Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 46

Chapter 46
"You guys new?" The guard at the gate of New Pueblo approached Lone Wolf, dressed as a Vegas guard. "Haven't ever seen you before," he said. He scratched his chest as he looked at Jed, lounging in the passenger seat of the truck.
"Not really. Just never drove the truck." Lone Wolf covered his mouth as he yawned. "So where do I take this stuff?" He looked through the gate. "Can I get some chow around here? We're starved after that drive. The guys in the back are a little cranky, too. The Doc heard you had some trouble, so he sent some extra muscle."
One of the New Pueblo guards looked in the back of the brown van and grinned. "Muscle?" He turned to the head guard. "Hey, Tony, they're all women back here."
Tony shrugged. "So what, Stan? What are you, a Neanderthal?" He waved at the gate. "Go ahead and open her up, boys." He looked at Lone Wolf. "Mickey will show you where to go with this. She's the one on the bicycle. Hey Mickey," he yelled, "take them to the warehouse then show them where they can get something to eat."
The truck drove slowly down the streets behind the young woman on the bike. Jed turned his head and winked at the women in the back. "Told you. Uniforms make all the difference."
"Finding clean uniforms that fit us was a challenge, Jed," Maddie said.
"I'm glad that Tony didn't look in here. He might have recognized us," whispered Annie.
They parked the truck and Mickey got off her bike. "We'll unload when we get a chance. You guys want some chow or a place to sleep?" She smiled at Lone Wolf and winked. "Or maybe some company?"
Lone Wolf chuckled and whispered to her, "That might be dangerous." He pointed at Rosa. "My girl might shoot us both."
Mickey pouted, and then laughed. "Right. Chow it is!" She led them to a meal hall and left them at the door. "You guys won't have a problem getting something to eat. The cook will see the uniforms. Just help yourself. The bunkhouse for visitors is next door." She pointed. "If you need anything, just holler at somebody dressed like me and they'll help." She looked closer at Trisha, who walked passively next to Annie. "She okay?" Mickey asked.
Annie smiled at the woman. "She's fine. A little sick from riding in the back of that crappy van for two days."
"Okay, then. Anything else I can do for you guys before I head back?"
"Is Tomás around?" asked Annie.
"Tomás? Normally he is at his place, but he left after the memorial service the other day. He'll be back soon, though." Mickey looked at her suspiciously. "What do you want to see him for?"
Annie smiled and leaned close to the woman. "I hear he is gorgeous, and after all the ugly men in Vegas, it might be nice to look at a good lookin' one, know what I mean?"
Mickey laughed and got back on her bicycle. "Well, he is nice on the eyes, but he's a bastard, if you want the truth of it. Most of us are scared spitless of him. I'd steer clear, even if he does get back tomorrow." She waved as she rode the bicycle down the street.
"That was a little risky," said Maddie.
"Yeah, well, it was worth it. Now we know he isn't here." Rosa looked at Annie. "Nice job."
"It was a little risky letting you come with us, too, Maddie," said Jed. "I'd guess a lot of people saw you here on your last visit."
Maddie twirled, grinning at Jed. "You said it - it's the uniforms."
Aside from the two guards at the back door, the mansion was empty. Jed pointed up the stairs. "Somebody is playing the guitar, and I hear kids singing."
Lone Wolf finished tying the guards up and they all walked up the stairs.
When they opened the door, Señor Luis stopped playing the guitar and stared at them. He opened his mouth to yell for help and moved toward the shotgun leaning against the wall. In a blink, Jed was at his side, his hand clapped over the old man's mouth. "Please don't," he said. "They just want to see their children."
Lone Wolf walked to the shotgun and picked it up, cradling it under his arm.
The three children looked at the visitors, astonishment on their small faces. Rosa crossed her arms over her chest. "My baby," she whispered, looking at Julio.
All three children looked at Maddie. "You shot Papá," accused Julio, pointing a finger at Maddie.
"No, I didn't actually," said Maddie. "But a friend of mine did." She started to say something else when Trisha stepped forward, walking toward the children. Her eyes were clear and large tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Ashley?" she said, her voice cracking. Ashley looked at her oddly and backed away. Trisha stood still, a look of confusion on her face.
The old man tapped Jed's hand and looked at him with pleading eyes. Jed let him go. Señor Luis stepped forward and gathered the children in his arms, looking at Trisha.
"Mijos," he said to them gently, "these women are your mothers." He kissed Ashley gently on her forehead. "You see her eyes, mija? Those are your green eyes."
"Really?" Ashley stepped forward, looking at Annie. "You have pretty hair." She tugged at a lock of her own hair. "It's the same color, see?" Ashley reached up to touch the tears rolling down Trisha's face. "You don't have to cry. Can I touch your hair?"
Trisha knelt down in front of Ashley and whispered. "Yes," she said. "Can I touch yours?"
Ashley giggled. "Sure," she said.
"Thank you, Papá," whispered Ashley, looking at the old man.
"I have a Mama?" asked Luis. "Papá said you were dead."
Annie looked at the little boy, smiling. She moved forward and sat on the floor, her eyes never leaving the little boy's face. "I think your Papá was misinformed, Luis. We were kidnapped by some very bad people and Maddie and her friends saved us."
"We came right back here when we got free," said Rosa, looking at Señor Luis. "And we won't ever leave you again." She smiled at Julio. "Your name is Julio, right?" Julio nodded, a confused look on his face. "I am your Mama, mijo," said Rosa as the tears ran down her cheeks. She knelt on the floor and held her arms out to the boy, who cautiously stepped forward. "You look just like my little brother did. Just as handsome as your Uncle Javier," she said.
Julio stepped toward Rosa. "I had an uncle?" he asked.
Lone Wolf signaled to Maddie and Jed and they eased their way from the room. The old man had tears in his eyes as they closed the door behind them.
"You think they'll be okay?" asked Jed.
"You kidding me? Rosa will be running this place in a week," Maddie chuckled. "I was afraid Señor Luis would be a problem, but I think he's as happy to see the mothers back as they are."
"I hope so," said Jed.
"If not, I suspect the three mothers will be able to change his mind." Lone Wolf looked at his friends. "They are all vampires, after all."
"Transformed," corrected Maddie automatically.
"Yeah, they'll be fine, but we have trouble," said Jed. "I can only think of one place that Tomás would go in the last few days."
"Selah Ranch," they all whispered together.
"I still think you should have let me drive the plane," pouted Fae.
"Pilot, Fae. You don't drive a plane, you pilot it," said Caru, maneuvering the small pickup truck around a huge crack in the road.
"What about when you're on the ground and you're steering it to get it to the hangar? Isn't that driving it?" Fae pointed out the window. "Hey, look, a couple of deer!"
"You have the attention span of a puppy and you expect me to let you pilot the plane?" Caru made a noise in his throat.
"Yeah, or drive it, anyway. Maybe next time," said Fae. "Are we there, yet? I'm hungry."
Caru rolled his eyes. "For goodness sake, could you keep still for five minutes? There's food in the box behind the seat. We'll be there in a half hour. There's no hurry. Jed and Maddie and Lone Wolf won't be back to Selah until tomorrow at the earliest. We're a day ahead of them getting home."
"Well, we spent a day scrounging up some fuel for you," said Fae. She looked at the cloud over Caru's face and raised her hands in surrender. "I'm not complaining! I'm glad you let me ride in the plane," she said. "Even if you didn't let me fly it," she added in a whisper. She reached behind the seat and grabbed the small cardboard box, putting it on her lap. "Hey, we have lots of goodies in here!" Fae rummaged through the box and pulled out a loaf of bread, neatly wrapped in paper. "Ooooh, this looks like homemade bread." She winked at Caru. "I'll bet Annie put it in here just for you."
Caru coughed, covering his smile, never taking his eyes from the road. He blushed crimson. "A piece of bread and some of that cheese might be nice, come to think of it," he said.
Fae had a mouthful of food when she opened her eyes wide, pointing into the distance at a plume of smoke rising into the sky. "Look, Caru!" she exclaimed. "And I smell smoke," she added.
Caru shrugged. "You burned the zombie bodies, so you should smell some smoke. It lingers, you know."
"Doesn't smell quite the same," said Fae, tossing the box of food behind the seat. "Go faster," she urged Caru.
The pickup sped over the road into the Selah Ranch compound, the tires skidding to a halt in front of the main house. Three soldiers lay dead in the road. The barn was now a smoldering husk, sending smoke into the air.
The door to the main house sprang open and Nancy stood there, waving at them. "In here!" she shouted, and then dodged away from the door as bullets hit the entryway. A bullet smashed into the passenger panel of the truck door. Caru dove into the main house, followed by Fae. Fae kicked the thick wooden door shut and Nancy dropped the brace across the door.
Fae peeked out the window at the bunkhouse where she saw a flicker of movement behind the curtained window.
"Fae, honey!" Nancy pulled Fae close and hugged her gently, careful of her healing ribs. "I've been worried sick about you, sweetie." Nancy wore her combat gear, a pistol in the holster and another tucked into the back of her belt.
Caru picked himself up from the floor and dusted himself off. He held his hand out to Nancy. "Hi there. I'm Caru, member of the family."
"He helped save August, Momma," said Fae.
"Momma?" Caru's eyebrows went up.
"Long story," said Nancy, shaking his hand. "I'm Nancy." She looked at Fae. "August is okay?"
"Oh, he's pretty much okay. He and Claire are coming back here on the cycle. I came with Caru in the plane this morning." Fae cleared her throat. "We brought Ted's body back with us," she said.
Nancy's face paled. "Ted's dead?" She sighed. "I really liked Ted. Everyone else okay?" she asked.
Fae nodded. "Oh, except for Charlie. We have his body, too. He helped kill the Doctor in the big fight."
Nancy sat down in one of the chairs. "Sounds like a tough battle." She looked at Fae, her eyes soft. "I'm very glad you're back safe, honey."
Fae walked over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"I hate to spoil a nice reunion and all, but what's going on?" asked Caru.
Nancy grunted and pointed at the bunkhouse. "Tomás and some of his men showed up yesterday. I guess they were checking to see what was left after they sent their little army of zombies the other day."
"I see they burned the barn," said Caru.
"They tried to burn this place, too, but thankfully Jed was right. The timbers are fire-resistant," Nancy said. A wry smile crossed her face. "Not to mention that a few of the fellas that tried to set fire to the place caught some lead. I think they were allergic."
"Why didn't they just leave and come back with more folks?" asked Caru.
"Probably would have if it wasn't me," said Nancy. "Tomás is madder than a hive full of bees." She chuckled. "He cracks the door open once in a while and yells things, but I don't understand half of what he says."
"Well, that's just stupid," observed Caru, his hands on his hips.
"No, that's just wounded pride is what it is," corrected Nancy. "Lone Wolf said there isn't a cure for that, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to go back home and tell his people that I'm still alive and killing his soldiers."
Fae looked around the room. "Where's Shelly?" she asked.
"Ah, now there's an interesting question," said Nancy, her face sad. "A few hours before our visitors showed up she said she felt odd and needed to get away. She looked stressed and was real jittery. She headed off to the cabin retreat back in the woods."
Fae squinted out the window. "I should go find her," she said. "She might have gone bad wolf on us."
"Bad wolf?" asked Caru and a wide grin split his face. "So you watched…" Caru stopped when he saw their blank looks. "Never mind," he muttered. "He was my favorite Doctor, too."
"Another long story," replied Nancy. "I reckon I'll have time to fill you in on all the long stories if you care to spend the night."
"Holy smokes. I didn't know that Lone Wolf led such a fun-filled life!" Caru chuckled. "I'm in, Nancy. Let me just grab a bow and I'll sit here with you."
"You know where the bows are?" asked Nancy, pointing down the hallway.
"Sure," replied Caru. "Like I said, member of the family. Lived here for a while, but it was too crowded for me." He rubbed his hands together. "Wasn't nearly as much excitement back then, though!" Caru disappeared into the back of the house.
"I'll go check on Shelly, Momma," said Fae, sitting on the floor in front of Nancy and putting a hand on her knee.
"I don't know, honey. Will you be okay out there?" Nancy stroked the back of Fae's hand.
"Hey, I'm Red Fae. Those guys won't even see me," grinned Fae.
"Red Fae." Nancy sighed, a look of pride on her face. "Look at you, all grown up and fighting zombies."
"How did you talk them into unloading so quickly?" asked Maddie, lounging in the passenger seat of the beat-up brown UPS van. Jed was in the back of the van, rolled into a small ball, snoring softly. Even the rough ride didn't interrupt his sleep.
"I just hovered and got them talking. They decided Tomás would be upset if the wine wasn't stored when he got back," Lone Wolf said. "It's better if they decide to do something than if I tell them to."
"What did you find out about the fire?" Maddie propped her bare feet up on the dash, her boots and socks sitting on the floor.
"Seems they had a bad dormitory fire a day before we had a visit from zombies. The people of New Pueblo think about a hundred people died in the fire." Lone Wolf's face remained passive as he watched the road, maneuvering around debris and cracked asphalt. "In a way, they did perish in fire, I suppose."
Maddie said nothing, looking out the window at the passing terrain. It was a long time until anyone spoke again.
"The roads up to Selah are getting worse every year. The winters are hard on them," said Lone Wolf. "It won't be long until the roads are impassable to bigger vehicles.  Selah should be safer then."
"That could be a blessing. Of course, that's why we had to truck this stuff the long way from Vegas on I-40 instead of coming through the mountains."
"Yeah, the mountain route is bad now and getting worse." Lone Wolf shrugged. "I wasn't sure this old truck would make it up the mountain, actually."
Maddie pointed at the sleeping form of her husband. "How about Jed? What happened to him?" Maddie asked.
"I think he is now a cross between a Transformed and a werewolf. We need to have Claire give him a complete physical," began Lone Wolf. He noticed Maddie's grin. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing to do with Jed. I was just thinking of August and Claire, together at last." Maddie sighed. "Finally, something good in August's life, right?"
Lone Wolf stared at the road, his thoughts far away. "Yes, he deserves to know the love of a good woman. Claire is a good match for him."
The front tire on the truck blew, and Lone Wolf lost control for a moment. He brought the truck to a stop in the middle of the road. "Well," he said as he and Maddie got out of the truck to look at the tire, "we almost made it home." He shook his head. "I thought the tires would last."
Maddie looked toward Lone Wolf. "I guess we'd better wake the puppy up. We have a run ahead of us."
"So you called them wendigos?" asked Claire. She and August reclined on some blankets in a makeshift camp. Claire smiled at August, her features soft in the dim light of the fire.
"It's what the tribes called them. Stories of them go back to the beginning of time." August kissed her fingers. "What do your people call them?"
"They don't really have a name, not specifically. My grandfather called them Gidimkharu." Claire moved closer to August, leaning in to kiss him softly on the lips. "The tale of my grandfather and me is another story entirely, August."
"I told you my story. I want to hear yours." August pulled her close to him. "But maybe not right now."
"I was thinking the same thing," said Claire. "We have plenty of time to tell each other our stories. Just be quiet and kiss me."
The stars twinkled in the dark night sky, shining down on the small campsite, where more than one fire burned brightly.

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