The End saga continues. The Remnant, Chapter One

Remnant,

Chapter One

Day One

The sound of Ma Statler screaming awakened us followed by what sounded like a tank running through the kitchen wall at the farm.

I attempted to jump out of bed, as I put weight on my leg it gave way, dropping me to the floor. Jez ran to me, she wrapped her arm around my side lifting me to my feet.

The door flung wide, Maggie came in with her index finger pressed firmly against her lips indicating we needed to shut up. She raced over to my other side helping Jez get me moving.

They practically drug me down the hall to the wardrobe at the end. Maggie forced the door open. It wasn’t a closet at all. It was an old laundry shoot. Without anxiety or hesitation, she pushed me in head first followed by Jez. The shoot was almost completely vertical, and I was on the floor of the basement before I had a chance to tell her to wait. I scanned up just in time to see Jez flying towards me. I twisted to my left as she hit the ground next to me. Thank god whoever set this up thought it through and placed a mattress at the bottom.

I glanced over to Jez and saw her reaching up at Maggie in a silent scream.

I rolled under the shoot as Maggie screamed and blood burst over her body flooding the laundry shoot.

She was gone.

“What the hell is happening?” Jez asked.

“The aliens have invaded. They smelled Ma’s biscuits and gravy so they came here first.” I responded. The wrinkles on my face contorted into a million lines, each one dripping in sarcasm.

Her eyes opened so large I could almost follow her thoughts. Then her lips curled, exposing her teeth. And with my smart ass comment hanging in the air, I could see I was in trouble.

“BANG!” The crashing sound became so loud and violent, the house was shaking. The basement was built with stacked stones and even it was crumbling under the pressure of whatever was above us.

“How do we get out of here?” I spit out.

Jez never had a chance to expel her own snide reply before the door at the top of the stairs flew open. Pieces of the door jamb flung off the wall, bouncing to my feet. There was a coal-fired furnace in the middle of the room facing the stairs. Its secondary purpose was to burn large trash. The door was an ornate piece of cast iron, 2 feet by 2 feet. I grabbed Jez and pushed her towards the door as I fell to my knees and crawled. Jez helped me climb in. Once I was in, I turned to pull Jez inside. The group was approaching the bottom step. Was this the infected again? We hadn’t seen a pack for weeks. The groups were less than three usually. With the amount of destruction happening, there must be hundreds.

Jez looked my in the eyes and mouthed, “I love you.” She closed the door and rolled as far away from the furnace as she could before the men cleared the bottom step.

There were three figures, each one wore soiled clothes covered in blood and god only knows what else. Their smell entered the room long before they did. I couldn’t see Jez anymore. But from the attention they were focusing on the corner of the basement, I knew they had her in their line of sight. They all paused, their shoulders rising and falling with each breathe. They pounced like a lion on their prey. I moved to kick the door in an attempt to help her. But I realized she was already gone.

I can’t hold myself up and somehow I’m supposed to go on without the only thing that made me strong. “Jez…” I wept silently.

The wet sound of fleshing being split apart and ravaged, filled my ears.

With each snap of flesh flashes would blast my mind. The day we met in the hospital a lifetime ago.

Snap!

Lena being born, Lj falling down the stairs.

My life with her by my side pouring through my brain as they gorged themselves on her. My soul disappearing with each heart stopping crunch of her bones.

The slow dismantling of her existence was over just as quickly as it began. I wanted to fall apart and lay here until my last breathe crossed my lips. But I knew that Jez would never forgive me if I did. I know she was better off now. If the infected had found us, at least she wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.

I waited until I heard the men crawl back up the steps. Two of the pack mates walked on all fours like animals. I couldn’t see much out the hole in the door, but it appeared one of the Mens spine was protruding from his skin. The three men sounded like an entire army as they hit every surface on their way back up the steps.

“What the hell is this shit?” I asked myself. This was far worse than any encounter we experienced before. They were fast, organized, and focused. They didn’t seem to care about putting fear into their victims like the last group did.

I reached my palm out to open the door. The inside was smooth, no latch. My hand was too large to fit through the hole. I was stuck. And if the vigor they attacked Jez with was any indication, no one was left alive to let me out. That thought didn’t bother me. without Jez I had nothing to live for anymore. Lj became a man with his own army overnight. These monsters took Lena from me, and now Jez. I couldn’t even force my eyes to drop a tear. I had nothing left to give. No love, no fear, no pain. I was completely overcome by the burning fingers of the devil. I felt them pour over my flesh hypnotising each molecule in my body. Defeat is a word giving glory to the heavens compared to what I have become.

“Shit.”

The inside of the furnace was just large enough for me to sit with my knees in my chest. Even time allowed, it would have been impossible for Jez and I to fit. My leg was throbbing, I was physically and mentally defeated. I held myself as I slowly fell asleep. I could feel deaths cloak gently draping itself over me. My time was near. I couldn’t draw a deep breathe and sucking the dust from the boiler into my lungs was making every inhalation harder. I saw spots and lights dancing in front of my eyes as I gradually passed out.

The scratching sound of metal on metal stirred into my dream beckoning me to open my eyes. An arm reached into the furnace grabbing my hair, yanking me out by my head. I flopped to the floor being expelled from the furnace like a baby being forced from the womb.

The person rolled me over and placed their hands on my face.

“Tom. Jesus Tom, don’t you die!” It was Doc.

“Doc.” I smiled, but it faded quickly as I remembered Jez.

“She’s dead. Those things tore her apart.” I closed my eyes and pointed to the corner of the room.

Doc helped me to my feet, and we went to where it happened. All that remained was a few scraps of stomach and a puddle of her blood.

“How did you make it through that?” I asked Doc.

“I heard Ma screaming, and I ran, climbing in the attic. I kept looking out the end vent until I saw those things skin out. I thought there were hundreds, but it was only five all together.”

“You saw them leaving? Did any of them walk on their hands and feet?” I asked.

“Yes, three of them did. They all looked like their backs were broken or something. Sparky came from across the field and they took him apart in seconds. I don’t remember ever seeing the infected move like that before.” Doc was speaking quickly with fear falling from every word.

“We need to search for anyone else that got away.” As the words escaped my mouth, I felt the weight of Jez’s death collapse over me. Vomit exploded from the deepest pits of my bowels.

After Lena died, I remember feeling like the world had killed all the good in me. I was beginning to glue my life together again, now this happens. “I have to get ahold of Lj.”

“Stay down here, I’m going to run up to my room and get my AR and a couple pistols.” Doc commanded.

She didn’t give me a chance to rebut before she was gone. I could hear her make her way through the main floor. I heard her pause at Mom’s room, then over to Ma Statler’s. Whatever happened in that room must have been atrocious because I heard her stop at the door and freeze in spot, followed by gagging. I heard her as she took the first three steps. The treads were loose and squeaked, but I fixed the other 9 steps so I lost her after that.

The front screen door creaked as it opened, then as if someone was trying to be silent, they deliberately closed it, not allowing it to slam shut. I heard footsteps slowly coming towards the basement.

“Shit.” I muttered under my breathe and limped my way back to the furnace. Before I got there, the person began quietly slumping down the steps.

Squeak. I heard Doc hit the bottom three stairs on her way back to me. The figure walked faster down in my direction.

“Doc! Hurry!” I yelled.

The person on the steps now ran toward me.

“Tom! How did you get out?”

My gut dropped, my knees gave way, and I collapsed once again. I fell to her knees and grabbed on to her, trying to climb inside of her.

“Jez, but how?”

Doc cleared the last step with her gun drawn, ready to fire and yelled, “Jez!”

“I’ll explain later. We need to get gone, now!” Her words pushed their way around her urge to cry.

Doc and Jez lifted me up once again as we laid tracks for the front door.

“I need my cane.” I could barely stand without it, much less walk.

Doc shot a glance at Jez, her eyes telling Jez to stay with me as Doc broke away to find my cane. Jez and I stopped, leaning against what used to be the livingroom wall. This room that once held the memories and stories of five generations of the Statler family love, was now just a den that even death would leave to rot. The air was thick and stung as it burrowed its way into the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to breath it in. The walls that once reflected the ideal image of an old-time farm were now covered in blood, vomit, and scratches. Bits of fingernails left in the plaster, dug in as whoever it was, made a final attempt to save themselves from being drug into the next pit of hell. My head turned against my will forcing me to look at every nook and dark hole. A part of me that wanted to see the monsters masquerading in the blackness, and I allowed that to take control. Every shadow grew eyes and laughed at me with the teeth chattering hiss that intertwined with the tainted demonic grins.

If this was a resurgence of the infected, we could fight them with the serum Doc and Jez had made. It worked on the few affected that wondered onto the farm. But I knew I was lying to myself. These were not the same. This was a new version. Something far darker and seeded deeper with hate than the world had ever seen.

Doc came around the corner with my cane in one hand and her rifle in the other. “Just like old times, eh?”

“I will get the truck and bring it to the porch. Wait here.” Doc, once again turned and disappeared before anyone could interject. Under a minute passed, and we were climbing in the cab of the pickup. We had no idea where to turn. When the virus first hit, it was easy to figure out. Get family, get to Barb at the CDC. Now we have no one to help us. “Let’s go to the Salt Lake people and see if they’ve seen anything like this yet. Hopefully, we will be able to get ahold of Lj and Ana when we make it there.” I said

The Salt lake community was only a couple hours drive from Filer. We never figured out the exact date again, but we were sure it was around mid-August. It was near 9:00am, but it was already 103 degrees, and the sun wasn’t even pushing yet. This old ford was a solid and dependable truck, but not having air conditioning was not going to make this a fun trip. As we approached the concrete blockade at the entrance to the farm, I saw a small figure playing with the shadows, half hidden but very much there.

“Is that one of them?” I said but found my face was frozen as the phrase built itself on my tongue. I was not ready to do this again. “God damn it, I can’t…” We had been awake for under an hour, and we had already lost an entire family, our new home.

Doc handed my her pistol, I took aim on the figure. “Mom?”

“You little shit! You were gonna shoot me. Put that damn thing down before you do!” Mom was still full of piss and vinegar. “Where are we going?” She asked as she crawled in the back seat.

At least we hadn’t lost everyone. Mom, Doc, Jez, and myself could make anything work. We sat in silence each of us playing out our new reality in our heads as we watched the miles pass. Images of Jez in the basement flooded my mind. I could easily deal with these new beasts. I will even be okay with losing everyone we did today, but I can’t imagine going on without Jez next to me.

“What the hell happened to you Jez? I saw them attack you.” I said, again my body was being controlled by the part of me that liked to see the darkness.

“After I shoved the door to the furnace closed, I rolled as far into the shadows as I could. I struck what I assumed was one of them. It felt like cold meat. I realized it was the pig that Maggie slaughtered last week. She wrapped it up, covered it in salt, and stuck it down in the basement because it was staying so cool down there. I pushed it as hard as I could as those things hit the bottom of the steps. I thought they saw me at first because they stood there grinding their teeth and staring into the darkness. Just when I thought it was all over for me, they jumped on it and destroyed it. I took a chance and ran like hell. I went upstairs to determine if anyone was still alive. Your room was empty and untouched,” She said looking at mom, “So I figured you must have been playing cards with Ma Statler when they showed up. There was so much blood in her room, I just thought…” She paused reflecting on the life given to her in that moment. “I rushed up to Doc’s room, but she was gone too. I raced outside to see if there was still a gun in the truck. As I came around the back side of the house, I saw them running like a mix between beat dogs and a tiger towards old Sparky. Jesus, they decimated him.”

Mom put her hand on Jez’s shoulder. “I was sittin on the shitter when they came in. I jumped out the window. Damn it, I never got a chance to wipe or nothin.” Mom burst out in laughter and we all followed suit.

The drive between Filer and Slat Lake was almost all sage brush. No trees to hide the blistering sun from licking our skin. Forcing itself inside every pour. We would need water, soon. We took highway 84 to highway 86 through Pocatello, following it to 15 South. As we approached The 84, 86 exchange I had a flash of saying goodbye to Jon and Rachelle. It seemed like a lifetime has passed though it was a mere 8 months ago. I miss Jon more than I realized.

Pocatello was in ruins. When I was here last, it was a lively town. Now it was just remnants of buildings. They were spread out over the vast emptiness that, like a snake eating a mouse, had swallowed the city whole.

“Pull off at the next gas station you see. We need water and we should check for food and fuel too.” I felt the old me coming back.

We took the exit and followed the sign leading us to the gas station. As we turned the corner we saw a silhouette of a gentleman cut into the skyline. He sat resting in a chair in the middle of the road. He was looking away from us with his attention focused on the destruction that veiled the wasted city. The sun scattered shadows of what remained of the town over him, making his shadow lay down 30 feet behind him like a path directing us to join him. As we got closer, he didn’t move an inch. He was a small man, no more than five and a half feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet. The chair frame practically hid his limbs.

“Is he dead?” Jez had her brow furrowed in a perplexed stare.

Doc, using extreme caution, pulled the truck near the guy and with my cane in hand, I walked to the man.

“Sir?”

He gave no acknowledgement to my summons. I heard Jez whisper for me to come back for a gun. The only smell in the air was the almost pleasant aroma of an extinguished campfire. I could tell he wasn’t one of them. Whether he was alive or dead, remained to be seen. He then drew a deep breathe.

“You got a smoke?” He asked like we were old friends.

“Fresh out.”

“I used to live up on that hill.” He nodded out to the distance. “Raised my 3 sons up there. Spent my 40th wedding anniversary out on our porch watching the fireworks go off below. We were married on the 4th of July so we would always have fireworks on our big day. I buried my wife in the back yard this spring, and just yesterday I had to bury my 3 boys with her. What the hell happened?”

The man never changed eye line. I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know my friend…”

“My eldest boy woke up last week saying he felt off. By the weekend the other 2 followed him, yesterday the youngest started throwing up blood when my oldest grabbed a 2×4 and beat him to death. He was laughing the whole time. We stood together during the infestation. We all agreed, if any of us turned, we would finish them off and bury them. But none of us ever got sick. I tell you, this wasn’t like them damn monsters. My boys didn’t look different other than being sick. I pulled my sidearm and shot him square in the forehead. All of a sudden I felt like I would lose my lunch, but not because of my nerves or even a stomach bug. It was the smell. It hit me like a semi catching a bug to the windshield. I realized it was coming from behind me. It was my middle son. His back was arched backwards. It was the damnedest thing I have ever seen. I took him out too. None of them were my flesh and blood anymore. I did what I promised, been down here since…”

I gently squeezed as I spoke, “We are heading to Salt Lake, can we take you someplace?”

“I got nowhere and no one.” He said, finally connecting his eyes to mine. He was an old frail man. I watched his soul fighting with the darkness, but the black was winning.

“No sir, you have us now. And you couldn’t slow us down if you were a boat anchor. I’m broken, my wife Jez is my keeper. Then there’s Doc, she’s our bad ass. And Mom, she’s older than the mold on the first speck of dirt. Come with us.” The man smiled as I helped him out of his chair. “You can even throw your seat in the bed of the truck.” I said with a grin. After introductions, we had pavement rolling beneath us again.

Epilogue

Epilog
2 years have passed since the outbreak of the virus. Life has just recently started to return to a sense of normalcy. A few months after Lena’s reburial we had a man named Bruce Jenkins and his associate Jerry Drinker show up at the farm. They told us they had been traveling around the country shutting down as many of the nuclear reactors used in power plants as they could.
“There are 61 plants, housing 99 reactors total. Several of them had been shut down previously, the ones we couldn’t find information about are the ones we focused on. All together we shutdown, or verified the shutdown of all but 3 plants.” Bruce explained on the night they arrived.
It was another 3 weeks before we began to hear chatter over the radio about the final 3 reactors. Diablo canyon and San Onofre plants never got shutdown and being unmanned the reactors over heated. California and parts of southern Nevada will not be able to have human life in them for several hundred years. The last reactor, STPNOC in texas had several employees that survived and now managed to run the facility, keeping power on for much of southern Texas.
The fallout in California took an estimated 50,000 lives in its wake.
Lj and his group have taken charge of rebuilding important infrastructure around the country. They have likewise been assisting other countries around the world to rebuild. We have phones, limited power, and a nationwide transportation system again. The resources to keep everyone driving was far more than the new world could handle. Some have gone back to riding horse, a lead engineer from an electric car manufacturer was one of the people to survive. He and a crew of 300 people have been working on building more electric cars. However, this task has proven far more difficult than anyone had thought. We have managed to rebuild none of the larger mining communities yet. Getting the materials needed to build the cars is still another 10 years away. But they have produced 91 truck platforms before running out of materials. Using the platforms they are making busses, semis and a few trains. The trains are slow, but they have made it far easier to move products from one side of the country to the other. Most of us that survived here in America live between Idaho and Illinois. A few smaller groups have separated. For the most part however, we have maintained our peaceful way of life.
Lj and Ana took their marital vows this year. Lj, now 17 and Ana, 18, have become a symbol of the new world. We don’t have a leader, but if we did, they would be the King and Queen. Ana is pregnant and due next spring. Over the past 3 years, we have witnessed the transformation from humankind as it was, to the blackness we became for the first year, to who we are now… I wake up every day with a sense of pride. I still think about Lena, dad, mom, Jon, and all those we lost and grow somber for a moment, but I look around at what we have now, and I can’t help but be thankful they died to give this to us.
Epilog Part II
5 years ago when the virus hit, we thought that was the worst parts of humanity coming out. Nothing ever prepared us for this. I thought nothing could be worse than December and January 2020-2021, until now. God help us all…

The End, final chapter

Chapter 19

Absolution

February-May 2021 Filer Idaho, The Statler farm

We have been at the farm a little over eight weeks now, and in that time we have finished building the fence around the perimeter of the farm, prepared the fields for planting, gathering livestock that were left abandoned, Doc and Jez have been working with Lj and several other colonies to figure out a way to disperse the drug, now known as Mortise Contagio, which is Latin for “infections death”. We have been in communication with several of the other colonies around the country. Working with them to figure out how we can best help the new world. We have also set up one of the barns with ten rooms for travelers to stay and rest for the trip to their new homes. A few have decided to stay here with us and have proven to be great assets. The new world was clearly going to thrive with the new found purpose people have acquired.

Dale, Jennifer and little Jon have moved in with Sparky. Jez, Doc and I have moved into the farm house, though we are in the process of converting another barn into a house for the three of us to live. A small duplex of sorts.

Today was our weekly call to Lj, so I was at the mic eagerly awaiting his voice with Jez at my side.

“Colony three to Statler Farm.” Lj said over the static.

“Hey son, how are things on your side of the world?” I asked.

“Ana and I are going to be coming out to the farm. We plan on leaving in the morning.”

“What?” Jez was ecstatic, as was I.

“We have something to talk about, it would be better done face to face.” Ana’s voice now dancing through the speakers.

“We can’t wait to see you. I have been thinking of coming to see you guys though. I need to get Lena and bring her home.” My words fell out, carrying the weight of ten thousand years of grief.

“Jason and Trista have built a coffin for her dad. I would like to be the one to bring her home.”

The line was silent as we all took a moment to allow the words to work their way into our heads.

“You shouldn’t have to do that son, it was my fault, not yours.” I said, now with my eyes filling with tears. Though nearly three months have passed, the wound was still as fresh as if I was still laying under that fence, watching her be stolen from me.

“It was no ones fault father. That’s exactly why you shouldn’t come. She is everyone’s responsibility. It was the world that let her down. It has already been decided. We will arrive in five or six days.”

“We love you son.”

“And I you. We will stop a few times to visit other colonies. When we do, I will contact you at our normal time. See you soon.”

Every day when my clock hit twelve, I went to the radio to listen for Lj. Four long days had gone by before I received his first message.

“Utah calling for Idaho” It was Mathew. My hands turned into blocks of ice. If Mathew is calling out, something must have happened to Lj.

“Mathew, where’s Lj? I asked in a panic.

“He is fine sir. He has a very large surprise for you, and it is taking all of his time to get it in order. He asked me to call for you, to let you and Jez know he is okay and will be there at the farm in the morning.”

Finally my hands were gaining some feeling again. I’m not sure how many more of these rushes my heart will take before it seizes.

“Thank you son, I appreciate the update. Over and out.” I replaced the mic to its resting spot on the desk, shut down the radio and Jez and I left. Normally we would have gone straight back to the farm, but the sun was shining, it was a beautiful Idaho spring morning. We decided today would be a perfect day to go for a drive. This was the first time we have left the farm to go somewhere other than the lab or the building supply store. I wanted to go pay my respects to Les and Trevor. Before leaving we found Doc working out in the field.

“Doc, we are going to the shop to pay respects, you want to come?” Jez asked.

Doc nodded, and went to the edge of the field where some dandelions had sprouted and picked them. “They aren’t perfect, but, I can’t go empty handed.” She told us as she got in the truck.

When we got to the shop, there was a pack standing by the graves. The leader saw us, and began his scream, alerting the others that their prey had arrived. The pack turned and began their slow walk toward the truck. The leader didn’t look pleased because he took off running at us, pushing the sloth people to the ground in the process. He ran just in front of the truck and as he cocked his head with that wretched smile we had all come to know all too well, I hit the gas pedal. As I got to him, he jumped landing on the hood, rolling over the windshield, and into the bed of the truck. He quickly began running his head into the back glass, two hits and he was through. Somehow, in our leisurely departure from the farm, none of us thought to grab a weapon. He had his head in the back gnashing his teeth at Doc. She started swinging at him with all her strength. I looked back once I had the truck stopped and saw a piece of pipe in the bed. I was getting out when noticed the other four of the infected had gotten up and were now right by the doors, two on each side. Doc still trying to fight the leader off, looked at me and told me to grab a tire iron from under the seat. I looked, but there was nothing under there. When I turned back, I could see Doc was bleeding. The man had sunk his teeth into her shoulder, leaving a deep gash in her flesh, the shape of his mouth. Jez was holding her door, the two on her side were pulling the handle, and with the handle pulled, it wouldn’t allow her to drop the lock. I climbed into the back after hitting my lock, I grabbed the man by his chin and the back of his head, twisting with all the hate I had built for these things pouring out of me. I pulled until I felt a pop, and then continued pulling. I was exploding with anger, the darkest bit of my soul coming out to play, and this time, I was far more consumed than they were. I pulled until I felt the skin begin to rip, as images of Lena played in my mind, my good leg pushing against his shoulder for leverage.

A flash of Lena screaming as the man pulled crushed her throat as he pulled back on her head. I could feel the mans neck pulling apart.

Lena again in my head, “Daddy why aren’t you helping me?” My seven year old little baby crying for me.

I pulled harder. I felt as the wind pipe was removed. Covered in blood, I sat down, almost falling into the floorboard, as I looked at what I had just done. I looked at Doc and then at Jez. They were both staring at me, with their mouths open. Blood was everywhere. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t care. The men on the outside had given up on the doors and were now crawling into the bed of the truck. I saw my feet hit the ground before I knew what I was doing.

My eyes played the scene for me once more, carrying Lena down the road, Haus limping and crying next to me.

I grabbed the pipe and began hitting the four men. I had no order to my destruction, it was whoever was nearest to the pipe as it found its connection.

Now I could see the earth as I dug my hands into it, digging her grave.

I swung again, and again, and again. This rage had taken hold of me and would not let go.

Placing Lena in the grave, and Haus laid next to her.

I dropped the pipe and began ripping at the men. Now my mind was showing me Christy on the side of the road, little Jacob mangled beyond recognition, now I was tearing bits of their flesh off and throwing them with no purpose. John came into my head, followed by my father. I held one man by his jaw, he was long since dead, but I didn’t care. I pulled until his jaw was in my hands.

I saw myself from the eyes of a bystander, and I collapsed. I had become like them. I was seething, spit shooting from my lips as I screamed from deep in my gut. I wasn’t crying, I was expelling all the evil, all the hate, and all the pain this disease had caused, not just to my family, but the whole world. I screamed until I had no voice left , then I screamed in a whisper. Jez had already taken Doc into the shop, grabbing the med kit and began to repair her shoulder. They left me out in the truck until I finally passed out. When I woke, I was in our bed back at the farm, Jez was standing over the bed looking down at me.

“How do you feel my love?”

In a whisper I replied, “I’m actually good. I needed to let that out. I’m just sorry you and Doc had to be there to see it. I will understand if you two can’t look at me the same anymore.”

“Somehow watching you fall apart made both Doc and I feel better as well. You have been holding in so much of this, blaming yourself for more than you had the right to carry. It was a release for all of us. I love you Tom.” And she leaned down and pressed her lips to mine, with all the pain, and fear being let go of from her soul. “Lj will be here in the morning. Come get some food and we will sleep like we did in the old days.”

Little did I know how much Lj’s surprise was going to change my life.

I was woke up by Maggie yelling at me to get out of bed, she heard a truck horn at the barricade. These last few months have taken their toll on me, I couldn’t just hop out of bed anymore, but knowing Lj was so close, I gave it my best try. I through some pants and a shirt on, slipping my shoes on as I made my way out the door. I have been off the crutch for almost two weeks. I will never be the man I was, but it only hurt a little when I walked now.

Jez was already to the blocks in the road when I turned the corner. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Lj stood next to the blocks while Jez, who had become really good with the backhoe, moved them to give access to the farm.

“What’s going on here Lj?” I asked, looking behind him at the line of vehicles that reached as far as the eye could see.

“This is the surprise dad. Word of Lena’s death, and her reburial have reached around the world. This is why it took so long to get here. These people all wanted to be here for you and mom. This is a sacred time for them, Lena represents all the people lost to the virus. They all have someone who died, someone they themselves couldn’t bury. Never getting to say goodbye. Lena will be the one to give them closure.”

No matter how hard I tried, I could not draw a breathe. Jez fell to her knees with tears pouring from her face. I walked to her and took a knee beside her. The people began getting out of their cars and trucks. Some were walking from over a mile away. Within seconds, we were surrounded by hundreds of people sharing their love with us, and a line of others leading back to the horizon.

They were thanking us as they touched our shoulders.

“Why are they thanking us?” I asked Lj, though Ana is the one who answered.

“You are a large part of giving them peace. Your son is putting the world back together, and your daughter is giving them something no one else ever could. A chance to grieve and say goodbye. Without you and Jez, this would not be the case.” She smiled as only she could as Lj put out his hand to lift us up.

The following morning, I wake up to the sound of Jez shutting off the water in the shower. “I don’t know how she does it, wakes up ready to go.” I thought

As I lay in bed I could already tell, today is going to be harder than most. I have dreaded this day since we said goodbye at her shallow grave. I looked at Jez now standing in the doorway, “I love you”, I told her. She smiled as the smell our dear friend Maggie’s famous cinnamon rolls in the oven, and Mama Statlers home grown bacon cooking on the griddle forces its way into our noses. I steady myself as I try to pull on my pants and prepare myself for the walk down the stairs.

“Are you ready my love?” she says with great strength in her voice.

“No” I replied. “I’m not sure I will ever be ready for this…”

We got down to the kitchen just as Ma had plated the food.”Don’t dig in yet, we still have one more person coming.” She said.

“Who?” I asked as I looked around the table. Doc, Jez, Lj, Ana Maggie, Ma and sparky are all here. Then I heard the voice from the bathroom.

“Hold yer horses, I’m coming!” It was Mom. “They made me walk over a mile here, and now two minutes after you wake me up, y’all think I can just jump into gear, I had to pee.”

She walked out still in a nightgown. One far to large for her tiny frame, but she didn’t seem to mind one bit. She came to me and gave me a hug around my chair before sitting down. Ma spoke up, “Who’s saying the prayer? Tom?” Maggie and ma were very strong Christians and prayed before everything.

“May I?” Lj now looking at Maggie, she nodded.

“Dear lord, Thank you for this second chance. Please help us on our path, lest we never forget those who died to give us this new world. Give us the sight to see right from wrong, and the strength to uphold it. Amen”

“Amen.” We all said simultaneously and began eating.

After breakfast we walked out to the field where Maggie had dug the new grave for Lena. The entire mile long by mile wide wide lot, was overflowing with people. As the crowd opened up like the parting of the red sea, Jason, Trista, Mathew and Joshua walked out holding a large, odd shaped casket. Lj leaned over to me. “They made it large enough to hold Haus with her.” I smiled.

As the casket was placed in the earth for its final time the crowd was completely silent. I could her birds as they flapped their wings in the distance. The silence was all encompassing. It was almost too much to take in at one time. Once they finished lowering her into her grave, I stood, speaking as load as I could, fighting the pain in my throat from the previous day.

“I don’t have the words to be able to thank you all. We have all lost so much through this. When I put Lena in the ground the first time, I fell to my knees telling God I couldn’t live without her, also,I couldn’t find my way to give him my faith anymore. Today, I can see that there is hope, I feel the seed that has been planted within my soul. My faith will grow again. Though most of us have never met, I love you all. Today, we are family, united by the darkest of evils, carried back from the edge by each other.”

I looked down at the grave and blew her a kiss as I let a tear fall. I sat back down as the crowd began walking to the grave placing trinkets, flowers, some drop pieces of paper with the names of their loved ones. Mementos they had carried with them through all of this, placing them now with Lena. Making this the grave for all of their loved ones. This is now hallowed ground. Though none of us can see what tomorrow may bring, today has brought us all, absolution.

The End

The End , Chapter 18

Chapter 18

The Beginning, Part Two

Late January, 2021 The Statler farm, Idaho

My heart sank as we turned down our road to see flat land where our house once stood. The ground surrounding the entire town was nothing but scorched earth. Jez fell apart as did Doc. I guess we all just assumed our homes would be our sanctuaries for us to live out our lives. The walls that held the stories and memories of a time far gone. The lives we lived, all stolen by the fires brought to destroy the darkest evil this world had ever known. As I thought about the fact every piece of Lena was destroyed, I hit the steering wheel until my fists were bleeding and my fingers broken. A perfect reflection of who I am now. I sat there in what used to be our driveway for a long while. Not willing to accept what my eyes were showing me, waiting to wake up and have my life back.

Doc was the first to speak, “What now?”

Jez pulled herself together and asked, “What about Maggie and her mom?”

Maggie was the real reason we lived here. She and I were friends since high school. We had come up for a visit. Jez had met Doc at a seminar on autism, and when she found out how close she lived to Maggie, we figured it was a great time to come for a visit. Maggie and Ma Statler asked us to stay at their farm while we were here. Jez made plans to meet up with Doc, and after they spent ten hours in a diner in Twin Falls, Jez told me we were moving here and planting our roots. And we have been here since. We raised both of our babies here, we built our home, we grew into the people we always wanted to be. This was our home, and it was all thanks to Maggie and Doc.

“Its worth a shot. If anyone is stubborn enough to have held their ground it would be those two.” I said, still fighting my demons.

I put the truck in gear and began the ten mile drive to the Statler farm.

Several small bridges that covered the water way that supplied water to the farms, were torn down leaving only one road in or out of the farm. As we got closer to the only road leading there, someone had put concrete barricades up across the road. I pulled the truck up to the barricade and got out.

“What are you doing?” Dale asked.

“No marks on this side of the blocks. That means someone put them here from the other side. I’m guessing Maggie did it. She is a resourceful woman, and she has a lot of equipment at her disposal.” I said as I walked around the blocks.

The barricade was only about half a mile from the farm. About half way there I could see someone had also surrounded close to a hundred acres with an 8 foot diamond fence, and someone was on a ladder leaning on the fence putting up razor wire. It was Maggie. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, she had work to be done, and she wasn’t going to let a little cold air keep her from it.

“Maggie!” I yelled, waving my arms like a maniac.

She almost fell off the ladder when she saw me. She ran toward the road where she had put up a gate. “Damn Tom! I am so happy to see you. Where is the family?”

“It’s a long story, Jez is waiting at the truck along with Doc, and three new family members we adopted on the road.”

“I’ll go grab the backhoe and I’ll meet you down at the blocks and open it up so you can get your rig in.”

I turned to run as fast as I could, and as I did, I could hear Maggie yelling at Ma to start making food, “We have company!”

I got to the truck just as Maggie pulled up with the backhoe and began moving blocks. Jez and Doc both ran through once there was a path, to say their hellos, I then brought Dale, Jennifer, and little Jon over. Maggie was the type of woman that melted at the sight of a baby. She would walk up to strangers in the store just to wave at their baby. But she was such a comforting person to be around that the parents would always welcome her, like she was an aunt they hadn’t seen in a couple years. Everyone that met her loved her like family, and we were no exception.

After we got to the farm, Ma already had food cooking and took only a brief moment to greet us. She always had to make sure everyone had a full belly, and then you would take the time to catch up. You had to have food in front of you in order to talk at the farm. I gained ten pounds on our first visit just trying to get directions somewhere. The conversations would almost always go like, “How do I get to, where ever I was trying to go.”

“Oh, that easy. Hang on, I’ll make some biscuits and gravy and I’ll draw you a map.”

It wasn’t always biscuits and gravy, sometimes it was chili, once she even made fajitas from scratch. This was just how it was, and we loved her for it.

The table was set, food dished out, a prayer was said, and our story began.

I never really thought about how much we have been through until I spelled it all out to them sitting at the table where so many stories had been shared. Both Maggie and Ma were in tears by the time I got done talking, and though it hurt to tell, I felt a lot better when I was done.

Maggie told us that their neighbor had survived. He was a man in his late sixties, he lived in his house for over forty years. He had raised a family, and buried his wife, and one of the six of his children there. He was going to be over in the morning for breakfast, he was a short wave radio guru and could easily help us get ours set up.

The next morning over breakfast we met Frank, though we were told to call him Sparky due to his interest that bordered on obsession, for anything electrical. Sparky laughed at us when we asked for his help to set up the radio. Everyone at the table looked at him in confusion, this was exactly the type of thing he loved to do.

“You folks don’t need that old outdated pile of cow crap. I have one I’ve been building for fifteen years, it’s set up in my house. All I need is a generator to give her juice.” He told us with a large, toothless grin.

His house was one mile away. The lots here are divided into one mile by one mile sections. Both his and the Statler farm were fenced off, and they were working together to make the fences taller and more secure. They had often helped each other out with tending to each other’s land and animals, so they figured it would be best if they made it easy to continue to do so. When we finished breakfast, we grabbed a small generator Maggie had in one of the barns, tossing it in the bed of the truck. Dale, Sparky and myself headed through the field to his house.

I got the generator running as Sparky ran a long extension cord out the window. In less than 10 minutes we were on the mic trying to get in touch with Lj.

“Idaho base calling for Lj, Copy.” Sparky said into the mic.

A few minutes passed with him calling out before we got our first response.

“This is Mathew of the SLC community. Relay stations are not working. I can send the message out to the Kansas colony, and they will repeat it to Indiana and from there it will get to colony three. Over.”

I grabbed the mic, “Mathew, this is Tom. Please tell him we made it to Idaho, the house is destroyed, we are staying with Maggie. We will send an update in a few days. Over.”

“Good to hear you made it home Tom. I will resend your message. I will send a reply tomorrow morning at dawn. Will that work? Over.”

“I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Thank you Mathew, for everything. Over and out.”

After shutting down the generator, Dale and I went back to the farm.

“We should go see what condition the lab is in.” Doc said once we were back.

“Agreed. Doc, maybe you and I should go for the first run until we know if it’s safe?” I said just as Jez jumped in.

“Oh hell no! I’m coming too!”

“If you are all going, I’m coming.” Dale said without hesitation.

Jennifer looked down, “I can stay here with Jon.” But it was easy to hear how much she wanted to go.

“I can watch over Jon!” Maggie said with enthusiasm. Maggie was amazing with children of all ages. “The fence can wait until you guys get back.”

This would be the first real break Jennifer has had to be without little Jon since his birth. And whereas she loved him dearly, a break is welcome once in a while, so she accepted.

The lab was an hour away from the farm. We were skeptically excited seeing the Lab was not only still standing, but the fence surrounding it was still intact. We had to cut gate from the motor that used to open and close it, but otherwise, it was a smooth entrance.

The lab was one of four offices in the building. The others included a ground water testing facility, an animal quality testing facility for testing blood and semen, mostly used for cattle breeders, and one empty office. It was a large concrete building with glass fronts on all the offices. Idaho was fairly progressive when it came to alternate power. This building was no exception. The roof was lined with solar panels and the empty office was half filled with the battery bank. Everything on the facility grounds except the front gate, was operated by a key card. Knowing there should be power was breathe of fresh air. Doc slid her card over the small black box and the light next to the door went from red to green and we heard a click.

We went in, our confidence slowly building as things looked like they were looking us for us the last few days. The whole office and lab were clear, and in the same condition as when Doc left the day before the end began.

The lab equipment all had plastic, anti-static bags placed over it. It was a large room with tables lining three of the four walls, the fourth wall was a large line of one inch thick glass. In the middle of the room were two more rows of tables as well as several small glass front refrigerators. Along the far wall was a four foot wide steel door. It was the entry into the large freezer. Above the door was a digital sign the had “-20” in red letters on it. The freezer also had a card reader next to the door for access. Hanging from the ceiling was two, six foot long two foot wide metal ventilation fans. The lab wasn’t an ideal setting, but it was good enough. We went down to the water testing facility and broke in through the glass front to get a few things they would need to be able to work safely with the infection.

When we left the semi, Doc and Jez grabbed as much from the freezer as they could fit, so they had enough to be able to get to work. The rest of us, with nothing to do here, left them to their work. We went up the road into Twin Falls and began looking for a sloth, and another vehicle. Our efforts were rewarded when we came into a used car parking lot where there were four almost dead infected. We looked around for something to used to help us get one of them alive. There was a long banner above the building of the car lot that read, “Blowout Sale Today!”, it was five feet tall and at least fifteen feet wide. Dale climbed up a ladder in the back of the building and cut the banner free, it floated gracefully to the ground where Jennifer ran to hold it down so the wind wouldn’t blow it away. Three of the infected were unable to move, frozen to the ground where they lay. The fourth was walking in circles, bumping into the two trucks to either side of him. He was biting at the air, his teeth begging for something to sink into. His eyes were covered in the same yellow puss that we had seen so many of them spew from their mouths. I had to walk up to the man and coax him out of the space between the trucks, into the open. Dale took one end of the banner, Jennifer and I, the other. Dale walked in a circle around the man, slowly wrapping him into an infected burrito. The only thing still exposed was his constantly chomping mouth and head. I limped over to the building, breaking the glass door with my crutch to gain entrance. I found a roll of duct tape next to the board hanging on the wall that held all the keys for the vehicles.

“Two birds, one crutch!” I said laughing, probably harder than the comment warranted.

We wrapped the mans jaw shut by wrapping the tape both around his head, and from his chin to the top of his head.

Dale went and found a truck he liked, as did Jennifer. We went to the board on the wall, all the keys were clearly marked. This was a good day.

Dales first choice had an empty tank, but his second choice was almost full of fuel. Jennifer first chose a little sporty car, but once I pointed out that diesel was far more readily available, she found a lifted Ford Excursion suv with the same motor the plow truck had.

We put the infected man in the bed of Dales truck and motored back to the lab.

“We came with gifts in hand!” I yelled as we came in the front door. Doc and Jez, both in full lab dress came out to see. We got the man up into the freezer. They hadn’t died outside in the -10, so we turned the freezer up to 10 above zero, and placed him inside.

Leaving the plow truck for Jez to use, we went back to the farm to help with the fence.We got over half way to Sparky’s house with the taller fence before the sun went down. Sparky came to the house for supper. As we were preparing to dish the food, Dale asked if we needed to go back and check on Doc and Jez.

“No, they won’t be home tonight. They have a couple cots set up down there. Once they get going on a project, I know I won’t see them for at least a day or two, once they run out of food. The building is secure, and they are armed. They will be just fine. After I talk to Mathew, I’ll go back to check on progress.

The next morning I went to Sparky’s house alone, before the sun could rise and started the generator. He showed me how to turn it on yesterday, so I could let him sleep.I sat by the radio until the generator ran out of gas. Sparky was in the room with me when it died.

“I have a gas can in the shed around the side of the house. It’s old gas, but it should still work in the geny.” He stated.

I went out and found the gas, as I poured it, I noticed it had already turned green. This did not bode well for its usefulness. But, what choice did I have? I filled the tank and turned the key. The motor sounded like it was struggling to keep running, but it was going well enough to create the power I needed. Just as the power came back on, Sparky began yelling for me.

“He’s on Tom!”

I did my half limp, half run, to get back inside and grabbed the mic.

“Go for Tom. Over.”

“Tom, I heard back from Lj. Jason is on the road trying to fix the issue, allowing us to rebroadcast again, he should have it operational in a couple days. Lj sends his condolences for the loss of your home, and he and Ana send their love. Over.”

“How will we know if they get it working?”

“Do you have access to a wind up watch?”

I looked at Sparky as he reached into a drawer on the desk and pulled an old beat up watch out and handed it to me.

“Yes. I have one in my hand.”

“Okay, set the time to twelve o’clock. I have set mine as well, when I hear from Lj, I will have him set one to match whatever mine says at that time. Will you be able to check the radio again tomorrow?”

“I have to find another generator. I had to use old gas in this one today, and I’m sure the calibrator will be filled with gunk before long. But I will make it happen.”

A short pause and then Joshua got on the mic, “We have visitors. Not good ones. I will send a message to Lj to set his watch. It may not be exact, but it should mean you won’t have to wait long if we set a time to talk. I will tell him noon every day. Over and out.” The line turned to empty static. After setting the watch, I went out to the truck and headed to the lab to check on Jez and Doc. I will have to make a stop somewhere to get a new generator as well.

Pulling into the parking lot of the lab, I saw both Jez and Doc outside. Jez turned and ran towards the truck with a smile covering her face.

“Tom, we were going to come home last night, but every time we decided to call it a night, one of us would have an idea. I’m so sorry.”

“How long did you work here through the years?” I laughed, “I expected nothing less. Did you make any progress?” I asked.

“Actually, yes. With the information we got from Barb and the books from the colony, we have successfully killed the virus in four tests. Our only issue now is, how do we distribute it? We have been injecting it directly so far. We have to figure out how to make it for mass distribution.” Doc said with a look of pride on her face.

“Did you hear back from Lj?” Jez asked.

I told her about my conversation with Mathew and Joshua this morning. “It’s not the same as hearing his voice, but to know we can communicate, however slow it may be, feels like a huge step forward.” I finished and reached to Jez to give her a kiss.

“We will be heading home soon love. Now that we know how to kill them, there’s nothing more we can do here until we figure out how to disperse the cure.” Jez, returning my kiss smiled.

We parted ways so I could go looking for a new generator. I know everyone back at the farm will be upset that I went out on my own, but I needed some time to think, and with as cold as it still was, I wasn’t worried about the infected. They may still be alive, but they can’t move fast when they are frozen.

I went into Twin Falls to a small engine store I used to go to in the old world. I remembered they always had several diesel generators in stock. This would be a good place to start.

I pulled into Sal’s Saw and Small engine. The parking lot was full of infected. I watched them for a few minutes before I decided they couldn’t move fast enough to catch me, even with my bum leg. I got out of the truck and used my all purpose key, otherwise known as my crutch to break the window. I cleared the glass away so I could get in without cutting a major artery and began my climb inside. I realized quickly this was a terrible idea. As I hit the floor inside, I heard the “Clack Clack” of teeth chattering, followed by the scream. I looked up just in time to see a boy, no more than ten, jumping through the air about to land on my chest. As he hit, I felt my lungs reject any air that I tried to force into them. Before he landed, I managed to get my crutch between him and I. He rocked fast and hard, his hands flailing and filling every inch of available space between us. He rocked forward, allowing him to lean past my crutch, his mouth was open heading straight toward my head. I leaned my head down forcing his teeth to land square on the hard part of my forehead. I used to head butt people in fights when I was younger and knew just where to make him plant his mouth to do the most damage to him. His teeth hit, and I heard the crunch of them breaking on my skull. My eyes were quickly filled with blood from the wound on my head, but the impact made the boy jump back. He jumped off of me, looking at me with a look of utter confusion. He turned around, I thought for a moment he was going to run away, but I was sadly mistaken. He turned and grabbed a lawn mower blade from the shelf next to him. He lifted it above his head, preparing to drop it into my chest. In that brief period of time that passed between me seeing his intentions, and what would surely be my death, I smiled. I deserved this. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to be in this new world after all. I found it next to impossible to let go of my old thoughts and my mistrust of mankind. I had lost my faith in God, and with my leg, I was no help to anyone. I accepted my fate in those few minuscule seconds. I found myself saying, “I love you Jez, I’m sorry.” I felt the warmth of the blood flowing all around me. Bits of flesh coming to rest on my face, this was it.

“You alright Tom?” I heard Doc say as she climbed in the window holding her AR. The blood was the boys blood. I was so filled with emotion that I had blocked out all sounds. I didn’t even notice the bullet that made the boys chest explode onto me.

I laid there for a few minutes trying to gather my thoughts and make sure I hadn’t soiled myself.

“Actually, I think I am now. Thank you again Doc.”

The End Chapter 17

Chapter 17

The Beginning, Part One

Mid January, the return trip to Idaho

The air was penetratingly cold, with gusting winds that threatened to tip the truck and trailer. It was going between raining and snowing. The further north we got, the heavier the snow became, and the winds only seemed to grow stronger with each snowflake that fell. My olfactory nerves sent me plunging into memories of my mom’s house when she ran her air purifier. It left a metallic taste in our mouths. January was not a good month for travel in general, but this year was proving to be especially treacherous. The best part of the trip was all the infected that had frozen where they stood. We collected three complete bodies, fully intact, and placed them in a tarp covered with snow in the back of the trailer next to the refrigerator.

We had made it all the way to Salt Lake City without incident. I was driving down highway 84 just outside of Salt Lake when the snow had become so deep, the plow was actually being used, as a plow. It cleared a path wide enough for the semi to make it through without too much trouble. The front end was shaking from the stress when I heard a loud metal on metal “Bang!”. the plow brace snapped, pushing a piece of steal into the passenger window, it looked like it hit Doc in the shoulder. The seat was engulfed in blood in an instant.

“Jez!” I screamed as I tried to gain control of the truck, the plow was digging into the ground on the right side causing the truck to try to follow it. When I touched the brakes, they would lock and make the trailer try to pass us. Jennifer quickly placed Jon in the crate that we had fastened to the floor while she tried to take cover herself. Within a few moments, we were buried in a snow bank all the way to the cab doors. The drive tires were in the air and the trailer frame was twisted. On the dash of the truck there is a thermometer, it read ten below zero. Dale helped Jez get Doc into the trailer and on a bed. The wood stove was still in place, so I started a fire. The temperature was dropping fast. Doc was still conscious, but fading due to blood loss. Jez got her shirt off. The pipe that hit her didn’t go in, but it had managed to get under her right breast and ripped it upward. Her breast was only attached by a two-inch piece of flesh. Jez began barking orders, which we all followed to the letter. Doc, during one of her awake moments asked for me. “Tom, I’m not going to die, so don’t panic, and this doesn’t mean you get a free pass to see my bare chest…” She said with a smile and faded away again. Jez cleaned the area, and not seeing any major arteries cut, began sewing Doc back together. The process of cleaning, sewing, and cleaning again, took the better part of an hour. The rip followed the crease of her breast line perfectly, up to the top section of it, that’s where the tear was the worst. It was jagged, and very hard for Jez to sew. The skin was so thin, every time she would pull the suture, it would pull out.

Jez was not a surgeon, but she was Docs best hope.

Dale and I went outside to check the condition of the truck, we had to go out the trailer. The snow blocked the cab doors making the trailer our only means of escape once again. The truck looked like it made it through without any major damage, but unless we could find a tow truck, it wasn’t moving until the snow melted. I had managed to get us high centered on a snow drift. We went into the woods to gather more wood for the stove. Lucky for us a fire had ravaged this part of the state a couple summers ago, so there was a lot of dead standing trees for us to use. Dale made four trips, with my leg feeling like it was broken again, I was only good for one.

“You know, you and Doc keep saying if it wasn’t for me, you would probably be dead, but I’ve started to keep score, I think you two have saved me far more than I have saved you.” I said groaning with pain. We both laughed, then Dale replied, “How about you get us out of this, and we can call it even?” A cockeyed smile ran across his face.

“We need to check that the generator still works. We should plan on bunking here until Doc is moving again. After that, we can go scouting for another vehicle to carry us to Idaho. The truck isn’t moving until spring.”

He nodded at me then moved his glance up to the trailer door where Jez was now standing.

“How bad is it?” She asked.

“It’s pretty bad, we need another rig. A van or suv, something comfortable for all of us to finish this leg of the trip. How’s Doc?

“She will be hurting for a few days, but once she gets some rest and builds her blood reserves up, she will be as good as new.”

We all got in the trailer and began fixing all the inside for the fourth time since we left Idaho just six or seven weeks ago.

After a good nights rest, only having to get up to tend the fire a couple times, the trailer was still warm, and Jez was busy making breakfast. Smoked beef, and home-made biscuits and gravy. Doc was still asleep when Dale and I went out for another haul of firewood. When we returned, Doc wasn’t just awake, she was up and moving.

“Damn woman, don’t you know you’re too old to be doing that stuff?” I said as I went in for an excessively gentle hug. “Don’t do that to me again. I already told you, you are not allowed to die.”

She winced as we hugged, but she was smiling from ear to ear. “I saw an opportunity to scare the hell out of you, and I took it. It was totally worth the pain.” She said laughing and trying not to let her chest move in the process. She spent the day in the trailer, never wondering too far from her bed. We all gathered around the table and tried once again to play cards. After realizing no one knew the rules for any card games, we ended up playing go fish until we could no longer hold our heads up and were forced by nature to go to bed.

The following morning, Doc said she was up to keeping an eye out and able to shoot if necessary, so Dale and I put on the riot gear we got from the colony, figuring it was probably the warmest thing we had. We grabbed our guns and began our trek back toward Salt Lake City.

We planned on being gone at least a day, maybe two, so we packed enough food to get us by until we returned. After several miles we approached the first exit. We saw fresh tire tracks. Two or three vehicles, and with big wide tires. This world makes me question everything. These folks may be survivors like us though history has shown this is unlikely the case.

“Should we follow the tracks to see where they lead, or run as fast as we can the other way?” Dale asked jokingly with a shaky voice.

“What do you think?”

“Man, I don’t know. I say we follow them. If they are good people, maybe they will help.”

“And what if they aren’t?” I asked, curious to hear his thoughts.

“Then we wait till dark, and steel one of their rigs and go like the ground is falling out from under us.” He started laughing, I joined.

“Maybe we should eat something first though.” Dale said. And me, wanting to delay this venture, agreed.

We ate slowly, and rested. The riot gear wasn’t nearly as warm as we had hoped, and even with three layers of socks, my toes were already going numb. We either needed to get walking, or pitch the tent, and start a fire. Neither sounded like a good plan. If they were bad, they would inevitably see the smoke and come kill us, so, we decided it was probably best to get moving.

We walked for another mile before we saw smoke coming for behind a large group of trees.

“From this point on, no talking.” I said, as Dale and I starting creeping into the wooded area in the direction of the smoke. It was another hundred or so paces before we saw the house with two suv’s and a big truck parked in front. The cold was playing hell with my leg, and the snow was a foot deep, it was becoming difficult for me to stand, let alone, walk. We got close enough to have a good view with the binoculars and decided we would sit and watch them for a while to size them up. Ten minutes after we sat down, I heard the all telling click click of a shotgun shell being brought into the chamber. Every inch of my body told me not to turn my head. And within moments, I couldn’t. The gun pressed against the base of my skull.

“Dale, don’t move.” I said, as he dropped his binoculars and turned slowly to see a young man holding his double-barrel shotgun to my head.

“Mind telling me what you guys are doing?” The man asked.

“We are trying to discover if you folks were the kind to just kill us, or let us come in and warm up. I’m Tom, this is Dale,” I pointed at a tree near Dale, it was the best I could do in my current predicament. “We don’t want trouble, we had an accident and we are looking for help. The rest of our group will be searching for us soon. We were supposed to return by nightfall.” I said, hoping he would just let us go.

“Do you have weapons?” He asked.

“We do, Dale, give the man your guns, and then hand him mine out of my waist band.”

“There’s no need for that.” I was ready to let my bowels loose, if he didn’t want our guns, he was probably just going to kill us where we laid.

“We are a small community here. There are twelve families in houses all around this area. We are trying to rebuild the country. There are several colonies just like ours across the country.” He said.

I almost came out of my skin. “Wait, do you know of a colony like yours in Georgia?”

“Yes sir. How do you know about them?”

“My mother, son and adopted daughter are there, they helped start it.”

Who’s your son?” he asked clearly not believing my story.

“Lj, my daughter is Ana.”

“You’re Lj’s Tom!” the man said laughing a little, “We have been hoping to run into you. We have been sending scouts out the last few days. Lj thought you would have been here three days ago. Come inside, lets get you warm and fed, I will get Lj on the radio.” He grabbed my arm helping me to stand, but I was in shock so it didn’t register with me until he had me inside. The heat poured out as he opened the door, I could feel it digging into me, prying its way through my body slowly bringing me out of my daze. The house is a two story farm house, all white with black trim. There was a porch encircling the house. Facing the driveway was two huge picture windows that allowed for a beautiful view of a creek that ran along the side of the property. Once inside, the house looked straight out of the early pioneer days. There was a large fireplace topped with a six foot long two foot thick piece of oak. Nothing but old hurricane lamps lighting the space, casting shadows resembling black flames dancing along the walls. The light was limited to the parlor. Making it seem as if the house was confined to this one room.

A bowl was placed in front of my face. It was steaming, and I embraced the heat it produced. The stew was delicious, filled with vegetables and big pieces of venison. Before I finished half the bowl, a young man named Joshua, had a cup sitting over my bowl, filling it again. I heard the radio crackle from another room as Joshua beckoned me down a dark hallway the end of which had a doorway that was pouring light out from under it. We came to the door, as Joshua pushed it open, the light was almost blinding. Going from the hurricane lamps to a room with four, sixty watt light bulbs made my eyes shut. It took a minute for my pupils to once again constrict so I could see. Two walls were covered with bookshelves overcrowded with old books. Along the outside wall they had the radio set up in a way that allowed the user to see out the window, I saw the following day, it looked out over a large open field.

“Lj, your dad is here.” Mathew said, holding the mic to his face.

“I knew you would find him, eventually. May I speak to him?”

Mathew waved the mic toward me.

“Lj, Its good to hear your voice son. How are things there?”

“The colony is growing in leaps and bounds. We are actually in Pennsylvania now at the meeting I told you about. We have come to an agreement on the part our two colonies will play in the rebuilding. What was the delay getting Utah?”

I told him the story of the attack on the truck from the small army, and about Doc getting injured, getting him up to date with our trip.”It has been a hard week on all of us. But, we do our best under pressure.”

“You do in deed. I will ask Mathew if they can help you get home. We will be making a trip north in the next month or two in order to meet Mathew and his community. We will then leave for Oregon to meet with the colony there. If you are settled when we come, we would love to come to the farm.” Lj said.

“Son, you are always welcome at our home. As are your people. We will be converting the shop, if it’s still standing, into a housing unit for people needing a place to stay.”

Though we had said everything we needed to say, I had a hard time giving the mic back to Mathew. I missed Lj and Ana very deeply.

“I love you son.”

“And I you.”

I handed the radio back over to Mathew. Joshua was standing at the door and waved me to follow him again.

“We have a room set up for you and Dale. Will your family be safe until morning?”

“Yes. We planned to be gone until tomorrow. We made sure they had plenty of wood for the fire, and they have enough weapons to protect themselves, should it come to that.”

The room had two bunk beds inside, as well as two night stands, a copy of the bible was placed on top of each, a cross hung above both sets of beds. Otherwise the room was bare. The fireplace was toward the front of the house, and ours being the furthest from it, was very cold, while the rest of the house was smoldering hot.

The following morning the room was so cold the windows formed ice crystals, and our breathe would freeze as we exhaled. Still wrapped in our blankets, Dale and I made our way to the front of the house. The fire was only embers, and the house sat quiet and empty. It took Dale a few minutes to nurse the fire back to its former glow, and we both rejoiced in its heat as it grew.

Just as we became warm enough to remove our blankets, Mathew and Joshua came through the front door. Joshua was holding a rabbit in his hand, followed by Mathew holding several small fowl.

“How are you feeling?” Mathew asked.

“My leg still hurts like hell, but, I have blood flowing to my toes again” I replied with a smile.

“After we eat, we will take the big truck to your family and gather everyone up. We will come back here and make a plan that works for everyone.” These men looked at things the same as Lj. If a plan was good for only some, it wasn’t good enough. There was always a way to help everyone if you spent the time to think it through. It was going to take me a long time to wrap my head around this new world.

As promised, after breakfast we were on the road heading over to the semi. I felt a surge of serenity pass through my soul as we approached the truck and a column of smoke was billowing from the chimney. Mathew honked his horn. As I got out of the truck, Doc swung the trailer door open and held her gun, ready to fire. I could see just holding the gun was causing her a great deal of pain, and can’t imagine what firing it would have done to her. Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to find out.

“Tom! Hey Jez, it’s Tom and Dale! They brought a couple guys with them.” Doc yelled into the trailer. “Who are your friends Tom?

I introduced Mathew and Joshua to the group and explained what the last day had brought to us. We quickly loaded the back of the pickup with as much food as we could pile in, as well as our personal effects, and headed back to the farm house.

Jez, in her usual fashion, took over the kitchen once we got to the house. They had a propane oven, and much to our surprise, it still had propane. It was easy to see most of their cooking was done over the fire in the parlor. From the looks of the room, they did almost all their living in there. They had a couch, two beds, and a table all set up in there. The previous night it was so dark in the house, I couldn’t tell how big the house really was. Down stairs held the parlor, the main bedroom, a kitchen, a large formal dinning room, and a bathroom. Upstairs, which they didn’t use, was four more bedrooms, and a second living room. The house had been abandoned for a very long time before Mathew and Joshua found it and claimed it as their own. They were homeless in Salt Lake City, just trying to escape the cold when they decided to go to the woods and look for a place to camp. That’s when they happened upon this place. They watched it for three weeks before entering it. No one ever came, so they just stayed, fixing it up as they found materials. Once the end began, they just stayed here, and slowly, one by one, more people showed up. Through their time here, they had found a total of six houses abandoned, so when people came, they would help them get the other homes set up and livable. Now they are a thriving little community and joining with Lj and Ana’s group, they are even stronger.

“We have never turned anyone away, and since joining with your son, we have adopted their laws. Life is good here.” Mathew said as he finished his story.

“Laws?” I asked. This was the first I heard of any new laws.

“Yes, they only have three. First, Never cause harm intentionally to anyone for any reason. With only two exceptions, self defence and protection of property. Second, never turn your back on anyone in need. Even your worst enemy is a human being, and we must care for each other now. And third, never judge someone for who they were. We few left are no better than any one person, we are not perfect, and therefore have no place to pass such judgments.”

Joshua leaned forward, “What we have is for everyone. And in turn, what everyone else has is ours. Now, this doesn’t mean we can just got to our neighbors house and grab the food off their shelves, what it means is, if our neighbor is starving, and we have food, we will feed them. Just like in your case, you need to get home, but have no vehicle to get you there. We have three and only need two.”

“We will give you food for the use of the truck. And we can bring it back once we get home and find another one.” Jez told the men.

“If you have food to spare, we would gladly take some. We have a lot of mouths to feed at the moment and are relying on what the land provides us until next year when we can get a garden planted in the fields. As for the truck, don’t bring it back here. If you find someone that needs it, pass it along to them. There are plenty of vehicles in the city for us to have.” Joshua replied.

“The pickup your stuff is in now has a plow. It’s in the shed at the side of the house. You should take that one. It has been snowing hard for the passed week. You will need the plow to traverse the passes.” Mathew said.

Jez had made us all a big lunch and the two men ate the food like it was a five star meal. They had been eating deer, rabbits and birds for a long while. Even though it was a simple dish, the change made it that much better.

After lunch Dale and Mathew went to get the plow installed on the truck. It was a 1997 Ford F350 4 door with a 7.3 liter power stroke diesel. This truck was a beast. Even their two suv’s were diesel motors. I told them about the close to five hundred gallons left on the semi. They were happy to have fuel again. They invited us to stay one more night, but we wanted to get back to Idaho. We said our thank you’s and goodbyes and hit the road, stopping by the semi to grab our weapons, and fuel up. It took us another nine hours until we passed the sign on highway 93 that said, “Filer”, we were almost home.

The End Chapter 16

Chapter 16

The Human Element

Early to mid-January, on the road to Roxy

We were brought out of our slumber being thrown off the bunks, everything on the shelves mixing in a mess of cloth, people, food, and dishes on the floor.

“What the hell just happened?” I heard from under the pile. The amount of stuff laying on top of us all made it impossible to know who said it.

We quickly climbed our way out of the pile, just to be thrown again. I hit my leg on something in the mess. Doc got thrown against the wall and was unconscious. Jez managed to land in the pile of blankets. She ran to the back and grabbed the small medical bag, breaking a small vile and waiving it under Docs nose. She shot up swatting at her face trying to rid herself of the treacherous invader raping the inside of the nose. I jumped up and climbed to the cab as quickly as I could, expecting another blow anytime. I was right in my expectations, just as I cleared the trailer, another hit. This one, forced me down into the small space I used to climb under the trailer. I was now on the ground, waiting on the next hit. This one would surely kill me. If the trailer moved even slightly, I would be smashed in this little space. Doc ran to me, Jez right behind her, they fought to get me out before the next impact. Dale was screaming, frantically trying to find little Jon. Doc saw Jennifer had Little Jon caressed tight to her body as she ran to the bathroom. As soon as I was free, Doc yelled to Dale, “They are in the bathroom!”

The bathroom was empty, so it was the safest space to be.

Once we got to the cab, we saw a striker vehicle. It had, “Death follow me” written on the hood and down the side. The striker has little slits for windows, not allowing us to see how many people were in the truck, though as I lifted my gaze from the vehicle, I saw it didn’t matter. Two trucks filled with well-armed men and twenty more on foot followed the striker. We were out numbered, and far out gunned. I fired the truck to attempt a get away. As I did, I heard over a load speaker, “Don’t even try. We will follow you. We don’t want to kill you, we just want women, food, and guns.”

I told Doc, Jez and Jennifer to take the baby and climb under the trailer.

“We saw a woman looking out the window. How many you got?” The voice ripped through the air.

Doc hadn’t made it into the hole yet, and quickly, before I could reply, came back to the cab. “Tell them only one.”

“No.”

“If they saw one of us, they will destroy this truck looking for us, not only killing you, Dale and little Jon, but getting all of us. If I hand myself over, and you give them the guns we have up front, they might think they got everything they were after and leave you alone.”

Doc opened her door and slid out with her hands up. “It’s only me and two men. We have a small handful of guns left, you are welcome to them and me if the men go free. I’m tired of riding with these two chicken shits anyway.”

“Get the guns, and hand them out.” He said, gesturing to a greasy man to his left to collect them.

Dale and I went through the truck collecting all the guns that weren’t in the armory and began handing them out to Doc as she handed them to the man.

“What about ammo?” The man asked.

“Shit, it’s all in the armory.” I said to Dale. He ran to the back of the trailer and grabbed two boxes of ammo out from the box we built into the wall.

“We are down to two boxes.” I yelled, handing the ammo out to Doc.

When Doc reached up to grab the box, her lips moved forming the words, “Be ready to go.” She handed the boxes to the man. “You boys think you’re man enough for an old lady?”

The man with the load speaker laughed, “Let’s see if I am.” As he began walking to her, removing his belt and unbuttoning his pants.

The other men all started walking towards her, following their leader. Doc, undid her belt as well, and as it came loose, I saw four grenades strapped to the back, she reached back removing the pins as the men got within ten feet. She tossed the belt at them and ran to the truck.

The men were caught off guard by this and couldn’t decide whether to chase her, or run from the upcoming blast. In the confusion several men fell, causing a pile up less than fifteen feet from the belt. Doc had just cleared the door when the men had their body parts disassembled and tossed about like snow flakes.

The blast didn’t kill all of them, the men in the striker were unscathed, and quickly jumped to action, driving over the remains of their fallen brothers in repugnance.

The trailer had taken significant damage, making it track off to the left side by almost two feet. But it wasn’t immobilized. As soon as Jez, Jennifer and the baby were back on the top side of the truck, I hit the throttle once more, begging the truck to hold together through at least one more leg of this journey.

The striker was like a tank on wheels in more ways than one. Not only was it virtually indestructible, but it was also very slow. It managed to hit us one more time before I could get enough speed to out run it. Watching closely in the rear view, Doc said she saw the two pick-ups coming up fast.

“Same plan as last time. Take out the steer tires and shoot the radiators!” I yelled.

“Well, that’s easier said than done Tom. They have some sort of cover over the tires, and a huge piece of steel mounted to the front.” Doc retorted.

They had also covered the windows with steal plate with slits cut out to see through. The rednecks in Montana were nothing compared to this group.

“We only have on grenade and one pipe bomb left. Should we use them?”

“Let’s try not to. If we have no choice, we will, but I’d sure like to keep those for another battle if possible.” I answered.

The first truck got next to the cab of the truck, with the second less than a foot from its back bumper. Both trucks were overflowing with men wearing dirty fatigues. Dale grabbed a new AR for Doc, and she leaned out the window to take aim at the men in the bed, but they saw her coming out and fired first. Dale went out to the decking between the truck and trailer, “Come back here Doc.” He used a piece of wood from a wall that broke in the back and pressed the sheet metal outward, Doc had a clear shot of the second truck. “Tom, hold us steady.” She yelled to be heard over the opposing gun fire, and road noise from the tires that were spinning at 75 miles per hour just inches from where she now stood.

“10-4”

Dale pushed, Doc took aim, first shot went into the small slit in the window, extinguishing the life from the driver of the second truck instantly. The truck swerved toward the trailer, almost making Doc fall into the tires, but Dale managed to grab her just before she went down. The first truck didn’t seem to notice until the other truck spun out and began to roll down the highway ending in a small explosion. The driver then hit his gas pedal and got to the front of our truck. I’m not sure what was going through his mind as he slammed on his brakes. Did he think the giant piece of steal attached to the front of the semi was for looks? Maybe he just didn’t notice it in his haste? Whatever the reason, he hit his brakes anyway. We hit him going 77 miles per hour. His truck and everyone in it were obliterated. The bodies of the men in the bed were tossed out onto our cab, turning them into hamburger as they were ground into the mesh over the windows.

This is when I noticed one major flaw in my design. The mesh covered the windshield wipers. The speedometer was pegged at 70, and I couldn’t see anything. I got the truck stopped as quickly as I could. Thank god, I did so without killing us, or putting us in the ditch. I had Dale grab me several bottles of water and I began to try to wash it off. The other truck I put spacers under the mesh so the wipers still worked. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not the brightest star in the tools shed.

After using twenty bottles of water, I could see good enough to drive again.

“Please don’t ever offer yourself up again Doc. You have become a very important part of my life, I don’t think I could handle loosing you too.” I said, once we were driving again, never taking my eyes off the road.

An hour and a half later, we were once again driving down Roxy’s tree-lined driveway. It began to rain as we pulled in, the truck would be better for it. But it wasn’t until we got out, not seeing Roxy, that we felt the significance of the rain. The heavens opened up and cried for yet another loss. Roxy was laying in her bed, she died in her sleep. Jez smiled as she went over to her mother. Placing her hand on Roxy’s. She leaned down, kissing her forehead, and then let a tear run down her face, the smile never breaking.

Roxy had not been dead long, she still looked like she was quietly sleeping. Like she would hop up any minute to tell us she was just messing with us. The house had been cleaned as if she was expecting company, but they never showed.

“She gets to rest with dad now, and she will be there to hold Lena for us too.” She said somberly.

I walked out to the shed, Dale following me. The shed sat on the backside of the house. It was built back in the fifties, and Bill never did anything to it since. No paint, no fixing broken boards, he just used it. He used to tell me he was just waiting for it to collapse, burying all his old tools in hopes Roxy would then let him get new ones, as well as build a new shop for them to be placed. Walking out there, I found myself smiling as I remembered him telling that story and how Roxy would just shake her head and reply with, “You get new tools and a new shed when I get a new kitchen.”

They were the sweetest and most loving couple I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. They worked together in every facet of their lives. Not to mention, they made the most beautiful woman I had the pleasure of knowing. The shop had become over grown with cobwebs, they danced about as the wind blew in when we opened the door. Bill had been getting too weak to use many of his tools anymore, and very seldom came out here. The floor was dirt and weeds were growing up the workbench. Ivy took hold, climbing the rotted walls. Yet, it still smelled like fresh cut wood and old used oil. The decaying wood put of a smell that reminded me of the ocean on the coast of Oregon where Jez and I used to take the kids for our weekend getaways whenever I could manage to get a few days in a row off. It was almost cathartic being in here. Not only because of the memories of being in here with Bill, but all the memories it brought me of my family, my dads old wood shop when I was a kid, how I wished I could have taught Lj and Lena to work with wood. Lena loved working with metal, but I never got a chance to teach her about the pleasures of making something out of wood as my father had done with me.

I found myself standing in the middle of the shed, lost in memory when Dale spoke.

“Will these work?” He found a couple shovels that had wooden handles, splintered and worn. We went out and began digging next to Bills grave marker. His was a simple cross made out of old barn wood, with his name, date of birth, and death painted on it. Both Dale and I had our hands filled with splinters, but neither of us paid it any mind, it was the price we would pay for hard work. Once Dale and I were done digging, we went back out to the shed, we found a very large slab of rough cut oak buried in the back. It had a pile of old painters drop cloths covering it. I remember Bill showing it to me once. It was a piece he cut out of the first tree they cut when they cleared the property so long ago. He always claimed he was going to make a table or something special anyway, to give to Jez. I think this is a fitting piece to use.

We fired up the generator and made a new grave marker for Bill, and one for Roxy. Neither Dale nor myself wood woodworkers, but I had learned enough from my dad to make something more suited to mark the resting spot for these two wonderful people. We cut Roxy’s resembling the house, and Bills to resemble his dream shop. Both things they loved dearly.

On Bills we engraved, “Bill Gersetti, a Loving father, a devoted husband.” And repeated the same on Roxy’s representing her. Then on Bills we put, “They say Till death do us part”, and Roxy’s said, “That isn’t long enough for our love so we rest together.”

Jez spent the night going through the house, gathering all the important mementos from their lives, placing them in a box. She went to her old bedroom, they left it exactly how it was when she moved out to go to college. Whenever we would come to visit, this would be Lena’s room. She would play with all of her moms old toys. Playing dress up in her old cloths. I imagine the room was filled with a lifetime of memories, dreams, and regrets. My family never lived in a house for more than a year. So I have no clue what it feels like to say goodbye to the only home she knew growing up.

Jennifer took Jon into the guest bedroom and was laying down, Dale was outside washing the truck off, I helped Jez as much as I could before I finally left her alone to mourn. I walked to the freshly washed truck to get the windshield wipers to work. We spent the night in the house, all of us getting to take showers and become human once more. In the morning, I woke to the smell of meat cooking. Jez, knowing no one could take care of the old cow anymore, killed her, and butchered some for us to eat for breakfast, and some to take with us. It was a shame to waste so much fresh meat, but we didn’t have the means to take a lot with us, without it spoiling before we could eat it. Though, Dale spent a large part of the morning after breakfast making a smokehouse, while Jez and Jennifer butchered more, and got it soaking in brine so we could hang it over night. We planned on staying several days to recuperate and repair the trailer with what was here. We also packed some smoked meat in the cellar for the next people to have access to some food if they needed it, leaving a letter explaining when it was made, when it will go bad, as well as left directions to the colony, as per Lj’s request.

We spent our final day at the ranch packing up the freshly smoked meat and Jez’s mementos. Not knowing what lay ahead, and knowing only loss was behind us, it was a bitter sweet departure.

Before we left the colony we had drawn a map showing how to get here so they could use it as a safe house when traveling this way.

As we drove away, there was no sense of finality. We knew we would one day return. If life becomes normal in the future, I will come back to get Lena and bring her home.

The End Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Returned from the fire

Early January, from CDC to the colony

From the rear-view mirror, we watched as best we could, as Atlanta was turned into one giant ember, lifting into the sky, so bright, it made the midday sun disappear. We drove in silence for a long while before Doc asked me to take over driving so she and Jez could try to make a game plan. We decided to stop at the warehouse where we got the truck before returning to the colony to collect a few of the dead, just their heads, and sleep there, allowing us to get to the colony in daylight as to avoid surprising them and risk being shot at by them.

“We need to start at the end life of the virus and reverse the process. The same approach we used in the lab.” Doc said, sitting across from Jez in the back seat.

“I agree, but what can we do about test subjects? Barb had secured test subjects, and several disposable animals to use. We may be able to wrangle an infected or two, but how do we keep them from attacking us once we have them and how do we test it? And Where?” Jez retorted. Their dog fight was beginning to warm up. The two of them sat back there for the whole trip up to the warehouse discussing, debating, bouncing ideas, and sometimes down right yelling about the plans.

They finally agreed on a plan. We would return to Idaho, collecting a few dead and at least one living infected, first stopping at the colony and collecting the notes from the books there, and doing the research in Jez and Doc’s old lab, if it was still intact.

Returning to the warehouse, there was a very ominous feel to it. The air was filled with the stink of putrefaction and remaining human waste. It had rained while we were gone, this made the dead a slimy pile of puss, mucus and blood. The slime, combined with the fact Doc had crushed almost all the skulls and not knowing if that would change the virus and parasite, we only collected one of the damaged skulls. Luckily we found one that she had missed and it was under a semi trailer, so it was still dry. Less chance of contaminants. Doc and Jez also collected as much blood as they could, even though most of it had become as thick as tree sap, the hope was they could still isolate the virus from it and have something to work with. I walked into the warehouse and turned the power back on, and this time I turned the freezer all the way down to ten below zero, putting several cases of water inside. While we waited for the water to freeze, we took the refrigerator that was in the offices, dumped out all the rotted food, placing it in the back of the truck with the fuel tank and filled it with the ice, blood, and heads. It was a tight fit, and if we got into another tight spot where that was our only escape, it would be far more difficult to remove ourselves via the trailer. However, the reward was worth the risk, for now.

We had a plethora of cold drinks, and cold pudding. We debated whether we should put some drinks and pudding in the refrigerator with the collection of test material, but decided the food and drinks were far less appealing after sitting with the decomposing body parts and blood. This was the least eventful leg of the trip thus far. Which left me stressing over what was coming next. I found myself embracing the thoughts of getting to the colony and finding it destroyed, or getting home to Idaho and discovering it was a wasteland, and which one of us would be the next to die. I realized that if I allowed the thoughts to fester in my head, they would melt away much faster than if I tried to just ignore them. My rational brain would take over and show me all the reasons my worst fears were not possible. Strange though it was, it was the only way I could fall asleep that night. Mom had gone to bed as we left the lookout point and was still passed out. I would guess it’s her depression getting the better of her again.

Ever since our first night at the colony, little Jon had stopped crying, after he filled a diaper to the bursting point, we realized he was probably just constipated. He was one of the most quiet and cuddly babies I had ever seen, so much so, I often found myself jolted when he would make a sound because I forgot he was there. Jennifer and Dale spent as much time as possible playing with him, they said it was to try to keep him quiet, but I could see it was to keep them in a state of hope for his future.

The following morning, we began our trek to the colony. Jez had been sitting in the back seat with her head bowed, and hands crossed since I started the truck. If prayer gave her strength, who was I to say anything. I was still having a hard time finding my faith in all this. After Lena was pilfered from this world, it’s not that I no longer believed, I just couldn’t bring myself to give thanks, or ask for anything from someone that would allow that to happen. As we approached the colony, I saw a large pile of dead people outside the fence, the gate was open and it looked like one of the infected were still going from body to body, I couldn’t tell what it was doing, it almost looked as if they were checking the pockets for something?

“Oh God, no!” I screamed as I hit the throttle heading straight for the pile, and the one infected man on top of the bodies.

As I got closer, the man stood upright, it was Jason! I blew my horn as he waved with enthusiasm and gestured us to the gate. Jez cried for joy as we saw Lj walk out the door.

“What happened?” I asked once the truck was parked.

“After you left, later that night we got over run by about a hundred infected, they were all runners, and were charging the gate once they saw Trista standing inside the fence. We took arms and began setting them free.” Jason said.

“Why are you going through their pockets?”

“We decided we should try to identify them and compile a list of those lost. Something we could put together in a book, so as we found more living, we could help them discover if their relatives had fallen. We thought perhaps it could help give individuals closure.”

Every time these any of these kids spoke, I found myself awe. They truly were an inspiration. In all this hell, they were thinking of people they would probably never meet. While the majority of us were simply trying to make it through the day, they were making plans for the future.

Lj walked up to Jez and gave her a huge hug, followed by Ana. As we were telling him about what happened, I noticed there were several more kids coming out the door. Kids we didn’t see last time we were here.

“Lj, was there another wing in there that we missed?” I asked.

“No sir, these are the newest members of the colony. We are up to twenty five now, and we are expecting another twelve to show up tonight.” He replied.

“How?” Jez said in amazement.

“Jason is very good with electronics. Once we got to the main building of the prison, we found an old short wave radio, it took him about a half hour to get it going. He began calling out on all frequencies until he got a reply. The first to reply was another group similar to ours. They were holding up in an abandoned hospital. They were practically out of supplies when they heard our call. He has been putting out his message on repeat since he got it running and has contacted over one hundred others.” Lj said with pride.

“Some as far away as Oregon.” Jason included.

“We have been in contact with a group from Maine. They are rebuilding a prison use as a home, much like we are doing here. Jason, Ana and myself are leaving tomorrow to have a face-to-face meeting with them. In Pennsylvania there is a small group, they are allowing us to use their facility as a neutral meeting place. We will meet to discuss how we can work together to rebuild this world.”

“Are they all kids? All effected by mental illness?” Jez asked.

“Not at all. In fact, of the newcomers, only four were affected. The rest were just ones that gathered together as they found one another. The group in Oregon are prisoners that got free and managed to survive.”

“Wait, prisoners?” Jez, now getting worried bolted up in protest. “You can’t be planning on helping them?”

“We are all the same now mom. We have all been forced into this new world, and we all understand we must work together to assure our survival. Remember, this is no longer the world you lived in, hate is lost and given way to hope. We are building a world based on human life, not money, race, religion, or even politics. I know this task sounds out of reach, but until we stand and reach our hands to the sky, how can we know how far our reach can go? You and dad taught me that.”

“What are your plans for now?” Ana asked, looking in my direction.

“We are going to try to collect a couple of the infected, and transport them back to Idaho where Jez and Doc can take them in their old lab in an attempt to find a way to destroy the virus. Barb gave us some good direction before they were over run.”

“Will you stay here for a few days to see what information we have gathered?” She asked

Jez stepped up, “We would be honored. We can stay in the trailer and eat our own food so we don’t put you out. We also stopped at another warehouse and got far more food than we need, so we can offer some to you before we leave.”

“You are more than welcome to stay inside. It may not be beautiful, but the beds are somewhat comfortable, and there is water for showers and toilets. Several of the men have been gathering building materials to close the cells in. For now, we have opened up a space between two cells so each family has room enough to stay together. We have more rooms than bodies now. It would be a fair trade, your food for our facilities.” Ana said, reassuringly.

In just two days, they had done an amazing amount of work. They managed to get the kitchen functioning and set the mess hall up to feel more inviting. They had two of the twelve cell blocks set up as apartments, and more materials were showing up as the day went on.I did my best to help where I could, but I wasn’t much more than a third wheel. Though everyone tried to make me feel like I was welcome. Just as we all sat down for dinner, we heard a short buzz come over the speakers.

“The new arrivals are here.” Lj said as he got up to greet them.

Lj, Ana, Trista and Jason were the welcoming party. Jez and I followed behind them, just to watch.

Lj gave a nod up to the watch tower, and the gates began to open. They didn’t even try to talk to these new people before welcoming them in.

“What if they’re crazy?” Jez said to Lj.

He took a glance at her and smiled, “We can deal with that then. As of now, they are simply fellow humans in need. They will be treated with kindness.”

As the gate opened, a group of six people entered. The group consisted of two young children, what looked to be their mother and father, and two other, older men, maybe late fifties.

“Welcome, do you have weapons?”

“Yes.” One of the older men spoke, removing his gun and holding it by the barrel and looking at the rest of his group to follow suit. They all showed their guns and attempted to give them to Lj.

“You can keep them until you decide if you want to stay here with us. If you stay, they will go into the groups collection. You can have them anytime you leave the facility.” Lj said, still smiling. “We were expecting twelve, are you a part of that group?”

“Yes,” The mother spoke this time. “We lost the other six last night, as well as our vehicle. We got overwhelmed by a group of infected. We found a spot to hide, but the other car was overtaken. The infected tore them apart inside the car.” A tear flowed down to the tip of her nose. She tried to maintain a look of strength. “One of the people in the car was our oldest son, the other five were the family of his best friend.” She looked down at her hands and continued, “We did nothing, we couldn’t. Not without risking our own lives, and even then, we wouldn’t have been able to help them.”

“Don’t blame yourselves. This existence has done this, not you. You will find no judgement here. We have all seen and done things becoming who we are. It is what bonds us together. We are all family here.” Ana said as she put out her hand towards the youngest child, a little girl. “Please, come in and eat, we have just sat down for dinner. We will get you your quarters after you are fed.”

I was deeply humbled by my sons words and actions. For a boy of 14, he carried himself with the honor and the wisdom of a man that had lived two lifetimes.

We all went into the mess hall, or the great room, as they called it, and broke bread together. There was laughter, cheers, crying, stories and experiences being shared, each time someone at a table would speak, everyone else would sit and listen, not waiting for their turn to spew words, but honestly listen. Then once the person was done speaking, no one would speak unless it was called for. The idea of awkward silence was lost on them all. Silence was just as treasured as words being shared. After dinner, Ana showed the newcomers to their new home.

“Once a week we will be going out looking for pictures and trinkets to help make your space feel like a home. We have a room at the end of the hall filled with toys for the younger children. We ask that each child only take a few each for them to bring to their rooms, the rest is for everyone to play with. We have a couple in the community that watches over the children during the day. This gives the parents time to help where they are needed, it also allows everyone time to get settled.”

The mother just cried.

“May I take the children down to pick out a few toys?” Ana asked.

“Thank you. I don’t have the words to express what this means.” Mike, the father said.

“It is what family is for.” She said as she once again put her hand out beckoning the children to follow. Jez went with them to the playroom and I stayed to help get Mike and Danielle set up. The two other men decided to bunk in a group room seeing as they didn’t have any blood family.

Later that night, Jez and I went to our room. Laying there we discussed our pride in our son and not only who he had become, but what he brought out in those around him.

After taking showers, and a shave for me, mom came by.

“Y’all got a minute for a talk?” she asked.

“Always mom.” I replied.

“I’m sure y’all have noticed I have been sleeping a lot lately?” We both nodded. “I’m sick. I’ve been sick for a while. I don’t have much time left. So I would like to stay here to do my part to help rebuild things.”

“Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” I asked.

“You have enough to worry about. These last few weeks with you have given me a part of my life back. I’m sorry for everything Tom. You deserved far more from me, but I was broken for so long. I hope you know how proud I am of the man you have become. Your babies are a testament to how much good you have given to us all.”

We held each other for several minutes before mom broke away. “Now, you kids get some sleep. I love you both so much.”

“We love you too.” Jez said as she began to cry.

“Damn it you two, this isn’t goodbye yet. Stop it.” I said as mom stuck her tongue out at me.

The following morning we gathered in the great room for breakfast and a morning meeting to discuss what needs to be done, and hand jobs out. It was hard to believe this was such a young community, they worked together like an ancient civilization.

We watched as they divvied out instructions for everyone. People were given tasks based on skills and what they enjoyed doing. No one complained.

Mom was dead set on staying here, and I really couldn’t blame her. She is tired and her body is failing her, she could live out the rest of her days in peace here.

Though our numbers kept dropping, our spirits are soaring. Seeing what Lj and the colony had done in just four days was awe inspiring. They had no disagreements, everyone worked as a team. If you didn’t like something, you brought it up in either the morning or evening meeting and it would be addressed. No one was belittled. There were Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims.

“Religion doesn’t make us who we are, what we do with our faith, and how we give it to others is what’s important. The same is true for race, and our pasts. We are here because of our pasts. However, who we are is based on what we have learned from it. We have no need for political parties because we all share a vision. To live well, to grow, and to share our knowledge with one another. This sets us apart from the world of yesterday.” Lj stood in front of everyone in the great room after breakfast, he continued, “We have been talking with other colonies, we have agreed that we will set up each one under different guidelines. If you feel this is not where you fit in, you will have the ability to travel with one of our groups once a month to relocate. There will be no hard feelings. If you can’t grow where you are, you should find where you can. No one is bound to any one colony unless they make that choice.”

I couldn’t believe he was only 14.

After his speech, we all began packing to hit the road again. We had a long drive ahead of us. Not knowing how many infected there may be, we needed to get some pavement under the tires as quick as we could.

“Lj, Ana, what you are doing is amazing. I am so proud of you both. We will come back to check up on you once we understand the virus.” I said as we got in truck to leave. Lj and Jez embraced, Jez trying to steel enough of his love to last until we see them again.

Just as we began to pull out, Jason came running out after the truck. “Wait! I have something else.” It’s a good thing he caught us, whereas he had already given us everything we need to set up our short wave radio when we got back to Idaho, We had no clue how to work it. Staying up all night, he wrote us a manual. “This explains how to set it up and repair it, should the need arise. It also explains how to use other towers to rebroadcast, so your message can get all the way here easily.”

“Thank you Jason. You are a godsend.” Jez said as she now wrapped him in one of her forever hugs.

Without any further delay, we were back on the road. Our next stop was back by Gersetti ranch to check on Roxy.

We took the main highways this time. We kept a close eye on the number of infected still around. We saw a lot more than I wished we would have, but they were back to the smaller herds of five to ten members each. As we drove past, the ones I missed with the plow, Doc took out with her AR. If we didn’t couldn’t use Barbs cure, we would at least take them out one at a time. We would stop after clearing an area to collect any identification they might have on them to give to Lj next time we saw him, the thought of these people being remembered made it easier for us to kill them.

By nightfall we were only another 60 miles from the ranch, we decided to pull off for the night, again, to avoid surprising anyone and possibly getting shot at, especially now that we were in a new semi. So far I had managed to not get any bullet holes in this truck, and I hoped to keep it this way. Fate however, had different plans.