountain at them from the north. He felt pleased to see several of the northern group lose their footing and tumble down the steep hills breaking arms and legs. Many became unable to rise, but considering his current predicament, it would take more than such things to raise his spirits,
Before he had reached Trevor, the old man, and their mounts, he already heard gunfire echoing through the dark forest. More undead littered his path as he rushed to reach the others. He found some cover before they spotted him and paused just long enough to load his pistol.
Letting his rifle ride in his left hand, he used his pistol to take down the walking dead that blocked his path as he rushed to join the others. Heads jerked back and grey gore splattered the boulders as he dodged through the low lying trees and wait-a-minute brushes.
“Bout time you showed up,” Jacob called to him from the darkness. “I need more bullets, you damn hick.”
“Don’t we all,” Brown called out as he used his last two shots to clear a path to his allies. He leapt over a log and came to a stop and let the others hold them off for a moment while he caught his breath.
The undead didn’t give him long.
Brown drew a box of pistol rounds out of his saddle bag and shoved them into Jacob’s hand. “Reload.”
He looked around and saw that some small sliver of luck had found them and the way to the west wasn’t crawling with flesh eaters…at least not yet.
He loaded his last magazine into his pistol and tossed his rifle to Trevor. “I want both of you to load everything you got, but also keep leading the horses west. Only use the guns if they block you from going west.” He drew his sledge hammer from off his mount. “I got your backs, now go!”
Brown tucked his gun into his belt. Zombies lurched at him from the east. The main horde hadn’t reached the valley yet, which remained the only thing that gave them a chance. As a dozen grimy hands reached for him, he got busy with his sledge.
Fingers snapped and faces broke in half. He whirled and shot his hammer in every direction. He cleared an area and soon over ten corpses would move no more, but a new wave stumbled in and it would be one he couldn’t escape from.
He turned and run. This time he didn’t bother drawing his pistol, he focused more on evading any that attempted to block his path. Ducking and weaving through both the trees and zombies, he jogged after his friends. A horrid figure with half of its face eaten away moved to grab him. He swung his sledge two handed and the monster’s head burst like a rotten melon filled with slime. Some of the putrid mess splashed his face and he gasped in disgust.
Wiping it away, he found a new determination and with a growl, he smashed a female zombie into the dirt and kept running.
* * *
Sunrise found them ahead of the horde and looking down at the walled compound that held the large biker gang Jacob had told them about. The walls of the compound were a good six feet high and hundreds of zombies patrolled its perimeter. However, Brown noticed most of them remained concentrated on the western side where the bikers must enter and exit from.
Jacob spoke to him from behind Trevor, where they both still rode on the tired horse. “So what are we doing now? We gots clear of that horde, what do you want to do, stick around here long enough to make sure them bikers see us? They’s ten times more deadly than a pack of flesh munchers.”
“I agree with you. That’s why I don’t want them to come looking for food and supplies when they get more desperate. The only thing that’s kept our ranch safe from them this long is the mountain range, but if they have bikes that won’t last forever.”
“What you fixing to do?” Trevor asked.
Brown looked back their way as he fixed his Stetson. “I mean to lure that horde behind us right into this compound and let these two forces eliminate each other.”
“Holy hell in a handbag,’ Jacob started. “I knew both of you were crazy.”
Brown cracked a small smile and looked back to the east when the faint sound of the first zombies emerging from the foothills silenced the morning cries of the desert birds.
Come back next weekend to see if Brown and his allies can survive the Eternal Aftermath