Anno Viventes Mortuae Ch. 02byFelix921©
Hazy orange lit the trees lining the eastern border of the yard as Draga slowed to pull her little Honda into the driveway. She noticed one of her neighbors on the right standing in their yard. There was something wrong with him. Something about his expression. And... the way he stood.
Her mothers car was in the carport so she parked behind it in the driveway. Her fathers truck wasn't in the space between the carport and the rose bushes where he usually parked. She wondered in passing if he were actually getting groceries.
Dragging her trusty backpack from the passenger seat and tucking the keys in a pocket she climbed out of the car. After shouldering the backpack she closed the car door. And stopped.
She wasn't seeing things. Mr. Magoo, (her not entirely endearing nickname for the neighbor), was in fact moving in her general direction. If nothing else, she was well aware that her neighbors' hypocritical christian sensibilities were offended by her choice of attire. With this in mind, their obviously forced pleasantness was just that much more annoying.
Maybe he just wanted to borrow a tool or something. Then she could just tell him that dad was out and he should come back later.
It was probably a good thing she had put the backpack on. She would have dropped it otherwise. As it was her knees almost buckled. She stepped back sharply, thumping against the car. One hand came up reflexively, palm out, as if to ward off what she saw.
There was indeed something wrong with Mr. Magoo, aka Ed Turner.
Ed was a relatively small man. He stood just about eye to eye with Draga. He was naturally thin and wiry, near sighted, and balding. Presently he was unnaturally horrible.
There was blood staining the left sleeve of Eds dress shirt. What hair there was behind his left ear looked matted with blood. His left eye was swollen shut and dark with bruising. The pupil of his right eye was a pinprick of black and the whites had gone a sickly yellow. The spit ran from one corner of his mouth.
Moving in a slow trudge up to this point, Ed paused with his head at an angle, as if listening to something. Draga noticed then the darkness at the crotch and down the legs of his pants. And the smell.
She was unable to even put together a coherent thought. This was not something she was equipped to process.
Eds head dropped forward suddenly so that his chin almost rested against his chest.He (It?) emitted a sound from deep in it's throat. Something like a growl, made sickening by a great overabundance of phlegm.
That did the trick. Draga turned and bolted. She heard the Ed-thing moving behind her. It did not sound like it was moving particularly slowly. She didn't even consider glancing back to check.
It came to her as she reached for the screen door that it wouldn't work. Like a flash of inspiration she intuitively knew that she didn't have time to open both doors and get inside. It would be on her. She turned, having only one other exit from the carport, and dashed into the backyard. A throaty snarling came from far too close behind her.
It was a straight shot to the door of her fathers workshop - a cobbled together building with wood frame and sheet tin siding. And the door was standing open! Draga let loose a little cry of terrified hope and forced herself to run harder. At the last second she was sure she was moving too fast and would be unable to pull the door shut. She snatched the doorknob, picked her feet up and did a quarter turn as she sailed through the doorway.
The door slammed shut, but her momentum pulled her grasp from the knob. She sprawled into the room, tucking and rolling. She was dimly aware of the door shuddering heavily as she fetched up against a table leg and a shop-vac. The rough concrete floor in this part of the shed was decidedly uncompromising. Draga sprung up, ignoring the pain. Part of her very much wanted to remain curled up in the fetal position, but the part that was too scared to do so was bigger.
She was too slow. The thing would have the door open. She had no idea what she would do when she rose to find it standing there.
Except it wasn't. It was hammering on the door. There was a moment of disbelief, then she remembered to exhale.
Did it think the door was locked? Or was it too stupid to try the knob?
Better not to wait to find out if it would learn.
Draga fought the urge to stay as far from the thing as possible. She stepped quickly up to the door, turned the lock, reached up to run the little brass bolt, then stepped back. The thing continued to batter the door from the other side. The door was aluminum and pretty sturdy, but it opened outward and she wondered if the door frame would hold up if it began pulling at the knob. Or if the knob assembly would hold together for that matter.
It sank in that she was safe for the moment. She glanced around. A weapon. Something to defend herself-
"Stupid." she spat under her breath. The back door of the shed was standing wide open. She wove her way between a table and a rolling tool cart, darted across the rest of the room. Should she close it and lock it, or leave and make a run for it? She ducked her head out.
This time she reacted without thinking. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the figure standing only a couple feet to her right. One step and she grasped the doorknob and pulled it sharply to. She locked it, then waited, tensed, for the banging. Her heart was racing and now that the immediate danger was on the other side of a locked door, she began to tremble.
The banging came. It wasn't what she had anticipated. She knew, despite not having gotten a good look at the thing outside, that this was not Ed. From what she had seen, this one might be even more messed up than Mr. Magoo. Whether or not this had anything to do with it's attacks being weaker she didn't know.
Bending over and bracing her hands on her thighs, she tried to slow her breathing. Got to think. Got to think.
Someone was going to show up. Yes, someone was going to show up and get her out of this. Just have to survive long enough.
The banging on the doors had ceased. Draga looked around the room again. Her eyes lit on the little black GE minibar under one end of the workbench.
There were three bottles of water and a couple cans of beer. A can of Pepsi. At least a dozen little glass jars of baby food. That was... strange. Wasn't it?
Draga shrugged, took one of the waters and closed the minibar. A few sips of cold water seemed to help her nerves. She turned to lean back against the bench and consider her next move. The smell of fresh sawdust suddenly filled the air. Curious, Draga raised her eyes from the floor.
There was no gasp. She didn't drop the water bottle or scream or faint. At first her only reaction was internal. Everything seized.
There had been no sounds, but now the back door stood open again. Someone, or something, stood silhouetted just inside the door. Shouldn't the sun have finished setting by now?
For several interminable seconds Draga stood, paralyzed, expecting the shadowed figure to come rushing toward her. Her skin crawled and she realized with some wonderment that you really could break out in a cold sweat.
This wasn't right. She was supposed to get away. Naive ideas about things being fair had nothing to do with it. She just knew that she was supposed to be rescued, though she couldn't say how she knew.
Finally the intruder moved. Draga had expected it to rush her, but apparently it was in no hurry. Somehow that was worse.
A couple slow steps closer and she could see it clearly. Ed's wife, Marion, had been an attractive woman.
This was no longer the case.
That did it. Draga dropped the water and scrambled sideways along the workbench toward the front door. She refused to turn and present her back to the monster following her. A squawk escaped her when she almost bumped into a second intruder. Frantic, she backed up a step, hoping against hope that here was her rescuer.
She looked up into a bloody, broken face. Her fathers face.
Now she screamed.
A hand gripped her shoulder. She kicked out and tried to get away. Her movement was hampered by something.
She landed in a heap, tangled in sheets, on the floor at the other end of the bed. She scrambled to free herself of the sheets, panting and beginning to sob. Once free she stood, eyes wide, ready to run.
Leers room. The lights were on. Leer was standing on the other side of the bed. He wore PT shorts and an OD green undershirt. His left hand rubbed at his ribs.
"You awake now?" he asked quietly.
She stared, breathing heavily, then nodded weakly. She sagged against the wall, slid down into a crouch.
"Oh, fuck." she exhaled raggedly.
Leer went around the bed and copped a squat next to her.
"You were screaming."
Draga sniffed then looked over at him.
"Nightmare." she explained shakily.
"The night I found you?"
"Yeah." it came out a whisper.
Leer stood and extended a hand to her.
"Come on. Up." he said, not unkindly.
Draga wiped her eyes and brushed at her bangs peremptorily, then took the offered hand and stood. She hugged herself, looking down, eyes unfocused.
"The night you found me. But you didn't show up. And... and my dad..." Tears welled fresh in her eyes and she stopped, clenching her jaw to keep from breaking into sobs.
Leer hesitated a moment, then stepped closer and put an arm around her, drawing her close.
"Shh. It's alright now." he whispered, putting his other hand on the back of her neck as she pressed her face into his chest. She slowly unfolded her arms and wrapped them around him, squeezing tight. He continued holding until her muffled crying abated.
"You kicked me in the ribs." he whispered when he thought she had more or less collected herself again.
She drew her face back from his now damp shirt and looked up at him uncertainly. "What?"
Leer smiled. "You kicked me in the ribs when i tried to wake you up."
"Really? I didn't mean to. Are you okay?" she gave a weak smile of sympathy.
"I'm fine. Just glad you didn't take the pistol to bed."
"Smart-ass." Draga gave him what would have been a reproachful look, had she not been working against a smile. She pressed one hand to his midsection, stepping back out of his embrace. Her hand lingered a long moment, feeling the firm muscle beneath the thin shirt. She cleared her throat, raising her eyes from her hand to his face.
"It's, uh, a little cold. Let me put some pants on." she managed. she hopped onto the bed and crawled across to retrieve her jeans. Leer glanced at his watch.
"About that. It's just after four now. No point going back to sleep. Might as well shower now, if you want one."
"Oh." she folded the pants and rolled them around the Sig Souer in its holster. "Will we be eating breakfast here?"
"We're not in a big hurry." Leer replied, walking to the door.
Draga turned up at the breakfast table to find the others already gathered around it. After enjoying the hell out of a long hot shower she had followed the smell of fresh brewed coffee down the hall to the kitchen. Aside from being unaccustomed to wearing a sub-machine gun to breakfast, she felt surprisingly good.
Breakfast was coffee and pop tarts all around.
Maria finished first and lit a cigarette. She tapped one foot restlessly. By the time Draga had finished eating, Maria was stubbing the cigarette out on her plate. She glared across the table at Leer, who was apparently lost in thought.
"Where the hell we going?" When he failed to answer immediately she went on in an annoyed tone, "You two cavrones got a hideout in the caribbean? Safehouse in Thailand?" She turned her gaze on Warren. "Castle in France?" she smiled at this last suggestion.
"Definitely not France." Warren replied dryly.
Leer finally spoke. "Has to be defensible. Unlikely to be bombed or occupied by military. Has to have a source of fresh water. Long term food sources." he paused, then added, "Definitely not France."
Maria snorted. "So... what? A farm in... Buttfuck, Idaho?"
"I was thinking either the mountains or the outer banks. The outer banks are only a short ride and a stolen boat away. Probably not stocked for a total breakdown of civilization though." Leer turned his head to give Warren a questioning look.
Warren looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Pick up a larger vehicle. Supplies. Riot gear or gas masks or something, in case of close contact. Try to avoid military, law enforcement. Demonstrate usefulness and try to assimilate into indigenous population." All this while staring at the tabletop. He adjusted his glasses and looked up.
Maria and Draga shared a look.
"Maybe liberate another four wheel drive pickup just before we start into the mountains." Leer suggested.
"Right. So... do we know anyone in the mountains?" Draga asked no one in particular.
"Not yet." Leer replied, standing.
Leers seating plan put Warren in the drivers seat and Maria, appropriately, riding shotgun. Leer and Draga tossed his mink blanket into the space they had left in the center of the bed of the truck. They made themselves more or less comfortable against the gear surrounding them. Leers logic ran that Draga was, realistically, least capable of defending herself. Therefore, while she might be more exposed in the bed of the truck, she would be free to run if the truck were immobilized.
A quarter mile up the gravel road they passed Leer's only 'neighbors'. Two nondescript double wide trailers on an acre of cleared land off the side of the road. Leer tipped his chin up, indicating the property.
"The Torrence family. Mother, father and two boys in the one; Uncle and his girlfriend in the other. Minivan and SUV are gone."
Draga watched the empty trailers slip by and nodded.
They pulled onto the highway a couple minutes later. A staggered line of four military helicopters passed overhead, low enough to be loud.
In the cab Maria leaned forward to look up through the windshield.
"They'll be busy, no?"
"Like headless chickens in a minefield, I imagine." Warren smiled amiably. "Dig that road atlas out from under your seat and stand by with directions."
"Aye Captain." she complied, rolling her eyes. "You're the expert. You and Iceman back there, but... we really gotta make the mountains? We couldn't just chill in a warehouse or somethin'?"
"If we happen by an acceptable spot before the mountains, we'll stop. It seems unlikely though. Given the way things are shaping up."
"There are still people living almost completely self sufficient up in the mountains. The plan is to offer our help with whatever needs doing in return for food, water and lodging. Worst case, we build our own camp and periodically come back down to the nearest towns to resupply."
"Got it all figured out, eh Professor?" she smirked, tracing a route on the road map with her fingertip.
"No, just a first draft until Mr. Murphy shows himself."
They carried on for almost fifteen minutes before the inescapable Mr. Murphy made his first appearance. There was traffic, in a manner of speaking. Even the median, shoulder, and oncoming lanes of the highway were clogged with unmoving vehicles. Warren slowed to a crawl fifty yards from the pile up.
Feeling them slow, Leer stood and looked over the roof of the cab. The jam up stretched off into the distance, disappearing around a gradual curve. Dark exhaust could be seen rising from several spots where vehicles remained idling. When they had come to a complete stop, still a good thirty yards from the mess ahead, Leer thumped on the roof with an open hand.
"Have that Ruger at the ready and keep your eyes open." Maria recognized Warrens tone. He was going into 'Serious Business' mode.
Warren ducked his head out the window and turned somewhat to speak to Leer.
"How far does it go?" he called back.
"Around the turn ahead. Maybe all the way to the next town. Beulaville. Maybe just to an accident that started the pileup..."
"Gaps? Any chance we can push through?"
Meanwhile, Draga had stood and climbed up amidst the gear to see for herself. She stared for a few seconds, then shook her head and crawled back to where she'd been sitting. She fished her earphones out and fired up her ipod.
The men came to a consensus.
Leer rolled back and plunked down next to Draga. He tapped her knee with the back of a hand and tapped his own ear when she looked up. She pulled the earphones out and stowed them.
Warren eased up against the rear quarter panel of a car and gave it some gas. Good. Reverse, angle into the bumper of the SUV next to and ahead of the car. Gas, gas, ga- brake! Shit.
The truck lurched to a stop when the SUV smashed into a Bondo spotted pickup.
Draga and Leer were luckily already dug in against the packs and bedrolls behind them. As it was a camelpak ended up in Leers lap.
In the cab Maria cursed. She had secured her seatbelt when Warren told her they were going to try pushing through, which saved her from any real harm. Nonetheless, there was a small crack in the windshield where the barrel of her pistol struck it when she was thrown forward. Warren cleared his throat and shifted into reverse.
"Don't hold back, now." Leer called over a shoulder.
The sun rose in a cloudless sky. An almost constant light breeze dragged at the tails of exhaust smoke which rose here and there. Warren managed to keep them moving, sometimes resorting to bumper car tactics that sent gear tumbling against Leer and Draga in the back.
Leer checked off and on for bodies in the vehicles they passed. Apparently everyone had made it out of their vehicles, one way or another.
The traffic pile up seemed to continue interminably. Warren didn't bother considering the chances of muscling through this to the next town. He'd keep going until he couldn't go any further. They'd burn that bridge when they got to it.
That was fine until he spotted the first of 'Romero's Children', as he had mentally dubbed them. From their distance it could have been a 'normal' person, but for the way it moved. Slowly, hesitantly. It wove aimlessly between vehicles. Under more normal circumstances Warren might have taken it for a drunk or a dazed accident survivor.
Warren finished scraping them through a tight spot and stopped. While there was some background noise of idling engines and one or two radios, still he expected the Infected to turn and zero in on them at any moment. With that in mind he ducked his head out the window to speak to Leer without taking his eyes off the wandering figure.
"Probable Infected, our one o clock, thirty yards give or take." He spoke just loud enough to be heard.
Leer drew a pair of mini binos from a pocket of his blouse and stood. As he scanned the traffic ahead, he gave Draga his version of a pep talk.
"Remember to breath. Try not to freeze up. If i tell you to do something, don't ask, just do it."
She took a deep breath. "Right."
Leer found the Infected with the binos. No doubt about it. Corpulent, bruised, drooling. Clothes noticeably stained with It's own filth. Wonderful.
"Shooting will draw attention if there are others." Leer spoke loudly for Warrens benefit.
Draga groaned to herself, then checked the safety on the MP5.
"That's true. On the other hand, I doubt he'll stand by and watch while we push our way by, assuming we don't become totally stuck by then." Warren replied.
"Right. Going hot." he pocketed the binoculars, unslung his AK and brought it up to his shoulder. He took up a shooting stance, began sighting, then paused.
"Grey, get up here. Watch the shot. If I miss, you let me know where the shot went."