Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 24

Chapter 24
The sun sat low on the horizon when Maddie shook herself awake and tried to touch the back of her aching head. Her hands, manacled to a roll bar on the side of the car, slid up and down. She looked at the road as it moved by, not saying anything, but trying cautiously to loosen the handcuffs. Giving up on stealth, she put her foot on the metal dash and strained against the cuffs with all her might.
"That won't work, Maddie. Even I can't break those cuffs. Or people like me." Sam glanced at her, keeping his eyes on the pitted road and pushing the small buggy to its sixty mile per hour limit.
"Then I should be able to break them." Maddie strained against the cuffs again, the heels of her boots leaving indentations in the dash.
"Well, no." Sam grinned. "I told you before I am a man of many talents."
Maddie glared at him, relaxing in her seat. "My head hurts, Sam."
Sam's face reflected contrition. "Yeah, I didn't mean to hit you so hard. I needed you out for a little while, not for hours. Sorry."
"Maybe you could stop and help me put a cold cloth on the back of my head or something?" Maddie's voice was quiet and soothing. "It would mean a lot to me…"
Sam laughed, a long hard laugh, grinning even wider. "Wow. You're priceless. There's not a chance in hell I'd fall for that one."
Maddie jerked the handcuffs, then sat watching the road. She said nothing for a long time.
"We're going west. There isn't anything west for miles." Maddie's voice was neutral now and she seemed relaxed in the leather seat. "There used to be a group in Albuquerque, but they quit communicating a few years ago."
"Well, I happen to know that the group in Albuquerque is gone now. My boss needs a lot of test subjects, and over the years some cities got...used up, I guess you'd say," said Sam.
Maddie smiled at Sam encouragingly. He chuckled at her. "Yeah, I know you're trying to get information, and that's okay. I'll tell you everything. You don't need to get all Mata Hari on me." Sam maneuvered around a wide gap in the concrete, smoothly gaining traction on the road on the other side. "We're going to Vegas, my hometown."
Maddie was quiet. "That's sweet, Sam," she said acidly, "but even if I weren't already married, I don't have any interest in a Vegas wedding. Certainly not to you, despite your charms," she said.
Sam chuckled. "No end to the witty banter, huh?" He shook his head, still grinning. "No, I need to go to Vegas and report to my boss. You're part of my brilliant plan."
"I don't understand, Sam. What do I have to do with anything?" Maddie asked.
"Nothing, Maddie. You're a bonus for me. My boss will be thrilled to have you as a guest. His name is Dr. Doctor."
"You're repeating yourself, Sam. That's a bad sign," Maddie said.
Sam laughed, long and hard, wiping his watering eyes with the back of his sleeve. "Sometimes I forget that outside of Vegas he is hardly known." He still chuckled as he added. "His name is Dr. Michael Davenfeld, and he runs what's left of Las Vegas. Most of us refer to him as Dr. Doctor." Sam grinned with a wicked smile. "Get it? Dr. M.D.? Dr. Doctor?"
Maddie didn't smile. "Yeah, I get it. I'm just not in a humorous mood."
Sam chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose not, but fortunately he thinks it's funny. So here's the deal. For the last few years I've been Dr. Doctor's special envoy to the surviving world." He glanced at Maddie from the corner of his eye. "I mentioned that I was a great scavenger, didn't I? So I travel for the Doc and look for someone - a special person the Doc wants to see badly. Now my job is to capture this guy and bring him in, if I can. If not, I go back, get a team together and then handle it.
"About a year ago I was back in Vegas and got accidentally exposed to his latest virus." Sam grunted. "The old guy is quite the workaholic, but you'll see that when you visit with him." For the next few minutes Sam concentrated on the road, avoiding some of the debris and fractured concrete. He bit his bottom lip then continued. "Anyway, I was exposed to his new virus, but I reacted differently than most of the other subjects. The Doc tested me and was delighted. His virus mutated when I was infected, who knows how. Nature did for him accidentally something he tried to do for years.
"As far as I know, I'm unique and Dr. Doctor wanted me to travel and spread the disease for him. I'm a Typhoid Mary for the W virus. I transmit it when I help prepare food, you see, which is why I was so helpful in the kitchen the other night.
"It's hard to get a real world test in Vegas. The place is wall to wall infected. In one section you have a couple different zombie styles, closely monitored. His enforcers are dozens of vampires and immunes, all kept in line with the blood wine." Sam winked at Maddie. "You're getting a feel for how that works, aren't you?"
Sam swerved around some sections of road that were shattered, then accelerated onto a long, straight stretch of road. "Now, thanks to me, we have the new virus. It makes us faster and stronger than vampires.  Some of us may be smarter. We prefer packs, but some of us, like me, are loners. We have heightened senses. Here's the thing that Dr. Doctor was so excited about: once you recover from the W virus, you're totally immune to the Z virus. Most people catch the W virus and recover. Bingo. No harm, no foul." He glanced at Maddie's face and shrugged, then looked back at the road. "Okay, around half recover. That's pretty good, you know."
Sam stretched his spine and rolled his shoulders. "Most of the rest turn into a nasty little hybrid – bloodthirsty pack dwellers. About ten percent are like me. We get some of the benefits of enhancement, but we don't get the rejuvenation that vampires do. We don't know what our lifespan is, but man, our senses are crazy good. I mean, I can smell you from a mile away. I can hear your heart beating from a dozen feet. I can feel the heat of your body as you sit over there.
"Of course, there's only one thing we can call ourselves: werewolves."
"So you go around spreading a different plague that kills half the population and turns some of the others into crazed monsters? Did I sum that up correctly?"
Sam sighed. "It's a crude summary, and you're looking at the negative side of it. The ones that survive never have to worry about the Z virus again. They can lead normal lives."
"Why didn't I get sick, Sam?" Maddie asked.
"Oh, vamps are immune to the W virus. I think they are too healthy to get it. Jed looked really pale, though." Sam shrugged and grinned at her. "Well, it doesn't matter. You and I have places to be and things to do!"
Maddie said nothing, but watched the road roll by for a long time. Eventually, she looked at Sam and rattled her chains. "I need a pit stop."
Sam said nothing, but slowed the buggy, bringing it to a stop near the side of the empty road. He shut the buggy off and moved the keys around the ring, selecting a small, thick silver key. Walking to the passenger side of the buggy, he addressed Maddie. "Please don't make me fight you, Maddie. I'll un-cuff your hands, then cuff them again. If you behave, I'll give you my roll of toilet paper." He pointed to a small group of trees a few dozen feet from the road. "There's nothing over there except a rabbit, and he's trembling, so I don't think he'll bother you." He looked at Maddie. "Do we have a deal? I could let you wet your pants."
Maddie looked at Sam, her eyes bright with anger. "Yes, we have a deal. I'll behave."
Sam loosened Maddie's hands and fit the cuffs around her wrists again. He handed her a roll of toilet paper and stepped back, out of arm's reach. Maddie moved to the trees while Sam relieved himself at the side of the road. As he zipped his trousers, his ears twitched. "Dammit," he muttered.
Maddie ran fast, but Sam gained on her. Though she didn't look back, she heard him moving closer. She spun on her heel to face him as he caught up to her. Bracing her legs, she thrust her manacled hands toward Sam's chest, her arms straightening with a sharp movement. She expected that the fast contact between the heels of each hand and Sam's breastbone would result in cracked ribs and the end of the fight.
She never connected. As fast as Maddie moved, Sam moved faster, dodging to his left and bringing his right elbow up to strike Maddie in her left temple. She stumbled, stunned. Sam's fist caught her behind her jaw and she dropped unconscious to the ground.
Maddie woke up, her head aching and her throat dry. The sun was down now.
Sam growled, a low deep rumble in his throat, and his eyes narrowed. "I don't need you, you know. I just need the people at Selah Ranch to think I have you. I left enough clues about where I was going that even that dim-witted husband of yours should be able to figure it out."
"Oh, Jed will come. There's no mistake about that. The man you set the trap for will be on you when you least expect it."
Sam laughed. "Jed? No, I wasn't going to get you riled up, but Jed isn't sick. I poisoned him. He might not survive, though most of you vampires are tough, I'll grant you."
Maddie's eyebrows knit together. "Jed's poisoned?" She jerked at the manacles holding her to the car and the metal bar seemed to bend. "I'll tear your damned heart out, Sam."
Sam glanced at the fury in Maddie's face. "Right. Well, I know of an antidote, so you should rethink that plan." Sam looked at Maddie with a feral grin. "No, I want August. When nobody else can come, August will follow. Dr. Doctor will have the man he's looking for and I get my reward."
Maddie sat very still, the minutes dragging on as the road moved swiftly beneath them, the headlights stretching into the darkness. "What in the world does your doctor want with August?"
Sam looked at her, his eyebrows raised. "I guess I gave you more credit for brains. Dr. Doctor wants August because he's the source of the Z virus."
The tires made a whirring sound on the road as Sam laughed again. "I guess you'd call him Patient Zero."
Sam slowed the buggy as he neared the decrepit remains of a small cinder block house along the side of the road. "Though I'd love to make the drive in one long stretch, I'm too tired. I have my limits, you know." He turned off the engine. The silence of the deserted roadway closed about them like a blanket. "There's a side effect of the werewolf thing. Once I go to sleep I'll be out solid for about six hours." He grinned. "Guess you'll have to protect us from any dangers."
"Hard to do if I'm handcuffed to the buggy, Sam."
"Yeah, I know. I have faith in you, Maddie. You'll figure it out."
Maddie didn't smile. "Great. I'm tired of sitting here, anyway. Your shocks leave something to be desired."
Sam walked around to the other side of the buggy. "I'm not taking the cuffs off."
Maddie shrugged, the move making her head ache. "So you mentioned. You can at least let me walk a little."
Sam sighed dramatically. "I'll catch you if you run."
"I know that. I'm not stupid," Maddie grimaced. "You already proved it once."
Sam set the camp up. Maddie walked in small semicircles around the chosen site, stretching her legs, her hands handcuffed. Sam dug a small hole, putting stones around it to create a fire pit.
Maddie moved toward Sam. He stood to face her, eyes wary. "Would it go faster if I helped?" Maddie asked.
Sam smirked at her. "Sure. Want the car keys so you can go to town?"
She shook her head. "No, but even with the cuffs on I can gather firewood." She indicated the cans of beans by the side of the fire. "We'll need a fire to heat dinner."
Sam looked at her. "You're right. But please don't try anything. I proved I can outrun you, and outfight you…"
"Yes, you did. Let it go. I want a fire, some food in my stomach and some sleep, so I'm willing to help."
"I always did think you were the practical one. Sure. Get some wood. That would be great." Sam ran his hands over his eyes. "Out here you can find shrubbery, but get the dry stuff if you can." He drew a deep breath through his nose. "I don't smell any Z's, but this is a bad territory for the persistent ones. They're stupid, but they travel and fight in small groups. So keep your eyes and ears open."
"Great. I'm in the desert with a maniac and I have to dodge Z's, too." Maddie wandered toward some visible brush. "The perfect vacation…"
Sam shredded the materials for a starter fire and used his flint and steel striker to send sparks into the fluff, blowing on it, trying to get a small flame. He listened to Maddie rummage through the shrubs.
He heard her footsteps returning, slow and measured. A bright flame flickered among the shredded twigs and he smiled. "Hey, I got a flame here, so…"
The club hit him squarely in the side of the head and blackness engulfed him.
"So let's have it, Sam." Maddie threw a cup full of tepid water into Sam's face.
Sam shook the water from his face and tried to wipe his eyes. The handcuffs prevented him from doing so. "What do you want, Maddie?" His sore jaw throbbed when he tried to talk.
"I want the antidote to the poison you gave Jed." Maddie stood above him, her eyes flashing, her mouth set in a straight, hard line. "I searched you and everything I could find." She pointed at a few items on a shirt in front of Sam. "Are any of these the antidote I need?"
Sam glanced at the items. "No."
"What is this, then?" Maddie lifted a large flask and unscrewed the top, smelling it.
Sam's face split with a wicked smile. "Blood wine. Go ahead. Smell it again." He chuckled. "Sound good? A sip? I won't tell anyone."
Maddie stared at the open flask, its light fragrance like a perfume.  She couldn't seem to stop her hand from lifting it to her nose again. She inhaled deeply. A feeling stirred inside her and she shuddered. She smelled it again, the fragrance tickling her nose, teasing her brain.
"Nice, isn't it?" Sam asked.
Maddie screwed the cap back on the flask, licking her lips. "I thought you said Tomás was making it up."
Sam shrugged. "Well, I did say that, but I wasn't entirely accurate. It is terribly addicting. It's the source of Dr. Doctor's control over Vegas. He is the only one who knows how to make it, but that will change soon."
Maddie put it back down on the shirt. "Focus, Sam," she snarled. "What about these different pills? Any of them the antidote?"
"I don't have it with me," Sam answered.
Maddie looked at him, saying nothing for a minute. Sam glared back. "I'll get out of this, Maddie. And when I do, I will kill you."
Maddie said nothing. Faster than a striking snake, her fist flashed forward and hit Sam in the jaw.
"Where." She hit him again. "Is." The fingers of her right hand twisted in Sam's hair and she jerked his head back, pulling hard. "It." She slammed Sam's head against the side of the vehicle.
Sam shook his head and growled, his eyes turning black. He strained at the handcuffs.
Maddie bent down and picked up the thick branch she hit him with earlier. Without saying anything she brought it down on his left thigh. Sam screamed in pain, writhing to get away from her, but unable to move.
"I'm being nice here, Sam. I could have broken your knee. I could have aimed for softer parts. Give me the antidote for Jed and I'll leave you alone."
"Dammit, Maddie, I don't have it with me."
She hit him on the same muscle, closer to the knee. Her voice rose. "What? Do you think I'm stupid? You carry a poison with you and don't carry an antidote?" She lifted the branch. "I'm not playing here, Sam."
Sam gritted his teeth. "Yeah, I kinda get that. I don't have any with me because I already used it up in Fort Collins."
"You expect me to believe that, Sam? Fort Collins?"
Sam shrugged, looking at Maddie.
Maddie stepped back, glaring at Sam. "Then what am I supposed to do, Sam? How do I help Jed?" she yelled. "You're useless to me..." She drew the pistol now strapped to her hip and aimed it at Sam's head, eyes blazing with fury.
"Wait!" Sam shouted. "Wait!" He closed his eyes and ducked his head. The shot didn't come. Sam heard Maddie's breath rasping, heard her heart beating rapidly in her chest. He could smell the anger on her like a Viking perfume.
"I can get more antidote. In Vegas," said Sam.
"Another day to Vegas and two days back to Jed," Maddie muttered. She turned away, staring down the long, straight road, an ebony ribbon stretching into the distant darkness. Sam could hear her teeth grinding. "That's a long time, Sam." She holstered the pistol, but fingered the grip.
"It's a slow poison, Maddie - four or five days usually. Keeps them out of pocket and ties up one or two others to look out for them. For normal people it's pretty deadly, but most vampires shake it off after a few days." Sam grimaced as he tried to straighten his left leg. "I'm telling you the truth, Maddie..."
"I have to believe you, Sam. I don't have much choice."
Sam noticed the camp gear was already stowed on the buggy.
"So let's go, Maddie. Get me into the passenger seat and I'll get the antidote for you when we get to Vegas."
Maddie wasted no time. Maddie handcuffed Sam in the passenger seat. Within minutes the two of them were on the road, the bright lights of the dune buggy leading them to Las Vegas, Maddie behind the wheel.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
buy the book on Amazon
Author commentary on Chapter

Visit my Author website

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 23

Chapter 23
August found the electronics Holden needed at the municipal airport outside Brush. He was pleased that he thought of the airport when he saw the tower in the distance. He was an hour back before the sun started to set, so he had to choose between sleeping in a ruin or under the stars. For August, this was not a hard choice.
He tapped the power needle on his cycle with his forefinger. "Well," he muttered, "I guess I'll have to charge you for a few hours when the sun is up so I'm sure I can make it back."
The stream nearby provided water and fish, although he supplemented that with apples still clinging tenaciously to a nearby tree and a small rabbit that curiously peeked at him from under a bush. He buried the uncooked remains of the fish and the rabbit and ate the rest. Washing his face and hands in the stream, August breathed deeply of the fall air.
It was a new world. Perhaps a better one in many respects, though August set small traps as safety measures. It took him a few minutes to settle down comfortably, a large tree to his side. His knife sat unsheathed by his hand, and his bow, rifle and pistol were all within reach. He smiled as he closed his eyes. It might be a new world, but it paid to be cautious.
Dreams rarely intruded on August's sleep, but a ripple flowed into the darkness of his mind as he lay under the branches of the trees, the stars twinkling in the ancient distance of the cosmos. Redness flowed in front of his eyes and he smelled the filth of unwashed bodies, of sweat and blood.
August snapped his eyes open, his hand gripping the handle of his knife. He put his back to the large tree behind him. "I know you're there. I don't want to hurt you," he said to the darkness outside the dim light of his fire.
A thin creature moved toward the fire and sat opposite August. August stared at the glowing eyes across the dying embers of his campfire.
"Hello, August." The voice was tired, the small man so thin he was almost emaciated, his face covered with bristly, dark whiskers. August focused on the squatting figure and noticed the shredded shirt and tattered pants.
"Hi, Hemanth." August looked around and pointed at Hemanth's feet. "What happened to your shoes?"
Hemanth reached past his bent knees and touched his toenails, astonished his feet were bare. "I...I don't know, August. I guess I lost them somewhere." August saw him shrug, a slight movement of his thin shoulders. "I don't need them, though. My feet are tough." He pinched his left arm with his right forefinger and thumb, lifting the skin. "All my skin is tough now. It's like shoe leather, but it still feels normal. My teeth are sharper. My nails are thicker and harder, a little jagged." He looked at the fingers of his right hand. "Quite deadly against normal skin."
They sat in silence for a few moments, Hemanth staring at the fire burning low between them.
"What can I do for you, Hemanth? How can I help you?" August thought about standing up, but decided against it. He held his knife loosely on his open lap. He pulled his boots on, tightening the laces, watching Hemanth's eyes.
Hemanth sighed, the red coals of the fire reflected in a small teardrop from his eye that coursed down his cheek. "I don't know, August. Right now I'm pretty much okay, but that varies from day to day. I have no idea how long I go with blanks in my memory, times I wake up covered with blood and hair and meat stuck between my teeth." He tried to smile, and a sad look crossed on his face. "I brush my teeth with the pounded end of a stick like I did right after the Virus hit the first time." He looked away, into the distant trees. "I thought about ending it. Some of us already did." Hemanth ran his hand over his face. "The change did something to us, too. Made us more… I don't know. Risk-takers? Aggressive isn't right, although that's part of it. Braver? More rash, maybe. It's hard to pin down."
"Holden can help you, Hemanth. In fact, I'm sure he wants to."
"I'd have to get into town, and I'd have to be in my right mind when I got there." Hemanth's shoulders trembled. "I don't know how to do it. I can't predict when my mind slides away. I could walk into town in my right mind and snap as soon as I walk up to Holden. I can't risk it. I might hurt someone."
"You took a chance tonight."
Hemanth smiled. "It's you, August. I could smell you a mile away. Some of the others wanted to come too. We travel in small packs, but I talked the others into letting me come alone. I figured if I could get here in my right mind, then I could talk to you. If I changed..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "...if I changed, then you'd kill me." He looked at August, his eyes pleading. "Either way, I win. You see?"
Hemanth's shoulders shook again, his eyes dropping down to stare at the fire.
"I see. But I wouldn't kill you, Hemanth, not unless I had to. You're my..."
Without warning, Hemanth launched himself across the fire, fingers extended like claws, his eyes dark and blazing with an inner light, spittle flying from the side of his mouth.
August flung himself to the left, away from Hemanth's leap. As fast as August was, the claws of Hemanth's right hand tore through August's shirt leaving bloody furrows along his back, the tattered cloth tearing away.
August stood, pivoting to face the snarling animal crouched across from him, his knife ready in his right hand. "Hemanth! I don't want to fight you."
The creature leaped again, faster than August anticipated. August stepped to the side, grabbed Hemanth's shirt and swiveled his upper body, propelling Hemanth into a tree and leaving the remains of the shirt in August's hands.
The creature shook his head groggily and staggered to his feet, glaring at August with hatred. August rolled his shoulders, feeling the torn skin and muscle on his back. "You're fast, I'll give you that," he said to the creature, "but I've trained and fought with the best men and women of the last few centuries, so I think experience trumps speed." He glared back at the small monster. "I don't want to hurt you, but if you force me to, I will." August moved toward his weapons, never letting his eyes leave the face of the creature who was once Hemanth.
The beast sniffed the air, shifting his gaze right and left. Lifting his head, he let out a long, low howl, the sound of a nightmare from an almost human throat. The howl traveled into the trees, disappearing within its branches. From not far away the howl returned, four or five different voices blending into a symphony of hatred. The others were coming.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
buy the book on Amazon
Author commentary on Chapter

Visit my Author website

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Who Killed Jesus?

From a Christian perspective, that's the wrong question, but it is a good draw. Don't forget Jesus rose again. He wasn't raised from the dead - He rose Himself. That cannot be said about anyone else in history.

But we're talking about the death of Jesus.

Jesus, the Christ wasn't killed - He gave up His life. Even He said "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt 26:53-54)

Did Judas kill Jesus?
According to the Bible, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty pieces of silver. In remorse, Judas threw the money back at them and hung himself. If instead he knelt at the feet of Jesus and asked for forgiveness, what do you think Jesus would have done?

The Romans?
The Romans certainly perfected the "art" of crucifixion. They wielded the implements of torture that beat Jesus, tearing the flesh from His bones and causing His blood to flow into the ground. The thorns that pierced the head of Jesus made blood pour blood into His eyes, Finally, a Roman soldier pierced Him a spear, causing blood and water to pour from his side.

Did the Jewish leaders kill Jesus?
The Jewish leaders delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate, who "announced to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I find no basis for a charge against this man.'" "When he (Pilate) learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time." (Luke 23)

When Jesus appeared before Herod, "the chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate."

Pilate was willing to punish him, though the crowd (incited by the Jewish leaders) insisted they crucify Jesus.

The Jewish people?
Early Church Fathers blamed the Jews, leading most of the Christian world to do the same. A sad list of these noble leaders of the Early Church and what they wrote is found here, and includes Pope Clement I, Origen, Saint Gregory, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Ambrose, Pope Gregory VII, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and another dozen or so up to and past Pope Benedict XIV.

Warning - it is not a pleasant page to read.

What the ECFs overlooked (in my humble opinion) is that not all Jews sought the death of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was a Jew, and a  notable example was "a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action."

When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, I realized who caused His sacrificial death on the cross.

I Killed Jesus. I caused my chosen Lord the pain. He chose to die for me, and even if I were the only one, He'd do it again, though I don't deserve His mercy and certainly not His sacrifice.

I am forgiven, and for that I am eternally thankful.

He died for me. When I see Him again in Heaven (or if He comes again early) I can only think I will fall at His feet in sorrow, but I will gaze into His face with thanks.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Basic Tenets of Christianity

I've been reading. What a shock.

There are five basic beliefs that you must share to be able to claim you are a true Christian. Miss one of these, and you miss the boat entirely. It's like making a cake. You can make a cake without eggs or sugar, and it might look like a cake, but it sure won't taste like one.

You need all five.

1. Believe that the Bible is the inerrant and inspired word of God.

2. Believe in the virgin birth of Christ.

3. Believe in the deity of Christ.

4. Believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of all mankind.

5. Believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and will come again.

"In the beginning, God..." - the first four words of the Bible. Choose to believe these four words and the rest follows.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 22

Chapter 22
A quick rap on their door woke Maddie. Jed stirred and sluggishly pulled the thick blankets tighter around his body. The pounding on the door came again and Jed sat up.
Maddie pulled on her clothes. "Hang on. We're coming."
Jed looked at the dim light through his window, frosted on the outside edges of the panes. "It's pretty early." Climbing out of the sturdy oak four-post bed he pulled his clothes on, joining Maddie as she opened the door.
Claire stood there, her body tense and a small crease showing deeply between her eyebrows. "We have a problem."
"Must be bad to get us up this early," Jed said.
Claire agreed. "Yeah. Everyone is sick."
"Sick? Everyone?" asked Maddie.
"Well, I'm not sick, but everyone else. No, that's not right. Hopefully Sam isn't sick, either. I don't know where he is." Claire led them from the main house to the bunkhouse.
Jed grasped Claire's arm above the elbow and stopped her. "Claire? Please tell me this is food poisoning."
"No, whatever it is, it's much more than that. I saw something like this once before," Claire said moving forward, opening the door of the smaller house. "when the Z-virus hit."
The pungent smell of pine greeted them inside the door. A thick bundle of freshly cut pine branches hung on either side of the doorway.
Maddie indicated the branches as she entered the front. "August?"
Claire managed a weak smile. "He always said pine helps people, but he sometimes muttered about evil spirits too. I didn't think it could hurt."
Shelly smiled and waved as Jed and Maddie entered the main room. An old video, North by Northwest, played on the television. "I've always loved that movie," Maddie said as she sat next to Shelly on the couch. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.
Jed walked down the hallway in the back of the main room, looking into each of the bedrooms. Fae and Linda lay in their beds in the first room on the right. They were both sound asleep. Short, dry coughs interrupted Ted's ragged breathing across the hall. Nancy smiled when Jed looked in on her and she put a small book down on the bed, spine facing up.
"How you holding up, Nancy?" Jed asked, standing in the doorway.  He whispered as if he was visiting a library. "Can I get you anything?"
"A chocolate bar would be nice." They both grinned. "Other than that, I think I'm doing okay, but I'm tired and have a fever. A bit of a cough, too."
Jed rubbed his chin with his right hand, the stubble rough against his fingers. "Nancy, is this like the disease that killed Linda's husband and son?"
Nancy shook her head. "No, Jed. That was my first thought, but this is different. Sort of a cough and fever, and we're exhausted. What killed Beau was a lot worse. He and Antoine were throwing up, vomiting everything that didn't pass through them, if you know what I mean."
Jed bit his lower lip. "When did this hit you?" he asked.
Nancy paused. "Last night we started feeling bad, but thought perhaps we ate something. Around midnight I heard Fae coughing. She's having the hardest time, poor thing. Linda seems to be doing better than Fae, but Linda never complains." She coughed. "Ted felt bad sooner than the rest of us and went to bed right after dinner. I don't know how he's doing, honestly."
"I'll look in on him." Jed looked at the half-filled glass and the pitcher on the nightstand. "Do you need more water?" he asked.
"No," Nancy smiled. "I'm good, Jed. I'm sure I'll be up and around soon."
"Take your time, Nancy. There's no rush. We'll get through this."
Jed crossed the hallway and walked toward the single bed against the left wall, where Ted lay, half uncovered, his bare right foot sticking out of the covers. Jed put his palm against the older man's forehead, and pulled it away.
"You're pretty hot," Jed whispered to Ted.
Ted opened his eyes and tried to smile. "Thanks, but you're not my type." His deep chuckle changed to a cough and he shifted his view to the doorway of the room. "I feel much better than I did this morning," Ted added.
Sam stood in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe, his hands in the pockets of his black, washed-out jeans. Dirt covered some of his clothes.
Jed shook his head at Sam. "You move quiet," he said, his lips in a tight line.
"Wasn't trying to. Maybe you were concentrating," Sam said. "You do have other things on your mind."
Jed's eyes narrowed. "You're taking this pretty well. How are you feeling?"
Sam smiled. "Me? I feel fine - as good as when I got here." He looked at Jed. "How are you feeling? You look pale."
"I don't get sick. Vampires don't get sick. It's a perk." Jed coughed, covering his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Well, you sound like Ted did last night. And you do look pale." Sam's eyes glinted in the dim light of the room.
Jed's jaw tightened. "I feel fine. A little tired."
Sam shrugged. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You've got it, too."
"I've got what? What are you talking about?"
"The W virus. You've got the W virus, like everyone else here." Sam smiled. "I've seen it before, you know. Up at Fort Collins." He shook his head. "I left before it got bad up there…"
"What's going on here?" Maddie stood in the front part of the hallway, her hands on her hips, glaring at Sam.
Jed looked at Sam with a puzzled frown. "He knows what this is. He called it the W virus."
Sam shrugged and smiled. Maddie didn't smile back. "You should tell us what's going on, Sam."
"I'm on a sort of mission, Maddie." Sam pointed at Ted's lined face. "Want to talk somewhere a bit more …well – roomier?" He waved his hand at the small room. He pointed at Ted, who struggled to keep his eyes open and follow the conversation. "Maybe give Ted a little peace and quiet?"
Sam, Maddie, Jed and Claire stood on the porch of the main house while sparkling white snowflakes sporadically danced to the ground and disappeared. Sam sat down in the big wooden chair and leaned back, his feet on the railing.
"I was recruited to study the new civilization that is rising in this country," he said. "I'm perfect for the job. I like travel. I like people. I'm great at scavenging. So I started out on a mission from my boss to map out the new cities rising up. He likes to be informed."
Claire looked at Sam. "He's lying," she said, her face tight.
Sam looked at Claire and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I might be leaving some things out, but I'm not lying."
Claire leaned against the railing on the porch and said nothing else. Maddie and Jed looked at each other.
"You know I was in Fort Collins a few months ago, but I didn't mention they were having some sort of crisis, a sickness or something. It started like this. Holden called it the 'W virus' but I don't know why."
"Why didn't you mention this before, Sam?" Maddie asked.
"I stayed with them a few weeks, Maddie. I took quarantine precautions. I did what I could. Fixed some machinery. Helped where they needed me. Went on a couple supply runs for Hemanth." Sam lowered his eyes and whispered. "It was pretty bad, though. Holden told me to leave, to get away from Fort Collins before I got infected."
"And you came here," Maddie said, her eyes narrow.
"That wasn't my original intent. I ran into Charlie and traveled with him a while. He had a lot of information on places he'd seen, so that helped me." He raised his hands, palms up. "Then there was the thing with the gun. And you know the rest."
"You're still lying," Claire accused.
"You can't be sure of that, Claire." Jed's face was pale and he sat down on the railing. "We need to know what to do for this, Sam. Tell us what Holden tried."
Sam cocked his head to one side, listening, and he said nothing.
Jed's voice sharpened "Sam, we need..."
Sam held up his hand. "I hear something, Jed." The rest of them turned in the direction that Sam indicated with the nod of his head, toward the road leading into Selah Ranch. Sam stood up and grunted. "Crap. I hate to shorten this conversation, but we've got some visitors, and it's not Jehovah's Witnesses."
"I don't hear anything, Sam." Jed looked at him.
"You will. They're coming pretty fast. You'll see them as soon as they hit that turn, but we'd better be ready by then."
"Trucks? Cars? What are we talking about?" Maddie already walked toward the main doorway to get weapons.
"No, Maddie. These visitors are on foot. I'd guess more than a dozen Z's." Sam sniffed the air as it shifted to come from the incoming road. "And I think most of them are pretty new."
The zombies moved at an easy, almost normal pace, most of them shuffling up the road toward Selah Ranch, the ones in front sniffing the air. They wore decent clothing, though some of their clothes had rips and tears. Signs of fighting marred their faces, with bruises and swellings that slowly turned black. Open wounds oozed reddish and yellow liquids that rolled thickly down their arms and legs, leaving dark glistening stains on their clothing.
The worst of it was they looked so human, so normal, except for their blank eyes.
Jed knelt on the front porch, his hunting rifle steadied against the thick boards of the top of the porch railing. He heard the zombies as they came into sight, the shuffling of feet and groaning of dozens of throats. Jed sighted his rifle and shot the first three in view through their heads, blood and gore spattering across the zombies nearest their falling comrades. The crack of the shots echoed against the buildings.
They kept coming, more appearing around the bend.
Loud, evenly-spaced shots sounded from the roof of the second house, zombies jerking at the impacts. An arrow caught a zombie in its hip. Jed glanced up and saw Nancy, pistol raised, firing into the oncoming group. Claire notched another razor-sharp hunting arrow, aimed and let loose in a well-practiced motion.
Maddie appeared on the second floor porch of the main building, a rifle in one hand and binoculars in the other. She leaned the rifle against the redwood railing and raised the binoculars to her eyes, scanning down the road. "I can only see a little around the bend." Lowering the binoculars, she leaned over the railing and shouted to Jed. "Those trees need to be topped again, Jed. I need a more clear view from here, but I can see the ones before the bend."
"It's on my list," Jed yelled back. "More pressing matters at the moment!"
Sam aimed his pistol at the oncoming group and grinned. "Always something, isn't it?" He fired a shot and one of the zombies staggered back. Sam's eyes were darker now, the pupils huge.
Jed didn't answer but fired his rifle and another zombie dropped. The zombies continued advancing and more shots rang out. New zombies replaced the fallen ones and others continued to arrive.
"How many, Maddie?" Jed removed his clip and replaced it with another, fully-loaded one. "This is my last clip."
"Yeah, and I'm out," yelled Claire from the other rooftop. She disappeared back into the building.
"I don't know, Jed. I can't tell. Maybe thirty or forty, and you've dropped about eight." Maddie checked her rifle and leaned it against the railing. "I'm out. I had a partial clip." She lifted the binoculars to look at the assaulting horde. "Oh, crap." Her voice was quiet, but it carried in the small silence between shots.
Jed fired and his rifle jammed. He set it down on the porch, barrel pointing toward the shambling zombies.
"What's the matter?" Jed shouted toward the roof, though Maddie was out of his range of vision.
"Oh my God, Jed." Maddie's voice was a mixture of rage and panic. "Jed, I recognize some of these. There's Mike. He looks almost normal. And Bill is there. And Terrie." Maddie said some words too low for Jed to hear and he heard her footsteps moving back across the roof.
Jed lifted his bow and notched an arrow, firing and missing a zombie in the front of the group, but hitting one behind him in the chest. It didn't pause. "I'm not good enough with this bow to get the head shots." He glanced at the roof of the bunkhouse. Nobody was on it any more. "And Claire is out of arrows." Feathered shafts dotted fallen zombies in the roadway. Jed stood up, adjusting his vest and strapping his machete on. "I guess we're hand to hand now."
Claire, Ted, Shelly and Linda came out of the bunkhouse, each fully outfitted for close combat. They wore their Kevlar vests, combat gloves and eye protection.
Ted no longer carried a machete, but he wielded a heavy pipe. Welded closed and filled with concrete, it was three feet of skull-crushing steel and eight inches of padded handle, designed solely for heavy hitting. Ted moved toward the zombies on the left side of the street and swung his new club with his left hand, the entire force of his six feet two inches powering the hit. The first zombie's skull disappeared in a rain of blood, bone and brains, splattered over a two-foot area. Ted took another step and stopped, his entire body wracked with coughing.
Nancy appeared at his side, ready for combat, and lifted him up, moving him back to the doorway. The others in front of the bunkhouse waded into the fight.
Maddie appeared in the doorway of the main house, rage reflected on her face, a pistol in her hand and a silver katana strapped to her slim waist. "It was Tomás," she said, walking toward the group of zombies. She spaced her sentences between shots. Every shot caught a zombie in the forehead or face. "Tomás did this." Her eyes lit with rage.
Jed stepped into the wide driveway to meet her, walking step in step with her, firing his pistol in unison.  "How do you know that?"
"Because he told me that Mike, Terrie, Bill ... he told me they lived in New Pueblo." Her final shot fired, Maddie holstered her pistol and put her hand on the ebony grip of her sword, drawing the shining katana from its scabbard. She stepped to Jed's right side, giving him a pace and a half. "He did this..."
"He's sending a message, I guess." Sam stepped to Maddie's right side, slapping a ball bat against his palm. Maddie stepped forward to cut at a tall, thin zombie with a torn shirt and rips down its chest, her sword slicing down from its left shoulder to its right hip. Viscera slipped out, tripping the zombie, but it still struggled forward. Sam crushed its skull. The two of them moved to engage zombies on the right, stepping away from Jed.
Jed pulled a darkened machete from a sheath on his back and stepped into the battle. A thick-bodied zombie approached him, lumbering, its large hands clenching and unclenching. The bruised and swollen face of the zombie made it look like a drunkard coming from a brawl. Fresh bruises on its arms and upper body, already starting to rot, indicated that the conversion to zombie hadn't gone easily. It had no shirt, and its pants were already torn and shredded over thick legs. Jed brought the machete back to slice at it, but stopped, a look of surprise and shock on his face as the zombie faced him, an odd sound emanating from its throat.
"Jace?" Jed stuttered the name. For a brief moment, Jed quit moving, frozen in time, and the zombie lunged at him. It swung a massive fist and knocked the machete from Jed's hand. It clasped Jed's arm and its jaws opened wide to bite Jed's neck. The foul stench of death and rot exuded from the creature once called Jason. Jed pushed at the zombie's chin with the heel of his hand, keeping the gaping mouth from closing on his flesh. The zombie pulled Jed closer, wrapping thick arms around Jed's body. Jed pushed harder, trying to free himself, but Jason was a new zombie and he was strong.
The right side of the zombie's head exploded and its arms slackened as it fell, familiar features and a single blue eye staring at Jed as it dropped to the ground. What was left of its mouth moved, a sound coming from it. In Jed's mind it was a drawn-out whisper, a long slow exhale that sounded like his name coming from the mouth of the creature who was once his close friend.
Claire holstered her pistol and grabbed Jed's left shoulder. "You can thank me later, but right now you need to get your head back in the game." Jed reached down and picked up his machete. "We have at least another twenty Z's coming up the roadway," snapped Claire.
Claire moved back to the group in front of the bunkhouse, stepping to Ted's right side. "Remember, Ted. You cover the left. I cover the right."
"Okay," Ted gasped, standing taller and hefting his club. "Only send me the little ones, please. I'm not sure I can take a full-size today." Claire chuckled drily and sliced the neck of an oncoming zombie, stepping further into the enemy group. Ted stepped forward as well, crushing the skull of the next zombie on her left. Another moved toward him and grabbed his left arm, biting at him. Ted stumbled.
Linda hit the zombie with a baseball bat, not hard enough to kill it, but hard enough to make it step back and trip over a body in the road. Ted's new club crushed its skull before it could stand again.
Shelly's voice rose above the noise of the fighting. "Hey, guys! We have a problem."
Jed didn't take his eyes from the zombie he was fighting. A large zombie's arm blocked his machete as it reached for him with its left hand. "What, Shelly? What is it now?"
"They're coming up from the sides and behind us."
Thick red ooze covered the gravel drive. Nancy pivoted on her left foot and stumbled, moving back to team with Linda, now facing their flank. "Dammit. I'm a little dizzy here." She crushed the skull of a zombie and it toppled to the ground. The one behind it, oblivious to its fallen comrade, advanced toward the two women.
Sam grunted at Jed. "They're flanking us."
Jed spun around and fired his pistol at a zombie near the back corner of the bunkhouse. It stumbled and struggled to get back to its feet, a thick yellowish liquid slowly working its way down the new wound in its chest. A tattered shirt and bra showed exposed ribs and muscle tissue. "I don't think it's intentional, Sam. Some came up the roadway, and others took the straightest path through the trees. There's no way we could anticipate that."
"Not very defensible, Jed. Not a good layout."
Jed growled back. "It used to be better, but I let the brush and trees grow back, except for the trails to the river. We didn't have a need. There was nothing to draw them to us this far up the road."
"Well, something is drawing them now." Sam knocked another zombie to the ground and sliced the tendons in its right arm.
Maddie grunted as she sliced at another attacker. "This was deliberate. Tomás is behind this."
Jed shouted at her. "I know, Maddie. I saw Jace. I get it."
Maddie's voice was hard. "Yeah, and I had to kill Mike, so this is personal now."
Sam laughed. "Tomás probably thought it was personal when you shot him in the leg, Maddie."
"That wasn't me. That was Nancy." Maddie's voice was a snarl barely audible above the sounds of violence around them. "I wish she'd shot him in the head now." Maddie sliced at two other zombies who fell back. "Whose side are you on, anyway, Sam?"
Sam paused and looked at the zombies starting to surround them. "We need to get behind them. I have the flamethrower on my buggy, but I'll need help."
"I'm right with you," Jed pivoted and sliced a zombie deep into the shoulder.
"No, I'll go with him. You're doing more damage here than I am." Maddie's eyes glowed. "And when we finish here we're paying Tomás back."
"Escalation archetype," muttered Jed, under his breath. Maddie said nothing but started to move with Sam to the west side of the main building, killing the few zombies that wandered her direction.
"We'll be back in a few minutes, Jed." Sam wiped his face with his tattered sleeve. "Keep them busy a little longer and we'll cook them all at once."
Jed coughed, a deep wracking sound from the middle of his chest. "Keep Maddie safe, Sam," he said, turning back to the fight.
Sam laughed as he and Maddie disappeared around the corner of the building, heading toward the barn. "Are you kidding? She'll keep me safe."
The sounds of the fight faded behind them as Sam and Maddie ran toward the front of the barn and pulled the doors open. The two-man buggy sat in the center of the barn, the shining open frame reinforced with steel bars.
Maddie moved to the passenger side of the buggy as Sam started the engine. "Where's the flame thrower, Sam?" She got on her knees to look into the back seat.
"I'm sorry, Maddie. I didn't get a chance to install that yet." As the wrench crashed into the back of Maddie's head she collapsed in the seat. Sam strapped the seat belt around her waist and pulled a pair of handcuffs from the glove box. Once Maddie was cuffed to the roll bars he buckled himself in. "I wasn't expecting company for a few days, and I thought we'd be long gone by then." Wheeling the buggy into the main gravel area, he spun the steering wheel and drove through the trees traveling away from Selah Ranch.
Jed brought his machete down across the neck of a young female zombie. It toppled to the ground, legs twitching, blood oozing from the arteries in its neck.
"I was sure I heard the buggy," Jed shouted to the others.
"Well, I sure don't see it anywhere, and we're being overwhelmed here." Nancy chopped at another zombie and he dropped to the ground, but continued to crawl toward her. "They must have run into other zombies by the barn." She and Shelly backed to the wall of the bunkhouse. The crawling zombie tried to grab Nancy's leg.
"No, you don't." A hardwood baseball bat smashed the zombie's skull. Linda looked at Nancy, smiling. "Not as good as a shotgun, but a darn sight better than a stick."
"Or an oar," Nancy added. They shared a look and Linda patted Nancy's arm as she passed.
"Get back to the bunkhouse. We'll barricade ourselves in and take them out one at a time." Claire whirled around, the black blade of her sword slicing through zombies, one on each side. "Linda, can you help Ted? I think he's hurt."
Linda reached down and helped Ted to his feet. They stumbled as they moved along the bunkhouse wall toward the door.
"Fae! We need you to open the door for us!" Nancy shouted, as more zombies moved toward them from the other end of the street. No response came from the bunkhouse.
Shelly and Nancy backed against the closed door and Shelly fumbled with the knob. The door opened and they stepped in. "Hurry! They're getting too close!" Nancy coughed, blood appearing on her sleeve. Shelly looked at her. "It's from that big one over there. He clobbered me a few times." She grimaced. "Cracked a rib, maybe."
Linda moved toward the door, the tall figure of Ted stumbling beside her. Claire picked up Ted's modified club and balanced it in her left hand. "Not bad, Ted," she muttered. "Not bad at all."
As Linda stepped into the doorway, Ted pushed her away, into the bunkhouse. He stepped back into the roadway. "Claire," he rasped, his voice shaky, but deep and thick, "give me the club and get in the bunkhouse."
Claire clubbed a zombie on her left and sliced one on her right, moving with the speed of a cobra, her arms so fast Ted couldn't even see them.
"I don't think so, Ted. I think you're sort of sick. You need to get in there." She backed up to Ted then glanced at his face, eye to eye.
He smiled. "No, Claire." He showed her the torn sleeve, the blood flowing from the bite on his arm. "They got me." He smiled at her as his body shook. "Give me the club. Be safe."
Tears formed in Claire's eyes. "I never told you my story." She handed him the club and kissed his cheek, her soft lips rasping against the white stubble. "I do have a secret."
Ted shuddered again, nodding. "I can guess it, Claire. I've always loved stories of legendary heroes. You've been at this a long time, haven't you?"
She smiled at him. "Since ancient times, my friend." Claire shook her head. "There's still a chance, Ted, a chance you're immune, or a chance you'll transform."
A wave of vertigo swept over Ted and for a second his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He shook his head and gasped. "I don't think so, Claire. At least let me take a few of my killers with me." He cupped her cheek in his right palm and gently kissed her lips. He pushed her toward the door.
"Be safe," Ted whispered as he walked toward the approaching zombies and started crushing them. They fell to his right and his left, but a fallen one grabbed his feet, causing him to stumble. Ted struck another one and it clenched his left arm in its mouth. Five more advanced, attacking him. Ted disappeared beneath a half dozen zombies.
"Veni. Vedi. Vici." Ted's deep voice was muffled by zombies as they covered him.
Ted closed his eyes, giving in to the hands and teeth that attacked him, the weight of the bodies crushing the breath from him as he lay in the gravel and dirt of the roadway. He felt an odd sense of peace come over him.
The sunshine blinded him as the weight of the bodies lessened.
"We came. We saw. We conquered. That last part is important, Ted." Jed reached down and lifted Ted up from the ground. Unmoving zombies and body parts lay scattered on the ground around them.
"You don't understand, Jed. I'm bitten." Ted took half a step away from Jed, his head swimming and a dazed look in his eyes.
"Yeah, I can see that. We'll do what we have to do, but that doesn't mean letting them tear you apart." Jed propelled the weakened tall man toward the bunkhouse doorway. "Shelly, tie him up in case things go bad." He looked at the other zombies shuffling toward him.
"If Maddie and August were here, we could finish these. There are fifteen or so left..."
"Well, I'm here, Jed. Between the two of us, we can make a dent in this group before we have to retreat."  Claire now held two sharp swords, one in each hand. She moved toward a group of four zombies and attacked them, her left blade slicing the arm off one, her right blade slicing down through the right side of another's neck. Before they could react, the blades sliced again. She stepped forward in a crouched lunge, taking the leg off one zombie at the knee. As she rose from the lunge, her other sword caught a zombie below the chin, slicing its head off.
Jed moved toward the small group to the left of the one Claire attacked, doing similar damage at the same speed. Claire stepped back, taking the head from a zombie crawling on the ground, and pivoted toward one of the ones in Jed's group, cutting it in half with a horizontal strike.
"You move like a Transformed, Claire. I thought you were immune." Jed panted a little, his machete ready in his hand. They turned to face a group of a dozen zombies coming toward them from the original direction.
"Well, there's a story there Jed. I'll tell you later." She grinned. "It's a family secret, sort of, but I guess it doesn't matter anymore. I am immune, but I was born that way."
They advanced on the dozen remaining zombies as Jed laughed. He stopped walking and stared at Claire, who also stopped, giving him a puzzled look. Jed started to laugh, but the laugh turned into a cough and he stumbled. "Just one question and I'll hear the rest of your story later if that's okay."
Claire kept one eye on Jed's pale face and the other on the advancing horde. "Go ahead," she said.
Jed straightened, a grimace of pain on his face. "How old are you, Claire?"
Claire looked at him, puzzled. "I guess it doesn't matter any longer," she said, as she shrugged. "A little over 400. I was born in ancient Egypt."
Jed's breath come in gasps. "I thought so." He chuckled. "You need to talk to August..." He dropped to one knee. "I'm sorry, Claire. Something's wrong with me. I don't feel well." Jed took a deep breath and stood back up. "But let's do what we can to finish these off, shall we?"
Claire's mouth set in a firm line, her eyes assessing Jed's face. "You need to get inside, Jed."
"Even if you're as good as August, and you might be, you can't take a dozen without help, and everyone is down with this W Virus."
Jed took three steps forward and stumbled again. Claire grabbed his arm and pushed him easily toward the bunkhouse door. She put her back to the bunkhouse and faced the remainder of the zombies.
"You're about to collapse, Jed. Maddie would kill me if something happened to you." Claire gritted her teeth. "We'll hole up in the bunkhouse and pick them off, like you said earlier."
"Yeah, we can do that, I guess." Jed's rasping breath came in great gulps now, his voice weakening as he opened the door and stepped in. "Where is Maddie?" he asked.
A flash of red hair erupted past Jed as he moved through the bunkhouse. He glanced around, knowing he could do nothing for his family. Shaking his head to clear it, he paused. He had to find Maddie. He slipped down the hall and out the back door, heading for the barn.
Dressed in combat black, Fae ran into the road, laughing maniacally. She held twin katanas in her hands as she charged toward the zombies. Claire said something in an ancient language, short and sharp. "Can somebody please help Jed?" she asked.
"I'll take care of him," whispered Shelly, her pale face at the door. She held one arm close to her chest.
"Thank you," Claire whispered. She turned to save Fae.
Fae was a whirlwind among the zombies. They moved to attack her, but she was no longer there, her swords striking zombies down around her. Blood flew everywhere, and over the moaning sounds of the zombies Claire heard Fae giggling.
Claire moved forward at lightning speed, intercepting zombies moving toward Fae from the left. With quick efficiency from half a millennia of practice Claire dispatched four zombies and turned to Fae, who now stood in the middle of unmoving zombie parts, blood spattered everywhere.
Fae grinned at Claire, a low growl emanating from her throat. "That was fun. Any more of them?" she asked.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
buy the book on Amazon
Author commentary on Chapter

Visit my Author website

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 21

Chapter 21
Soft flakes of snow drifted down from the leaden clouds in lazy swirls, barely touched by the slight breeze that tickled the trees. Sam stood silent and still in the small clearing deep in the woods. His eyes moved, scanning the ground for signs among the damp brown leaves and soft white snowflakes. The deep blackness of night gave way to the soft grey of the early sky, heralding the coming of a new dawn.
Sam lifted his head and breathed deeply in through his nose. He turned to his left, toward the lithe figure leaning against a small birch, arms crossed.
"I've been searching the woods for you," Sam said. He drew the air in through his nose again, but the breeze came from behind him now and he smelled the wet leaves, the sleeping trees and the chill in the air that floated with the snow.
Lone Wolf studied Sam, his dark eyes unnerving. "I know," he replied.
Sam turned his entire body to face Lone Wolf, grinning, white teeth bright in the dim pre-dawn light. "I finally found you."
"No, you didn't." Lone Wolf's eyes twinkled with laughter.
"I heard you, you know. In the trees," growled Sam.
Lone Wolf shook his head, but his eyes never left Sam's face. "No one hears me unless I want them to."
"I'm not the normal person," said Sam.
"I realize that. You have some impressive abilities, but little skill," said Lone Wolf.
Sam's head jerked back, a growl rising from his throat, unbidden. "What does that mean?"
"You're like a wolf pup running through the forest, thinking you hear everything, smell everything. Yet you don't have any concept of how to truly sense anything."
The growl rose in volume. Sam choked it back. "Hey, I'm a lot more than that."
"I know you think so," Lone Wolf said.
Sam didn't even try to stop the growl this time. His eyes narrowed and he pointed at Lone Wolf with his right index finger, the thick nail dull in the light. "I found you."
"No, you didn't. I came to you." Lone Wolf silently shifted his weight. The leaves and twigs under his feet didn't move. "What do you want from me?"
"I knew you last night, you know, as soon as you walked into dinner. You look like your pictures." Sam moved his feet, a small twig snapping under the leaves and he narrowed his eyes. "The pictures weren't very clear, but they were you, helping August escape."
"Ah. Pictures."
Sam smiled. "They showed me pictures of August, too. I didn't know he was your brother, of course."
Lone Wolf's smile did not disappear, but it dimmed. "I understand now," he said.
Sam's muscles bunched across his shoulders. "And I have a mission."
Lone Wolf's eyes reflected a deep sadness. "Of course."
Sam reached for his pistol, but Lone Wolf was a blur; he appeared before Sam, took the pistol and tossed it into the bushes outside of the clearing.
"You're damned fast," Sam said. He swung at Lone Wolf, fingers extended like talons, but Lone Wolf no longer stood there. He stood five feet from Sam, facing him, his body relaxed.
Sam moved, leaves lifting from the ground at his heels. He punched at Lone Wolf's face, yet the Indian's face was no longer there. He punched at his body and Lone Wolf twisted to the side, Sam's fist narrowly missing. Sam grunted and continued to swing at the man in the buckskins. Repeatedly his hands moved like lightning toward the dark-skinned warrior, yet his fists met only air.
Sam stepped back, breathing hard, eyes narrowed. He looked at Lone Wolf, standing unruffled a few steps in front of him.
"That's impossible," he said through clenched teeth. "Nobody can move as fast as I can."
"You are impressive," Lone Wolf acknowledged. "Also mistaken."
"I'm supposed to kill you if I find you," said Sam.
Lone Wolf smiled, inclining his head toward Sam in a slight bow.
"I have a job to do." The growl rose in the back of Sam's throat, his dark glittering eyes focused on Lone Wolf. In the blink of an eye, Sam stooped and grabbed a heavy stick, throwing it toward Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf was no longer there. He wasn't anywhere.
Sam spun around in a circle, looking for the warrior. "I tracked you once. I can track you again," he shouted, the growl audible now.
A sound floated to Sam on the slight breeze, soft as a feather touching his face. Perhaps it was a voice. Perhaps it was the wind. It was a word. Pup.
Sam screamed, his head back, his face lifted to the sky. The snowflakes quit falling as the sun started its slow rise into the morning sky.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
buy the book on Amazon
Author commentary on Chapter

Visit my Author website