Claire slid her swords into her scabbards and looked at Fae. "How are you feeling?"
"Good." Fae giggled. "No - great actually!" She looked around, her smile wide. "Are you sure there aren't any more. They move so slow…"
Claire rubbed her temples. "No, Fae, you're moving fast." She looked around at the corpses strewn up and down the street as the coppery smell of blood filled her nose. "We need to get them into a pit, Fae, and burn the bodies."
Fae's smile faded. "Oh, that doesn't sound nearly as much fun as fighting them."
"You can use the backhoe to dig the hole." Claire pointed to the barn. "It's in there." Claire pivoted to look toward the barn, panic crossing her face. "Oh…" She started to run, but a voice stopped her.
"They aren't there." Lone Wolf walked up the road, skirting the bodies, a bloody tomahawk in each hand. Spots of blood covered the black combat gear he wore. He pointed back the way he came. "We have another dozen or so down the road, around the bend." He smiled at Fae. "That's a good look for you."
She grinned at him. "Isn't it? I was trying to look like Claire, so I grabbed these swords from the wall."
"I will teach you to use them, if you'd like."
Fae beamed. "I'd love that!"
"What do you mean they aren't there?" Claire interrupted. "Sam and Maddie headed for the barn a while ago."
"And drove through the woods at a high rate of speed." Lone Wolf shook his head. "I have no idea where they're going, but we need to finish cleaning up here first. Maddie can take care of herself."
"So I can use the backhoe? I always wanted to drive the backhoe…" Fae started walking toward the barn.
"Dig the hole in the clearing that way, Fae. It has to be a big hole. This is a lot of bodies." Claire looked around sadly. "When I'm fighting," she muttered, "they seem like enemies, but they're just people. Dead people."
Fae's smile disappeared and a look of shock crossed her young features. She stared at the bodies for a few moments. "I didn't think of that," she whispered, her face pale.
Lone Wolf's strong hand touched her shoulder. "Now we need to lay them to rest, burn their bodies. Their spirits were gone long ago."
"Not so long ago as that, Lone Wolf." Claire moved toward one of the bodies. "This was Terrie." Claire scowled darkly. "Tomás said she was in New Pueblo."
"Ah." Lone Wolf looked around the massacre site. "And there is Bill. And Jace." His face darkened. "I think Tomás is an evil man," he whispered.
The bunkhouse door opened and Nancy leaned against the doorway. "Hey Lone Wolf. Where've you been?" She smiled weakly at Fae. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Red Sonja."
"Who?" said Fae.
"Never mind," said Nancy. "We have some issues in here."
Lone Wolf and Claire stepped into the bunkhouse. Claire looked around the common room. The faint scent of pine greeted her from the cut branches over the doorway, but she could smell the dirt and blood on her friends also. Ted leaned against the wall, his breath coming in great gasps, blood dripping from a half dozen wounds in his upper body. Shelly's pale face glistened with sweat, her left arm hanging useless by her side. She was limp against the couch, her head back on the middle cushion. Her eyes were dark circles against the pallid grey color of her skin. Nancy, sitting in the chair, could barely keep her eyes open. They heard Fae grinding the gears in the backhoe and driving it to the small clearing to dig the mass burial grave.
"We're lucky we survived this." Claire looked at Lone Wolf. "If we'd been at full strength, this would have been little more than a nuisance battle. Right now..." Claire kneeled next to Shelly, looking into her face. "You need to go lie down," she said to Shelly.
Shelly leaned close to Claire, whispering. "Linda is in her bed. She didn't get scratched or bitten or anything, but she's wiped out. She said to say goodbye. What does that mean?"
Claire's face paled. "Lone Wolf, check on Linda and Jed. I'll try to stitch Ted up here."
Lone Wolf went into the other room. Less than a minute later he was back, squatting down next to Claire. He leaned close and whispered in her ear. Claire's head jerked up and she quit sewing the larger wounds in Ted's chest. Her eyes were wide. "You sure?" she whispered. Lone Wolf nodded.
Nancy's sharp eyes narrowed as she looked at the two of them. "What? What is it?" Nancy struggled to her feet, leaning against the wall as she moved to Linda's bedroom. Her cry of pain echoed through the bunkhouse. Outside, the sound of the backhoe stopped and the door suddenly burst open.
"What is it?" asked Fae, the swords in her hands, her eyes searching the room. "I heard Momma Nancy scream." Nobody answered. Fae looked at their faces and her swords clattered to the wooden floor. She disappeared into Linda's room.
Fae's howl of pain tore through the walls of the bunkhouse, traveling deep into the woods. Far away, the ears of the wolves twitched. They listened to the faint scream as it disappeared into time and they whimpered.
"Where is Jed?" Claire asked Shelly. Tears ran down her face as she finished stitching Ted's wounds.
"I thought he went to one of the rooms," replied Shelly, her eyes closed.
Lone Wolf's strong hands moved over Shelly's left arm. "Hmm." He looked at Shelly. "Fractured humerus. This is going to hurt, Shelly." He gently lifted her to the couch and laid her down. She bit off a scream as Lone Wolf positioned her arm using the couch cushions.
"And it wasn't funny, either," Shelly quipped. Lone Wolf reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a pinch of herbs that he put in Shelly's mouth.
"Chew this," he said. He turned to Claire who bandaged Ted's cuts. "I'll check on Jed. I think he went out the back door."
The late afternoon sun dropped as the backhoe trundled down the roadway and around the bend. Its bright lights illuminated the carnage.
"I thought he said there were a dozen or so," said Fae looking at the devastation.
"I guess twenty is the 'or so' part of that," replied Claire. "These are the last of them, Fae. How are you holding up?"
Fae didn't smile. "I'm okay." She looked at Claire. "I'm not tired, if that's what you're asking. Except..." Fae easily lifted the parts of a large man's body and put them in the trailer attached to the backhoe. "... except they seem like real people right now, don't they? I mean they aren't decayed or anything, just dead, like normal folk."
Claire sighed, her shoulders drooping. "Yes. These were new zombies, Fae. Someone created them to send them here."
Fae growled low in her throat. "You mean Tomás." She worked as she talked.
"We don't know that for sure, Fae." Claire gently lifted the remains of a dismembered woman and put her in the trailer.
"Somebody needs to ask him." Fae's growl increased in volume. She paused after putting a body in the trailer, facing the oncoming road. "Someone's coming."
"What?" Claire stepped off the road, motioning for Fae to do the same. "Get out of the light," she said.
Fae crouched down near some bushes by the road, nearly invisible in the dimming light. Claire stepped near the trunk of a large tree, fading from sight.
The sound of gravel under tires came closer, along with the high-pitched whine of an electric motor, a barely audible sound to most, though Fae heard it clearly. A black and silver motorcycle glided up the roadway, stopping outside the circle of the lights from the backhoe.
"Hello?" August didn't bother trying to be quiet or subtle. "Someone talk to me, and talk to me now."
Fae sprang from the bushes and flew toward August, stopping as he started to draw his knife. "August! It's me! Fae!"
The big man stepped off the cycle and came forward into the circle of light. Fae stepped up to him and hugged him, tears streaming down her face. "We made a dinner and we had a good time and then we got sick and these zombies attacked and I got to fight them because now I'm like Red Somebody who fights great and now we have to burn the bodies and everyone is hurt, except for Maddie and Sam who are both missing...and my Momma Linda, who died…and Jed went after Maddie and Lone Wolf went after Jed…and my Momma Linda is dead, August…" Her body wracked with sobs as she squeezed August tighter.
August had one massive arm around her, holding her tight, the other hand stroking her long red hair. His eyebrows lifted as Claire stepped toward him. "Does that sum it all up?" August asked with concern in his his eyes.
"Well, not quite." Claire stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the two of them. "Jed is sick, too. He took the four-wheeler to follow Sam. Lone Wolf is trailing Jed on horseback. Jed told me to tell you that I'm over four hundred years old and am like you, so I think you have to explain that. We found a note in Sam's room from a Doctor in Las Vegas telling him to kidnap Maddie." Claire hugged them tighter, as tears ran down her face. "And something is wrong with Shelly, besides her broken arm, but I don't know what."
August held them both in a grip strong enough to keep the earth from spinning, his face buried in Claire's hair, his heart beating against his chest. "I guess that about sums it up," Claire whispered as her tears soaked into August's shirt.