Fae looked at Shelly, her eyes quizzical. "What are you doing up here?" she asked.
Shelly didn't even look surprised. "I heard you coming, you know. How did you find me?" she asked.
Fae giggled. "Duh. I can smell you. Like you can smell me." She sat down on a log next to Shelly, her face crinkling as the cold damp seeped into her pants.
"Yeah. I smell bad again," pouted Shelly.
"Not so much to everyone else. And not bad. I mean not like wet dog." Fae wiggled a little on the log. She shrugged and gave up trying to get comfortable. "I was a little worried we'd smell like wet dog."
Shelly grinned, her face lightening. "That would be the worst," she said.
"So what are you doing up here?" asked Fae, pointing toward the main buildings of Selah Ranch visible in the distance. "Why not down there with Nancy and us?"
Shelly sighed, a cloud once again settling over her features. "Hiding. Watching." She pointed toward the buildings. "I saw you come home. Who's the skinny guy?"
"Caru. Long story. Love to tell you. Why not come back with me?" Fae asked.
A tear appeared in the corner of Shelly's eye. "Because the pills aren't working for me. I mean, they work most of the time, but I was in the kitchen making breakfast and the next thing I know I'm outside running through the trees." The tear rolled down Shelly's cheek and she brushed it away. "I don't even remember leaving the house. So I went back and told Nancy I had to leave."
"Oh." Fae said. She remained quiet for a few moments. "Where's your shoes?"
Shelly shrugged. "I don't know. I ditched them somewhere, I guess. I was barefoot in the woods. I don't need them."
Fae nodded. "Yeah, that part is cool." She pointed at Shelly. "But we're not bulletproof, in case you were wondering."
"Never crossed my mind," Shelly said, eyebrows raised.
"We are scratch-resistant, though," said Fae, looking at the distant buildings. "At least from zombies."
"Good to know," said Shelly.
"So why not come back now? With me?" asked Fae.
Shelly looked at her. "What if I lose it again?" asked Shelly.
Fae shrugged. "I'm there. I can keep you safe until Claire gets home to help you."
The cloud over Shelly's face lifted. "Where is Claire?" she asked.
"I don't know. She should be back tonight or tomorrow. She and August are coming back from Vegas together," Fae said.
Shelly laughed and a grin crossed her face. "Finally. I thought those two would never get together." She couldn't stop a small giggle. "They probably won't be home until tomorrow, then."
Fae shrugged. "No problem. We stick together. I keep you safe. So what do you say?" she asked.
Shelly stood up from the large rock she sat on, brushing the dirt and twigs from the seat of her pants. "It's a good plan." She hugged Fae. "Just make sure I don't hurt anyone, okay?"
"Hey, Red Fae never lets you down," Fae giggled.
The two of them ran toward Selah Ranch.
Jed held his hand up and Maddie and Lone Wolf stopped next to him. "I smell smoke. Like old wood, not like the fire we used to burn the corpses."
"Well, we expected some sort of trouble, didn't we?" asked Maddie, a look of concern on her face.
"We should scout the area around the houses so we know what we're walking into," said Lone Wolf.
"Great," groaned Jed, looking at Maddie. "Now we have to sneak into our own ranch." They both turned to look at Lone Wolf, but he was gone.
"I hate when he does that," said Jed.
"It is a neat trick though," said Maddie, grinning. "Where to?"
"How about along the river, then we can check the buildings."
They both started trotting again, Jed keeping up with Maddie with almost no effort. She looked at him as they ran. "So how fast are you now?" she asked.
Jed shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't run full-out since I changed." He looked at his hands for a moment. "I am pretty strong now, though."
Maddie grunted. "Man of steel, woman of tissue?"
Jed laughed as they ran. "Not that drastic, I think."
As they walked up to the ranch buildings from the river, Lone Wolf stepped from the trees. "The barn is burned. Our people are in the main house and there are others in the bunkhouse."
They approached the back door of the ranch house as Fae and Shelly appeared, both winded.
"I am so glad to see you!" said Shelly, hugging Maddie.
"Same here," said Maddie. She looked at Shelly's bare feet, puzzlement on her face.
"Don't ask," said Fae, wiggling her own toes within her boots.
"So why doesn't he just go back to New Pueblo and get more people to finish us off?" Shelly asked.
"It's that pride thing," said Nancy.
Caru grunted. "He also thinks when he doesn't come back they'll send a patrol out for him. That's less embarrassing for him."
"What are the chances of that happening?" asked Shelly.
"Almost none," replied Maddie. "I think with Tomás gone and with Señor Luis backing her, Rosa will be running the town by now."
"And they'll probably welcome her," added Lone Wolf. "Tomás wasn't well-liked."
"Maybe that's why the old man carried the shotgun in town, huh?" muttered Nancy. Caru just looked at her.
"So if he's waiting for reinforcements, maybe we should let him know they aren't coming," pointed out Jed.
"Someone should watch the back door of the bunkhouse to make sure they don't get away," said Maddie.
"I will do that," said Lone Wolf.
"Not by yourself. More than one might try to escape, and they are armed," said Jed.
"We'll go with him," said Shelly, looking at Fae. At the surprised looks, she added "I have my reasons. It's better if I'm outside right now." She looked at them, a sad look on her face. "I'm having problems with my meds, I think."
"Oh," said Nancy. "I get it now." She looked at the others. "When does Claire get back?"
Maddie shrugged. "We didn't think there would be a reason to hurry back to the ranch."
Shelly smiled. "Well, if I know Claire, she could keep August busy for quite a while."
"Hey, Tomás, can you hear me?" shouted Maddie from the partly open door of the main house.
A few seconds passed. "I hear you, Maddie. What do you want?"
Maddie ground her teeth and took a deep breath. "The real question is, what do you want, Tomás?" she said. "Are you checking on the results of your little attack?"
The pause stretched out. "I see. Well, I was doing so, in fact." The anger rose in his voice. "I was greatly saddened to see that Nancy survived that encounter."
"You damned bastard," shouted Nancy, but Jed held his hand up.
"Let Maddie handle this, Nancy," he said.
"I'd rather just shoot him," Nancy replied, her voice tight with anger.
"Yeah, me too," said Jed, gritting his teeth.
"I hear she is still quite vocal," yelled Tomás.
"If you're waiting for reinforcements from New Pueblo, Tomás, they aren't coming," shouted Maddie. She looked at Jed. "Might as well just cut to the chase," she said.
The seconds ticked by and there was no response. Finally a different voice spoke up from the bunkhouse. "How do you know that?"
"Who are you?" asked Maddie.
"I am Phillip Harlan, the Patrón's right-hand man," said Phil.
"And why am I not speaking to Tomás right now?" asked Maddie.
"He no longer wishes to speak with you. Why do you say reinforcements are not coming from New Pueblo?" asked Phil. "How do you know this?"
"Because we took Rosa, Annie and Trisha home to their children," said Maddie, not trying to conceal the glee in her voice. "If you know Rosa, the city no longer belongs to your Patrón."
Silence descended between the buildings.
"I don't think they want to talk anymore," said Maddie.
"I didn't see him, all right?" said Fae, trotting next to Lone Wolf and Shelly.
"You were supposed to be watching the back door," said Shelly.
"I was, but, well, okay, I got hungry and sat down to eat my sandwich," said Fae.
"Enough, both of you," said Lone Wolf. "Tomás moves fast and he is not stupid. He might have traps and there might be others with him."
They moved through the trees to the river.
"There he is," said Fae, speeding up.
"No, Fae," snapped Lone Wolf, reaching for her and spinning her around. The crack of a rifle shot sounded through the trees and Lone Wolf fell to the ground, gripping his side, as blood poured from between his fingers.
Fae jumped up from the ground, looking toward the sound of the shot. "Shelly!" she shouted. "We have to get…"
Shelly's eyes were black and a snarl crossed her face. She growled at Fae.
Fae crouched over Lone Wolf, facing Shelly. "Well," she muttered, "this isn't good." She reached for the swords strapped to her back and paused, then dropped her hands. "I'm not going to fight you, Shelly," she said to the werewolf staring at her. "But if you want the guy who's responsible for Jason's death, he went that way." Fae pointed across the river.
Shelly turned her head to the side and sniffed the air. She snarled at Fae, then turned and ran upwind. Fae inhaled through her nose. "Yeah, that's right," she whispered, "go after the other guys."
Fae picked Lone Wolf up and put him on her shoulders. The smell of blood filled her nose. As fast as she could, she moved toward the back door of the main house.
"No, we won't follow him," said Jed. "Where's he going? Back to New Pueblo? The mothers will take care of him if he does that."
Fae looked down at the unconscious Lone Wolf. "Will he be okay?" she asked.
"He'll be fine, Fae," said Nancy, patting her hand.
"He's a tough one, that Lone Wolf," said Caru. "A little bullet through the side will just give him a chance to get some rest." He looked at the others. "Really. The bullet didn't hit any major organs."
Jed looked at Nancy's face, smiling. "Caru's a medic. Worked EMT before the virus."
"Now those were some exciting times," grinned Caru. "I have lots of stories, if you want to hear them," he added to Nancy, winking.
"Watch out," muttered Lone Wolf, "he does love the ladies."
Fae bent over and kissed Lone Wolf on the cheek. "Thanks for saving me," she whispered.
Lone Wolf opened his eyes and tried to smile. "What kind of teacher would I be if I lose my student the first week?" he asked.
"I should still go after Shelly," said Fae, looking at Jed.
"No reason to, until Claire gets back to help with the formula to keep her werewolf repressed," said Jed.
"What about Phil? He's still in the bunkhouse," said Maddie.
Jed moved to the front door of the main house, opening it all the way, but staying to the side. "Phil? You still there?"
There was a pause. "Yes, I am."
"It worked, Phil. Tomás escaped." There was no answer from the bunkhouse. "You should just give up, Phil. Don't make us come in there after you."
The bunkhouse door opened and Phil stepped into view, his face haggard and unshaven. His bloodshot eyes looked tired. He put his hands on his head.
"Okay. I surrender," Phil said.
"Well, that was easy," said Maddie.
Claire and August rode into the main area of Selah Ranch the next day about noon. He looked at Caru's truck now parked in front of where the barn once stood.
"Those are recent bullet holes in Caru's door panel," said August. August got off the cycle and walked down the main road, his eyes scanning the buildings. "Someone talk to me," he yelled.
The door to the main building popped open and a blur with red hair flew into his arms.
"We got back and Tomás was here and Shelly has gone werewolf on us and Tomás got away but Lone Wolf is shot and it's my fault and we caught some guy named Phil," babbled Fae as she hugged the big man.
"Why is it that you're always the one to tell me the whole story in one sentence," August whispered over the top of Fae's head.
Jed stepped onto the front porch, looking at them. "She sums it up best," he grinned.
"Tomás has nowhere to go now, Phil. Not New Pueblo. Not Vegas. The Doctor is dead, Phil. His lab is destroyed. He's no longer a threat," said August. He sat on the couch in the main room looking at the haggard man.
Phil grinned at August. "Ah, I see you are not well informed, but no matter. Others continue to hunt you, August Moon. You are still valuable to the right people. Tomás knows these people."
August's face paled and Claire looked at him, concern in her eyes. "He might be lying August," she said.
Phil chuckled. "Yet you know I'm not. I can see in your eyes that you can sense the lies that people tell. You know I'm speaking the truth."
Claire said nothing.
Jed looked at the small group. "What do we do with Phil?" he asked the assembled family of Selah Ranch.
Phil raised his head, his chin high. "You should execute me. I am the right-hand man of the Patrón. I helped him escape. I did his bidding, including making zombies for him."
Fae unconsciously growled, stood up and walked to look out the window.
"Right," said Jed. "That's probably what we should do." He looked at the rest of his family. "It isn't what we do, though. I'll take care of it," he said. "I'll be back in a few hours."
The deserted roadway stretched into the distance, darkness in all directions. The pale light from the moon reflected dimly on the lonely road.
"Go, Phil. Don't ever come back to Selah Ranch," said Jed. "If I see you again, all bets are off." Jed looked at him, his face set like stone. "You should know the last man I said those words to ended up dead." Jed closed the door to the truck and put it in reverse. Impulsively he rolled the window down and looked at Phil standing in the middle of the road. "Not everyone gets a second chance, Phil. I hope you use yours well."
Jed drove back to Selah Ranch, Phil's pale, frightened face the last thing he saw in the taillights of the blue truck.
Claire's eyes blazed with anger as she stormed into the dining room. "He's gone. He left in the middle of the night." Her voice lowered. "He left me a damned note," she spat.
Maddie put her fork full of eggs down on her plate and looked at Claire in surprise. "Why? Why would August do that?"
Claire tossed a crumpled piece of paper on the table in front of Jed and Maddie. She sat heavily in one of the chairs, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
Jed read the note aloud to the rest of the family. "Those that hunt August Moon will never stop, apparently. I can't put my family at risk. I have to leave. I'm sorry. I don't want to leave you, Claire, but I have to because I love you. Please tell the rest of the family I love them."
Caru grunted. "Idiot," he snorted.
"Hey! Don't call August an idiot," she snapped. "He is an idiot, though." She looked at Caru. "I can say he's an idiot, not you."
Caru grinned at her. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
"I'm going after him," said Claire, standing up.
"Of course you are," said Maddie. "And you'll bring him home."
"After you show Caru how to make the antidote for Shelly," pointed out Jed.
"Oh," said Claire. "Right. And we need to call Frank up in Fort Collins to talk to him about it."
"Then I'll take the antidote, and find Shelly and bring her home," said Fae.
"You might have a hard time catching August on his cycle," Jed said to Claire.
"He didn't take it. He left it for me. There's a note on the handlebars." Claire shrugged. "I don't want it. I'll take some of the horses," she added.
"Can I have it? I'd love to have a cycle. The horses are a little skittish around me now," said Fae, a wide grin across her face.
Claire shrugged. "I don't care." She looked at Fae sharply. "Take care of it, though. It's on loan until I bring him home."
"He went to the east, Claire," said Lone Wolf.
"You knew?" Claire asked, turning to face Lone Wolf. "You knew he was leaving and didn't stop him?"
"You clearly have never tried to stop my brother," said Lone Wolf.
"Well, I'm going to stop him now," said Claire, her jaw tight.
Lone Wolf smiled at her, dark circles under his eyes. "If anyone can change his mind, Claire, it is you," he said.
Claire's eyes twinkled. "You're right about that," she replied.