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