EARTH’S SURVIVORS: HOME IN THE VALLEY
Copyright 2015 Geo Dell all rights reserved.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Geo Dell
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques.
New Jersey: Bear and Cammy
Somehow it seemed that with John’s death they had lost their drive to get out of the city: They had settled into the factory and within a few days others had begun to join them. At first Bear had done his best to dissuade them, silence and moodiness seemed to be his only persona for most of that time, but Madison and Cammy welcomed newcomers and got them set up with sleeping areas inside the factory. They also organized daily outings for supplies, and that enabled Bear to get a better idea of the area they were in.
They had left in the early morning of May 2nd, Bear and Cammy on foot, Madison and Rob, one of the newcomers, in a truck to cruise the fields looking for deer or cows which seemed to be everywhere you looked, at least until you wanted one, Madison had joked. Gina, another newcomer, had stayed to keep things going at the factory which was close to fifty people now. Gina had been one of the first to come along. Tall, young, a shock of red hair that hung well below her waist, but was usually tied back into a ponytail and wrapped around her forehead. “Happy hunting,” Gina had called as they left.
Bear remembered that aloud as they walked, startling a small herd of goats that had been browsing the inside of a gas station as they passed. They let them go without a shot. Shots sometimes bought the dead. For some reason they didn’t understand, the dead seemed to be changing. Less fearful of humans. Faster, out in the daylight. And their use of tools was becoming alarming. More than once they had seen evidence of tool usage by the dead. Here were some they couldn’t hunt. He only hoped things were better for Madison. There was a police precinct seven blocks over where they hoped there would be a stash of weapons and ammunition. No way to know until they got there, but they had passed it a few times and it appeared closed up. Like the cops had seen the end coming and locked it all up before they had left. Bear hoped so. They had plenty of ammunition, but more was a no-brainer.
The Police station took half the day to break into. The cops had never left, they had simply become the dead in a prison of their own making. It had been close at first. They had expected a few dead, but not dozens. They had all seemed to be blind though: As if the months in absolute darkness had stolen sight from their arsenal. They more than made up for that with speed and ferocity though. It was late afternoon before they had what they had come for, which turned out to be no more than a few hundred rounds of ammunition Bear wasn’t even sure they could use.
They had gone floor to floor, window to window, and it was the same story at every stop. Brass casings piled in mounds. They had fought until they could no longer fight and then they had starved to death or succumbed to their wounds. Something: It was hard to tell. The basement level showed the end results of some sort of huge gun fight. There were blocks of cells down here, Bear saw. All standing open and shell casings everywhere. Maybe that was their answer. At least the only answer they were likely to get.
The trip back to the factory where they had been staying was tough. The light was seeping from the sky and Bear had opted for a small pawn shop they had passed a few times before to spend the night. The shutters were intact. They had shot the lock off the outside, but there were hooks on the inside to lock it from there. He and Cammy fit snugly inside. They pulled down the shutters and ran a padlock Bear carried in his pocket for just that purpose through the latches.
The panels where heavy stainless steel. It would take more than a few dead to get through them. They had sat out the long night, listening to the dead smash and beat themselves against the panels, waiting for sunrise, and it had taken Bear once again back to the night a few weeks before when Madison had killed John and they had waited silently for dawn to arrive. Talk was impossible. Somewhere in the night Bear pulled Cammy close to him and they both drifted off into sleep despite the racket and stench from the dead.
The factory was silent as they approached it, but at first it didn’t register for Bear. His mind was on Cammy and her silence. She had awakened silent and she had said little.
He had stepped into a browned smear of blood, and printed his boot track across the concrete entryway before it dawned on him that something wasn’t right. His boot made an odd sucking sound as it came up from the concrete and Bear looked at it. A sound like tape pulling away from your skin, something like that, he thought. The coppery smell of blood hit him, and something else. The stench of death floated out of the factory, slipping under the canvas. He had back tracked a hundred feet in what seemed like seconds, coming to stop next to one of the trucks, leaning against the fender, his breath ragged and rushed.
“Cammy… Cammy.” Bear raised his eyes to the front seat of the pickup truck, and then across the open bed. Empty. His eyes shot back to the bed. Wet, pink puddles. A familiar smell he didn’t have time to place. It didn’t matter though, the cab was empty, safety for Cammy while he figured out what had happened. He levered the door open and Cammy jumped willingly inside with no resistance.
“Honey… Listen… Cammy… If you can’t see me, don’t open the door… Don’t open it… Stay in there.” She nodded, her eyes frightened.
He wore a pair of 9 mm guns with over-sized clips. He had taken them from a dead man a few weeks back and replaced the heavier .45’s he carried with them. That man had been shot through the head. He had wondered about that, but not for long. There were a lot of ways to get dead in this world, he didn’t need to think about that, it was a fact. Whatever this man had done had been bad enough that another living being had decided to end his life. Or maybe he had been just another guy trying to survive and some bad men had found him. He doubted that though. They would have taken the guns had that been the case. What really bothered him was the way he began to work the explanation over in his head. No thought for the body that lay in the street. The violence no longer seemed to bother him. How long before he too was just another statistic? Or an anti statistic? One of the ones who simply shot first and never bothered to ask questions? He didn’t know the answer. And although that should have bothered him as well it didn’t.
The ammunition had been getting harder to find for the .45, but the 9 mm stuff was everywhere it seemed. He supposed some day that would run out too, but for now it was plentiful and he did not relish running out of ammunition. He took both guns out, flicked off the safeties and walked slowly to the factory entrance.
The stench was nearly overpowering as he toed the canvas aside and stepped partly inside. The fire was out, and with the windows boarded up there was little light to see by. Even so he could see the remains of two bodies that lay close by the entrance way. He stood for what seemed like minutes looking down at the bodies, but there was no way to know who they had been. He might have gone on staring, lost in thought, but the nearest one lifted her upper body from the floor with her arms. Gina, Bear saw. The eyes were not the same, but there was something in the face that was still her own.
The eyes were red chips set in a sea of black. Her legs were gone, ripped from the hip sockets it seemed to Bear, yet she struggled to lift her entire body, her stomach convulsing, the muscles contracting, trying to lift her. Her mouth opened and clumps of black blood fell as her teeth gnashed. Bear lowered one gun and shot her between the eyes. Jelled brain splattered to the floor behind her and she lost her animation, slowly sagging back down to the floor.
The sound of the gunshot woke up something or someone else in the farther reaches of the factory. The odd whining sounds the dead produced leapt out at him and the sound of feet dragging against the concrete. Bear stepped back and let the curtain of canvas fall back in place. A second later he was back at the truck where he had left Cammy. She reached over and unlocked the door, Bear ripped the door open, glancing at the ignition as he did. No keys.
He shut the door and ran for the other truck. The keys dangled from the ignition through the glass. He turned and raced around the edge of the first truck and yanked the door open. A second later he had pulled Cammy out when she had seemed to be hesitating, looking toward the factory.
“But… Bear, Maddy…., Bear,” she said as he propelled her toward the other truck.
He pushed her into the other truck. “Cammy… Nothing is alive in there… Nothing. Cammy don’t leave… Give me a few seconds… Stay put,” Bear told her.
There was no movement of the canvas cover, Bear saw. He had been watching it from the corner of one eye, expecting it to move and the dead to come pouring out into the sunlight. He had seen some who seemed to be unaffected by sunlight, but those were not the newly made. After they had been around for a while they adapted, changed, moved themselves away from that limitation. These had not come running. It didn’t mean that they couldn’t. He was taking nothing for granted.
He walked back to the first truck. A few seconds under the dashboard and he had ripped away the ignition wires. He twisted two of the wires together, for the circuit that needed constant power, and then touched the other wire to same hot wire for a moment. The starter spun, caught and then the motor began to turn over. A second later it coughed to life. He dropped it into drive and then backed it around until it lined up with the factory doors about eighty feet away.
He had kept his eyes on the factory entrance. Sounds caused the dead to become even more active. They liked the silence, even so, nothing came from the draped canvas. He watched for a few seconds longer. The canvas moved again and a rotting face slipped from inside, hissing as the sun touched it, quickly allowing the draped canvas to fall closed once more. Bear walked down along the pickup bed to the gas cap door. He opened the door, spun the cap from the tank, and the fumes rushed up to meet him. He had no idea how much was in the tank, but they filled them at every chance, so it should be close to full. He let the cap fall from his hand as he drew his pocket knife, snapped it open, and then leaned back inside the cab. A second late he was slicing through the seat cover, cutting long foam backed pieces from it. He took four of the longest pieces, wound them together and then walked back to the tank.
He studied it for a moment, pushed some wound up rag down into the tank, but he knew that wasn’t going to cut it. He returned to the cab and came back a few seconds later with a tire iron. He hooked the cloth with it and shoved it down into the tank. Once nearly all of it was in, he slowly pulled it out. It came out soaked with gas after the first few feet. He turned it around and stuffed the dry end back down into the tank. A second later he bent and drove his knife into the gas tank where it rested below the body panel for the pickup box. Gas began to splatter to the ground as he withdrew the knife.
He stood, looked over the factory entrance once more and then picked up the gas soaked end of the cloth he had wound together where it had pooled onto the blacktop. The puddle of gas was growing quickly, rolling toward the factory. He probably could depend on that alone to get the job done, but he hated to leave things to chance. He reached into his pocket, liberated his lighter: Spun the wheel and lit it, then dropped the shift lever into drive. In one quick movement he lit the tail of the cloth and then dropped it into the gas that was spreading across the blacktop. The truck lurched as he quickly stepped back, and then crept slowly across the cracked pavement at idle, dragging a trail of fire as it went.
The cloth had set the pooled gas on fire and it raced just behind the truck as it rolled across the lot. The fire ate its way upward on the cloth, reaching for the tank opening at the same time. The truck slammed into the entrance way, seemed to hang up for a second, and then broke through partway into the interior. Bear caught just a glimpse of dead scattering from the heat and flame before the gas tank blew up. By then he was in the other truck, passing by the front of the factory as he sped away. He could see the flames running into the factory. A few blocks away he had turned back and seen black flames creeping from the roof. A few miles later the flames had been eating through the old roof; another fire in a city full of fires.
Bear and Cammy
Madison had found them later that afternoon as Bear drove aimlessly through the streets that were cleared, following the routes they often took for supplies. He had seen a shadow by the mouth of an alleyway and slowed the truck a block away, unwilling to get ambushed. He sent Cammy around the city block so she could come up on the other side of the alleyway on foot, leaving the truck somewhere out of site.
He had made the slow walk to the alleyway alone, both pistols drawn, ready. He had nearly shot her when she leapt out of the alleyway. Torn, bloodied, desperation in her eyes. Cammy had screamed from somewhere behind her and they had both avoided the mistake their nerves could have cost them. Cammy ran to her and they both collapsed to the ground in tears. Rob was in the alleyway dying. Madison told the story once Cammy had got some liquid into her and they had all calmed down for a few moments.
She spoke with a voice heavy with emotion, her eyes leaking slowly. “They came in the late afternoon. I had built a fire by the entrance, we had two deer, flesh blood, I wanted to make sure everyone stayed away, but it didn’t stop them,” Madison said. “They leapt the fire and took us easily, we were completely unprepared. The only reason Rob and I made it out was we were outside when they hit, cleaning the back of the truck, blood.” She took a deep breath and tears began to spill faster from her eyes.
“We went for the entrance, but both of us had left our rifles inside,” She shook her head, “We had…” She shook her head again as if to negate what had happened. “It was only seconds, we thought, maybe minutes, so we left them. We had our pistols, we thought, what else did we need?” She stopped talking and took a few moments to get herself under control.
“It was too late when we got there. They’re strong. Stronger than two men, two strong men, maybe stronger. We killed a half dozen but it didn’t slow them down, except they were now also thinking of us,” she shrugged. “We spent last night hiding in the old school where you found us,” She laughed nervously, “Still standing, what a wonder. No ammunition, nothing. I got a piece of pipe, Rob found a fence stake, you know, one of the construction site type, metal stakes you see all over the city? Sharp, heavy. We huddled together.” She shook her head.
“Maybe just after dawn, it was dirty light through the windows. Gray. Makes everything look like it’s black and white… They came out of nowhere. We heard them coming down the street outside, making noise to scare they dead, maybe, who knows. Sometimes enough noise scares them, usually attracts them though. They came in and there was nothing we could do. We were right in the entrance way, both sets of doors shut. They smashed the glass in seconds.” She looked at Cammy who kissed her cheek lightly and nodded for her to go on. She sucked in a shuddering breath.
“We killed three guys fast. I got two with that pipe. Just crazy… Just… Crazy. Swinging it for the bleachers, just heads. I don’t think they expected that. The fourth guy Rob got with the stake, but the fifth one shot him before he could get him good enough. I landed that pipe a second later, but it was too late.” She looked at Bear who nodded before she continued.
“I couldn’t figure where you two got to… I mean we went back to the factory, it was obvious that someone had torched it. I knew it was you. I knew it, but you didn’t come back and I got worried… We’ve been walking it, but Rob couldn’t go any longer.” She held up two flat black, rubber gripped 9 mm guns. Took them from those fuckers back at the school. “ She shook her coat pocket so they could hear the bullets clink together. A few hundred rounds in both pockets. But they would have had us tonight. I can’t carry him.”
Bear bent to look Rob over.
“Careful, Bear. I think he’s bit. He said he wasn’t, but his arm looks bit to me, and when he was on the edge on passing out it was like he was trying to tell me something… Kept lifting the arm, but he couldn’t talk.”
“Think so,” Bear agreed. He looked out the mouth of the alleyway, the shadows were deepening already. Two blocks west he saw a hurried movement, shadows passing behind broken windows. He looked back down at Rob. The bandaging was sections of his shirt, ripped and folded. The blood seeped past it, and occasional bloody bubbles appeared at his lips. A lung shot, Bear knew it. He would die. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Moving him would kill him for sure. He sighed.
“Maddy you can travel? I ask because we got to.” Bear shook his head, watching the buildings two blocks down. There were no more movements yet, but he knew there would be, and soon. Maddy followed his eyes as did Cammy.
“Yeah,” she said as she looked back and met his eyes. “Something?”
“Several something’s… May as well go get the truck and get back here fast,” Bear told them. “Don’t waste no time.” Maddy nodded and a few seconds late she and Cammy were running down the sidewalk and the truck that was parked a few blocks away in hiding.
Bear turned back to Rob. “Rob… Man… I’m sorry,” Bear told him. He pulled his knife from the sheath at his side and with one quick thrust ran it through his temple and into his brain. A little crunch of bone, but it was thin, the blade passed through easily. Too easily. It made Bear sick, but it wasn’t the first time he’d done it and it wouldn’t be the last, he knew. Rob never moved.
Bear wiped the blade, sheathed it, and then sprinted down the block in the direction Maddy and Cammy had taken. He met them part way up the block. Maddy bought the truck to a rubber burning halt and Bear jumped in. He shook his head as her eyes questioned him. Not about Rob, he knew, but about where they were going now.
“I think it’s time to leave New York… Jersey… Head south, maybe,” Bear said. He met each of their eyes looking for dissent, but there was none.
“That factory got us too complacent,” Cammy said. Madison nodded.
“Let’s find us a place for a few days then… Get our shit together… Some gear… Maps… And then we’ll lite out.” Bear leaned back into the seat. “For real this time. No more indecision.” Madison dropped the gear into drive and the big truck lumbered off down the street searching for ways out of the tangle of streets.
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